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Unlocking Synergies across Dragon's Maze

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”We all were sea-swallow'd, though some cast again

(And by that destiny) to perform an act

Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come,

In yours and my discharge.”

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

I’m no Billy Shakespeare scholar, but I’m pretty sure he was peering into the future and seeing the Dragon’s Maze format when he wrote this passage (and not, as it were, the Tempest Draft format. He probably would have loved Slivers, though).

Doorkeeper
DGM is my favorite format in years, and every time I draft the format, I discover the seeds planted in Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash that make it so. I have around a dozen under my belt as I’m writing this and will probably have a dozen more by the time you read it, and my winning percentage is astronomical. And I’m a hundred percent positive that it correlates strongly with my love of the format.

“What’s past is prologue.” What existed before—the awesome RTR Draft format and the decidedly “meh” Gatecrash format—are now, in my eyes, simply the setting, the backdrop, the way we arrived at this masterful Draft format.

The cross-block synergies are so deep, so wild, and so varied that I’m positive I’ll still be discovering new things as I ascend on San Diego for Pro Tour: Dragon’s Maze coverage. If you watch the video coverage, you’ll certainly see me in the background, holding a clipboard, tapping away on an iPad, hunched over and hacking away at my laptop.

You can actually read a lot of my thoughts on the Pro Tour on Brian David-Marshall’s article on DailyMTG.com from last week (seriously, invest in Jace, Architect of Thought now), but I want to delve into some of the coolest cross-block synergies and hidden gems I’ve come across so far in preparation for what is sure to be among the most interesting and entertaining Pro Tours in some time.

Here’s what to watch for this weekend in the Draft rounds.

Maw of the Obzedat

Maw of the Obzedat
This card was both the inspiration for this article and the man/Thrull/Elvis-thing behind many of my match wins.

Let me be clear: Maw of the Obzedat is a bomb and possibly the best uncommon in Dragon’s Maze. And in a set that has quite a few good uncommons, that’s saying something.

The key is that Maw works incredibly well with a plethora of cards across the block. I’ve combined it with Sunhome Guildmage, Goblin Rally, various populate cards, and, in some cases, just a bunch of creatures.

I mean, just think about the possibilities when you have Bronzebeak Moa and Maw of the Obzedat on the table and you cast something as innocuous as Seller of Songbirds or Eyes in the Skies? Can that math ever be favorable to an opponent?

And if you have access to Mortus Strider, a card that is quite easy to pick up, you have easy access to “1ub: Creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn.”

Murder Investigation
The fact that it’s a sacrifice outlet isn’t irrelevant either. Act of Treason, Traitorous Instinct, and Smelt-Ward Gatekeepers all give good reasons to have access to free sacrifice outlets, and Maw of the Obzedat is light years better than trying to rely on something like Corpse Blockade. And, while it’s not super-common, it is worth noting that a ready sacrifice outlet can fizzle Hands of Binding.

But the best part is that the Maw enables alpha strikes like you wouldn’t believe. Attacking into cluttered boards is tricky in this format, but doing so with Maw of the Obzedat available is like having full control over how combat ends up. Want to kill all the blockers? Sacrifice your unblocked creatures? Want to deal a ton of damage? Sacrifice the blocked ones.

And don’t get me started on how excited this card makes me for Murder Investigation. How filthy is that?

Honestly, this whole article could turn into something of a love letter of Maw of the Obzedat if I let it, so we’ll cut it off here with one final thought.

You’re not drafting Maw of the Obzedat high enough—unless you’re drafting it with me at the table. In which case, please, please, for the love of the Obzedat (or indebtedness or whatever passes for fealty for the Orzhov), pass it my way.

All of the +1/+1 Counters

Bioshift
This section started as a Bioshift section, then opened up to Korozda Gorgon, then added Ivy Lane Denizen, then inducted Zameck Guildmage, and then, and then, and then . . .

There are just so, so many +1/+1 counter synergies across the block that this is an entire section in and of itself. In fact, chances are pretty good I’m missing several.

At the most basic, all of the Gatecrash Simic cards that cared about +1/+1 counters now also are able to play with scavenge and unleash. Since Simic cared way more about those counters than either of those guilds, it opens up a whole swath of interactions that simply weren’t there before.

For example, scavenge now turns on both Crowned Ceratok and Sapphire Drake, shooting those two up the pick order in full block. We also have Hindervines making our unleashed creatures even more dangerous on the attack (as though they needed more help) and Zameck Guildmage gaining the ability to allow your previously unleashed creatures to block—all while drawing a card.

Korozda Gorgon
Bioshift also gains some utility as a trick now that chances are even better your opponent will have some kind of counters on their creatures, though its primary use will still be to shift them around your own squad.

Dragon’s Maze gives us a pretty amazing new tool in Korozda Gorgon. Now unleash creatures come with removal spells stapled to them, and scavenging can turn the Gorgon into a machine gun.

Speaking of Korozdas decimating a board position, Korozda Guildmage combines very, very nicely with Ivy Lane Denizen, letting you crank out hordes of 1/1s that trigger the Denizen. It’s unfortunate that you can’t sacrifice the tokens to keep growing your pile of 1/1s, but that was probably a nod to this very combination.

