Don’t miss Part 1 of Chapin’s Set Review!
Part 2: New Strategies with New Phyrexia
Scars of Mirrodin block has proven to be one of the stranger blocks, with so many build-around-me cards and so many unusual new tools to work with.
Many of the cards that are good are types of cards that have never been good (or at least this good) before. Figuring out how to use all of
these new tools is going to take some time and some testing, but if you’re like me, you love an opportunity to brew.
Today, we’re going to do quite a bit of brewing, as today’s topic is New Strategies with New Phyrexia (NPH). We’re going to focus on new types of decks
made possible by NPH’s incredibly intriguing card pool. Cards fitting into existing strategies were covered in Monday’s installment,here , though we’ll touch on a few cards today that are also possibilities for those decks. Many of these decks aren’t going to be ready
for tournament play but were designed to be jumping off points to get the creative juices flowing.
New Phyrexia continues with the Johnny Love, enabling a multitude of new combo decks. Not all of these strategies can take center stage, but it will be
interesting to see what kind of effect all the strange and different combo decks will have on the format.
The first new archetype we’ll be examining today revolves around one of the most compelling build-around-me’s in the set, Birthing Pod, to set up a new
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 4 Soul's Attendant
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 2 Vengevine
- 1 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 1 Viridian Emissary
- 3 Suture Priest
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Deceiver Exarch
Let’s start with the basic combo:
Turn 1: Land, Soul’s Attendant
Turn 2: Land, Leonin Relic-Warder
Turn 3: Land, Phyrexian Metamorph
The Metamorph enters play as a copy of Relic-Warder, so you get an “enters the battlefield” trigger to exile an artifact (or enchantment). Target
itself with the ability (which is legal, since Phyrexian Metamorph says that it stays an artifact), and gain a life from Soul’s Attendant. Once the
Metamorph exiles itself, it will cause a trigger that will return it to the battlefield. When that trigger resolves, you can have it return to the
battlefield as a Relic-Warder again, gaining another life, and beginning the loop anew. Repeat this a billion times, then just stop choosing to use the
Relic-Warder’s ability (or target something else or have the Metamorph come back as something else). An arbitrary amount of life goes a long way, and
many people will be stone-cold drawing dead; however, we must take great care, as there are a few ways we can lose, despite this massive advantage,
namely decking, poison, and a bigger combo.
Ulamog basically ensures that you’ll never be decked by traditional mill or even just the game getting locked up. However, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a
pretty popular card, from what I hear, and he has an ultimate they never survive. When you play against a blue deck, it’s important to start moving the game in a direction where you’ll be able to continually
attack Jace. A combination of Day of Judgments and Gideons could potentially make this very annoying, but you do have another plan available to you. If you can set it up, Ajani’s Pridemate can be looped infinitely, ending
games in a hurry (and letting you win through the mirror).
Playing against a larger combo, such as Splinter Twin + Deceiver Exarch, follows a similar path, though usually that combo can be interacted with more
easily. In order for them to combo off through a billion life, they’re going to need to get every Soul’s Attendant and Suture Priest off of the table
(which does get easier after game one when they add cards like Pyroclasm). Additionally, Spellskite can provide additional disruption and protect your
combo and is generally an excellent card, which we’ll be discussing at greater length below.
Infect is particularly challenging, as your combo is basically useless against them. Sideboarding in Melira, Sylvok Outcast turns you combo “back on,”
though only temporarily, as creature removal can still shut you out. Melira is commonly thought of with Phyrexian Unlife, providing a soft lock that’s
particularly effective against opponents with limited creature removal. I don’t think that combo is good enough here, but you’re probably still going
to want some Melira action to combat Infect.
Phyrexian Unlife is a strange card, appearing to be life gain on the surface but combining in unusual ways with Ad Nauseam—type cards (cards that
make you lose life) as well as with Near-Death Experience and Phyrexian mana cards that let you quickly knock your score to one. This tactic also works
very well with Soul Conduit, if you just have mana for days.
Both Birthing Pod and Fauna Shaman are used to assemble the “Life Combo,” though both have backup plans. Fauna Shaman can also run the classic
Vengevine plan, while Birthing Pod calls for a little more improvisation. Some of the best creatures to sacrifice are Viridian Emissary, Pilgrim’s Eye,
Trinket Mage, and out of the sideboard, Blade Splicer, Precursor Golem, Viridian Corrupter, and Acidic Slime. Â
Trinket Mage is just a way to find the one Voltaic Key, which is primarily to Pod twice a turn. While the Key is not great without the Pod, at least it
can be used to untap artifact creatures like Pilgrim’s Eye and Phyrexian Metamorph.
Deceiver Exarch is another clever three-drop that can be used to skip straight from a two-drop into a four-drop (namely the Metamorph), letting you
combo people out of nowhere. If you have the mana, you can Birthing Pod your two-drop into a Deceiver, then untap the Pod, and sac the Deceiver, moving
straight to the Metamorph.
This is definitely the sort of deck that’s going to require a lot of tuning, but hopefully this can be a useful jumping-off point. It’s very possible
to focus on the Blade Splicer/Precursor Golem aspect of the deck (possibly including some Master Splicer action as the next stop on the curve). For
more on some specific Birthing Pod tactics, I recommend rereading Gavin’s article here, as well
as mine here . I’d like to hit a couple other Birthing Pod possibilities before we move on.
