Why I’m excited for Venser (and you should be too).

I mean, first of all, it’s freaking Venser.

Remember how good the original Venser was a few years back? Of course, the new Venser has little to do with his previous Legendary incarnation, aside from representing the same character. However, this version may have even more of an impact on Standard than the Shaper Savant.

Venser, the Sojourner was the first major card spoiled from Scars of Mirrodin. Being a huge fan of the first Venser (shocking, I know), I was super excited to see what his planeswalker self would be capable of. However, to be honest, I was sort of let down at first.

A Sorcery-speed Momentary Blink? Hm, okay, what else?

Make my creatures unblockable? What creatures? Baneslayer? Celestial Colonnade? They don’t really need it, being that they have Flying.

What’s his ultimate? Exile stuff. Seems spicy, but so does every other planeswalker’s ultimate ability. To be playable, his non-ultimate abilities need to have an impact in case he never reaches his ultimate.

So, with my initial impression out of the way (“he’s okay, but really needs to be built around to be any good”), I moved on to other Scars of Mirrodin spoilers, which were pouring forth at an alarming rate. Elspeth Tirel, Koth (KOTH!), Mox Opalman, Elspeth seems so good!Geez, how am I gonna deal with this Koth guy? Should I just play red?

But when I stopped for a little while, for whatever reason, Venser kept scratching around on the inside of my skull.

So I took a (figurative) page out of Patrick Chapin’s book (Next Level Magic, which you can buy here!) and took another look at Venser from a different perspective: What would make this card good?

I sketched out a list based on an amalgamation of Next Level Bant and U/W Sun Titan Control, trying to get the most possible advantage out of Venser while not relying too much on him. (Looking back, I was definitely overcompensating for Memoricide and therefore wanted to diversify my threats.)

2 Preordain
2 Condemn
4 Mana Leak
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Wall Omens
4 Sea Gate Oracle
3 Jace Beleren
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Day of Judgment
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
3 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sun Titan

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
5 Plains
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tectonic Edge

Here is the (entirely unedited) e-mail I sent to Bigheadjoe (my co-host on my podcast, Yo! MTG Taps!—but you knew that already, right?) in the wee hours of the morning on September 10:

○ Condemn, Mana Leak, DoJ, Journey, Tumble Magnet – disruption
○ Preordain – card quality + cantrip
○ Wall, Oracle, Beleren – cantrips, blink targets
○ Sun Titan – gets back all the cantrip permanents, also gets back Journey and Tumble Magnet (if destroyed or discarded to SoLT or something). Sick blink target.
○ Sphinx of Lost Truths – can throw just about any of that stuff into the ‘yard & then I can just get it back w/ Sun Titan. Another blink target.
○ Venser – can blink almost everything to good effect (Wall, Oracle, Sphinx); resets Beleren and Magnet too.
○ Elspeth T. & JTMS – to assist & be alternate win conditions (considering how many cards I’m drawing, I’ll see them fairly often, but don’t need them to win)
○ BSA – because the only relevant ability she lacks is vigilance, and with Venser in play, she has it 🙂 Another win condition.

The interesting thing is I built the deck around Venser, but he’s not the win condition, so the deck is inherently strong against Memoricide (a lot of diversity).

There are a whopping 14 win conditions!:
Titan x2
Sphinx x2
Venser x3
Elspeth x1
BSA x1
Colonnade x4

Tumble Magnet + Walls and Oracles force over-extension into DoJ or Elspeth’s ultimate. I can DoJ on turn 4, then on 5 do any number of things: SoLT, BSA, Elspeth; with a Condemn in hand, I can play Venser, blink-untap a land, and if a haste creature tries to attack the unprotected Venser, I have mana up for Condemn. Turn 6 a Sun Titan starts bringing back whatever creatures of mine that I may have wrathed away on turn 4.

