City of Brass – Vintage Besieged

Tuesday, January 25th – Is Vintage Magic heading for a shake-up this weekend? Andy explores how to evaluate new cards for Constructed formats and takes a detailed look at Mirrodin Besieged from an Eternal perspective.

Wizards of the Coast asks us:

Are you Mirran or Phyrexian?

Rumors abound as players talk about Faction packs, rules changes, potential new cards, and huge storyline shifts in the Magic universe. Eternal players
are waiting with bated breath, wondering if this Mirrodin block will be as influential as the last one.

In less than a week, Mirrodin Besieged will be released, and we’ll find out.

Spoilers are already rolling in, and spoiler season is an exciting time for any Magic player. For tournament players, this is a time where everyone’s
looking for an edge over everyone else. Everyone wants to figure out how good the new cards are before everyone else does.

With new cards, it’s easy to get caught in a best-case-scenario trap — to look at what a card does, ignoring the cost or game state it takes to
use it. It’s also very easy to be too dismissive and forget that situational cards can be useful, provided they’re useful in the right situations.

You never want to ask yourself “is this card good?” Rather, you should ask, “When is this card good?”

From there, you have a lot more deckbuilding leverage. You can get a more realistic grasp of how the card is in your deck or in your metagame. You can
more rapidly identify synergistic cards and strategies that push the game in the directions you want.

In summary, you want to ask:

“What does this card do better than anything else?”

Is it similar to existing cards? How is it different? Are there drawbacks that I can ignore or turn into advantages? In what game state is this
card the best possible card I could have?

So then you can ask:

“When is playing this card correct?”

Is there a particular metagame where these game states come up a lot? Is there an otherwise strong deck with a weakness that this card would
address? Are there any cards or strategies that can push the game towards a state where this card can shine?

Steel Sabotage

Chatter on this card has mostly been along the lines of: Is this better than the anti-Workshop sideboard cards we already have? A few people like it,
but many say “bad Nature’s Claim” and call it a day. I’m actually pretty excited.

If you didn’t happen to catch it, two weeks ago I played a deck with a maindeck Annul. I’d been flirting with the idea for a while but hadn’t actually
followed through. While I have absolutely no problem with running “sideboard cards” in the maindeck, I think Annul is more than that. I
find it comparable to Spell Pierce and in many situations favorable to it. There’s no deck in the format that doesn’t really want to resolve a specific
artifact or enchantment.

Specifically in comparison to Nature’s Claim, there are a few things worth noting about Annul. When a lock piece makes it more difficult for you to
cast a spell, it can be more effective to counter it than to destroy it. In the case of a Sphere of Resistance, Annul or Steel Sabotage can stop it for
one mana, but a Nature’s Claim will cost two. Without mana acceleration, you could actually find yourself in a situation where if you can’t stop a
Sphere now, you’ll never get the chance, provided the Workshop player keeps laying down more.

In the case of a Chalice of the Void with one counter, Nature’s Claim can’t stop it at all.

It’s much better to counter a threat from a Workshop deck than to remove it. Of course, once it resolves, a counter sits in hand dead, where a Nature’s
Claim can still be used. That’s where Steel Sabotage outclasses Annul.

So what does this card do better than anything else?

It answers Sphere effects and Chalices before they come online but still does something against a Lodestone Golem or Metalworker that’s bearing down on
you. Steel Sabotage doesn’t KO a Workshop deck on its own, but no card does. The spells that wreck a Workshop player don’t come online quickly —
so you need cheap, efficient spells to hold them off until they do. Sabotage looks to be one of best cards in that role.

It’s blue, which for some decks means getting to cut a whole color.

Beyond that, it’s blue. It can’t be overstated how great it is to have basic lands against mana-denial decks. Being able to play your defensive spells
without dipping into red or green is huge.

