Don’t missPart 1 and Part 2 of
Chapin’s Set Review!
Part 3: New Cards for Other Constructed Formats
One of the most beautiful aspects of Legacy is the sheer volume of playable cards. While there are technically slightly more cards legal in Vintage,
those few additional cards put such an incredible strain on the format that a far smaller number of cards are really playable. Legacy is a wild
landscape with so many possible strategies that the format rarely hits the kind of gridlock that Standard recently faced on account of Caw-Blade.
Today’s New Phyrexia set review is primarily slanted towards Legacy (since it’s among the most fun and most popular of all formats), though we’ll also
touch a little on Vintage and Extended; we’ll even discuss a couple cards that are just interesting to think about, that do strange things and can be
filed away for further review. For discussion on New Phyrexia Standard, check outThese Updates andNew Strategies .
Let’s jump right in with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Elesh Norn has enough raw power that I see it making appearances in lower-powered formats,
especially Block and post-Titan Standard (if/when the Titans rotate). It doesn’t have Crovax, Ascendant Hero’s “blinking” ability, but the impact it
has on the board is actually far superior. Elesh Norn is one of those rare few creatures that is both a Baneslayer and a Mulldrifter. On the
battlefield, it’s a powerhouse that generally must be dealt with; however, it also has an immediate impact, so even if it is killed the turn it enters
play, it can take some creatures down with it. It may not have a natural home in the lower-powered formats, but it’s screaming out to me as a card
that’s begging to be used. That is just so much raw power.
In Legacy, Elesh Norn is most obviously a consideration for Reanimator, Dredge, or other decks that aspire to “cheat” large creatures onto the
battlefield. One of the most important elements of reanimator theory is the uniqueness test (the Iona test). Ever since Hall of Famer Alan Comer
changed the world with the first true Reanimator strategy in premier-level play (reanimating Verdant Force, Sliver Queen, Necrosavant, and actual Shivan Dragon), there has always been a “best” fatty. As Jamie Wakefield can attest to, Verdant Force was once the Best Fatty Ever. He
has since become outclassed numerous times, most recently by Iona, Shield of Emeria (or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, if you don’t care about
anti-reanimation clauses). Ever since the printing of Entomb, the burden is on any would-be reanimator target to demonstrate that it’s better to
reanimate it over whatever the “best” fatty is.
When you mill your entire library (a la Dredge) or use Entomb, you can often have access to whatever fatty you want to reanimate. Whenever you could
reanimate a creature, you could just reanimate Iona, so you generally only want to play reanimation targets that do something unique,
something better than any other creature in the game. Here are some of the best reanimation targets:
Terastodon (Occasionally Woodfall Primus)- Removes problem permanents (and often a one-turn clock or presents a dominant board position)
Inkwell Leviathan– Best shroud creature.
Platinum Angel– Generally the best target against non-interactive opponents
Platinum Emperion– A target for when you’re under heavy attack, combos well with Reanimate (keeping it from becoming a dead card)
Sphinx of the Steel Wind– Not the best at anything but one of the best for board presence, life gain, defensive abilities, and is an artifact
Blazing Archon– The best at stopping creatures, as it flies and doesn’t stop you from using Force of Will (unlike Platinum Emperion) and is harder to
kill plus doesn’t let your life total drop during the turns it’s in play (unlike Platinum Angel)
Grave Titan– Best at taking over a game against an opponent who plays removal, particularly Edicts (for instance, Goblins)
Flame-Kin Zealot– Lets you win instantly with enough Bridge from Below tokens
River Kelpie– Lets you mill your whole library
Elesh Norn is obviously somewhere in the Blazing Archon/Grave Titan space, as it stops most attacks but is still good against removal. One problem with
relying on Blazing Archon to defend yourself against decks like Goblins and Merfolk is that they’re on to this plan. Goblins has Warren Weirding,
Gempalm Incinerator, and ways to find both. Merfolk relies on Sower of Temptation, an oft game-winning play against Reanimator. Grave Titan doesn’t
even work against Merfolk and still dies to Gempalm Incinerator. On the other hand, Elesh Norn can’t really be Gempalmed (not only does it have seven
toughness, but what Goblins are still in play at the same time as Elesh Norn? It isn’t like you can respond to his static ability). He still Wraths
opponents, even if they have Warren Weirding. Against Merfolk, he stops Sower of Temptation entirely, which dies before it gets a chance to steal him.
In Dredge, Elesh Norn not only locks many players off the board, he also powers up your Bridge tokens, Narcomoebas, Tribes, and Putrid Imps. If this
doesn’t kill the opponent outright, it will surely put them on a very short clock. At the very minimum, I would have at least one Elesh Norn in the
sideboard of any Reanimator or Dredge deck, though I’d definitely strongly consider making a spot for it in the main.
