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Getting the Most Out of Your Mana

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I have a confession to make.

I read the replies to a troll-y Twitter question. I know. I know! After all the furor over using the readily available emotes in Magic: The Gathering Arena, I really should have known better. The answer was obvious! So obvious I should have just imagined that everyone already agreed on the correct answer and kept scrolling.

"What card currently in Standard are you most happy to see go?" or thereabouts.

There is a pretty obvious right one for anyone who has ever actually played Standard. But... Bonecrusher Giant? Brazen Borrower?

Those cards are both in Throne of Eldraine. So, if you can type one of the two more popular Adventures, presumably you've lived through the last year-plus and the rampant bannings of cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns; Once Upon a Time; and Fires of Invention. Those cards all have something in common - something egregious - and it's not something any of them have in common with poor Bonecrusher Giant.

I really don't even understand how someone could vote for Bonecrusher Giant! It's like the fairest card in the format at this point. It gets out-sized by an Adventure that - fully loaded - costs less mana! I have a soft spot for Brazen Borrower, sure. But despite its popularity across many archetypes and sideboards, that card scratched the four-of ceiling in comparatively few decks. Brazen Borrower has never resembled a problem in Standard.

Can we not all agree on the worst offender in Standard? Come on!

Winota, Joiner of Forces

Winota is like Oko; Once Upon a Time; and Fires. It generates too much for too little... mana. Magic - Standard even - is in a spot where card advantage is cheap. Everyone has card advantage. White Weenie has card advantage. You get card advantage plus Tutoring with a Professor of Symbology at two mana. You're paying for the Demonic Tutor there... The 2/1 creature is tacked on! Of course, you're not wowed at Professor of Symbology's rate. While card advantage might be everywhere, getting the most out of your mana is another matter entirely.

If the Professor is going to play Borderland Ranger, it's going to cost you one more mana:

Environmental Sciences

And if it's going to play Hero's Downfall, it'll be a fair bit more than that.

Necrotic Fumes

Which is a long way around saying that I enjoy the Arena-only format Standard 2022 much more than real Standard, myself. I just don't find playing against Winota very fun. When you beat it, it's just because they hit poorly (or not at all) half the time. They invest in {whatever} the first three turns. I mean some people play this for Morphling's sake:

Staunch Shieldmate

... Just to have a not-Human creature to play ahead of Winota. When you lose to someone who cast a Staunch Shieldmate... It does not feel good. But when you beat them, it isn't like that is some fulfilling life experience. They played Staunch Shieldmate!

Stadard 2022 has its own issues, sure. A lot of it is just White Weenie or Blood Money variants across the virtual table. But at least people aren't compacting 9-20 free mana in a four mana 4/4 and a pair of crossed fingers.

Okay. I guess let's ruin that.

An Introduction to Blood Money

My familiarity with the Blood Money family comes from watching CovertGoBlue videos. So, all credit to him. I hope he and the nice people here at CoolStuffInc sold all the Shark Tokens.

Blood Money refers to two overarching design elements:

Blood on the Snow

"Blood" is for the payoff. Lots of Snow-Covered Swamps set you up for a powerful defense + a built-in recovery sequence via one big spell.

Shambling Ghast
Deadly Dispute
Skullport Merchant

"Money" refers to the deck's Treasure sub-theme. All versions run four Shambling Ghast and four Deadly Disputes; most run four Skullport Merchants (and I don't think I've ever seen fewer than two copies).

I first dipped my toe into the Blood Money waters via an essentially Mono-Black deck topping up on Professor Onyx. I later switched into a Green-splashing one for Binding the Old Gods. The additional Ramp was nice, but what was more attractive was just having some faster interaction. Mono-Black Blood Money is very powerful but leans very heavily on Blood on the Snow and Professor Onyx for removal. And six turns - maybe four or five if you're really lucky - has you playing from behind A LOT.

The B/G version had a lower ceiling; though I always got a kick out of killing people with the last point by Venturing into the Tomb of Annihilation. These decks are rewarding and thoughtful to play; but there isn't that much edge. B/G is faster and a little more flexible on defense. Mono-Black can win games in startling fashion from way, way behind... But it's slow.

But recently I found this:


... And by "found" I mean CovertGoBlue posted a video about a high Rakdos winning percentage and I tried it, largely intact, for myself.

My only main deck change was to swap out a Gelatinous Cube fun-of for a second Lolth. I haven't tried it yet, but I speculate that Expanded Armory is just too good not to play with Goldspan Dragon. You not only target your own Dragon, you completely change the script for a turn by playing offense / defense. I know this may sound heretical for longtime Blood Money players, but I very rarely fetch Mascot Exhibition in this version. You certainly don't need three copies of a 7-drop! I'm too busy getting the most out of my mana.

What Do We Mean by "Getting the Most Out of [our] Mana"

And how does this differ from other Blood Money decks?

The central Blood Money plan is to live long enough to cast Blood on the Snow. You often have to play many more turns after you've done that (especially against Blue decks); but you are highly unlikely to win any games unless you resolve that first big six-drop.

Blood on the Snow is kind of like a giant Flametongue Kavu. But instead of killing only one creature you can kill potentially several. And instead of keeping a single 4/2, you will end up, generally, with a powerful Planeswalker. Most commonly Lolth, Spider Queen.

