Part 1: Updates to Existing Strategies
The Machines won, and New Phyrexia is finally here, so I thought it might be a great time to try something a little different. I’ve never been a fan of
rating 1-5 or 1-10 (gentlemen use the binary systemâ€”either it’s what you want or it isn’t). Generally, I like to find the functionality in all
cards, looking for their purpose. This week, I’d like to try a new way to examine the set’s impact on Constructed. Today, we’ll examine sixteen of the
top strategies in Standard as well as the New Phyrexia cards that will have an immediate impact on them (some of which are sure to elevate them from
fringe to Tier 1 or 2).
Wednesday is the other half of the Standard Review, where I’ll examine a ton of new decks that are possible as a result of New Phyrexia. Many of these
are exciting new strategies to explore and try to make viable, and a couple are going to make big waves right out of the gate. Friday, I’ll be covering
cards that will have an impact on Legacy, Extended, and maybe even Vintage.
We’re going to look at a ton of decks today, but as these decks are all existing strategies, I’m not going to go too deep into how they work. Instead,
I’ll be presenting a suggested starting decklist to work with, updated with New Phyrexia. Then we’ll explore the impact at level one, what cards can
immediately be added from New Phyrexia, as well as level two, what cards other decks will have that impact these strategies. This information will help
give us a jump on how to find the next level after that, what changes to make to our decks as a result of the changes other people are making to their
Most of the strategies we’re examining today are only going to have a card or two from the new set, at least initially. It’s actually quite impressive
how the well the new cards are spread out among most of the existing strategies, while also focusing in a few key new areas to help inspire new
archetypes. Up first, the best Standard deck in many years, the real fun-police themselves, Caw-Blade.
LSV and I were discussing the full set the day it was spoiled, and we both shared the sentiment that Batterskull was going to be one of the five most
important cards in the new set. The most important addition to Caw-Blade, Batterskull adds multiple new dimensions to Caw-Blade all by itself. It’s a
Baneslayer Angel that you can Stoneforge Mystic up. To make the threat even greater, if Stoneforge Mystic lives, you can tap it to cheat the
Batterskull into play on turn 3. To really appreciate just how much inherent power we’re talking about, think of it this way:
Stone-SkullÂ Â Â 1 W
The first time Stone-Skull enters the battlefield in a game, put a 1/2 token onto the battlefield.
3: Return Stone-Skull from your graveyard to your hand.
Obviously this would be the best creature in the format by no small margin, and this is only part of what Stoneforge Mystic can do now. You also have
the ability to find whatever Swords you play, not to mention the ability to move the Batterskull to a Squadron Hawk and actually build your own
Baneslayer (with vigilance). If you have a Stoneforge Mystic equipped with Batterskull crashing turn after turn, you can return the Batterskull to your
hand if anything goes wrong, then immediately tap the Stoneforge to put it back onto the battlefield again.
It isn’t just Caw-Blade that will love Batterskull. A classic problem Stoneforge Mystic decks run into is when an opponent has a lot of removal and can
actually keep the Stoneforge player from having any creatures to equip. Mortarpod helped by giving you an extra one to find, but Batterskull takes this
to another level by ensuring a limitless supply, as the game goes long. I have already moved a Divine Offering to the maindeck of my build of
Caw-Blade, and I imagine that we’ll see more and more of this type of action. Besides, who doesn’t play artifacts besides Valakut? Even RUG has
Still, not even Divine Offering types shut down Batterskull completely. If your opponent can’t kill the Stoneforge, you can actually look to set up a
turn 5 of Stoneforging Batterskull into play with three mana open to protect the Skull. These Batterskull plays are so powerful that it’s going to warp
the format even more, forcing people to find a way to interact or perish. Its ability to bounce itself back to your hand, giving you as many chances to
reset its living weapon as you want, is going to change the way Standard works.
Batterskull is obviously at least a one-of in every Stoneforge Mystic deck (and a two-of in many of them), but it’s not only white decks that will take
advantage of the card. Just think about how many strategies are potentially interested in their very own Baneslayer Angel. RUG? U/B? Mono-B? Mono-R?
