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The Important Article


Let's run down the Top 8 decks from last weekend's MagicFest:

  • Sultai Escape - *
  • Rakdos Sacrifice - 11
  • Bant Ramp - 11
  • Four-color Control - 1
  • Simic Ramp - 1
  • Temur Reclamation - 1

Last week I gave you the Top 8 Reasons to play Bant in Standard (or at least not to play Sultai). In completely unrelated news, my sometimes podcast partner Roman Fusco scored a 6-0 qualification to the MagicFest with Bant. We did an audio version of that article and discussed a bit about Roman's qualification if you want to give that a listen.

I still think Bant is the best... But was maybe wrong about Sultai... Or, at least the version of Sultai that actually ended up winning the event. Which brings us to:

What's Important About Sultai is that it now plays Cavalier of Thorns.

Whether it's befuddling the best Standard player in the world or just qualifying Our Hero for the Black Lotus million-dollar Magic: The Gathering Professional Tour, Cavalier of Thorns has had many a Role Player day in the sun for such an ostensible Staple.

While it is fair to say that in Sultai Escape the good Cavalier facilitates Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Polukranos, Unchained action... That's not even what makes it so good. My main objection to the Sultai archetype last week was around Dream Trawler. Not only does Sultai not get to play Dream Trawler (when Bant does), it at least previously lacked any reliable way to handle Dream Trawler.

Forcing the opponent to discard Dream Trawler with Thought Erasure is a highly strategic use of the card... But can sometimes fail due to the presence of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. Further, the presence of Tamiyo and Elspeth Conquers Death makes the idea of the graveyard kind of a dubious end anyway.

Cavalier of Thorns single-handedly flips the Sultai-Bant relationship on its head. Why?

  1. Cavalier of Thorns has Reach
  2. Cavalier of Thorns has 5 power... and 6 toughness

Because it has reach, the Elemental Knight can actually block the flying Dream Trawler. Dream Trawler typically has only 5 toughness. That means that Cavalier of Thorns will kill it, dead. And while Dream Trawler can work its way up to 6 power to kill the Cavalier back... That will take some doing.

Net-net? Cavalier of Thorns generates card advantage on the way down; sets up even more card advantage via the Escape mechanic; and if Dream Trawler can end up trading with it on the battlefield? That's a victory for Cavalier of Thorns (who is going to get something else sweet back, anyway).

So given Sultai's ability to do a solid Dream Trawler impression with its own Uro and Hydroid Krasis, this archetype jumps a whole tier between the full four-of addition of Cavaliers and the upgrade to four copies of Growth Spiral and no stupid Agonizing Remorse in this build. Kudos to and mad congratulations to Mark J. for his historic accomplishment.

What's next?

What's Important About Rakdos Sacrifice is that it makes you think.

... Bet that wasn't what you thought you were going to read!

What we have been calling Rakdos Sacrifice is at this point two different, distinct, strategies entirely; that happen to share a wide overlap of high quality cards. Both builds were present in the MagicFest Top 8.

So what do I mean about Rakdos making you think?

If you consider Aniol's somewhat more traditional build... This deck is all about card quality, getting value, and slowly (or at least relatively slowly) building advantages.

The centerpiece card of this build is Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger. Aniol played four copies... And the cards required to support it. There are four - count 'em four - copies of Tymaret Calls the Dead in this version. This card is kind of the definition of slow; being 3 mana, and taking multiple turns to build relatively minor advantages. It doesn't only make Zombies, though. Tymaret Calls the Dead 1) can bin Kroxa for a three-four Escape, and also 2) actually triggers a sacrifice for Mayhem Devil on Chapter III.

Aniol's deck is very mid-range. It doesn't even play a single copy of onetime Staple Gutterbones.

If you contrast Aniol's details with Ashley's... It's almost easy to discount their shared Cauldron Familiars, Mayhem Devils, and Witch's Ovens!

Ashley's deck is highly aggressive. We don't see the full four Gutterbones in this version (entirely absent, remember, from Aniol's)... But they are there. Alongside this aggressive 1-drop are not only Dreadhorde Butcher... But Robber of the Rich! This is a highly aggressive deck at its core. It can generate card advantage with a wide array of aggressive creatures, but the objective is damage output via haste and other speedy elements. No Tymaret Calls the Dead; no Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger.

So how do these decks make you think?

What do you get out of thinking?

These decks have very different ways of closing close games. One of them can recover from a sweeper with a Robber of the Rich for immediate combat damage, and possibly an extra card. The other will try to recover from a sweeper the old fashioned way: By buying back a 6/6 Blightning.

Leyline of the Void is outstanding against Aniol's deck, which plays spells that profit by putting cards directly from the deck to the graveyard. It certainly has some action against Ashley's deck, and depending on whatever else I had I might still side it in... But Cauldron Familiar, Dreadhorde Butcher, and Gutterbones are all doing damage regular-style before they ever try to cash in graveyard bonuses; you might want to think about how much of the game is on the battlefield before reaching for a sideboard card like this.