Venser can also move the Journey to more relevant creatures if I want, and can blink himself to dodge Elspeth’s ultimate. Tirel also destroys Journey and Magnet, but Titan brings them both back. With a Venser in play, on turn 6 I can play Titan, get back a Wall or an oracle, blink the Titan, get back another Wall or Oracle. Plenty of protection for Venser and meanwhile filling my hand with spells for if/when I can use his ultimate. Tectonic Edge w/ Sun Titan & Venser is just sickening. Kill 2 nonbasics a turn. Then start exiling lands with Venser’s ultimate.

I’ve got a confession to make: I have yet to actually try this list, although I still feel it may have potential (I think it’s at least worth trying). Side note: If anyone actually does give this a try, I’d really love to hear your feedback.

So, that was 3 weeks ago, and since then I’ve come to the realization that Venser doesn’t actually need to be built around. Sure, you want to have targets for his blink ability, but the great thing about Venser is how well he already fits into the synergies of U/W Control! The most recent iterations of classic U/W are already playing cards that have a natural affinity for Venser’s blink ability: Wall of Omens; Sun Titan. Give your Baneslayer (or Wurmcoil Engine) faux-Vigilance, or save it from the Day of Judgment you’re about to cast. Move your Journey to Nowhere onto a more relevant target. Untap a land to keep counter-magic or removal mana open.

It only takes three activations to put him on his ultimate. Forget about the minus ability (although it’s there if you can capitalize on it). If you can protect Venser for just three of your opponent’s turns—not such a tall order if you consider the type of cards you’re likely already playing—you’ll be exiling permanents every time you cast a spell (whether that spell resolves or not).

Here’s a rough list, which I’ll be testing a bit this weekend:

2 Condemn
4 Preordain

3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Wall of Omens

1 Negate
4 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
1 Stoic Rebuttal
2 Journey to Nowhere

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Day of Judgment
2 Venser, the Sojourner

2 Sun Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Tectonic Edge
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Plains
8 Island

No sideboard as of yet, but I’d expect to play the usual suspects: some number of Flashfreeze and/or Celestial Purge, and possibly Oust (for Fauna Shaman and other problem creatures that don’t tend to attack and thus are not susceptible to Condemn).

Other cards to consider (main or side, probably main) are Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb. Into the Roil seems like it would be particularly strong in an unknown metagame as a nice catch-all. Ratchet Bomb is retrievable with Sun Titan and seems like just the type of card that you might want to reuse.

Whether you like Venser or not, Scars of Mirrodin has brought with it a TON of options, in addition to pushing some huge players out of the format (remember Bloodbraid Elf?). Now is a great time to not only look at the new cards but to also take a look back at the cards that might not have been as practical in a format like AlaraM10Zendikar Standard. There may be some hidden gems amongst the cards we all passed over while trying to fight against a turn-two Putrid Leech. I know a certain Dragonmaster who’s been eyeballing a modern-day Ophidian for its new-Standard potential…


On Mana Leak.

Wow. Considering the fact that for the past several hours, whenever I think about the fact that Mana Leak has been confirmed in M11 I’ve been pretty much speechless, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to tilt the pitcher and see what pours out.

First off, we haven’t seen Mana Leak in Standard since 9th Edition rotated out in 2007.

Three. Years. Ago.

Back then, it was often seen hanging around with cards like Compulsive Research, various blue Signets, Mystical Teachings, and the Pickle twins, Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental.

There was no such thing as a Planeswalker card. By the time Lorwyn hit the scene, Mana Leak had been gone for nearly three months.

Remember Faeries? No? Let me help you out:


See, Faeries didn’t have the help of Mana Leak. And anyone who played during Lorwyn’s time in Standard will tell you: Faeries didn’t NEED Mana Leak. Faeries had their own version of Mana Leak in Spellstutter Sprite, not to mention one of the best blue spells (and probably my favorite) ever printed, Cryptic Command. And that’s not all. Scion of Oona was around in case anyone tried anything funny, like attempting to somehow remove your Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom. (Ah, yes…Bitterblossom. That’s a story for another day.)

But us, now, in 2010? We could really use a Mana Leak. Counterspells nowadays are either incredibly narrow, terribly situational, costed too highly, or some combination of the three. What used to be Scion of Oona is now Hindering Light.

