Innovations – Spawning Shell And Profiting From The Changes To Come

Monday, April 18 – Patrick Chapin discusses a card he thinks has a lot of potential from New Phyrexia, Spawning Shell. In addition, he discusses the new GP Schedule for 2012 and lots more!

Warning: New Phyrexia Spoilers!

Let me just make sure I understand your position. Mono-Black is making a comeback, $50 mythics are categorically overrated, Phyrexian mana is
powerful, midrange is going to make a resurgence in Standard, Jace isn’t getting banned, things are changing, and Spawning Shell is actually good?

Well, the Mono-Black and $50 mythic discussion was last week
, and I don’t intend to dwell long on the banning discussions that lived out their natural lifespan last Friday, but yes, those positions are all accurate reflections of some of my
current platforms.

New Phyrexia has somewhat surprisingly been spoiled by an old-fashioned leak, leaving us with little recourse but to examine the leaked cards and
consider the implications thereof. All spoilers discussed today are care of MTGSalvation.com, though they are based on scans on Japanese cards, so
translations are certainly about as official as the spoilers are, i.e. not at all. That said, I am very sure they are legit, but just beware, etc.

Let’s start our little stroll through New Phyrexia with one of the most potentially fun-looking cards I have seen in a while:

Spawning Shell  3{pg}
Artifact         r

({pg} may be paid for with either {G} or 2 life.)
{1}{pg}, {T}, Sacrifice a creature: Search your library for a creature with converted mana cost equal to the sacrificed creature’s converted mana cost
plus one and put it onto the battlefield. Then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

Spawning Shell (or whatever its English name actually turns out to be) is a card that has already captivated the imagination of Johnnies everywhere.
There are few abilities as appealing as repeatable tutoring, especially on a card that has as many new twists and turns as this one. As fun as this
card looks, I think there is actually more to the story. This card has chances of making an impact, and the fact that it has “haste” makes it
potentially dangerous.

You may be saying, “It is an artifact, not a creature. What does haste have to do with anything?” When evaluating cards, even though artifacts and
enchantments do not generally have anything like summoning sickness (short of entering the battlefield tapped, costing a lot of mana to use, being
triggered at start of turn, etc.), it’s still important to remember to properly frame them when comparing their power levels. For instance, outside of
being usable many times in a turn, another big advantage of Survival of the Fittest over Fauna Shaman is that it has “haste.” We’ve all played the
subgame of bending over backwards to make sure that Fauna Shaman never gets to activate, even once. That ability is so strong that sometimes a single
activation can be fatal for many strategies, but thankfully Fauna Shaman has summoning sickness.

Spawning Shell has haste.

While the ability appears on the surface to be similar to Fauna Shaman’s, prompting thoughts of finding Vengevines, a closer examination reveals this
might not be so accurate. Fauna Shaman discarding Vengevines amounts to both drawing extra cards and saving tons of mana, whereas Spawning Shell
doesn’t get any Vengevines in your graveyard. In fact, assuming this wording is correct, you can’t even sacrifice a Vengevine to get another Vengevine.
Does this mean that Spawning Shell sucks, or at the very least doesn’t work with Vengevine? Hardly, but it does remind us that a screwdriver may not be
the best way to hammer nails into boards.

How ought we to use Spawning Shell, then?

Getting used to thinking about Phyrexian mana will take a moment, but interestingly, the mental space that it most closely ties to is that of Ravnica
shocklands, like Watery Grave. It’s as though shocklands cost you a Phyrexian mana when they enter the battlefield. Anyone who has played with both
Watery Grave and Salt Marsh (or Frost Marsh) can attest to just how awesome the option of paying two life instead of a mana can be. This is far from
always costing two life, since you only have to pay the life when it’s convenient. Maybe half the time or more you just pay the extra mana, if you have
it lying around. The beauty is that you have the option to speed things up, and this option has traditionally been super good for competitive play. The
fact that you can play Spawning Shell as a three-drop, a four-drop, a five-drop, or a six-drop means that it is exceptionally well-designed to allow
players to optimize their mana spent.