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 4 Soul's Attendant
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 4 Suture Priest
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Blade Splicer
Here, we’re trying to take advantage of the natural overlap between Soul Sisters and PodLife. It’s pretty strange to be playing an awkward aggro deck
with an infinite life combo, but at least you can put enough pressure on people to close out games quickly, particularly if you have an arbitrarily
large Ajani’s Pridemate. I really like how well this more aggressive build is able to take advantage of Suture Priest (a card that I think is going to
surprise some people with how strong it is). Blood Seeker saw a little play, and Suture Priest is nearly twice the card.
Speaking of Vampire action, here’s a build of relatively traditional (mostly) Mono-B Vampires, also capitalizing on Birthing Pod.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 1 Vampire Nighthawk
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Captivating Vampire
- 1 Skinrender
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
The ability to turn one of your one-drops into a Bloodghast (which is often your best card), then sacrifice Bloodghast every turn to create an unending
stream of Captivating Vampires is quite formidable. The fetchlands help find the green mana to operate it without continually paying life; however the
Phyrexian mana cost ensures that we won’t get color-screwed (as we can always just pay our way out of it). I’ve opted for enough green mana to
conceivably sideboard a light green splash, if needed.
Birthing Pod also works quite well with Kalastria Highborn, giving you a sacrifice outlet that continually furthers your game plan. Sometimes, this
game plan is just upgrading your guys into as many “Combo Pieces” as possible (Highborn/Bloodghast) to let you drain your opponent out, while other
times, you might switch into toolbox mode (and the toolbox, here, could definitely be expanded quite a bit; just remember to keep the deck focused).
It’s important to remember that Birthing Pod only gets creatures that cost the exact right amount, so your Bloodghasts are only turning into
Captivating Vampires and Nighthawk, here, and Lacerators/Pulse Trackers become whichever two-drop you might want.
Geth’s Verdict is an interesting new addition to black’s arsenal, not only as additional good creature kill (which it is) but also as a form of added
reach. It may be that the extra point you get in here and there makes it worth replacing Go for the Throat entirely, even in the main. Additionally,
Geth’s Verdict gives you more answers to Mirran Crusader and Sword of Feast and Famine—equipped creatures.
Some Lashwrithes might need to find their way in here. Black has so many new options with New Phyrexia that it will be very exciting trying them all.
My love for black decks is no secret, and we’ll definitely be discussing them in greater detail, but before we go any further, we really need to face
the elephant in the room.
Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin
This combination is going to revolutionize Standard in much the same way Sword of Feast and Famine did, leading to a cascading series of changes as the
entire format adjusts to the new world order. We first discussed the combination here. Since that
time, PyroTwin has dominated Magic-League, though it’s far from clear that Pyromancer Ascension is the best complement to the Deceiver-Twin combo. It
would seem that people are coming to realize just how strong the Deceiver combo is, and the real question is what to support it with (rather than
whether or not it is “good enough”).
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 3 Burst Lightning
- 4 Into the Roil
- 4 Pyromancer Ascension
- 3 Spell Pierce
- 4 See Beyond
- 4 Splinter Twin
- 4 Preordain
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
Deceiver Exarch curves perfectly with Splinter Twin to set up a turn four kill. While the combo is vulnerable to creature kill, enchantment removal,
bounce, discard, permission, and some proactive permanents (like Urabrask the Hidden and Torpor Orb), it’s brutally fast. Now, there is a serious price
to pay for playing a non-interactive strategy (such as many old forms of Valakut).
Deceiver Exarch is a far superior creature to Pestermite (the original Splinter Twin combo card), and that combo was never even Standard legal. The
four toughness makes him far more durable. Add to this just how great a defender a Horned Turtle can be sometimes (especially as a surprise), and
you’re talking about a pretty sweet “combo piece.” Deceiver blocks Stoneforge with a Sword quite well, and the ability to surprise tap something can be
extremely useful, tactically. Â
It’s important to consider all your options with Deceiver, including the untap option. For instance, imagine someone Memoricides you. Deceiver in
response, untap your Island, and Spell Pierce it. Now you are free to untap and combo off, easy peasy. Some other great uses for Deceiver Exarch
-Tapping a Zektar Shrine Expedition token
-Keeping someone a mana short of casting something this turn (which you probably know they have from Gitaxian Probe)
-Stopping two attackers this turn (tap and block)
-Making a second red (unlikely to matter much, and be careful to not get surprised by summoning sickness)
-Tapping the opponent’s Spell Pierce mana
-Surprise blocking Porcelain Legionnaire (and tons of other creatures)
-Making your sideboard sweepers more effective (more Horned Turtle duty)
-Getting a surprise point in against planeswalkers (e.g., tap their Mountain that was Koth’ed, then untap, and combine with a Bolt to kill him)
The Pyromancer Ascension strategy has been a cantrip short, ever since Ponder rotated out, though despite this, has seen a fair bit of play. Gitaxian
Probe is a fantastic new addition that may not dig as well as Ponder but offers a number of great elements. Gitaxian Probe is one of the most
interesting cards in New Phyrexia, as well as one of the most dangerous. A sorcery-speed Peek is very nearly as strong as the previously borderline
cantrip. The alternate cost requiring no mana, however, is a major upgrade. This basically makes Gitaxian Probe into a split card, where it’s either a
better Street Wraith (exciting in its own right) or a Peek. Getting to look at your opponent’s hand in either case is fantastic for combo decks,
letting you know if the coast is clear to “go off,” as well as just gaining information on how to sculpt the game. Besides, it has to make you smile
thinking about Gitaxian Probing after playing Halimar Depths (no waiting!).