Even Mono-U decks are often in the market for a giant, lifelink creature, for the sideboard if not the maindeck. Batterskull would carry his weight as
just a 4/4 lifelink, vigilance creature, but the ability to run the rebuys or equip to something else is just berserk, especially if you’re
sideboarding it into a deck that doesn’t play artifacts maindeck (so as to help ensure that opponents are not going to want to board in artifact kill).
Batterskull is just so much better than Wurmcoil Engine against opponents who don’t actually have artifact destruction, costing less and effectively
Sword of War and Peace is the other addition to traditional Caw-Blade, but a much less significant one in my opinion. Phyrexian Crusader’s protection
from white and red is the single biggest reason to play infect decks, and now that ability is available to anyone. Some critics of the Sword are quick
to say that it has no impact on the board, but I think it has a bigger impact than people realize. Protection from white is major and will change the
dynamic of the mirror now that one cannot rely on Squadron Hawks to chump turn after turn. The ability to gain life every turn makes racing difficult
or impossible, especially when you’re a getting a couple extra points in from the War-half of the ability. Another nice play is to use the Sword to
kill a planeswalker without actually attacking it. This is particularly useful when you also have a Sword of Feast and Famine and want to both untap
your lands as well as kill your opponent’s Jace.
While I like Sword of War and Peace better than Sword of Body and Mind, it’s significantly behind Sword of Feast and Famine. Add Batterskull to the
mix, and I’m seeing it as more of a sideboard card in Caw-Blade (and one that not everyone will adopt). Of course, there will be some players that go
the total opposite direction with it. Adding Mirran Crusader to Caw-Blade is especially interesting with the red/white sword, as you get to trigger the
ability twice, often leading to a twenty-point life swing. Hitting your opponent for fourteen or more, while gaining a healthy chunk of life, is
excellent, but the game is basically locked up at this point, as you now have a 4/4 creature with protection from white, black, red, and green
that hits for around a twenty-point life swing!
Straight U/W has proven the best way to play Caw-Blade in the old format, but the Darkblade variant might make a resurgence on the strength of how many
new weapons it gets above and beyond its two-color rival. Here is my current build:
Sword of War and Peace has a little less of an impact with all this discard, but the colors of protection and the life gain make me lean towards still
using a copy. Batterskull, on the other hand, is every bit as important to Darkblade as it is to Caw-Blade, though Dark-Blade is better set up to
actually fight the Batterskull battle. Darkblade can go after the Batterskull in hand with a timely Duress, though you still want to lead on turn one
with an Inquisition or Despise to try to hit the Stoneforge or Hawk. Despise is an exciting new tool that’s going to help reshape what black is capable
of. I actually like black discard even better than Mana Leak right now, as it’s just so incredible to actually proactively stop a Stoneforge Mystic.
One of the top five cards in New Phyrexia, Despise is at least in the same league as Inquisition of Kozilek and provides a level of cheap discard not
seen since Cabal Therapy and Thoughtseize/Duress were legal. Black may be the color with the greatest weakness to artifacts, but at least it is by far
the best color at stopping a Stoneforge Mystic. The way I see it, Standard is a format dominated by creatures and planeswalkers, making Despise the
perfect tool for the job. Obviously the ability to hit Stoneforge or Jace gets top billing, but I think it’s just huge that there is now a good way to
knock the Primeval Titan out of a Valakut player’s hand. Applications like this make me think the default for black decks will be to start with four
Despises, then filling out their discard suite with Inquisitions of Kozilek (saving the Duresses for the sideboard). It’s only because of my desire to
win the Batterskull fight that I have Duress main, here. It’s really interesting that Batterskull can neither be Inquisitioned nor Despised, making it
especially important for the black mana on turn one to be untapped (letting you hit the Stoneforge before they find the Skull).
Dismember is another exciting new card that offers a lot of flexibility in your creature kill that’s helping cement black’s place as actually being the
“creature-kill color.” I’m a little more excited for it in Legacy, where the ability to play it for one mana really shines, but we’ll talk about that
on Friday. As for Standard, this card is going to do some strange things. Here, the effect is rather tame, providing a removal spell that kills
basically everything but a Titan, with the potential upside of a sweet turn three. The ability to play it for only one mana plays especially nicely
with Stoneforge Mystic (who often “wastes” a mana on turn three). I’ve decided to try just one at first, as we do want to be mindful of our life total
and make sure that we have a few outs to an early Inferno Titan. The life loss isn’t going to be too bad, though, as most of the time you’ll just pay
the three mana. It’s just really nice that you have the option when mana is tight.