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur is another super fatty that has received a lot of press. The dream of a turn one Jin-Gitaxias is so attractive that it’s hard
to see a downside. After all, your opponent will then be Mind Twisted, and you’ll have drawn seven new cards, hopefully finding some Force of Wills,
Dazes, and Mental Missteps to protect it. Unfortunately, when we ask ourselves “when do we really want Jin-Gitaxias instead of Iona?”, we have to
stretch a bit to find an answer. Turn 1 against an unknown opponent? Sure, and I suppose that might be enough, but I’m skeptical. While the constant
Mind Twist and card draw is incredibly extreme, the most unique element of Jin-Gitaxias seems to be the flash ability (most notably combined with Sword
of Feast and Famine). Is it possible that Jin-Gitaxias finds a home? Absolutely. It’s one of the ten or twenty best creatures to have on the
battlefield ever. Unfortunately, he has trouble dominating a board, and with such a relatively small body, it’s unclear what niche he would serve, at
least in existing strategies.
Sheoldred, Whispering One is the other big reanimation target from New Phyrexia. Reya Dawnbringer has seen some play over the years, and this card is
twice the card Reya ever was. The impact on the board that Sheoldred has is awe-inspiring, but she is more about value than winning the game outright,
as most good Legacy reanimator targets do. Her combination of abilities are dangerously close to “win more” in a deck that cheats her into play;
however it’s possible that she could be the right monster for the job, depending on how the format breaks. For instance, let’s say that you really
needed to kill an Inkwell Leviathan or that a single fatty wasn’t going to be enough to win. As such, I acknowledge that Sheoldred has about as much
chance as Jin-Gitaxias (though likely bench-worthy), whereas Elesh Norn is probably going to see widespread adoption.
While Elesh Norn is more likely to help Dredge than Jin-Gitaxias is, the card I’m most excited to put in Dredge is actually Gitaxian Probe. Street
Wraith has seen occasional Dredge play, but Gitaxian Probe has a few advantages. First of all, seeing the opponent’s hand obviously helps
non-telepathic players take full advantage of Cabal Therapy, as well as sculpt the proper game plan. Additionally, Gitaxian Probe’s blue-ness helps
open up Force of Will as a potential Dredge card. Between Narcomoeba, Breakthrough, Careful Study, Gitaxian Probe, and possibly even Brainstorm or
random reanimator targets like Sphinx of Lost Truths, it is really not that hard to support Force of Will without overly disrupting your game plan. To
be fair, it’s unclear whether Dredge actually wants Force of Will; however it’s a very powerful ability to have and is at least worth
Like Street Wraith, Gitaxian Probe can speed up your dredging, turning turn three kills into turn two ones and occasionally even turn two kills into
turn ones. I wonder, what if we actually push this to the extreme? What would a deck look like with four Gitaxian Probes and four Street
Wraiths? Dredge is a notoriously tight deck, so making room is going to require sacrificing some sacred cows. The theory is that we can just trim all
the numbers by 13% or so and just rely on all the cantripping to get us where we need to be. Sure, we’ll mulligan worse, but we’ll draw all of our best
cards more often, and if we can assemble Tribe/Imp + Dredger + a couple Street Wraiths/Gitaxian Probes, there’s a decent chance we can just kill turn
one or two. This list is far from where it needs to be, but here is an idea:
- 4 Tireless Tribe
- 4 Putrid Imp
- 1 Flame-Kin Zealot
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 3 Memnite
Gitaxian Probe is not necessarily going to be universally adopted by Dredge, but it does open up new avenues for how to play Dredge (as opposed to
playing Magic, since that is certainly not what you’re doing when playing Dredge…). There are actually going to be a ton of other decks in
Legacy that take advantage of the Probe, many much better than Dredge. Most combo decks are going to want this card, though often for very different
reasons. Here is one of the most exciting prospects:
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Shaman en-Kor
- 4 Nomads en-Kor
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 4 Cephalid Illusionist
- 3 Narcomoeba
- 1 Deceiver Exarch
Cephalid Breakfast is a deadly combination of speed and disruption. The downside? It’s vulnerable to just about every kind of hate. Graveyard hate,
permission, discard, creature kill, CounterTop, locking permanents, and more. Still, a turn-two kill deck that features Force of Will, Mental Misstep,
Daze, Thoughtseize, and Cabal Therapy gets a lot of free wins, often from opponents just being bottlenecked on mana.
Nomads en-Kor/Cephalid Illusionist has long been compared to Hulk-Flash, as it’s just a two-card combo that kills on turn two requiring a number of
“dead” cards in one’s deck. While the Breakfast combo is weaker on account of needing seven “dead” cards and costs three total, it can be split over
two turns and tends to push the deck in a very similar direction to Flash decks. Besides, there’s a lot of room for a combo to be worse than Flash and
still be good.
