The Magic Show #15 – Standard Advantages

Evan continues his excellent series of video articles with an examination of the various advantages that can be gained through a dedicated deck strategy. There’s card advantage, creature advantage, resource advantage… and if that’s not all, he shares a tricky Time Spiral Sealed pool for us all to play along at home.

What is an Advantage Engine? Check it out:

[The following is a transcript of the show, which you really should check out.]

Hello everybody and welcome to The Magic Show. I’m your host, Evan Erwin. And today I want to talk about engines.

And no, not like that one article I wrote, because the last place we want to go is there. No more car analogies for me.

No, today I’m talking about engines as you and I know them, turning one resource into another or funneling an advantage from one card to another. The highest valued advantage in Standard is card advantage. The other is creature advantage. But don’t forget resource advantage! Every winning deck has either resource, creature, or card advantage in some form. Let’s discuss the archetypes of “advantage” in today’s Time Spiral Standard, and how they relate to our favorite format:

Draw Spells

Draw spells are “pure” card advantage. They simply replace themselves with more cards, usually with some modern-day drawback of discarding one or more cards afterwards. The most obvious of these spells, and the most played, is that of Compulsive Research: the premier draw spell in the format. If you play Compulsive Research while staring at a land in your grip, you can read the spell as saying, “as an additional cost to play Compulsive Research, discard that worthless land in your hand and draw three cards.”

The fringe draw spells are currently Telling Time and Careful Consideration, both which see play in their respective decks. The draw spell currently being ignored is Tidings, which is a fantastic spell, but Magnivore lost a lot of bite when Eye of Nowhere went bye-bye.


Recursion engines rely on the ability to play the same resource or threat over and over. And when they’re in the same package, then this double whammy can really get nasty.

Firemane Angel decks create card advantage by playing not only the same 4/3 first striker over and over again, but gaining life due to its very presence. This threat recursion is saving you from playing a card, gets under counterspells no less, and the resource of free lifegain is just gravy, and an aspect that makes it invaluable in aggro matchups.

Notice how Hinder leaving the environment made Firemane a much better card and threat, while Condemn does not nullify it in this way. Condemn can be played around by not attacking, Persecuted, Castigated, or simply counterspelled. Hinder was a much more powerful weapon against Firemane Angel, as it only needed the spell to be cast, not the Angel to attack.

Notice also how the popularity of Draining Whelk has caused Firemane players to intentionally hold and discard Firemane Angel, allowing her ten mana ability to take the place of letting them have a 7/7 Whelk that you can only chump block and must Wrath or Condemn out of the way – all while hoping they don’t have a bounce spell or a counterspell.

Solar Pox has the most obvious card advantage recursion engine, with Haakon and Court Hussars rocking the free world. Court Hussar’s Impulse Engine is the most deadly of all of the recursion strategies. It is cheap, easily enabled, and gives you more options pound for pound than any other engine. When this “goes off” per se, it’s incredibly difficult to win. The only crack in Solar Pox’s armor was burn, and modern builds have patched this with more Peace of Mind in the maindeck.

The last of the recursions is the Triskelavus and Academy Ruins combo, which ruined me last week. This is an anti-control measure, designed to put a ten or more turn clock on a deck that can’t handle that sort of threat recursion, let alone healing only one or two life points per turn. This is a great engine against control decks, but anything with pressure or better counterspells – such as Alex Kim Teferi’s – mean this deck is geared for just a certain opponent.


Creature based card advantage is more difficult to pinpoint, but in a deck like U/G Aggro, it’s easily apparent: Ohran Viper is the premier creature that makes this deck dangerous. Before Psionic Blast reared its ugly head, this deck focused more on the Sea Stompy aspect, with Plaxmanta staying behind the scenes as the all-star that makes it work. Looter Il-Kor is another great addition, with Shadow and Moldervine Cloak playing very well together.

If you’re talking pure getting-more-than-you-paid-for advantage, Thelonite Hermit is proving Knutson was 100% correct in his assessment of this powerhouse, and its inclusion in Glare pumps all of their little dudes and in the innovative Morph.dec we saw how ridiculous it can be with a Doppelganger hanging around.

Now beyond creatures you have Land-Based Creature Advantage (or the LBCA, for card-carrying members), derives from everyone’s new boytoy Urza’s Factory and the old stand-by Vitu-Ghazi. These cards need immediate answers or serious pressure as given time they will overrun the most cautious of opponents. A few mere Wrath of God and Condemn are not enough to stop the onslaught.