Since you have to pay four mana and four life or six mana, not to mention a card (the Spawning Shell), just to get it going, how many activations do
you need before you see a profit? Simply upgrading your guys doesn’t really turn a profit. After all, just picture working a Memnite all the way up to
a Vengevine. You have to keep paying more than a mana each turn to upgrade your guy by a mana. Talk about inefficient!

It’s pretty clear that it doesn’t really pay to just Spawning Shell mindlessly. We need purpose. How can we take advantage of the unusual number of
creatures entering and leaving the battlefield? This leads us to want to use Spawning Shell with enters or leaves the battlefield triggers. This is a
great start, as now you’re talking about some real value in the form of spell-like effects with each activation. Picture a chain of:

Wall of Omens/Squadron Hawk/Stoneforge Mystic/Bloodghast/Sylvan Ranger


Devout Lightcaster/Kor Hookmaster/Sea Gate Oracle/Aether Adept/Trinket Mage/Treasure Mage/Phyrexian Rager/Cadaver Imp/Liliana’s Specter/Manic
Vandal/Viridian Corrupter


Skinrender/Scrapmelter/Obstinate Baloth/Vengevine

And this is only the beginning, as you can certainly keep going, turning your Skinrender into an Acidic Slime, which then becomes a Titan, or whatever.
In fact, once you start using Spawning Shell as a repeated card drawer, a sort of Tome, you can see how it could just win a game on its own. If you get
a card’s worth of value the first turn you use it, then follow up by trading all your cards with your opponent’s, you can ride it to victory.

One avenue that is kind of interesting, given M12’s tagline of “Gather Your Allies,” is its ability to produce no end of Ally triggers, as well as
ensure you always have whichever Allies are best for a given board state. Depending on what new Allies get printed in M12, this could be a very
exciting new archetype.

There is another direction one could go, however, a direction alluded to by the card itself. One of the practical consequences of Phyrexian mana is
going to be a host of cards that technically have a higher converted mana cost than the amount of mana you spent on them. One way to abuse this dynamic
is with cards that pay you for having cards with a higher converted mana (cards that fail the Dark Confidant test, like Tombstalker and Greater
Gargadon). For instance, let’s say you had a card that cost 3{pb}{pb} that you play on turn 3 for only three mana (and four life). Now, on turn 4, you
drop Spawning Shell and immediately upgrade your dude into a full-on Titan. A Birds of Paradise lets this be online a full turn earlier, making turn 3
Titans a very real possibility.

Now we are talking!

As the set becomes spoiled, I know I’m going to be keeping a close eye on any creature with at least two Phyrexian mana in the cost. Additionally, a
five-drop that can be played for three is probably the absolute nut, as it both lets you curve out and lets you immediately upgrade to a Titan (which
are grossly overpowered compared to every other creature, not to mention being 187s). It’s possible that there are creatures with even more than two
Phyrexian mana in their casting cost, and if there are, we’re talking about some very serious acceleration at that point.

I must tell you I want to start brewing lists already, but until we know if there actually is a 3PP creature, it’s just too hard to know if this is the
right way to build. No question, a 3PP creature is the top item I’m watching for, and if one exists, Spawning Shell immediately jumps an entire tier.
Even if there is not, this card promises to be a lot of fun and a card that has massive potential for abuse if the right combos exist. WotC has been
pushing the fun cards lately, and I kind of imagine that this one will actually turn out to be a winner. I just hope it ends up in some space between
“casual card” and “turn 3 Titans are annoying.” If this strategy takes off, it may be that the proper way to combat it is to wait until Spawning Shell
is cast, then respond my killing the five-drop that was played for three. It’s just too hard to tell what that world is like until we get more
information about New Phyrexia.

Name: Puresteel Paladin
Cost: WW
Type: Creature – Human Knight
Pow/Tgh: 2/2
Rules Text: Whenever an Equipment enters the battlefield under your control, you may draw a card.
Metalcraft – As long as you control 3 or more artifacts, each Equipment you control has equip {0}.

Puresteel Paladin is a card that no one is really talking about, but it seems amazing to me. I figure the only reason that people aren’t talking about
it is that there has never really been a card like it that was good. His rate is so many levels better than his predecessors (like Kor Outfitter) that
it’s comical.

