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What Should I Play?


What Should I Play?

Or more to the immediate point, maybe... What should I buy?

Last Friday night I played some kind of strange Magic: The Gathering where you only shuffle up forty cards instead of sixty (rather, seventy-five). I felt somewhat familiar because, just as in proper Magic: The Gathering including Core Set 2020, Nightpack Ambusher was still the best card in my deck. But with a head-scratching 1-2 finish at FNM... Let's just say this is not the kind of spellcasting one might want to make a habit of.

I actually think I might have played every single Friday Night Magic of War of the Spark Standard (and a handful of Saturday Standard Showdowns, even!); and while I know I'm not going to be able to repeat that with Core Set 2020 Standard due to planned travel logistics, I still need to be armed for the weeks I can show up, don't you think?

I tested out the three most interesting decks of the format that I'd seen so far, to try to get a read on where I should obtain new cards. For me, those three decks were...

  1. Simic Omniscience
  2. Boros Angels
  3. Simic Flash

Here's what I found...

Simic Omniscience

I played exactly PYKAPOWER'S 5-0 deck list from last week's MTGO League results. PYKAPOWER's deck at the top end was the most exciting of the new options. It's rare that a viable infinite combo deck is available in Standard.

One of the things I loved about this deck was that, assuming people don't start playing a lot of permission spells, the deck is going to just go unopposed in Game 1s. The previous "Big Spell" strategies from War of the Spark Standard are kind of a joke compared to what PYKAPOWER's deck can do. It doesn't matter if the opponent steals all your key permanents. It doesn't matter if they Command the Dreadhorde to an indomitable zombie army.

Even if you don't go off-go off to completely infinite combo the game, you will generally leave yourself in a vastly superior position to the opponent after a key Flood of Tears.

... But of course that's not what you're trying to do.

Setup here is to run out at least four non-land permanents. Urban Utopia and Risen Reef can help you get ahead on cards while putting non-land permanents in play. Gift of Paradise accelerates your mana. Any Planeswalker is a permanent that can help you get closer to your key cards of Omniscience and Flood of Tears; but Tamiyo, Collector of Tales is the most important one.

The simple combo is to cast Flood of Tears with four permanents in play, ideally including a Tamiyo [which has in a perfect world already gotten you an Omniscience]. Resolve Flood of Tears, drop Omniscience; free spell out Tamiyo to re-buy the Flood of Tears. Rinse. Repeat.

If all you have is an Urban Utopia or Risen Reef, you'll draw your deck. If all you have is a Gift of Paradise, you'll pass the turn with a trillion life. End game is generally drawing a card with a the lone Jace, Wielder of Mysteries in play... Which is of course lethal for the other player. It's also spectacular to see, if somewhat time consuming. Not since the days of Thawing Glaciers, Turnabout, and Time Spiral have we been so able to lay our entire decks on the table.

Pre-fight Thoughts:

Game Time!

  1. Gates - I wasn't quite sure what he could do to me other than get a large material advantage. Like, I might be behind but he wasn't killing me. First game out I was a little slow to develop but all he did was build resources and cast a bunch of big spells that didn't actually do so. At one point I blew up some enchantments with a Blast Zone; then untapped, realized I had all my combo pieces (obviously) and got there. Game 2 I sided out some Arboreal Grazers because of his sweepers [adding the permission]. Ho hum 1-0.
  2. Azorius Mill - This deck didn't seem like it would be competitive in the abstract... But it was absolutely insane against me. The first two cards he played Game 1 were Wall of Lost Thoughts and Rule of Law. RULE OF LAW! Main deck! If that stuck, I could obviously not combo off. Worse, as long as he had any permission spell at all, he'd be able to keep it in play. I lost Game 1 badly. Game 2 I actually screwed up Flood of Tears. He had stuck Rule of Law again, but I grinded back by resolving Jace, Wielder of Mysteries while he was tapped down. I found an open to cast my six, only to realize... I didn't have four non-land permanents in play! Stupid Rule of Law had kept me from actually deploying a lot of stuff. It was enough, though. I had left uu open and double Spell Pierced the Rule of Law in order to re-resolve my Jace and rode it to the eventual win. 2-0.
  3. "Mono-Dead" - Ah, the Red Deck! I guess it serves me right? I kept:

    I think I was just high on life after my come-from-behind grind against that Rule of Law deck. No, it wasn't the best... But it was better than the best against me. That deck was basically designed to be the Simic Floresbane and I had beaten it. Here, I was going to be able to cast Risen Reef going second (I thought) and kept a really loose one with both of my killer singletons. Needless to say he played a 1-drop and I knew I was in trouble. I wasn't actually sure how to sideboard but I put in some of those gain life 1-drops and bought enough time to combo off. The Mono-Red deck is a horrible matchup not just because it can put Simic on a clock. With fast point removal (especially Shock and Goblin Chainwhirler), it can actually limit the number of non-land permanents you have in play; so that even if you can cast Flood of Tears... You might not be able to use it for mana acceleration. So, got Game 2! Game 3 he had an above average draw on the play, with multiple 1-drops and three copies of Light Up the Stage. I would have actually been able to cast Flood of Tears in Game 3, but not drop Omniscience as a follow-up. Going second sucks generally, but it's awful here against Mono-Red. 2-1, but I did win the game on the play.