Against non-Workshop decks, Sabotage can’t stop the enchantments that Annul can. Between Oath of Druids, Fastbond, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain, stopping
enchantments is more Vintage-relevant than you might first think. The ability to return artifacts isn’t useless though. It can buy you a turn against
Time Vault or Null Rod, which isn’t much, but it’s sometimes all you need. It can handily answer most cards Tinker gets, and after Mirrodin Besieged is
released, having cards that do that is going to be more and more important.

There’s a neat little trick that feels like an afterthought but might be one of the most compelling reasons to play the card. With a Sensei’s Divining
Top out, you can tap the Divining top to draw a card, then return it to your hand with Steel Sabotage in response. You’ll return the Top to your hand,
then draw a card — essentially cycling Sabotage for 1U. Two-mana cycling doesn’t make the card extremely powerful, but it does make it less
painful to run in your maindeck. In a deck that already runs Top, Sabotage might be a way to add volume to your Stax plan without sacrificing as much
in other matchups. This is part of the reason for Repeal’s popularity in Europe: extra game against aggro decks, without sacrificing too much in other

So when is playing this card correct?

My guess is right now! If Workshops are a significant portion of your metagame, or you’re playing a deck with some inherent Workshop vulnerabilities
(like a cantrip-heavy Gush deck), you may want to consider adding cards for a better game one. Sabotage is a great place to start. A deck that
currently splashes green just for Nature’s Claim, or red just for Ingot Chewer, could potentially get a lot from the card. Fish decks in the past have
run Path to Exile just to answer Tinker. Sabotage can fill that role while tripling-up as land destruction, Workshop hate, and an answer to Time Vault.

Basic Island, Sensei’s Divining Top, and mana denial are the things you want to be looking at alongside Steel Sabotage.

Blightsteel Colossus

Yes, this card is very good with Tinker. No, the sky is not falling.

The cool kids in Vintage call a large creature you get with Tinker a “Robot.” Blightteel is the first robot that will bring an opponent
from twenty life to dead in one attack step — it requires the opponent to find an answer in one turn, or they lose. Clearly this is a good thing
for Tinker players and an important thing to keep in mind when playing or building for Vintage.

I expect a lot of decks to run Blightteel soon, but I also expect a lot of Blightteels to be answered or otherwise beaten. I think the idea
“this is the new Tinker target” is a little silly. The very idea that there’s even one Tinker target at any given time is pretty
unfounded. People will still play Inkwell Leviathan; they’ll still play Myr Battlesphere, and some will still play Sphinx of the Steel Wind. People
don’t really play Sundering Titan any more, but some people probably should.

What does this card do better than anything else?

Well it does seem to dwarf Darksteel Colossus. There are times where Darksteel is better (they have two toughness worth of blockers and no more than
nine life), but those are less frequent than the times Darksteel is worse. Blightteel is mostly just damn fast. Different robots are weak to different
answers, but Blightteel gives your opponent the least time to find one.

It might not be as good as Myr Battlesphere against Stax, but it’s better than Inkwell Leviathan. It might not be as good as Inkwell Leviathan against
Jace, but it’s better than Sphinx of the Steel Wind. It might not be as good as Sphinx of the Steel Wind against…. I don’t know, R/G Beats?
… but it’s better than Myr Battlesphere.

Where Blightsteel Colossus is straight up better than other robots are the matchups where Tinker is historically weaker. When a Tezzeret, Gush, Storm
Combo, or Dredge player sees a robot on the other side of the table, their first thought isn’t “how can I answer this?” but “can I
win before it kills me?” Shroud and protection from red don’t stop your opponent from taking infinite turns as soon as possible, which is exactly
what they were trying to do before you played Tinker. A Dredge player really doesn’t care if he can’t kill an Inkwell Leviathan — but he might
care if he only has one turn to live.

When is playing this card correct?

Shroud is sometimes good; tokens are sometimes good, and lifelink is sometimes good, but fast is always good. If you don’t know what decks to
expect, or you expect a wide variety, Blightteel is probably your man. The faster other decks are the better Blightteel gets in comparison to other

Blightteel does, however, have the potential to be a victim of its own success. More Blightteels running around means more bounce spells and more
Paths to Exile. Running those slows decks down makes Inkwell Leviathan (or cutting Tinker) better. I have no doubt that Blightteel will make the
rounds in Vintage — but I could write a whole article on choosing a Tinker target.