Since we spent an entire article on Bant last week, let's move on to...

What's Important About Four-Color Control is that it is as unpredictable as it is powerful.

First of all, no one really plans for this archetype at all.

It has elements of Command the Dreadhorde decks of months past; and Hero of Precinct One decks... But it's neither.

This deck takes many of things that make Bant powerful - essentially a focus on the most powerful aspects of Azorius - and trades defense, flexibility, and speed for turning Semi-Soft Locks up to 11.

This deck can play the entire Azorius mid-game dance... It's got the full complement of Teferis and Narsets to screw up regular game play... And three copies of Elspeth Conquers Death to get them back while hassling your side of the table. Any of this jazz is going to win games the way Azorius used to.

But its black Planeswakers are also and quite independently also game-winners! Both Liliana and Nicol Bolas (cleverly splashed here with not much more than the already-synergistic Interplanar Beacons) are tough to handle if they resolve, and produce nasty multi-way avenues to card advantage whatever turns they come down.

I think you'll find that if you don't have very specific answers for some of the cards in Bolun's deck, you're just going to be out of luck. One copy each of The Elderspell and Command the Dreadhorde allow this deck to exploit resource asymmetry and / or win out of nowhere in ways that will legitimately rattle the ordered mind and upend the best laid plans.

Lastly, I'd like to skip over a Growth Spiral-Uro deck that has had plenty of commentary recently for a Growth Spiral-Uro deck that reminds us simply that it's still here.

The Important Thing About Simic Ramp is that it can change speeds.

Simic Ramp is not a confused deck, per se. Lito's build makes some odd choices from my perspective... Only three copies of Risen Reef; only three copies of Nissa, Who Shakes the World... But it covers a ton of the deck's actual big bases.

It all starts with Risen Reef...

That's not actually true, as Growth Spiral comes down faster, and Uro can occupy the same initial point in development... But Risen Reef is persistent, and obviously highly synergistic with Simic Ramp's Elementals sub-theme.

Anyway, imagine you play a Risen Reef on turn three and flip a land. You now have four lands in play.

You can reliably play a land out of your hand the next turn (you run 28, remember) and have five; which is perfect not only for Nissa, Who Shakes the World but fellow Elemental Cavalier of Thorns.

While Cavalier of Thorns was largely an enabling Role Player in Sultai, it truly shines in this deck, which is so about getting extra lands in play. You will theoretically trigger the Risen Reef (Elementals, after all) and the Cavalier, which will often give you eight lands in play on turn five; you will very rarely have fewer than six.

Even with only six, the Cavalier's other ability may have given you something fun to do with your graveyard. Maybe an Uro? What about Quasiduplicate?

Imagine you actually naturally drew a Quasiduplicate. What will you do with it? I suggest copying the Cavalier of Thorns, which will give you double triggers; and then playing it back out of the graveyard (you have at least six lands, right?)

Copying the Risen Reef can give you more triggers, but a 5/6 Reach - or three - is really going to dominate most battlefields.

That is Simic the synergy Ramp deck. Simic can also play a similar game to Bant or Sultai, just moving through its cards at a greater rate than usual, deploying the regular super-threats shared by all three archetypes -- Uro, Nissa, or Hydroid Krasis... Maybe Nissa into Hydroid Krasis. It is the best of the three at that, of course, with many more basic Forests.

Simic can switch between these modes, or operate multiple at the same time thanks to the enormous amount of flexibility having "infinite" mana gives you... But that's not even the interesting gear-shift here.

This deck plays four Aether Gusts and two Mystical Disputes main. It has Negate and more in the sideboard! Aether Gust has relevant text against every single deck in this Top 8. Mystical Dispute is poor against the Rakdos decks (but still can do something)... But can prove just as unpredictably game-winning as Four-color Control in most of the rest of the matchups.

This deck can slow play an Island into an Island and a Forest for Growth Spiral; or it can choose not drive the pedal to the floor as it starts to Ramp, leaving back a little permission mana.

Perhaps most importantly, Simic Ramp can PROTECT. THE. QUEEN.

It's not just that it gets a potentially game-winning Semi-Soft Lock in play... Once it's there, this deck can actually protect it for the 2-3 turns it might require to win. Main deck!

Simic lacks the best differentiating threats of Bant - Elspeth Conquers Death and Dream Trawler - and the swashbuckling interaction of Sultai... But it somewhat makes up for those gaps with more mana, comparable forward power, and the somewhat unique ability to actually hold its lead. Rakdos Sacrifice might present as one of two different mini-archetypes... But Simic can play three if not four different positions on the metagame clock, before even reaching for its sideboard.

What's really important is that you take care of yourself and those around you right now. Spit hasn't finished getting weird yet.



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