  4. Orzhov Midrange - I was a little surprised to see him open on Banehound; but the rest of his cards were the typical ultra high quality mid-range stuff you'd expect from this color combination. He Mortified an Urban Utopia at one point (which might have been more surprising than the Banehound opening), but I don't think it would have made any difference. Orzhov didn't seem fast enough or disruptive enough to stop Simic from assembling and then just getting its draw. 3-1.
  5. White Weenie - He went first and got a blistering draw with double Benalish Marshall. I actually drew all the Leafkin Druids but he killed me before I could play them all. Fantasies of tapping them all for extra were drowned in a river of my own blood. Game 2 was an uneventful win. Game 3 was much more interesting. Both of us stalled early, but I was able to get to four total mana due to my Leafkin Druid and blew up a three-for-one with a Blast Zone. Comically Snubhorn Sentry and Skymarcher Aspirant were unable to get past my 0/3 before they all just expired. This bought more than enough time given I had multiple Risen Reefs in hand. 4-1.

4-1 is a heck of an opening swing.

I was actually relatively impressed with the mini-Elementals aspect of the deck. I don't know that splashing for Teferi is actually the best way to go. Like I said before, I sided out Overflowing Insight every single match (usually for a permission spell). Though the deck was powerful going very long, it felt like a lot of work to get there.

Boros Angels

I played XFILE's deck, which is mostly an Angels deck, that happens to play Feather ,the Redeemed alongside thirteen other Angels:

The big incentive from Core Set 2020 starts with Bishop of Wings. Bishop of Wings might as well have 100 toughness for Game 1; and every follow-up Angel is backbreaking for aggro decks.

The secondary incentive is the unique card choice of Tomik, Distinguished Advokist. This card basically turns off Nissa, Who Shakes the World... And is also a 2/3 flyer for only two mana.

All the creatures in this deck have at least 3 toughness, meaning they all combine effectively with Reckless Rage. Feather is the best, of course; but the deck is much less a Feather deck than an Angels deck generally.

Pre-fight Thoughts:

  • I wasn't sure about those Lava Coils. Shock seems great to me main deck; and I was a little concerned about the non-presence of anything to interact with Planeswalkers (other than just attacking). Lightning Strike maybe? At the same cost at least it can take out one of these fancy new Elementals-brand Elves.
  • On that note, there are no real takeover powerhouses in the deck's sideboard. I would have liked to see a couple of copies of The Immortal Sun or some such.
  • This is not the fastest beatdown deck or the grindiest midrange deck. If it gets behind, it's probably going to stay behind. Among other things, outside of two Prison Realms, XFILE's build can't deal with large creatures at all.


  1. Mono-Green - Mistakes were made. I mean, so many mistakes. At one point he revealed a giant dude with his Jadelight Ranger when I had exactly five mana. I used Prison Realm, leaving up two mana to cast a guy. I could have used Lava Coil and left a mana... and then been able to deal with his 5/5 with the Prison Realm. Terribad. My fault, though, not the deck's; as I made like three more dopey mistakes like this. 0-1.
  2. Mono-Red Elementals - They were on a heavily Core Set 2020 deck. Cards like Chandra's Embercat, Chandra's Regulator, and Runaway Steam-Kin added synergy to the usual Mono-Red stuff. But this Boros was built to skewer Mono-Red. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've attacked with Aurelia and Resplendent Angel at the same time. 1-1.
  3. Rakdos Aggro - Demolished. 2-1.
  4. White Weenie - Utterly outclassed White Weenie. Basically every card in Boros is many levels better than every card in White Weenie. I mean their deck is mostly 2/1s and the bad cards in Boros are 1/4 or 2/3. Super easy. 3-1.
  5. Something - Sorry I don't remember what deck the opponent was. Something fair. Blue flyers maybe? My notes were pretty specific about my side, though. My opening hand was:

    My ninth and eleventh cards were both Resplendent Angels. It occurred to me as I made 100 huge threats that most of the other flyers strategies are inherently flawed. In this game I played double Bishop of Wings into fourth turn Resplendent Angel. Not only did I gain a bazillion life... I had my Serra Angel engine online ahead of schedule. I followed up with the other Resplendent Angel, and then with Lyra Dawnbringer. Everything was way ahead of WWW3's usual schedule. The Standard flyers deck kind of has to be the rw deck. It just has too many overlapping synergies to ignore. It's just too good.

Or, at least, good enough for 4-1 again!

Gimme some contrast...

Simic Flash

I finished off my initial testing with Simic Flash.

This is a deck we focused deeply on Top Level Podcast last week. I think it offers something very different from the rest of the format, and that something is especially good against the Planeswalker-based decks of War of the Spark Standard.