All of this means that you can generate value out of even a late-game Rakdos Cackler or Slitherhead, making anything that grants counters instantly more valuable than it was before.

Stab Wound in Orzhov

If there was ever a card that just belonged in an Orzhov deck, it’s Stab Wound. While it was always among the top commons in RTR, the bleeding often didn’t quite synergize with Rakdos’s aggressive nature or Golgari’s giant monsters that you wanted to chump-block anyway.

But now you can stab a creature and then bleed its controller to death while sitting back defensively behind Basilica Guards, One Thousand Lashes, and Pontiff of Blight. Better bring pad and paper—life totals will be dropping by 1s and 2s until the opponent is dead.

Populate

Illness in the Ranks
Like +1/+1 counters, this section grew out of the plethora of cards that work with creating a ton of little creatures. Everything from the previously-mentioned Maw of the Obzedat to Righteous Charge to Undercity Informer all the way to a few cards that seemed tailor-made to fight tokens in a non-token set.

First off, we have Illness in the Ranks, which goes from fourteenth-pick to legitimate sideboard card now that Gatecrash is able to interact with Selesnya. Likewise, Homing Lightning, already a stellar removal spell, will have a much better shot of going all Chain Lightning on a bunch of Centaurs or Knights.

But—let’s be honest—what we really want to do is populate the crap out of our own team and smash our opponent with the cool new tools.

Bronzebeak Moa
Bronzebeak Moa is an obvious nod to populate, but it’s certainly a strong one. Combining it with simple commons such as Eyes in the Skies and Seller of Songbirds makes all of those cards better. Start adding in rares such as Growing Ranks and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, and things get a little silly. Moa also gets a few flash creatures and instant-speed token producers that make it a potential nightmare in combat. For example, if your opponent has a Bronzebeak Moa and access to ggwu, do you play around Eyes in the Skies, Hussar Patrol, or, heaven help you, Advent of the Wurm?

This means that sacrifice effects (Cartel Aristocrat, Corpse Blockade, etc.) go up, as do any mass-pump effects from Gatecrash. Even some cards such as Dynacharge, which were almost entirely stuck in Izzet decks that didn’t really want them, become better when you’re more likely to be three colors.

Oh, and if you open Pontiff of Blight in Dragon’s Maze, populate is definitely a good place to be.

Goblin Test Pilot with Hold the Gates

If you have two Gates out and Hold the Gates, Goblin Test Pilot activations are essentially free. I’m not sure I’d ever purposefully draft these together, but if somehow you end up in some very defensive R/W/U deck and find yourself with opportunities to take these cards, it could give you a weird, pingy combo.

Maze Abomination with Izzet Staticaster

That’s not nearly as pingy as giving deathtouch to an Izzet Staticaster. This combo is pretty slow, but build-your-own Visara the Dreadfuls are always pretty bomby.

Feral Animist with Way of the Thief

Feral Animist
This guy seemed like a weird little reprint, but this block is chock full of synergies that make him a nice callback to old Ravnica.

The most obvious is bloodrush. Spending 6 mana and a Scorchwalker will give you 14 power on this guy. Even innocuous things such as +1/+1 counters from Common Bond or scavenge can get out of hand in a hurry.

The best card to stick on our furry friend, however, is probably Way of the Thief. Unblockable 8 damage with no other help is kind of a beating, and if you have 6 mana, the game is basically over. Way of the Thief is a much better card now, and this reprint is one of the reasons.

Jelenn Sphinx with Battalion

One of the problems Boros decks often have is the need to attack with smaller creatures to trigger battalion or just attacking with battalion creatures that are weak on their own. Jelenn Sphinx, besides offering a durable attacking body on his own, makes attacking with the riff-raff such as Bomber Corps much more palatable.

Species Gorger with Detain

One of the problems with some creatures with detain is that they often become outclassed the later the game goes. Azorius Arrester is a solid 2-drop, but it can become awkward in the mid- to late-game. But Species Gorger lets you build your own Martial Law (with an upkeep cost) by combining it with any number of detain creatures. The best ones to bounce are probably Azorius Arrester and Azorius Justiciar.

Dimir Mill-Yourself

Dimir’s primary focus in Gatecrash was to mill out your opponent, but with scavenge and cards like Drown in Filth now in the format, it’s sometimes going to be correct to mill yourself, usually if you’re playing B/U/G. If you aim for this kind of strategy (which is more incidental than anything), cards such as Treasured Find and Down // Dirty become that much better, and Midnight Recovery becomes an all-star.

Things I Think I’m Thinking

Sin Collector

  • I didn’t much care about the Sliver’s change at first. I get the functional change, but the art sort of bothers me. They just don’t look like Slivers, which creates a disconnect for me and makes it odd to see them called Slivers. Still, I’m withholding judgment till I see the whole picture.
  • I really want to pair Duskmantle Seer with Sin Collector.
  • I have already tried the Maze's End deck. Boy howdy does it not work on a competitive level.
  • I used to work for Abercrombie and Fitch . . . does that mean the Abercrombie and Fitch CEO thinks I’m part of his super race?
  • By the time you read this, I’ll be in sunny San Diego for the Pro Tour. I’m excited. You should be, too.

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