We will be discussing Gitaxian Probe more on Friday, as it works very well with Storm combo decks, decks with ‘top of the library’ tutors, decks with
Cabal Therapy or Meddling Mage, and more. Today, though, it provides a very cheap way to cycle through your deck and trigger Pyromancer
Ascension. While I recommend that combo decks always consider this card, it does seem like people are trying to put it in too many decks. There’s
little reason why someone’s Jund deck would want this card, for example. Paying two life is not free. Additionally, it hurts your ability to
mulligan a little, as you don’t know what the card is, when you see your opening hand.
On the flipside, Gitaxian Probe is at least a consideration for other non-combo strategies, such as U/B Control or Caw-Blade, if only you can be
disciplined enough to find a little room for a couple. This is a card that’s sure to be hotly debated; some players will argue to cut it from
others’ decks, while others will argue that it should be added to many that it is not in. At the end of the day though, it probably won’t really matter that much, except in combo decks (where it will be excellent).
Another card to consider, which I’m not currently sold on, is Tezzeret’s Gambit. I love the card and will look to use it in a variety of places. I’m
not sure it’s the best fit here because you aren’t really taking advantage of its proliferate ability. Yes, you’ll get to add a second Ascension
counter sometimes, but is this enough? It may be, but we have so many good options to try; we didn’t even have room for Foresee here, which is just
fantastic for digging. It should be noted that if you have a Tezzeret’s Gambit in your yard and cast another with Ascension out, you’ll get the counter
first, then proliferate, which is pretty sweet. Normally, I’d love to split between See Beyonds, Foresees, Tezzeret’s Gambits, and maybe an Into the
Roil, but the nature of Ascension is that you really do want to have as many playsets as you can for consistency. I see a lot of people trimming the
fourth Splinter Twin, but I seriously doubt this is what you want to be doing. This combo is so strong when you draw it naturally that I’d really want
to maximize my chances of that happening.
One of the biggest advantages to playing both Pyromancer Ascension and Deceiver-Twin is the redundancy. Pyromancer always worked much better when you
had the Ascension turn two but could struggle if you didn’t. Now you can just set up the Twin combo instead. If you draw the Twin combo, just win that
way; if not, it’s as if you’re just playing Ascension, though now with access to Gitaxian Probe. On the other hand, one of the major problems with
playing Ascension with Twin is that the combo pieces themselves don’t help each other. Another exciting direction to take Deceiver-Twin is Grixis.
- 3 Duress
- 3 Into the Roil
- 4 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 2 See Beyond
- 4 Splinter Twin
- 4 Preordain
- 4 Gitaxian Probe
Black gives us access to discard, and the discard spells legal in Standard are just better than the counterspells, at the moment. Additionally, moving
away from Ascension gives us some really good alternative lines of deckbuilding. After I talked with PV recently, we are very much on the same page
regarding this strategy, and this is at the top of my list of decks to consider in the near future. I agree with PV completely that Spellskite is just
awesome, and in fact, I’d go even further and play the full four. He does a ton of stuff for you, including protecting:
–Deceiver Exarch from a removal spell (though not Combust or Go for the Throat)
–Splinter Twin from a removal spell (though not Demystify)
-You from an opponent trying to Deceiver-Twin you (since you can just take their Splinter Twin!)
-You from Stoneforge Mystic and any of the Swords
-You from early beats like Goblin Guide, comboing well with sideboard sweepers
-Your Jaces from creature assaults (letting us get away with no Bolts or Doom Blades main)
There’s kind of an interesting dance that takes place in the Deceiver-Twin mirror if both players have Spellskites. Into the Roil is usually going to
be the way out, but the contrast between Doom Blade and Go for the Throat is amusing. Go for the Throat can’t be redirected to the Spellskite, meaning
it can reliably protect you from their combo, but it can’t help you force through your own. Doom Blade can take out the Spellskite stopping your combo
but gets stopped by Spellskite if they’re trying to combo off.
One risk of running Spellskite, though, is that it gets worse if maindeck artifact kill picks up significantly. Personally, I think it may take people
at least until the next Standard GP before they really start going this route. Most likely, ubiquitous artifacts won’t really catch on for about four
to six weeks, as people are slow to change their habits. Cards like Spellskite make Crush a lot less appealing. Is Shatter really out of the question?
The right mix of card draw is definitely up in the air, but I like See Beyond’s spot on the curve, and it does give us good value out of dead cards
later (like discard spells, extra land, or extra copies of cards you need only one of). I considered Liliana Vess, but the problem with Liliana as a
tutor is always “If you have a Liliana, what more do you need?”
There are plenty of other homes for Deceiver-Twin, such as a modified RUG deck. Such a deck would consider Gitaxian Probe, Beast Within, Dismember, and
Spellskite, as well as all the old RUG classics. Watch for RUG master Michael Jacob discussion on the strategy. Regardless of what home turns out to
be the best for Deceiver-Twin, it’s the real deal and will revolutionize the format. It’s not nearly as unfun to combat as Valakut, despite being
several turns faster. Valakut just ignores almost any attempt to interact, whereas one can interact with Deceiver-Twin in countless ways and by colors
besides blue (which is to say, all of them). Whatever deck you’re building, it’s crucial to have a plan and a lot of solutions to the Deceiver-Twin
combo (since you really want to see an answer in your first ten cards, every game).
