It was early some random morning when I decided to look at the M13 spoiler before the coffee kicked in. Two things became painfully clear right away:
1. This was a bad idea. Thinking without coffee makes my brain hurt. I should know this by now.
2. There are some sweet cards in here! I’m a Johnny. There also happens to be some Timmy and Spike in me too, but I love winning, I love brewing and I definitely love leaving my opponent wondering what just happened. The short summary: Timmy loves the fatties, Spike plays the best deck and Johnny brews like the Mad Hatter makes hats (I prefer a fedora, mind you).
Looking at the spoilers, I’m sure about 1,000 articles will be written about Sublime Archangel and Ajani, Caller of the Pride so let us talk about an overlooked card: Liliana of the Dark Realms. This Bad Lady has been stirring young boys, and even grown men, to do naughty things since her entrance into Innistrad. Just look at Garruk getting all relentless and veil cursed (Ed. Note: Courtesy of our Friends at Manadeprived.com and David Lee).
Let’s break down what she does.
+1: Get a Land? On a planeswalker? In Black! Yes please! Even though green is the ramp color, black is not without its mana gathering and/or fixing. Back in Alpha, it started the trend with Dark Ritual, and has continued throughout the years with Contamination, Skirge Familiar, Cabal Coffers, Lake of the Dead, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade and many more. But the best part of this ability is that it says Swamp. So for those who happen to have dual lands like Bayou or Godless Shrine, or if you want to play with four Leechridden Swamps, then by all means be like Nike.
-3: This is more like two abilities rolled into one. Liliana is able to come down and immediately impact the board in such a dynamic way. She can help you get rid of a problem creature or get in those last few points of damage, giving any deck with Swamps some insane reach.
-6: Definitely a little more on the casual side, turning your Swamps into Lake of the Dead with no drawback leads to stories that only happen at the kitchen table. Exsanguinate for 34 may become a common phrase if you decide to run that way.
The verdict is out whether she will see play in current Standard, due to both the limited land choices and the fact that control is a powerful but awkward place to be right now. We will see if/when shocklands get reprinted if it will help her become a mainstay. However, while control is a current valid deck, M13 is continuing the trend of being awesome against control decks with cards like Ajani, Thragtusk plus Cavern of Souls, and Firewing Phoenix. As for Legacy, this is a four-mana planeswalker and is nowhere near as awesome as Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, so sadly the Lady in Black won’t be taking over the tables any time soon. We won’t even go near Vintage. So the next place to look is Modern, and I definitely think there are some roles she can play there. One such role could be in this deck:
A Pox on You
Both Reid Duke and Ali Aintrazi showed us how powerful resource denial can be in Legacy, and I think it can be equally as powerful in Modern. The overall gameplan is to grind them out by denying them their gameplan, either through land death, discard, or both. Then proceed to swing with Haakon till they stop moving.
Let’s take a look at the innards: Stillmoon Cavalier is insane against decks with white, as it has protection from the best removal spell in the format in Path to Exile. It also does a handy job at blocking some of the format’s better creatures: Kitchen Finks, Delver of Secrets, Geist of Saint Traft, Restoration Angel, Knight of the Reliquary and Vendilion Clique.
Nameless Inversion: This changeling can kill everything in the format with a couple of exceptions. It also happens to be a knight, thanks to changeling, so you can repeatedly cast it from your graveyard if you have Haakon in play.
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade: This future-sighted zombie primarily helps you gain lands, and in the late game closes games rather quickly. Don’t forget that if Korlash is big enough, giving him plus-three with Nameless Inversion can catch people unawares.
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge: Haakon synergizes so well with a lot of the deck’s strategies. Not only does Haakon want to be in your graveyard, but he can resurrect himself at will. You typically want to cast Haakon during the midgame going long, but he does a pretty good job of blocking some early creatures.
Fulminator Mage: This guy has been the bane of nonbasic lands for a long time. There isn’t a deck that doesn’t play nonbasic lands in Modern, and Fulminator Mage loves blowing up all of them. Typically, if you have both a Mage and Smallpox in hand, it’s better to Mage them and then Smallpox.
Liliana of the Dark Realms: Here Liliana does a fairly decent impression of Korlash, and her -3 can be backbreaking going long. Her +1 synergizes with Worm Harvest so well it’s absurd. Be aware that Urborg does not make the lands in your deck Swamps, just the ones in play, so Korlash and Liliana are still limited to just the Swamp type if Urborg is in play.
