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Standard Besieged

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The letter C!oming up this weekend is Magic Weekend Paris, which includes a Pro Tour.


And by "this weekend" I mean tomorrow.

Careful readers have probably noticed that for this week, Top Decks has swapped spots with Jacob Van Lunen's column and invaded Wednesday, almost like an oncoming Phyrexian army. Take that, Wednesday! We have a very good reason, though, and that is because it wouldn't be much of a Standard preview article if the Standard portion had already been up and running for six hours before you had a chance to think about some of the new decks to be spawned by Mirrodin Besieged.

Mirrodin Besieged is one of the most powerful sets we have seen in some years, and its effects will be dramatic, and probably more immediate than those of bigger good buddy Scars of Mirrodin. We are going to look at fewer than a dozen new cards, yet will end up marveling at their collective ability to improve decks (like Slagstorm and Black Sun's Zenith), transform decks (like Signal Pest), make them legitimate (like Phyrexian Vatmother) or invent all new universes of card interaction (like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Blightsteel Colossus).

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

We've only seen whispers of the Tezzeret decks so far, but it would be surprising if the solo Planeswalker to come out of Mirrodin Besieged didn't see play, and dramatically.


Tezzeret basically has everything going for him that you could want—he is a four mana planeswalker, he is blue, and he can defend himself—so it's just a matter of time.


Tezzeret does a fine Jace, the Mind Sculptor impression. Unlike Jace, who has a loyalty-neutral "Brainstorm" ability, Tezzeret's card drawing actually increases loyalty! The trade-off is that you have to play a certain number of artifacts in order to consistently "hit" with Tezzeret (probably north of twelve, all other things held equal).

The cool thing about Tezzeret here is that he also plays well with Jace; Tezzeret doesn't actually need to play a long game, but with Jace in play, he plays a fine one. Tezzeret gives Jace fresh looks, and Jace can Brainstorm artifacts in hand back down for Tezzeret to pick up, increasing the new planeswalker's batting average.


Tezzeret also does a fine Koth of the Hammer impression!

More than one noted deck designer has speculated that Koth will prove even more powerful than Jace, the Mind Sculptor ... The problem thus far is that Koth requires a lot of Mountains to go crazy (especially with his second ability), and the right deck hasn't been uncovered yet.

And Koth is a Hammer, isn't he? Boom! Bam! He can crash a Mountain to the jaw the turn he comes down. Tezzeret is similarly empowered. Instead of a one-time use as an offensive 4/4, Tezzeret can set up a 5/5 for an even faster clock, especially in those seemingly narrow cases that he can link up arm-and-stinger with an infect monster.

Unlike Koth's ability, Tezzeret's 5/5-machine mode can also set you up on defense. A 5/5 back is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you have multiple planeswalkers to defend.

Phyrexian Vatmother

Four-drop Phyrexian Vatmother, along with Mirrodin Besieged teammate Phyrexian Crusader are a diabolical duo that in one set catapults infect from "too good in Limited" to "possibly playable in Constructed." Finally infect has the drops to fill out the curve! Previously the strategy had a lot of non-excitement, blah, blah, blah, yawn ... Oh, Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon!


I mean at five (and ferociously at six), Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon could be considered "maybe even better than Rorix Bladewing" ... But the team had so little impact before turn five that it could just not compete with the truly elite strategies (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle; Blue-Black Control; etc.).

However with Plague Myr on two as a potential catalyst, and a gateway to third turn Phyrexian Vatmother (plus a non-embarassing late-game pull, especially with Equipment), infect has the opportunity to go viral.

Here is a list brewed up by The Innovator, Patrick Chapin:


This initial brew showcases some of the new Mirrodin Besieged stars-in-the-making, some light disruption to resolve those threats, a little removal to get the guys through ... and a surprising, but obviously high impact, add-on in Adventuring Gear.

With Adventuring Gear, the eight Marsh Flats and Verdant Catacombs make a lot more sense, and a card like Plague Stinger—which can be hard to contain in the first couple of turns—can put enough poison on the opponent that by the time he answers it, he will still be dead to a top-decked and potentially hasty Blight Dragon come the middle turns.

The One-Shot Robot

A week or so ago I was arguing that—as brutal as Blightsteel Colossus might be in formats that allow Sneak Attack—in those that have actually had the privilege of the R&D Development Team that it was no scarier than Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or even a Primeval Titan.


I mean how often do you get away from an attack by Emrakul? I lose the majority of games I am attacked with a Primeval Titan even once, and win almost every game that I can attack with a Primeval Titan once. Is Blightsteel Colossus really so bad? I mean Primeval Titan is green, and Emrakul (and his buddies) have a whole mana engine built around them! Is anyone actually going to put together the twelve mana necessary to cast this thing? If they do, more power to them, I say! And a Summoning Trap into Blightsteel Colossus is no worse than one into a Titan, or an Eldrazi alien, right?