While it’s not strictly speaking a “combo deck,” Bloodchief Ascension is another major winner from New Phyrexia. The other Ascension needs
three counters to trigger, rather than just two, making it a more appealing proliferate target. Combine this with Volt Charge’s natural synergy with
your strategy, and we’re on our way.
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Bloodchief Ascension
- 4 Burst Lightning
- 4 Searing Blaze
- 4 Staggershock
- 4 Volt Charge
- 2 Mindcrank
Playing a more extreme B/R Vampires sort of game, Bloodchief decks tend to function more like Lava Spike decks. A keepable hand is generally going to
involve at least one creature or Bloodchief Ascension, and too many lands might as well be a mulligan. The ideal curve is:
Turn 1- Land, creature
Turn 2- Land, Bloodchief Ascension, attack, and get a counter, then Bolt/Burst on opponent’s turn for another counter.
Turn 3- Land, Mindcrank, attack to trigger Ascension. Now they’re basically locked, and the first time they take damage or whenever a card goes to
their graveyard, they mill their entire library and lose that much life.
Why do we only play two Mindcranks, then? Well, we don’t exactly have “library manipulation” to find the Bloodchief Ascension, and without it,
Mindcrank is basically dead. It’s very possible that we don’t even want the two Mindcranks that are in here, as we certainly don’t need them
(an active Ascension is pretty good on its own), but it does offer us a way to go really big, so it might be worth it. I’d be way more excited about
Mindcrank if it had any other backup functionality at all (like sacrificing it to Kuldotha Rebirth or Artillerize, but those cards don’t really fit
into this build).
Volt Charge is a sweet addition, as it generally adds both the second and the third counter. Tezzeret’s Gambit could also be considered, though it’s a
little slow for a strategy as suicidally berserk as this. If one added the Gambit, it would be worth considering cutting some number of Swamps (and the
Verdant Catacombs) for some Darkslick Shores. It interferes with your Dragonskull Summit, but it does give you a way to backdoor the Gambit if your
life is low.
Another possible direction to take this strategy is to incorporate Immolating Souleater, and possibly Kiln Fiend or even Death’s Shadow. Immolating
Souleater is one of the most exciting new creatures, capable of ending games really fast. For reference, here is the Immolating Souleater deckdiscussed last week .
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 3 Fling
- 4 Burst Lightning
- 4 Zektar Shrine Expedition
- 4 Searing Blaze
- 4 Assault Strobe
- 1 Panic Spellbomb
Outside of the use of Immolating Souleater as another way to set up the turn three kill, it’s also important to note the use of Dismember in the
sideboard. Dismember provides an excellent answer to Phyrexian Crusader, Kor Firewalker, or Vulshok Refuge, not to mention giving us more game against
While we’re on the topic of Ascensions, Luminarch Ascension and Beastmaster Ascension have already seen plenty of play but are both worth remembering
in the days to come. Luminarch Ascension is an excellent choice for proliferate, meaning Tezzeret’s Gambit could be a great fit. Beastmaster, on the
other hand, needs too many counters to really profit from proliferate; however it does work well with Eldrazi Spawn, if one were going the dedicated
Fresh Meat route.
This leaves only the redheaded stepchild, the black sheep, the blue Ascension. Archmage Ascension was heralded by some as the worst card in Zendikar,
as the ability to tutor instead of draw is good, but if you’ve drawn multiple cards a turn for five turns, how much more do you really need? Well,
there are a ton of great cards for such a deck, if only a resourceful deckbuilder can crack the code of how many of each to use.
Tezzeret’s Gambit is excellent, as it triggers the Ascension twice in the same turn, as does Steady Progress. Additionally, they both power up your
Everflowing Chalices to help fuel all this card drawing.
As a warning, this is a very rough draft. A deck this radical and strange is going to take some loving and some tuning before it’s ready for
tournament battle, but this should provide some food for thought. The ability to power up Everflowing Chalices with all the proliferating can make
casting Emrakul easier than one might first imagine. Inkmoth Nexus only needs to connect once to put the opponent on a short clock from proliferating
poison counters. Venser and Jace also provide excellent ways to gain an advantage or win the game outright. It’s hard to say which of these plans
you’ll actually want, as that mix needs to be worked out; it’s also necessary to balance the defensive cards, the card draw, the bullets, and more.
Luminarch Ascension could also be a possibility (and certainly out of the board). Throne of Geth/Ichor Wellspring takes you on another route entirely,
with Lux Cannon, Mycosynth Wellspring, Phyrexia’s Core, and more all fighting for a spot. While I’m skeptical that Archmage Ascension is really where
you want to be, the prospect of combining Venser with proliferate is very, very appealing and takes a lot less work.
The advent of Mycosynth Wellspring opens some interesting doors, deckbuilding-wise. Now that we have access to so many great artifacts to sacrifice, we
can actually evaluate sacrificing artifacts as a “good thing” in the right decks. For instance:
This is a very rough build designed to highlight some possibilities. If this style appeals to you, it’s probably a good idea to identify the elements
that most appeal to you and focus on those, trimming some of the other action. Once you can use Kuldotha Rebirth, Artillerize, Throne of Geth, and
Phyrexia’s Core to add value (as opposed to losing it), you’re have something worth working for. Shrine of Burning Rage is okay here and does kill
pro-red creatures, as well as end games, but it’s actually better suited to Mono-Red aggro decks. I definitely recommend Patrick Sullivan commentary on updating Red decks.
