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Brewer's Minute: Yahenni's Expertise


Hey, everyone. It's time for another Brewer's Minute. This week, we had a bit of a surprise, with some powerful and exciting new cards from Aether Revolt being spoiled (or perhaps leaked). As a result, for this week's Brewer's Minute, we are going to take some time to talk about the Aether Revolt card I'm most excited about so far: Yahenni's Expertise! While it might look like a cross between Flaying Tendrils and Languish—and for Standard, that is pretty much what it will be—because of the "you can cast a card with converted mana cost three or less" text,  Yahenni's Expertise also has some serious combo potential in Modern!      

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Transcript

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In Standard

Let's start by talking about Magic's most popular format: Standard. In Standard, Yahenni's Expertise is pretty much just a sweeper with a major upside and a major downside. Probably the easiest comparison is Languish, the four-CMC black sweeper that recently rotated from Standard, but I'm not sure this comparison is completely fair. The difference between giving creatures 4/4 like Languish and 3/3 with Yahenni's Expertise is huge and represents the biggest downside of the card. It's just as fair to compare Yahenni's Expertise to Flaying Tendrils as it is to compare it to Languish, and the truth is probably somewhere in between. 

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On the other hand, the ability to play something for free is a major upside, and there are some pretty sweet targets in Standard. While I haven't found any combos, playing a Yahenni's Expertise into Liliana, the Last Hope represents a lot of value (and also allows Yahenni's Expertise to kill one four-toughness creature thanks to Liliana, the Last Hope's 2/1 ability), while Transgress the Mind, Pick the Brain, and removal spells like Ruinous Path or Murder (which let you use Yahenni's Expertise to sweep away small creatures and also take down one big threat) are fine choices as well. However, when it comes right down to it, the big question regarding Yahenni's Expertise in Standard is just how good giving everything 3/3 will be in the format. 

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Let's start with the good news. While my initial reaction was that Yahenni's Expertise was severely lacking as a sweeper in our current format, after looking over the creatures that actually see play, in reality it hits a wide range of targets. In fact, according to my count, a full seven of the 10 most played creatures in Standard die to Yahenni's Expertise, as do 14 of the top 20, which is a pretty good rate. Yahenni's Expertise is great against UW Flash, not only killing just about every non-Archangel Avacyn creature but doing it through Selfless Spirit, which is huge. It also wrecks RB aggro, various Prized Amalgam decks, and essentially all of the non-Vehicle threats in RW Vehicles, including Depala, Pilot Exemplar

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On the other hand, Yahenni's Expertise is close to a dead card against Aetherworks Marvel decks and pretty bad against GB Delirium as well, since very few of the creatures in these decks die to 3/3. While you can get a Servant of the Conduit and maybe a Grim Flayer (if you get lucky; most of the time, it will be a 4/4 by Turn 4) or Ishkanah, Grafwidow, all of the Eldrazi, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and pretty much everything else you'll find in these decks don't really care about Yahenni's Expertise.

As a result, in Standard, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on Yahenni's Expertise. If the metagame is fairly aggressive, it could end up being a four-of staple sweeper along the same lines as Languish. However, if GB Delirium and Aetherworks decks are the top decks in the format, then Yahenni's Expertise could be relegated to sideboards as a trump card for aggressive matchups, at least until rotation in the fall. 

In Modern

The weird thing about Yahenni's Expertise in Modern is that the 3/3 text—the main draw in Standard—is mostly an afterthought. As odd as it sounds, I think Yahenni's Expertise would be nearly as playable if it just said "you can play a card with CMC of three or less without paying its mana cost." So, why would I be excited to play a four-mana card that allowed me to play a three-mana (or less) card for free?

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One of the most obvious payoffs for Yahenni's Expertise in Modern is cards without a mana cost. These cards are incredibly powerful but come with huge deck-building restrictions because, apart from Ancestral Visions, which sees play in control decks that are willing to wait a few turns for an Ancestral Recall, both Living End and Restore Balance require cascade spells to be viable. The challenge of decks like Restore Balance and Living End is twofold. For one thing, you need to warp your deck building and not play any non-land cards with a converted mana cost of two or less to allow three-mana cascade spells like Violent Outburst and Ardent Plea to find Restore Balance (or Living End) every time. Second, these decks occasionally fizzle by drawing their Restore Balance or Living End, and cascade can't help cast these cards once they are in your hand. 

Yahenni's Expertise fixes both of these problems or, at least, has the potential to fix both of these problems. While it's possible it could support brand new builds of Restore Balance or Living End that drop the cascade spells (and along with them the "no cards with CMC 2 or less" restriction), it may be more likely that Yahenni's Expertise finds a home in the existing build of Restore Balance (and maybe even Living End) as a way to cast the namesake cards when you happen to draw them naturally. 

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The other possibility for Yahenni's Expertise in Modern is to cast split cards like Beck // Call and Boom // Bust. With these cards, as long as at least one half of the card has a converted mana cost of three or less, you can cast either half for free with Yahenni's Expertise (and with fuse cards like Beck // Call, you can cast both halves). This trick has already been used with the help of Brain in a Jar, which works the same was as Yahenni's Expertise (with a Brain in a Jar with two counters, you can cast either half), but these decks sometimes struggle when they don't find Brain in a Jar. Having Yahenni's Expertise gives these decks redundancy on the effect and may make Brain in a Jar decks competitive. Plus, even discounting Brain in a JarYahenni's Expertise by itself turns Boom // Bust into a literal Armageddon. Sure, it takes two cards rather than one, but having a four-mana "destroy all lands" combo in Modern opens up some interesting possibilities. While the 3/3 effect might keep the combo out of creature-based aggro decks, dropping some planeswalkers and then blowing up all the lands seems like a powerful option and could be constructed playable in the right build. 

Conclusion

In sum, while I think that Yahenni's Expertise will see play in Standard, it's mostly just an expensive Anger of the Gods with some additional value thrown in. As a result, its playability will be heavily dependent on what the post-Aether Revolt metagame actually looks like. If people are playing a lot of aggressive decks, it could be a format staple, while if Aetherworks Marvel, GB Delirium, or other control/midrange decks are all the rage, it may be relegated to sideboard status, at least over the short term. In Modern, Yahenni's Expertise has my brewer senses tingling. Whether the card can actually break into the top tiers of the format remains to be seen, but it will be played in fringe brews for sure and has potential, simply because it offers something completely unique. 

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.

 


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