The problem with my initial assessment was that I was thinking "fair" or even "green" when I started assessing Blightsteel Colossus, not considering initially that the right acceleration color might well be blue!


The missing key that unlocks the "unfair" achievement for Blightsteel Colossus is Shape Anew. In this build by mr_thompsom, you only spend four mana to get your Blightsteel Colossus ... not twelve.


It might seem odd to see a deck with four copies of Trinket Mage but only one target ... But in this deck you have to consider the Trinket Mages as tutors, rather than in the incremental card advantage / silver bullet role that they usually play in blue control decks. Any Trinket Mage can go and get the Everflowing Chalice. At seven mana, you can even play the Mage, play the Chalice for 0, and immediately run out Shape Anew for Blightsteel Colossus!

The dream draw with this deck might be to play a second turn Everflowing Chalice with one counter, then untap and slam down the third turn Shape Anew, running mana through the Chalice itself. Part of what makes this second draw enticing is that it probably looks like you are a regular Blue-Black Control deck before you play your big card, so an opponent might be caught unawares and tap out. Then again, many aggressive decks will have no way to interact with you, anyway.

So once you have a Blightsteel Colossus ... What then?

mr_thompsom's deck has a light discard and countermagic suite to "protect the queen." You only need one hit to win the game, and typically two will be enough even when the opponent has a blocker.


Additional options:

mr_thompsom's Shape Anew / Blightsteel Colossus deck is black-blue, but another strategy you might see would be white-blue. White gives you Master's Call, which helps enable Shape Anew without adding actual artifacts to your deck. The more artifacts in your deck, the greater chance of a misfire. For example, mr_thompsom might find himself with his back against the wall, and forced to play a Shape Anew using Inkmoth Nexus as his catalyst. How much would it suck to flip up a naked Everflowing Chalice?


Though it lacks the ability to facilitate a third turn dream draw, you will see some Trinket Mage players opting for a solo Darksteel Axe over Everflowing Chalice. The advantage here is that the Darksteel Axe is indestructable, so your Shape Anew catalyst can't be disrupted by an Acidic Slime, or countered by the instant speed usage of a Nature's Claim in response. Even an opportunistic Inkmoth Nexus might bite a Disfigure in response to Shape Anew.

Interestingly, Shape Anew itself is one of the best solutions to Blightsteel Colossus. Not only can you go and get your own Colossus, presumably to block, because Shape Anew forces the controller of an artifact to sacrifice it, the card is one of the few that can KO the usually indestructible one-shot robot.

Humble Beginnings

Christoffer Andersen's Kuldotha Red
Standard - 4th Place - StarCityGames.com Open Indianapolis


Perhaps the most transformational addition to the Standard landscape is that of Signal Pest to Kuldotha Red. Kuldotha Red was already "a" deck, and fielded some decent finishes on the Open Series / 5K circuit in the U.S. However, it was never seen as a overly consistent option; explosive, potentially, but often lacking in staying power and certainly a dog to card advantage.


Enter Signal Pest and Contested War Zone.

Consider this opening:

Contested War Zone
Mountain
Mox Opal
Memnite
Ornithopter
Signal Pest
Kuldotha Rebirth

First turn:

Mountain
Mox Opal
Memnite
Ornithopter

Tap the Mountain for Signal Pest; tap and sacrifice the Mox Opal for Kuldotha Rebirth.

Your side of the battlefield looks like this:

Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Ornithopter
Memnite
Signal Pest
Mountain

On the second turn, who cares what you drew?

Play Contested War Zone.

Attack with all three Goblin Tokens, the Ornithopter, the Memnite, and the Signal Pest.

Thanks to the battle cry on Signal Pest, your Goblin Tokens will all go to 2/1, your Ornithopter will go to 1/2, and your Memnite will go to 2/1. Now activate your Contested War Zone.

Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Ornithopter - 2/2
Memnite - 3/1
Signal Pest - 1/1

That's 15 damage on the second turn!

"That's a nice (tapped) Celestial Colonnade you've got there."


That's not even the best draw you can get.

What if instead of an Ornithopter you drew a second Memnite? Or what if this was your opener instead?

Mountain
Kuldotha Rebirth
Kuldotha Rebirth
Memnite
Mox Opal
Mox Opal
Signal Pest

First turn ...

Mountain into Signal Pest, Memnite, and Mox Opal. You have metalcraft from the Signal Pest, Memnite, and Mox Opal, so you can tap and sacrifice the Opal for Kuldotha Rebirth. Now play your second Mox Opal and second Kuldotha Rebirth.

Your battlefield is therefore:

Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Goblin Token
Signal Pest
Memnite
Mountain

Second turn you top-deck—I know you know where this is going—Contested War Zone!

In with all eight guys.