Hmm… that’s not such a bad idea…

Shimmer Myr

Shimmer Myr was a card I didn’t “get” at first glance. The first thing you imagine when you see Shimmer Myr is weird, artifact timing
tricks. Playing Smokestacks during your opponent’s end step then throwing a counter on them, playing Spheres during an opponent’s upkeep so they have
to spend precious main-phase mana to counter them. Those tricks are fun and all but likely not worth the cost of three mana and a card that could’ve
just been another lock piece. In other words, it looked “cute”: fun to imagine playing but unlikely to actually be correct.

What does this card do better than anything else?

It just looked cute, that is, until Brad Granberry (who posts as RicoSuave over on TheManaDrain.com) pointed out something I hadn’t considered. The
time when a Workshop player most wants to play artifacts is their own end step, after a Hurkyl’s Recall. This throws Shimmer Myr into an entirely
different light. For years, Hurkyl’s Recall and Rebuild have been the most feared cards for a Workshop player. The primary anti-Hurkyl’s plan is to
keep the opponent from ever casting it. This is still ideal but not always possible. Many people have tried to run reactive spells like Red Elemental
Blasts — but those are often incredibly difficult to cast from under your own Spheres or Chalices.

With Shimmer Myr, a Workshop player facing down a Hurkyl’s Recall can calmly float any artifact mana they have, let the Recall resolve, and then replay
any lock pieces or mana they can afford by casting the Shimmer Myr first. Granted, Shimmer Myr costs three, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to
replay your entire board — but laying out one Sphere and one Chalice can go a long way. A player running Hurkyl’s Recall generally plans to hold
on as long as they can, cast a Hurkyl’s at the end of an opponent’s turn, and then win immediately that turn with a flurry of spells. Even one Chalice
or Sphere can make it a lot harder for them to leverage that small advantage into an immediate win — and if they don’t immediately win, the rest
of your hand comes down on your next turn.

It’s also quite nice that Shimmer Myr doesn’t have to be in play already for it to work. If your opponent doesn’t see the Myr coming, they’re very
likely to overextend into their bounce spell. If your opponent does see it coming, they’ll have to play around it as long as you have one card in hand,
whether it’s the Myr or not.

Incidentally, a 2/2 body with flash can do some neat things against Fish decks and mirror matches, but Hurkyl’s Recall effects are much less likely
there, so it’s difficult to say if the card is maindeckable.

When is playing this card correct?

It’s hard to say if it actually works or not. We’ve never had something like this to play with, so there isn’t a frame of reference yet. Maybe three
mana is too much for the effect, or maybe it’s too conditional in a world where hate cards are diversifying.

If it does work, it will be in a deck that maximizes artifact mana. Because you can tap a Mox both before and after the Hurkyl’s resolves, you can’t
skimp on them. It’s less valuable in Null Rod lists that cut artifact mana or Bazaar of Baghdad lists that cut lands. It’s also most effective with the
cheapest lock spells. Chalice of the Void is amazing here, and Spheres of Resistance are great — but Lodestone Golems could be tricky to cast,
and Smokestacks still lose all their counters. It’s not as if you can’t run this in a mana-big creature strategy, like the Steel Hellkite-based decks
that are getting popular now, but it’s only worth anything if you run some bare minimum of Spheres and Chalices.

Phyrexian Revoker

You don’t need me to tell you this card is extremely sexy. I’m going to tell you this anyway. Blightteel is the biggest, baddest card from the set,
but Revoker is going to end up in more decks and in multiples. I won’t dwell too much on this because basically everyone figured it out already, but
it’s just a solid, extremely playable card. Most Pithing Needles in Vintage name lands (usually Bazaar of Baghdad or Strip Mine), but other targets
come up. In Legacy, Needle targets are more diverse, but Wasteland is still a common pick.

So what does this card do better than anything else?

