I couldn't decide between two topics for this week, so I'm going to go ahead and do both. First I want to talk about a few cards that have greatly increased in power by the addition of Magic Origins: Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Mardu Ascendancy, Spirit of the Labyrinth, and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard Nelson. Then I'm going to share the deck I played to a 17th place finish at GP Buenos Aires this weekend (Naya Mastery), including sideboard notes and what I would change from Magic Origins.


5 Cards Most Improved by Magic Origins

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Ever since Pack Rat, Underworld Connections, and Nightveil Specter rotated out of Standard, Gray Merchant hasn't seen much play. The only deck it's played in is Abzan Rally and that deck is less than 1% of the metagame. Erebos's Titan, however, is exactly what Gray Merchant was looking for! Now monoblack can legitimately Threaten the opponent with a powerful four-drop while simultaneously adding to its devotion count for Gray Merchant. Herald of Torment is a strong three-drop to play in this deck too. The deck may not be solid black though. A green splash for Pharika, God of Affliction could go a long way and is fairly easy off four Llanowar Wastes, four Temple of Malady, and maybe a couple Jungle Hollows. Pharika works especially well at beating down and also provides a way to bring the Titan back from the graveyard. There is also Despoiler of Souls to assist in the beatdown plan while also adding to our devotion count (and making us more resilient to removal).

Aside from Black/x Devotion decks, Abzan Rally likely Improves with the addition of the Titan. When you cast Rally the Ancients to bring back all your creatures, the Titan adds three devotion for Gray Merchant, which is essentially another Siege Rhino trigger. And the games where you really want the help are the ones where you don't resolve a Rally, and in those games the Titan can really shine. A big question you might be asking yourself is how much is a triple black mana cost going to work in a three color deck? Well, aside from Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you can just make nearly all your lands produce black. Four Sandsteppe Citadel, four Temple of Malady, four Temple of Silence, four Llanowar Wastes, and four Caves of Koilos, in addition to Sylvan Caryatid or whatever other accelerant you run.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Green is currently the only color playing Nykthos. Black Devotion doesn't really have a great way to take advantage of a surplus of mana, despite having a good reason to care about devotion (Gray Merchant), but white does! Like black, white was mostly lacking the quality enablers. It recently picked up Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and now Knight of the White Orchid at the two-spot. It also picked up Archangel of Tithes, which makes the deck really want Nykthos now. The question is whether the deck wants to top out at Elspeth, Sun's Champion or whether it wants to go up to seven for Resolute Archangel and/or Mass Calcify. White also has no shortage of quality mana sinks. It has Heliod, God of the Sun, Mastery of the Unseen, and Secure the Wastes. I think all the pieces are finally here for White Devotion to make an appearance in Standard.

White can even support a splash fairly easily off four Temples and four fetchlands or painlands, depending on which color is being splashed. Splashing black for Athreos, God of Passage and Ultimate Price / Thoughtseize is attractive. Splashing blue for Dragonlord Ojutai and a few counters (Clash of Wills, Disdainful Stroke, Negate) could also be an option.

Mardu Ascendancy

Ascendancies have seen sporadic play since being printed. Mardu Ascendancy, however, has mostly fallen by the wayside. It's always been a powerful card, but there has never been a good enough reason to play it. It allows you to pressure your advantage when ahead by giving you additional attackers, without requiring you to overcommit to the board. It also proactively protects your board from sweepers such as Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow by sacrificing to give your team +0/+3 until end of turn. They also stack, so if you have two attackers and two ascendancies, you get four Goblin Tokens.