As always, sneaking in an Inkmoth hit can be game-winning in proliferate decks. Necropede is actually another fine card to consider, as it plays good
defense or sneaks an early hit in. One of my favorite cards to proliferate, though, is Lux Cannon. This is pretty much the core “machine” to build with
a machine deck, though there’s a lot of allure to being an even more dedicated Cannon deck.
Another sketch for brainstorming purposes, this build almost surely doesn’t have enough defense. I wonder, though, how turbo can one go with setting up
Lux Cannon and just proliferating and untapping it? Will anyone find a way to make it work before maindeck artifact hate appears everywhere? Is
hybridizing this sort of strategy with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas the solution? After all, if you can proliferate easily, maybe you can set up a
twenty-point Drain Life pretty quickly. I almost wonder if these artifact decks go far enough to want Semblance Anvil. I don’t recommend the Anvil
“just to do it,” but there is some appeal to something like:
Turn 1 Land
Turn 2 Land, Everflowing Chalice
Turn 3 Land, Anvil (don’t tap the Chalice), then Ichor Wellspring for free, Throne of Geth for free, sac the Wellspring, setting the Chalice to two,
which could then be used to cast Lux Cannon, assuming you don’t have even more sweet action.
It’s not necessarily the same deck, but Myr Superion is also an interesting option for Anvil decks, as you can just play them for free. I wonder what a
dedicated Myr deck would look like? Myr Galvanizer, Myr Battlesphere, Myr Turbine, and Myr Reservoir certainly provide a lot of ways to get paid for
playing Myr. Can we really just fill out the deck with some mana Myr? It would be easy to add one or two support colors, but which? White offers
Tempered Steel and Dispatch. Red offers Whipflare and Galvanic Blast. Blue and black offer Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, as well as Preordain, permission,
Jace, discard, and removal.
All right, enough of the crazy stuff for a few. Let’s get back to something a little more tangible. Remember though, the purpose of today’s decks isn’t
to show what the most likely best decks are, but rather these decks are thought experiments on what’s possible as we search for the next big
thing. With our deck tuning caps on, we’re going to want to be a lot more concerned about what is “best” and what ideas are “good.” As long as we’re
focused on innovation, however, we need not be overly concerned with trivial matters like “reality.” Many of the best ideas are far from
Speaking of realistic, let’s get back to my guilty pleasure, Mono-Black.
- 2 Duress
- 4 Sign in Blood
- 3 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 2 Go for the Throat
- 3 Lashwrithe
- 3 Despise
- 4 Geth's Verdict
For more recent looks at Mono-B, checkÂ here,here, andhere .Â (And this is just in the past month. I am aware that I have a problem…)
Exploring black decks is very interesting, as there are so many ways you can build them and so many great new cards that you can’t possibly fit them
all into the same deck. Here are my top 15 cards for Mono-B in New Phyrexia:
12. Life’s Finale
11. Glistening Oil
7. Hex Parasite
While Dismember is probably in the top 5 cards in the set, it loses a lot of utility in Mono-B, as there are better options once you fully embrace the
dark side. We’ve already discussed half of those cards in the three Mono-B links above, so let’s just address the others briefly.
Entomber Exarch is deceptively strong but isn’t getting much spotlight on account of being in the same set as Phyrexian Obliterator/Lashwrithe.
Gravedigger has seen some Constructed play over the years, and the Duress option is exceptional. Obviously, hitting Jace and Gideon is the primary
plan, and when you combine him with Despise, Inquisition, and Duress, you can really rip apart an opponent’s hand fast. Discard combined with creature
removal and some great threats make Mono-Black an obvious foil to Deceiver-Twin. You can attack from so many angles, put a lot of pressure on
damage-wise, and have access to annoying hate cards like Surgical Extraction (turn one Despise/Inquisition/Duress, then Extract their Deceiver or
Splinter Twin…). Yes, this is the exact rationale that people use on Jace, but the thing is few decks need Jace to win. Dedicated Splinter
Twin decks are generally going to have a hell of a time winning without the combo. Pyromancer Ascension or Jace give them backups of course, but this
does make life annoying for them.
The other thing I love about Entomber Exarch (outside of just being another fabulous mediocre black two-for-one) is that he doesn’t make your
opponent’s removal good. There are only two types of creatures in Magic:
Baneslayers are creatures where the value is in the creature itself. Mulldrifters are creatures that give you value outside of the creature.
Hero of Bladehold
Birds of Paradise
Wall of Omens
Sea Gate Oracle
Chancellor of the Forge
Gatekeeper of Malakir
There are a few creatures that are truly both, which are quite rare and are normally identifiable by the word “Titan” appearing on the card. Emeria
Angel, Cunning Sparkmage, Oracle of Mul Daya, and Ulamog are examples. A good rule of thumb is: “If you care about killing it, it’s a Baneslayer.” If
killing it loses value, it tends to be a Mulldrifter. Drawing extra cards has nothing to do with being a Mulldrifter, as Consecrated Sphinx, Dark
Confidant, and Scroll Thief are all Baneslayers. Card advantage is not a must for a card to be a Mulldrifter. If you’re playing an aggressive deck,
most creatures with haste can end up being Mulldrifters, since you can often get at least one hit in before it dies. Understanding the difference
between Baneslayers and Mulldrifters is a crucial element of high-level deckbuilding.
Sometimes removal is very popular in formats. Other times, it’s not. Still, at other times, almost everyone has a little but not a ton.