Gitaxian Probe is better than Ponder in such a deck, though one must be careful to make sure you have enough library manipulation to set up the combo.
Both Lim-Dul’s Vault and Worldly Tutor combine especially well with Gitaxian Probe, giving you immediate access to the card of your choice. I went with
Lim-Dul’s Vault here, to improve my mana consistency, since I really want to be able to function off of just two land. An alternative build could be:
-1 Ponder, -3 Lim-Dul’s Vault, -2 Tundra, -2 Underground Sea
+4 Worldly Tutor, +3 Tropical Island, +1 Scrublands
This mana base still lets your fetchlands find any dual you want, plus a Scrublands and a Tropical Island to cast all of your spells. This version is
going to find the combo a little faster, but another nice advantage to Lim-Dul’s Vault is that it enables transformational sideboard plans. In general,
you have two basic ways to transform from this style of deck. You can either become a creature deck or another combo deck. Lim-Dul’s Vault is basically
a must if you want to transform into something like Show and Tell/Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
Green mana steers you away from combos but opens up Quirion Dryad. Tarmogoyf is an option as well, but get hits by splash damage from their graveyard
hate. Generally, a creature transformation is going to take 6-9 guys, with additional options including Dark Confidant, Phyrexian Negator, Seasinger,
Old Man of the Sea, and the previously mentioned Tarmogoyf. Other important sideboard considerations include Counter-Top, Aether Vial, and general
Gitaxian Probe has a number of other tactical applications, including letting you know whether it’s safe to combo off yet, and if not, what you need to
find to make it so. It combines ruthlessly with Cabal Therapy, which is especially valuable turn one of the game, when you don’t yet know what they’re
playing. It can also make Quirion Dryad grow surprisingly fast.
As far as other New Phyrexia cards go, Deceiver Exarch is a minor upgrade over the previous options for kill cards, as it’s cheaper to hard-cast than
Sky Hussar, is a better defender than Pestermite, and is more resilient than either.
Mental Misstep is an excellent addition, since all you want to do is gain tempo on people. Finding the right mix of Mental Missteps, Dazes, and
Thoughtseizes will take testing, but Cabal Therapy and Force of Will are automatic four-ofs. Mental Misstep is just such an ideal way to combat Swords
to Plowshares, the Top part of CounterTop, and other people’s Mental Missteps.
On the topic of Mental Misstep, one of the biggest losers from the printing of Mental Misstep is High Tide, despite its gaining access to the card and
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Meditate
- 1 Capsize
- 2 Cunning Wish
- 4 Merchant Scroll
- 3 Turnabout
- 4 High Tide
- 3 Candelabra of Tawnos
- 4 Time Spiral
- 1 Repeal
- 4 Ponder
- 1 Blue Sun's Zenith
- 2 Mental Misstep
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
Mental Misstep is really rough for High Tide but only marginal in it. At least Gitaxian Probe lets you know whether the coast is clear. There’s a
fairly good chance that Mental Misstep ends up primarily making bad matchups for High Tide worse. If that’s the case, it may not actually be as bad for
Tide as it looks on the surface, especially if those decks (BUG, CounterTop, Merfolk) are targeted by the rest of the metagame.
Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the other “Gitaxian Probe Decks.” Ad Nauseam will at least consider Gitaxian Probe, especially since it can help
build storm without spending mana. The life loss can be relevant, but often “Ad Nauseam” decks don’t even cast Ad Nauseam, just chaining together
Infernal Tutors and Rituals into a Tendrils. Probe definitely helps this plan a lot, especially since it enables Cabal Ritual to hit threshold faster
and more frequently.
Mental Misstep is good against Ad Nauseam, as tempo is so crucial against such a fast deck; however, Ad Nauseam is nowhere near as reliant on any
specific one-drop as many other combo decks are. Nomads en-Kor, High Tide, Glimpse of Nature, Grindstoneâ€”these are all cards that, if countered,
can stop a deck dead in its tracks. Against a Tendrils deck, every one-mana spell in the deck is basically the same. They’re just rituals, cantrips,
and discard. Mental Misstep is better than a lot of cards, but if they just build their hand up a small amount, they’ll power through it, while
increasing the storm count by two and often needing one less storm (because of the two life you just lost). It’s interesting to consider that Mental
Misstep defends cards like Ethersworn Canonist and Gaddock Teeg from Chain of Vapor, though one could use Echoing Truth, actual creature kill, or
discard to combat this.
One other card that’s at least worth considering for Ad Nauseam is Phyrexian Unlife. When you have Phyrexian Unlife on the battlefield, you can
actually Ad Nauseam as hard as you want without getting any poison counters. This two-card “draw your deck” combo is not that exciting, since
many Ad Nauseam decks can just draw enough to win anyway, and Angel’s Grace was already an option. The advantages it offers are:
1) You can reap some defensive value from it. If you play a turn two or three Phyrexian Unlife against an aggressive player, not only can it give you a
few more turns, it can also ensure that merely casting Ad Nauseam will win (rather than merely drawing a few cards with what little life you have
2) It doesn’t cost mana the turn you’re going off.
