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The Top Eight Cards from Worlds and Beyond

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Audio for audiophiles and MichaelJ-o-philes:

The decks this year's 16 best players brought to the digital field of battle in what would be called - perhaps - the last great professional event were... Surprising. Surprising in that they came out a little early. But then afterward, how early they could come out! And in some cases how long they'd go.

These decks breathed completely new life into some old archetypes, changing how they are positioned; in some cases completely eschewing the default best cards from just a few weeks earlier. In a couple of cases we saw some truly - ahem - unexpected inclusions; and in another, a whiz bang super exciting 5-drop that would make Meloku, the Clouded Mirror shed a very high altitude tear from up, up above the Kamigawa sky.

But it's not just that some cards were played when we didn't expect them, or that they were played a little differently... In many cases the decks from Worlds portend an evolving future for the rest of us, and are just the first crack in a metagame door waiting to be blown wide open.

Let's start with the elephant (or War Beast-sized Human Wizard) played by fully 25% of the Worlds field:

1. Lier, Disciple of the Drowned

Played in: Grixis Epiphany

The most surprising deck to come out of the Worlds leak has to have been the Grixis Epiphany deck fielded by some of the most legendary players in that rarified cohort.

Lier starts with the text "Spells can't be countered." Presumably this prevents a long-term undesirable play pattern where one mage has Lier on the battlefield but had spent the first four turns of the game trading permission one-for-one. You know about how fun that would be.

In deference to this, the Grixis players themselves ran nearly no permission, even for pre-Lier defense. They almost can't win a Counterspell fight to get Lier down. Emphasis on "almost". My anticipation is that future Standard decks with Lier will run Saw it Coming, Test of Talents, and other common Counterspells, even if these four didn't.

However, there is one play pattern you should definitely know, even if you're not going to make a single modification to the incumbent Grixis sixty.

If you have Lier on the battlefield, and a Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins either in your hand or in the graveyard, you can still use it. Imagine you got some money with the Disruption on turn two and it's been hanging out in the graveyard for the last five turns or so. You have Lier but your opponent, knowing that "Spells can't be countered[,]" just taps out for a big Alrund's Epiphany.

What do you do?

You can actually play the Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins on the now-tapped-out Epiphany opponent.

Before it resolves, all you have to do is bounce your Lier!

If you have a Fading Hope that had no targets for the first eight turns of the game or whatever, go bonkers. The Fading Hope will put Lier back into your grip; and then the Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins can do its vicious business with no static rules text in the way.

This is an important play pattern to understand especially for the Lier decks of the future. I was actually quite surprised that the Grixis quartet did not run Divide by Zero when many of the straight Izzet folks did. Not only does Grixis appreciate the sideboard mana fixing more, but even if you can't counter-counter an opponent's threat with Lier in play, you can certainly tempo them with Divide by Zero. If you want to hard-counter them, you can play or flash back whatever Counterspell future-Lier.dec plays, and, when appropriate, Divide your Lier in response, a la Fading Hope.

2. Duress

Played in: Grixis Epiphany

Duress has been taking players' lunch money since 1998. When this card first came out it was an automatic four-of in Black aggro decks from Urza's Block Constructed to Extended; certainly Standard.

The more tempo oriented Standard players of 2021 have largely eschewed Duress (except as a sideboard tool) but it came back in a big way at Worlds. Duress played a sort of quasi-Test of Talents role in Grixis Epiphany. That is, they didn't play the two Test of Talents so many controlling decks do... But instead here present a duo of Duress.

Duress lacks the soul-crushing potential of an unexpected Test of Talents... But it was getting to the point that Test of Talents was starting to lose the soul-crushing potential of a Test of Talents. First off, opposing players were just getting more acclimated to playing against the card, even main deck; and the Test could not hit additional copies of Alrund's Epiphany that had already been tucked away in exile.

I think Duress technology will permeate as a two-of quite broadly in post-Worlds Standard. It will give Mono-Black decks a little bit of a break on their mana, and all the decks kind of a better card against aggro. The problem with main deck Test of Talents is that it sucks against Mono-Green and especially Mono-White. But now that Mono-White is packing Maul of the Skyclaves? That's way better than having NOTHING AT ALL relevant to Test of Talents! And sometimes you can nab a Green mage's Ranger Class, leaving them with - gasp - no turn two play at all.

And against the original enemy? At this point in the metagame you probably weren't hitting the lottery very often against Epiphany players. A Duress is going to be more reliable, and can at least help Blood Money resolve their Planeswalker threats, or pre-empt a big answer like Burn Down the House. While it won't be enough to send Epiphany home crying, Duress will be good, and importantly, not-awful against the rest of the field.

3. The Celestus

Played in: Grixis Epiphany

The Celestus is another new card, and the Grixis quartet really showed off what it can do. Of course, this is a nice three-to-five Ramp jump tool; and a couple of turns down the line, can initiate Epiphany mana advantage.

But the part of the card I want to highlight is its hand filtering capability. Last week I talked about one of the main incentives to uw being Faithful Mending: That is, you could use Faithful Mending to pitch your anti-aggro stuff when up against combo or control; and vice versa in a deck full of specialty answers.

The Grixis players used The Celestus in much the same way. Not really feeling Power Word Kill against Izzet Epiphany? Go ahead and gain one life! Duress hanging out in grip against a hellbent White Weenie? One life is yours, my friend!

Grixis Epiphany is a deck that will often pass its own turn without casting a spell. If it's Night... It will stay Night. Only if it's Day will it become Night. If you want to use the filtering ability on The Celestus, you can make it day at will (initiating both life gain and a loot), and then wait for it to become night naturally a moment later. In our example, you weren't using that mana to cast spells on your own turn, anyway.

4. Unexpected Windfall

Played in: Izzet Epiphany, Grixis Epiphany

One of the meaningful changes to the Worlds level Izzet Ephiphany lists was the inclusion of Unexpected Windfall. This dorky instant rarely made the cut in a Limited format featuring Skullport Merchant and Xorn... But occupies a competitive four-mana slot in one of the most powerful decks in Standard. What gives?

There are three things that are really important about Unexpected Windfall. The first is that it kind of reinforces the Memory Deluge theme of the deck. You can pass on your own turn and use four or more mana during the opponent's turn to pick fights or fix your hand.

Secondly, this card is like a hybrid The Celestus and Faithful Mending for ur. Remember that whole incentive to uw? Unexpected Windfall gives ur a chance to throw away Test of Talents against Mono-White for, like, anything; and further to put Galvanic Iteration into the graveyard for a future setup while building the mana to execute a huge turn.

On the subject of mana, that's the biggest part of this card. The jump you get versus non-Unexpected Windfall based Epiphany decks is potentially game breaking... Or game ending.

Imagine you only have four lands in play. The Windfall will give you a short term burst to six mana... Seven with your next land drop. So, you can cast the Alrund's Epiphany you have in hand a full two turns early. After that, you can make a sixth land drop on your free turn to play the Epiphany you had in exile. If one of your first four lands was a Hall of the Storm Giants, your opponent could be in serious trouble. Or God forbid, you were sitting on a Smoldering Egg // Ashmouth Dragon from turn two or three.

There is one substantial downside to Unexpected Windfall. Copying it with Galvanic Iteration is spectacular because you don't have to pay its additional cost a second time... But if it's your last card in hand (say Grixis smashed you with Go Blank and Duress), you can't even cast it the first time. Worlds was a permission-poor tournament given the volume of Blue decks, but not permission-less. I expect future Standard to be far less kind to Unexpected Windfall players, so be vigilant.

5. Sculptor of Winder

Played in: Mono-Green Aggro (some)

Sculptor of Winter does two things to the already popular Mono-Green strategy. First, it made it kinda sorta slower. Not really slower because Jaspera Sentinel was not cashing in for mana that often on turn two... But it does strand mana on turn one.

Tapping with Sculptor of Winter is a little less straightforward than most other sources; and per the above comment, the iteration of Mono-Green played by last year's World Champion has one of the most challenging mana bases we've ever seen for a one-color Standard deck. It is really easy to get your land drops wrong, and it's oddly possible to both miss no drops and have no lands for Sculptor of Winter to double up, despite playing a whopping 23 Snow lands. That's because this deck supplements twenty-three primary sources of land with six Modal Double-Faced ones. That are often correct to play early.