Alongside Deprive, blue mages now have a realistic opportunity to play a GOOD counter-suite. In the early game, Mana Leak is essentially Counterspell; and in the late game, Deprive fills the same role.

The question now becomes whether it is worth it to counter a spell in the current Standard. We’ve become overrun with creatures and planeswalkers as of late. Generally, we’d rather deal with creatures in another way (Day of Judgment, instant-speed spot removal if necessary) since we have ways to remove them after they’ve hit the table, and summoning sickness gives us the opportunity to do so without giving the creature a chance to make an impact. The exceptions to this are creatures with haste and those with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

So, what creatures are we seeing in Standard that would fall into those categories? Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle… Do you really want to spend a counter on those? Sphinx of Lost Truths, sure, that’s one I’d counter. Ranger of Eos, too. Bloodbraid Elf? No. And as much as Mike Flores wants me to “admit” it, I do not want to counter a Vengevine.

Okay, so that leaves Planeswalkers. I am perfectly happy spending a counterspell on a Planeswalker, as even though it seems like a one-for-one, we all know the card advantage that ‘walkers provide. But if the only spells worth countering in Standard are Planeswalkers, wouldn’t it be acceptable to just run Negate and take the risk of facing the occasional Sphinx or Ranger? Why do we “need” Mana Leak?

The truth is, permanents—creatures, specifically—have become so powerful that even “good” counterspells have lost a step. We need our counters to be versatile or they’re not worth running at all (see also: Standard). I’m beginning to wonder if that hasn’t been Wizards’ plan all along: Weaken the counterspells, then make creatures better and better until “classic” counterspells are balanced. Are we reaching a point where Counterspell itself would be a fair card to reprint? Think about it. No one expected Lightning Bolt to come back. (Hell, I remember being excited to see Incinerate come back in Tenth Edition!) Creatures were pushed to a degree that made Lightning Bolt no longer the powerhouse it once was, hence the return of the most classic burn spell ever printed.

Is it so crazy to think that perhaps Wizards is pushing the game to a level where Counterspell is balanced?

Be sure to check out the latest episode of Yo! MTG Taps! over on StarCityGames.com!

On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.


It Is Now My Duty to Completely Drain You.

All I can say is, unbelievable. It’s a sad, sad day when Cancel is made even more unplayable.


If you haven’t seen it already, read the news here.


Six New Rise of the Eldrazi Spoilers!

Despite the prerelease being over a month away, spoiler season is already underway. Just like last time, these spoilers were given to several blogs/websites to spoil all at once on March 15, so you’ll likely be seeing these hit all at one time. There’s a chance that Yo! MTG Taps! will get an exclusive spoiler (which will be posted here after we podcast about it), so keep checking back for updates.

Without further preamble:




Magic: The Gathering
Rise of the Eldrazi

For thousands of years, Zendikar has had a reputation as a deathtrap. It’s been a world of deadly perils to Planeswalkers and native explorers, punishing any who seek to loot its hidden treasures and exploit its potent mana.

But unknown to the plane’s denizens, there’s a sinister reason for Zendikar’s danger: for millennia, the plane has served as a prison for the Eldrazi, astral monstrosities native to the Blind Eternities. Now, the perils facing adventurers on the plane of Zendikar have taken an even deadlier turn. The Eldrazi have been released.

Hailing from the Blind Eternities, the space between planes, the Eldrazi have transcended the colors of mana as we know them. As a result, the Eldrazi progenitors themselves and those closest to them are colorless. But don’t let the mana cost fool you—these Eldrazi are not artifacts.

Each of the colossal Eldrazi spawns its own “brood lineage.” The three brood lineages are composed of Eldrazi Drones and other subordinate beings, each reflecting the image of its progenitor. The smaller Eldrazi Drones that are aligned with colored mana and many of these drones, as well as some spells, produce Eldrazi Spawn creature tokens. These 0/1 colorless creatures can be sacrificed to add one colorless mana to your mana pool—perfect for casting those enormous Eldrazi.