3) It is legal in Extended.
Ad Nauseam was a pretty fearsome combo deck in Extended, with Angel’s Grace providing a two-card win. The rotation of Time Spiral block killed this
deck, but with the printing of Phyrexian Unlife, its return is inevitable (assuming nothing happens to Extended).
One-Land Belcher is another fine home for Gitaxian Probe, as it’s free storm for Empty the Warrens and can give you information on how to play things
out. You may not have the luxury of waiting around, but it can help you decide whether to cast Seething Song before casting Empty the Warrens. I’ve
heard people talk about using Geosurge in Belcher, but remember that Geosurge can only be used to cast creatures and artifacts. Being unable to Burning
Wish, Empty the Warrens, cast more Rituals, or activate Belcher makes it pretty worthless in Belcher. Even if it gave you just straight seven red mana,
I still think it might just be a bad Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Painter/Grindstone is going to have to consider Gitaxian Probe and Mental Misstep, though I suspect the first is far more likely to make it to the
maindeck than the second. Mental Misstep is going to hurt their Goblin Welder plan, but it’s really not the end of the world for them. Elf combo might want Gitaxian Probe but, for the most part, doesn’t really gain anything in this set. The addition of Mental Misstep to the format is
just going to make some of their worst matchups even more unwinnable. Â
Here is kind of a wacky Gitaxian Probe / Mental Misstep experiment:
This style of Infect deck is obviously quite fast, with a small disruption package to protect “the combo.” The primary game plan is to present a lethal
threat ASAP, generally with at least one layer of defense against cards like Swords to Plowshares. It may be that this deck is just too fast for
Brainstorm at all, but this is at least a useful starting place to experiment.
Mutagenic Growth is an obvious possibility for an Infect deck, but the problem I have with it in a Legacy build is that it doesn’t really stack that
well with the other Giant Growths. Invigorate and Might of Old Krosa combine with Berserk for a one-hit kill. How does Mutagenic Growth help that? It
takes two Mutagenic Growths to add up to one of those pumps, and even two won’t make for a Berserk. The high level of interaction people play in Legacy
makes me think that it’s better to focus on using fewer cards to win and more cards to force through the win (assuming this route is even viable).
Assault Strobe is a fine option to consider as an alternative Berserk, though the addition of a third color is not without a cost.
Corrupted Resolve is obviously miles away from Legacy playable, but some people have asked me about it for Standard. Personally, I’m not the biggest
fan of Mana Leak right now, and this looks way worse. You can’t counter a Stoneforge Mystic, and it’s not a reliable solution to Deceiver/Twin or
planeswalkers on four. This card actually looks like a bad Deprive, for the most part. Probably the best home for it is in some ultra-aggressive
Glistener Elf/Blighted Agent deck where it could be a niche support card.
This is certainly not the only Berserk deck enabled by New Phyrexia. Another possibility is to use Berserk and Assault Strobe with Immolating
Souleater, Kiln Fiend, and Moltensteel Dragon or Quirion Dryad to set up the “Hatred-Kill” in one hit. This could take a variety of forms, ranging from
All-In-Red with lots of rituals (Dragon-Stompy) to some kind of RUG pseudo-Fish deck (which might actually use Cunning Wish to find Berserk). Kiln
Fiend and Quirion Dryad push you towards cards like Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Brainstorm, and so on.Â
Alternatively, Immolating Souleater and Moltensteel Dragon can be used in a sort of Dragon Stompy deck, featuring Assault Strobe and Berserk. Going
this route encourages one to play more acceleration, such as Rite of Flame, Lotus Petal, Simian Spirit Guide, and City of Traitors/Ancient Tomb.
Something to keep in mind when considering Immolating Souleater and Moltensteel Dragon is that both are immune to Go for the Throat, a card that has
been gaining popularity lately and could gain even more with Mental Misstep, discouraging Swords to Plowshares splashes.
On the topic of All-In-Red styles of decks, another new possibility is one of my favorites, Chancellor of the Forge. While he’s much more of a value
card in lower-powered formats, he has some interesting functionality in Legacy with Blazing Shoal. Blazing Shoal can combine with either cheap double
strike creatures, like Viashino Slaughtermaster and Warren Instigator, or Sneak Attack (or both). A 1/1 haste creature may not seem like the biggest
deal, but it does give you a backup target for your Blazing Shoals, not to mention the fact that haste is awesome in a deck like this. For instance,
consider the opening hand of Chancellor of the Forge, Blazing Shoal, Blazing Shoal, Dragon Tyrant, Progenitus. No land, no problem…
While we’re discussing Chancellors, let’s take a look at a strategy that makes good use of two of the others. The Chancellors were designed to be
particularly sweet if they’re in your opener, so the ideal home for them is a strategy that wins with its opening seven (so every time you have one,
it’s your opening hand!)