The reason this card is going to do such strange things is when it’s used in non-black decks. Now mono-green and mono-blue have a one-mana removal
spell that kills anything short of a Titan. Brad Nelson actually
recently suggested playing Dismember in straight U/W, as the ability to do things like kill Lotus Cobras and Fauna Shamans is just so valuable (and you can make up the life with Batterskull). It’s going
to take some time to understand what this means, but it’s definitely a new era, as the game has never seen anything like this. Paying four life is
hardly “free,” but the ability to do this at all is revolutionary. Dismember is a good card, but more than that, it changes what is possible.
One minor quirk of the format I want to call attention to is how Despise interacts with Into the Roil. The synergy is obvious, but with such a nice
array of discard spells, it’s more and more looking like one might want to rely more heavily on Into the Roil to solve problems, while making your
discard spells have greater utility if drawn late.
Up next is the deck that has been chronically underrated at every single point since Michael Jacob invented it, yet has always been one of the best
performing archetypes in every format it has been played.
Unfortunately for RUG aficionados, New Phyrexia doesn’t offer RUG new tools as appealing as it does Caw-Blade. Still, there are a few options for RUG
players to consider. First of all, RUG is a deck that can use Batterskull (we call these “decks”). Obstinate Baloth was seeing plenty of play, and
Batterskull just takes over the game much better. I don’t even want to imagine Inferno Titan with a Batterskull…
Invader Parasite has a bigger question mark next to it. It’s a better sideboard against Valakut than Acidic Slime, and Valakut is a matchup against
which RUG appreciates the help. However, Acidic Slime is an excellent sideboard against Boros, whereas you wouldn’t use the Parasite. Whether you
decide to go the Parasite route really depends on how badly you want to beat Valakut, but there’s no question that imprinting one of your opponent’s
Mountains is really going to set him back. If he can’t get rid of your Parasite, it quickly can become impossible for him to win, as each Mountain is
effectively Valakuting him (regardless of how many Mountains he has). While RUG may or may not decide the anti-Valakut upgrade is worth it, anyone with
access to red mana is going to want to keep this in mind if they need some percentage points against the format’s previous boogieman.
One other card worth considering for RUG is Beast Within. I’m currently leaning away from it on account of not having the sweeper or wall support to
capitalize on it, but it’s definitely pretty insane to Beast Within a land on turn three, then turn four Jace-bounce the token. One strategy that’s
naturally set up well to use Beast Within is Valakut itself.
Valakut is probably not going to want to play game one particularly reactively, but the format is looking more and more hostile, with plays like:
These lines of play are generally going to make racing impossible, but a timely Beast Within can be game-winning. Overgrown Battlement and Slagstorm
give us natural defense against the Beast token drawback. Besides, just having a random answer to an opposing Titan or to an early Jace can give the
Valakut player the time they need to get Primeval going.
While Beast Within is a fine new tool for Valakut, its applications stretch way beyond that. To break down what makes Beast Within actually
good, we’d do well to compare it to Oblivion Ring, a card that has seen lots of play. Beast WithinÂ basically has lot of little advantages
over Oblivion Ring, and one relatively big drawback. It’s an instant, hits land, has the versatility of being able to make a 3/3 “flash” creature,
isn’t vulnerable to enchantment removal and bounce, plus gives green some abilities that it usually doesn’t have.
The drawback is serious enough thatÂ Beast WithinÂ should generally only be put into decks with purpose; however, 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, it goes from being a
mere Oblivion Ring-league card to being as good as or better than Vindicate. Some excellent anti-Beast plans include:
1) Overgrown Battlement
2) Wall of Omens
3) Gatekeeper of Malakir
5) Consuming Vapors
7) Searing Blaze
8) Act of Aggression
10) Aether Adept
12) Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Producing a four-toughness blocker is pretty easy, but Beast Within’s “drawback” can actually be used to your advantage. Outside of maindecking
cards likeÂ Skinrender and Mark of Mutiny, Beast Within can actually open up the doors to cards like Aether Adept and Domestication,
which would normally be too unreliable.
