Frontier: Overview of the Format Part 1 – By Les Walderman

Part 1 Frontier copy

 

Gradually, Modern is developing a financial barrier to enter, like that of entering Legacy. In Modern’s infancy, it was a budget form of Legacy that was more approachable by new players. Although Modern does not have the same breadth and scope of cards that are available in the Legacy card pool, its power level and interactions still attract many players. Over time, the mana base, creatures and vital spells began to rise in price as Modern become more and more popular. The endless cycle of supply vs. demand has progressively driven up staple card prices of the format. It is important to understand that a card can see exclusive play in the Modern format and still command a hefty price tag. For example, Path to Exile, sees very limited Legacy play but is a staple card in Modern decks that contain White. When the card is played, it is generally played as a four-of, and commands a price of $10+ on the secondary market. Getting a playset of the removal spell would then cost $40+ depending on the current market. These prices become even more extreme when it comes to important lands and creatures which only receive limited print runs such as Tarmogoyf.

Seeing the rise in popularity of Modern and the demand for the staple cards, Wizards made strides to reprint cards when they could. Since Modern’s card pool is entirely made up of cards that are not on the reserved list, any of the cards could be reprinted. Wizards took a gamble and released the Modern Masters reprint series. Core cards saw limited reprints and drove down prices temporarily. Unfortunately, Modern Masters ended up causing issues in the long term. Prices on the reprints did temporarily drive prices down but, over time, those prices stabilized to approximately their pre-masters reprint pricing, or in cases even higher. For example, Kitchen Finks (a modern staple), saw a reprint in Modern Masters. Before the reprint Finks was $8-10. Once the card was reprinted, it saw a dramatic price drop to about $2-4. Now, the card is floating around $13 on the secondary market: higher than before it was reprinted. The reprint set also drove up the demand for cards that were not reprinted, like fetch lands. Ultimately, the Masters series got more copies of needed cards into the general player base but really did not make it much easier for new players to enter into modern.

Entry into Modern is not unattainable, but players were crying out for other options. Hareruya, a major store in Japan, is attempting to fill this gap with a new format of their own design: Frontier. Japan is a large market for Magic but they do not have access to the volume of modern and legacy cards that are available in North America and Europe. Japanese players that wanted to play a powered up non-rotating format were searching for some alternative. Hareruya hopes Frontier is the solution, not only for their players but for the magic community at large. Frontier, like Modern, is a non-rotating format that draws a line in the sand where players can only play cards from a certain set forward. Frontier only includes new frame cards with the hologram sticker incorporated into the frame. The card pool is:

Kaladesh Block

Shadows over Innistrad Block

Battle for Zendikar Block

Khans of Tarkir Block

Magic Origins

Magic 2015

The different card frame acted as an easy way to divide what is Frontier legal and what is not; similar to the method that Modern established. By marking such a recent legality point, deck cost should be a non-issue for the Frontier format. It is also important to keep in mind that post-Return to Ravnica sets all had very high print runs compared to many other sets in Magic’s long history. Having these higher print runs means that card availability and price should be less restrictive for the format, even if demand increases.

The Mana Base

Mana bases are by far the most expensive part of any non-rotating deck and help to define older formats. In Legacy, dual lands are hundreds of dollars each and allow players to create painless, perfect multi-coloured mana. While in modern, mana bases are created around shocklands: a painful yet more economical mana base. Shocks average between $10-15 apiece. Modern and Legacy both make use of fetchlands that only serve to further increase the price of mana bases. Playsets of the original Zendikar fetchlands go for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market. Compromises can be made, but that drives down the consistency and power level of decks. Frontier has created a card pool that avoids many, if not all, of these expensive lands. Legacy has the true dual lands, modern has shock lands, and Frontier has a combination of battle and shadow lands. The frontier land suite includes:

There are other minor lands available to the Frontier pool, but the ones listed above are the most important. Lands like Darksteel Citadel and Sanctum of Ugin are more of a niche importance. Few ways exist in Frontier to punish greedy manabases. The manabases are also much less painful than modern mana because they are not centered on shocklands. While not being painful, the mana is much slower and more difficult to sequence / balance correctly. Players can easily construct four-colour decks but the mana base would be difficult and mentally taxing to create. This type of mana harkens back to the time of 4-colour Mardu Green midrange and Jeskai Black Control decks. Consistent mana is available in the format, it just requires a careful balance. For example, the following is a version of the Jeskai Black manabase; a four colour deck:

4 Flooded Strand

1 Plains

4 Polluted Delta

1 Mountain

3 Bloodstained Mire

1 Swamp

2 Mystic Monastery

2 Shambling Vent

1 Nomad Outpost

2 Smoldering Marsh

2 Sunken Hollow

1 Prairie Stream

2 Islands

An elegant balance is struck between the different types of lands available. As with all the other non-rotating formats, fetchlands play a vital role in anchoring the mana and making the delicate manabases possible. Poor sequencing in the early game will lead to slower mana, lands coming into play tapped and hamper board development. Time and effort needs to be expended on creating the correct and balanced manabase in this format.

Removal

Efficient and powerful removal is a necessary component of a non-rotating format. The Mardu wedge of colours makes up the space where removal exists in magic. It is hard to form an exhaustive list of staple removal in Frontier but, the following is a starting point:

Frontier removal is pushed much more to the situational spectrum. Unconditional removal does not exist in the same way that it does in Modern or Legacy. Sorcery speed removal and higher converted mana casts are both hallmarks of Frontier removal.