- 4 Elvish Spirit Guide
- 1 Sakashima the Impostor
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Progenitus
- 4 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 1 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
- 3 Chancellor of the Annex
- 4 Chancellor of the Tangle
Hypergenesis now has access to twelve accelerators, making the turn one kills a good deal more frequent. The fact that all the rituals are green and
red makes Ardent Plea quite a stretch, so I’ve elected to use Eureka instead (with some double lands to help speed it up). Eureka is not the same as
Hypergenesis, since its allows players to put planeswalkers onto the battlefield, but I don’t think it’s worth adding Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker because
of the risk of having it stuck in your hand, unable to play it with your Show and Tell or Hypergenesis (which do not work with walkers). Chancellor of
the Tangle is exceptional in that he is not only a ritual but a pretty reasonable body. He isn’t winning the game on his own, but he makes a fine
consolation prize for games where you put a Sphinx onto the battlefield, and it gets Plowed, or if you and your opponent both put a Progenitus
onto the battlefield.
Chancellor of the Annex is cute, as it can proactively stop Force of Will from countering your turn one Hypergenesis. Once it’s actually on the
battlefield, it has a pretty nice impact on the board, making it hard for opponents to Plow creatures. It may be that Chancellor of the Annex should
just be a four-of, but I wanted to make sure to try to keep the blue card count up. One of the most appealing elements of Hypergenesis is that it’s
completely immune to Mental Misstep and graveyard hate, despite how brutally fast it is.
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur is a strange one, here. I feel like the Mind Twist ability is often his best feature, and if you Hypergenesis, you get almost
no value out of that. That said, Jin-Gitaxias sets up another Eureka on turn two, maybe three, which will surely be game-winning. Some players have
expressed a fear of decking from him, but that’s a very unlikely event in this build.
I considered the other Chancellors; however none of them really offered me anything appealing to a combo deck. The one Chancellor we have not discussed
yet this week is Chancellor of the Spires. He is not good, but he does have his uses (outside of Limited). Here is a semi-competitive idea for
Extended making use of him in a cute way.
This strategy is probably never going to hit the top tiers, but it’s amusing and unique enough that it is worth reflecting on. Another possible use for
the Chancellor of the Spires is in a dedicated turbo-mill deck with Hedron Crabs and possibly even Trapmaker’s Snare.
Dedicated mill plans are not the only avenue one can explore, however. The Chancellor is still a really big flier that casts a spell when he enters the
battlefield. It’s possible that he might see some play in lower-powered formats just for himself. Most of the time, milling someone in these
circumstances isn’t going to do much for you, but it does make his enters the battlefield trigger better when you do play him. Â
Additionally, you can combine this with Surgical Extraction or Haunting Echoes for much hilarity. While it’s unlikely to be good enough for Legacy,
it’s just adorable that you can actually Surgical Extraction someone’s Underground Sea or Tropical Island during your opponent’s first upkeep
(hopefully leaving him without the ability to fetch up an entire color). Even in Standard, where this is much more realistic, you might be able to
Surgical Extraction Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Primeval Titan, Deceiver Exarch, or Splinter Twin before even taking a turn. Alternatively, you might
be able to play defense for a couple turns, Haunting Echoes on five, and leave them with almost nothing. These are definitely strange tactics that have
no history of success, so I wouldn’t bet on them; however Scars of Mirrodin block is nothing if not a haven for every weird fantasy Wizards R&D has
ever had about making cards good in ways that have never been done before.
Surgical Extraction is actually sure to see a good deal of Legacy play in its own right. It appears on the surface to be a black card, but it’s
actually very much a non-black card (more than Mental Misstep is a non-blue card). It’s a sideboard card against decks where two life is not nearly as
relevant as it is against decks where you want Mental Misstep, such as a deck with Lightning Bolts. It’s nice to have access to some black mana
somewhere, but it’s not a must. Black has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to graveyard hate, whereas most other colors have to settle for
something along the Tormod’s Crypt/Relic of Progenitus spectrum or Faerie Macabre/Ravenous Trap. Surgical Extraction is different enough from all of
those that it will be a welcome addition to non-black palates everywhere. It’s hardly an auto-include but, like Faerie Macabre, should always be
considered by every deck ever from now on.
New Phyrexia is not just for the crazy combo decks, however. Arguably the biggest gainers from the new set are black/blue/green strategies.
Let’s just be clear about one thing. “Team America” is not another word for BUG. Team America was so named because it bombs lands. Not all BUG decks
“bomb lands.” Sinkhole, Wasteland, Stifle? Sure, those along with Hymn to Tourach can make a land destruction theme, but DeedStill, BUG CounterTop, and
other BUG Good Stuff decks are not Team America.