The Rise of the Eldrazi set also marks the debut of colorless instants and sorceries. Like their Eldrazi creators, these versatile spells can be put into almost any deck.

Tournament Play
This new and deadlier world comes with a set of mechanics that are separate and distinct from
Zendikar and Worldwake, its predecessors in the Zendikar block. It is a large set and its unique mechanics mean limited play (drafting and sealed play) are played with Rise of the Eldrazi product. However, since it is part of the Zendikar block it will rotate out of Standard with Zendikar and Worldwake.


Anyone else think of Aragog (the giant spider from Harry Potter) when they saw the name Pathrazer of Ulamog? I know I did. Anyway, the Eldrazi are obviously prohibitively expensive creatures to cast, so I’ll go ahead right now and say that after seeing Kozilek, I’m not sure I’m going to be doing much more jaw-dropping when I see the remaining Eldrazi themselves. However, it seems that the set is going to provide us with ways to make them cheaper, (as made evident by Eye of Ugin and the above Corpsehatch), so we’ll have to wait to see if these tools actually push the Eldrazi into the realm of Standard-constructed playability.

Personally, I’m more excited about Mnemonic Wall than any of the rest. The Wall, while not OMGFNMBBE! exciting (sorry, Twitter inside joke), functions as a sort of cantrip that allows you to choose the card you end up with—as long as it’s in your graveyard. It’s no Eternal Witness, but it’s really not that far off.

Mammoth Umbra gives us a new keyword, “Totem armor,” which looks to be another attempt by Wizards to make auras playable. As I said about Canopy Cover, a resolved Umbra helps rectify the two-for-one problem inherent in most auras, although if your creature is removed before the Umbra resolves, you’re outta luck.

Another new keyword, “Rebound” (shown on Prey’s Vengeance), seems like it could be okay depending on what kind of spell it’s on. Personally I have very little reaction to the Giant Growth variants we continue to see (although I understand the reason for them). Vines of Vastwood seems much better than this card, simply for its ability to counter a removal spell while also providing some pumps. I’m sure we’ll see a Rebound cycle for each color, but the strength of the ability hinges entirely on the effect of the spell. A counterspell, for example, would be almost entirely useless (unless your opponent is a complete idiot and attempts to cast a spell during your upkeep the turn after you play the Rebound-counter). For blue, though, I could see a 3cc “draw a card” with Rebound—although, unless it’s instant-speed, it would be worse than Divination in most situations. If it IS instant speed, though, I think it would certainly be playable in Standard; playing it at EOT it would function much like the “draw 2” mode of Esper Charm, drawing you a card during your opponent’s end step and then again during your upkeep. This is all speculation, of course, but I would certainly be excited to see a card like this:

Think Again
1UU – Instant
Draw a card.
Rebound (If you cast this spell from your hand, exile it as it resolves. At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may cast this spell from exile without paying its mana cost.)

Stay tuned for updates!


Chapin’s List (UW Control)

Pro-Tour San Diego: Patrick Chapin and his Blue-White Control deck were featured in a video deck tech late on Friday evening. See below:

So, sideboard notwithstanding, I wasn’t far off. Looks like Chapin ditched the Calcite Snappers (regrettably, considering the moniker I used for the deck in my last post), but otherwise a very similar list to what I have above. I’m actually surprised how close I was to getting the same manabase—I’m only off by +1 Scalding Tarn. Chapin does indeed run 2 copies each of Mind Spring and Martial Coup, along with maindeck Flashfreeze and Celestial Purge.

Notice also the FOUR copies of Cancel in Chapin’s deck.






At first, this seems a bit odd. Before now, the problem with most of the playable counterspells (Flashfreeze, Negate, Essence Scatter) was that they were narrow, which often made it difficult to have the correct counterspell for the situation. Enter Worldwake: along come Jace, the Mind Sculptor AND Halimar Depths—both of which help to correct this problem. With these cards, it is much, much easier to have the right counter at the right time. Still, Chapin & co. chose to run 4 copies of Cancel. Why?