Well for one, it smacks planeswalkers around. It kills Jace both ways, by shutting off all of their abilities, and by just being a 2/1 creature for two

Besides the 2/1 body, which is obviously nice, the Revoker can shut off mana abilities. This means some of the time (and in Vintage most of the time),
you can just use it as a Sinkhole with legs. Naming a Mox is as good as killing a land; naming Noble Hierarch or Mana Crypt is even better.

When is playing this card correct?

The best fit for a Revoker is a deck that plays aggressive creatures, attacks the opponent’s mana base, and has specific nonland cards they want
Needled. Eternal Magic has no shortage of decks like this. Fish and Workshop decks should love this card — the more aggressive the Shop deck, the
better it fits. It’s a little bit redundant in a deck with Null Rod, but even then, naming Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Goblin Welder could be pretty big
in the right matchup.

Meanwhile, U/B Control decks have been successfully running Dark Confidant for a while now. Revoker doesn’t generate quite the same kind of advantage
as Confidant, but it’s more or less established that you don’t need to be an aggro deck to get value out of a 2/1 creature. The less homogenous blue
decks become the more interesting Revoker gets. Years back, when every blue deck was running the same set of activated abilities, Revoker wouldn’t have
been too useful. These days you might not have the same Time Vault, Jace, Divining Top, Grindstone, Goblin Welder, or even the same Moxes as your
opponent. I’m not sure it’s the best call right now for blue-on-blue crime, but I could easily imagine a metagame where it was.

Go for the Throat

This is possibly the most extreme card ever printed. Just look at it. That thing is just terrifying. Doom Blade technically kills more creatures in
Vintage, but it leaves significantly fewer players cowering in horror. Seriously. Look at it again.

I have a thing for Magic cards that have advice about how to play Magic right on them. For instance, the flavor text of Lay of the Land and the rules
text of Juggernaut are personal favorites. Go for the Throat blows them out of the water. You want to win some games of Magic? GO FOR THE THROAT.

As a Magic educator, I cannot think of a better message to spread to the people.

For the year of 2011, if you’re at a tournament, and I hear you use the phrase “Go for the Throat!” to advise someone, I’ll give you a high
five. If I actually see you cast a Go for the Throat in tournament play, you’ll receive a double high five, and I will immortalize your accomplishment
in a future SCG article.




I think it’s pretty important to talk about the process of looking at a new card and how it gets from a spoiler to a deck. New card evaluation is
critical to staying ahead of a metagame, but it’s also one of the most fun parts of the game. This living process of discovering, analyzing, and using
new content is what makes Magic the game it is.

But that’s not why you read a set review.

We read set reviews to see writers make wild claims about cards that are potentially terrible and dismiss cards that turn out to be format defining. We
read set reviews to feel good about ourselves when our opinions match up and to poke fun at writers when they completely miss the mark. We read set
reviews because it’s fun to read snarky, judgmental, untested claims — and even more fun to pick them apart.

Who am I to rebel against this great tradition!

Here are some sound bytes for some of the other Eternal candidates:

Leonin Relic-Warder

I wouldn’t call this dramatically worse than Qasali Pridemage, but I’m pretty sure it’s worse. Any Legacy deck that could want this card should be
running green already.

Mirran Crusader

I’m sure there’s a white Legacy deck that wants this card against Nelson Rock or EVA Green. I’m not entirely sure why you’d be playing a deck like

Priests of Norn, Flensermite, Phyrexian Crusader, Phryexian Vatmother, Scourge Servant, Septic Rats, Virulent Wound, Blightwidow, Phyrexian Hydra,
Rot Wolf, Viridian Corrupter, Core Prowler, Phyrexian Digester, Phyrexian Juggernaut, Plague Myr, Inkmoth Nexus (Infect cards)

The infect stompy deck in Legacy is totally cool, and some of these cards probably get run. However I doubt that any of these will take it to the next
level. If any of them do, it’ll be Viridian Corrupter or Inkmoth Nexus, as the only cards that let the deck do something it couldn’t before.

