Live report from the field: paper Magic: the Gathering is healthy, vibrant, bursting with life.
I’ve done a lot of Magic and non-related Magic travel this year and I’ve seen the game everywhere.
I saw it at the highest competitive level in Valencia for the Pro Tour. I headed to the North of Spain and found Legacy players. Played at card shops around England, played at a massive Grand Prix in Manchester. Even hiding out at a surf lodge in the very Southwest corner of England I was recognized from ChannelFireball.
Back to the United States. Of course there are card shops in small-town California but even outdoor travelers are playing in parks and under walkways.
Back to Seattle. Of course the visible scene is going strong with PTQs, Vintage Rotisserie, Card Kingdom, Cafe Mox. But Magic is infiltrating the schools and houses.
This week I went into a classroom with Walking the Planes—a middle school and high school mix, with a Magic: the Gathering class. This is an extremely forward and flexible school, but I imagine other schools will follow.
As a subject, Magic: the Gathering is dense, complex, a colorful and mathematical creative outlet. I always thought that card gaming was so tough that it made school really easy. So it makes sense to bring into schools.
But maybe the most surprising to me is seeing so much Magic: the Gathering in houses. During my trip I’ve stayed with various friends—friends that I did not necessarily meet through cards—and cards are in every house. Proxy Legacy decks in this house, Standard decks in this house, Sealed Decks in this house, binders in this house. People from various backgrounds, all with one thing in common.
At least in this corner of the world Magic: the Gathering has broken into the mainstream. And why not?
So many games come and go. Why invest our time into something fleeting? Why not invest it in a game that’s going to be around for a while? Well, Magic: the Gathering has been around for over 2 decades now and the paper game seems to be doing better than ever. So many people are playing, so many people are investing. I feel secure that this game has a future.
I’ve done a little Standard brewing this week, through watching a couple guys with no collection get back into the game. They started with a couple Khans fat packs and have been supplementing with a few boosters.
They’re tooling two decks to be competitive against each other with small improvements one day at a time. As the decks evolve, 2-ofs have become the core of the decks because 2 is more than 1. Watching this process has given me some ideas of rogue and budget options for Standard.
One of the decks is a BUG delve deck that uses cards like Despise, Satyr Wayfinder, Chasm Skulker, and Treasure Cruise.
I know Dig Through Time has made a bigger splash in Standard, but Treasure Cruise is still great. I’d be tempted to attack the opponent’s hand with Thoughtseize or Despise, set up with a Satyr Wayfinder or Commune with the Gods, and curve Chasm Skulker into Treasure Cruise.
Chasm Skulker is an underrated option that combos nicely with Treasure Cruise. Get a fresh grip of cards and get a big beater that threatens to unleash a Squid army if it dies. Seems like it could be a Standard deck.
The other deck is a five-color good-stuff deck that takes advantage of Ajani’s Pridemate with life-gain lands.
Point is, there’s a lot of ways to experience Magic, and experiencing it in different ways expands our vantage point, showing us possibilities we never would have seen.
We have options in Standard outside of the Pro Tour Top 8 and I’m excited to delve in.
Omniscence might be my favorite card of all time. It costs ten mana and doesn’t do anything by itself but enables glorious combos. It feels like a massive achievement every time you get one into play and if it wins too, that’s awesome.
Obviously many of us had a great time ramping to this when it was in Standard, and many of you get to Show and Tell it in Legacy. But there hasn’t been a good way to cheat it into play in Modern.
I’ve given it my best shot in the Mono-Blue Nykthos deck and that was great fun, but that deck was incredibly slow. It relied mostly on mana screwing the opponent with Sea’s Claim and Spreading Seas, which was hilarious when it worked.
But that deck could not put Omniscience out turn 1.
Last week I got started working on Gabriel John and friends’ blisteringly fast Narset, Enlightened Master deck and this week I’ve pushed it to an extreme.
If not stopped, this deck kills by turn 2 on the draw more often than not. It can kill turn 1.
Stage 1: Goryo’s Vengeance Narset
Normally a deck based on speed would want to be on the play but this deck is faster and more consistent when playing second.
First of all we have 4 Gemstone Caverns in the main.
