Between VS Live! and Guilds of Ravnica hitting Magic Online earlier than the paper release, I've had a chance to play a ton of the new Standard format in the last few weeks. My main focus, as per usual, was on Izzet strategies, pushing them as hard as I could without becoming too reliant on one card or another to do most of the heavy lifting. Variants I tried with maindeck Firemind's Research didn't pan out so well. Others featuring a more aggressive slant with Enigma Drake and Ghitu Lavarunner also felt like I was a completely different format than my opponents. While I was trying to put together these minor positive interactions, they were small-balling me with The Flame of Keld or going way over the top with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Because I couldn't quite find the right Izzet list and I was afraid of losing to Selesnya Tokens in the first week of Guilds of Ravnica Standard, I let Jim Davis take the Standard reins and play his bread and butter: Azorius Control. Of course, we don't have cards from the Azorius Senate in Standard yet, as that will come in Ravnica Allegiance, but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and all the rest of the gang is still here, and still pretty good. Plus, you get quite a few blue cards from Izzet that give your control deck a bit of a boost.
I'm under the impression that virtually every blue deck, control or otherwise, should be playing four copies of Chemister's Insight. It might not be Glimmer of Genius, but it's damn close. When you're flooding out later in the game, turning one of those lands into two fresh cards is huge. And early in the game, if your opponent gives you a window to breathe, playing Chemister's Insight starts to push you further and further ahead.
Chemister's Insight, like many draw-two spells before it, can be a bit clunky at times. If your opponent is putting you under immense pressure, you won't always have time to fire it off. In fact, the real strength of Chemister's Insight is firing it off for the second time, so your plan as a blue mage should be using those extra cards, and your earlier turns, to interact with any and every threat your opponent throws at you.
But while Jim Davis is a huge fan of Azorius Control, I'm under the impression we should be putting tools to use that the Izzet lords gave us. After all, once Azorius hits next set, we should have some new tools to make Azorius into a true juggernaut in Standard. For now, I'm going to spend my time trying to find the best Izzet list. Whether that's control or velocity-based is completely up to the rest of the format and how much time they give us to assemble our Fireballs.
As an Izzet mage, you have a few choices on how you build your deck. Playing Enigma Drake means you're likely going to lose some tempo to a two-mana removal spell with little value in return. Either that, or your opponent starts pummeling your Enigma Drake with stuff like Ravenous Chupacabra or Vraska, Golgari Queen. And while Crackling Drake also dies to Ravenous Chupacabra, it dodges Vraska, Golgari Queen. And luckily, it also draws a card.
So, if you go more creature-heavy, you'll also find yourself become more vulnerable to removal in general. Drawing cards with Chemister's Insight will yield the wrong type of interaction at the wrong stage of the game. And honestly, I'd rather just start going to the dome.
First off, I want to talk about Expansion//Explosion. Originally, I wasn't very high on the card. It felt like the front half was too mediocre, and the back half was too expensive. I was asked multiple times during VS Live! whether my deck should be playing this card. Well, let me be the first to say that I was absolutely, positively, definitively wrong about Expansion.
This card is busted.
Early in the game, you can use Expansion to copy a Shock or Lightning Strike to kill off two creatures. But as the game progresses, having access to a Fireball effect is great, and the fact that it draws you toward more Fireball effects turns it into an actual win condition. After seeing the play patterns of Expansion, it's currently my front-runner for best card in the set, if only because it acts a lot like Sphinx's Revelation. But instead of prolonging the game by gaining a bunch of life, you can use it to kill an opposing creature, Planeswalker, or player.
So why aren't I playing more than two copies? I'm not entirely sure. This list from Grantfly has been performing quite well over the last few days. I'm 9-1 with this exact list in Magic Online leagues and any changes I make ultimately leave me feeling like something is wrong. All the way down to the one copy of Search for Azcanta, everything just feels right. I don't know how else to say it.
My initial impression is that I should cut Radical Idea from the deck, as something like Anticipate could end up being better, but I just don't know if that's true. Being able to turn a land into a spell later in the game is huge, and the deck doesn't mind hitting land drops in order to have bigger damage effects from Explosion, Fight with Fire, and Banefire.
So, let's just say that this version from Grantfly is where I'm at right now, and I don't know if I'm going to change anything from this list per se. I might end up using what I've learned from this list and trying out a different variation on Izzet in general, but everything about this particular Izzet list just feels perfect.
Let's breakdown some of the cards and try to explain why they're in the deck in the first place!
As an Izzet afficionado, I've been lucky enough to pair Goblin Electromancer with Chemister's Insight. And let me tell ya, it feels pretty, pretty, pretttttttttty good.
"But Todd, isn't that just Divination?"
No. Shut up. It's instant-speed Divination, and it also has jump-start. One thing people need to realize about Chemister's Insight and Glimmer of Genius before it, is that these types of cards give you the ability to play Magic at instant speed, which is inherently powerful when combined with counterspells or instant-speed removal spells. If your opponent does something important on their turn, you can interact with them. And if they don't do anything of relevance, that opens a window for you to start burying them in card advantage.
