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Three Burning Questions Raised by the First Post-Ban PTQ

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Goodbye Veil of Summer...

So long, Once Upon a Time.

Don't let the door hit you on your way out, Oko, Thief of Crowns!

Last week's bans were designed, in part, to spawn more diversity for a tired, Green-beleaguered format. Were the bans successful? Let's look into our first burning question for more information...

About How Many Strategies are Currently Viable in Standard?

Well...

Um...

I'm not quite sure how to break this to y'all...

But the answer is, more or less, two.

From the PTQ:

Jeskai Fires - *111

Jund Cat Food - 111

Golgari Cat Food - 1

The Top 8 of the 11/23 PTQ featured a clean split. Half Jeskai Fires decks; half Cat Food. The Top 16 featured a couple of Embercleaves, an Edgewall Inkeeper or eight, but nearly as many Cauldron Familiars and Witch's Ovens as the Top 8 itself.

Yikes?

Diversity aside, we've all still got a Standard to play!

So let's talk about the winning deck for a sec, yeah?

Should Jeskai Fires Play Sphinx of Foresight?

The winning list certainly did!


Sphinx of Foresight does several things for Jeskai Fires players.

When it's in your opening hand, Sphinx of Foresight can provide powerful library filtering without costing you any mana. Any mana at all. It can fix the top of your library, smoothing out the first couple of land draws for a deck with sometimes aggressive mana requirements (and very specific answers). If you know what you are up against, Sphinx of Foresight can facilitate defensive action in the first couple of turns...

But most importantly, it dramatically increases the Jeskai deck's likelihood of having both the requisite lands and a Fires of Invention to drop come turn four. The Sphinx can do this in the obvious way, but can also help by putting cards like Shimmer of Possibility in a player's path; a powerful Impulse-like digging spell you can cast before turn four, for actual (and not very much) mana.

If you look at the PTQ winner's deck, you might notice a card missing: Drawn from Dreams. Rather than leading off a post-Fires of Invention with that powerful card (that nevertheless does not impact the battlefield), a Sphinx player can line up the next turn while simultaneously deploying a 4-drop that can help hold down the fort and defend some Jeskai life total.

The Jeskai Fires deck starts escalating dramatically in power once you hit the fifth land drop. Cavalier of Flame and Cavalier of Gales are super high impact, draw cards, fix your hand, and can swing for a ton of damage! But they're not the be all and end all of what this strategy can accomplish for five mana.

Kenrith, the Returned King

Bran the Broken's Throne of Eldraine reveal isn't just a semi-efficient 5/5 for five mana. Despite the fact that you can cast Kenrith with its unassuming W in the corner... That doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have to.

The major advantage of Fires of Invention is, of course, that you don't actually have to tap your mana to deploy your big spells. This makes Castle Vantress a winner on upkeep (you don't need your lands, and this one can help ensure action every turn). That goes double for Kenrith.

Think about it: You can play Kenrith without tapping any mana. But if you do so, that means that you have at least five lands in play. Kenrith can give your squad haste, draw extra cards, or gain tons of life with that loose mana.

To answer the question posed, I think yes. I do think Jeskai Fires should widely adopt Sphinx of Foresight.

That does not mean that everyone - or everyone successful - agrees One of the four Jeskai Fires decks to make the PTQ Top 8 did not play Sphinx of Foresight... But there are clear implications to that choice:


Tangrams, to begin with, had to play 29 lands instead of 27. While this deck has by definition less action and fewer business spells than the Sphinx builds, I do like the double duty of Prison Realm in this deck... It is a removal card that helps you find Fires of Invention. On your first Fires turn, it's a decent drop that costs less than four mana... That can help dig you to a high impact Cavalier. What's not to love?

Doubtless there will be further innovation in the Jeskai Fires neck of the woods. At the dawn of the format, folks were playing Planeswalkers over Cavaliers, or leaned heavily on Fae of Wishes to do super fancy Tutoring once Fires of Invention was already on the battlefield.

There are two main problems with Fae of Wishes versus the hard-hitting and straightforward Cavaliers. First and foremost, the card does not do very much without Fires of Invention. If you've already got Fires, sure; it can set up a massive Casualties of War! But unlike Sphinx of Foresight, Fae of Wishes doesn't actually dig for Fires, and it's generally worse at holding the ground once you've already got Fires.

Now speaking of Casualties of War, there is another strategy worth talking about from that Top 8. Or...

What's the Best Big in Cat Food?

Let's start with Casualties of War, shall we?


_Batutinha_ was the highest placing Cat Food deck at second place; and was the only version in the Top 8 that didn't play the third color. I'd normally say that _Batutinha_ did a good job showcasing a possible top end... But this happens to be a version with main deck Thrashing Brontodon.