But more importantly we want to play second so we can discard Narset to hand size on turn 1. Any kind of 7-card hand with Narset has this easy natural outlet to get Narset in the graveyard. With a land and a Simian Spirit Guide we can Goryo’s Vengeance on the 2nd turn from this position.
Obviously we are going to be dealing with a lot of randomness to start the game and Serum Powder does a lot to mitigate that. Serum Powder lets us get rid of hands we don’t like while still being able to hand size discard turn 1. Serum Powder also means a more consistent exile of Narset to be used with Pull from Eternity.
We do need to draw a Goryo’s Vengeance to actually kill them, and Spoils of the Vault is our go-to. This card is serious high risk, but in a 2-3 turn game the life loss isn’t always relevant. Like Serum Powder, this card is an additional exile outlet for Narset.
Stage 2: Attack with Narset
Now we’re attacking with Narset and all of our dreams are coming true. It’s time to flip 4 cards off the top of our deck!
To stack the odds in our favor the deck is about a third insane flips off Narset. Sometimes we brick out at this stage but a majority of the time we win in crazy fashion.
An extra attack step means 4 more flips off Narset. Narset does have to live through the attack but a 3/2 first strike hexproof is hard to kill in combat in the early stages of the game.
Brilliant Ultimatum gives us 5 more flips off the top of our deck. Five is more than the four from Narset, so this card has got to be insane in our deck.
Enter the Infinite is generally the best possible flip off Narset. Pick up the deck, put an Omniscience back. Cast a Fury of the Horde for free and get Omniscience into play. From here we can get an Emrakul into play and take extra turns as needed by casting more Enter the Infinite to prevent us from decking out. Alternatively we could use Emrakul to shuffle our deck for even more attacks.
If flipping 4 cards off Narset is likely to be a kill, flipping 1 Omniscience is more than likely to be a kill because we’ve already drawn 8+ cards this game. Omniscience unlocks every other card we’ve drawn.
For this reason I’ve been tempted by a 4th copy, even though the 2nd copy is generally useless. After all, we want to play with Omniscience so let’s play the max.
Speed vs. Disruption
This deck is extremely weak to disruption but the idea is to be so fast it doesn’t matter. If we can win most of the games by turn 2 (while totally fizzling in many others) we mostly only need to worry about disruption in the first 2 turns.
Cards like Thoughtseize, Spell Pierce, and Relic of Progenitus can set us back ages or make it impossible to win, but if the opponent goes turn 2 Young Pyromancer, Glittering Wish, Dark Confidant, or Birthing Pod there’s a good chance they’re just dead.
I’m at a point where I think this deck is pretty competitive and I’m itching to get in some more video matches of the new version.
This deck is totally all-in. It only has 16 mana sources and everything in the deck is dedicated to getting Narset out or winning once Narset is in play.
There doesn’t seem to be much room to re-configure the deck without jeapordizing the combo. I think the only way it’s worth it is if our sideboard card singlehandedly wins the game on the spot.
There are a few out there.
Turn 1 Stony Silence against Affinity buys 20 turns.
Leyline of Sanctity could totally stop a Mono-Red Burn deck if they don’t open on a creature.
We are really weak to countermagic and Boseiju seems like the best card to improve those matchups.
So we have:
Besides these 15 cards maybe the most compelling sideboard argument is against opponents who are going to put us on the play—the mirror match for example.
If we know this is going to happen we would much rather have Mana Confluence than Gemstone Caverns, so that is a solid sideboard option as well.
This may be relevant if you are doing well in a tournament and word is getting around to put you on the play. It’s extremely relevant in the mirror match, but I don’t think the mirror match is extremely relevant.
If you are forced onto the play, be prepared to pass on the first turn without a play so that you can discard Narset on the second turn for a potential third-turn kill.
If you are into dreaming big, I highly recommend this Narset brew. It’s fast, fun, and gives you the heart pounding experience of blatant gambling. At the least it’s the fastest Omniscience deck in Modern by light years.
If you are into dreaming big, I also highly recommend Magic: the Gathering. This game is a great game that still has a bright future. There are so many ways to experience it, and today we’ve looked at just a few.