Needless to say, at between 29-33 mana sources, Mono-Green, despite being "the beatdown" in most matchups, is one of the most liable to flood decks in the field.

Still, I like it, and in particular the Sculptor of Winter version. For one big 4/4 reason:

Old-Growth Troll

If a Black deck loses to Mono-Green, it's usually because they fell too far behind the resilient, trampling, Old-Growth Troll. In the mid-game, you can both crew your Esika's Chariot with a leftover token and profit by it after you've been nuked by Blood on the Snow.

But you know what is really filthy? Old-Growth Troll + Sculptor of Winter. A land enchanted by the second phase of Old-Growth Troll taps for gg, and combined with the Elf Rogue in question, you can be powering out gggg or simply gg but also have your 4/4 token set up for the following turn. Filthy, filthy, combo.

6. Jaspera Sentinel

Played in: Temur Treasures

Mono-Green lost the best 1-drop in Standard, but it didn't take long for Jaspera Sentinel to find a home in Jean-Emmanuel Depraz's Temur Treasures deck.

Here we see a redux of the Magda, Brazen Outlaw combination that makes mana two different ways... But perhaps more importantly, sometimes Blue mana. Unlike the Gruul Dragons deck that was so successful in the first weeks of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard, the Depraz deck splashes for two main deck and two sideboard counterspells. Jaspera Sentinel can make Blue for those, as can, of course, one of Magda's Treasures.

But wait...

7. Tidechannel Pathway // Barkchannel Pathway

Played in: Temur Treasures

I could theoretically have named Riverglide Pathway // Lavaglide Pathway (which is a stalwart in Grixis and all the Izzet decks)... But Tidechannel Pathway // Barkchannel Pathway - the Blue half of Barkchannel Pathway - is played only in Temur. I note Tidechannel Pathway specifically... If Temur is playing this card Blue-side up, presumably they need to tap the land for Blue. Their other lands are almost embarrassingly free. No harm to the Mountain or Forest count for most of their Blue Pathways.

But here's the play pattern: If they have Tidechannel Pathway up... You can kind of just Field of Ruin it. The Temur deck as played at Worlds has no basic Island. If you hit this land - and they in fact have no Sentinel or trove of Treasures because they needed the land-land? - your big spell is likely to resolve next turn. Which is not to say they don't have a metric ton of auxiliary Blue! Just that if you see this opportunity, it's probably a brief window you'll want to identify and then exploit while you can.

8. Stonebinder's Familiar

Played in: Mono-White Aggro

Monk of the Open Hand ceded its nearly ubiquitous spot to Strixhaven's favorite spirit animal... And for a stack of good reasons.

There is just so much Exile going on! Mono-White's default removal is Portable Hole. Elite Spellbinder can shorten the clock two different ways while taking the opponent's best catch-up card. After sideboarding, White has access to an unending bevvy of 3-drop two-for-ones. Skyclave Apparition is still one of Standard's most high leverage tempo plays, and Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute is sometimes wildly, savagely, and repeatedly better. And that's not even to mention the opponent's cards! Flashback spells like Memory Deluge and Galvanic Iteration can also turn your Scrappy Doo into a full-sized Scooby.

So, what's the important play pattern?

Know when not to use Sungold Sentinel. More than any of the other cards I named, Sungold Sentinel represents a combo-like tag team with the Spirit Dog. You can kind of grow it each turn as the duo attack together. Sungold Sentinel eats a graveyard card and kind of feeds it to the Familiar.

Except... Stonebinder's Familiar only triggers once per turn. That means that if you have your one and 2-drops in play, and you drop Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute to take out a blocker, you might not want to use Sungold Sentinel. I mean, sometimes it will be right to (for instance if the potential target is a spell the opponent would want to play the next turn), but if it's just a random card that doesn't matter, it can be more valuable to save up for a future, actual, buff. So, the play is... To not make the play.

I call such restraint doggy discipline ;)

LOVE

MIKE

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