What is this format?
Things are changing, no question, but some of these changes are just weird. New Phyrexia has continued the Scars of Mirrodin theme where many of the
best cards are strange cards that are good in unique ways (other than Sword of War and Peace…). This can make evaluating cards and potential
strategies tricky, as we can’t just rely on old-fashioned, comparing-numbers types of analysis. We’ve already been seeing one of the format’s biggest
new changes unfolding before us, the combination of Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin, discussed hereÂ and here. This combination is so easy, so
fast, and so deadly that it’s going to force strategies like Caw-Blade, RUG, and Valakut to make some pretty serious changes or just get blown out.
Deceiver Exarch is a pretty major early creature, doing strange things to the format, but it’s certainly not the only one from New Phyrexia. Today,
we’ll look at a few strange creatures that make for aggressive openings. The first is very strange, in that creatures this cheap never have had
this ability to hit so hard by themselves, though he doesn’t require that strange of a deck. Up first, Immolating Souleater, Magic’s first
two-drop that naturally hits for ten or more on turn 3.
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 3 Fling
- 4 Burst Lightning
- 4 Zektar Shrine Expedition
- 4 Searing Blaze
- 4 Assault Strobe
- 1 Panic Spellbomb
An uncontested turn-two Immolating Souleater plus Assault Strobe or Fling is game over, and generally even an opponent playing a Squadron Hawk or
Stoneforge Mystic to block requires only a burn spell. Kiln Fiend takes a little more work but can also kill on turn three with a decent mix (such a
Bolt, a Teetering Peaks, and an Assault Strobe). This redundancy, along with Zektar Shrine’s excellent synergy with Strobe and Fling, not to mention
the actual “Goblin Guide Games,” means that you’re going to be pretty consistently presenting turn three and four kills.
The break-neck attack speed of this deck is going to help make spot removal a must again. Interestingly, Pyroclasm and other sweepers are nowhere near
as effective against Strobe-Red as they are against Kuldotha Red, which definitely makes it harder to play a slow deck and just rely on a few key cards
to bail you out. Even Kor Firewalker is not as reliable as it once was, as Dismember is way better than Ratchet Bomb or Brittle Effigy, as far as
solutions go. Crush is a concession to Batterskull and it easily could be that even more of a plan is needed.
There are a number of tactics to keep in mind when playing Strobe Red. First of all, do NOT crack your fetchlands without purpose! The deck thinning is
worth very, very little. The ability to surprise someone with a Zektar Shrine Expedition that can attack immediately is worth far more. Additionally,
it’s nice to be able to count on Searing Blaze, plus cracking that fetchland costs you a life, which might mean being a pump short of getting your
Immolating Souleater where he needs to be. Remember to pump Immolating Souleater with your red mana! I’ve talked to multiple players already who have
forgotten you can actually pay red mana as well as life. Â
Flinging a Kiln Fiend can be quite deadly, but remember that it doesn’t get the +3/+0 from the Fling (as you sacrificed the creature as part of the
cost). Fling is actually very potent for setting up combo kills, if your opponent stabilizes. If it ever becomes clear that you aren’t getting through
anymore, devise a plan. Imagine what the game will look like the turn you kill your opponent, even if you have to set up three burn spells and a Fling.
Knowing when to burn creatures and when to save it for a flurry to the dome is crucial, but a good rule of thumb is to use the burn on a creature
whenever you can force through creature damage.
Is it possible to go even more all-in than this? For sure, but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the cost. For instance, a Memnite, an
Ornithopter, and a Mox Opal can let you play an Immolating Souleater turn one, but how many games are you going to win this way that you wouldn’t have
won anyway? Now how many games are you going to lose as a result of drawing Ornithopter instead of a burn spell? Chancellor of the Tangle offers to
speed things up at the “cost” of just one card, but it would take a pretty radical change to the deck to make drawing the Chancellor anything but a
dead draw later.
While this All-In-Red style of assault is nowhere near as durable and reliable as Deceiver Twin, it’s likely to be more under the radar and more
explosive. Additionally, it has an absolutely incredible amount of reach, so many players will not understand how to play against it when it just sits
around building up twenty points of burn, thanks to a Fling.
