Unlocking the Vault #59: Born of the Gods in Classic

Born of the Gods has been out for nearly a month on MTGO. I usually prefer to write these set reviews around the time of release, or before, but things didn’t work out for the most recent set. Unlike Theros, there are actually a couple of cards that could have an impact in Classic, and eventually Vintage.

The first (and perhaps most controversial) card which is Classic- and Vintage-playable is Spirit of the Labyrinth. Wizards has a penchant for making white 2 casting-cost hate bears, and Spirit is another in the long lineage. Regardless of anyone’s view on how modern card design favors small disruptive creatures instead of cheap powerful spells, there is no arguing that we will continue to see such cards being printed in the future.

While most hate bears are 2/2s, Spirit is a more buff, yet fragile, 3/1. A 3-power body was a unique factor a few weeks ago when Lodestone Golem was everywhere in the format, but with its recent restriction, the 3 power is simply a slightly faster clock. For Classic purposes there simply aren’t any 3-toughness creatures that see regular play which it can trade with other than perhaps a 2/3 Tarmogoyf.

The barrier to playability in Classic and Vintage revolves around having a casting cost of 4 mana or less or the ability to cheat it into play. In addition, it must be able to have a profound impact on either deciding a game on its own, or nullifying your opponent’s strategy. Spirit hits all of the right attributes to make it eminently playable. The ability to almost completely shut off opponent’s card draw is a significant factor, even in Classic which doesn’t have the best draw spell ever printed (Ancestral Recall).

The most common card draw in Classic comes from Blue decks, be it Fish-style decks or Control. But other decks use card draw as well, including Affinity (Skullclamp) and White Weenie Sky Hussar. Equipping is done at sorcery speed, thus making Clamp card disadvantage more often than not, especially with fewer Golems to equip it to. Sky Hussar is always instant-speed but can only be used on your turn, effectively mitigating any advantage that the White Weenie deck could employ. Blue decks almost universally use 4xBrainstorm, which is card disadvantage even if your opponent plays it at the end of your turn. Jace, the Mind Sculptor can’t “Jace-storm” effectively, though its other 2 modes are still useful (especially bouncing the Spirit to create an open board if at all possible).

Other draw engines that get neutered by Spirit: Gush, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Griselbrand, Cold-Eyed Selkie, and Ponder. I’m going to talk about Gush in a little bit, but Spirit does a very good job of shutting down that engine. Oath decks that have switched over to Griselbrand will be disappointed to see Spirit on the other side of the table. He’ll still be a 7/7 Flying Lifelinker, but the sheer card advantage that he could provide in order to protect himself will be taken way, making it much easier to remove him with a Swords to Plowshares.

While there are many cards that don’t interact favorably with the Spirit, there are a few that do. The most obvious is Dark Confidant, which doesn’t draw you a card; rather, it puts that card into your hand. With both Spirit and Bob in play, you can create an overwhelming card advantage within just a couple of turns. Necropotence isn’t likely a card that someone would pair with Spirit, but any Storm decks out there should take note if your opponent plays white mana-producing lands. Searching up a Necro might be the best win condition available. Library of Alexandria is a card that draws, but can be done at instant speed on the opponent’s turn. It may make it slightly more cumbersome to use efficiently, but it will still work as long as it’s activated on the opponent’s turn.

One of my favorite interactions with Spirit is through the use of Vendilion Clique. If you Clique someone on their draw step, you effectively get to Thoughtseize them with no loss of life, and you get a 3/1 Flyer for your troubles! The interactions with Bob, Clique, and Spirit led me to believe that an Esper “Control-ish” deck is possible. EpsilonMinus has been sporting such a deck in a couple DEs and prominently in the TP room. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t been able to break through with the deck yet by placing in a DE, but I think there is something to work with which might be a Tier 2 type of deck.