Unlike the older formats there is no premium one-mana removal spell. Legacy has Swords to Plowshares, Modern has Path to Exile and both formats have Lightning Bolt">Lightning Bolt. Frontier, by contrast, has a lesser parallel in the form of Fiery Impulse / Galvanic Bombardment. These spells are not like Bolt: they cannot act as burn spells in the late game. One-mana removal helps midrange and control decks address the early game and are a crucial component of an effective deck. Besides one-mana removal, decks also need access to unconditional removal and removal that can destroy / exile permanents other than creatures. This is the space that Anguished Unmaking and Utter End">Utter End occupy. These cards are main deck answers that can remove a singular problem from the game. In Modern, cards like Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse exist to fill this role, but Frontier functions without those older, more powerful cards.

Low-mana and unconditional removal are both vital, but I also wanted to address a favourite piece of removal I have in the format: Crackling Doom. On the negative side, Crackling Doom has a very restrictive mana cost and is rather expensive at three mana but, that is where the downsides end. Doom is perhaps one of the best removal spells in the format. Edicts help decks handle hexproof and indestructible creatures. This removal spell also has a small amount of burn attached to it that can be redirected to Planeswalkers. On top of all of this, the spell can be “flashed back” by means of Jace, Torrential Gearhulk, or Goblin Dark Dwellers. If you are playing the Mardu colours in Frontier odds are this is one of the reasons you are in those colours.

This concludes Part 1: This is only the first part in a two part series giving an overview of the Frontier format. There was simply too much information to go into in one article. In next week’s article I will explore the Planeswalkers, creatures, major spells, the format’s weaknesses, and sample deck lists.

free-modern

The Fro Knows: Where We Go From Here

TFK Banned List Header copy

 

I sense…a disturbance in the Standard format. As if millions of players cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. Something terrible must have happened. We are on the precipice of a new Standard era, one where WotC isn’t afraid to ban cards in Standard if they prove overpowered. While this may seem like an overreaction to the backlash against the revamped rotation schedule – which they promptly dashed, this is a stark reality for us all. Now banning announcements will be held on the Monday after the pre-releases as well as five weeks after the Pro Tour. This gives them twice as many opportunities to correct mistakes they may have made in their (lack of) testing so that the format doesn’t see the same dominance that UW Flash and GB Delirium have had in recent months. This also means that, like Modern, Standard tournament staples are now riskier to invest in. If a deck seems completely overpowered after the Pro Tour, it may now become safer to build Tier 2 archetypes in the event that those stronger decks get hit with the ban hammer.

Banned - 1

But where does this leave our current Standard? We lost three heavy hitters in Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter, and Reflector Mage, although the last one makes little sense in a post-Collected Company world. Either way, the fact remains that the current Aetherworks Marvel/UW Flash/GB Delirium roshambo match that is Standard has been seriously shaken up. Without Emrakul, Aetherworks Marvel and Delirium lose their inevitability. Without Smuggler’s Copter, UW Flash loses its most aggressive threat and BR Aggro loses its card filtering, Without Reflector Mage, UW Flash and Panharmonicon lose their main method of keeping the board clear for their threats like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

While losing these cards don’t necessarily kill the archetypes, it does hinder them to the point where they’ll be scrambling for replacement parts. While GB Delirium wasn’t hit by the Emrakul ban nearly as hard as Aetherworks, it will still have to decide whether it wants a giant creature to act as a finisher, or if it wants to tone itself down back into a dedicated midrange role. Barring a shift toward going wide with Decimator of the Provinces or a ramp package for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, the more likely scenario is the midrange route. In order to do this, the Emrakul slots would have to be something that’s mostly value like an extra Noxious Gearhulk, or something incredibly grindy like Seasons Past. Of the two, I think Seasons Past is the more likely solution since resolving it allows you to restock your hand with value spells to push through the opponent’s dwindling resources. What also helps this plan is that without Smuggler’s Copter, it’s much more difficult for aggressive decks to get going, so you’ll most likely have the time to fire off a Seasons Past to put away the game.

Emmyx

For UW Flash, the loss of Smuggler’s Copter and Reflector Mage might be enough to force it to revert back to the early Spirits shells that were popular toward the end of the pre-Kaladesh Standard season. These decks ran pretty much the same shell as the current Flash deck minus the Copter, so it seems like a natural fit. And while it’s nowhere near as powerful, if the deck is truly hurting for a vehicle, either Sky Skiff or Heart of Kiran from Aether Revolt can potentially fill in the void of cheap fliers that can’t be affected by sorcery speed removal. Shifting to a Spirits shell also helps replace the hole Reflector Mage leaves with Nebelgast Herald. While it doesn’t bounce the creature, having multiple flash Spirits can keep an opponent’s threat locked down while developing your own board.

locoptor

Finally, we have Aetherworks Marvel. Losing Emrakul was a huge blow to this deck, which is particularly painful since it marked thefirst time in ages that we had a dedicated combo deck in Standard. It was a deck I championed even as the Kaladesh spoilers were first being posted, so I took this one a little personally. However, I am undeterred in keeping the Marvel dream alive. We do lose Emrakul, but at the same time, in my experience there have been plenty of times where casting an Emrakul wasn’t game over on its own. As Marvel gained popularity, people starting shifting toward more sorcery speed removal to interact with Emrakul, and unlike Temur Emerge which could recur Emrakul with Grapple with the Past, once they killed an Emrakul it stayed down. But you know what giant, game ending creature doesn’t die to sorcery speed removal? Ulamog! By upping the Ulamog count in the Marvel deck, we trade off the ability to ruin the opponent’s plans with Emrakul for a potential three-for-one.

refmage

What makes Ulamog so backbreaking is that the vast majority of removal spells seeing play right now either destroy or shrink, but Ulamog’s indestructibility and sheer size protect him from these cards. Declaration in Stone and Stasis Snare have been on the downswing lately, namely because they were either too slow or they could be interacted with, so Ulamog can easily carve a niche in the deck. Moreover, this leap over to Ulamog might see a reversion to the classic GR Ramp decks that dominated pre-Eldritch Moon since they could reliably hardcast Ulamog, which is something Aetherworks decks tend to struggle with.

