For the control / combo section of the Vintage set review, check out Brian DeMars‘ article.
Well, looks like the Phyrexians won. They were neck and neck for a while there, and then Wizards of the Coast went and printed New Phyrexiaâ€”chock
full of goodies for the U/B sorcerer. Free spells? Check. Tutors? Check. Absurd Oath creatures? Check. Cantrips? Check. Basically blue players got
everything but a one-mana, colorless card that kills Smokestack, Tangle Wire, and Chalice of the Void while being completely unaffected by Thorn of
Amethyst or Lodestone Golem.
Oh they got that too?
What’s a Mirran to do?
As ever, brew like your spark depended on it.
The jump-out Workshop card in New Phyrexia is Phyrexian Metamorph. Sculpting Steel already sees Vintage play, notably as an anti-Tinker card, but one
with some bonus functionality. Phyrexian Metamorph takes that flexibility a step further and lets you copy non-artifact creatures as well.
Metamorph looks like it’s all upside, but I wouldn’t go that far. There aren’t a huge amount of creatures you’re really worried about copying. With
something like a Dark Confidant in play, you’d probably rather copy one of your own artifacts. An extra sphere is probably more useful than your own
Confidant for keeping them from killing you with the cards they draw. An extra Lodestone Golem, Duplicant, or Steel Hellkite is more valuable still. On
the other hand, if you don’t have any Spheres, Lodestones, or other large artifact creatures in play to copy, an extra Confidant on your side of the
table probably isn’t going to help you that much.
This same reasoning is going to be true for most creatures out of a fish deck. People have discussed Metamorph as an Oath of Druids hoser, but any Oath
player worth his cardboard is going to name blue now when he drops an Iona against a Workshop deck.
There are, however, advantages, and much of the time, the two-life cost is going to be pretty minor. Metamorph is relevant against a few small
creatures, like Trygon Predator and Tarmogoyf, and while it doesn’t do much against Iona, it’s got some play against other previously-tough-to-answer
Oath favorites like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Terastodon.
A subtle difference, though possibly the most important one, is that Metamorph, as a creature, doesn’t cost an additional mana to play if there is a
Thorn of Amethyst in play. This alone will be worth two life sometimes.
Some people have mentioned the idea of turning that Phyrexian/blue mana symbol into an advantage, rather than a drawback. By shoving four Metamorphs In
your deck, you add blue cards without needing a more restrictive mana base. This makes certain other cards, most notably Force of Will, more playable
in a deck that couldn’t otherwise run it. Force of Will doesn’t play nice with a lot of Workshop cards and in particular doesn’t like a lot of Sphere
effects. There are, however, some Workshop lists kicking around right now that aren’t as sphere-centric. Forgemaster combo decks run a minimum amount
of disruption in favor of raw power.
This, like all lists in this article, is a straight-up brew. It’s only been lightly tested, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t pan out at
allâ€”but I wanted to give you some insight into how I look at new cards and the sorts of lists that come out. Playing a Metamorph-centric list
like this is definitely not as safe as playing a more traditional deck and adding a Metamorph or two. I’m sure that a few of you, however, have no
interest in playing it safe.
Metamorph will certainly see play, but I doubt it’s going to dramatically change any decklists. It doesn’t require a lot of support, and it’s very
similar to a card that already has value. This doesn’t make it particularly interesting as a new card, but it does mean it’s probably decent.
There’s a kind of card I’m always on the lookout for, which is a card that can shift the strategy of your deck with minimal commitment. Adding Jaces to
your storm combo deck means that your opponent can’t win the attrition war they were planning on fighting. The ideal strategy-shifting card fits
seamlessly with the support cards you’re already running but isn’t bothered by the plans that typically beat your deck. Blue decks are traditionally
the masters of this sort of thing, but they in no way hold a monopoly it.
In all the Vintage chatter about New Phyrexia (and there’s been plenty), I haven’t heard any mention of the lowly Slag Fiend.
Historically, I’ve been a critic of any card in Workshop decks that just attack. I thought Juggernaut was extremely weak back when he was a popular
choice, and I’m pretty underwhelmed by Steel Hellkite and Wurmcoil Engine now. With that in mind, it should seem strange that I like Slag Fiend, which,
to many people, looks like a less powerful Juggernaut.
The reason I’m into this little guy is precisely because he’s not a giant artifact creature. More precisely, he isn’t an artifact at all. The
most popular anti-Workshop plans right now revolve around artifact destruction. Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, Ingot Chewer, and Steel Sabotage are
probably the most common cards a Workshop player finds themselves playing against these days. Not only do none of these cards answer a Slag
Fiendâ€”they make him bigger.
Slag Fiend is at his best when an opponent is over prepared and plans on winning the game with incremental advantage, like against Fish or the more
controlling blue decks. It’s weaker against Oath, but Metamorph can help there and even copy the Fiend when necessary. It’s particularly weak against
the Hurkyl’s Recall—based game plans but is easy to cast under multiple spheres, while Wastelanding frequentlyâ€”which is good
against Hurkyl’s Recall.
The linchpin that pushes Fiend over the edge is Bazaar of Baghdad. Red Workshop decks with Bazaar are not as popular as modern colorless MUD lists but
are still powerful and proven contenders. With Bazaar of Baghdad, Slag Fiend can quickly get out of hand. This isn’t exactly a secret to anyone who’s
played with Shops and Bazaars before, but if your hand is empty, you can activate Bazaar during your upkeepâ€”drawing two cards and immediately
discarding themâ€”simply to bulk up your graveyard. With Slag Fiend, this play becomes more relevant.
