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Novel Approaches to Icing Izzet




If you were to look at 12/13's most recent Standard Challenge, you might just say "play Mono-Green". That event had four StOmPy variants in the Top 8, including Grand Prix Champion / beatdown luminary SandyDogMTG piloting Snow-Covered Forests; and separately, the event's winner. The rest of the Top 8 included three assorted Izzets and an emerging version of Dimir.

Let's set Mono-Green aside for a moment. After some weeks with Mono-White behind its various Legendary creatures as the beatdown deck of choice, Mono-Green seems to be in some kind of a mini-renaissance. Green was always good at killing Izzet before they could get off a double Epiphany; and recent moves toward cards like Abrade or even Play With Fire are subtly beneficial for a competing beatdown opponent that presents as many as twelve significant 4/4 threats, all with butts just a little too big.

Of course, Izzet strategies various remain the collective deck to beat. At this point it is difficult to categorize or even name them; but at least the color combination is obvious. Epiphany decks shave off what once were sacred four-offs. Epiphany decks play a couple of Dragons. Dragons decks shave a couple of Dragons. The odd Horror builds accelerate to seven (or more!) by borrowing Epiphany's Unexpected Windfall tech.

What's not ambiguous is that everybody hates Izzet. Or rather, if you're not on Izzet yourself, chances are you have a plan for it. In some cases, you might bend your whole strategy or color combination to beat it! Ideally while remaining competitive against other kinds of opponents.

So, let's look at that eighth deck for a moment, shall we?

KILLERSUV's list is very close to the one played by XERK, to win the Standard Challenge a day earlier:

There are some tuning differences, sure. One Go Blank; varying by one Siphon Insight... But the guts and unique features of this Dimir are pretty consistent.

I do think the one Sorin the Mirthless kind of sticks out. It's the most un-like card. The only Planeswalker. Not directly synergistic with anything else, the way, say, The Celestus bridges so many disparate elements.

Sorin's [-2] is worth talking about in the context of Izzet Epiphany decks. The Bat token is annoying. It eats a 1/1 Bird. If the opponent makes exactly one Alrund's Epiphany, one Bat token actually puts them behind if they attack once. Attacking twice is horrid. At 3 toughness it is not bulletproof by any means... But it's annoying. Red removal has shifted to so So SO many Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave quartets to help deal with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben... A 2/3 becomes a legitimate stop sign.

The spell components to this deck - especially for an Izzet-aware deck - are telling. You'd think... Or I'd think, at least, that if you were going to make a Blue Control deck where a combo that goes off somewhere around seven to 10 mana is the most important enemy... You'd want to play some permission.

But this Dimir deck is highly aware of its own long game plan of Lier, Disciple of the Drowned. Rather than traditional Counterspells (or something like a Saw it Coming), KILLERSUV, XERK, and others are primarily leaning on Divide By Zero. Some Jwari Disruption // Jwari Ruins action, of course... But not centrally.

Divide By Zero can act kind of like a Counterspell; but it's functionally better than one in certain particular cases. If the opponent is flashing back a Galvanic Iteration or Memory Deluge, Divide By Zero will essentially hard-counter the flashback and still put a Lesson into your hand. They get nothing in return. When your opponent is doubling an Alrund's Epiphany, Divide By Zero is actually pretty great against a copy. The "copy" will go to the opponent's hand [only it won't actually do that, being imaginary], but, again, you'll still Learn. Finally... Because it doesn't actually counter, target spell, Divide By Zero can play nicely in the same deck as Lier, Disciple of the Drowned.

Ultimately the real anti-Izzet glue comes in the form of Duress.

Duress is good for two reasons; one of which is that it costs one mana. Not only is costing one mana an amazing superpower for purposes of being cast on the first turn, this card joins Bloodchief's Thirst and Fading Hope as spells that work on turn three, the same turn you've presumably just tapped out for The Celestus.

Then, later in the game... Probably at 7 total mana; 6 certainly... You can start re-buying Duress with Lier, Disciple of the Drowned in play. As you've presumably already seen the opponent's hand in this case, often you'll know just how juicy what it you're taking will be.

Here's where a final synergy comes in. A lot of these cards work well together... The 1-drops with The Celestus. The cheap disruption coming down after Lier to rapid-fire on the opponent's hand. But that's not all. It's really about this little Human Warlock:

Sedgemoor Witch

The same kinds of cards that are good with The Celestus, or are good with Lier, can be good with Sedgemoor Witch. More triggers, more Magecraft, more 1/1 Pests to chump block with or swarm. But even that's not all. I think the most overlooked incentive to this deck is in Sedgemoor Witch's Ward ability.

