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Star, Star, Teach Me How to Shine


I've spent a lot of this last week casting the closest card I can find to Wildfire.

Star of Extinction

The big reason that this has been in my head has been my fight against one of the more powerful planeswalkers that Wizards of the Coast has printed in some time.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World is such a powerful planeswalker, both because it can end the game so rapidly and because it can take a player's mana from medium to excessive. Whether this fuels a Hydroid Krasis or not, it is rare that a Nissa, Who Shakes the World hits the table without the game ending very soon, one way or another.

Nissa herself was in more than a few decks, but joining her from Core Set 2020 was another card that was putting a lot of creatures into play: Risen Reef. The various Elemental decks, whether running Red or Black, all would be encouraged to go wide. The Command the Dreadhorde builds of Elementals could be truly absurd in the multitude of triggers pushing a game out of reach - a seemingly super-charged version of the Green-based Command the Dreadhorde decks that existed in the former Standard.

While some of the decks that were less dedicated to the board still exist, they definitely feel like they have been pushed to the margins. It's just hard to be a more controlling deck if you are trying to fight Risen Reef and Hydroid Krasis decks. Eventually, as I worked various decks in order to try to win the fight, Star of Extinction started showing up as a many-of in the seventy-fives of certain lists, particularly the Nicol Bolas decks I was working on.

It was in working on these lists that I discovered that I was really, really happy with Ritual of Soot. From there it was a quick leap to the recognition that every sweep spell felt good when I was trying to fight Nissa and Risen Reef decks.

This, of course, led to Deafening Clarion, which oh-so-often could take out a slew of mana creatures. Sadly, though, it could quickly end up being outclassed by an Omnath, Locus of the Roil or would be a part of a deck that simply couldn't pressure a deck quickly enough to stop Command the Dreadhorde from tearing everything apart - which in a way, brought me back to Star of Extinction, but had me hungering for another cheap spell which could, perhaps, eat a big creature.


Gates Ablaze

After a lot of brewing, I came to the following list.

This deck, like its predecessor in earlier formats, absolutely suffers versus a true control deck, though it can potentially overwhelm them. Narset, Parter of Veils is an absolute nightmare, if only because it shuts down the nature card advantage that this deck can use to push over a controlling deck.

One real key to the deck was something that happened largely because of my long-time friend and collaborator Brian Kowal. He suggested that Gatebreaker Ram is just an incredibly powerful creature and that the decks that were sideboarding the Ram were missing out. While watching another deck, Dinosaurs, pressuring otherwise powerful Elemental or other draws simply by being BIG and potentially having trample, I dusted off the 'ol Ram to see how it would go. The Ram's keywords - vigilance, trample, and big (not BIG like a Dinosaur, though) - made it feel like it was actually quite strong against numerous board states, capable of pressuring an opponent despite most of their defenses and excellent at defending against any deck planning on attacking but not running hard removal.

It only took three matches to be sold on BK's thought to maindeck Ram in Gates.

More aggressive decks are often easy to take down. There is a great deal of lifegain in the deck, and that isn't even counting how Deafening Clarion can be absurd in conjunction with a Gatebreaker Ram, often completely ending the hopes of an aggressive deck to finish the game. Still, I found that this isn't enough on its own, and Archway Angel needed to come in to play support. This change replaced an earlier attempt at the deck which used God-Eternal Kefnet; the Zombie God did manage to be pseudo-lifegain by being a potential early huge creature, but the trigger was so rare, it wasn't worth missing out on actual life gain.

Another card that replaced a God-Eternal Kefnet was the single Living Twister. I'm still experimenting with this card in the deck, but initial indications are exciting. Returning any Guildgate is a meaningful play in a deck with Guild Summit, and Plaza of Harmony can be a lockout with Living Twister. Add onto that the deck's ability to put into play a lot of lands, and Living Twister can also function as a way to control any number of permanents while being hard to kill with damage, especially for such a cheap investment. I'm not running a second copy because of the massive diminishing returns, but I'm happy to be playing the first copy for now.

Elvish Rejuvenator was an unusual choice, in some ways, but it can be explained quite simply as a means to recover from the sluggish starts that this deck could occasionally have. There is no real action in this deck until turn three, so an Elvish Rejuvenator can do a little to help you recover the unused time, even if it also just hops in the way of an attacker as a speed bump. In order for this to be effective, you really do need enough life-gain to make it worth your while; it may be that I just need to include a few more cheap spells, but I'm still not sure what cards those might be.

The final real experiment in the deck is running Chandra, Awakened Inferno. I think this is a great card, but it is also a bit hard to use. You really want to be a deck that is generally in a controlling mode, but can take advantage of the emblem by being able to turn it into a potentially quick kill. Because of this deck's use of Gatebreaker Ram, Chandra, Awakened Inferno is excellent at playing those roles. While I've lost a few games when I've had Chandra, Awakened Inferno out for a few turns, typically this deck will win after having the safety to make an emblem or two; the two games I lost despite those emblems felt as though they could be chalked up to misplays and overwhelming numbers of opposing Blue planeswalkers, and even then it was pretty close.

A little extra bit of good news for the deck comes in the form of the very hateful color-hosing cards from Core Set 2020. Each is pretty significant. Fry helps solve the Blue planeswalker problem and can help blunt the fast White decks. Cerulean Drake is an incredible wall against Red-based aggro. Veil of Summer acts like an excellent anti-discard/anti-counterspell card for the most part, with a few other applications as well. These cards don't solve the problems with Blue entirely, but they are a great step in the direction toward making those kinds of matchups a real proper fight.

On another note, one last bit of great news: I've started streaming pretty regularly again!

I took a bit of a break for almost two months as I finalized my move between Madison and New York City. Now, for the first time in that two months, I'm living in the same space as my home office, so, starting this week, you'll be able to catch me on the regular, mostly during the day, Monday through Friday on my Twitch channel. I don't have a formal schedule yet, but I will soon.

See you there!

- Adrian Sullivan

Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan

Follow me and subscribe on Twitch! /AdrianLSullivan

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