There’s no sideboard here for a reason; this is intended to be a post-sideboard configuration. While I don’t like the idea that some cards are
“sideboard-only cards” and some cards are “maindeck-only cards,” Slag Fiend works best when an opponent has lots of artifact
removal, and that’s far more likely to happen in games 2 and 3. Rather than trying to build “the best Slag Fiend deck,” my goal here is to
build the best Workshop deck that has the ability to become a Slag Fiend deck after sideboarding. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t run Slag Fiends
maindeck, just that their value comes from invalidating your opponent’s plan, not from being a strong plan in and of themselves.
If, upon further testing, it turns out Slag Fiends are particularly huge on average (a 7/7 for one gets pretty interesting), then they might be more
worthy of a center-stage strategy. On the other hand, if they’re particularly small (3/3 or less), then they’re probably not worth the sideboard space.
Honestly I was hoping for a little more, but New Phyrexia brought us what will likely be the last infect creatures we’ll see for some time. For pure
poison-counter-to-mana-cost ratio, Lost Leonin and Glistener Elf are the best we’ve seen to date, and anyone making a run at a Vintage Infect deck is
going to be packing, or at least strongly looking at, both of them.
Neither Vintage nor Legacy Infect decks have really broken out as successful, but both have been talked about. The basic concept, if you’re not
familiar, is that infect has great synergy with a few cards that are only legal in Eternal. Invigorate gives a creature +4/+4 and can be played for
free if you give your opponent three lifeâ€”but in an infect deck, you don’t care how much life your opponent has. Berserk doubles a creature’s
power, which means any infect creature, plus any spell that gives it +4 power, plus Berserk, will give out at least ten poison counters, ending the
game. This means it’s not that hard to have an explosive draw with a turn 3 kill, off of no more than one or two mana. In Legacy, the primary challenge
is dodging all the format’s spot removalâ€”which is inherently strong against pump spells. In Vintage though, removal is less prevalent, but a turn
3 clock isn’t something that’s particularly thrilling. Decks are prepared to stop turn 3 and earlier kills with countermagic, and a combo deck is going
to get a win by turn 3 far more consistently than an infect deck with no tutoring.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a complete non-starter though; plenty of decks in Vintage are much slower. The trick is if you can’t speed yourself up, you
have to slow them down. Decks with green and white cards have already been doing that for years.
Along the same lines as Invigorate, infect decks can run all kinds of neat cards and completely ignore their drawback. Swords to Plowshares, Nature’s
Claim, and Reverent Silence all give the opponent life, but that doesn’t mean much to an infect deck. The normally fatal Pact of Negation can be
brought in against removal or countermagic heavy decks, as long as you can get that tenth poison counter in this turn. It’s hard to say whether infect
is better than traditional Vintage Fish lists, and it likely isn’t. It’s much less disruptive because the creatures with infect do little more than
attack, and Giant Growth effects tend not to affect your opponent’s game plan. Still, fish doesn’t often win on the second turn, and that’s certainly
within infect’s reach.
But maybe you’re looking for something truly strange? Puresteel Paladin plays nicely with any kind of Equipment but is particularly absurd with the
only-Vintage-legal Skullclamp. Being able to equip a Skullclamp for free is extremely strong. The fact that you can extend this to multiple Clamps,
drawing four cards off of your 2/2s for no cost at all, is almost a little disturbing. The problem of course is that on their own, the cards that are
good with Skullclamp, particularly Puresteel Paladin, are, well, pretty bad. It does, however, sound like a lot of fun.
When you think Skullclamp and tiny, cheap, or free creatures, one naturally thinks of Affinity. Affinity is in no way a go-to deck in Vintage, but it’s
cheap to build, fun to play, and could be the kind of deck an iconoclast is looking for.
- 2 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Frogmite
- 4 Disciple of the Vault
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Memnite
- 3 Glint Hawk
- 4 Puresteel Paladin
I kept out Power to keep the list cheap, but obviously you run Moxes, Black Lotus, and Time Walk if you can. On the other hand, you could definitely
cut the tutors without really hurting yourself, but you don’t want to skimp on Mox Opal.
I wouldn’t bring something like this to the Vintage Championships, but it’s surprisingly fast and fun to play. With some combination of Glimpse, Clamp,
and Puresteel Paladin, it’s not hard to get into a situation where you’re drawing three to five cards every time you play a creature and quickly draw
your entire deck. With one or more Disciples of the Vault in play (which you’ll just draw into), you’ll kill your opponent while you’re doing it.
Careful though! With multiple Glimpses involved, you could actually draw your entire deck before winning. Make sure to play out Disciples as soon as
you can, and Ravager is a huge help in that situation.
A less … frantic approach to the Puresteel-Skullclamp synergy would be a G/W aggressive deck. Something like Gio Igoy’s “Little Mean
Men” from a small tournament in Manila last month could be a natural home for Puresteel
Paladin. While not as breakneck speed as the Affinity list, a deck like this is stronger in games where you haven’t found a Clamp and has a genuine
ability to disrupt the opponent.
Ultimately, were I working on a non-blue deck right now, I’d be paying less attention to what New Phyrexia adds to my deck and more to how it changes
my opponents’. While I wouldn’t run Mental Misstep or Gitaxian Probe in a Workshop deck, the printing of those two cards make Chalice of the Void even
more powerful. Hex Parasite, should it prove to be popular, would lower the value of Smokestacks and Tangle Wires. All in all, I think New Phyrexia is
going to be adding a lot more value to blue decks than the alternative.
It’s hard to say yet, but I think the next few months might be rough for Mirrans.
Keep fighting the good fight!