Goblin Electromancer starts to push this a bit further. Early in the game, if you cast a Goblin Electromancer, it will ultimately represent 3-6 mana if left unchecked. That's a pretty big deal for two mana. The fact that it has a 2/2 body attached to it is also nothing to ignore. I've used Goblin Electromancer to trade with early threats, which ultimately buys you time. And if you get to untap with a Goblin Electromancer in the early stages of the game, everything you do starts to become magnified. Gaining mana is a very powerful effect in Magic, and something as innocuous as Goblin Electromancer can showcase exactly how powerful that type of ability is.
And while Goblin Electromancer never saw play during its first run through Standard, things change. Decks change, new cards get printed, and you start to understand exactly why Goblin Electromancer is powerful in the first place. When a two-mana creature gets reprinted in Standard after being a Modern powerhouse, you start to look at ways to break it. You're finding spells to pair with it as opposed to trying to fit it into a spell-dense shell.
Before we move on, I wanted to post a few quick thoughts on Izzet, and this build in particular.
- Crackling Drake is as good as advertised. I'm consistently impressed by the body, as well as the draw effect. Even at four mana, it's just a great Magic card and the best of the bunch of the guild cycle.
- Fight with Fire, Banefire, and Expansion are real win conditions. If you told me that, in a few weeks, there would be a control deck that only won the game with four copies of Expansion, I wouldn't be surprised. Much like Sphinx's Revelation before it, Explosion is a fantastic card that rewards you for playing cheap interaction. And the sheer fact that the ability can kill your opponent, let alone a creature or Planeswalker, more than makes up for the extra one mana you must invest into it initially. Plus, the front half is still awesome.
- The chip damage from Ionize goes a long way in the deck. Traditionally, dealing damage to your opponent with your spells isn't all that relevant in a control deck. However, we're finishing off our opponent in large bursts, so getting them down to ten or so life is important, and we do that through chip damage. Whether that means attacking with Goblin Electromancer and Crackling Drake or just throwing Shock/Lightning Strike at their head is irrelevant. We just need to get them in burn range.
- If I were to look at improving this particular list, I think the first place to start is the sideboard. But even then, I don't know exactly what I'd change. Planeswalkers are particularly problematic for this deck once resolved, but I don't know that there's any real way to solve this issue without splashing a third color. And if you do that, everything must change.
But change isn't a bad thing. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about Jeskai Control, and I think I might have found a perfect starting point for the archetype.
Let's start with the mana:
Currently, we're lacking Hallowed Fountain, but we basically have all the other lands this particular color combination could ever want. And, since we're playing twelve total checklands, we actually want some number of basic lands to help turn them on. I think it will end up being incredibly common to have eight shocklands and ten or twelve checklands for three-color decks in the near future, though it might take until the next set to figure out which combination we want, and how many shocklands we can afford to play.
No, Justice Strike isn't Terminate. Standard has quite a few creatures with lower power than toughness. But, for the most part, Justice Strike will act as a very powerful removal spell in a lot of matchups where you just need to kill a big creature.
I also love the idea of copying Justice Strike with Expansion to take down two large creatures. As games progress, being able to double up on removal is important, but the backside in Explosion being such a game-changer really pushes it over the top for me.
Until Ravnica Allegiance gets here and we end up with a ton of great Azorius cards, everyone is trying to find the perfect home for Teferi. And I think this deck makes a great case for it!
- Cheap removal to cast when you untap with Teferi? Check.
- Sweepers to make sure the game lasts long enough for Teferi to take over? Check.
- Search for Azcanta? Che...hey wait a second.
You're telling me that Radical Idea is taking the place of Search for Azcanta in this Teferi, Hero of Dominaria deck? And after cutting Radical Idea from the Izzet Spells deck it ended up feeling worse? Is...is Radical Idea better than Search for Azcanta???
Eh, I don't think so.
While Radical Idea works well with Crackling Drake, I think this version in particular really wants Search for Azcanta in order to go super long. Plus, when you're using the untap ability of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, you just want ways to use that excess mana. Plus, being able to untap an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin will often bury your opponent in card advantage pretty quickly.
One thing I've noticed is that a lot of these Izzet based decks just don't have great answers to opposing Planeswalkers. And with Vraska, in both forms, taking over the Golgari archetype, having an answer to those Planeswalkers seems like it should be pretty important!
The problem is that most ways to answer Planeswalkers come in the form of attacking (tough to do in a control deck), Vraska's Contempt (tough for a Jeskai deck to play, obviously), or enchantments that exile non-land permanents. Well, enchantments that exile non-land permanents are pretty flipping terrible against both Vraskas.