I’m not privy to the most recent list that EpsilonMinus has been sporting, but if I was to take a stab at it, I think it would look something similar to this:

This is a rough sketch and probably incorrect in a few areas, but the core of Spirit/Bob/Clique/Snapcaster appears pretty strong. The sideboard is a shot in the dark, too, so please only use it as an example. I can imagine the deck would have a hard time against Affinity, hence the significant artifact hate in the sideboard. It could also have difficulty winning games where Spirit isn’t on the board. I know EpsilonMinus was using Cavern of Souls in the most recent build I played against, but I’m not sure that’s where I want to be going in a deck without a large crossover of creature types. While Bob, Snapcaster, and Clique are all wizards, Geist of Saint Traft and Kataki, War’s Wage are really the only playable spirits worth considering. Perhaps it’s the better plan of action to simply to play the wizards without fear of countermagic and leave your own countermagic to protect the Spirit, but I don’t want to depend on drawing Cavern every game. Adding 3 Caverns to the deck makes casting spells difficult if drawn in multiples; 2 or fewer Caverns diminishes the chances of seeing one often enough.

I included Stoneforge Mystic simply as a card with some added reach, especially since Bob is the only source of card advantage in the entire deck (ignoring Snapcaster for the time being). Jitte is an all around good card, even without Stoneforge searching it up and cheating it into play. Batterskull provides the late-game push to cover up any life lost to multiple Bob triggers.

Here’s another whacked-out idea that could be worth considering in this type of deck: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Ashiok goes well with the theme of creating virtual card advantage through the Spirit. There are a lot of control decks running around in Classic these days, so perhaps it’s best-suited out of the sideboard. That said, Ashiok has some merit by offering some reach to the deck in a way that other planewalkers, like Jace, don’t (in terms of interacting well with the Spirit).

There are several other ways to take Spirit into Classic, including GWb dedicated Hate Bears lists. I don’t think I would run a full set in those decks, but 1-3 might be useful. Mono-White Weenie, minus the Sky Hussars could also be an option, though Hussar is a huge reason that deck is competitive.

The other card I want to talk about today is probably something a little off the radar: Kiora, the Crashing Wave. I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that excited for this card until I listened to the So Many Insane Plays podcast a few weeks back. The discussion on Kiora opened my eyes to possibilities that I didn’t immediately see in the card, and once they started talking about Lotus Cobra, I started to fall in love. I have a soft spot for Cobra-Gush and immediately started to think of how I could use Kiora in Classic.

For those that didn’t get a chance to listen to the podcast, I suggest you go back and listen to it. If you want the tl;dr version, here is my best summation:

The interaction between Fastbond, Gush, and Lotus Cobra creates a card drawing and mana generating engine that can be used to combo off with a lethal Tendrils of Agony or create a board control deck on the back of Jace and countermagic. I’m not a fan of the Tendrils plan in Classic without the Power 9, so I wanted to explore the board control route.

Where Kiora comes into play is that she is sort of a mini-Fastbond and win condition in one. She has a couple of relevant abilities by either Explore-ing or preventing a creature from doing any damage to you (nice Blightsteel Colossus). It’s easy to look at the +1 ability and immediately understand what kind of benefit that you can get out of it, but her -1 Explore ability is a little more subtle in its power. By itself, Explore is not a Classic-playable card, but when combined with Cobra, and particularly fetch lands, you can create a situation where you can play both Kiora and Jace on the same turn. Here is the sequence: With a Cobra and 2 lands already in play (maybe from playing it on Turn 2), you can play a fetch land then search up a land and tap that land for mana. At this point you have generated 5 mana, which is enough to cast Kiora with 1 mana floating. If you have another fetch land in hand, you can then activate Kiora’s -1 ability, search up another land, and tap that land to have 4 mana floating. That mana can be used to cast Jace, or another planeswalker such as Ral Zarek, or even something like Talrand, Sky Summoner, which happens to work well with Gush. It requires a lot of cards to work properly, but it just goes to illustrate how explosive Kiora can be with Cobra and fetch lands.

Then, there is the Gush interaction. With a Gush, Kiora can play both lands used to cast Gush with her -1 ability while drawing a total of 3 cards in the process; sort of a build-your-own Ancestral Recall. You can also tap the lands before playing Gush, floating 2 mana, then play those lands and tap them once more to float 4 mana, again, the magic number required to play a Jace… all this can be done without the help of a Cobra!

At the core of such a deck is a strong Control engine which just so happens to be a Gush deck. I wouldn’t put this deck into Tier 1, or even Tier 2 status right away, but with some work, I think it can get there. Here is my latest effort which I was considering playing this past weekend, but the DE didn’t fire:

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I opted for a 4-color version due to how easy it is to generate colored mana with Cobra and Lotus Petal, but it is really a BUG Control deck at heart splashing red for Ral and Red Elemental Blast/Pyroblast out of the sideboard. I wanted a variety of threats since the deck is going to (hopefully) dig through a large chuck of the deck within the first few turns making drawing a second Jace or a second Kiora less useful. On the other hand, it makes the deck slightly more susceptible to durdling around with just some disruption and no action. I think the deck can use a lot more work, but I have liked the results thus far. It’s something new to attack the metagame with and I can imagine if anyone is like me that you’ll find that it’s fun to play with so many planeswalkers.

