Lately I’ve been a little quiet on the writing front and there are a number of fronts where I’ve had some ideas or thoughts, but just not enough to pen a whole article. Today I thought I would go through some of those MTG impressions and put them together to make a whole post. I’ll be touching on things like the newest Eldritch Moon spoilers, further supplemental products, and even some cards that you should probably revisit because they are super useful. Well, let’s get started.
Everyone has an opinion now that we’ve started to see new cards from Eldritch Moon. I’ve seen people posting about how they love it, others about how they hate it, and others how they are just really bummed that Eternal Masters has all dried up. From where I sit, Eldritch Moon looks like it is going to be pretty amazing and the number one reason is right in the Trailer video which is the new version of Emrakul. The new card looks sweet, the art is stunning, and the story across multiple blocks continues to converge which makes the card all that much sweeter. I’m not going to review big Emrakul right now, but if you’ve seen her you have to admit she looks very powerful and tons of fun.
The second piece of the trailer that got me excited was seeing the Gatewatch arrive on the scene to battle the Eldrazi menace. Now, I don’t suppose we’ll actually be able to get new printings of these Planeswalkers so soon, but the story should be very lively and interesting as our heroes struggle to save Innistrad. When the story is strong and interesting I always find that I enjoy the game a bit more.
One walker we are sure to see a new printing is Liliana and that’s totally ok. I fully expect her to be the black member of the gatewatch because we could clearly see that the cycle of cards was not complete from Oath of the Gatewatch and now that her adopted home is under assault it only makes sense. Now, we aren’t likely to see Liliana of the Veil any time soon, but some new iteration of Lili seems pretty sweet. Really, can they make a bad version of her? I seriously hope not.
The biggest thing with the arrival of Emrakul on Innistrad is that the Magic community seemed to groan collectively when they saw that the threat was the giant flying spaghetti monster. It had been hinted at for months, she didn’t show up in Battle for Zendikar block and was suspected to be elsewhere…and really, what other ultimate menace could really be left? Well, sure enough, we got Emrakul and everyone just groaned because we were sick of the Eldrazi. We just had Eldrazi decks of all sorts run rampant in virtually every major format. Eldrazi were everywhere and were really good and the community was tired of them.
Now, I can admit that I have also had a bit of overload with the Eldrazi recently, but I’m still pretty comfortable with the arrival of Emrakul on Innistrad. The reason I’m pretty comfortable with it is that it continues the story telling arc that began when Sarkhan returned to Tarkir and saved Ugin. From that point on there was no doubt that there was going to be a march towards seeing our intrepid heroes confront the Eldrazi menace and the story has now stretched across three blocks. To my mind that makes for better storytelling than stopping and starting with each new block. I think part of reason that Theros block gets a bit of bad wrap is that it is entirely a self contained story across three sets but come the end of the block the story has met a resolution…an unsatisfactory resolution because Elspeth dies (sort of). Well, now we have a story that has stretched across three blocks (and arguably a Core Set too) and could still extend beyond if the Gatewatch is unable to slay Emrakul. I think that the longevity of the storytelling has made for a far more intriguing story and something that I want to tune in for week after week to see how it unfolds.
There are some very interesting new cards that have been spoiled including Coax from the Blind Eternities which acts like a Glittering Wish variant but for Eldrazi. However, to my eyes the most interesting card is the new printing of an old favorite and that’s the new version of Thalia. Thalia, Cathar Heretic, is a super sweet call back to her original printing and still plays a valuable game in disrupting your opponent by being a Blind Obedience on a stick. My intrigue with her is not so much for Standard because I have no doubt that she’ll fit in many of the Human decks running around, but whether or not she could find a home in a Modern deck. I understand that Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is an integral part of the G/W Hatebears deck that periodically puts up good results and this version is slightly different, but might be a viable option. Modern is a format where plenty of Non-Basic lands are played and being able to slow your opponent down a turn and have their lands come into play tapped might be a significant advantage that shouldn’t be ignored. Is she fast enough at 3 mana to have any real impact in Modern? We’ll soon find out, but she seems interesting and fringe playable.