So why hasn't it seen more play? Well, the mana is good in Standard for multicolor midrange and control decks, but not as much for multicolor aggro decks since most of the good fixers enter the battlefield tapped. The mana is there, but you just have to pay a higher price (painlands + Mana Confluence). So far that price has not been worth it for Mardu Ascendancy, but the printing of Goblin Piledriver may change that! You see, Goblin Piledriver's ability triggers at the same time as Mardu Ascendancy's and the ascendancy makes Goblin Tokens. So consider the following line:

Turn 1: Mountain, Foundry Street Denizen.
Turn 2: Bloodstained Mire, fetch Swamp, Goblin Piledriver, attack for two.
Turn 3: Battlefield Forge, Mardu Ascendancy, attack with both creatures, resolving the Mardu Ascendancy triggers first, getting two Goblin Tokens attacking (and making the Denizen a 3/1), then resolving Piledriver's trigger to make him a 7/2. That's an 11 point attack on the third turn! And when the opponent untaps on their third turn holding Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods, they can still do nothing to avoid dying since you simply sacrifice the Ascendancy to 'counter' the sweeper and then attack for 10 more damage the following turn with your four creatures on board.

Mardu Goblins is now a thing!

Spirit of the Labyrinth

This one has seen some play in Legacy to combat Brainstorm and Jace, the Mind Sculptor strategies, but it hasn't ever really caught on in Standard, mostly due to the lack of card draw spells. Well, aside from more being printed in Origins to naturally make him better anyway, there is a specific combo with him, namely Day's Undoing. So if you play a one-drop (Kytheon, Soldier of the Pantheon, Dragon Hunter, Herald of Anafenza, etc.), then play Spirit of the Labyrinth on the second turn and follow it up with Day's Undoing on the third turn, you are left with three lands and two creatures to the opponent's two lands and one freshly drawn card (since they still draw 1 card off Day's Undoing whereas you draw zero). This play only puts you up a couple of cards, but those couple cards are huge because it's five vs. three, two of which are creatures that attack together for four to five damage per turn. Most opponents will not be able to recover in time because they'll be drawing high cost dragons, hydras, planeswalkers, Dig Through Times, and all the other cards we see at the top tables.

A similar combo already existed with Dark Deal and Spirit of the Labyrinth and it has seen no play. The reason this combo is so much better is because Dark Deal essentially does nothing apart from the combo while Day's Undoing is already one of the most powerful cards in a strategy that also wants Spirit of the Labyrinth (i.e. white aggro). Day's Undoing is a way to refill the hand after dumping a bunch of weenies on the board while simultaneously shuffling away all the expensive cards the opponent was about to cast against us. I expect big things from Spirit of the Labyrinth.

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard

The problem with Yisan has mostly been that there wasn't an immediate enough impact. He's very slow and usually starts by searching out an Elvish Mystic or Typhoid Rats, which means you have to invest three mana to cast him, then three more to activate him once, then three mana again to finally start getting good value out of him. That's a big investment! Well, Origins provides some powerful tie-together synergies that makes Yisan more immediately impactful – enough to finally make him good at all stages! The biggest one is Kytheon, Hero of Akros as the premier one-drop to search out first.

Searching out Kytheon, makes the first activation extremely impactful, much more so than if you get an Elvish Mystic or Typhoid Rats. Relic Seeker and the printing of additional powerful legends also makes Hero's Blade finally playable, which is yet another way to make Yisan immediately impactful. For instance, second turn Hero's Blade into third turn Yisan means you played a third turn 5/5 with an awesome activated ability! Or once you start activating Yisan, you can get Kytheon, then Relic Seeker, then play the Hero's Blade found with Relic Seeker to make the Brimaz you get next with Yisan into an imediate 6/6! Yisan also can go from fetching Gideon to Jace to Nissa (or any of the other three walkers), all of which are also legends that work well with Hero's Blade. Looks like everything is finally coming together for Yisan, the Wanderer Bard Nelson and the other legends.

Now let's shift gears and talk about the awesome deck I played in Argentina!


Naya Mastery at Grand Prix Buenos Aires

I flew down to South America for the first time in my life this weekend, checking off the fifth continent out of seven (Africa and Antarctica remaining). I ended up finishing in 17th place after losing in the final round playing for what I thought was Top 8 (but as it turns out, would have actually been 9th place). Still I picked up another Pro Point and had a great time. The deck I played was also quite fun and powerful.