The common strategies for removing creatures need to be considered when deciding the sorts of creatures we want to play. Often, we strive to play only Mulldrifters (at least maindeck) so as to make opponent’s removal poor. Once you start playing with Baneslayers, the more you have, the
better they get. The extreme example of this was Zvi’s Mythic deck from San Diego, last year.
See, once you start playing with Baneslayers, their removal spells are going to be good, but if you play enough Baneslayers, hopefully they run out of
removal. This is not to say you need twenty, or even more than four. Rather, this is to say that percentage-wise, the more Baneslayers you play, the
better each one is. The most common mistake I see novice deckbuilders make regarding Baneslayers and Mulldrifters is mixing them too much. Now, there
is no problem with adding Mulldrifters to Baneslayers, but it doesn’t work the other way.
If you need a certain Baneslayer for your deck to work, such as Fauna Shaman or Lotus Cobra, you’re going to be vulnerable to creature kill; and that’s
okay. Once you have some Baneslayers in your deck, there’s no harm adding more (if they are right for your deck). However, you don’t need to play all Baneslayers, since Mulldrifters can be added to any deck without clashing.
The problem is if you try to do it the other way. If your deck is all Mulldrifters, then creature removal is bad against you. Once you add any true
Baneslayers (that is, Baneslayers that are not also Mulldrifters), you’re opening yourself up to all of your opponent’s removal. This is not an
absolute deal-breaker by any means, but all too often, people recklessly throw Baneslayers into decks that didn’t have any.
All I’m saying is: take a moment and ask yourself if you care about opening yourself up to removal.
I’ve been making decks with Vampire Nighthawk and Phyrexian Obliterator, meaning opponent’s removal will be good anyway (hopefully mitigated by the
discard). There’s an alternative, however. If you cut the Nighthawks and Obliterators, you can actually move towards a build with no good removal
targets. Entomber Exarch is excellent for such a purpose, and Phyrexian Rager can replace Nighthawk. Batterskull can be a fine alternative for life
gain, since if the Germ dies, you can still move around the Equipment or bounce it. I can very easily imagine a future where people play so much
maindeck good removal to stop Deceiver-Twin that Nighthawk and Obliterator take splash damage.
Keep in mind that not playing Baneslayers main doesn’t carry over to the sideboard. In fact, sideboarding Baneslayers is the oldest trick in the book
(and one of the best). As such, even if you didn’t have Nighthawks or Obliterators main, I’d strongly consider sideboarding them.
Caress of Phyrexia has a lot of depth to it, doing some things that few cards come close to accomplishing. First of all, it’s more card advantage than
black mages usually have access to, these days. Against most opponents, the poison counters will be irrelevant, and the life loss is not actually that
much. Five mana to draw three is decent, but it’s the versatility that really makes the card shine. Finishing someone off with the three damage is
certainly reasonable, but much more exciting is giving someone three extra poison counters. It’s almost as if your Jace’s Ingenuity can be used to deal
six damage to an opponent, giving a healthy amount of reach to semi-infect decks, such as those with Phyrexian Crusader and Inkmoth Nexus.
Glistening Oil is a subtle card that a lot of people are sleeping on. It can eat away at creatures like Squadron Hawk and Birds of Paradise; however,
it does have a pretty major flaw that might prove too costly. Whatever creature you put it on is going to live another turn (or a lot more turns
depending on what kind of creature it is), and for many of the most important creatures to kill, you really just want to kill them right now (*ahem*
Lotus Cobra *ahem*). That fact combined with its slightly awkward dis-synergy with Edict effects has me hesitant (especially since Geth’s Verdict is in
the same set).
However, there is more to the card. If you can profit from the ability to give a creature infect, this card can turn into a star. For instance, if you
have Immolating Souleater, Glistening Oil is basically the same as an Assault Strobe but can actually be decent removal when you don’t have the combo,
instead of a bad Giant Growth. Now what if you were playing a Phyrexian Crusader/Inkmoth Nexus deck that also happened to contain Lashwrithe and
Batterskull? These powerful Equipment work great with those cards but are strong enough threats that they can win on their own (making them fine for
the semi-infect hybrid). A surprise Glistening Oil can make a Germ lethal out of nowhere.
Chancellor of the Dross is appealing in that a 6/6 flying, lifelink creature for seven is actually not a bad deal at all. As far as Baneslayers go,
that’s pretty respectable. Once you add the ability to drain three at the start of the game for no mana or cards, we’re getting into territory where
you’re getting tons of value that’s generally very hard to capitalize on. That’s really the challenge with the Chancellors, to build a deck that can
actually take advantage of the value of having them in your opening hand as well as their value as a fatty. There are so many good finishers in black
that it’s very possible that Chancellor of the Dross will be overshadowed, but he could also just be jammed into decks looking for a non-artifact
victory condition, perhaps in Block.
I will say, however, if you have a Chancellor of the Dross in your opening hand, it really does go a long way towards helping you survive against an
aggro deck long enough to get the Chancellor on to battlefield. Wurmcoil Engine, Batterskull, and Vampire Nighthawk all provide an awful lot of
On the topic of the Chancellors, the green one has gotten all the hype as a result of how mind-numbingly obviously it combines with Fauna Shaman
(giving you something great to do with both “halves”). It gives you mana (something obviously good) and can be cast easily by the decks that would want
it (thanks to cards like Joraga Treespeaker and Elvish Archdruid). A 6/7 vigilance, reach isn’t the sexiest beast on the runway, but those numbers are
not the worst for a cost that’s actually pretty obtainable for green decks.
