Pattern Recognition #71 - Fuel for the Fire

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


14 June 2018


Hello everyone! I am berryjon, your resident Old Fogey . Welcome back to Pattern Recognition,'s most regular article series - barring the occasional week off for work or just because I'm out of energy. I endeavor to provide insightful, thought provoking and educational material for you all. Or at least a convenient target for all of you to aim your Pirate Ship s at.

Today's article was inspired by a card that I saw previewed for the Core 2019 set. I was surprised when I saw it, simply for the scale of the card, but mostly because I was getting annoyed at the pro- Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker flavour on the card.

Today, I want to talk about Apex of Power and every other card in the game that shares the same idea with it. Or, as I entitled this update, adding fuel to the fire.

Now, I've tagged Apex of Power to be linked as a card, but given how far ahead of the spoiler season this came out, I can't be sure of it. So here's the text of the card:

Apex of Power

Exile the top seven cards of your library. Until the end of the turn, you may cast non-land cards exiled this way.
If this spell was cast from your hand, add ten mana of any one color.
"As I desire it, so it shall be." - Nicol Bolas

Oh, go jump in a lake you overgrown lizard. And take Wizards' love of you with you. It's almost as bad as their Jace wank. sigh

So, let's talk about the second half of that card, and why it's probably the most banned theme in Modern. Bet that got your attention, huh?

Well, I've talked before a bit about the Mana curve in recent weeks, and how linear it tends to be. And how Green tends to run above the line with their slice of the colour pie. I also mentioned, in passing (I think), that Red tends towards temporary generation of more mana for just that turn. This article is about that.

Red's mana acceleration isn't a new thing, but nor it is a very old thing either. The oldest example of it that I can think of that wasn't part of a cycle of other cards like Iron Myr was Desperate Ritual , from Champions of Kamigawa. There might be something earlier, but I can't recall. So Desperate Ritual it is!

As the initial design of this series of cards, Desperate Ritual established some ground rules for all to follow. The first was that you always get more out of it than you put in, and second, you always get all of the same colour. There's no adding of or mixing colours. You always get out.

So, here is the crux of Red's mana acceleration. You pay a certain amount, but you always get more back. It's not Green's usage of permanents, or extra land drops, but rather you get a single shot in the arm.

Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual is for . Seething Song is for . Geosurge is for and I'm pretty sure you're all sick of seeing by now, so let's move on.

Now, this sort of growth occurs on more than just Infernal Plunge (which also requires sacrificing a creature), or Rite of Flame (a personal favourite of mine). It can also occur on creatures.

Akki Rockspeaker and Coal Stoker , while not adding more than their cost, they make for an interesting examination of the idea. The first is, when you paid for it, essentially a 1/1 for , assuming you can make the initial cost. The next also reduces the cost to , but reinforces the fact that you are filtering mana through it for a cost and getting a body out of it.

Oh yeah, definition! Filtering is the process by which mana is changed colour without adding or losing any in the process. The land cycle from Shadowmoor and Eventide exemplified by Graven Cairns (FUT shows how you can change to or visa-versa. Or mix and match!

Now, Planeswalkers also get in on the act. Chandra, Bold Pyromancer , Chandra, Torch of Defiance , Jaya Ballard , Koth of the Hammer and even Xenagos, the Reveler all allow you to add mana to your mana pool in Red (or in one case, sometimes ). And yes, each of these can add mana to your mana pool, it is really only Xenagos and Koth that can actually recoup their costs on the turn they come into play.

So... what's the point behind all this?

Well, as the flavour text on Mana Flair points out, this is an aspect of that has been shifting into for some time now. When I discussed the Alpha Boons, specifically Dark Ritual , I made the note that Black was and still is the colour of self-sacrifice and that Dark Ritual and its successors were about burning your cards in hand for a temporary advantage.

For Red, this is a weird look at the idea that they borrow from the future to pay for the now. When I cited Apex of Power as my instigating card, I skipped over the first half of it in order to get to the thing I wanted to talk about. Apex of Power temporarily allows you to extend your hand by seven cards then refunds your mana to allow you to play the cards there-in.

These cards, those that generate the mana you should have a plan for, they expand on that. You have the mana in hand, it's time to use it. It's time to Storm out. It's time to Blaze with all the extra mana. It's time to chain these spells together. Activate Jaya Ballard to cast Desperate Ritual to cast Seethng Song to cast Geosurge to cast....

These cards are banned in Modern for the most part. Seething Song ? Banned. Rite of Flame ? Banned. These two cards are too good. The latter in 2011 and the former in 2013? Why?