With the exception of three Planeswalkers, the entire Simic deck plays at instant speed. It can get a clock on you with Spectral Sailor or 1- of the 2-drops, but the signature creature is Nightpack Ambusher. Unless something is going grievously wrong (or you get an opening gift wrapped on your turn), the biggest Wolf essentially guarantees a steady stream of power and toughness while leaving all your mana open.

If you get any clock in play - even a 1/1 - most decks have real problems keeping pace. They have to play into your mana. You might snip them with a Syncopate or gain a small tempo advantage... Or you might land a Frilled Mystic and essentially end it. Playing a lot of Mono-Green Superfriends last season, I felt like a well-placed Frilled Mystic would consistently be game-ending. A 3/2 isn't literally the end of the world, but the combination of mana (my whole turn, probably), my best card, and them putting a decent clock in play swung the advantage bar dramatically. The other deck has to play catch-up but you have a hand full of cards that stop them from catching up.

Pre-game Thoughts:


  1. Grixis Control - This deck was basically made to thrash decks like Grixis! He drew triple Thought Erasure into triple Bedevil and it didn't matter. 1-0.
  2. Jund Superfriends - Kind of uneventful, other than a Lava Coil on a Frilled Mystic seems kind of counterproductive. 2-0. Again, this is a deck with "good cards" that happens to play directly into Simic Flash's game plan.
  3. Selesnya Angels - This was a little challenging. Game 1 I played behind a Bishop of Wings, so had to focus on equaling the board and getting a material advantage because I wasn't going to race; got out from under it, eventually. In Game 2 I landed a Vivien Reid and immediately went [-2]. This left him an open to play Resplendent Angel with the Bishop (and an Ajani's Welcome) in play. Surprisingly, I won! He knew from a Reid activation that I had a Merfolk Trickster in hand, so he didn't want to attack with any part of his engine. I would have blocked, costing myself a 1-for-2 or even 0-for-2 but would have taken care of his single most meaningful threat while defending my Planeswalker. I ground a very slight advantage with a lone Spectral Sailor for several turns, until Viv could kill his Resplendent Angel. After that it was clunky 3- and 4-drops against the Sailor's extra card, permission, and Vivien Reid's extra card. So you probably know how that went. 3-0.
  4. Gruul Dinosaurs - I was pretty surprised to win Game 1. He went first and had a Marauding Raptor. But it was this game I was introduced to the glory that is Brineborn Cutthroat. I got triple Cutthroat and had enough power and toughness that I could literally ignore a resolved Carnage Tyrant! At one point he had Carnage Tyrant and Ghalta, Primal Hunger and I wasn't worried. I could play Unsummon [on Ghalta], or Mefolk Trickster to race it; or Merfolk Trickster into Unsummon (on my own Trickster) to get more and more +1/+1 counters. Embarrassingly, we'll never know who was supposed to win Game 2. I accidentally hit "6" to miss an opening to stick a Sailor. This cost me at least three points of offense, but I once again misclicked a "6" which let the opponent actually kill me (when I had a ton of things I could do, all of which were better than losing outright). In the third I very nearly won 18-0, with the two points being from my own Breeding Pool turn one! I had an interesting sequence where I let him land a Regisaur Alpha ( I was pretty sure he was going to attack with the 3/3). He ran the poor 3/3 into an aptly-named Ambusher. Then the next turn I attacked with everything, including giving him the chance to block and trade 4/4 Wolf for 4/4 Dinosaur. He took the option! This left me with a Spectral Sailor, a Brineborn Cutthroat, and six open mana... And him on nothing. Went about how you guessed. 4-0.
  5. Mardu Aggro - Very unusual deck you will probably never see. Game 1 he beat me by drawing double Tajic (the second being necessary to kill one of my Planeswalkers). It was a victory predicated on main deck Duress, because he was able to steal my game-neutralizing Essence Scatter with Duress into Dreadhorde Arcanist. Game 1! I felt like this might not be a great matchup but got stuck with a mulligan to four in Game 2. I kept two lands and two guys I could cast... And immediately drew into all 4-drops and above. 4-1

Another 4-1!

It felt really crappy to finish my fifteen games on a manascrew loss, but all the decks performed exactly the same.

What deck(s) should I invest in, then? It seems I'll want to own four copies of Risen Reef, right? But the Omniscience deck "felt" like the most work, and was the most shaky. The fact that any deck with removal can screw up your combo if you're banking on returning a Risen Reef or Leafkin Druid as one of your four permanents is no small matter.

Boros is of course the most "me" deck of the three; but it has some structural problems that still have me wondering. Any deck that wants to beat you will. On the other hand, there is no deck I've seen yet that is better at beating the decks I liked the last season. Crush Red and crush Nissa? Come on!

The "best" deck from my non-quantitative perspective is Simic Flash. Basically, if you're not behind, I feel like this deck is built to assemble a winning position. Specifically the Ambusher can help you catch up when you are behind, and the deck's flashy Quirion Druid is going to be one of the most exciting new cards to watch.

If I could only make one deck it would be the third. But crazy that they all went 4-1, no?



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