I thinkÂ Beast WithinÂ is going to be a bit of a Path to Exile, in that it’s appealing to some players because of its mana efficiency
and versatility, but turns off other players because of the inherent card disadvantage. However, it will turn out to be quite strong once players learn
how to use it right (which will take quite a bit of work). Beast WithinÂ is the thinking Green Mage’s card, to be sure. Its effect is so
versatile and so unique that it will be a major player, if only because of how much it does that previously wasn’t even possible.
Touching back on Valakut, again, Batterskull actually doesn’t make the grade here because of its dis-synergy with Summoning Trap. One other observation
I find quite interesting is that Beast Within encourages you to play Slagstorm, which then discourages you from playing Lotus Cobra. What this means is
not altogether clear, but it’s definitely something worth thinking about.
Up next, we have one of the more controversial archetypes, which some players insist is Tier 1, whereas a great number of other players doubt it is
As you can see, Despise is put to excellent use here. Despise is not only generally awesome in this deck, but it’s not as good against us as
Inquisition or Duress. Little changes like this can add up and help shift the deck’s position in the metagame. The most radical element of this build
is the removal of Spreading Seas. It very well may be that this is just terribly greedy and terrible, but I’m not positive the format is going to be in
a place where Spreading Seas is what you want to be doing with your mana early. This would hurt your Valakut matchup, to be sure, but I do like all of
the Into the Roil action against everyone else.
Psychic Barrier is another interesting card to consider. After all, it’s quite easy to cast, and creatures are among the most important cards to stop.
At two mana, the price is certainly right. So why don’t I play any? I think it’s just too important to be able to lead with a turn-one discard spell,
even if it means leading with a Swamp. This is very awkward if you have a Psychic Barrier on turn two you can’t play.
Psychic Barrier will still seem some play, however; it’s just going to be more appealing in mono-U, U/r, and random blue decks that want a ton of
counterspells and plan on actually having double blue on turn two. It’s particularly interesting to consider a draw-go-ish deck with Leaks, Barriers,
Rebuttals, Pierces, and possibly even Mental Missteps (which we’ll revisit on Friday). Still, for the time being, Stoneforge Mystic just seems more
important to deal with when you’re on the draw.
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Plated Geopede
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 1 Spikeshot Elder
- 3 Mirran Crusader
We’ve already discussed the addition of Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace, but the way they impact Boros is pretty complex. Batterskull does
amazing things for Boros, helping turning around some rocky matchups. Strangely, though, Batterskull is kind of bad for Boros, as it’s really hard for
a Boros deck to beat one. Sword of War and Peace is somewhat similar, in that the Boros deck can take great advantage of it; however it’s an even
greater threat to the Boros player. I’m not sure if Crush is definitely the best artifact kill, but it does seem that artifact kill is going to become
much more important for Boros to have access to.
Another important card worth experimenting with is Mirran Crusader. As discussed above, Mirran Crusader is particularly apt at wielding a Sword of War
and Peace. Boros is a natural spot for this combo; though whether or not it’s right to go this route will largely depend on what other concessions
Boros has to make to the format (and the double-edged Sword of War and Peace and Batterskull).
While B/R Vampires has been the more popular style of Vamps lately, Lashwrithe provides a new incentive to keep it Mono-B. It’s certainly possible to
stay with an aggressive Pulse Tracker/Vampire Lacerator build, but the new four-drops seem best utilized in a more midrange-y build. If Suicide Black
is more your style, I could totally see trying -3 Vampire Nighthawk, -3 Sign in Blood, -1 discard spell, and -1 Revoker for +4 Trackers and +4
Lashwrithe is discussed at length here, but
suffice it to say, it’s in many ways “The Black Koth.” Basically starting off as a 4/4 or 5/5 for four that is immune to Day of Judgment, Lashwrithe
also turns every one of your creatures into a game-winning threat and adds an amount of power to Vampires mid-game not seen since Vampire Nocturnus.