Casualties of War is notable in that it can destroy enchantments. Enchantments like Fires of Invention... But, again, _Batutinha_ played Thrashing Brontodon so they can do that anyway.

So rather than play a third color the top finishing Cat Food deck played more copies of Massacre Girl, more copies of Midnight Reaper, and the aforementioned dinosaurs. Not for nothing, but there are also the Maximum Number of big and distinguishing finishers up top; rather than, say, only two copies of Garruk or one Liliana.

Witch's Oven
Massacre Girl

Trail of Crumbs
Castle Locthwain
Vraska, Golgari Queen

Casualties of War is like the hottest possible card in the mirror. This Golgari build (with no Planeswalkers) notwithstanding, any and every one of these four curve toppers can utterly demolish an opposing Cat Food player's side of the battlefield.

For all these reasons I think that Casualties of War might just be the best big spell... But while it was highest finishing in this tournament, it's not the only option.


Bnjy99 didn't play Casualties of War, but there was another powerful 6-drop in this list:

Garruk, Cursed Huntsman

Garruk is powerful. It doesn't destroy six permanents at a time, but it can take out a good one, with considerable profit. If you put in a little work, Garruk can keep you breathing, and build towards a dramatically lopsided state on the battlefield.

On the other hand, Garruk can't Ultimate immediately, so heads up... Might just lose to Casualties of War. The greater sin for a deck with so much cardboard dedicated to the Food engine, is that Garruk isn't particularly synergistic with the rest of the deck. He doesn't make food like Oko did or eat food like some of the other available big spells. Now while he isn't very synergistic with the rest of the Food deck, Garruk's fellow Planeswalker is, though:

Vraska, Golgari Queen

Cat Food decks no longer have Oko, Thief of Crowns as a seemingly bottomless source of Food. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't have some food. Massacre Girl makes multiple Food with Witch's Oven and Gilded Goose can still spit out one token per turn. These Food make ample fodder for Vraska's [+2] ability. You actually get a lot out of such a sacrifice... You might not get the full three life that a Food might otherwise provide, but one ain't bad; especially since you don't actually have to spend any mana to do it.

But best yet?

You're still technically sacrificing a Food. That means Vraska can turn on Trail of Crumbs!

If it's me, I find the quad Casualties of Wars from the Golgari build compelling, but I also think that it might be a mistake to skip Vraska. That said, we aren't even done with the big spells in this deck.

Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

For a lot of people, Korvold is the reason to go Red instead of straight b-g. Mayhem Devil has some text, but I feel like it's not at its best in Jund. Straight Rakdos typically plays more cards like Angrath's Rampage and Priest of Forgotten Gods to really push the Devil's text box. As we've already noted, the Golgari build championed by _Batutinha_ used Thrashing Brontodon at the three, which has some contextual advantages in a format where every deck in the Top 8 is boasting Fires of Invention or Witch's Oven.

So setting aside Mayhem Devil, you have Korvold. Korvold, like lots of the rest of the cards in this strategy, can sacrifice Food for great benefit: Size and card draw! You don't have to sacrifice Food. It can be a Cat, a land, whatever. Korvold can certainly get one's blood pumping from an excitement standpoint... But I'm not sure it's the best of the big spells, or even in the same league as some of them. Outside of Mayhem Devil, Jund's differentiation from Golgari is pretty narrow. While some decks play as many as three copies of Korvold, it's only a one-of in this build. While capable of overpowering some opponents, Korvold isn't always on your side; it's more strategic than it might look at first, and can get you in trouble on the wrong battlefield.

There is one last card that I think is worth considering at the top of the Golgari and / or Jund lists:

Liliana, Dreadhorde General


You may have missed sikolio's list, having missed Top 8; but this six is too good not to mention.

If I had to pick a big six, outside of Casualties of War, I'd lean on Liliana over Garruk. Why? Lilly is just more synergistic with the rest of the deck!

Every time you sacrifice a creature with Witch's Oven, Liliana pays you a little extra. In that sense, she is everything - at least to the Food deck - that Garruk is not. Unlike some other Planeswalkers with useful static abilities, Liliana still has three loyalty abilities, including a doozie of an Ultimate. But really? It's the 1 + 1 = 3 of Witch's Oven and that static that pushes her over the top to me.

I don't know how many six-mana spells you are willing to play in Cat Food. Because I don't know how much better you're going to get than the second place deck and its Casualties of War. But the downside of that devastating Desert Twister [times six] is that it doesn't actually win the game. Both Liliana and Garruk, left unchecked for a few turns, will. Not a great sin in a strategy with hyper resilient threats, but still perhaps a head scratcher for a card that costs so much.

LOVE

MIKE

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