Blue Sun’s Zenith, Distant Memories, Vivisection

Is Concentrate really so good that it made sense to print these? So much for another Thirst for Knowledge.

Mitotic Manipulation

Manipulation is the kind of card that begs for some weird interaction — some card to give it purpose and have its Island/Tarmogoyf/Jace copying
ability be incidentally useful. I’d hate to write it off entirely… but I’ve been looking for that card to combine it with, and nothing looks very
good yet.

Neurok Commando

Probably the worst Ophidian yet. I’d much rather have a Scroll Thief.

Treasure Mage

In a blue Vintage deck, you’d rather have a six-cost artifact in your library or your graveyard than your hand. In Legacy, you’d rather not have one at

Vedalken Infuser

Have we finally reached the critical mass of charge counter effects necessary to make Magistrate’s Scepter viable?


Goblin Wardriver

You know I actually like the little guy. Goblin Piledriver is strong, but after that, Goblins is pretty dead in the two-drop department. I don’t think
you just toss this in any old Goblin deck, but I do think that he could be very useful in an aggressive build that’s trying to curve out and win as
fast as possible. Legacy Goblin decks traditionally run cards that are individually very weak, but synergistic, and give the deck some late-game play
that other aggro decks might not have. I could really see Wardriver, probably along with Goblin Guide, in a more aggressive Goblins. Cutting back on
(though not necessarily cutting) Matrons, Ringleaders, or Siege-Gangs for one- and two-drops would hurt Goblin’s late game but could do wonders for
smoothing out its draws.

Goblins to me often feels like “Lackey, Vial, or no?” and I think a Wardriver deck could go a long way in games where those don’t stick.
It’s hard to say at what cost.

But look at that art! You can’t tell me it wouldn’t be awesome to attack with that thing.

Green Sun’s Zenith

There’s a little bit of hype about this card in an Eternal Elves deck. It seems like a good fit, but I’m not sure it really changes the deck in a
relevant way. Green Sun’s Zenith doesn’t do anything that Elves isn’t already good at. It finds almost any card in the deck but not the ones it wants
the most. If they made a functional reprint of Glimpse of Nature, that would fundamentally change the deck. Green Sun’s Zenith might be an incremental
improvement, but I doubt it’s enough to change the deck’s role in the metagame.

Most people figured this out right away (before I did, anyway), but Zenith can grab a Dryad Arbor for one mana, making it a techy, half-priced Rampant
Growth. That’s admittedly pretty cool, but not every deck wants that sort of thing. Interestingly, a New Horizons or Bant Natural Order deck might
actually get some value of this. Dryad Arbor is already good there, and a one-mana Rampant Growth is awesome in a deck heavy on 3s and 4s. Zenith could
also hunt out a Qasali Pridemage, Tarmogoyf, or Knight of the Reliquary, which doesn’t seem entirely shabby.

Thrun, the Last Troll

He’s so cool! The normal reasons you don’t want tap out for a creature on turn 4 don’t really apply here. You can’t just lose him to a Counterspell or
Swords to Plowshares. You know exactly what you’re going to get when you play him. You can happily stand off Nimble Mongeese or Wild Nacatls without
fear of Lightning Bolt.

The idea of using him as a trump anti-control card is pretty alluring. Imagine sitting pretty with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, a Counterbalance, and a
Sensei’s Divining Top all in play already. Your hand has a Force of Will, Swords to Plowshares, and a Brainstorm, along with a spell of every common
casting cost. Your opponent taps four lands and plays the Last Troll. Counterbalance can’t stop him; Jace can’t bounce him; Swords can’t Plow him
— he just comes down, kills Jace in a hit, then comes for your head.

It’s an exciting prospect, but I get the feeling that he’s just not quite there. The average size for a Tarmogoyf in Legacy feels like it’s around 4/5.
If Thrun were a 4/5 or a 5/4, he could brawl with them a bit better, and I’d be a lot more excited. But as it stands, you’ll need a way to stop the
other player’s Goyfs. If you can stop their Goyfs through a Jace or Counterbalance, you probably didn’t need the Troll anyway.

