Can you hear her now?
Chandra, Pyromaster has been in almost every Top 8 of each StarCityGames.com Standard Open since the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Minneapolis, where it made Top 16.
Can you hear her now?
She made the finals of the Legacy Open this past weekend in the hands of the one and only Reuben Bresler, dismantling Dark Confidants, Young Pyromancers, and Delver of Secrets alike as early as turn 2. She's been one of the most important role players in this expanded Standard season and has had a primary role in a strong deck that punishes players for being greedy.
If you can't hear her now, then you will when that one point of damage turns into four or five in the same turn. By that time, you're too late. Take another four or five!
"But she was only in the sideboard in most of those decks."
Oh, so sideboards aren't as important now? Are we going that deep?
I won't get into it too much here, as I've already explained just how strong Chandra is, but make no mistake about it—she is much more than just a "weaker version of Domri Rade." How is that even a fair comparison? She plays very differently from the best two-mana planeswalker of all time (see what I did there?) and doesn't force in-your-face fade-trap situations* like Domri does. How far do we have to reach to find something that isn't an obvious downside to her? We already know that four mana is kind of pushing it for these kinds of effects, and she really needs about a turn and a half to truly get online. Thundermaw Hellkite is also a problem on the draw. We know all of this. But really? A weaker version of Domri Rade?
Where's The Miz when you need him?
Interestingly enough, the same thing happened with Domri Rade himself. It got to the point where we had to stretch so much to get every bit of downside out of him that we weren't looking at doing the opposite (which is weird since the card basically screams "push every advantage I give you as much as possible"). We got punished hard for it, and he quickly became the best planeswalker in this Standard by miles. Oftentimes we put so much into evaluation and assumption (Magical Christmas Land, dies to removal, etc.) that we forget about actual application. This is part of why I don't really like talking about spoilers before the whole set is released. When you have access to the entire set, you can put full context into your applications without worrying about any sort of curveballs or unknown information.
This time, though, I'm willing to make an exception.
A couple of days ago, the Dragonmaster himself, Brian Kibler, spoiled this bad boy:
Now, Xenagos is a real problem. No, I don't mean how good or bad he is, his flavor, or anything of the sort. He's a major problem for Chandra, Pyromaster. What makes Xenagos very strong is his ability to switch from defense to offense, back to defense, and so on so quickly all while developing a formidable board state. Chandra has a very hard time dealing with 2/2 haste creatures, much less two or three of them. Furthermore, the competition at the planeswalker slot in red decks (or decks with red depending on how you build them) has become much fiercer for Chandra, not only due to Xenagos but because of how much better Domri Rade gets in conjunction with Xenagos in the same 75.
I would normally encourage that Chandra be used alongside sizable creatures (Ghor-Clan Rampager for example) or as a tool to push your smaller creatures through. If we're just forcing through gigantic creatures and skipping the shenanigans, Chandra looks much less appealing. If we wind up having a singular large Thragtusk-like threat that can out-position our large threats or army of small threats or if the format slows down to the point where she can grind you out with her draw a card ability, Chandra will make the cut. I'm not opposed to playing all three planeswalkers in the same 75 (I would be surprised if I didn't actually) mostly because there are situations where Xenagos and/or Domri are just awful that Chandra thrives in.
For example, Xenagos is very good at creating over-the-top situations but is probably the softest out of the three when it comes to handling evasive creatures (it can't kill them at all). Its loyalty makes it very hard to handle a bloodrushed Ghor-Clan Rampager, Stormbreath Dragon, or opposing Domri Rades picking off the 2/2 you just made. The other issue is that like Chandra and unless you already have a strong advantage, Xenagos needs about a turn or so to really get going. Chandra works in these situations because she can flip the script very quickly, potentially ignoring whatever advantage your opponent is trying to leverage with said evasion. Her getting killed the turn she drops is fine a good portion of the time since they had to lose a blocker to do so.
Lastly, there will be times where you'd take a point of damage and two cards over two 2/2s. Domri Rade has always been pretty lackluster against super-heavy spot removal decks (Jund, B/G, etc.), and I don't expect that to change. Xenagos allows you to continue putting that pressure on and makes all of that spot removal look pretty poor. Chandra isn't great in this situation either since they're killing the very creatures you're trying to use to protect her, but it depends on the context of the matchup. Domri also wants you to play a ton of creatures, with most Gruul, Naya, and Jund aggro decks playing as many as thirty-four. His effectiveness is lessened when you sideboard out your bad creatures and put in noncreatures. Chandra can help mitigate that small but relevant issue, and Xenagos is generally unaffected in this regard.