Chancellor of the Forge is my personal favorite of the Chancellors. People seem to be sleeping on him, but that’s mostly because he’s good in a way
that other cards haven’t been before. It’s easy to think of him as just a Memnite with haste or a bad Grave Titan, but the fact that he is BOTH at the
same time is hard for people to evaluate and figure out how to use.
He’s obviously awesome in your opening hand, giving you a zero-mana creature with haste and a cantrip. Why a cantrip? You get the hasty
Memnite, and you have the Chancellor in your hand. A hasty Memnite cantrip is worth almost three mana, which is a lot of value… assuming you
value the fatty as a card. The trick to using the Chancellor is putting him in a deck that appreciates a cantrip hasty Memnite, as well as the fatty,
so that it’s like an automatic two-for-one. Most people are trying to jam him into Kuldotha Red types, but that’s probably a mistake, as they can’t
really take advantage of the fatty half. Then, if you draw the Chancellor later, it sucks (though the hasty Memnite dream might be so awesome that
people do it anyway).
If you draw the Chancellor on turn six or seven, he’s generally going to be a great draw. He does provide some card advantage; haste is a great
ability, and if you play a bunch of tokens, mana creatures, or Mulldrifter types, you might end up getting a pretty major effect when you play him.
What’s interesting to me is that in the right deck, he’s amazing as one of your first seven cards, as well as any cards past twelve. That leaves a very
small window where he’s not an excellent draw. Even during those few cards, however, he isn’t dead. He’s still a fatty that you’re getting ready to
cast. A few mana creatures can make that critical turn come sooner than later. In addition to the usual accelerators, there are a few other types that
are kind of exciting.
One of the most interesting Chancellor of the Forge enablers is Garruk Wildspeaker. He curves perfectly into the turn five Chancellor (or turn four if
you had anything else). To make things even more appealing, he’s threatening Overrun next turn, letting you get paid big for all those tokens.
Additionally, Garruk is a card that plays well with lots of little dorks like Sylvan Ranger, Lotus Cobra, Birds of Paradise, and so on, while still
working great with the Chancellor as a fatty.
An obvious new way to get to the Chancellor is Geosurge. It’s a bit unwieldy, but if you have a few ways to spend it, it’s still a Black Lotus worth of
value. I certainly wouldn’t want Chancellor of the Forge to be the only thing I was doing with my Geosurge if I played it, but that does make for a very exciting turn four. Goblin Bushwhacker is another possible use of Geosurge, as is Inferno Titan (fine, waste a mana…) and even Urabrask
plus a one- or two-drop. Koth of the Hammer could easily fit into such a deck or even just help enable the Chancellor without Geosurge (thanks to the
-2 ability). It’s possible that this actually ends up having a lot of overlap with the inevitable Urabrask the Hidden + Inferno Titan deck. If you’re
going to play the Chancellor in a Kuldotha Red style of deck, it’s probably best done in a build featuring four Koth of the Hammers.
Okay, getting back to black, Enslave is not strictly new; however, this is a format with a lot more fatties than that of its original
printing. Six is a pretty big commitment of mana (when you could get a Grave Titan or Wurmcoil or Massacre Wurm), but it does add a nice dimension to
black’s game. I’m generally a fan of cards that do something the color couldn’t previously do. Enslave is pretty awful against most Mulldrifters, but
it might be the perfect tool against the right Baneslayers (including Titans).
Sheoldred, Whispering One (She…Old…Red) is a pretty exciting fatty in terms of the impact she has on the board. She is pure Baneslayer, as a single
removal spell ruins your fun (assuming it can remove a 6/6 black creature), but her ability to take over a game is rivaled by few creatures in the
game. Reya Dawnbringer was good enough for tournament play, and Sheoldred kills a creature every turn on top of that. She’s an obvious choice for
reanimation-style decks if such a deck materializes. Still, she is so reasonably costed that I could see her seeing play in a Debtors’ Knell sort of
situation, as a one-of in the right deck. She may look like a casual card, but I predict she sees tournament play.
What sort of Mono-Black deck to make is far from obvious, but whatever it is needs to address the inevitable issue of “Why aren’t you just playing
Jace?” It’s so easy to add four Darkslick Shores, four Creeping Tar Pits, four Drowned Catacombs, and maybe a tiny bit more blue mana, so why aren’t
you? The painful truth is that it might just be better to play B/u, even if Jace (and probably Preordain) are your only cards. If you want to avoid
this fate, then the burden is on you to justify why you want Swamps instead of those cards. That’s a big part of what draws me to cards like
Lashwrithe. Lashwrithe is a very strong card that actually pays you for not playing Jace.
Mono-Black Aggro is going to be just fine, thanks to the ultra-aggressive Vampire tribe, but it’s possible for Mono-Black Control to make a comeback if
creative deckbuilders find a way to address a few key issues:
1) MBC has traditionally had a weakness to planeswalkers. Despise is going to help a lot, but you also gain Hex Parasite. Lashwrithe can work quite
well as a form of “haste.”
2) MBC has generally only succeeded when it has had good card draw. Necropotence, Skeletal Scrying, Phyrexian Arena, and Dark Confidant are all
successful card sources from days gone by. Sign in Blood is great but not enough. If you can’t find enough card advantage, you better be pretty sure
you’re doing something else worth doing.