But while Izzet Spells struggles with defeating resolved Planeswalkers, Jeskai does have access to Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, who's notorious for being able to defeat just about every other Planeswalker that stands in front of him. So maybe we don't need Ixalan's Binding. Maybe we don't even want it, because it'll just end up getting destroyed by a Vraska, Relic Seeker anyway. Maybe we just want to counter all their relevant stuff, and when they do sneak a Planeswalker through our counterspells, we just have to cast Teferi and hope for the best.
And that seems to work out pretty well most of the time.
I absolutely love the idea of Deafening Clarion alongside Crackling Drake. If your opponent can't kill Crackling Drake, sweeping their side of the battlefield and smashing in with a giant flier seems pretty nuts to me. Four toughness is a lot.
With the rise of Selesnya after the first week of tournaments, I expect sweepers to start seeing a lot more maindeck play. I wouldn't even mind a Fiery Cannonade or two in the maindeck of Izzet, if only to help counter March of the Multitudes while also giving you some value against low-to-the-ground aggressive strategies.
I've been huge on this card for the last few days. After toying around with some variations on Azorius Control, splashing lightly for one color or another, the one card that stood out the most was Cleansing Nova. Sure, your opponent can follow that up with something troublesome, but the sheer fact that I've used the "destroy all artifacts and enchantments" mode multiple times means it has some legs.
Most five-mana sweepers in the past have had something attached to it in order to make it playable. And while Cleansing Nova can't gain precious life points against aggressive strategies like Fumigate, I will argue that Cleansing Nova being able to clean up problematic artifacts and enchantments is a huge deal. This is especially true when decks like Selesnya and Boros use Conclave Tribunal as their primary way to deal with Teferi.
Plus, Cleansing Nova is one of the few true sweepers in Standard that can kill virtually any creature that hits the battlefield. Deafening Clarion struggles to kill opposing creatures with high toughness, while Ritual of Soot can't kill any creature with a converted mana cost of four or greater. Golden Demise, while cheap and strong, has similar limitations to Deafening Clarion, though it can clear off some annoyances like Adanto Vanguard and get around Tajic, Legion's Edge.
And don't even get me started on Settle the Wreckage. I hate it. I've always hated it. Just give me Deafening Clarion and Cleansing Nova and get outta here with that "only hits attacking creatures while giving them a ton of extra mana" bullcrap.
Before we go, I just wanted to touch on a few cards that have been really impressive in my testing over the last two weeks or so. I'll likely go hard on some of these next week, but here's my initial reads.
This card is fantastic on both sides. Graveyard-based decks can use the front half to gain some much-needed card advantage while also giving you a way to "tutor" for stuff like self-milling. I love playing one-of creatures like Molderhulk and Golgari Findbroker with Find, and then combining those with Memorial to Folly! Be sure to check out Bryan Gottlieb's article about Find from yesterday.
While it didn't make nearly the splash I expected it to, I've found Doom Whisperer to be a complete house. And when you're hitting your opponent with discard, or just grinding them out, a single Doom Whisperer can close the game quickly. I'd like to combine it with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager to deplete their resources, but you also need to make sure you have the right tools to handle aggressive starts from opponents. Ritual of Soot does that nicely.
Much better than I expected, but mostly combined with these cards.
Having a toolbox of creatures ranging from 1-3 mana helps make Gruesome Menagerie an insane spell, but the inherent value of returning three creatures from your graveyard to the battlefield is pretty nuts. This is especially true when those creatures start to function a lot like spells.
While this one hasn't been getting a lot of press, I've found it to be quite backbreaking whether I'm playing control, aggro, or even midrange. A lot of midrange decks start with Llanowar Elves and having that "Goblin Chainwhirler" effect for two mana is a pretty big deal. On top of that, Path to Mettle transforms into a card that virtually every deck in the format has trouble beating:
Metzali, Tower of Triumph. Exiling creatures that deal damage to you is huge against decks without a lot of threats, but the raw damage it deals to slower decks is outrageous.
Like split cards, Path of Mettle is great because both sides are awesome.
I know this card has been in a lot of my decks, but I just wanted to stress just how good it feels, and just how easy it has been to cast with kicker. Decks featuring Runaway Steam-Kin should be playing this spell, either maindeck or sideboard. Decks playing red mana that can go super long should be playing this card. Decks that normally have trouble beating Lyra Dawnbringer should be playing this card.
While not at its best in a deck featuring 20-22 lands, Fire with Fire is certainly a fine removal spells in the early turns of a game. For red decks, creatures with high toughness often force a two-for-one with your burn spells. And aside from Nullhide Ferox and Doom Whisperer, Fight with Fire kills just about every creature in the format.
Well, that's all for me this week. If you're an Izzet mage at heart like myself, then you should love both decks. And while the Jeskai strategy dives pretty hard into white mana, the fact that it can still easily cast Crackling Drake just warms my heart. Thanks to the great manabases we already have, we're already seeing what these lands allow the control decks to do.