While you don’t have to pay life to use the Lashwrithe, the ability to do so instead of spending mana gives you the flexibility to make some impressive
plays. My personal favorite Lashwrithe play is when you have a couple little guys on the battlefield, and your opponent drops a Gideon, moving it to
eight. You just drop Lashwrithe and immediately move it to a creature without summoning sickness. This effectively gives the Lashwrithe “haste,”
radically changing the pacing of matchups for black decks. This is particularly exciting when you power up Vampire Nighthawk or one of the
Batterskulls, making yet another sideboard appearance.
Lashwrithe is still flying a little under the radar, as people are scared away from the “you have to play all Swamps” clause. Obviously, I generally
want to be the guy with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but both Jace and Stoneforge are rotating before too long and besides, black has some excellent new
tools like Despise and Hex Parasite to help combat these.
Speaking of Hex Parasite, I’m not sure if the format is right to maindeck him yet, but it’s certainly not out of the question. He is most commonly
going to be used to kill planeswalkers (particularly Jace), but he also feeds on Tumble Magnets, Everflowing Chalices, and Spheres of the Suns. He’s
nice in a black deck, providing more “value” than Vampire Hexmage, but he’s also going to show up in Trinket Mage decks that love having a Trinket that
deals with planeswalkers, as well as Hawkward decks, which just find his ability to be more useful than Vector Asp’s.
There are so many tools for Mono-Black in this set that it’s pretty clear that WotC wanted Mono-B to be a realistic option. Despise is once again going
to be a welcome addition, and Dismember might see some play as an additional removal spell. Phyrexian Obliterator has gotten a lot of headlines, though
many have been critical of how poorly he matches up against popular cards like Jace, Day of Judgment, Go for the Throat, Journey to Nowhere, and so on.
Besides, his critics claim, he is still just a 5/5 mostly unblockable creature that generally holds off the entire ground by himself. That isn’t that insane.
I’ve been a little critical of the Obliterator, seeing him as a bit more fringe and a great sideboard. However, the unveiling of Despise has changed
the equation. A package of Duresses and Despises, as well as boarded Hex Parasites, can really attack Jace himself. A couple key discard spells will
often leave opponents with relatively few options for dealing with problematic permanents. There are few better threats to force through than the
Obliterator, as he can singlehandedly take over a game once you strip your opponent of answers.
He hurts your ability to play Tectonic Edge, but the potential upside from both of your amazing new four-drops is just so huge that I’m seeing Mono-B
being catapulted into the top tiers, especially factoring in the seven or eight great Mono-B options. There are so many Mono-B builds possible that
it’s going to take a lot of experimenting to find the right mix. Still, this is definitely a spot whereÂ innovation will pay nice
dividends. Many players are content to copy the best deck that people figured out weeks or months ago. Other players want to be the ones to invent the
strategy that everyone copies next week or next month.
Someone has to invent it. Why not us?
Phyrexian Revoker isn’t a New Phyrexia card, but it’s a card that is of extra importance these days. If you stay Mono-Black to support Lashwrithe and
Phyrexian Obliterator, you’re going to have to deal with the inevitable problem of what to do about Sword of Feast and Famine and Batterskull.
Phyrexian Revoker is actually an excellent solution to these, as well as added help against Jace and Gideon. You can even stop Tumble Magnet,
Everflowing Chalice, Cunning Sparkmage, and so much more. He’s definitely not the most resilient guy, but he puts some nice pressure on people, and
even if you only hold these things off temporarily, it doesn’t always take that long for a Lashwrithe or Obliterator to win the game.
Pilgrim’s Eye would be an interesting option to try, as I especially like it as a vessel to carry a Lashwrithe. Phyrexian Rager is also worth
considering. What can I say? Card advantage is addictive… I’ll say that too many people are dismissing Surgical Extraction, citing the age-old wisdom
that you shouldn’t use Memoricide-type effects unless you’re hosing a combo deck. Yeah, this is a reasonable general guideline, but Extirpate
effects work shockingly well with a ton of one-mana discard spells. I remember a B/G/r Rock deck that Adrian Sullivan won a PTQ with that used four
Cabal Therapies, four Duresses, and two maindeck Extirpates, which you can find here. When you have that
much discard, you often use Extirpate as another discard effect. Besides, when your opponent doesn’t have Jace or Gideon or Stoneforge or Hawk, they
really are hurt, so don’t let them fool you into thinking they don’t care.