3) MBC has been without a good four-drop for a while. Abyssal Persecutor is still an option, and with Geth’s Verdict and Go for the Throat, you have
more ways than ever to kill him. Lashwrithe, Phyrexian Obliterator, and Entomber Exarch are all great new additions, meaning that Persecutor’s drawback
is definitely no longer a weakness for black decks. The burden is still on the black mage to prove that his or her deck isn’t better off with Jace,
Overcome these three obstacles, and you’ll have invented a new major archetype in Standard.
Mono-Black can take more forms than just Vampires and MBC, however. For instance:
- 22 Swamp
- 4 Inkmoth Nexus
Here we see a sort of Infect/MBC hybrid. Phyrexian Crusader is an awesome enough card that it will entice players to play hybrids, though keep in mind
he’s a bit worse with the printing of Dismember for red and white mages. I’ve opted to not use creatures like Plague Stinger here, as I want every
creature to be a good defender (keeping in line with the MBC theme). We don’t take advantage of the life loss from Geth’s Verdict, but the ability to
kill creatures with Sword of Feast and Famine might be enough to pull us away from Go for the Throat. Lashwrithe is a fine man in his own right but can
be used as a very powerful enhancement for your guys. For instance, a turn three Crusader followed by a turn four Lashwrithe with an Inkmoth Nexus in
play puts the opponent on a one-turn clock. Then, even if they Day of Judgment away your Crusader, your Nexus threatens lethal immediately. Sometimes,
it only takes one hit to put someone on a clock thanks to Contagion Clasp (with Caress to end it).
There are obviously enough new infect cards to spawn a variety of new strategies. One of the most basic of these is the Mono-Green Giant Growth style.
- 4 Adventuring Gear
- 4 Vines of Vastwood
- 3 Groundswell
- 2 Livewire Lash
- 3 Unnatural Predation
- 4 Mutagenic Growth
I’m not a fan of this sort of strategy, as I feel it’s too weak to blockers. Still, Glistener Elf is the one-drop many infect players have been
clamoring for. Mutagenic Growth is a very exciting card for infect decks, as it makes it next to impossible for opponents to actually know what you’re
capable of. After all, the six-card hand of Glistener Elf, Groundswell, Groundswell, Mutagenic Growth, Forest, Forest kills on turn two, and even in
less Magical Christmas Land scenarios, you can still surprise someone out of nowhere with a flurry of pumps surpassing your mana supply. It also makes
an ideal tempo play for clearing away blockers. For instance, if you attack with your Glistener Elf into their Stoneforge Mystic, you can Mutagenic
Growth to trade up and still have your mana available to play an Ichorclaw Myr.
Blighted Agent and Lost Leonin are peculiar in that they are more aggressively costed than the other two-drop infect creatures on account of being in
the colors least suited to an infect aggro strategy. This makes them more interesting in Legacy, but even in Standard, we must consider them for our
infect aggro decks, if we can make the mana work. Blighted Agent could easily fit in a U/B infect deck, giving you access to a lot of “unblockable”
two-drops. Distortion Strike is also an option, plus the usual blue business like Jace, Preordain, permission, Into the Roil, and maybe even Tezzeret.
It was not only Phyrexia that gained in NPH, however. The Mirran cards were not very numerous, but there were some high-impact ones. We already
discussed some of the great tools that Hawkward decks gained on Monday, but for more on this archetype, check out Sam Black article here.
There are other ways to use metalcraft, however, such as utilizing Puresteel Paladin. One possibility is to just try to break him:
Turn 1 Plains, Flayer Husk (or any artifact creature), Memnite or Ornithopter
Turn 2 Plains, Mox, Stoneforge Mystic (get Argentum Armor)
Turn 3 Plains, Puresteel Paladin, forge the Armor into play (equip to Memnite and get busy!)
While Puresteel Paladin can just be tossed in existing Quest decks as a backup way to get your Argentum Armor online, as discussedhere , he can also be built around. One possibility is to capitalize on his card drawing abilities with lots of living weapons.
- 3 Kor Duelist
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 2 Kemba, Kha Regent
- 4 Puresteel Paladin
- 4 Porcelain Legionnaire
There is a strange tension between Quest and Puresteel Paladin, though. Puresteel Paladin gets paid from living weapons, whereas Quest for the Holy
Relic doesn’t actually play well with them at all. White-based metalcraft decks gained so many options that finding the right style will take some
finesse. The basic pillars of white metalcraft are:
3) Living Weapons (Puresteel Paladin/Stoneforge Mystic can obviously overlap with others but can also be pushed on their own)
Additionally, it’s very possible that adding red could be the right way to metalcraft. Jor Kadeen is very underrated. A 5/4 first striker for five is
not the worst, and his ability is basically a permanent overrun. The biggest trick with him is playing him in a deck that can actually get up to five
mana; however he is generally going to be one of the better cards in any deck he is in. Whipflare and Galvanic Blast could potentially offer more
incentives, but the big hurdle here is justifying a five-mana Baneslayer style of creature.
This is only scratching the surface, as there is even more wacky stuff possible, like Turntimber Ranger and Xenograft making infinite dudes, a
dedicated Golem deck, Rage Extractor decks, and Slag Fiend/Scrapyard Salvo decks, but we’re already running very long, so some of that might be a
little more appropriate for Block or Extended, which will be included on Friday, as well as Legacy and even Vintage. Join me then for the exciting
conclusion of “The Innovator’s Guide to New Phyrexia!”