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A Skred by Any Other Name

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Once upon a time the nice people in Renton, WA made an out-of-time set called Coldsnap. Coldsnap was a third leg of Ice Age Block, but released more than ten years after the original Ice Age. It was a fun little return to the card syntax of the previous decade; but was not the most impactful Standard set of all time.

Sure, there were some cross-format All-Stars...

Counterbalance

... But Coldsnap's contribution to the Standard format of the age was actively medium. This was, perhaps, with the exception of one card:

Skred

You have to understand that at the time, point removal was itself pretty hit-or-miss. You had in-print cards like Lightning Helix that didn't even make four-of in every deck that could cast them. There were Mortify and Putrefy; flexible to be sure... But they also cost three mana. Skred was a point removal card that brought the flavor of Swords to Plowshares to Standard... Using precisely the Vorthos-flavor of the day.

And with another time traveling Standard set, the nice people in Renton, WA have done much the same again in late 2022.

Lay Down Arms

So, what's going on with Lay Down Arms?

This card is very reminiscent of Swords to Plowshares. The opponent even gains life! Well, that assumes you're targeting the opponent's creature :) There have of course been plenty of times one SToPped one's own semi-soft lock as it were. Lay Down Arms isn't particularly good at that, being at sorcery speed... But it's a very serviceable Standard power level removal spell.

Portable Hole

Just compare it to Portable Hole... Which at the same speed has managed to find its way into Pioneer and Modern decks. For those who don't care too much about how much life the opponent will gain, Lay Down Arms is a little worse at killing creatures on the first turn, but quite a bit better than Portable Hole as the game proceeds.

Given that Skred-reminiscent flavor packet, though, Lay Down Arms requires you to play a certain kind of mana base. There might be no better exemplar than tzio's Standard Challenge winner from earlier this week:


Here we have a Mono-White Control deck, decked out with the full twenty (20!) basic Plains. Tzio did not stray far from previous formats' Mono-White Control shells, but to have eschewed Invoke Justice (despite playing The Restoration of Eiganjo // Architect of Restoration and plenty of White-producing lands).

The only other new card in tzio's main deck is Mishra's Foundry.

Mishra's Foundry

Look for this card to be widely played in mono-colored decks for the next year.

While we just said tzio did not stray far from older MWC card diction, we would be remiss not to point out the specific anti-artifact / anti-enchantment bend of this build. Cathar Commando is not a very high power card, but it demands space in tzio's main; and the only other #MTGBRO card in the build is Legendary Artificer Loran of the Third Path. Loran doesn't have to play peacemaker... Just blowing up the opponent's Reckoner Bankbuster might be good enough. But it bears mentioning that given the Legend's vigilance, you can choose when to make both players draw. Might I suggest at the end of the opponent's turn, when they're least able to take advantage of an extra card? Or perhaps when they're drowning on seven and will have to discard anyway? Loran is a 187 with a symmetrical add-on, but it doesn't have to play symmetrical necessarily.

Column favorite and Hall of Famer Edel had a slightly different take on much the same idea:

This build gets to shave a little land on account of using Ambitious Farmhand // Seasoned Cathar at the two. But again, a substantial payoff is the Swords to Plowshares-like Lay Down Arms available only to the Plains rich.

Edel used some of that extra space for Steel Seraph, which is a flexible threat and kinda-sorta split card. I actually think that the Prototype Angel is more interestingly integrated into Mardu; so hold on a sec as we examine...

A Gnarled Mass by Any Other Name


Cabezadebolo's deck, like tzio's, is reminiscent of some big spell White-based decks from the previous format. But again, even though we see Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki as an obvious facilitator for Sanctuary Warden or Ao, the Dawn Sky, the deck escews Invoke Justice.

The mana is a non-issue!

I initially thought the hallmark of The Brothers' War Standard was going to be White midrange... But that was a red white herring. It's actually just about the mana bases, whether tons and tons of plains for Lay Down Arms or a critical mass of dual lands.

Cabezadebolo's mana base is an absolute masterwork of smoothness. Of its twenty-six lands, eighteen tap for White. And that's only because Cabezadebolo is so rich that Roadside Reliquary is occupying ostensible Plains-space. The deck has sixteen dual lands - that can all enter the battlefield untapped - where most of them tap for w.

And what might you do with that w you ask?

Steel Seraph

Steel Seraph is a sweet card on turn three. It's a heck of a Gnarled Mass; and on three, it accomplishes essentially Gnarled Mass's old job. It slows down whatever the opponent was going to do, or gives you the opportunity to get something meaningful going yourself. Of course, next turn you might have a huge tempo swing if all you do is trade with lifelink.