The bannings have certainly changed the core structures of the previous top dogs, but what they have also done is open up the floor so existing archetypes that were otherwise pushed out have a chance to shine. For example, now that Emrakul is out, decks that would get obliterated by having their turns taken, such as Metalwork Colossus and Dynavolt Tower decks, can stockpile their resources to their heart’s content. Emrakul held these decks back considerably, since the opponent could attack a Colossus into Emrakul, then use the Colossus in their graveyard to sacrifice all of their artifacts. In Dynavolt Tower’s case, they could use the Tower to burn their opponent while using up all their energy reserves, effectively rendering them helpless. While Ulamog is equally difficult to deal with for these decks, the fact that it doesn’t actively obliterate your entire game plan and undo turns of effort makes it much more manageable for these decks to operate.

One other deck that was played for all of three weeks before being promptly beaten back by Smuggler’s Copter aggro was Mardu Gearhulks. This deck grew in popularity due to MtG Goldfish, and effectively plays like a reanimator deck by discarding Combustible Gearhulk, Noxious Gearhulk, and Cataclysmic Gearhulk, then bringing them back over and over through Refurbish and Ever After. Having played against the deck with Aetherworks, I can say with conviction that the deck is a real contender, but since the Smuggler’s Copter decks had such an early and consistent clock, the deck couldn’t really get going because they were dead by the time they could set up. Noxious Gearhulk is subpar when you can’t target the opponent’s biggest threats like Copter and Gideon, so it fell off to the wayside. However, I think that if any deck takes up the mantle of big, grinding midrange deck, I think this is the deck to do it. I would even say that it could take over GB Delirium’s place in the metagame since it not only goes bigger, but because Fatal Push will be so prevalent, having a creature base completely unaffected by it feels like where you want to be.

148455693369035

Going forward post-Aether Revolt, it appears that combo will also be a defining force in the format. For the first time in ages, we will actually have three (THREE!) infinite combos in Standard. The first, which we already had in Kaladesh, revolves around Panharmonicon, Eldrazi Displacer, Drowner of Hope, and Thought-Knot Seer. Here you use Panharmonicon to double the EtB trigger of Drowner of Hope to generate six tokens which you sacrifice for six mana. You then use Eldrazi Displacer to blink the Drowner over and over, netting three mana each iteration. From there, you use your infinite mana to blink Thought-Knot Seer so the opponent draws their entire deck from its “leaves play” trigger. While losing Reflector Mage hurts, this deck does gain access to many of the Revolt cards that have EtB triggers, such as Deadeye Harpoonist and Airdrop Aeronauts, that combo well with Eldrazi Displacer. What’s interesting is that by blinking a Revolt creature with Displacer, when it returns to play it’ll trigger from seeing itself leave the battlefield!

Another infinite combo comes in the form of Wandering Fumarole and Crackdown Construct. This combo works by animating the Fumarole with Crackdown Construct in play, then repeatedly activating the Fumarole to switch its power and toughness infinitely. Since each activation gives the Construct +1/+1, we have an infinitely large attacker. What’s also fun about this is you can do all this mid-combat after the opponent has declared blockers. I expect this to see at least some play due to how easily splashable it is. Anyone running Blue and Red can realistically jam this into their decks with little consequence, and with cards like Built to Smash and Invigorated Rampage it won’t matter what kind of blockers the opponent has because you’re going to trample right through them.

The final and easily most hyped combo is Crazy Cat Lady, I mean, Saheeli RaiFelidar Guardian combo. We effectively have sorcery-speed Splinter Twin in Standard again! With both of these in play, you can use Saheeli’s -2 ability to make a copy of Felidar Guardian, which in turn blinks Saheeli so you can activate her -2 again and again until you have infinite attacking cat tokens. I absolutely love this combo, and I think that this is going to be one of the top contenders going into the Pro Tour. As well, because you’re in Jeskai colours, you can easily splash the Wandering Fumarole combo in there as a backup plan. This is not unlike when Pyromancer’s Ascension players in Standard would run Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin in their sideboards as Plan B.

One of the last archetypes I think will make a showing in the new Standard is RW Vehicles. While losing Smuggler’s Copter is painful, the deck gets three brand new tools to get themselves off the ground. Siege Modification, Peacewalker Colossus, and Consulate Dreadnought are poised to be the glue that makes a Vehicles deck actually possible in a post-Copter world. Consulate Dreadnought is by far the scariest card in a mana-to-power ratio, and while Crew 6 is a lot of power to animate it, we fortunately have several means of ignoring it. With Siege Modification and Peacewalker Colossus we have ways of bypassing the crew costs for vehicles, which enables us to run far more vehicles cards without worrying about keeping creatures around. Couple these with Start Your Engines and we have the potential to build an entire deck without creatures. For example, a curve of Turn 1 Consulate Dreadnought, Turn 2 Heart of Kiran, Turn 3 Cultivator’s Caravan, Turn 4 Start Your Engines is an attack for a whopping 22 damage without having to tap any creatures whatsoever. While not the best deck defensively, I think this has the power to really hammer away at a slower metagame.

Bannings always hurt, and while they aren’t usually as format warping as these ones will be, I think that Standard will have the tools to really diversify and move away from the Three Deck metagame. Aether Revolt brings a lot to the table, especially for combo players, and despite losing one of my favourite cards in the format, I remain optimistic. These bannings have only weakened the existing decks rather than kill them entirely, so fans can still play them with minor substitutions. We have a multitude of viable combo decks and the interaction to stop them. I’m actually excited to see how things change in the next few weeks, so buckle up, Standard players. We’re in for a hell of a ride.