Lolth herself will then spit out two 2/1 Spider tokens, which are like splitting Flametongue's 4/2 across multiple bodies... But you get to keep the personal Howling Mine that is Lolth as well! You're getting quite a lot for your six mana (five of which were Snow). It's just that with Rakdos you can get more.

Immersturm Predator

Immersturm Predator is the best card in Standard 2022. As far as I can tell there is exactly one card that is good against it. Skyclave Apparition owns Immersturm Predator, surely; but everything else is average or could have given the same problems to Goldspan Dragon.

This is kind of beside the point but other Blood Money decks themselves tend to be very bad against Immersturm Predator. Since they mostly rely on Blood on the Snow for removal, they can't "aim" at it. They were going to blow up all your other guys anyway, so sacrificing one to keep the Predator around is a non-cost. If it ever gets tapping, whether from self defense or beatdown, the Vampire Dragon reduces the effectiveness of the opponent's future Blood on the Snow re-buys. The card is ferocious in terms of context and metagame.

But it really shines because it helps you get the most out of your mana! Instead of keeping one powerful permanent after a Blood on the Snow, you now get to keep two. And one of them is Immersturm Predator, who is so very effective against an opposing Blood on the Snow-based defense. Many Blood Money games are just two big hosses slapping 6-drops at each other. This card makes yours four mana more effective and reduces theirs to getting back Eyetwitch.

Earlier in a game, Immersturm Predator will curve more effectively than any other two-three punch under the Blood Money umbrella. The Golgari build might curve Prosperous Innkeeper into Ellywick Tumblestrum or the mighty Binding the Old Gods, but it is probably clear to you how inferior on the battlefield that is to:

Kalain, Reclusive Painter
Immersturm Predator

You start out with a 4/4, and it has protection (the Reclusive Painter itself). Immersturm Predator is the mirror-breaker, but here it gets an additional natural boost in rate, just by being played next to another card you would always play! If you hit one of your many 1-drops to start, that would be not only additional protection, but another way to get the most out of your mana.

Shambling Ghast
Eyetwitch

It's kind of embarrassing how hard Blood Money players try to trade an Eyetwitch. The deck is very mana hungry, and sometimes your land just comes out awkwardly. Sometimes you actually need another Snow for your Blood on the Snow. But if the opponent doesn't cooperate, you're stuck using Deadly Dispute or Skullport Merchant to set up your own dead Eyetwitch. Which is great, actually! Lots of card advantage and more options, provided you already had the time and resources to spend.

Immersturm Predator just lets you sacrifice Eyetwitch for free. What can I say? I guy's gotta hit his land drops.

Shambling Ghast
Deadly Dispute

What is weird is how much better Shambling Ghast is on the first turn (generally) than Eyetwitch. Eyetwitch gets you a real resource. A real card. Shambling Ghast gets you a temporary Lotus Petal. But on the play? What more could you want?

Sacrificing Shambling Ghast to Deadly Dispute on the second turn leaves you five mana on turn three. You can immediately drop Lolth... Or the [other] signature card of this build, Goldspan Dragon. If Immersturm Predator is not the best card in Standard 2022, it's clearly this other Dragon. And a Deadly Dispute setup gets you to that best card faster.

You're getting more out of your mana. Not more out of your cards. Everyone has good cards. But when you have the fastest Goldspan Dragon, you've already eclipsed the concept of a "good" card. Shambling Ghast gives you a burst... But with this payoff, you get it right back! Goldspan Dragon makes a Treasure that is worth the two Treasures you just consumed to cast it. In the very likely case you untap with it, it will make more.

Which leads me to the last way this deck gets more out of its mana than other Blood Money decks.

The 7/7 Immersturm Predator!

What happens a lot is that you actually get three of the unique cards at the same time. Kalain, Reclusive Painter into Immersturm Predator on turn three is very good. But have you tried sacrificing just two of Goldspan Dragon's Treasures to make a Predator? Kalain and Goldspan Dragon combine their Treasure powers Captain Planet style and make a Predator that is more than twice the proscribed size, for essentially half the cost. The rate on this is clearly ludicrous and you are surely getting more out of your mana than anyone else in the format at that point.

I didn't want to talk about how this is a good deck to play in general. I do think it's the best, but all the Blood Money decks have their own incentives. This one can capitalize on an opponent tap-out better because of Goldspan Dragon, but its ceiling is arguably the lowest. The Professor Onyx build with Plumb the Forbidden can just kill you combo-style. Professor Onyx herself is a more powerful payoff than any of the cards in the Rakdos build, or is at least costed that way.

But the rub there is that an opponent has to have the time and mana to be able to take advantage of a higher ceiling. Rakdos can just kill them, or both kill and exile their Planeswalkers while they're still stumbling on mid-game mana on account of having to pay two to sacrifice Eyetwitch. Immersturm Predator gives Rakdos effectively four more mana in value on a successful Blood on the Snow; while making the opponent's Blood on the Snow far less potent. It does so for literally no mana cost beyond its initial four, unless you count the mana of having to cast additional creatures.

On a personal note, as someone who's been playing almost since the beginning, it was really fun to just see theory unfold over the course of regular games. Everyone's card advantage operating according to plan, but just getting more value, more rate, out of it; and being able to plan for those advantages.

LOVE

MIKE

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