Not every brutal early opening has to be game over. Sometimes you can present such an aggressive start that your opponent is doomed, regardless of how
they spend the couple turns before they die. One exciting new creature that can lead to such aggressive starts is Myr Superion, a creature that offers
great power (a two-mana 5/6 is just plain amazing) with a hoop that’s not actually that difficult to jump through. Â
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 4 Chancellor of the Tangle
- 4 Myr Superion
There are a couple of ideas roughly executed here but with a high potential for explosiveness that’s worth exploring. Let’s start with the Superion
angle. Joraga Treespeaker is the ideal enabler, naturally curving into a turn two 5/6 (as well as five mana on turn three). Lotus Cobra is another
excellent source of “creature mana,” especially against an opponent that keeps killing all of your creatures. Against such an opponent, just cast Lotus
Cobra with a single fetchland on the battlefield. Then play a fetchland before passing priority. Now, you’re assured of at least two “creature mana” to
get the Superion onto the table.
This may seem like a bit of a hassle, but a 5/6 for three would be totally excellent, let alone two. If you just wait to play Lotus Cobra against a red
mage when you can make the above play, it will still only require you to have four lands; however you’ll get at least four mana in addition to the mana
for the Superion! As long-time mono-green players know all-too-well, such explosive starts are very vulnerable to Day of Judgment and Slagstorm types.
Myr Superion matches up quite nicely against the red sweepers, but even Day of Judgment can be fought with the new niche sideboard, Fresh Meat. It’s
obviously vital to keep a good poker face when you have the hoser, but if you can surprise your opponent with it on turn four, you’re generally looking
at a game-winning assault the following turn.
Chancellor of the Tangle offers some very busted openings, like turn one Fauna Shaman, but he actually has a lot of utility here. Most obviously, he is
an ideal creature to pitch to Fauna Shaman, but he is also quite castable. A 6/7 vigilance, reach creature isn’t exactly that romantic, but decks like
this have a fairly high incidence of putting together a board that’s capable of generating any amount of mana you want. Seven mana really isn’t that
much, leading to games where you just present 5/6 after 5/6 and 6/7 after 6/7. The interesting thing about these Chancellors is that when you have the
Leyline ability, it’s kind of a cantrip, since you still have the fatty in your hand. Â
It’s important to remember that Chancellor of the Tangle mana can’t be used to cast Myr Superion. This interaction won’t come up often, as most players
would assume you need two Chancellors to pull it off; however Chancellor of the Tangle is actually not a “creature” when you reveal it from your hand,
so the mana counterintuitively doesn’t count as having been produced by a creature. Â
Make sure to carefully consider all your options when deciding how to spend Chancellor mana. For instance, it’s easy to put an Elvish Archdruid onto
the battlefield on turn one without thinking about it, on account of being so happy to have two Chancellors. Lotus Cobra could be added to the front of
that if you have a fetchland and be a “free roll.”
There are plenty of ways to use Myr Superion besides mana Elves, of course. Overgrown Battlement on turn two, followed by a turn three Green Sun’s
Zenith for a second Battlement curves into the turn three Superion nicely (while still threatening seven or more mana next turn). Birthing Pod is one
of my favorite New Phyrexia cards and will no doubt see play in a wide variety of interesting decks. One possible use is to “cheat” Myr Superion onto
the battlefield. Playing Birthing Pod on turn three with a Bird of Paradise lets you upgrade the Bird into a Myr Superion. This is so much more than
just a turn three 5/6, as you also have the Birthing Pod in play to continue to exert a major influence on the board. This opening is so strong and
robust that I wouldn’t be surprised if Birthing Pod ends up seeing regular play in Fauna Shaman decks everywhere.
There is so much to explore with Birthing Pod, but the nature of the card is that it is definitely going to take a fair bit of tuning before the
strategy is even presentable. There are so many interactions to try with Birthing Pod that we won’t be able to fit them all into one deck. Some of my
– Bloodghast is an excellent creature to sacrifice, as it just keeps coming back turn after turn, each time providing enough value to find another
– Viridian Emissary/Oculus make excellent sacrifice fodder, as it lets you turn the sacrifice into a bonus instead of a negative, particularly with the
Emissary, which is significantly stronger.
– Trinket Mage can find a variety of interesting cards these days, like Hex Parasite to kill planeswalkers. He also finds Memnite to trigger Vengevine,
which will appear in an awful lot of Birthing Pod decks. On top of this, he finds Voltaic Key, which can let you double up on your Birthing Pod (which
actually sounds super sweet).
– Aether Adept and other enters-the-battlefield triggers are excellent with Birthing Pod. I picked this one as it’s very situational and especially fun
with the new Beast Within, but other popular choices include Wall of Omens, Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, Sea Gate Oracle, Acidic Slime, Viridian
Corrupter, Brutalizer Exarch, Entomber Exarch, Phyrexian Rager, Skinrender, Titans, and the new Golem makers, just to name a few.