Here is my current take on BUG:
I know most people don’t play anywhere close to four Jaces in these sorts of decks, but they may not realize that he is better than all. In all seriousness, it is not just my undying love of
Jace, the Mind Sculptor, nor my penchant for $2000 Legacy decks. Mental Misstep changes the equation, the way the format plays out. With so many free
counterspells, games are pushed in a very attritiony direction. The format is so tempo-oriented that I actually prefer Hymn to Tourach to
Counterbalance, with an endgame built around getting a temporary advantage over someone, which Jace/Dark Confidant can capitalize on.
Remember when people used to argue that Jace, the Mind Sculptor should be a three-of in Standard? If you’re as old as I am, you also remember when they
said the same thing about Necropotence. I realize this is not a sound argument for why Jace should be a four-of, but it’s a sound argument that one
should at least consider if they’re making the same mistake that tons of people have made over the years. The second Jace isn’t good? Well, if you have
a Jace in play, you’re already winning… Â
Not every deck is actually a four-Jace deck, but I’m pretty sure that there are way more people using fewer Jaces than they should than people
playing too many. When you can Misstep their turn-one play, Hymn them on two, and drop a Goyf on three, you’re generally going to be able stick Jace on
four (and defend it). Bouncing a creature is just brutal in Legacy, since far fewer creatures in this format have haste or “enters the
battlefield” triggers than in Standard. It’s a format of almost all Baneslayers. On top of this, it makes your discard even more valuable later.
Additionally, there is a lot fewer burn spells and manlands that kill Jace in one hit. Besides, the combination of free counters, amazing discard, and
land destruction make the advantage from Jace pretty insurmountable.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is better than Tarmogoyf.
At this point, no one disagrees that Jace is a “10,” so don’t think I’m arguing that issue. I’m saying that Legacy is a four-Jace format, a position
that’s held by very few people at this point.
Mental Misstep is a huge boon to all BUG players (including Team America and Deedstill), but it isn’t the only Phyrexian-mana card to make an impact.
Dismember is very exciting and may even surpass Go for the Throat. The ability to kill a creature for only one mana is huge, especially on turn three
(for added tempo). Additionally, it may not always kill Knight of the Reliquary or Terravore, but it does hit Painter’s Servant, Immolating Souleater,
and Myr Enforcer.
Gaining edge against Affinity is potentially valuable, as it has historically been a bad matchup for Go for the Throat decks (go figure…). Affinity
has reemerged in Legacy, ever since the printing of Mox Opal. New Phyrexia offers a few new options, though none are particularly exciting to me.
Dispatch is a “better” Swords to Plowshares, but Affinity was never really that into removal. Some Affinity players used Galvanic Blast, and this can
actually kill Goyfs and Knight of the Reliquary; however it can’t “go to the dome,” which really sells Galvanic Blast. If you do go this route, you
probably don’t want more than two, maybe three, as it can really glut up your hand, when what you need to be doing is beating down.
Whipflare offers a customized one-way sweeper, as a sideboard option. Perhaps if enough Goblins and Elves see play, this could be a consideration.
Vault Skirge is another very fringe option, but flying is pretty sweet, and this guy is a much more appealing Ornithopter (aside from actually
having to spend a mana). The combo with Cranial Plating or Ravager is adorable, but I don’t imagine there’s room. It’s cute that he is a one-drop that
dodges Mental Misstep.
Mental Misstep could actually be a reasonable addition to Affinity. It doesn’t fuel the engine, but it does provide much appreciated tempo and could
actually help provide enough blue cards to sideboard Force of Will (along with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Thoughtcast).
Another card that I want to try in Affinity is Immolating Souleater. Berserk has already been a sweet Affinity card at times, combining with Cranial
Plating or Arcbound Ravager for a turn three kill. Immolating Souleater obviously plays very well with Berserk but can also combine with Plating or
Ravager for the one-hit kills. Once we go this route, it’s very possible that Ancient Tomb and/or City of Traitors could make their way into our list,
along with Lotus Petal. Interestingly, such a build might be best suited to utilize Mental Misstep to stop whatever they do during the one turn they
get (such as Swords to Plowshares or Thoughtseize).
Batterskull is getting a ton of press in Standard, but I think it might actually have chances in Legacy. Stoneforge Mystics generally live in this
format, so there’s a good chance you can just forge the Batterskull down on turn three to help blunt an oncoming Goblin or Zoo assault. They’re
certainly not without answers, but it does provide a good body, beats removal, and can beat some mages on its own (e.g. Patrick Sullivan).