Liliana of the Veil: And now we come to the deck’s main engine. Just as she is everywhere else, Liliana of the Veil is a beating and a half. This deck is highly effective at using her +1 ability, allowing you to discard Haakon, Life from the Loam or Stillmoon Cavalier. You can also discard unnecessary discard effects or removal. Her -2 goes a long way in murdering other creatures and helping Smallpox hit better targets. If you manage to hit -6, and you will, the game should basically be over.
Smallpox: The reason the deck exists. Symmetrical effects can be devastating or be terrible, depending on who’s on the receiving end and if you planned for it. Fortunately we did. Smallpox is great when decks are trying to reach a certain land count, amass enough rituals and cantrips, or protect a single creature. Most Modern decks fit into one of those categories, which makes Smallpox and Liliana champs.
Life from the Loam: Loam does a couple things. It helps you get to your magic land count of four, which can be tough to hit occasionally due to Smallpox and some stumbling on mana. Both Korlash and Liliana of the Dark Realms are four, but once we get there we won’t need to worry about mana again. Life from the Loam also allows us to repeatedly cast Worm Harvest using its retrace ability.
Inquisition of Kozilek/Thoughtseize: The other reason why this deck can exist. Coupled with Smallpox and Liliana of the Veil, your opponent’s hand will be shredded to bits by the time the game is over. You’ll probably find that both you and your opponent will be in topdeck mode with few permanents in play. This deck is well-prepared for that scenario; my guess is that your opponent’s deck isn’t.
Even though this is a rough list, I think that this is a good starting place. The deck is very grindy, often long and drawn out. If the opponent gets too far ahead, you can’t compete at that point. Try to gain as much as you can in the early game to prevent your opponent from getting there. The sideboard gives general answers to what you would expect to fight. Leyline is for the graveyard decks. Most of these decks are prepared for Grafdigger’s Cage so Leyline trumps the Cage. Geth’s Verdict is for the Emrakul matches. Ancient Grudge is for Affinity and opposing Grafdigger’s Cages. Torment is for the Soul Sisters match, Finks is always fantastic against the beatdown decks and the extra Fulminator Mage is for when three isn’t enough.
Another card that has caught my eye, as well as a bunch of other eyes I am sure, is Augur of Bolas. This guy … wow. What can I say besides he is Sea Gate Oracle on crack. If this creature is lost on you, let me elaborate. First, he’s a two-mana 1/3 that attacks. In Standard and Modern, he survives Pyroclasm and Whipflare. And his back end makes him great at carrying Swords. He also happens to be a Merfolk, which is proving to be more important. Master of the Pearl Trident, we are looking at you. This is all dandy, but his ability is what makes him truly shine. He digs Ponder-level deep, and although he can only get you instants and sorceries, you’re probably playing him in a blue deck. What else do you want besides instants and sorceries?
So where does he go? Well, it doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to see that he could fit in a Delver deck. Yuuya Watanabe’s GP winning Delver list has 23 instants and sorceries along with Runechanter’s Pike. Squeezing Augur of Bolas in here seems like a no-brainer. I’m not sure where you could fit them into the deck, but I’ll leave that for people much better than me.
We’ll also see if more Merfolk get printed in Return to Ravnica. If there’s enough good fish in Standard, Augur of Bolas and Talrand, Sky Summoner are like Spongebob and Patrick. In the other formats, I’m not sure if there is room in Merfolk lists for Augur, mainly because they generally need an equal amount of creatures, counter magic and land. Augur skips two out of three. But I think I have found another use for him entirely.
Blink and Augur-nna get you
One thing is for sure, Augur likes to be blinked. And no one does that better than Venser. Restoration Angel comes in a close second. This deck is a lot easier to follow than the Smallpox deck even if it is less refined, so I’ll just go over some basic strategy. This is a control/Gifts Ungiven deck. The object is to eliminate threats with removal, get out and blink Eternal Witness and proceed to Plow Under opponents until they concede.
There is a ton of strategy involved with Gifts Ungiven, and you can devote an entire article or two to it. But for the sake of my sanity and yours, I’ll give you two of the most common gift piles from this deck:
Noxious Revival + Eternal Witness + What you need + Whatever = This configuration will always allow you to get the card you need to your hand. Just be sure to plan ahead when doing this one, because you won’t get what you need most likely till the following turn.
All things aside, M13 is looking to be a sweet core set with a lot of new things happening. Wizards is definitely flexing their comfort zone.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. For the real reason why Garruk is so relentless, check out Steve Argyle’s original artwork for Liliana of the Veil: http://steveargyle.com/gallery/artwork/?artwork_id=400. It’s pretty awesome if I say so myself.
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