Also, the new Meld mechanic looks fun but it appears to be something designed to advance the story rather than for playability. The Gisela and Bruna Meld card means you need to have a pair of pricey, rare angels in your deck, get them in play, AND not have them die in order to have them transform. That’s a bit of a stretch in any limited format and with Bruna costing 7 mana to play I can hardly imagine competitive Standard decks being keen to play her. Maybe a casual deck will emerge out there playing these two angels at face value and if you can flip them then you are laughing but that seems like a stretch. Even the Common Meld cards feel like a stretch, but perhaps there will be more that are more playable. We’ll have to wait and see.
With Eldritch Moon just a few weeks there are a few cards that I’ve got my eye on that you might have forgotten about that might take on new playability because they work well with what we are going to find in the newest set. Here are a few things to keep your eyes on.
From Beyond: this is a really interesting enchantment that is going to shine in EDH in a few years as an improved Awakening Zone AND a tutor, but for the time being it is an ingenious way to a) ramp some colourless mana thanks to those Scions b) help you FIND Emrakul in your deck and C) reduce the cost of Emrakul. People are going to say that From Beyond is too slow to be really playable, but let’s look at the facts. If you really want to maximize the cost reduction factor on Emrakul you need a reliable way to get as many different types of cards into your graveyard. One type, namely Enchantments, can be tricky because usually you don’t want your Enchantments in the graveyard. However, From Beyond lets you sacrifice it to go find your biggest Eldrazi meaning you are assured to get an enchantment into your graveyard. If you can keep this thing online for a turn or two, crank out a couple of tokens, and sacrifice those you have now reduced the cost to CAST Emrakul by up to three mana (maybe more) and that’s very significant. I think this has some very real potential to be a card that sneaks into a few decks and that people experiment with because I feel like it could be very good. And then in 3 years time you can use it when you play EDH to go and fetch your scariest Eldrazi and slam it to break your opponents. But that’s for another day.
Harbinger of the Tides: if the game plan looks like it could become a race to how fast you can get Emrakul into play then everyone is going to be looking for ways to fight said race. Harbinger of the Tides might be a reasonable way for Blue decks to slow down the activation of an Emrakul by being able to be played an instant speed without it being an Instant. It doesn’t solve the resolution of the Cast trigger and inevitable Mindslaver effect, but it might set an opponent who has stretched themselves too far to get Emrakul on line back far enough that they can’t recast it and saves you from contending with a 13/13 flying, trample, protection from Instants monster of doom.
Stasis Snare: this is exactly the same plan as the Harbinger of the Tides in a very different colour. This is already widely played removal in White and will likely to continue to be extremely useful to combat Emrakul.
Sanctum of Ugin: I don’t really need to remind you why this is here…this just goes and gets you your giant Eldrazi. End of story.
Surrak, the Hunt Caller: this beefy 5/4 for 4 mana plays remarkably well with something huge and scary like Emrakul because you could potentially give it Haste. That is a terrifying prospect and really gives me a reason to go back and revisit Surrak. On top of the unmistakable synergy with really big Eldrazi creatures, Surrak is ALSO a human meaning that Thalia’s Lieutenant and he are best buds. If G/W human decks look like they need to tussle a bit more and need a little more beef then Surrak could get another lease on life again there too.
I have to admit I’m very excited for the new Eldritch Moon set that is set to come out and the new possibilities that could take shape in the weeks to come. I can’t wait to see the whole spoiler and to the full effect of what is included in the set. Hopefully some new additions will breath new life into some other cards and really make the rest of the summer fun as we head towards Kaladesh and Conspiracy 2.
Thanks for stopping in to read my MTG Impressions and be sure to stop by again next time for another Casual Encounter.
Bruce Gray – @bgray8791
Grand Prix Manchester Champion – Theros Block Constructed on June 1st 2014
Winner of ‘the other’ Theros Block Constructed tournament was Fabrizio Anteri playing a powerful BUG Midrange deck. This deck is the flip side of the Elspeth, Sun’s Champion coin and as such runs the means to beat it rather then join it. As was proven at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx that the battle lines were drawn with the majority taking sides between either Elspeth and Prognostic Sphinx then jamming in the formats Green acceleration package.