Sword of War and Peace is less likely to make an impact, since Umezawa’s Jitte is the best against creatures, Sword of Feast and Famine is the best
against spells, and Sword of Fire and Ice is the second best at both (though the most powerful all around). It’s obviously always worth keeping all
five Swords in mind, but the more interesting note on Swords is the combination of Dark Ritual plus Stoneforge Mystic, which I heard from Caleb Durward
(A Legacy master most recently known for being the first player to Top 8 a major event with Vengevine/Survival). The ability to add Stoneforge Mystic
to some kind of B/W Pikula/Rietzl deck seems like a natural fit, and Dark Ritual lets you start hitting with Swords a full turn faster (and by
Dark Ritual has always been good but recently gained a valuable new ally in Phyrexian Obliterator. Just as we discussed in Standard, Phyrexian
Obliterator combines exceptionally with one-mana discard spells. The difference is just that in Legacy, you do this on turn two. While he’s vulnerable
to Swords to Plowshares, Go for the Throat, and Dismember, he’s immune to Lightning Bolt, Gempalm Incinerator, and Tarmogoyf (the most common creature
removal spell in the format). While it’s hard to “count” on the Obliterator, he’ll just randomly win a lot of games on his own. I wouldn’t be surprised
at all if Ari Lax ends up sideboarding a few in Providence when he inevitably Top 8s with Ad Nauseam.
Despise is unlikely to be able to compete with Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, and Inquisition of Kozilek in this format, but another New Phyrexia card
that may see play is Geth’s Verdict. It aspires to be an upgrade to Diabolic Edict, though it does mesh with Wastelands as well; neither is it as easy
to get yourself out of a Dark Confidant “lock.” It’s unclear how much an extra point here and there matters, but it’s certainly a consideration.
Personally, I like Gatekeeper of Malakir better than all of that action, though I could totally see a Suicide Black deck with four Verdicts and four
Beast Within is quite the enigma, with some pundits going as far as declaring it “better than Vindicate.” This is poppycock, if you ask me, and mostly
being espoused by the same people who said that Path to Exile was “better than Swords to Plowshares.” However, just as Path to Exile is still seeing
play, so too will Beast Within. It’s different enough from Vindicate that it will actually probably see even more Legacy play than Path (which is often
outclassed by Plow directly).
When you have to bounce a token instead of Brainstorm with Jace, it’s not “nothing.” When you play with Dark Confidant in your deck, it’s not
“nothing.” When you’re racing with your Goyfs, it’s not “nothing.” However, the ability to solve difficult problems or attack mana bases is exciting,
particularly if you’re playing a true Team America deck. Beast Within getting rid of your Dark Confidant is just delectable, plus sometimes you just
really need to get rid of Glacial Chasm or Maze of Ith, so it’s not like it doesn’t have some advantages over Maelstrom Pulse (a card that sees
relatively minor play). It also is better for fighting Goyf mirrors, and who knows, maybe you aren’t playing black. Being an instant has advantages, as
well, so let’s just leave it at “will likely see small amounts of play but not as much as some people seem to think.”
Mindculling… Well, it is definitely two-thirds of half a Cruel Ultimatum. Obviously not a Legacy card, but I bet this card sees a little play in
lower-powered formats. Is there any purer vessel of value?
Exclusion Ritual gets a brief mention, if only to remind you that it’s a unique effect. It surpasses Oblivion Ring as the most powerful removal effect
on an enchantment’s “enter the battlefield” trigger. This means that whenever we are working on decks that abuse enchantments, such as Enchantress,
Enduring Ideal, and possibly Replenish, we should consider it.
Torpor Orb has already gotten a lot of buzz in Standard, where I suspect it is a bit overrated. It can lock out some people, so it has its uses, but
people seem to want to jam it everywhere. The people who think it’s terrible, however, may be overlooking that it doesn’t just stop one Stoneforge, one
Hawk, one Deceiver Exarch, or half of one Primeval Titan; it stops all of the future ones (or half of each future one, in the case of Primeval Titan).
It’s kind of an ugly way to solve problems, but it will see some success. Â
Torpor Orb is used for quite different purposes in Legacy, combining with Phyrexian Dreadnought and if you like, Hunted Horror. It’s interesting that
with four Illusionary Masks and four Torpor Orbs, you can generally count on having an enabler for your guys. The problem is that to make this better
than Stifle, you need to plan on doing it at least twice a game. This would be easy if you just had a ton of Phyrexian Dreadnought types, but you
really don’t. Hunted Horror is the second biggest that meets our criteria, but I’m not even that excited by a two-mana 7/7. That’s a lot of work, and
how much better is that than even just a Tarmogoyf?
Trinket Mage is the classic tutor for Phyrexian Dreadnought, but alas, Torpor Orb is a major nombo with it. My solution? Artificer’s Intuition.