In addition to brewing with Born of the Gods, I’ve been working on some non-Affinity Workshop decks, but I’m not quite ready to post them. The early results are promising and I think people might have been overestimating the loss of Lodestone and Sphere of Resistance, myself included. In thinking outside the box a little, I may have stumbled on something that could be viable… or maybe not. It needs some more testing.

Hopefully I will have some videos next time out to showcase the Workshop deck, but we’ll need the DEs to fire. This past weekend was a little unfortunate in that we didn’t fire the DE for the first time since the time was changed back to Saturdays at 9:30 PM EDT. There may have been some trepidation in joining an event that evening since the MOCS earlier that day crashed for a couple hours. I did meet a new player who bought Force of Wills minutes before the event to play with. I hope that next week everyone can come out to help get the event to fire.

Let me hear your comments on either the Spirit or the Kiora-Gush deck in the comment section below!

Clan Magic Eternal
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  1. What do you mean by ‘Sky Hussar is always instand-speed’? Becouse you can forecast only in your upkeep…

  2. @Lantis Sorry, that sentence is all screwed up. It should read: “Sky Hussar is not instant-speed and can only be used during your upkeep, effectively mitigating any advantage that the White Weenie deck could employ.” I originally tried to convey two thoughts into one and came out horribly wrong!

  3. Glad to see Lotus Cobra ideas being kicked around again, I’ve always liked that card. When Vintage comes online and people can play him Turn 1 easily, he could get even more explosive.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out. Your list is probably stronger than mine, but if anyone is interested, here’s the list I was running.

    4 Bob
    4 Snap
    3 Spirit
    2 Mindcensor
    2 Clique
    2 Geist
    4 FoW
    3 Misstep
    3 Pierce
    3 Swords
    2 Thoughtseize
    1 Fluster
    1 Steel Sab
    1 DT
    1 VT
    4 Strand
    4 Delta
    3 Cavern
    3 Tundra
    3 Sea
    3 Waste
    2 Karakas
    1 Island
    1 Strip

    4 Cage
    3 Yixlid
    3 Kataki
    1 Flux
    1 E. Plague
    1 Annul
    1 Disenchant
    1 Fluster

    I built it thinking that there might perhaps be a shift towards Storm and Control decks, but that shift never really materialized. I agree that Cavern might not be the way to go, although it has a bit more utility in my list as I don’t have much crossover (Wizard or Spirit casts everything). I like the idea of a Stoneforge package and maybe True-Name to help against the creature decks, which obviously makes Cavern worse. The one thing I’d worry about in your list as the trimming of Wasteland effects as Spirit really isn’t a terrific answer to Library of Alexandria, which I’ve found to be death in any attrition-based match, which this type of deck obviously wants to fight.

    That being said, Affinity in particular is pretty rough because even though Spirit turns off Clamp, they have an army of 1-power dorks that can pretty much kill all your guys and that they don’t really care about. I’ve kind of put it on the shelf for now, but I’d definitely bring it back if Storm becomes a thing and causes a shift away from creature-based decks to spell-based decks.

  5. @rexdart: Lotus Petal actually does a good job of accelerating out a Cobra. The mana advantage gained by Cobra mitigates the loss of multiple uses of the Petal, though a Mox would be preferable.

    @EpsilonMinus: I don’t think we are going to see Storm in Classic now that LED is a promo. Once it is released next month, a couple people might pick them up, but for the foil aficionados, we have no ETA on when they will hit the system… could be after VMA! The price of LED once it does hit as a non-foil will go a long way to determine if people will pick up the deck. For now, the Mirage version has barely dropped in price as major chains are still listing it for $125. The only thing that changed was the buy/sell spread. The example of LED is a bad omen for VM since it’s clear that the hoarders and bots won’t sell for pennies on the dollar (which would be the true market value) and will prefer to simply hold onto the cards for eternity instead in the hope that one day they can get either larger profit or sell for minimal loss.