September 14, 2017

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A Farewell to Standard - Prowess Fever

When I think about the deck my opponent is playing, I typically tend to describe it in one of two ways  - 'fun to play against', or 'not fun to play against'. In this week's Farewell to Standard, we're going to take the time to say good-bye to a deck that is rarely fun to play against - UR Prowess.

Prowess is an interesting mechanic. In essence, it gives any creatures that have it +1/+1 until end of turn for each non-creature spell you cast. With the right deck it can be insanely powerful, which is impressive given that it's a relatively new mechanic in the scale of Magic's history. Its debut in the 2014 set Khans of Tarkir makes it not even a full three years old as of the writing of this article. Flying, on the other hand, is 23 years old. Feel old yet, Alpha players?

Prowess is typically found on low-cost creatures, like Soul-Scar Mage, Seeker of the Way, or the infamous Taylor Monastery Swiftspear. That's not to say that it's found exclusively on cheap creatures, as anyone who's had to face down a Pearl Lake Ancient will tell you. Still, it seems that despite Prowess being featured on a pretty wide range of creatures, the cheap guys who let you get in for early beats are the best option.

While we got a few Prowess cards in Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, such as Bloodwater Entity, Spellweaver Eternal, and Soul-Scar Mage, it's safe to say that unless Ixalan offers us some 11th hour Prowess Pirates, the archetype is pretty well going to be on the outs once Rotation hits. Why's that? Because of the loss of Stormchaser Mage, that's why.

Haste paired with Prowess is where it's at. After all, there's a reason Monastery Swiftspear is an auto-include in so many burn variants in multiple formats. With no creatures with both Haste and Prowess, I just can't see any deck relying on Prowess surviving in Ixalan Standard. But hey, I've been wrong before. Let's take a look at a Prowess brew:

If you're playing a Prowess deck like this one, you aren't just playing Magic against your opponent - you're outright racing against them. The goal here is to out-tempo your opponent while blasting your way through their precious 20 life, aiming to take them out of the game by turn five or sooner. That's right, turn five or sooner. They say all's fair in love and war, but I'd still recommend shielding the eyes of your children and expecting to lose some friends at your LGS. After all, we are still in Fatal Push promo season.

Like I said previously, the goal here is to race to the finish. Ideally, you want to be able to hit a turn one Soul-Scar Mage into some Prowess triggers. Failing that, a turn two Riddleform, Firebrand Archer, or Stormchaser Mage is totally fine as well, providing that you can follow them up with a plethora of Prowess triggers.

Knowing that we're aiming to take our opponent from 20-0 as fast as possible, you're going to want to keep an eye out for plays and sequences like this:

Turn one:

Turn two:

Attack for three, deal two - Opponent's life total becomes 15

Turn three:

Attack for three - Opponent's life total becomes 12

Turn four:

Attack for six (Damage doubled to 12) deal two (Damage doubled to four) - Opponent's life total becomes -4

As a former Scapeshift player, winning on turn four sounds delicious to me. The best thing is, it's not that difficult to do consistently. The above play through took a total of seven cards and four Mana. Considering an open hand of seven, plus drawing either three or four more cards (depending on if you went first or not) and drawing an extra card with Crash Through, it's actually not asking to much to believe that this is something that could be done on a typical game.

Of course, there will be some variance in there. Maybe you draw a Stormchaser Mage instead of Riddleform, maybe you get a Fevered Visions instead of an Unsummon. That's totally okay, because most of the time you'll still get some kind of set up that allows you to turbo-speed your way to victory in four to five turns.

Taking a deeper look at some of the cards in this list, it's obvious that Riddleform really shines. It can act as both a Prowess trigger for any creatures who may be on the board already and then proceeds to act as a creature itself when you cast a spell on your following turns. The active ability to Scry for three is not especially relevant, considering you want to basically be dumping our your hand in most instances. That being said, if you have nothing else to sink that three mana into, card filtering is never a bad thing to do at the end of your opponent’s turn.

Fevered Visions is nothing new to players who were around in the Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon StandardsIn this list it helps keep your hand chock full of Prowess triggering spells, and can actually end up Shock'ing your opponent a few times if the game goes long.

Long games are the natural enemy of Prowess decks, which is why we've also got a pair of Bedlam Revelers in our list. Past turn three or four, this thing's ability to cost one mana less for each Instant or Sorcery in your graveyard will have him costing as little as two mana - though most likely around three or four. While you won't always want to discard your hand, you will almost always want to draw three more cards.

Stormchaser Mage and Firebrand Archer represent the last of our creatures that haven't been mentioned in detail, mostly because they are relatively self-explanatory; an unchecked Stormchaser Mage is likely to bring you to victory in just a few turns, especially when paired with Insult. Fun fact, casting one into the other is a measly four damage - but post sideboard, casting a pair of Consuming Fervor onto him and following up with an Insult lets you attack for 20 damage. No big deal, right?

A resolved Firebrand Archer gives you the ability to Gut Shot your opponent for free every time you cast a spell, and with a deck that actually wants to vomit three to four cards out in a turn that can end up being a lot of free shots to the gut. Being able to attack for a base power of two ain't bad either, and between Shock and Unsummon you should be able to keep the field clear enough in the early turns to allow the Archer to attack unimpeded.

For games that threaten to go long, sideboarding in Chandra, Torch of Defiance is your best bet. With your already hefty removal suite, keeping her alive long enough to get her Emblem online shouldn't be a problem. You can also use her to churn out extra spells with her +1 ability to generate extra red Mana, or proc a few extra Prowess triggers with her other +1 ability.

It's a shame that Prowess decks lose so much with Ixalan dropping, where they could have gained access to cards like Opt, Siren Stormtamer, Lightning Strike, Wily Goblin, and Spell Pierce. Maybe some combination of those cards can lead to a new iteration of UR Prowess that can exist without all the cards we lost from Rotation. Who knows? All I know for sure is, I can't wait to see what else Ixalan brings us!