If you’re already running some mana acceleration and a bunch of equipment, the Troll is a lot more interesting, but those sorts of decks don’t really
appeal to me right now.

The general reaction to the new Tezzeret is “Well, it’s no Jace.” With Jace as the most expensive card printed in a decade, appearing
in Tier 1 decks in every format, “it’s no Jace” is almost certainly a condemnation. Oddly enough, “it’s not Jace”
is the reason why Tezzeret excites me.

Glissa, the Traitor

More of the same. I like Glissa; I love the interaction between Glissa and Executioner’s Capsule, but I’m not a fan of any deck that can make the kind
of mana that GlissaCap would need to shine.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

It’s certainly no Jace, which is a bad thing, but also potentially good. Doubling up on planeswalkers can be devastating, so drawing your first
Tezzeret could be better than a second Jace. I’m liking the idea of a Legacy deck with lots of Chrome Mox and Trinket Mage targets alongside some huge
number of planeswalkers. Tezzeret needs some critical mass of artifacts to become a powerhouse, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find plenty of useful

I’m less excited in Vintage, where big Tezzeret “just wins” for an extra mana.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve heard talk of a Tezzeret Affinity deck. I’m sure you’d need to tinker with Affinity’s mana quite a bit to
resolve multicolored four-drops — but if you get it right, the rewards are huge. A turn 3 Tezzeret off of a Mox Opal or Springleaf Drum will
immediately turn something you played earlier (an Ornithopter, perhaps?) into a 5/5, which can attack immediately. On turn 4, you make a land into a
second 5/5 and likely attack for lethal.

Brass Squire

Clearly the best card in the set.

Ichor Wellspring,

I’m skeptical of cards that combine with others to create a draw engine. Sure you can run Wellspring with Goblin Welder or Perilous Research to
generate some advantage, but is it really better to jump through all those hoops than to just run good cards?

Mirrorworks, Myr Welder, Thopter Assembly

All of these cards do broken things — provided you have mana, a few turns, and access to other, specific cards. You can do too much with less in
Eternal. It’s hard to compare any of these cards favorably to Painter’s Servant and Grindstone, never mind Time Vault and Voltaic Key

Knowledge Pool

I’d like to talk to you for a minute about Knowledge Pool. The first time I saw this card, I completely misread it. It looked like a bulk rare,
completely un-noteworthy. Literally while writing this article, a friend asked me, “Are you going to talk about Knowledge Pool in your set
review?” I basically had no idea what he was talking about. We weighed the pros and cons together, but something wasn’t adding up. I went back
and read the card again, and I was floored.

I went off on a flurry of typing. This card is ridiculous! I pumped out interactions, strategies, and potential decklists for the card. I had written
about a thousand words before I hopped on IRC to ask a trivial rules question about it. There, it was explained to me that I had once again completely
misread the card. The actual card doesn’t remotely do what I thought it did, and none of what I had written was relevant.

The actual card might be fine. I have no idea. I refuse to analyze it, for fear it will become some completely different card shortly thereafter.

Wrapping up

As of this writing, Mirrodin Besieged isn’t even fully spoiled yet. At this point, it would be a bit disingenuous to make a “Top 10 cards of
Mirrodin Besieged” prediction list. I might toss one into my next article if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t know if anything here is
going to cause the kind of metagame shift that Lodestone Golem did, but Blightteel, Sabotage, and Revoker are honest-to-goodness staples. Usually the
best cards are spoiled early, but I’m still excited to see what comes next.

Of course we won’t know anything until we start getting tournament results. Blightteel and Sabotage seem like a coup for blue-based Yawgmoth’s Will
decks. On the other hand, Karn-based Workshop strategies are extremely good at shutting out hate, and Revoker and Shimmer Myr could answer problems in
brand new ways. With 50 cards left, anything could happen. But what will you play?

Are you Mirran, or Phyrexian?

Andy Probasco