 

Cruel Ultimatum: Grixis in Modern

cruel_ultimatum_by_ralphhorsley

Out of every tri-colour tribe in Magic, I would argue that Grixis is one of the most confused currently in the Modern format. Almost every other one has a definitive archetype that dominates the shard or wedge. For example, Jund is a midrange shard in Modern. Although other archetypes can be constructed with the Jund colours, the most obviously powerful archetype and the singular identity of the shard in competitive play is midrange. Grixis does not have this same type of straightforward power in one archetype that Jund, or several of the other tribes, have. There is an identity crisis present within Grixis; elements of it are aggressive, midrange, control and even combo and each build of the deck holds sway in any given metagame. Over the course of the last few years, new cards entering the Modern card pool, as well as bans and unbans have caused this shard to go through many metamorphoses on the biggest stages in the world.

The development and refining of Grixis lists in recent history really come down to four Pro players: Corey Burkhart, Gerry Thompson, Kevin Jones, and Michael Majors. All four players wrote about the archetype, brewed lists, and put up results at Grand Prixes and Star City Opens. Innovation was almost entirely driven by the banning of Splinter Twin and new cards that entered the Modern card pool in recent history.

splinter-twin-banner

After Splinter Twin was banned, Grixis was left in limbo. Much like Izzet, this was an archetype dominated by the presence of Splinter Twin and the power of the combo. Once the card was banned, Grixis had no real direction. There was a push-pull dynamic of whether you wanted a heavy counter magic deck or a deck based around heavy discard. Players basically took the most recent Twin decks and removed all Twin components as a starting point for a new age of Grixis decks. Looking at Theros block onward, Grixis got a bag of tricks that pale in comparison to those given to any other shard or wedge. The major additions to Grixis were:

  • Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
  • Tasigur, the Golden Fang
  • Bedlam Reveler
  • Anger of the Gods
  • Goblin Dark Dwellers
  • Kolaghan’s Command
  • Liliana, the Last Hope
  • Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
  • Pia and Kiran Nalaar
  • Collective Brutality
  • Painful Truths
  • Gurmag Angler
  • Murderous Cut
  • Keranos, God of Storms
  • Thing in the Ice
  • * Ancestral Vision (Although technically not a new addition, this card was a recent unbanning)

Recently, at GP Dallas, Corey Burkhart made it to the finals with his most current iteration of Grixis control. His list for the event was:

Grixis Control – Corey Burkhart (2nd Place GP Dallas)

4x Polluted Delta

4 x Scalding Tarn

3x Island

1x Swamp

1x Mountain

2x Creeping Tar Pit

1x Spirebluff Canal

1x Sulfur Falls

2x Watery Grave

2x Steam Vents

1x Blood Crypt

4x Snapcaster Mage

3x Tasigur, the Golden Fang

4x Ancestral Vision

4x Thought Scour

4x Serum Visions

4x Lightning Bolt

1x Engineered Explosives

2x Spell Snare

3x Terminate

2x Countersquall

3x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Cryptic Command

Sideboard

3x Fulminator Mage

3x Surgical Extraction

2x Sun Droplet

2x Anger of the Gods

2x Dispel

1x Damnation

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Engineered Explosives

This form of Grixis does away with hand disruption and focuses on hard counters, kill spells / burn, and card draw. Much of the composition of the deck is due to the creatures that Burkhart selected for the deck: Snapcaster and Tasigur. Synergies with Snapcaster Mage are straight forward: play powerful instants and sorceries. Tasigur, however, is a harder commodity to design around.

cardart_tasigurthegoldenfang

A deck designer needs to understand that when you are milling through Tasigur’s activated ability or through Thought Scour there are cards that you do not want to be in your graveyard. In particular, hand disruption spells and conditional counter magic like Mana Leak are very poor in a deck based around Tasigur as a finisher. With the exception of Spell Snare, Burkhart’s list would gladly take back any card milled into the graveyard in the late game. Spell Snare is a necessary evil in control decks in modern because of the tempo advantage it could provide in certain matchups. This builds stands as a more tradition control build of Grixis but, more radical builds have seen play.

Grixis Reveler – Gerry Thompson (MTGO Deck List)

1x Island

1x Mountain

1x Swamp

4x Blackcleave Cliffs

1x Blood Crypt

2x Bloodstained Mire

2x Creeping Tar Pit

1x Darkslick Shores

3x Polluted Delta

4x Scalding Tarn

2x Steam Vents

1x Watery Grave

3x Bedlam Reveler

1x Shriekmaw

4x Snapcaster Mage

2x Liliana, the Last Hope

3x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Lightning Bolt

3x Mana Leak

1x Slaughter Pact

2x Terminate

4x Thought Scour

1x Collective Brutality

4x Inquisition of Kozilek

4x Serum Visions

1x Thoughtseize

Sideboard

3x Engineered Explosives

2x Fulminator Mage

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Vampiric Link

2x Countersquall

3x Surgical Extraction

2x Collective Brutality

1x Thoughtseize

This is a deck that wanted to explore the space of Grixis with several of the new tools that the shard got in recent sets. Unlike Burkhart’s control list, Thompson’s deck is a hand disruption deck with a light sprinkling of counter magic. I would also classify this deck as midrange while Burkhart’s deck is much more of a control deck.

Recursion is the overarching theme in this deck; recycling of both spells and creatures. Kolaghan’s Command and Liliana, the Last Hope both provide methods of rebuying creatures from the graveyard. Additionally, all creatures in this build of Grixis have powerful enter the battlefield (ETB) effects that provide additional value when they are cast. Similar to Burkhart’s list, Thompson’s variant of Grixis has a lot of grind value and has a powerful late game that it can play towards.

Along the lines of Burkhart’s build, Thompson’s creatures dictated the types of spells that he wanted in his deck. Bedlam Reveler and Snapcaster Mage both demand a high amount of sorceries and instants within a deck. The Reveler also wants card velocity, which is achieved through Thought Scour and Serum Visions. Reveler Grixis relies on recursion to win the long game in contrast to Burkhart’s list that has Cryptic Command and card draw.

image

A third type of Grixis deck has also appeared at the top tiers of Modern events from time to time: Grixis Delver. Delver decks in Modern are a blend of tempo and aggro that aim at landing an early threat, Delver of Secrets, and using counters to protect that threat. The deck tries to be as efficient as possible; on average the spells in the deck all cost one or two mana. More than any other Pro player, Kevin Jones of the SCG circuit is a large proponent of the Grixis Delver strategy. He won the American World Magic Cup Qualifier with this list:

Grixis Delver – Kevin Jones, WMCQ 1st Place

4x Delver of Secrets

1x Gurmag Angler

4x Snapcaster Mage

3x Young Pyromancer

3x Tasigur, the Golden Fang

2x Island

1x Mountain

1x Swamp

1x Blood Crypt

1x Bloodstained Mire

1x Darkslick Shores

4x Polluted Delta

4x Scalding Tarn

2x Steam Vents

1x Sulfur Falls

1x Watery Grave

2x Electrolyze

1x Kolaghan’s Command

4x Lightning Bolt

2x Mana Leak

1x Murderous Cut

2x Spell Snare

2x Terminate

4x Thought Scour

1x Collective Brutality

3x Gitaxian Probe

4x Serum Visions

Sideboard

1x Engineered Explosives

1x Izzet Staticaster

1x Countersquall

2x Dispel

1x Kolaghan’s Command

2x Magma Spray

1x Spell Pierce

2x Surgical Extraction

2x Painful Truths

1x Vandalblast

1x Desolate Lighthouse

This type of strategy has the unique advantage of being able to go both wide or big in any given game. Young Pyromancer allows the deck to go wide simply through the casting of sorceries and instants. Pyromancer clogs up the ground while the Delver attacks in the air each turn slowly draining the opponent’s life total. The Delve creatures in the Delver deck permit it to go big and cast creatures that can go toe-to-toe with Tarmogoyfs. Jones’ deck has a strong Delve/graveyard subtheme and really showcases how the graveyard is a resource like everything else in Magic.

I find all of the above three lists highly divergent while still having a measure of overlap in the card pool. Even though the archetypes are different, certain subthemes begin to become clearer after examining current Grixis lists. Graveyard, efficiency, and grind all come to mind when looking at the lists explored above. While it may not have one true dominant style of deck but it does have a large breadth of viable options. I have also found that Grixis suffers from “flavor of the month syndrome”. A new card will come out, stir interest in the community and make a measure of inroads into the Modern format. Half a year later, no one is playing that card anymore. One of the most glaring examples would be Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Michael Majors was utilizing 3-4 copies of the card in his Grixis list after Jace’s release. Now, the card is rarely seen in Modern lists. Arguably the same trend was seen with Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Goblin Dark Dwellers. Every once in a while you see one of the aforementioned cards but it is infrequent. Grixis still feels like it’s trying to find its wings in modern.

Recently, the Aether Revolt spoilers released information on a powerful new toy for Grixis: Yahenni’s Expertise. I think this card really has a place to shine specifically in Grixis. No Shard grinds harder than Grixis and no Shard wants the type of two-for-one value that this type of card can provide more than Grixis. Players have been comparing this card’s effect to Bloodbraid Elf because it causes something similar to cascade: the only difference being that you have to have the other card in your hand. I believe some of the most powerful turns with this card will be casting it then “cascading” into an Ancestral Vision or Boom / Bust. These types of interactions have been seen better in Goblin Dark Dwellers, however Expertise only costs four mana. The one glaring sticking point is that the card is somewhat fighting over a spot the Anger of the Gods already occupies. It is my hope that both cards can find a place in Grixis. Perhaps one card is more a main deck card while the other is more of a sideboard card. Only time will tell if Expertise has any true modern relevance.

Until next time.

december-facebook

A Case For Venom By Alex S.

A blast from the past has invaded North America, ready to re-invigorate the lost hearts and souls of countless disillusioned comic book fans everywhere. For those of you looking for a serious analysis on the latest releases in the industry, you need look no further, I will be your guru; so strap in your seat-belts boys and girls, we’re about to go on a transcendent trip into Marvels greatest antihero of all time. He’s gooey, he’s mean, and oh boy does he ever hate a scream, the one, the only, Venom.

I’ll start this piece with some harsh truths, as it is my sincere hope to be a recurring, loud, opinionated voice that guides you on the rich journey of navigating through the plethora of comics available to us all. We can begin a simple statement to summarize my feelings on just what it meant to hear Venom was getting a new makeover: I was a HUGE fan of Eddie Brock and what he did for the franchise; the blonde bodybuilding disgraced journalist was literally the first villain I wanted to know more about, at the young age of twelve or so, I had no idea why I felt that way.

unnamedJim Shooter

 

That’s actually saying a great deal now that I come to really think about it, especially when you consider the awesome backstory of how a boy named Randy Schueller got paid $220, so seasoned shyster Jim Shooter, then chief-editor of Marvel , could get his hands on the rights to the idea. It would later be modified by a man named Mike Zeck, to become the alien symbiote costume of Spiderman; and by issue #300 of Amazing Spiderman we have the first glimpses of the Venom we now know today.

 

unnamed3Mike Zeck

 

Thanks to the genius of writer Mike Costa, we are introduced to an incarnation of our favorite symbiote that is no longer a lethal protector, nor is he a gooey guardian; instead we are graced with a profound true-to-roots change. Issue number one shows us this incredible metamorphosis through the arrival of our newest host and antihero, a man by the name of Lee Price.

Utterly amazing is how Marvel is deciding to link and carry a strong story-line through the new stories being told about our favorite comic legends. We can see the torch carried over from Venom Space Knight where by midway of the first issue of the newest Venom series we see an mind-numbing array of sketches that show the symbiote learning how to take the shape of a human and even survive for a prolonged period of time without a host; abilities our little friend never had before. Shortly after this feat is revealed we see a meeting where our protagonist is sitting with a man by the name of Gargan, a man most of you who are still probably reading this far into the article are familiar with: I’ll give you a hint, his name starts with an S, and rhymes with Orpion. A deal is hatched, things go sour (when do they not in a comic?) and just as our protagonist is about to be no more, deadly Venom intervenes.

unnamed1

 

The art here is absolutely gorgeous and it’s the reason I just have to spoil this part of the book; we see a wave of glistening ebon protoplasm as it is shaped into a makeshift shield, causing a spray of bullets to deflect or embed itself unto its slimy self. I find this to be one of the more appealing aspects of this series so far; if the art continues to be this good, you can be sure I’ll be grabbing each and every issue, along with the variants.

For those of you who might be true financial gurus in the industry, you need little educating on just how valuable and lucrative it is to collect things involved with what is often called the greatest antihero of all time. Merchandise outlets have only just begun to really catch on to how popular he is in the last few years, with t-shirts, mugs, key-chains, and other commemorative items now flooding almost every tier of merchandise available; you will find a Venom mug, a Venom piggy bank, a Venom anything they can really make and get away with. If one were to question the validity of collecting trinkets or comic books, an easy counter to the argument is to look at Hollywood and the film industry, the two have always been major reasons for spikes and booms among things like comic books.

When you look at how the next seven years are all docketed with tributes and first releases of numerous caped heroes that have never really graced the screen, it’s easy to draw a conclusion that investment now might be a very lucrative future proposition. Business teaches us that almost every industry can only look ahead seven years and reliably predict the course of its industry; if the next few years are flooded with movies paying tribute to comic books, what are the odds that those comic books actually lose value?

I think if Lee Price proves to have at least a bit of depth, he may make for the best take of Venom to be put on screen yet; a dark, sinister creature conflicted from its past lives and struggling to find the true meaning of being human.

It isn’t just about the comic books either. Graphic novels, and action figures depicting Venom are all likely to see significant increases if this series can maintain the quality it is presenting thus far. That the story is directly connected to the Venom we have known for the last decade or so is quite appealing to me as a reader too; we see this inclusion through the symbiote showing Lee Price what it has done in the last few years as a Guardian of the Galaxy with Flash Thompson.

What is interesting and important to note is that the symbiote has seemed to manage to imprint some of the values and morals he developed while influenced by Flash, as that seems to best explain why it chooses to depict moments of heroism and bravery, instead of the debauchery it committed as Eddie Brock; this all seems to disgust Lee. With Lee’s reaction it is easy to see him as a Villain, but that isn’t to say that he’s pure evil; it does however hint that a darker, more conniving version of Venom is about to be a regular fixture in our lives, and hooray for that!

Reminiscent of the layered, twisted art one can find on the pages of Superior Spiderman, particularly around issue #34, where Toxin makes an appearance and becomes involved in the fighting. I have been waiting for the better part of a decade for Flash Thompson to finally take a break so my favorite comic book legend could find a host that isn’t so depressing and filled with self-loathing. At last our saviors have arrived and I say encore! Encore!

m4rbpm

The Fro Knows: Legacy Tentacles

fro-header-1

 

There’s no two ways about it; I’m an Eldrazi fan through and through. Ever since their inception, I’ve jammed them in every deck I could and in every format I could. As a Legacy aficionado, for the longest time that meant that I was playing Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. It was the only viable Eldrazi creature. I played it in OmniTell, 12Post, and even Doomsday, but I always felt like I could be doing more.

 

You can imagine my utter joy when Oath of the Gatewatch arrived and with it a horde of new playthings to work with. While everyone and their grandmother was frothing over the power level of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher in Modern, I quietly sat in the corner brewing up how to abuse these beasts in Legacy. In fact, I had written about an Eldrazi shell the very weekend of the Pro Tour where Modern Eldrazi premiered. Since then, Legacy Eldrazi has proliferated through the Legacy format, and to this day it is one of the most prevalent aggro decks going.

 

ELDRAZI AGGRO

 

4x Eldrazi Mimic

4x Endless One

4x Thought-Knot Seer

4x Reality Smasher

4x Oblivion Sower

1x Endbringer

4x Matter Reshaper

4x Chalice of the Void

3x Dismember

2x Warping Wail

4x Eye of Ugin

4x Ancient Tomb

4x Eldrazi Temple

4x City of Traitors

4x Cavern of Souls

4x Wasteland

2x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard

4x Thorn of Amethyst

2x Warping Wail

2x Umezawa’s Jitte

2x All is Dust

2x Ratchet Bomb

3x Faerie Macabre

 

tve

So just what makes it so powerful in a format where Force of Will, Tendrils of Agony, and Griselbrand run rampant? On the surface, the deck looks like it just plays a bunch of big creatures and attacks, and frankly, that’s not inaccurate. Aggro decks in Legacy have traditionally used 3/4 Tarmogoyfs as the benchmark for attack creatures, and anything bigger had to be cheated into play with Show and Tell or Sneak Attack. Looking at the above list, we see a whopping 13 creatures larger than that Tarmogoyf, with Eldrazi Mimic and Endless One each being capable of growing even bigger. Couple this with just how quickly the deck can get rolling and you have a seriously terrifying archetype. On top of that, the deck runs many more creatures than traditional aggro decks. In a classic RUG Delver deck, you have a set of Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf, and Nimble Mongoose as your main threats. The Eldrazi deck runs nearly twice as many threats, and considerably larger ones at that, so it becomes clear why the former top dog would feel outclassed.