I picture a starting lineup involving these cards, most of which we already know are powerful. This isn't a deck but rather a list of cards I think would work well with our dynamic trio of planeswalkers:
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Polukranos, World Eater
Ogre Battledriver (!!!)
Bow of Nylea
And that's off the top of my head.
All in all, it's still way too early to tell, but things need to go right for Chandra to maintain her spot as a prominent role player in Theros Standard. I won't be surprised if there are decks that do well with all three, but I will be if one of them doesn't Top 8 one of the first few Opens.
Another card that I feel needs some reevaluation?
This card has seen some better days. As it stands right now, it's incredibly difficult to establish a state of stability to the point where the first or even now the second Sphinx's Revelation will pull you out of the water. Thundermaw Hellkite and Domri Rade are the main reasons for this, as they're so incredibly fast and provide instantaneous pressure. The trend seems to be continuing in Theros, with cards like Stormbreath Dragon, Xenagos, Magma Jet, and a predicted rise in Ogre Battledriver.
Going off on a tangent for a bit, I do feel that Magma Jet will be one of the primary suppressors of Sphinx's Revelation. Scry 2 doesn't seem too powerful alongside two damage, but having the ability to set up your Domri Rade and Chandra as well as find a large threat you need that much faster is going to really define how players have to build control decks early on. Do you Syncopate that Magma Jet or let it go and hope said Syncopate doesn't get wedged out by threats in between Magma Jet and Stormbound Dragon? What about Young Pyromancer and Magma Jet? Geez, talk about tough decisions!
I'll say it here first; if Magma Jet isn't one of the premier cards in the format and doesn't win a StarCityGames.com Standard Open by the end of the year, I will take a pie to the face next year.
Regardless, I certainly don't think that U/W decks will be left without at least some amount of love in Theros. They already have access to Omenspeaker, which plays a very similar role to Augur of Bolas; Thassa, God of the Sea, which is a big game even when it isn't a creature; and Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which is going to be a nightmare for big creature decks to deal with if they don't have evasion and can be an easy swap for Aetherling between the maindeck and sideboard depending on configuration. Daxos of Meletis is pretty unique and will certainly have applications, though I have no idea where at this time.
Rest assured, I'm going to be on the other side of the fight. But for now I have one more pre-rotation Standard Open to focus on.
And the second version:
- 3 Desecration Demon
- 2 Disciple of Bolas
- 3 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Vampire Nighthawk
- 1 Olivia Voldaren
Now, the very first question that I know is going to be asked is "why play either of these over Jund?" The answer is the same that the B/G builds give: Burning Earth, an easier mana base, and Mutavault. That said, this is mostly my justification of wanting to play Chandra, Desecration Demon, and Thundermaw Hellkite in the same deck, You're playing super-large, oversized, and undercosted threats that most creatures have a difficult time against right now. This deck is pretty slow and Rakdos Keyrune is no Farseek, but it's one of the best ways to get around wrath effects and provides you with the much needed off-color without playing too many crappy Guildgates.
The problem with the red version is the same as a Big Red deck; your removal can get very awkward. This can be addressed by adding more black sources and playing more black removal, but how many can we add before we really start having problems? This brought me to the black version of the deck, which isn't without problems either. Your creatures outside of Thundermaw Hellkite and Desecration Demon are significantly slower, and Vampire Nighthawk doesn't save the day nearly as much as it used to. These are very rough drafts, though, and I'm sure that I'll get it figured out in time.
While we aren't even close to having all of the spoilers, there's still a ton to be excited about. Will Thoughtseize push black back into premier status? What do you think is the strongest God out of the five? What about Anax and Cymede? Is this one of the most flavorful sets of all time? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Hope to see you all in Philly. Stop by and say hi! I'll be the guy with the goggles on my head, probably yelling at AJ Kerrigan over something ridiculous.
Thanks for reading,
Anthony "Pyromaster" Lowry
Twitter: @aulowry (#teamchandra)
*A "fade-trap" situation is a combination of a fade (making a play to direct attention away from another card, interaction, or situation), and a trap (making a play that your opponent believes is advantageous for them but isn't). Chandra, Pyromaster is one of the few cards in current Standard that causes a fade-trap situation by herself. Both attacking her reactively and ignoring her are usually appealing and ideally could work out for you better than for them.