Exponential growth that can cause you to explode out of the gate, a huge push for something that no one else can match. The same reason why Dark Ritual was quickly phased out in favour of less broken versions of it. More mana in the colour that is the most efficient mana-to-damage producer? Well, that's a game blow-out right there.

Green's mana acceleration is slower (for the post part. I played a couple games of Commander this past week where people were running some pretty to-the-wall Tatyova, Benthic Druid decks), but it is constant and in a way, predictable. Turn 1, Llanowar Elves , turn 2 Kodama's Reach , etc etc....

Red can, with these cards, explode out of nowhere. No warning, save cards in hand, which can mean anything. Sure, is the colour of explosions (but not Explosive Growth ). And by taking out those two cards, Wizards can stop another vector for Red Deck Wins.

Apex of Power is a card that ... I won't say worries me. Rather, I look at it and I think it's just large numbers for the sake of having large numbers. Ten Mana! (Despite having ten to cast it in the first place.) Seven more Cards! More cards! More power!

I don't mine mana acceleration in Red, and I'm sure there's room for it as reliable and not at Mythic Rare. I'm just not sure that Wizards has a good formula for it yet.

Join me next week when I talk about something else. I don't know what yet. Perhaps someone can suggest a thing or two?

Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #70 - Removal The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #72 - Time after Time

AlphaAuthority says... #1

berryjon you're linking to another deck with your "Apex of power" tag, which is confusing.

June 16, 2018 5:19 a.m.

AlphaAuthority says... #2

anyways, I doubt Apex of Power is going to see competitive play to be frank. Wildfire Eternal, Jodah, Archmage Eternal and Fist of Suns decks might find some uses for it. But as far as competitive standard or modern, nah, I don't think so.

The only modern deck that really wants this card is Red Deck Wins, but they won't get that kind of mana to ever play it.

June 16, 2018 5:28 a.m.

Ontario says... #3

Hey Berryjon could we see an article about the concept of the sideboard, how it came to be what the thought process is in how it is used. Did love the idea or did anyone object? I'm a still very new and casual player but a sideboard strikes me a little bit like cheating, like replacing your pawns with a row of rooks. Shouldn't the challenge of building flexibility into your deck be to have that flexibility actually IN the deck. Ultimately I guess it just speeds up the game wins come on turn 5/6 more reliably than it would be turn 7, 8, 9, without it but is that really a bad thing?

Also when I bought into the game instead of taking small chunks from each set I went big specifically on the Tarkir block just because being casual in my approach I wanted to maximize synergy and flavour in my collection. As such I'd love to see an article just on your thoughts of that set, what went right, what went wrong, what they'd have to do in any plans to return to Tarkir. I know Mark Rosewater has said Dragons was a disappointment but what lessons should be learned from that?

Anyways I always look forward to you work when I see, keep up the great job.

June 16, 2018 9:22 a.m.

berryjon says... #4

AlphaAuthority: Apex of Power isn't in the system yet, so the link goes to the Deck, and not the card. Which is why I spelled out the card in the article.

June 16, 2018 11:40 a.m.

AlphaAuthority says... #5

berryjon so the tag will eventually link to the card itself without your interference, I didn't know that - thanks :)

June 16, 2018 11:47 a.m.

Boza says... #6

Ontario, Maro has since said that a return to Tarkir is likely, as the plane itself was well-liked, despite Dragons being less successful in market research than Khans. But most of that can be attributed to the fact that Khans was the first set of a block, while Dragons was the third (in fact, the last third set ever).

While I do not know how exactly the SB started (I too think this is a good topic for a PR article), it is the opposite of cheating - SBs allow play to be normalized. Every deck has good matchups and bad matchups.

For example, mono red aggro is traditionally good vs control decks, becuase its threats are faster than a control decks responses. However, with sideboarding, a control deck can bring answers like Murderous Cut that play well versus aggro decks, but not others. Similarly, an aggro deck in game 2 will bring in slower but more resilient threats like Chandra's Phoenix to be able to grind through a control deck's removal. This helps to alliviate archetype mismatches.

Heck, even in Limited a card like Pierce the Sky is not a good card to start in your main deck in Dominaria Limited. However, it is a great card to bring in the deck if your opponent is blue/White, which normally have a lot of fliers.

SBs allow for varied gameplay and are vital part of deck construction.

June 20, 2018 7:48 a.m.

Ontario says... #7

Hey Boza, thanks for the thoughtful feedback. It's funny that you feel the SB fosters more variety where my chief cynicism is that it causes main boards to be super highly specialized by out sourcing a deck's versatility to the side board. I guess it could be looked at as half full or half empty, the proof would simply by in the way people have chosen to use it since the inception of the rule.

June 24, 2018 1:49 p.m.

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