 

Another factor to Eldrazi dominance is its manabase. What made Modern Eldrazi so strong back in the day was the combination of Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple in the manabase to power out your creatures at a faster rate than the opponent can handle. In Legacy, we not only have access to those lands, but Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors as well, giving the deck an impressive 16 lands that produce two mana. This not only gives you the power to get your creatures online at a blistering pace, but also to abuse one of the strongest cards in the deck: Chalice of the Void. Being able to potentially cast Chalice for 1 on the first turn can be a death knell for a dangerously large percentage of the metagame. Shutting off everything from Brainstorm to Deathrite Shaman to Entomb can obliterate a lot of strategies, leading to a large of amount of effectively “free” wins.

 

As well, with the way the mana-base is set up, you can reliably curve your creatures in such a way that you can net progressively larger amounts of damage through growing your turn one Eldrazi Mimics. A turn one Mimic into turn two Thought-Knot Seer nets you 4 damage on the second turn. Curving into a Reality Smasher on turn three is another 14 damage. Given how fetchland-dependent most Legacy manabases are, this can be game over on its own.

 

The manabase is also built to maximize the odds of jamming a five or six-drop creature on the third turn. The main reason the deck even runs Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is to give the deck more ways of using Eye of Ugin to its full potential. By allowing it to tap for one more mana, you can turn otherwise awkward hands into a perfect curve. Normally an opening hand with Eye of Ugin and Chalice of the Void is incredibly awkward due to the Eye’s inability to tap for mana, but with Urborg you can still play Chalice on turn two and shut off the opponent’s spells.

 

perfectland

 

The creature base for the deck is the standard Eldrazi fare that is nearly a direct port of the Modern versions of old. Eldrazi Mimic gives the deck an early attack that gets progressively larger as the game goes on, while Matter Reshaper acts as both a chump blocker for Tarmogoyf and a cheap threat to pressure slower opponents. Matter Reshaper also has the advantage of netting you a card when it dies, either putting a permanent directly into play or drawing you a large creature like Reality Smasher to play the following turn. It’s also worth noting that hitting a land off of Matter Reshaper doesn’t trigger City of Traitors to sacrifice itself since you aren’t technically playing a land. Couple this with the fact we’re running 26 lands and we have a way to ramp ourselves even further through the drawbacks of our own fast mana.

 

2e4

 

Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher are the backbone of the deck, and are pretty much the main reason we’re playing Eldrazi to begin with. The sheer power of these cards in the metagame is staggering since they’re much larger than anything a fair opponent can do on turn two and three. Thought-Knot Seer outclasses Vendillion Clique at every angle, and a 4/4 body for effectively two mana makes it very hard to remove save for Swords to Plowshares, and even then we have Chalice of the Void to render such a removal spell useless.

 

Reality Smasher is the most aggressive play in the deck since the combination of trample and haste can cause some devastating blowouts. Even impenetrable defenders like True-Name Nemesis get flattened by Reality Smasher, and when coupled with Eldrazi Mimic, we can attack for massive chunks of damage much earlier than the opponent is prepared for. Smasher has the added bonus of requiring the opponent to discard a card when they target it with a spell; which, given the lack of proper card advantage in Legacy, can force an opponent into a situation where they have to choose between their life total and their resources for their subsequent turns.

 

hulks-smash-eldrazi

 

Rounding out the creature base is Endless One, Oblivion Sower, and Endbringer. Endless One is one of the most flexible creatures in the deck, being able to be cast as a 2/2 on turn one all the way to an 8/8 on turn four. Another fun trick with Endless One is that Eye of Ugin effectively adds two mana to its cost, so you can play Endless One as a 2/2 off of a turn one Eye of Ugin. This is great for swarming the board alongside Eldrazi Mimics early on. Also, and this is the corner case to end all corner cases, Endless One can also be cast for zero against Dredge to remove their Bridge from Belows from the game. Given how fast such a deck can go off, having a main-deck means of stifling their development is huge, and it just adds to the versatility of a card like Endless One.

 

Oblivion Sower, on the other hand, is just plain big in Legacy with its massive 5/8 body, but it serves a far more devious purpose in this deck. When cast, Oblivion Sower exiles the top four cards of the opponent’s deck and you can choose any number of lands from their exile zone and put them into play under your control. While this often results in whiffs as far as usable lands go due to most Legacy manabases being too fetchland-heavy, it does also mess with one of the most popular cards in the format: Brainstorm.

 

More often than not, players will cast Brainstorm in response to your Thought-Knot Seer to protect the cards they want to use. Following up the Seer with Oblivion Sower can exile at least one of these cards alongside whatever spells they would draw afterward.

 

Finally, Endbringer is a flexible tool for longer, more drawn out games through its card draw, pinging, and combat control abilities. Card draw is fantastic against Miracles since it allows you to dig your way out of Jace, the Mind Sculptor lock as well as restock your board after a Terminus. Pinging also helps against control by keeping Young Pyromancer and opposing planeswalkers under control. This is especially important for picking off nuisance blockers like Baleful Strix so they can’t trade with your other threats. Stopping creatures from attacking or blocking is particularly strong against decks like Sneak & Show and Reanimator which tend to rely on one giant attacker at a time. Preventing these creatures from attacking render them inert and you can easily attack around them.

dismember

The deck also employs Dismember and Warping Wail, because contrary to popular belief, Legacy does require you to interact with the opponent. Dismember is fantastic at dispatching the creatures in Infect, which typically rely on pumping a singular attacker through Invigorate and Berserk, so having a one-mana way to kill a creature even through Invigorate is a necessity. Dismember also shines in the mirror match since it picks off everything outside of Oblivion Sower, and while the cost of 4 life can be steep when you’re on the defensive, it can often provide enough of a tempo swing that you can claw your way back into the game. On the other hand, if you’re on the offensive, Dismember can be backbreaking since you can get rid of their biggest defender and swing for the fences. As well, Dismember does wonders against Stoneforge Mystic decks because it can kill the Batterskull token before they can get a chance to gain life with it.