– Phyrexian mana and other alternative costs let you cheat Birthing Pod even more. While there is no 3PP creature, there are plenty of creatures in
Magic that end up in play for a lot less mana than it says in the upper right. This turns them into super rituals, with the most extreme example being
Scornful Egotist (a combination sure to dominate GP Providence with the threat of a turn three Iona…)
Speaking of Phyrexian mana, I’d like to focus on one specific Phyrexian mana creature today that is a part of some surprising and brutal openings,
Moltensteel Dragon has already been brought up in discussions about its ability to consistently attack for 17-18 damage the turn after it comes out
(against no resistance). The major flaw in this plan? Jace’s minus-one ability.
When I first saw Birthing Pod, I immediately began to imagine other ways to abuse the Phyrexian mana creatures for having costs other than what you
actually pay. One card I thought about a fair bit in recent months was Treasure Mage, a card that has always been held back by its limitation of only
getting really expensive cards (and how many really expensive cards can you play?). The first card I thought of with it was Thundering Tanadon, as a
2/2 that draws you a 5/4 trample creature to curve out with is nice, but then I remembered Moltensteel Dragon.
A turn three Treasure Mage finding Moltensteel Dragon has your opponent on a very short clock (possibly one-turn), especially if they rely on Go for
the Throat to kill creatures. Treasure Mage doesn’t just give you card advantage and a way to reliably find your Dragons; it also is major insurance
against Jace. No one wants to bounce their opponent’s Treasure Mage, and even if they can drop a Jace and bounce your Dragon, you can attack and
kill Jace, then drop the Dragon (and for a little less life loss, hopefully).
At least one, possibly two, Wurmcoil Engines will help fill out this strategy, providing another excellent target to find with the Treasure Mage.
Wurmcoil is just a fantastic card in its own right, but the lifelink is especially appreciated here, due to Phyrexian mana. Grand Architect is another
winner, since he can help cast the Dragons and Wurms, as well as provide big upside to the Treasure Mage’s body. Myr Battlesphere is less of a
certainty than Wurmcoil Engine but might work as a silver bullet against an opponent looking to bounce whatever fatty you find.
If you’re looking to go in a more radical direction, Rage Extractor is a very different angle of attack that will severely punish anyone without
artifact removal. With just one, your Dragons now deal six damage when they enter the battlefield. Multiples make things just silly. For instance, if
you lead with a turn three Treasure Mage for Moltensteel Dragon, you don’t have to play it on four. If your opponent is looking to Day of Judgment,
Oust, or Journey to Nowhere anywayâ€”why bother? Now curve Rage Extractor into Rage Extractor on four and five (with the second one dealing five damage).
Now, your Dragon deals twelve damage when it enters the battlefield! As you can see, traditional removal is not going to be sufficient against such an
Turn six kills aren’t impressive, so you’re going to need cheap cards to buy yourself some time. Lightning Bolt is an obvious one, but this is probably
a deck that can afford to have a little more burn than this. Burst Lightning, Arc Trail, and Slagstorm are all good options to consider, plus Into the
Roil (if you are into that sort of thing). The usuals of Jace and Preordain are probably just going to make the deck better, though this seems to be a
deck that could very easily function without Jace (unlike a lot of Jace decks). Cheap countermagic, like Spell Pierce and Mana Leak, are obvious
possibilities, as well, but I kind of lean towards playing this like a tap-out deck, so I would try to avoid them (other than maybe some in the
sideboard, like Flashfreeze).
Standard has gotten so powerful that it’s very possible that such a strategy wouldn’t be particularly viable at high levels until after the rotation.
That said, Treasure Mage for Moltensteel Dragon is definitely an exciting way to start a Block deck…
See you next week when we break down New Phyrexia’s impact on Constructed in full. Monday, we’ll examine every existing strategy in Standard and
discuss each card in New Phyrexia that will impact these decks. Wednesday, we switch it up and examine all of the cards in New Phyrexia that enable new
archetypes, as well as what all of those decks might look like and what influences they will have on the rest of the format. Finally, on Friday, we’ll
discuss the cards I see in New Phyrexia that call out to me for other formats, including Legacy, Extended, Block, and Vintage. Also, make sure towatch for “Tha Gatherin” self-titleddebut album available Monday, May 9th here