To start with, there is nothing wrong with a good honest bear, though we’re going to need to get seriously paid to compete with cards like Stoneforge
Mystic and Squadron Hawk. Let’s think about Silvergill Adept for a moment. Silvergill Adept has pretty much always been considered a premier two-drop,
even in Legacy. The WW cost is slightly tougher, but you get a 2/2 instead of a 2/1, so if you put even a single equipment onto the battlefield (works
with Stoneforge), you’re already at Silvergill Adept level. Yes, you had to have an equipment, but you didn’t need another Merfolk. While this is not
as reliable as Silvergill Adept against removal, you do have the possibility of drawing multiple cards off of him, not to mention going nuts with

Once you achieve metalcraft with Puresteel Paladin, the world is your oyster. Consider the following line:

Turn 1- Plains, Signal Pest (or Hex Parasite) + Memnite (or Mox Opal or Ornithopter)

Turn 2- Plains, Puresteel Paladin

Turn 3- Plains, Sword of Sword of War and Peace (or Body/Mind or Feast/Famine)

All right, that is pretty good and saves a couple mana while drawing a card, but just how greedy can we be? What about Argentum Armor? Quest for the
Holy Relic is already an exciting way to capitalize on such a strategy, though it does have the weakness that a removal spell can sometimes leave you
with an Armor but without the mana to equip it to anything. Puresteel Paladin works great when your ‘A’ game (Quest) is working, but it also gives you
a ‘B’ game and a ‘C’ game. Drawing extra cards from random equipment can help give you the fuel you need to make it through the rough games (i.e. the
games without Quest). The ‘C’ game comes in the form of Stoneforge Mystic letting you cheat the Armor onto the battlefield, which you then can equip
for free if you can hit your metalcraft.

While Mono-White and G/W Quest is not everyone’s cup of tea, there is no denying that they can be quite potent, especially if one is not prepared for
them. While the strategy has mostly fallen off as of late, Puresteel Paladin is definitely strong enough to breathe new life into the archetype.
Additionally, I think it is not totally out of the question that other, somewhat similar strategies emerge (possibly in Block) that just use him as a
value card. If you have enough equipment to draw at least once and can metalcraft often enough that you can save at least two mana in equip costs, then
you have already made up for his cost in mana and in cards. Who doesn’t love a free roll? Of course, the real cost is that you have to play a deck that
lets you pull this off. The rest of the set and the rest of the format are really going to be important factors to watch with this one, but at the very
least, he will see play in those sorts of decks.

Invasion Parasite 3{R}{R}
Creature – Insect     r
Imprint – When ~ enters the battlefield, exile target land.
Whenever a land with the same name as the exiled card enters the battlefield under an opponent’s control, ~ deals 2 damage to that player.


Okay, so what do we make of Invasion Parasite besides that it is obviously Conley Woods‘ favorite card of the new set? (Spoiler: Conley is a
connoisseur of “Land-Death.”)

To start with, let’s compare Invasion Parasite to Goblin Ruinblaster, a card that has seen plenty of play. Additionally, land destruction is the type
of thing that gets better really fast if there is a critical mass of it. Generally, a 3/2 creature is not actually worth that much more than a 2/1
haste creature, plus Goblin is a better type, and the ability to come out a mana early is worth considering. In the Parasite’s favor, it can hit
basics, and it has the residual ability that aspires to sneak in a couple extra points (particularly if it imprints a basic).

In general, the possibility of a little extra damage is not particularly enticing, especially when land destruction is the type of thing you don’t want
to wait a turn on. That said, the ability to hit basics gives it a purpose, especially when you consider how Invasion Parasite matches up against a
Valakut deck. Rather than hit the Valakut itself, you can hit a Mountain (hopefully against a board of two Mountains, two Forests, and a Valakut). Not
only have you hopefully kept them off of Primeval Titan for a turn, you put a serious hurt on Valakut players that cannot interact without getting up
to six Mountains. Just imagine if they don’t have access to Bolts or Slagstorm; they’re looking at eight damage just to get up to enough Mountains to
shoot it. Eight damage, a land destroyed (that doesn’t come back if they kill the Parasite), and a 3/2 putting pressure on them? Okay, land destruction
isn’t that good these days, but this one is at least worth considering, especially if R&D didn’t realize Valakut was as nuts as it turned out to be
until later, and this is one of their safety mechanisms to try and help balance out the format.