Artificer’s Intuition lets each Torpor Orb or Illusionary Mask supply a basically unending army of Dreadnoughts. Artifact lands, Mox Opals, Sensei’s
Divining Top, and a variety of other trinkets ensure plenty of fuel for the AI, plus open up cards to you like Thoughtcast and Tezzeret, Agent of
Bolas. Pithing Needle, Tormod’s Crypt/Relic of Progenitus, Sensei’s Divining Top, Spellbombs, Engineered Explosives, Hex Parasite, Grindstone (for a
Painter’s Servant backup plan), and more ensure that you have plenty of good plays even when you don’t have a Mask or Orb down.
Hex Parasite doesn’t seem that amazing in Legacy, but it’s a unique effect. It’s more likely to show up in Vintage, where it fights Jace, Chalice of
the Void, Smokestack, Arcbound Ravager, Tangle Wire, and Smokestack (and potentially all in a “Mono-Brown” deck).
Praetor’s Grasp is another card more likely to show up in Vintage than Legacy, since you can count on people to have so much less variety and much more
powerful cards to get. As a Demonic Tutor for one more (a good deal already), it has some surprising versatility (giving you access to solutions and
strategies not in your sixty), plus it denies your opponent of one of their best cards while not thinning your library of business.
There has already been a lot of hubbub surrounding Birthing Pod, as it’s a super open-ended engine that gets people’s wheels turning. One possible
Legacy application is to use it in some sort of Academy Rector deck, since it both finds the Rector and sacrifices it for you. Form of the Dragon is
the most obvious Rector target, these days, with Volition Reins serving as an excellent backup. Another possibility is to incorporate this into some
kind of Aluren deck. You can sacrifice Wall of Roots, Dream Stalker, or Wall of Blossoms to get Imperial Recruiter. Sacrifice any three-drop to get
Academy Rector, which can then be sacrificed to find Aluren (plus a five-drop if you have one/want one).
Marrow Shards… Okay, not exactly much of a Legacy card, but I kind of feel like this one could really surprise people. Sandstorm is not half-bad and
the ability to do it for free? I can imagine plenty of times where this is a great sideboard card, even for non-white decks. Imagine having access to
this against Kuldotha Red!
Psychic Surgery is exactly the type of card one fantasizes about but might never get to play. People do shuffle a lot, and it does stop “top of the
library” tutors, but it’s hard to justify the card on incremental value. If there was an easy way to make opponents shuffle on each turn, this card
could get filthy fast. It almost reminds me of Counterbalance in that it’s not quite good enough on its own, but a single card could break it right in
half. However, since WotC is hesitant to print cards that let you shuffle your opponent’s library regularly, it’s a long-shot that such a card would be
printed. Yes, I’m aware of Soldier of Fortune types, but creatures are much easier to kill than Tops.
Xenograft is mostly a casual card, but it does combine with Turntimber Ranger to provide a limitless army. It’s possible this is a fringe Standard
strategy, but it’s just miles from Deceiver Exarch/Splinter Twin (though certainly under the radar and brings with it far more glory…).
Corrosive Gale is an interesting sideboard card, in that it provides a very cheap sweeper to strategies that have not traditionally had anything close
to it. It’s fairly narrow, but imagine how nice of an option it is against Faeries, where you can literally sweep their tokens for only a single mana.
It doesn’t hit manlands, but it does take down Mistbind Clique, an important distinction. We’ll see if any Standard or Block decks go the Skies route,
but if they do, it’s a very reasonable option to consider.
While we’re hitting a few low-powered cards that we didn’t have time for on Wednesday, we should consider Gutshot. It does something fairly unique
(dealing damage to players or creatures without spending mana), but its power isn’t all that high. It can work as a nice tempo boost, though, since
sometimes the difference between killing a Cobra and playing a Geopede versus just killing a Cobra is game-winning.
Slag Fiend, and to a lesser extent Scrapyard Salvo, are possible considerations on “uniqueness.” The Slag Fiend might be well suited to some strange
Salvage Titan deck (probably in Extended), but he could work in Legacy, particularly if you have a way to mill yourself a ton of cycle through
artifacts. Whereas Slag Fiend is supposed to be a “Good Card” in whatever deck he is in (a 4/4 for one, or whatever), Scrapyard Salvo is more of a
combo-kill card. It doesn’t have an immediate home, but if you’re in the market for a kill card, it might be the best way to convert “artifacts in the
graveyard” into damage. You laugh, but someone, someday will actually be in the market for just that.
Finally, Shrine of Loyal Legions is for Standard or Block, but it does combine well with Tempered Steel and can provide a layer of defense against
sweepers. Its power level is nothing to write home about, but it does attack from a different angle, which Tempered Steel decks are somewhat desperate
Thanks for joining me this week. I hope this series has helped spark new ideas on how to use this crazy new set. Be sure to let me know in the forums
what you think of the format of this week’s articles and which you prefer out of this versus my traditional style of set review. See you guys on
Top 10 Legacy Cards in New Phyrexia
9. Beast Within