You see discard alone isn't going to beat Izzet, or really any Blue deck with a lot of card drawing. You can clear out the opponent's hand and have a Duress ready to flash back if they keep an interactive instant... and still lose. They just cast one big two-for one and stow an Epiphany where you can't make them discard it. If you're not the one-of Go Blank version their Galvanic Iteration will be waiting for some future re-buy... And before you know it, you're buried under a pile of cards and feathers despite successfully knocking the hated combo deck to no cards in hand.

If your plan is more disruption and discard than permission for Control, you kind of actually have to kill the opponent. You can't keep them down indefinitely! And Sedgemoor Witch is great at that! The Witch itself is a beatdown deck-level threat. Elite Spellbinders and Kazandu Mammoths hit for three at the three. Even a single instance of Magecraft will slice your clock from seven turns to five; and a mere two will take a second turn off the clock.

But that's assuming the opponents aren't doing anything. Of course, they are trying to defend themselves, or buy time while assembling the combo, and everything from Spikefield Hazard // Spikefield Cave to Fading Hope can be nice against Pest tokens. But man, that Ward. The opponent can fight your Pests all they want, but at some point if they don't deal with mamma Sedgemoor, the Pests aren't going to stop coming. It's at this point that the Ward is such a kick in the teeth for an opponent under pressure. Given enough pressure, eventually they won't be able to pay at all! And then what happens when you start mixing in your own Fading Hope?

In-matchup, what were you even going to aim your Fading Hope at? If you drew it, it's probably still in your hand. Don't worry, it has new meaning when you're beatdown-Dimir. Keeping your Sedgemoor Witch alive, while making a 1/1 Pest, and taxing the opponent for an additional three life? Heck of a way to spend one mana. No single element is the home run, but this deck has so much going on it seems impossible to miss some way of eking out value or extra damage.

The balance for Dimir is significant. While the deck retains four copies of Divide By Zero, its in-Guild playmate isn't present. In earlier builds, I loved the interplay between Divide By Zero and The Meathook Massacre... But these updated lists don't play any copies of The Meathook Massacre to lift up and re-deploy when the hapless creature opponent has decided it was time to re-build.

At the same time, they play only 1-2 copies of Siphon Insight! If I were a more judgmental person, I'd say that these Dimir have given up almost everything that gives the color combination identity in Standard!

But cutting The Meathook Massacre from the main has some second order effects as well. This deck has almost no effective sweepers. For that matter, a sole copy of The Meathook Massacre in the sideboard does not a Beatdown Destroyer make. While laden with cool features, this Dimir is also a product of much compromise.

The shift to discard (plus damage from Sedgemoor Witch) rather than a permission-based game plan is important. Blue decks of the recent past - both bu and uw - sought to lock down Izzet and others with a combination of counters, often tying up an implied long game with Devious Cover Up. The big problem is that any Blue decks - even other ur ones - will inevitably fall behind Izzet Epiphany's Unexpected Windfall. It's not only that Unexpected Windfall is a good card drawing card, it's that they can pitch dead weight like Fading Hope while building an advantage in mana. At some point, permission-based Control just won't be able to keep up and the opponent will overwhelm their ability to counter in a single turn; likely just before taking an even bigger consecutive one.

That's why I like the current breed of Azorius decks. While they don't have a direct answer to Unexpected Windfall, playing at almost entirely instant speed at least doesn't proactively cede mana. Cemetery Protector is a good threat that never drops the shields, but works like a mini-Sedgemoor Witch. And at eight or more mana, Hullbreaker Horror can start answering Epiphanies at a high level of efficiency.

Finally, here is this new piece of technology, from the least expected of archetypes, actually:

SQUIRTLETHEAEONSTORN made the shocking decision to cut all copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from their White Weenie deck! There are two in the sideboard, but instead, in the main deck, we see Curse of Silence.

Curse of Silence

In some ways, Curse of Silence is a Thalia that can't be killed in a Cinderclasm sweep. It's actually... "not dead" against anyone. SQUIRTLETHEAEONSTORN could play it strategically to pre-empt a key spell right before the opponent was about to play it, or tag team with information from Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa. At only one mana, Curse of Silence is actually deceptively good at triggering Clarion Spirit.

And it's not like SQUIRTLETHEAEONSTORN couldn't side in Thalia! The amount of taxes this deck can levy are kind of unprecedented for Standard. Whether you're naming Alrund's Epiphany or something else with your Curse, this is a card that seems like it's worth further exploration.

Besides, of course, being perhaps the most novel approach to icing Izzet to date.



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