Spinning the Top

Posted in Card Preview on May 24, 2016

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome to another Eternal Masters preview right here on DailyMTG! Today, we're going to talk about one of the best artifacts ever printed. Not something flashy like Black Lotus or Time Vault, but a card that drastically alters the way we build our deck and opens up an entirely new level of strategy to the pilot.

A normal game of Magic requires a great deal of skill. Abstract math problems rear their heads in the form of combat, card draw, and even the tempo of the game. Playing a perfect game of Magic is close to impossible. However, the baseline difficulty can skyrocket when we're playing with or against specific cards that make us reevaluate every phase of the game.

Sensei's Divining Top is one of the most iconic cards in Magic's history. Now, finally, we're given a fresh opportunity to play with one of the game's most beloved (and occasionally hated) cards—now with new art to spice up their favorite toy.

A Game Within the Game

Sensei's Divining Top is a powerhouse. What appears to be simply card manipulation on the top of our deck is actually a much more complicated endeavor. In Eternal formats, we're given the luxury of playing with a great deal of cards that allow us to shuffle our library at little to no additional cost. With Sensei's Divining Top, we're able to turn each of these shuffle effects into a look at three new cards. Suddenly, it becomes very easy to find specific cards for specific situations. In fact, we'll find ourselves leaving lands like Flooded Strand or Scalding Tarn un-cracked so that we can use their shuffle effects to find the right cards for an unforeseen circumstance in the future.

Sensei's Divining Top would already be a powerful card alongside all the cheap shuffling in Vintage and Legacy, but the card is pushed to new heights by the existence of sidekicks like Counterbalance and Terminus.

Expensive spells are mostly priced out of Eternal formats. People play cards that cost zero, one, two, and occasionally three mana. The most expensive cards are usually win conditions that achieve victory upon resolution. This type of environment makes Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top a dangerously potent combination in Legacy. We can fill our deck with inexpensive cards that mirror the average casting costs of the format to thwart our opponents' plans by stacking the top of our deck to counter everything they try to cast. What's even more impressive is that we can counter one-mana cards by simply tapping our Sensei's Divining Top. The Sensei's Divining Top will be on the top of our library before the Counterbalance trigger resolves, and we'll be countering the opponent's spell at virtually no cost to ourselves.

The release of Avacyn Restored gave Sensei's Divining Top a welcome boost in power. In addition to providing top-tier library manipulation and a combo with Counterbalance, Sensei's Divining Top became the most efficient enabler for the powerful Miracle mechanic. When we're able to set up the top of our library and draw cards at instant speed, it lets us use cards like Terminus as one-mana board sweepers on our opponent's turn. Entreat the Angels can be cast to make an army of Angels during the opponent's combat step or on their end step when it isn't as dangerous to be tapping mana. We're usually playing a control deck when we're using Sensei's Divining Top; our Top makes Terminus the best removal spell/board sweeper in the format, even dealing with things like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and gives us access to a very solid win condition that can be used defensively in the form of Entreat the Angels.

Into Action!

Sensei's Divining Top requires us to make plans in advance and rewards us for our ability to foresee our opponent's plan of attack. The card functions beautifully in a variety of strategies, but its true power can only be unlocked by players who have devoted a lot of time to spinning the Top.

Let's take a look at some of the powerful strategies that are currently crushing their respective Eternal formats with Sensei's Divining Top!

YaTree's 5-0 Miracles

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Legacy Miracles has been one of the best decks in Legacy for quite some time. YaTree's Miracles punishes combo strategies with countermagic and Counterbalance while making short work of creature-based decks with the help of Terminus, Swords to Plowshares, and Snapcaster Mage. This version of the deck, which recently went undefeated in a Legacy League on Magic Online, uses Nahiri, the Harbinger as a powerful new win condition alongside Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In post-sideboarded games, the deck can punish opponents for taking spot removal out of their decks with Monastery Mentor, which turns a pair of Sensei's Divining Tops into an army of prowess creatures that can easily be pumped by looping the one-cost artifacts. Decks with Brainstorm and Sensei's Divining Top can get away with playing many fewer copies of key sideboard cards simply because of their ability to look at so many cards over the course of the game. It would be bold to expect to naturally draw the single copy of Izzet Staticaster against Elves, but when we're looking at so many cards it becomes easy to find closer sideboard cards within the time frame that they're relevant. The deck can slow down an opponent's plans enough that it's given time to find the sideboard card that acts as a nail in the coffin.

Utley26's Dack Welder—Top 8, Vintage Premier Event

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Vintage is usually too fast for players to assemble Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top, but the Top is still good enough as a card selection tool that it ends up seeing a lot of play. Utley26 made it to the Top 8 of a recent Vintage Premier Event with this version of Dack Welder, a powerful strategy that seeks to combine Time Vault and Voltaic Key to take infinite turns. Sensei's Divining Top also combos nicely with Voltaic Key, albeit not quite as nicely as Time Vault. We can activate Sensei's Divining Top's second ability and, with the ability on the stack, use Voltaic Key to untap our Top, then activate our Top's second ability again. We draw a card and put the Top on the top of our library, then we draw the Top again when the second activation resolves, essentially turning our Sensei's Divining Top into a powerful card-advantage engine. Tolarian Academy provides us with plenty of mana to activate our Top to find Time Twister, Wheel of Fortune, or Time Spiral to keep us powering through our library as we find the keys to victory.

Sensei's Divining Top can be a lesson in humility. The first time I ever played with the card in a Legacy Grand Prix, I found myself baffled at the new level of difficulty within Magic I had just encountered. The card consumes massive amounts of mental capital and rewards the most talented Magic players with powerful interactions that leave opponents reeling.

Don't miss your chance to be a part of Magic history as Eternal Masters hits the shelves on June 10. Both Modern Masters sets featured some of the best Draft formats in recent memory, and Eternal Masters promises to continue their legacy. What's most exciting is the chance to open powerful cards like Force of Will or Wasteland in a fresh new pack. Let's spin the Top, who knows what we'll find?

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