Card advantage may be my favorite thing in the world, but people overrate card advantage for card advantage’s sake. Card advantage is just a means to
an end. If you have a way to trade some card advantage for some other advantage that’s worth even more, it’s akin to a sacrifice play in Chess where
you intentionally make a “bad trade,” such as your Rook for your opponent’s Knight, just to gain a favorable board position. In Chess, players talk
about more than just “material” (the Chess form of card advantage); they also care about Pawn structure, activity, space, and so on. Magic has these
sorts of things.
I’m not suggesting just jamming Surgical Extractions in the maindeck of every black deck. I’m just saying I would pause before hating on people who
experiment with this sort of play. Are Extirpate effects generally overrated in maindecks? Yeah, absolutely. However, if someone tries telling you that
they are never good, that person is just wrong. Mark Herberholz and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa top 8ed Pro Tour Yokohama with a maindeck Extirpate, with no
combo in the format. Extirpate is a very powerful effect, and zero mana is a particularly small amount. This is to say nothing of how great of a play
this is against Vengevine or, heaven forbid, Deceiver Exarch (making those Splinter Twins look awfully silly).
I know people try to bring Mono-Black every time there is a new set, but sometimes it actually works. Lashwrithe, Obliterator, and Despise are all so
incredible, and there are so many support cards that the time is now.
Mono-White Midrange is an interesting strategy that has emerged recently that tries to just power through blue decks with redundancy. Batterskull and
Sword of War and Peace are even more appreciated here than in Caw-Blade, plus there is actually another sleeper card that I think is kind of
underrated. Exclusion Ritual has been primarily ridiculed by pundits, pointing out its high casting cost (why would you want an Oblivion Ring when you
could have a Titan?). I think people are overlooking how valuable versatility is, as well as the value of the uniqueness of the package.
When you Exclusion Ritual something, it’s gone; plus you gain the value of their no longer being able to play it. Just think of what this does to a
Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Gideon Jura! Even if they find a way to get rid of it, you still kill their card. It’s not actually that hard to get a
card’s worth of value out of this “Unkillable Meddling Mage” ability. There’s more you can do with Exclusion Ritual, though. For instance, combine it
with Kor Skyfisher or Into the Roil for lots of laughs. Who knows what good ways there will be to abuse this card’s status as an enchantment, but in my
experience, whenever an enchantment creates a powerful effect that no previous enchantment could do, it’s important to sit up and take notice. Â
Oblivion Ring sees play in every format it’s legal in, even Vintage and Legacy, because it’s an enchantment, and there are cards that interact with
enchantments. Exclusion Ritual is going to have the kind of impact Batterskull will, but it will see play (and people will surely be shocked when it
does). How do people not remember that Desert Twister saw play? This card is much better, even if it doesn’t hit lands. That isn’t the highest bar in
the world, but most people aren’t even giving it that.
Next, I’d like to touch on some of the technology that other decks have to experiment with, though without speculating too wildly on decklists, yet.
Vengevine decks are certainly going to be interesting strategies to work with. Valakut has mostly been squeezing these decks out of the metagame, but
there are some interesting twists and turns unfolding, so this may not be the case forever. Some Vengevine cards to consider, aside from those already
discussed above (Equipment, Beast Within) include Chancellor of the Tangle and Fresh Meat, plus any of the Phyrexian mana cards that give you splashes
you would normally not have access to (Gut Shot, Dismember).