Goblin Tokens all go to 2/1, Memnite to 2/1... Fourteen power. Now you activate the Contested War Zone:

Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Goblin Token - 3/1
Signal Pest - 1/1
Memnite - 3/1

Yep: 22 on turn two.

"Nice. Celestial. Colonnade."

Of course the Kuldotha Red strategy has other games it can play. You have Tuktuk the Explorer in the sideboard to play the attrition game against removal. You have the Goblin Bushwhacker + Devastating Summons kill. But what makes the deck really unfriendly? Difficult as it may be to believe, it is the humble 0/1 Signal Pest.

The More Things Change ...

The Star City Games Open in Indianapolis this past weekend packed a whopping twelve copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in the Top 8. That's right, almost half the Top 8 played the popular Standard-Extended crossover mana Ramp deck. All three decks played new card Slagstorm, and two of the three played Green Sun's Zenith, with Drew Levin playing all four copies of the new X-spell in his main deck.

Drew Levin's Valakut Ramp
Standard - 2nd Place - StarCityGames.com Open Indianapolis


Slagstorm in this deck is primarily a redundancy. Levin's first line of defense against the Goblin Tokens and Signal Pests of the Kuldotha Red deck is still Pyroclasm. However Slagstorm just gives him "more Pyroclasms" ... and higher impact Pyroclasms if need be. For example, when playing against Vampires (a deck where Pyroclasm is usually a desirable tool), Slagstorm can also take down Vampire Nighthawk where the Ice Age original falls short.

Slagstorm is surprisingly versatile. You don't have Have HAVE to kill creatures. If you want to brain your opponent (and yourself, I guess) for 3 damage—bang bang! There are a surprising number of times you will find yourself making this play in the next two years. Look for Slagstorm to be the first or second most important card to come out of Mirrodin Besieged, overall. Its ability to play as either Firespout or Lava Spike makes it versatile enough for competitive play beyond Standard.

Speaking of redundancy ... Green Sun's Zenith.


This card, which has largely supplanted Summoning Trap, at least in Levin's main deck, lets you play eight Primeval Titans. Didn't draw a Primeval Titan? For one more mana, Green Sun's Zenith will get you one! When you have a ton of mana, eight for an Avenger of Zendikar might be more likely to ensure the win ... so go crazy.

Green Sun's Zenith gives you new opportunities for tempo plays, and spots to fill your mana holes. For example when you have a second turn Lotus Cobra, you can run out a Misty Rainforest and produce five on the third turn, with a Green Sun's Zenith for Oracle of Mul Daya. Now we all know what a bomb Oracle of Mul Daya can be—it is the only creature played in one of the most successful Extended decks—and especially with Lotus Cobra in play. You've got 2/3 of the Blue-Red-Green lock (no Jace, sadly).

Christopher Hurley's Blue-Black Control
Standard - 5th Place - StarCityGames.com Open Indianapolis


Matthew Landsrom's Vampires
Standard - 1st Place - StarCityGames.com Open Indianapolis


Hurley's Blue-Black Control deck used a couple of new cards, including Go for the Throat (a crossover we see in Landstrom's winning Vampires, and what will probably go down as the most widely played new card in Mirrodin Besieged); the other being Black Sun's Zenith.

There is not much to say about Go for the Throat. It's the Doom Blade that kills things that allegedly didn't die to Doom Blade. I mean it doesn't kill Wurmcoil Engine or Molten-Tail Masticore, but Doom Blade wasn't exactly great for those purposes; nor Inkmoth Nexus, but we still see a lot of Disfigures and so on.

What is more interesting is Black Sun's Zenith. This card has taken the "Consume the Meek" slot in Hurley's Blue-Black Control deck, but has added applications. For one thing, given sufficient mana, you can take out Thrun, the Last Troll or even a Titan (or a Titan and his buddies, in the case of Grave Titan). But what is really compelling for a deck full of Preordain; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Jace's Ingenuity; and even a smattering of sac lands is that you have multiple opportunities to find the Black Sun's Zenith again and again. In short, two copies of this new card—three after sideboarding—can be used more than two or three times over the course of a game.

The Best of the Beatdown

While Vampires won the SCG event, Mirrodin Besieged assisted a couple of other beatdown strategies to great effect. A fine example would be Ben Robinson's third place Boros attack deck:

Ben Robinson's Boros Aggro
Standard - 3rd Place - StarCityGames.com Open Indianapolis


Robinson's Red-White Aggro deck played roughly a bazillion new cards!

So this is what to look out for starting tomorrow:

  • Old decks: Valakut, Black-Blue Control, Kuldotha Red. These decks will all be there, but better.
  • New decks: Strategies based around Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas; Blightsteel Colossus; and the Infect Squad.
  • Basically ... Great decks and great new cards injecting a much-desired explosion of excitement into the Standard format. I can't wait to see what ends up on top.

Next week - Back to Thursday!




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