Standard used to feature so many midrange cards, like Bloodbraid Elf, Sarkhan the Mad, Broodmate Dragon, Bituminous Blast, Rhox War Monk, Baneslayer
Angel, Knight of the Reliquary, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and Vengevine; even Jace, the Mind Sculptor used to be just a midrange card (back when he was
expected to die the majority of the time you played him). Now, most of the midrange cards rotated out or have no chance of competing with Titans. The
Titans pretend to be midrange cards, but they’re generally closer to the Cruel Ultimatum side of cards, winning games outright, often even if they’re
killed immediately. The ripples across the format are felt in the form of midrange strategies being squeezed out, woefully unequipped to play
Battlecruiser Magic.

While no card has warped current Standard as much as Jace, the cumulative effect of the Titans is greater still. Obviously, WotC isn’t doing anything
until New Phyrexia has had a chance to impact the format. If nothing changes, something will be done. Not much dead horse left to beat here, but I do
want to clarify my position a little, as it seems that I have been somewhat liberally ascribed views that while I will gladly advocate, should the
devil need it, are not reflective of my position.

Would you like to see Jace banned, yes or no?

No. Sure, from a gameplay standpoint, it would probably improve the format, as long as Valakut was also banned, but I just love change. There are more
factors at work, however, and Jace doesn’t need to be banned.

Do I see Jace getting banned? It is highly unlikely. He is the main character and one of the focal points of the current brand. The long-term
implications would be much more potentially dangerous than a couple more months of Jace dominance. WotC doesn’t want people to temper their love for
the best cards out of fear of their being banned. Would WotC ban the card if it was actually what they believed to be best for the game? Yes, not even
Jace is above it. That said, I think there is probably less than a 2% chance of Jace getting banned on June 20th, as there are better ways to solve the
problems. This is hardly the only issue, and I suggest Kibler’s articlehere and Brad’s article here about
why banning Jace wouldn’t solve the format’s problems.

A lot of people are arguing the wrong argument, or at least a much less relevant one. Sure, Jace will almost surely not be banned. Great, but what will
happen? First of all, New Phyrexia will change things. Just think about how much Mirrodin Besieged changed things! The format today looks very little
like the format around the 2010’s (States). New Phyrexia has already been shown to contain some dramatic game-changers (like Screamwhip, but most
people won’t believe that one until they see the Mono-B decks putting up tournament finishes). Tom LaPille has alluded to two planeswalker-hosing cards
in the new set, meaning that Hex Parasite (a definite hit) is not the only hoser in the set.

It isn’t just Jace that we want to see take a hit in New Phyrexia. What I am hoping for are more cards to punish Titan decks, followed by Titans
rotating out in M12. I realize that Grave Titan, Inferno Titan, and Frost Titan have been revealed as promo cards for Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012,
but I certainly do not think that constitutes confirmation that they are in M12. First of all, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 is a different
product from M12, so we don’t know anything. Next, the Titans are extraordinarily oppressive to not only the other fatties, but to the entire
format. Plenty of promos have been printed that are no longer Standard legal. Finally, Primeval Titan and Sun Titan are not among the promos, so
there’s a chance that only three of the Titans get reprinted. Additionally, there is always the possibility that the Titans are reprinted but no longer
nearly as good (think Baneslayer Angel).

I don’t see Jace getting banned, and I hope that New Phyrexia changes the landscape enough that nothing needs to be banned, but if things don’t
significantly change as a result of New Phyrexia, something will get banned. The magnitude of Jace’s dominance will be referenced a decade from now
when some other broken card is being debated and discussed. Here is something to consider: in Legacy, Brainstorm and Force of Will are often
“unreasonably” dominant. Yet, last spring it was not Brainstorm or Force of Will that got banned; it was Mystical Tutor. While some disagree with this
move, the point is that it was the move that was made, and we can learn from these sorts of actions to predict what WotC might do in the future. No one
claims that Mystical Tutor was the best card in the format when it was banned. Cards don’t get banned because “they are the best.”

If people stop playing the format because they’re not having fun and it feels hopeless because they can’t compete without $100 planeswalkers, that is a
problem. The solution doesn’t have to be to ban the $100 planeswalkers. Personally, the card I would most like to see go is Valakut, the Molten
Pinnacle because of how much it is oppressing the decks that beat Jace, how few ways there are to interact with it besides blue decks, and how little
fun it is for people to play non-blue decks against it. The other card that should be considered is Preordain, as banning Preordain would hurt every
blue deck more than people realize. I have a feeling this is what it would come to if we had to play this format for another year; however, with just
six months to go and new sets on the horizon, I suspect that either new cards or a ban of Valakut will be enough.  

Would Jace have been as big a problem if the SCG Open Series wasn’t unraveling formats at record rates? Maybe not, but with the awesome announcement
that Magic’s success is spilling over to include an increase in the number of 2012 Grand Prix to forty, we can be sure that this is a “situation” that
is only going to be exacerbated.

While we’re on my favorite subject, I’d like to bring up an interesting
strategic point that will probably come to a surprise to many players. I choose to draw first with Caw-Blade vs. U/B Control (and think U/B Control
should do the same). The games are based on attrition, with discard spells, counters, and Edges trading with cards one-for-one. The extra tempo from
going first is quickly dissipated during the turns where the right play is to do nothing, but the extra card is potentially game-winning, since you
just want to be the guy with one thing that sticks. Regardless whether it’s a Jace, Titan, Sworded guy, or whatever, having the last card will build an
advantage with each turn it is unanswered.  

Sometimes Caw-Blade sneaks something in under a Leak, but most of the time, U/B has a lot of answers to a turn 2 Stoneforge. How good is sticking a
Stoneforge when the Sword just gets Duressed or Inquisitioned? What is your worst fear when drawing first? That U/B gets the first Jace on the table?
They generally have to Inquisition your white creature, and the threat of countermagic is huge. If one player gets their Jace countered by someone who
untaps and drops their own Jace, that’s pretty devastating. U/B has even more permission than Caw-Blade, so are you really going to just tap out for
Jace turn 4? No? Then what are you even doing going first?

Kind of stretching to fit that Facebook thread into the article, aren’t you?

I just found it to be a particularly interesting strategic discussion, as choosing to draw first is a move that most players never even really
consider. I’m not sure how many other players agree with me on this specific tactical choice, but I know that at least Gerry, AJ Sacher, and Wafo-Tapa
(from the U/B side) are on board, though I know not everyone agrees.

Anyway, we are here to talk about New Phyrexia spoilers, not hot Jace-on-Jace action, so let’s get to where all the midrange talk is going:

Urabrask, the Hidden        3RR   

Legendary Creature – Praetor   m

Creatures you control have Haste.
Creatures your opponents control enter the battlefield tapped.

Yeah, at level one, he is just this hasty Durkwood Boars, big deal. So then, at level two, you think, wait… actually a 4/4 haste for five is not so bad
(passes the Jace test), plus he actually gives all your guys haste (making your turn 6 Titan a real problem…). Not to mention it slows your opponent
down (nice Baneslayer, idiot!). Holding him back a little, there is, of course, the small issue of finding a home for him. Urabrask, Puresteel Paladin,
Hex Parasite, Screamwhip—each card we examine seems to point towards a return to midrange. This subtle trend is probably my favorite element of the
spoiled card thus far. Midrange strategies are not inherently good in Magic, but Magic is often especially fun and interesting when the cards align to
make them good.

When the scales favor aggression, it can lead to games ending in the first few turns before you have much of a chance to play a game. When the scales
go the other way, the games can be long and drawn out, often with an inevitable conclusion long before the final damage is dealt. Midrange, however,
offers the most opportunity for meaningful decisions, rather than just one meaningful decision that decides the game.

What makes Urabrask such a midrange card? Well, his cost of five already prices him out of most true aggressive strategies. He doesn’t feature any
inherent card advantage or defensive capabilities, and you’re going to try to close out a control game with him. Instead, he is another step back to a
world where players can play creatures that have a big impact on the game without totally taking it over.

Okay, sure he is a midrange card, but is he good?

Saying it comes down to context is the biggest cop-out ever, since when does it not come to context? Instead, I’ll just note that there’s not really a
ton of competition at the five spot for red decks. Kuldotha Phoenix is fine, and Chandra Nalaar is playable, but Urabrask does offer a pretty
disgusting curve into Inferno Titan. I also feel like the Kismet end of the card is going to turn out to be better than people expect. As such, I see
Urabrask seeing a little bit of play and being good, but not dominating. Perhaps Hero of Oxid Ridge levels of play.

We only briefly touched on the 2012 Grand Prix schedule increasing to forty events, but to summarize
some important points:

1) Forty Grand Prix stops is very, very good. Yes, it probably greatly cuts down the number of players who are in a good spot to win Player of the
Year, but that is a small price to pay for such an overwhelmingly positive move by WotC, passing on the success that Magic has seen over the past two
years. It isn’t just an additional $600,000 being added to the prize pool. It’s a huge increase in the opportunities to acquire pro points.

Of course, the Pro Player’s Club is going to change as well, which is a source of apprehension for some players. Until the announcement for how Pro
Points will work in 2012, we can’t be sure that this is the awesome change it appears to be, but given the positive nature of the other announcements
and the success of the game, I am optimistic that we will be pleased by the announcements to come.  

Obviously, whenever there is change, some people aren’t happy, but whatever the new system is, it is sure to reflect the strength and health of the
game. WotC asked us as pro players to stick out during the tough times (read Dreamblade), and now that things are good, we’ll surely share in the
game’s success. We aren’t entitled to anything, but we have helped grow the game and make the culture as fun and enjoyable as it is today. It’s
financially advantageous to WotC as a company to incentivize people to keep making Magic culture as awesome as it is.

I know some players are cautious, as this is typically the time of year we hear about cuts to help pay for Dreamblade or whatever. This year, however,
we are finally starting to see the good that has come from restarting the game as of M10 and Zendikar, as well as the massive popularity of the SCG
Open Series. The game is at an all-time high and continuing to grow. As good as this is for the game, I expect 2013’s schedule to be even better spoiler: the world doesn’t end in 2012).

2) Pro Tours being private feels like it should be a negative thing, until you look at the reasoning behind it. As for players having an opportunity to
meet Pros, Grand Prix do that much better, where Pros can give people more attention, have more downtime, and are not quite as serious. Unqualified
players may miss out on one or even two chances a year to meet Pros, but double the Grand Prix means far more opportunities total. It will also be
interesting to see what the expanded coverage entails.

As for no last chance grinders, this is made up for by the number of GPs that offer chances to qualify. Pro Tour attendance will already increase
because of the added GP slots, so there are worse things than cutting off yet another way to inflate the size of the Pro Tour.

When it comes to the huge financial savings from running PTs privately, I would ask anyone truly trying to make it as a professional Magic player:
where would you rather see this money spent? Holding a “non-event” (the public portion) or increasing financial incentives to dedicated pros? The
overall budget has increased by seven figures, so don’t get it twisted, and see this as a cut. This is just spending the money more efficiently.

3) As for the schedule not being announced a year in advance, I think that is not only perfectly reasonable, it is sensible. Forty events is an unreal
quantity, and there is no reason to limit one’s choices by locking in the schedule too far in advance. It’s better to try to make the schedule ideal
for as many people as possible. From the sound of it, we will know everything at least three months in advance, so the first half of the year’s
schedule will be known by the first week in January, and the second half will be locked in by the summer. It’s always nice to know more about the
future, but I prefer this to having the schedule be announced, then changed.

Times are good, and things are changing. Instead of getting hung up on which changes hurt or help us from last year, it serves us to look forward and
imagine the world of next year. The legal sets are changing; the PT and GP schedule is changing; Extended is changing; Magic is changing. Change can be
hard for those attached to yesterday, but it brings opportunity. As good as things are now, the changes taking place are designed to make things even
better. When we understand the changes, we can arrange our affairs so that we use the force of change as a current to carry us downstream effortlessly,
instead of trying to fight the current and claw our way back upstream where we were last year.

When the river flows downstream, it is very profitable to want to end up downstream. We can’t control everything, but what we can control can be
changed to make this as good a place for us as possible.

…Besides, Spawning Shell will be legal this time next month!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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