The “problem” with Cancel has always been blatantly obvious. Counterspell=good. Cancel=bad. The only difference between the cards is the extra 1 mana. It might not seem like much, but imagine if the price of a staple such as gasoline increased by 33% (oh, wait…it has). Sucks, right? But Worldwake has also gifted us with a means of making up that difference: the mother-lovin’, Everflowing Chalice. As Chapin explains in the video, Chalice may be the “best signet ever,” due to its versatility.

For the curious, here are the differences from my original list:

-3 Calcite Snapper
-2 Negate
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Scalding Tarn

+2 Cancel
+2 Flashfreeze
+2 Martial Coup
+2 Mind Spring
+1 Celestial Purge

Lastly, here’s Chapin’s maindeck (as he had it arranged in the deck tech):

Jace and friend

Photo by Alexander Shearer

[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Flashfreeze
[4] Cancel
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[2] Mind Spring
[2] Martial Coup
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Treasure Hunt
[3] Oblivion Ring
[1] Celestial Purge
[3] Day of Judgment
[1] Path to Exile
[2] Arid Mesa
[1] Negate
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[4] Plains
[1] Scalding Tarn
[3] Island
[4] Halimar Depths

EDIT: Added Chapin’s sideboard:

[3]  Baneslayer Angel
[1]  Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[1]  Essence Scatter
[2]  Flashfreeze
[3]  Kor Firewalker
[1]  Mind Control
[2]  Negate
[1]  Perimeter Captain
[1]  Plains


Snapper Control for Standard

Just as a quick aside, I thought I’d post the list I’ve been working on for post-Worldwake Standard.

[3] Calcite Snapper
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria

[3] Negate
[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Cancel

[3] Oblivion Ring
[3] Path to Exile
[4] Day of Judgment

OTHER (12)
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Treasure Hunt

LANDS (27):
[4] Halimar Depths
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[3] Island
[4] Plains
[2] Scalding Tarn
[2] Arid Mesa

This list is inspired by a deck I watched Patrick Chapin play on the Magic Cruise last week. I didn’t get the list from him or anything, but I watched a couple of games and I liked what I saw.

UPDATE: Based on the coverage of PT San Diego, Chapin & crew (including Gabriel Nassif and possibly Mark Herberholz) may also be running maindeck Martial Coup and Mind Spring. I’ll update with the official list(s) sometime this weekend (as soon as I can get ’em)!

I don’t have an exact sideboard as of yet, but I’m thinking 4 Spreading Seas, 3-4 Flashfreeze, some amount of Celestial Purges, maybe a Luminarch Ascension or two. Into the Roil seems to be a great catch-all, especially for when a planeswalker slides past your Negates/Cancels; then again, a 4th copy of Oblivion Ring should do the trick (but I sure do love the cantrip option on Into the Roil). I need to test the maindeck some more to find the weak spots before I get a good idea of how the sideboard is going to end up.


So far, with no sideboard, I’ve been loving this deck. Originally I was thinking Esper was the way to go, but the Jace/Halimar Depths/Treasure Hunt engine makes Esper Charm a lot less necessary—and let’s not kid ourselves, Esper Charm is the best reason to play UWB. Cutting the black from the deck takes a lot of pressure off the manabase, freeing up space for Tectonic Edge. Having now actually played with Celestial Colonnade, it’s better than I expected. Vigilance on a manland in a control deck is just SO. GOOD.


To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about blue right now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good. Really good. I love it. But the problem is, so does everyone else. While that won’t stop me from playing the decks I want to play, it’s never as much fun to play a deck when everyone else is playing it, too. On the other hand, maybe I should look at this as an opportunity to focus my efforts on how to edge out the pseudo-mirror match; that’s a skill I’ve always avoided, simply because it was not as enjoyable to play against a deck similar to my own.

Nevertheless, I’m really excited to see what the pro players have been brewing up for Pro Tour San Diego this weekend. Keep up with the coverage over at the mothership!