Chancellor of the Tangle is a hard card to evaluate, as you don’t really want a 6/7 vigilance, reach creature, but you also wouldn’t kick it
out of bed. The mana on the first turn is not just an Elvish Spirit Guide, but it’s also a cantrip (assuming you consider a 6/7 vigilance, reach
creature for seven to be a “card”). One way to make this the case is to combine it with Fauna Shaman. Resolving a turn one Fauna Shaman is especially
brutal on the play, as almost no one besides a red mage is going to have reliable answers to your immediate rush of Vengevines… since obviously
Surgical Extraction “sucks.” Â
Playing Chancellor of the Tangle just to hope to get a green mana on the first turn is generally kind of uninspired, though it will lead to some pretty
absurd games. For instance, just imagine the game where you have two in your hand, letting you Joraga Treespeaker or Cultivate on turn one. You’re very
quickly ramping up to actually playing them. This is to say nothing of dropping a Leatherback Baloth out the gate. Chancellor of the Tangle is actually
only my second favorite of the Chancellors, but we won’t be getting into my favorite of the cycle until Wednesday.
Fresh Meat is one of those anti—Day of Judgment cards that usually doesn’t pan out that well, but it’s certainly good at what it does. As long as
you hold Fresh Meat up, it’s going to make it hell for anyone trying to sweep your board (generally killing them outright). It’s more of a sideboard
card, but if you’re a Green Mage and people sweep your board, I highly recommend trying some of these, as it gives you a way to trump their trump.
Besides, it’s really not that hard to get great value from the card, even if it’s just in response to an Arc Trail. Just remember that it’s such a
glacially slow card that you don’t want to combine it with other slow plans.
I’m looking forward to hearing the world’s Reddest Mage, Patrick Sullivan, take on the new set before passing judgment on Mono-Red. Two cards that
immediately jump out at me, though, are Vulshok Refugee and Batterskull (as always). The Refugee is interesting because it’s kind of a sweet sideboard
card if enough people play red decks to warrant it. It’s important to remember that it’s miles from a Kor Firewalker, however. Not only does it come
down a turn slower, but it doesn’t gain the incremental life that makes Kor Firewalker so devastating. It is really appealing, however, that the
Refugee offers a very high impact sideboard card for a deck that traditionally doesn’t get the most value out of its board. Sometimes, all you want is
a guy that they can’t burn, and Refugee is certainly that. He also works especially well against Pyroclasm/Slagstorm. The more important change as a
result of New Phyrexia is going to be the need to combat Batterskull, a card that will singlehandedly decimate the archetype (and will be
Eldrazi Green is a strategy that people have been trying to bring back, as quick Ulamogs are allegedly decent against Caw-Blade. New Phyrexia actually
offers a variety of interesting new options to consider that do new things for such a deck. First, Karn the Liberated is actually a quite potent
seven-drop. He’s no Cruel Ultimatum, but honestly what is? Is he overrated? Well, not really anymore, as people are kind of realizing that he’s not
really a $50 mythic, but he’s still the best thing you can do for seven mana in the format. The same link that discussed Lashwrithe from above
discusses Karn, which can be found here.
Eldrazi Green will certainly not be the only strategy that uses Karn, though it may the only one that considers Karn to be their “early” play.
Gut Shot is another interesting new dimension, giving your green deck a “cheaper” Hornet Sting (if you’re into that sort of thing). Killing a Steppe
Lynx or Plated Geopede or even a Lotus Cobra is at least worth considering (though unlikely to make the cut). Shrine of Boundless Growth, on the other
hand, is basically the enabler for the Mage who is looking for more than four Awakening Zones. I’m generally not looking for the first four, but I do
see that it’s possible that if you knew you could play 7-8, you might have some new possible decks to explore, as now you can pretty reliably have one
every game. Awakening Zone offers a nice supply of blockers, but the mana was vulnerable to creature kill. Additionally, Shrine of Boundless Growth
gains a surprising number of additional counters from the casting of other green spells, though you only get the one use out of it. Basically, it was
tailor-made to cast Eldrazi (since how many Eldrazi do you really need to play to win?). I doubt it will catch on, but it’s a possibility.