DECKID=1243028

The General theme of the deck is similar to Green Devotion decks except instead of playing Polukranos, World Eater and Genesis Hydra I run Valorous Stance and Den Protector. I also run a pair of Mastery of the Unseen as a way to gain life and as an outlet for all the extra mana the deck can produce when left unchecked. The biggest change I made in the days leading up to the tournament was to Remove the Deathmist Raptors from the deck. They work great with Mastery, Den Protector, Whisperwood Elemental, and Rattleclaw Mystic, but they were pretty mediocre against Red Aggro, Green Devotion, and Mardu Dragons so I replaced them with more copies of other cards that I was only playing three copies of (Den Protector, Courser of Kruphix, Rattleclaw Mystic, and Valorous Stance). In hindsight maybe I went too far with this because I didn't realize how important they were in the Esper Dragons matchup. So going forward maybe I would replace two of the Rattleclaw Mystics with two Deathmist Raptors main. And in the sideboard cut a Magma Spray and a Dromoka's Command for the other two Raptors.

Here were my sideboard plans for the six top decks:

Abzan Megamorph
+2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

-2 Rattleclaw Mystic

Abzan Aggro
+2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
+2 Dromoka's Command

-4 Rattleclaw Mystic

GR Devotion
None. Maindeck is perfect.

Esper Dragons
+2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

-2 Rattleclaw Mystic

(If you run the Raptors, you want to board into all four copies.)

Mardu Dragons
+4 Plummet
+2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
+3 Dromoka's Command

-3 Xenagos, the Reveler
-4 Rattleclaw Mystic
-2 Valorous Stance

Stormbreath Dragon is the biggest problem, so we bring in six ways to answer it. Dromoka's Command is also good because it can counter Anger of the Gods, sacrifice Outpost Siege, or fight down a Soulfire Grand Master.

Red Aggro
+4 Wild Slash
+2 Magma Spray
+3 Dromoka's Command
+1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

-4 Valorous Stance
-3 Xenagos, the Reveler
-3 Dragonlord Atarka

Valorous Stance is essentially a completely dead card in the matchup while Atarka is just usually too slow. Xenagos is not terrible but is not what we want to be doing either. We have nine cards to bring in and ten to bring out, so one copy of Elspeth, Xenagos, or Atarka has to stay in. They're all about equal, so choose your own adventure as to which you leave one copy of in.


Changes I would make with Magic Origins

There are a handful of cards from Magic Origins that stand out to me as cards I want to try out in this deck. The first and most notable addition is Woodland Bellower.

1. Woodland Bellower can search out Courser of Kruphix or Deathmist Raptor (assuming we re-add those). This will be a very potent way to combat Abzan and Mardu strategies that aim to win via removal spells and attrition fights. Bellower crushes Crackling Doom in a fight, unlike any other 6 mana green creature in Standard. And if you get a Deathmist Raptor with it, then using Den Protector to rebuy the Bellower is just a huge advantage.
2. Another card to consider is Evolutionary Leap. It helps win attrition fights and also turns our worst cards into great cards in the late game (Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid, Rattleclaw Mystic). You can also sacrifice Deathmist Raptor if you're about to flip a creature over to get it back for free.
3. Gaea's Revenge can be big game against Esper Dragons. They can't counter it or target it with Hero's Downfall, and as long as you have another creature out, they can't Foul-Tongue Invocation it away. This basically leaves them with the option of taking eight or chump blocking with a Dragon. Not sure it's necessary though if we add Raptors back in.
4. Hallowed Moonlight could be a tech card to run one or two copies of as an answer to Hornet Nest that has some general applications against the new planeswalkers, Goblin Token makers, and Genesis Hydra. Might not be worth a slot, but it has some pretty high upside for just two mana.

Magic Origins is a much more powerful Core Set then we're used to. It looks like they really wanted to send out Core Sets with a bang, which incidentally will shake up Standard quite a bit. Many of the devotion cards that were made great by Return to Ravnica Block will be great again for their final few months in Standard. There are also some powerful combinations made possible by new cards. And of course some of the new cards are straight up powerful on their own. I will be talking more about the set as its release date approaches. For now I wanted to share some of the cards that stood out to me as important cards to consider and how to use them.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter