Black Magic – A Little Of Everything

Sam Black touches on Standard, Limited, Block, Legacy, Commander, and even Winston Draft with New Phyrexia and includes brand new decklists and updates to an old Draft archetype.

I’ve been taking a break from serious testing for the most part in anticipation of the release of New Phyrexia. This is a dangerous policy,
because in the next five weeks, I’ll be competing in Standard, Limited, Block, and Legacy, which is a lot of formats to prepare for all at once,
but that’s what happens when I can’t test on MTGO and don’t have new physical cards.

As a result, I’ve begun thinking a little about each of those formats, and Commander, which I’ve been playing online lately, since I
don’t care about any of the other formats.


The big question is whether Caw-Blade will still be the best deck, and, furthermore, whether it will be even further ahead of the field now that
Stoneforge Mystic has even more powerful options.

It’s easy to look at the spoiler and conclude that Caw-Blade gains more than any other existing deck. After all, what are you excited for if
you’re playing Valakut or RUG? Vampires maybe gets a better removal spell? I’m not saying there are no new cards that any of these decks
want to play, but they definitely seem lower impact initially than the Caw-Blade additions.

However, I’m optimistic that things will change dramatically.

Sword of War and Peace, regardless of its abilities, was slated to fundamentally alter the power of white creatures, particularly Squadron Hawk.
Before, it was just the best-positioned creature for a sword fight. Now, that’s much less clear.

Furthermore, if artifacts have finally reached a level of prevalence that artifact destruction can find widespread maindeck play, that’s good for
decks that cut all their artifacts and bad for artifact-reliant decks like Caw-Blade.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to imagine decks without artifacts slowly outnumbering the decks reliant on them, which would make it no longer possible to
run maindeck cards as narrow as artifact hate and would reverse the effect. The current format is in such an equilibrium, where Caw-Blade is powerful,
but artifact hate can’t be maindecked.

More importantly, as
Patrick Chapin article
did an excellent job of demonstrating, New Phyrexia opens up a wide range of completely new decks, many of which may incidentally be well-positioned
against Caw-Blade. Caw-Blade as it currently exists has become extremely inbred. It’s powerful enough that the core strategy beats most
challenges the format can throw at it, and from there, it just warps to fight itself. It’s likely that new lines of attack can fall outside of
its current focused frame—which would, at the very least, force it to change configuration significantly.

Also, there are other decks that are not new but were not actually viable before New Phyrexia. Specifically, I’m looking at Hawkward, the deck we
played in Paris.

By the end of the tournament, the deck felt like a joke, completely outclassed by, and terribly positioned against, Caw-Blade. However, I did manage a
7-3 record with the deck, and that was in a time when Ratchet Bomb, Pyroclasm, and Day of Judgment were seeing widespread play. All of those cards have
been played dramatically less in the last few weeks, or even months.

If that doesn’t change, the deck could become a serious contender in the future. When I first saw Hex Parasite, my reaction was that it was a
huge upgrade over Vector Asp, obviously, and that by itself gives the deck a significant power boost. Amazingly, that’s not the only one-mana
artifact creature the deck gained. Vault Skirge is actually a huge upgrade over Ardent Recruit. The deck has enough fliers that just flying over ground
defense is an extremely important part of its game plan, and Vault Skirge helps push that angle in a very real way. It also makes metalcraft a little
more consistent and Tempered Steel even better. Ardent Recruit, meanwhile, was the most disappointing card in Paris, as it didn’t work well with
the other cards in the deck or any sideboard plans, which always involved lowering the artifact count, and always died to any kind of sweeper despite
theoretically having three toughness, as it would always lose metalcraft.

Furthermore, the deck gains excellent utility cards like Dispatch and Torpor Orb, as well as a number of other artifact creatures it can realistically
consider, though I personally don’t think any of them are good enough.

My first build of the deck looks like this:

I haven’t tested the Tezzeret plan, but if I’m going to sideboard blue lands for counterspells, I might as well have the option to increase
my total land count and side in Tezzeret. It seems like there should be some decks or sideboard plans that are very vulnerable to it.


U/G control was by far my favorite archetype in MSS drafts, as written about here.

I’ll most likely start by trying to look for something similar, but the question is: what makes up for one pack less of Neurok Replicas, Sylvok
Replicas, Perilous Myrs, Necropedes, Darkslick Drakes, Acid Web Spiders, and Heavy Arbalests, just to name a few of my favorites? It’s time to
examine how I think my pet deck will fair in the new world.

Chained Throatseeker
is a pretty good dinosaur. It’s not the end of the world if it can’t attack, and I’m likely to have a couple random smaller infect
creatures that will often get a poison counter through before blocking something, at which point this becomes an excellent non-artifact threat. I think
this is a slight upgrade over Alpha Tyrranax, but there are definitely times when it will be worse.

Death-Hood Cobra
is much worse than the defensive two-drops I’d look for out of Scars of Mirrodin, but it’s an acceptable Wall of Tanglecord substitute.

Glissa’s Scorn
is actually less exciting to me than Sylvok Replica because I don’t care about the life loss, and the lower mana cost is much worse than being
able to block or kill enchantments, but it’s still a good card.

Gremlin Mine
is a reasonable Shatter effect, but the fact it can’t kill things like Equipment is substantial. It’s best if you’re taking advantage of it for your
own metalcraft, which you usually won’t be doing, but it’s absolutely awesome to have if you happen to see a Trinket Mage.

Impaler Shrike
is an interesting card. I don’t love the body, and one toughness is pretty bad. At first, it looks about like Serum Raker. A fine card but one I
tend to take less highly than other people and one that I think is best in U/W Aggro and only passable in U/G Control. On the other hand, drawing three
cards is awesome, and I don’t really care much if I have to wait a turn for it, so I think hitting with this is actually a lot more threatening
than hitting with Serum Raker in this deck, and, unlike in aggressive flier decks, I’ll be happy to bin it every time for three more cards, so
this card feels much less conflicted here than it does in other decks.

Leeching Bite
is very narrow as a removal spell, but it still provides a welcome answer to something like Embersmith, Myrsmith, or Plague Stinger.

Maul Splicer
is expensive, but, given how much I like value, I’m pretty sure Quicksilver Geysering this guy is a play I’ll be making regularly in the
future. I’m pretty sure he’ll usually make the deck, but I hope I don’t have to pick him up early.

Psychic Barrier
is a lot less versatile than Stoic Rebuttal, so I’m pretty sure I’d rather have a Rebuttal, but I still think I’ll usually play this.

Rotted Hystrix
is a far cry from Acid Web Spider, but at least it’s a common. For my purposes, I think it’s actually a little better than Molder Beast.

Spire Monitor
Now this thing’s awesome. I’m more than happy to skip Sky-Eel School’s (admittedly excellent) looting ability to occasionally blow
people out by eating an attacker, and even if they’re not bad enough to fall for that, you still get to leave counterspell mana up for a turn.

Thundering Tanadon
is obviously a good card, but it’s an expensive artifact, and I try to avoid those. I’m pretty sure more aggressive decks will be taking
this card much higher than I’ll want to.

Unfortunately, blue and green have a lot of small, aggressive creatures that I’m not really that into. The cards I didn’t mention are
either fine cards that I think are very low impact, like Gitaxian Probe, or cards that I think other people are going to want more than I will, such
that I’ll almost never end up playing them in this kind of deck.

Taking the commons as a whole, I’d say the archetype takes a bit of a hit on its own intrinsic power level, but given the further dissemination
of the infect mechanic, among other factors, I think many other decks might take a similar hit—I think there are just slightly fewer synergies
between the sets than within Scars of Mirrodin itself.

Let’s see how the uncommons treat us:

Beast Within
isn’t amazing, but it’s extremely versatile, and I’m very well set up to ignore a 3/3, since I plan to have a lot of creatures that can
easily block it, and I’m in no hurry to attack.

is the Acid Web Spider replacement I was looking for. A little worse as a stopper but much, much better as a removal spell.

Conversion Chamber
is interesting, especially if you’re proliferating. Even if you’re not, it’s a pretty good way to build up an advantage on a stalled
board, which is something I’m always in the market for.

Deceiver Exarch
is a perfect defensive three-drop. It’s a Limited control player’s Pestermite. I think I’ll pick this card a lot more often than
I’ll pass it.

is a card I have trouble evaluating. I’m pretty sure it’s an effect I want, and I guess a kicked Probe was usually devastating, but it does
look like a lot of mana to not impact the board. I think I’ll usually be happy to play it, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to take it
as highly as I’d like to take this kind of effect. I might end up loving it though. It’s one I need to play with.

Mycosynth Fiend
looks pretty perfect for an awkward, do-nothing 50/50 (half infect, half not) deck, so I guess it’s the right card for me.

Shrines, collectively, are slow, but powerful. The red, white, and blue Shrines could all fit pretty well into this kind of deck, especially if
there’s some proliferating going on.

Tezzeret’s Gambit
I’m going to be so sad every time I have to pass this card.

Viral Drake
might be the best uncommon in the set, and this is one of the better decks for it. This is my new Darkslick Drake, and I don’t plan on passing it
unless there’s an insane rare in the pack.

Vital Splicer
and Wing Splicer are both very solid creatures. Their presence in the format makes Quicksilver Geyser (already one of the best commons
in Mirrodin Besieged) even better, as it can bounce your Splicers and your opponent’s Golems.

All things considered, I’ll miss the good defensive two-drops the most, since there aren’t really any here I’m excited about, which
means I’ll have to take Viridian Emissary and Oculus a little higher to make up for it, but I think there’s enough there that this should
continue to be one of the best archetypes in the format.


As everyone who’s talked about Legacy recently has made clear, the key to adapting to this format for GP Providence will be understanding the
application and impact of Mental Misstep.

For the most part, I don’t think it changes the power level or position in the format of most decks, with a few notable exceptions.

I think it makes High Tide, Elves, and Goblins much worse. Goblins, I’m basically trusting Ari Lax on, as he explained in this article.
High Tide and Elves are combo decks that rely on one-mana spells resolving in order to win, so Mental Misstep will always be awesome against them. You
can safely save it for their most important spell every time, and they can never play in a way to punish you; they’ll always have to fight
through it. That’s a substantial hurdle to overcome. It certainly doesn’t mean any deck can beat them just by having four copies of the
card, but any matchup that was close shifts substantially against them.

Aside from that, despite the fact that everyone’s paying two life sometimes, I think it pretty clearly slows the format down. If you’re
paying two life, you’re generally doing it because you’re slowing your opponent down by a lot more than that two life will speed up their
clock. The exception to this is when you play a creature and misstep their removal spell or something like that, but those really will be the

What this means is that games are slower and one-for-one trades happen more. This exchange inherently favors cards that offer built-in card advantage
like Hymn to Tourach or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. This more generically favors more controlling decks.

Looking a step further, this seems excellent for Merfolk, a deck that traditionally punishes control decks, loves to protect its lords from removal,
and really doesn’t need its one-drops as long as it plays enough land to make up for having Aether Vial in play less often.

Going a step beyond that, I think this favors the inclusion of red in control decks. I think most of the best performing decks will have either Lord of
Atlantis or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and I think Grim Lavamancer and Red Elemental Blast will be very well-positioned cards. Obviously Mental Misstep
counters both of them, but neither are cards your strategy will hinge on, so that’s okay.

I don’t have an exact list in mind yet, but one option is U/R Painter’s Servant/Grindstone that sides into U/R Jace control.

Block Constructed

I’ve only just begun to look at Block Constructed. I played one Daily Event in two-set Block Constructed and 4-0’d with U/B no-artifact
control. That deck felt excellent for that format, and I wouldn’t be surprised if something like it is still viable. The deck I’m most
curious about right now, however, is the Constructed spin-off of my favorite Limited archetype—but with a few splashes because they come easily.
There are a lot of directions I plan to try taking it, but an initial option could look something like:

This is an extremely loose sketch, but I like how well the Chancellors might play here, as the deck can reliably get to the point where it can cast
them quickly and can take substantial advantage of both “leyline abilities.” The green one helps make up for the lack of good one-drops in
the format, and the red one makes it a little easier to get people into range for Red Sun’s Zenith or a hard-cast Chancellor of the Forge itself.


I’m a casual player at heart, but I’m very far on the Spike side of the spectrum for casual players. I like playing unique formats with
typically casual deck construction rules (this is to say big deck highlander specifically), but I like trying to build decks that are competitive in
those formats. To me, the fun of any game is largely trying to win it, and deck construction is part of the game in Magic. This means I like formats
like Commander, but, unfortunately, other people on MTGO often don’t like playing them with me. Still, sometimes I play some very fun games, so
it’s worth getting blocked by an average of around one person per game for playing a competitive deck.

While I enjoy my Grand Arbiter Augustine IV prison deck, I think it’s anti-fun enough, by most people’s understanding of these things, that
it’s not useful to spread around.

My Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck was crippled by the banning of Emrakul, which makes it much harder for that deck to win multiplayer games, so instead
I’ve been playing another ramp deck, this one headed by Wort, the Raidmother.

A list for those of you who are into that kind of thing:

Bonus: Winston Draft Variant

If that’s not casual enough for you, try this:

It has occurred to me that, when Winston Drafting with a cube, in addition to the regular stack of sleeved cards you’re drafting, you could
insert sleeved rule slips that are drafted just like cards. Take a random card, like a basic land, sleeve it, and put a piece of paper in it that says
something like, “You start each game with an additional two life” or “You may reveal this once to take a random card from the pile
your opponent just selected.” You could also include traps, which have to be taken with the pile they’re in and revealed immediately. They
could be something like “skip your next pick” or “your deck must contain at least 50 cards.”

The possibilities are extremely wide open.


Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter