Innovations – Standard’s New Turn 4 Kill Deck

Monday, April 25 – Patrick Chapin has already begun to break open Standard with New Phyrexia on the horizon. He sees big changes to the format, with a new all-star combo deck taking center stage.

Warning: Contains New Phyrexia Spoilers!

While it’s no secret that New Phyrexia is going to make waves across every format, one of my favorite revelations from the new set is how many new
decks are possible. Whereas some sets mostly just augment existing strategies, New Phyrexia seems to have been designed with an eye towards opening up
new possibilities. There is no question that New Phyrexia contains a variety of generally powerful cards that can boost existing strategies, but some
of the new cards create effects that are unlike anything else going on in one or more formats. Today, I’d like to look at a few of these cards and
explore the new archetypes that they make possible.

A final note about the spoilers being discussed today: these are unofficial spoilers, courtesy of MTGSalvation, so their validity is not certain. There
are also far too many amazing new cards to talk about them all today, but fortunately we are young and have plenty of time.

Let’s take a sneak peak at our first spoiler:

Gitaxian Probe
Sorcery         (c)
{PU} can be paid with either U or 2 life.
Look at target player’s hand.
Draw a card.

Gitaxian Probe is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and dangerous cards in New Phyrexia. Peek was already a borderline playable card,
always a bit underrated. The Probe gives up the instant speed but gains a much, much more valuable ability—the ability to be played for free. To
understand why this is such a big deal, we need to remember that one of the classic struggles in Magic is the fight to increase consistency. It’s the
struggle for consistency that has helped make Preordain one of the top five cards in Standard and the reason, in the past, why every card that offers
to “shrink your deck below 60, for free” has seen use. Urza’s Bauble, Mishra’s Bauble, Edge of Autumn, Manamorphose, and most famously, Street Wraith.
Street Wraith is generally the most notorious, as paying two life is not a restrictive cost, compared to the others, particularly in fast combo decks.

Gitaxian Probe is a significant step up from Street Wraith.

One does give up the uncounterability of the draw, the “instant speed,” and the ability to actually have a 3/4 swampwalker. You do gain a number of
really big advantages, though. Gitaxian Probe lets you look at your opponent’s hand, which is exactly the type of effect combo decks really appreciate.
If you get a free sneak peek at your opponent’s hand, you have a much better idea of whether it’s worth trying to “go off” right now or if you should
wait and try to build up resources. In addition to aiding the combo decks with information, Gitaxian Probe also counts as a spell (helping strategies
like Storm and Pyromancer Ascension). It also gives you the option to cycle it without losing life (but a single mana), whereas Street Wraith offers
you some random extremely poor creature as an alternative. Generally, any time you don’t have enough mana to pay the one, you’re going to be able to
afford the two-life payment (in combo decks).

Still, the reason for all of this is at least partially to shrink your deck. Why does shrinking your deck from 60 to 56 matter? For the same reason
that playing 60 instead of 64 matters! This is not to say that everyone should just play four Gitaxian Probes, no matter what. Gitaxian Probe still
carries with it opportunity cost. When you look at that opening hand with Gitaxian Probe, you don’t know if you’re going to draw a land or a spell off
of it, making that one-land hand much riskier. Additionally, you’ll have to pay life a non-zero amount of the time, so aggro decks won’t have to hit
you as often. Additionally, the smaller your library, the less options you have available to you, after manipulating your library a great deal. You
can’t draw a type of card if you don’t play any of it, and the smaller your deck, the less different cards you can play.

While the debate over Gitaxian Probe is sure to be quite lively, I’ve heard no one familiar with Street Wraith doubt that Gitaxian Probe will at the
very least see use in that sort of capacity. That’s only the beginning, however. Gitaxian Probe is an incredible upgrade over Peek (a card many use
from time to time and others would use if they couldn’t already read the vast majority of their opponent’s hands through sheer card-playing savvy). As
such, I anticipate that it will see play in some non-combo decks. The information itself can be a huge boost. For instance, you can know when to tap
out for your bomb, play around countermagic or removal, and make sure Cabal Therapy or Meddling Mage hits.

When used fairly, Gitaxian Probe may be played in numbers other than four, especially since it’s always so easy to cut, when push comes to shove, even
if you say you want its effect. Hall of Famer Ben Rubin is acutely aware of this phenomenon, as his penchant for Mishra’s Bauble was notorious. He
continually had to deal with people taking Mishra’s Baubles out of all of his decks. While it was unclear whether cutting Rubin’s Baubles was
erroneous, it was certainly not as big a deal as, say, cutting Greater Gargadon from a Dark Confidant deck.

Another card that immediately calls out to be abused, albeit in a much more straightforward manner, is Deceiver Exarch.

Deceiver Exarch
Creature – Cleric    (u)
When Deceiver Exarch enters the battlefield, choose one – Untap target permanent you control; or tap target permanent an opponent controls.

While this card may appear innocuous, mindful Johnnies will immediately realize this is another Pestermite. Pestermite has found numerous homes
already, on account of being the cheapest creature that can untap something when it enters the battlefield, leading to a few loops when combined with a
creature that taps to make a copy of a creature. The most famous of these are Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Splinter Twin.

Kiki-Jiki plus Pestermite has been at the core of a variety of combo kills that usually involve abilities that let players put any two creatures onto
the battlefield, such as Tooth and Nail, Reveillark, and Dread Returning a Karmic Guide after milling one’s entire library. There isn’t a big
difference between Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch, but in general, I’d prefer four-toughness to flying, the Faerie creature type, or the ability to tap
your own stuff/untap your opponent’s stuff. Kiki-Jiki is only legal in highly powered formats, where the decks that play him generally only use a
single copy of each combo piece, so the redundancy of having more is not a big deal.

Splinter Twin, on the other hand, is legal in both Standard and Extended. In Extended, the ability to play four Pestermites and four Deceiver Exarchs,
to complement your four Splinter Twins, means the Splinter Twin strategy has an excellent chance to breakout as a mainstream tournament powerhouse. The
sheer number of turn 4 kills one will get makes the strategy very appealing. The addition of a four-toughness alternative makes burn a lot less
reliable answer to the combo.

This rough sketch passes up Mana Leak and Spell Pierce, so as to make room for the full Splinter Twin package, as well as Pyromancer Ascension. There’s
a good chance that the better build is to start with one of the two plans in the sideboard and to focus on just one in the main. I kind of suspect that
Splinter Twin’s speed and Ascension’s resilience might make a good team.

With Grand Prix Kobe behind us, there does not look to be a ton of Extended action until Pro Tour Philly, this fall. The legal sets will have changed
by then and possibly even the rules for Extended. As such, brainstorming for the format is more of a mental exercise.

Standard, on the other hand, is always heavily played, and Deceiver Exarch is a far bigger deal here than it is in higher-powered formats. Pestermite
plus Splinter Twin has always been a sweet combo, but it was never Standard legal.

Standard just got a whole lot more dangerous.

Without the redundancy of Pestermites, we can’t count on the turn 4 kill as often as in Extended, making the Ascension “backup” plan especially
important. One of the great weaknesses of Pyromancer Ascension decks is (somewhat intuitively) not always having a turn 2 Ascension.

The possibility of the Deceiver combo makes this much less of an issue. Playing a turn 2 Ascension will often lead to an insurmountable advantage by
turn 4 or 5, once you’re copying all of your spells—which all chain together, since so many of them draw cards. It’s not that hard to finish someone
with just a couple Lightning Bolts or a single Call to Mind, but even if that’s not enough, you’re drawing through your whole deck, so you’ll be able
to Splinter Twin people out easily (Still had all

Just imagine if your opponent is foolish enough to tap two for a Squadron Hawk on turn 3, leaving up Spell Pierce. Simply tap the blue mana on his end
step with the Deceiver, untap, and extend the hand. Deceiver Exarch actually has a lot of tricky play to it. For instance, we’ve all faced the turn 2
Stoneforge that leads to a turn 3 Forge on the battlefield, followed by turn 4 equip and attack. Deceiver has the perfect body to block the Stoneforge
indefinitely and live, even if you aren’t ready to combo off yet!

Last summer, Jacob Van Lunen unleashed a monster on the metagame with his Pyromancer Ascension deck that he originally posted as a budget deck over on
the Mothership, here. He even advised that a
mere four Scalding Tarns were all that was needed to carry the deck over to powered tournament play, which Guillaume Matignon ending up using to make
the French national team last year. Ascension was all the rage during that summer, though the rotation of Ponder and Time Warp reduced the deck to mere
fringe status.

Gitaxian Probe may not have the digging power of Ponder, but it’s even faster and provides very good info, and the need to dig to Ascension is
alleviated by the Splinter Twin combo replacing Time Warp (with Probe nicely letting you know if the coast is clear). Having two relatively fast combos
(both of which can race aggro decks) that naturally take advantage of the same library manipulation means that a fundamental element of Standard is
changing. No longer does Valakut provide the measure by how fast a deck must be against its goldfish. Ascension is far, far faster. This is really good
news for the format for a couple of reasons.

First of all, Pyro-Twin can be disrupted in a lot more meaningful ways than Valakut. Both creature removal and enchantment removal stop the main combo,
and graveyard hate, bounce, fog effects, permission, discard, and more all ensure that every color has access to interactive elements (not just those
with beautiful Islands). This means that if
Splinter Twin gains popularity, players who want to tune their decks to fight it actually can (as opposed to Valakut, which is a somewhat hopeless
proposition for many strategies).

The other really nice part about Pyro-Twin’s crashing into the meta is that it’s several turns faster than Valakut can ever really hope to be. In fact,
traditional Valakut cannot meaningfully interact or race Pyro-Twin in game one, and even if they board in a bunch of Nature’s Reclaims, they’re not
very well set up to play this sort of a game against Pyro-Twin at all. They do gain a new card that at least offers them a token amount of interaction,
but I doubt it will be enough to give them any real hope in this matchup, at least not without a major redesign of their deck.

Beast Within     {2G}
Instant          (u)
Destroy target permanent. Its controller puts a 3/3 green Beast creature token onto the battlefield

This card is one of the most fascinating cards in New Phyrexia, as it has so many layers to it and offers something Green Mages have wanted access to
at any kind of reasonable rate. Over the past couple years, green has slowly and quietly been sneaking in more and more creature removal. Planar
Chaos’s Utopia Vow seemed to be just part of the “alternate universe” theme at the time, but Lignify was probably our first real indicator that
playable green creature removal was not off the table. Hornet Sting was a shock to some players but made it clear that nothing was off limits anymore.
The time has finally come.

Great green creature removal!

Comparing Beast Within to Vindicate is not really fair, as Vindicate costs two colors, colors that actually destroy any permanent when combined, and is
a sorcery (not to mention grossly overpowered). The better comparison is Oblivion Ring.

Beast Within may have one serious drawback, but it has a lot of great bonuses.

1) Instant speed (easily worth a mana)

2) Hits land (easily worth a mana)

3) Has the added versatility of being able to make yourself a 3/3 at instant speed.

4) Green is a color that doesn’t get as much removal as white does.

5) Not vulnerable to enchantment removal and bounce.

6) Legal in Standard.

Yes, that drawback is hefty enough that we can’t just jam four Beast Withins into every deck (and it wasn’t as if Oblivion Ring was a four-of in every
deck). That said, when you know your opponent will have a specific creature token every game, you can plan around it. Once you can reliably mitigate
the 3/3 Beast (Within), it goes from being a mere Oblivion Ring-league card to being better than Vindicate very quickly. Some of my favorite anti-Beast
plans include:

1) Overgrown Battlement

2) Wall of Omens

3) Gatekeeper of Malakir

4) Skinrender

5) Consuming Vapors

6) Slagstorm

7) Searing Blaze

8) Threaten-type cards

9) Domestication

10) Aether Adept

(And yes, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, because what doesn’t combo with Jace…?

As you can see, making a four-toughness blocker is relatively easy, but with a little effort, you actually turn Beast Within’s “drawback” into a nice
upside. There are a lot of truly awesome sideboard cards like Skinrender and Mark of Mutiny that are hard to maindeck because they might be dead cards
against some opponents. Beast Within ensures that these cards are not only “not dead” but that they can get real value.

The implications of Beast Within are going to take some time to understand. Like Path to Exile and Maelstrom Pulse, it’s a card that’s getting people
very excited early but will probably result in some backlash from players who point out that you can’t mindlessly solve every problem with it. However,
like Path to Exile and Maelstrom Pulse, it will turn out to be quite strong as players learn just how versatile it is and how to use it well. It may
not be glamorous, but Beast Within truly is the thinking Green Mage’s card.

Standard is a dangerous format where you’re being challenged by threats ranging from Gideon Jura to Sword of Feast and Famine, Pyromancer Ascension to
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Baneslayer Angel to Goblin Guide. It’s tough to have the right answers at the right times. Valakut can just ignore these
threats, and Jace decks are the only decks with good library manipulation and answers. Thus, Valakut and Jace have just pushed away all challengers.
Beast Within is an exciting tool that can be used effectively against all of those problems (including just nuking one of your own lands for a 3/3
creature to block the Goblin Guide…).

Facing a turn 4 kill from Splinter Twin? Beast Within gives you outs. A fast Argentum Armor ruining your day? Beast Within solves all problems (for a

On the draw?

Turn 2: Overgrown Battlement or Wall of Omens

Turn 3: Beast Within your Jace (or whatever)

Turn 4: Jace, the Mind Sculptor (which can bounce the Beast if you don’t have a Wall)

In fact, depending on the scenario, I could imagine very easily wanting to just Beast Within your Wall of Omens instead of their Jace, then attacking

Valakut already has access to Battlements and Slagstorms, so giving the opponent a 3/3 creature is of little consequence, but destroying a land at a
key junction could be brutal. The fun part? Beast Within is primarily going to be strong against blue decks and unfair strategies (like a fast Argentum
Armor or Valakut)! Beast Within is not exactly going to scare a Vampires, Mono-R, or Fauna Shaman player, is it? This card is going to be an excellent
addition to the format, pushing it in a much healthier direction. Beast Within really excites me for Block Constructed, as well, as the prospect of a
good solution to Koth and Tezzeret is absolutely thrilling.

As a side note, I love how many big, groundbreaking uncommons there are in this set and that Wizards did it right and made them uncommon, instead of
bumping them to rare. Good rares and mythics have their place, but tournaments are better when everyone has access to the versatile staples. Long story
short on casting Beast Withins: they are excellent; they’re just going to require us to actually shuffle ’em up to learn to use ’em right.

One card I considered for the Pyro-Twin deck, but moved away from, is one of my favorite cards in New Phyrexia, Tezzeret’s Gambit:

Tezzeret’s Gambit
Sorcery             (u)
{PU} can be paid with either U or 2 life.
Draw two cards, then proliferate.

Tezzeret’s Gambit, like so many of the Phyrexian mana cards, has a few sides to it. First of all, it’s a colorless Divination for anyone—or more
accurately, a Sign in Blood. I could imagine a monocolor midrange deck of each color that would consider this, particularly if they’re desperate for
cards (like white or black), or more likely, if they can take advantage of proliferate, such as Machine Red or an infect midrange deck (or perhaps in a
two-color build like Kibler’s U/B deck?).

If you can consistently get nearly a card’s worth of value out of proliferating, such as with Everflowing Chalice, it doesn’t take long to turn the
Gambit into a very good Concentrate. Even if you’re just bumping an extra loyalty counter, Tumble Magnet counter, and a -1/-1 counter, it doesn’t take
much to really add up to some serious value. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: we’re nothing if not lovers of value.

The prospect of using Tezzeret’s Gambit to put the second counter on Pyromancer Ascension is kind of alluring, not to mention just offering another
draw spell, but the problem is that you only get to proliferate the counter if there already is one. This makes the Gambit quite unreliable at actually
picking up any extra value. It might be worth it, if we didn’t also have the Deceiver combo, but fortunately we are not without options.

While Tezzeret’s Gambit is one of my favorite cards in New Phyrexia, it is certainly not one of the top cards, so don’t get that twisted. It is
playable, fun, and interesting, and honestly, I really, really like drawing cards. I fully anticipate building quite a few decks taking advantage of
the Gambit, particularly in Block. I just don’t think this is a good spot for it. I’m thinking more of using it as a mediocre two-for-one in random
midrange decks or combining it with Tezzeret to go ultimate immediately, draining for twenty on turn 5 or 6 (with artifact mana)!

Deceiver Exarch plus Splinter Twin is sure to lead to a number of second-hand consequences, such as Oust, Journey to Nowhere, Tumble Magnet, and
Lightning Bolt all getting a bit worse (while Doom Blade and Go for the Throat get better). When you think about it, how much instant-speed removal
that currently sees play in Standard actually stops the combo? Sure, there is plenty of black removal, but what about the other colors? Burst Lightning
isn’t always fast enough, especially since the Deceiver can tap one of the five lands, drawing out the Burst before the Splinter Twin even gets cast.  

While it’s obviously a sign of the times that seven of the Top 8 decks of this past weekend’s SCG Open: Boston were U/W Caw-Blade, it’s also a sign of
how much things are going to change—they only contain one maindeck and one sideboard Into the Roil between the seven of them. Divine Offering is
definitely not the same as Disenchant! These are not decks with that many counterspells either.  

People can’t just show up and ignore you, planning to Valakut you out with no interaction. People can’t just rely on white removal, equipment, and Jace
to save them. True combo is back, and it’s not messing around. Times are changing, which means opportunity for the savvy. Standard is undergoing
especially radical changes. No one can be sure of what the format will look like this time next month, but there’s no question: we asked for a format
shake-up, and this is definitely a pretty serious shaking.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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