December 10, 2015

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Rogue Tech Report: Christmas Edition 2015

Hello and welcome to Rogue Tech Report, the Going Rogue spin-off series where we look at some of the best cards you might never have expected to see in constructed play. Magic's 22-year history is packed with hidden gems that could be making a big splash in a deck you already play. This occasional column will highlight some of these gems that are either currently trending, or simply show far more promise than anyone ever expected of them.

First off this week, we have a card that has recently risen from obscurity to spotlight, Rise//Fall. The Dissension uncommon had such a surge of new interest, in fact, that it skyrocketed in price last week from about a quarter to over two dollars. Nothing new happened - no new combo, not even a new deck that it suits uniquely well - someone just realized that it's just straight up a good card. It only took 10 years.

Played almost exclusively for the Fall mode, this card has been showing up in Grixis Control and Delver lists experimentally over the past year, touted by some as Modern's Hymn to Tourach, and dismissed by others outright. The main thing holding it back seems to be that by virtue of what's likely to be in an opponent's hand on turn 2, it's not very effective when played on-curve. Contrast this to Hymn, which is absurd on turn 2, and the doubt is understandable. The other issue is that while a two-mana two-for-one is a great play versus a control opponent, those opponents run the most lands, and make it more likely for you to miss. So if it hits two, great, you've got yourself a Hymn. But if you don't, well, you could have done something better that turn. Variance of this degree isn't well-tolerated in competitive Magic (this isn't Hearthstone, Mad Bomber), and so despite its cheerleaders, Rise//Fall never had anyone convinced.

That was until it showed up in the Top 8 of GP Pittsburgh in a Grixis Control deck, and suddenly people were paying attention. It seems that in a deck with enough reason to leave up mana and stay reactive, waiting for a missed land drop to sequence Fall into Tasigur, the Golden Fang provides a pretty massive swing in pressure. Meanwhile, when the worst cast scenario is using its Rise side to Raise Dead a Snapcaster Mage and Unsummon a threat, maybe its no surprise that this card is worth including in certain builds.

Next, we're on to a pair of jankier cards that have been spotted in some interesting builds.

First on the list is Spiketail Drakeling. With the rising interest in Bant Collected Company decks, especially since the introduction of the Knight of the Reliquary + Retreat to Coralhelm combo that's been featured several times in Going Rogue, a ton of creative thinking has gone into the other high-value ways to fill up the three-drop slot and flash in interesting creature effects. And strangely enough, sometimes in doing so you discover cards that almost warranted play without this flexibility.

Spiketail Drakeling is one of these effects. Hit off a Collected Company, Drakeling is a fantastic effect. It gives you reason to play CoCo in response to opposing spells, just in case you get to luck into a Mystic Snake on steroids, but even cruising into the next turn with it lets you peck in for two (plus whatever Exalted effects you likely have on board) while simultaneously kneecapping your opponents next play. Not bad for a beatdown deck with a combo finish.

The strangest thing about this card is that, while not quite good enough to maindeck (let's be real, it's god awful against a Tarmogoyf), I've even been reasonable happy hardcasting this, especially when I curve into it on the play.

Although a deck will never want more than two of these in the 75, it's a card worth keeping your eye on. I sleeved it up for the first time three months ago, and I've had it played against me a small handful of times since. Who knew?

And finally, a card that I recently found myself shamefully at the mercy of: Warden of the Beyond.

Remember that time you were drafting M15 and you got passed this sixth pick and went "Well, looks like White's already claimed." ? I sure do. While not completely unplayable, Warden of the Beyond was such a forgettable blip in Magic's recent history that I never asked myself a - in hindsight - fairly obvious question:

"Are there any decks that play Path to Exile, Anger of the Gods, and maindeck copies of Relic of Progenitus that would benefit from a two-way efficient body that dodges the format's most common removal?"

Well, it turns out that yes, yes there are.

While not all that common, we've all seen those pesky Red-White control decks come around. They Simian Spirit Guide into a turn-2 Blood Moon. They Pyroclasm their Boros Reckoner to take down your Lingering Souls AND your 4/4 Scavenging Ooze. They Assemble the Legion and then march them under their Ensnaring Bridge. It turns out that sometimes they also Anger of the Gods your Zoo deck, and then play a white Tarmogoyf that no one knew existed.

Yes, in a deck that very reliably exiles opposing threats, a 4/4 Vigilance creature for 2W is beyond cute. (See what I did there?) Sure, if you have access to Green, it takes some convincing to not just play a Loxodon Smiter or even just a real Goyf instead, but if you don't, the only card I'd rather be playing is Brimaz, King of Oreskos, and probably not in a full set of four.

I'll admit I was surprised to find myself losing to Warden, but when I turned it around and included it in a build of my own, it became clear that my good-cards-only prejudice has led me astray yet again.

Corner Case Cherry-Picking? Yes, but there's no other way.

I know what you're thinking: "Alright, suuuuuure. Sometimes these terrible cards make something interesting when you put enough terrible cards together in the same terrible deck." And logically, you'd be dead right, but creatively you'd be dead wrong. Every now and then, a rogue decks stumbles its way into competitive viability, and it only got there on the backs of countless loss-ridden experiments - A bad card is only a bad card until the context and strategy around it lets it win games. Once upon a time, Deceiver Exarch had its doubters, too.

Then again, maybe you're not thinking that, because if you would have thought that, you'd have stopped reading at "Spiketail Drakeling" .

There are a ton of hidden gems out there that only shine once you step outside the Hive Mind-Echo Chamber of competitive Magic. Winning is great, but every now and then it pays to do something a little bit differently.

Well that's it for today. I hope you enjoyed this first edition of Rogue Tech Report. Got some bizarre card choices of your own? Please share them in the comments. Until next time, have fun, and may the force be with brew.