 

Warping Wail serves multiple purposes in this deck through its first two modes. Exiling a creature with 1 power or toughness hits virtually every creature in Death & Taxes, Elves, and Infect, especially Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic.

 

While the majority of the most powerful spells in Legacy are instants, there are some seriously terrifying sorceries out there, and having a two mana counterspell for them can make or break certain matchups. The most egregious one is Terminus, which is a board wipe that can often be played at instant speed thanks to Sensei’s Divining Top. This is the card that can singlehandedly cause you to lose to Miracles, since after this board wipe is when they typically get full control of the game and grind you to death with Jace and Monastery Mentor. Shutting down the Terminus during a clutch combat phase is often what clinches victory, and Warping Wail is usually the card to get that done.

wrw

Another use for Warping Wail is stopping Show and Tell, which is especially troublesome in game one since it can go off as early as turn two even through a Chalice of the Void. Here it basically plays backup to Thought-Knot Seer by shutting down the subsequent Show and Tells that they dig for after ripping the initial one from their hand. The end step Intuition for three Show and Tells is seriously rough after a Thought-Knot Seer, so having a way of stopping them on their turn and using up the rest of their key cards can win the game on its own.

 

The sideboard is always in a state of flux given how the Legacy metagame shifts nearly weekly, but there have been tried and true staples that have always been a part of my lists. For example, a full set of Thorn of Amethyst is necessary for combating the faster combo decks like Storm, since adding an extra mana to their spells makes it incredibly difficult to chain spells together for their storm count. It also does a tremendous job of slowing down decks like Miracles since they tend to choke up a lot of their mana spinning Sensei’s Divining Top, which leaves them with fewer opportunities to actually cast spells.

 

As extra Miracles hate, I’m running an extra two copies of Warping Wail to go up to a full set to increase the odds of drawing one for those crucial “stop the Terminus” turns. I also like to board them in for Dredge since you can make a token and sacrifice it to exile their Bridge from Belows so they won’t get zombie tokens when they flashback Dread Return. The final nail in the Miracles coffin is All is Dust. This is a catch-all to Jace, Blood Moon, Monastery Mentor, and even the odd True-Name Nemesis. What’s also fun is that All is Dust is technically a colourless Eldrazi spell, so Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin help cast it. This means you can potentially fire it off as early as turn 4.

 

I’ve also elected to run several cards that can handle the smaller creature swarm decks. While our deck can get explosive early turns, we really are a midrange deck and can get out-aggro’d early on. Ratchet Bomb and Umezawa’s Jitte are perfect for these roles since you don’t really have to invest much into them to be effective sweepers. The majority of creatures in aggro decks tend to be one or two mana, so a Ratchet Bomb on turn two can easily turn into a board wipe by the time you’re ready to start jamming threats. This is also perfect against Goblin Charbelcher as an answer for their Empty the Warrens plan in which they just make a dozen goblins and attack twice for the win. Since tokens have a CMC of zero, you can crack the Bomb immediately and blow them out.

jitte

While Jitte isn’t as fast as the bomb, it’s certainly flexible enough to warrant two sideboard slots. Being able to trade counters to pick off X/1 creatures, gain life, and pump up our own creatures is a boon in these matches, and all you have to do to recharge it is deal combat damage with the equipped creature. It doesn’t even have to be to the opponent! Attack a planeswalker or block a creature and you can rack up the counters. Furthermore, you can activate it even if you don’t have anything equipped, so should they remove the equipped creature you can still snipe their attackers and gain life so long as it has counters.

faerie-macabre

Last but not least is Faerie Macabre. Now, these slots have been occupied by everything from Spine of Ish Sah for OmniTell to Coercive Portal for Legacy to Trinisphere for Storm, but with the rise of RB Reanimator I’ve elected to run them as Faerie Macabre. The Faerie allows us to discard it to remove up to two cards in graveyards from the game. I’m running this over something like Surgical Extraction because we can use it through our Chalice of the Voids and the occasional Trinisphere unlike Surgical, and while most graveyard hate cards can be countered or destroyed like Leyline of the Void, Faerie Macabre isn’t actually being cast so it can only be stopped by Stifle. This isn’t even a concern since Stifle has declined dramatically in Legacy over the past year. Stopping the turn one Griselbrand/Elesh Norn/Blazing Archon is imperative, and not having to use mana to do it gives you an edge when you’re on the draw and may get comboed out before you can even play a land.

 

Legacy Eldrazi has cemented itself as one of the top decks in Legacy, and it might just be my favourite non-Dredge deck that I’ve ever played. The versatility and size of your threats coupled with an immensely powerful prison element push the deck above and beyond the competition. It’s something that every Legacy player has to at least respect as a part of the metagame, whether they want to or not, and it’s something I wholeheartedly recommend for players looking to jump into the format since so much of the deck is Standard and Modern legal. The cost to build this deck is paltry compared to most decks since you can buy it all for less than a set of Underground Seas, and if you’ve ever played the Modern version it’s very easy to understand the majority of the lines of play. If you’ve been on the fence about jumping into Legacy, grab a pack of sleeves, a box of Oath of the Gatewatch, and start playing!