Steel Seraph on six will threaten to take over most games. With natural flying, it can choose between vigilance for offense / defense or lifelink (for a different brand of offense / defense, I suppose). But it's Steel Seraph on turn four that is most interesting for Mardu in particular.

The signature card for adding Red is of course Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki. And everyone knows how that goes. Often Fable is just a two-for-one with a little filtering, because the opponent knows to kill all 2/2s on sight; whether they are making Treasure tokens or creature tokens. But what about when they don't kill your Goblin?

The opponent might just leave back a creature to block! You get to keep a Treasure; they're going to be behind a couple of different ways; but at least they're not going to be buried in tokens.

Unless you give it flying, somehow.

And THAT'S what makes Steel Seraph such an interesting addition to Mardu versus one of the Plains-intensive options. In Mono-White Steel Seraph is a great card. In Boros or Mardu it helps your Mirror-Breaker break through.

A Fugue by Any Other Name

Here are some old favorites:

Fugue

Five mana, three cards. Wasn't great-great in its day... But believe me this card did some damage in mid-range mirrors.

How about this one?

Tidings

Five mana, four cards. This one was a killer in its day! We liked it so much we played it in tap-out control decks, migrating Tidings from its popular home in Vore land destruction builds.

Neither of these cards really encompasses how powerful one of The Brothers' War's new threats feels, at least assuming you have sufficient time:

Bladecoil Serpent

Let's ignore the "X" for a second and focus only on the "6" in the top-right. A Mono-Black deck could presumably pay bbbbbb for a 5/4 creature that forces the opponent to discard three cards. That's kind of awesome, but not very many people would necessarily play it because 1) the opponent doesn't always have three cards in hand, and 2) bbbbbb is kind of a lot to ask, even for a dedicated Black deck.

But how about for uuuuuu? A 5/4 that draws three cards is a good deal more insane than its discarding cousin... But still suffers from the "that's a lot of color-specific pips" problem.

Given the appropriate mana base, you can hit close to either extreme; but a mix that allows you to adjust your bonuses tactically is better than either extreme. Plus there's the rr option; and the ability to dump extra mana into the X.

Jaberwocki's deck seems like a great initial home for Bladecoil Serpent. I only wish there were more.

I didn't think it very likely that I would be more excited by a big spell than Phyrexian Fleshgorger (another Gnarled Mass of promise), but here we are. You already knew from a few weeks ago how enamored I am of Grixis in Standard. Now I'm Team Bladecoil Serpent!

This mana base is another masterwork. It can pay as much u as you want for Bladecoil Serpent (twelve primary sources of Blue without dipping into Treasures or digging) and 22/27 lands contribute specifically to Invoke Despair. Despair will be Invoked, and consistently; but no sadness will arise from the deck's mana base.

A Shade by Any Other Name


Remf's update to Esper will probably warrant more discussion at a future date. There is a lot going on here, and tons of either new cards or newly contextualized ones. There is one that really, really bears mentioning because I predict it will become a cross-archetype Staple:

Misery's Shadow

When we were testing for Pro Tour Osaka something like twenty years ago, I distinctly remember Scott McCord of Slay, Pillage, Massacre (and Slay, PIllage, Gerard) claiming that no Green deck could contend with Nantuko Shade.

Nantuko Shade

All you had to do was leave up your b and the opponent couldn't really block. A single Nantuko Shade backed by a second row of Swamps would run over any number of Arrogant Wurms; laugh off Wild Mongrel's usually celebrated ability to give itself +1/+1.

Nantuko Shade was great - nearly unbeatable if you believed McCord - but only in the context of a heavily Black deck. Years later Chris Pikula would use it to innovate his "Deadguy Ale" deck not in Block but Legacy... It was that good. Deadguy Ale - with Nantuko Shade at the two - is still a player in Premodern; a format with turn-two kills and Fireblast-packing Red Decks.

Nantuko Shade is such a pale shade of Misery's Shadow it's almost laughable.

First, you don't need a ton of Swamps. You need maybe one Swamp to get the party started. Just the one in the initial cast: Misery's Shadow pumps both offense and defense on any color of mana. Or no color! Send some Mishra's Foundry mana into that 2/2. It ain't no thing. And it has a second toughness to start!

But that's not all: Misery's Shadow has an additional, asymmetrical, ability. Look at the archetype where we're first seeing it. Esper is the archetype of Phyrexian Missionary, Dennick, and Ao. All these cards are neutered by a Misery's Shadow just being in play.

No wonder Remf played so much point removal.

I have a feeling I'm going to be spending the next two year's calling this Miser's Shadow. I'd like to miss; and if this card is shadowing me, I imagine I will more often than ever.

LOVE

MIKE

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