In this format the most commonly played cards it turns out are a pair of Green mana accelerants which most likely are going to become the dynamic duo come the next Standard season. This decks ideal opening lies with a turn one Scry land into a turn two Sylvan Caryatid followed by a turn three Courser of Kruphix before making your land drop. That provides the deck with the possibility of rushing out that early five drop which is where the deck plays into. The main avenue of attack lies in the Prognostic Sphinx which was discovered to be the main foil to Elspeth as it not only will fly over her ground forces but also is able to skirt her destroy creatures ability by virtue of being not too powerful. There is also additional beatdown provided by Reaper of the Wilds which sports great stats as a 4/5 for four mana able to protect itself if necessary, but also provides some added bonus with a Scry whenever another creature dies. A pair of planeswalkers are included with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver doing a lot of heavy lifting by not only milling away possible threats and answers from the opponent but also stealing some of those threats away, and Kiora, the Crashing Wave which can add extra draw and acceleration, lock down a particularly troublesome creature or even ‘Call the Kraken’ if allowed to build up enough loyalty. As this deck chose the Midrange route instead of Control the only disruption in the deck is provided from a set of Thoughtseize to not only strip them of their most bothersome card but also provide you with all the information about their plans so you are able to set yourself up properly. Then we have the removal suite which is as robust as they come. Centering around the formats best there is a full set of Hero’s Downfall to rid the board of creatures or planeswalkers alike, a trio of the pseudo-sweeper in Silence the Believers which can often hit two or three necessary targets, a pair of Bile Blight that is extremely good at taking care of an army of Elspeth tokens, and a misers Unravel the Æther to deal with any troublesome artifacts or enchantments including Gods as they are shuffled back into the library. A solitary Read the Bones provides the deck just a tiny bit of draw power to help dig for the cards it needs.
Another weekend of SCG Standard has passed and sitting at the top of the heap we find a successful jumble of acceleration into monstrous beasts and powerful planeswalkers. What we find there is essentially the GR Monsters shell that’s been prevalent in Standard for quite a while, but dipping into White for additional planeswalkers and some removal options. And judging by the popularity of this archetype in the Theros Block format it looks like it has quite a future ahead.
It is no stranger that the most prevelant duo of Green mana dorks both in Standard and Block is Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. This not only fixes your mana and even effectively draws you additional cards but also gains you vital life points which are so crucial in this aggressive metagame. The downside is that Courser provides your opponent with nearly perfect information which can foil you bluff when playing off the top of your deck. As an additional accelerent there is also Voyaging Satyr which won’t help if you are missing a color but will still allow you to gain extra mana. All of that goes towards powering out some monstrous fatties quickly so you can activate their Monstrosity abilities and close out games quickly. The two we find in the deck are Polukranos, World Eater which also acts as much needed removal in this deck and also the hasty flier Stormbreath Dragon which peeled off the top is often the recipie for certain doom. If those monsters are the meat of the deck we then find the fine wine pairing in the foursome of planeswalker to accompany them. The main player is party animal himself Xenagos, the Reveler who not only brings his satyr buddies with him but also helps acheive Monstrosity fast with his ramping ability. Next to join the party is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes who has a dual purpose between pumping up your creatures and digging into your deck to find more threats, but also when protected can threaten its ultimate to bolster a diminishing life total. There is also a major contribution from Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with her legion of soldiers following her, but be wary of her second ability as your bombs tend to be destroyed as well as the opponents. And why not a misers Chandra, Pyromaster as well to add a little card advantage to the deck and her first ability helps slip your big boys past their chump blockers handily. The rest of the deck is rounded out by some varied pieces of removal. There is Keening Apparition which is able to destroy any enchantment the opponent presents to the board such as Chained to the Rocks or even Underworld Connections. As a great sweeper Mizzium Mortars is able to be overloaded to deal four damage to all the opponents creatures and cast aside any would be blockers for your giant monsters. Then the last piece of the puzzle comes with the flexible Selesnya Charm that can either pump and grant Trample to a creature to rampage for a win, exile a creature that has power greater then five, or even add another threat to the board with a vigilant knight token.
