ast week I got to preview Mana Confluence, a new version of an old favorite, and this week I get to preview an actual old favorite itself. Just as Mana Confluence helped aggressive decks more than anything else, this week's preview is going to be a shock for control decks. After all, control decks are the decks most bothered by cards like Chandra's Phoenix, Voice of Resurgence and Xathrid Necromancer, and control decks don't really care that much about the opponent's life total. Those factors combine to making the following card a very attractive addition to red-based control:
The last time Magma Spray was legal in Standard was half a decade ago, and it did a noble job of fighting Kitchen Finks. It still even sees some play in Modern, since Kitchen Finks are still running around there as well. Pillar of Flame was also a Standard staple, and with Magma Spray and Shock, forms the triumvirate of non-Lightning Bolt one-mana red spells:
(Let's just call Firebolt the long-forgotten king, since it is easily the most powerful of this category.)
Given that only Shock and Magma Spray are legal for Standard when Journey into Nyx comes out, it's not too hard to separate out which decks want which. Here's an example of a deck that currently plays Shock:
Grand Prix Beijing 2014 – Top 8
Given that this deck is going straight to the face with every card in the deck besides the two Chained to the Rocks, I think we can safely conclude that Shock is better than Magma Spray for its purposes. Chained to the Rocks even protects the deck against creatures well enough already, and the deck has access to four after board.
Things might change when you look at a creature-based mono-red deck, such as this one:
Richard Wayne's Mono-Red Aggro
15th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 4/12/2014
This deck cares much more about the trio of 2/2's that have graveyard-based triggers, with Voice of Resurgence and Xathrid Necromancer being particularly annoying. When your plan is to attack with various 2-power creatures, removing persistent blockers is critical, and this deck is a little less focused on the straight burn aspect. Still, this deck is more likely to play a split of Magma Spray and Shock in the main deck than just switching them, though I can see playing up to 4 between main and board.
Both of these decks very much care about the opponent's life total, and red-based control isn't very big in Standard right now, so it looks like it's up to me to brew up some decklists that really takes advantage of everything Magma Spray has to offer.
The first deck is a take on Sphinx's Revelation control, and is very similar to a list I've played in the past:
The game plan of this deck is similar to every other Sphinx's Revelation deck in the last few months, but it's got a few cool things going on. The first is that Magma Spray + lands that enter the battlefield tapped is actually a combo. You get to play a Temple on turn one and Magma Spray on turn two without any loss of speed, unlike normal Sphinx's Revelation decks which have on 1-drop removal. Spray also deals with the cards that are specifically aimed at this deck, which is a pretty big deal.
The second thing I like about this deck is how Counterflux plays against Esper/UW. You actually have more uncounterable counters than they have true threats and that gives you a pretty good shot of decking them. All you have to do is never use Counterflux on anything but Thoughtseize, Ætherling, or Elixir of Immortality and you are in good shape. Thoughtseize is the most annoying of their cards, but not all Revelation decks maindeck Thoughtseize, and if they do, they have two at most. What this game plan means is that you really shouldn't counter Sphinx's Revelation with Counterflux, regardless of how tempting it is to do so. Using Izzet Charm or Syncopate is fair game, of course, but you really want to save Counterfluxes for the cards that can actually beat you.
Magma Spray isn't the only new card we've seen recently, but it does work with another powerful preview card:
Keranos is an awesome way to win the game, and I really love the flavor of him tossing Lightning Bolts from the sky whenever he sees fit. If there ever was a card for control, it's a card that provides incremental advantage as the game goes long. Keranos provides you an extra card or a removal spell every turn, and if you've managed to stabilize the board, he starts chipping away at the opponent.
His abilities scale perfectly according to the deck he's played in, which is another thing I really like about him. Playing a lot of lands? Well, you probably want to draw extra cards more than you want the 3 damage. Playing as few lands as you can get away with? You are definitely more interested in Lightning Bolting the opponent's face.
Here's an example of the former:
I tried to make a straight UR deck, but with so many Temples available right now, I just couldn't justify it. Playing two colors in a blue-based control deck seems worse than splashing whatever is good from a third color, given how easy it is. I do think that a burn-based UR deck sounds viable, but that's much more aggressive than what I put together, and it is less clear to me that you want Magma Spray when your plan is to burn the opponent out (as we saw before). I also just really like the Counterflux plan, and Magma Spray gives me another excuse to try it.
Next week I'll be back with more Standard lists involving Journey into Nyx, since it's brewing season! It's always fun putting together decks before we see what ends up being the best, and that period of unfettered exploration is only found right when the new set comes out. I'm not saying you can't explore later, but once you know what decks you are going to face, you do have to take them into account. When the field is wide open, it's a lot easier (for me at least) to justify making sweet decks.
Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).