Mono-W and G/W Quest decks have dropped in popularity lately, but they do gain a lot of new weapons. Obviously this is another Batterskull/Sword of War
and Peace deck, but they also gain Puresteel Paladin, which only has to draw a single card to be excellent. Metalcraft is relatively easy to assemble,
between Memnites, Ornithopters, equipment, Stoneforge Mystics, and so on. It’s nice to save all that mana for moving around Swords, but where you
really get paid is with an Argentum Armor that your opponent was fortunate enough to escape from (maybe using a Go for the Throat or some such). In
addition to being a massive upgrade over Kor Outfitter, Puresteel Paladin has so much intrinsic power that I can imagine people molding their decks
around it a bit more. As we have seen from Silvergill Adept, a two-power creature that draws a card can be absolutely incredible. Puresteel Paladin
requires you to jump through hoops, but the payoff is pretty big, and people who play Quest for the Holy Relic are generally not exactly afraid of a
Tempered Steel, or Hawkward I suppose, is another big winner with the new set. Hex Parasite and Porcelain Legionnaire are probably going straight in,
and Vault Skirge has chances. The most notable of these, the Legionnaire, gives you a two-drop that can actually outclass most creatures in combat,
while still getting powered up by your “tribal” stuff. In addition to the creature options, New Phyrexia also brings Dispatch to the table, which is
miles better than Journey to Nowhere in almost every scenario, except for stopping turn two Fauna Shamans. Being an instant and only one mana is just
huge and will go a long way towards making Hawkward an actual Tier 2 deck, rather than the fringe strategy it currently is. Â
One other card that could be used in a Tempered Steel deck, albeit one built very differently, is Whipflare. A Pyroclasm that doesn’t kill your own
guys is very exciting in creature mirrors, but it does mess with your ability to play Glint Hawk, a card many players will be reluctant to give up.
Additionally, while Mox Opal makes splashing easier than it normally would be, you still don’t have nearly the number of dual lands you do with blue.
Recently, some players have been experimenting with Big Red decks (Ponza without the land death, you could say…). Batterskull and Vulshok Refugee are
obviously options to consider, but I’d also take a look at Urabrask the Hidden. He isn’t as glamorous as a lot of fatties, but giving your Inferno
Titans haste can be backbreaking. Especially when the opponent’s last creature entered the battlefield tapped. Kuldotha Phoenix, Batterskull, and
Urabrask mean plenty of good options at the five spot to consider (not even counting Hoarding Dragon). You can’t go nuts on five-drops, especially
since you definitely want four Inferno Titans, but you don’t necessarily have to cap it at four.
Another Big Red strategy that saw some play but got pushed aside by Tezzeret was that of Machine Red. Machine Red is an artifact-heavy proliferate deck
that has the capability of doing very exciting things if you can get the machine running, but a long-term successful mix has not yet been found. Surge
Node is a very exciting new addition to both Machine Red and various Tezzeret decks. Using Voltaic Keys and Surge Nodes, not to mention Trinket Mages
as well as Contagion Clasp and Throne of Geth and maybe even Tezzeret’s Gambit, you can actually pretty reliably power up your Lux Cannons, Everflowing
Chalices, Conversion Chambers, Tumble Magnets, and Culling Daises. Where this is all going is hard to say, but there’s definitely some pretty intense
synergy at work here. I’d be concerned about the continued increase of artifact destruction on the horizon, but this is such a different strategy from
what people are used to that there are a lot of free wins to be had by using it against opponents who don’t know how to even play against it.
Pyromancer Ascension is an existing strategy, and it’s helped by Gitaxian Probe, but I suspect the printing of Deceiver Exarch is going to have such a
big impact on the archetype that it’s best viewed as a “new” deck, which we’ll examine Wednesday.
Various infect strategies also “exist”; however they are changing so much that I want to address them on Wednesday. The exception is probably Kibler’s
U/B Infect, which doesn’t gain a lot from Sword of War and Peace but might consider Corrupted Resolve, Despise, Tezzeret’s Gambit, Dismember, or maybe
Top 10 Standard Cards for Updating Existing Standard Strategies (Top 10 cards overall comes on Friday!):
7. Hex Parasite
6. Beast Within
This set is wild in that it has a ton of cool cards to try that are also good in nontraditional ways. The end of a stale season often causes players to
resort to imitation and to just play the best deck. The beginning of a new format? Well, that’s a time when innovation really shines. See you on
Wednesday, as we tackle new decks possible as a result of New Phyrexia!