Resource Based

Resource based advantage comes in the form of having more mana than the other player, while destroying their resources in return. Wildfire is a perfect example of this, as the Signet-heavy Izzetron player pounces on the unprepared foe. KarstenBotBabySlaughterDeathKill3000 creates this advantage with land destruction, something that Wizards R&D thankfully keeps at bay.

I know there are some of you out there who have not played in a time when land destruction was a real, viable deck. Well I can tell you right now, you do not want this. When Wreak Havoc was rumored to be three mana instead of four, some players were truly upset at this. And to that I say, shame on you.

The only land destruction that’s been any fun in the last three years was playing March of the Machines against those damn Affinity players. Now that was a good feeling. Any other time, much like my most reviled card of all time, Plow Under, land destruction and mana denial have given Magic players nothing but frustration, and that’s the last thing you want a “skill testing” environment to promote.

Burn Advantage

When you’re not drawing cards, you’re taking life. The reason that White Weenie with Red and Zoo and Gruul continue to do so well is that some decks are simply more enamored to draw spells and prepare themselves for the long game rather than kill their opponent. As Craig Jones so famously said, “Four Wrath of God is Not Enough To Stop Zoo.” The recent addition of Lightning Helix to the mix has given these decks pause, but the popularity of Solar Flare and Tron continue to make them a force to be reckoned with.

Combo Advantage

I for one am proud to see Dragonstorm going for 28 Top 8 appearances and three Champs titles. That’s what I’m talking about!

Let’s take a look at Ryan Rusaw’s winning Dragonstorm build:

Just fantastic. I love a good, fun combo. Heartbeat never seemed like fun to me. Maybe that’s because it was deadlier. Or the math was harder. Or maybe Dragonstorm was an interesting idea I took great interest in, and to see it is succeed is satisfying. Nevertheless, this will be a factor in the meta for some time, and you should always have an answer for it. Combo is a facet of almost every metagame, and this is a good one.

Where To Go From Here?

I’m curious – if you revel in one metagame long enough, the same 1,587 cards we currently have in Standard (yes, really) for a much longer time than the four or so months we familiarize ourselves with these sets, what sort of metagame will we end up with? What new combos or undiscovered gems are we leaving out?

That’s for you to figure out. There are more ways of getting an advantage in Standard than what I’ve covered so far. We have the Champs breakout star, Momentary Blink. Those decks that give you resource advantage with Coiling Oracle, spell control with Mystic Snake, lifegain with Loxodon Hierarch, and mana advantage with Yavimaya Dryad.

I also didn’t touch on The Rack decks. Seven of those decks made Top 8 at their respective Champs, with none reaching first. So you have to at least give them a nod but also wonder if their bad matchups are so bad, that they just can’t win some games, making it a lame duck too much of the time.

Is the Rock-Paper-Scissors metagame really what we’re striving for? In podcasts, Randy Buehler talks about how they introduced a great number of Tier 2 cards in the environment to mix things up.

I’m sure that Akroma isn’t regarded as a Tier 2 card. And funnily enough, thanks to Mr. Psychatog, Shadowmage Infiltrator is still seen as a Tier 2 card. I don’t know what tier Psionic Blast inhabits, or what it does except sell cards, and while you sort of despise the shameless chase rare, you also get the delicious joy when opening one yourself. I opened my very first one out of the box I got for making Top 8 at Champs.

And boy, did it feel good.

Regardless, today’s Standard is ripe with the largest pool and, arguably, the most powerful Standard Environment since I got to play Prosperity with Cadaverous Bloom and win boxes upon boxes of Mirage. So you can say that certain cards like Wild Mongrel are Tier 1 because they propel strategies, while Akroma needs reanimation or time so it’s Tier 2, but I think that’s too much tiered thinking.

All I know is, if you want to win with something new and unexpected and unexplored, create an advantage engine. What that engine looks like is up to you.

Sealed Craziness

Okay everybody, I just gotta throw this out there. This is an actual Sealed I pulled from the Magic Online Time Spiral release events. See what you can do with it, and if you’re watching this then you’ll see what I did with it:

[MODO Sealed Footage viewable by video only]

And that’s another week, folks. Thanks for watching.

PS — If you’re tired of the opening title screen, make your own video intro and send it to me at eerwin at gmail dot com. Just make sure you include the name of the show and who hosts it.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written between serenading my daughters with my acoustic guitar prowess.
Music Credits:
Title — “Pyramid Song”, Radiohead
Decklist — “Set The Ray To Jerry”, Smashing Pumpkins