So here we find that the GR Monsters deck which has already been a force in Standard continues to have room to grow and adapt as it proves it is a major player in Standard. What really interests me with this list is that the core of the deck is all from Theros Block and will undoubtedly continue to be a force into the next rotation of Standard. If you are looking for a deck to invest in as a long term prospect then this is undoubtedly the one.
One of the shining pillars of the Theros Block Constructed format is the awesome White planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion though that doesn’t necessarily lend itself easily to just White deck choices. This deck was one which realized how to harness that incredible power while finding support for it in other colors. What emerged was a Gruul based Naya deck that went down a very Aggro beatdown route. There are strong ramp elements to power out monstrous creatures and incredible planeswalkers working hard to seal the deal as fast as possible. And although there are different combinations to build this deck there are key elements which emerge from all of them.
It all starts with the trio of ‘mana’ dorks with Voyaging Satyr and Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. These three are crucial to the plan of deploying huge Midrange threats well ahead of the curve, and those threats come in the form of some truely monstrous beasts. The first of which we find Polis Crusher which is a fine beatstick as a 4/4 for four but also has a relevant ability in this format with Protection from Enchantments, and when you activate his Monstrosity becomes a 7/7 that destroys enchantments the damaged player controls which with its Trample should connect often. The next step on the Monstrosity curve comes with Stormbreath Dragon which with Flying and Haste will often be a surprise to skirt around sorcery speed removal, and against control style decks blasts to the dome of your opponents equal to their cards in hand when he becomes monstrous. There is also a one of Polukranos, World Eater as a value five power four drop that can go monstrous to act as additional instant speed removal for the deck. Yuuki chose to run with a trio of planeswalkers but it all centers around a full set of the decks namesake Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which unchecked by the opponent will easily start to dominate the board with its soldiers, remove large threats en masse or even beef up and raise your entire army to the air with her emblem. He also went with a pair of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to strengthen your soldiers, it can gain some advantage by finding any of the decks 28 creatures or planeswalkers, and given enough time even gain you 100 points of life. The other planeswalker we find in the deck is Xenagos, the Reveler who’s ramping ability in conjunction with the decks dorks will help power out the big monsters quickly unless you need him to bring some of his satyr friends to the party, or if you do get to ultimate with him with 45 creatures and lands in the deck the top seven is bound to share a bounty of wealth. The deck is wrapped up simply with White based removal using the catchall enchantment answer Banishing Light to remove a plethora of permanent threats and also Chained to the Rocks which is the reason why we find the deck with a substantially larger amount of Mountains then in similar decks of this style.
There was also another RG Elspeth list by Andrea Mengucci which finished in sixth place. While it did follow the same line of attack there are some fundamental differences starting with the manabase where Andrea not using Chained to the Rocks opted for much less Mountains and went for Temple of Triumph instead of Mana Confluence and a singleton Plains. In order to add in a varied array of spells he cut a Voyaging Satyr and the singleton Polukranos from the creatures but was able to pack a more robust removal package. He decided upon only two Banishing Light and then went with direct damage with a set of Lightning Strike, a trio of Destructive Revelry and a singleton Magma Jet. He also opted to forgo Ajani to go up to three Xenagos instead. While neither list is necessarily better then the other they do play along a slightly different line and you should run with the one you feel compliments your style of play better.
I have very little doubt that we will see this as one of the top decks at the Grand Prix in Manchester. We have already seen in Standard that this combination of Green and Red monsters is a winning style. And with the addition of Elspeth to that equation there is little to prevent the raw power of this deck from shining. I expect that we will see this not only as a superstar in the Block format but also continuing into the next Standard season as well. I would definitely stock up on the cards for this deck if you enjoy this style of Midrange monster beatdown.
A Hero’s Trial
Ajani Goldmane and Elspeth
Athreos, God of Passage
Iroas, God of Victory
Keranos, God of Storms
Kruphix, God of Horizons
Pharika, God of Affliction
Check out Bruce Gray’s comments and thoughts on the new Gods and artwork.
18th Place at Grand Prix Richmond on 3/9/2014