So Many More Insane Plays – Shards of Alara Vintage and Type 4 Set Review

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Monday, September 29th – Shards of Alara is packed with Vintage possibilities. In fact, Stephen Menendian believes it’s the most impacting set for Vintage since Mirrodin. With such impressive shoes to fill, can Shards of Alara live up to the hype? Read on to find out!

Shards of Alara is probably the most significant set for Vintage since Mirrodin, and probably as impactful as Future Sight. It’s amazing.

Despite the fact that there are 9000 unique Magic cards, it’s really surprising how few incredibly monstrous, expensively-costed cards there are. Although Magic over 15 years old, there are only 16 cards that cost ten mana. How can that be?! As a Vintage and Type 4 player, I enjoy cards with absurd casting costs. This set goes a long way towards rectifying that problem.

I won’t bore you with a recap of my last set review. There was almost nothing in Eventide for Vintage, and the last two months proved it.

Let’s dive in:

Ad Nauseam

This card is broken. I don’t say that very often. I am, after all, a Vintage enthusiast. Everything in Vintage is broken. But this is broken by Vintage standards.

Evan previewed this card a week and a half ago. Evan is usually ahead of the curve. I’m surprised he didn’t mention this card’s potentially application in Eternal formats.

This card is good enough to be banned in Legacy. That doesn’t mean it will be, or should be, but it’s at least as good as a large swathe of cards already on the banned list. Teammate Michael Bomholt, the innovative mind behind Iggy-Pop, has already uncovered some broken design shells.

In Vintage, this card is a card that could be restriction-worthy. It’s not quite as amazing as it will be in Legacy, but it’s still very powerful. I won’t even bother comparing Ad Nauseam to garbage like Moonlight Bargain or Necrologia. It’s obvious why this card is superior to both. It is very easy, especially with the unrestriction of Chrome Mox, to build a storm deck around this card with an average casting cost that approximates 1. That makes this card a slightly cheaper, instant speed Yawgmoth’s Bargain. The constraint of having to run 4 of this guy and, if you want your deck to be good, 4 Force of Will, limits the number of cards you can see with this card, and potentially its raw abusiveness, which is why it is less powerful here in Vintage than in Legacy. That said, I think there is a good chance it can find a viable home in Vintage.

Here is a list someone on the Mana Drain came up with:

Ad Nauseam Storm Combo

4 Chrome Mox
1 Black Lotus
1 Lion’s Eye Diamond
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Sol Ring
1 Memory Jar

4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
1 Tolarian Academy
2 Underground Sea

4 Ad Nauseam
4 Dark Ritual
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
4 Thoughtseize
3 Grim Tutor
2 Tendrils of Agony
1 Rebuild
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Brainstorm
1 Imperial Seal
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Time Walk
1 Timetwister
1 Tinker
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Necropotence
1 Yawgmoth’s Bargain

Actually, it’s surprising how close this guy has come to the lists I have been working on. He has identified, correctly, Chrome Mox as an excellent synergent with Ad Nauseam. He’s also realized that one of the design keys is an average mana cost that is below 1.5.

Goldfish this thing for a while, and you’ll get a sense of how broken Ad Nauseam is.
Should be insane in Legacy and playable in Vintage.

Although I think that Ad Nauseam is inherently broken, I think there does remain some question as to whether it will ascend into the upper tier strategies. There are a number of key limitations. First of all, any minor amount of life loss can be damaging. Workshop Aggro could slow you down with Spheres and then only have to do a minor amount of damage before you are sucked under and Ad Nauseam become dead. Second, if you run Force of Will, which most good decks do, you spike your overall average casting cost. Finally, Spheres and Chalices are truly devastating, especially with the lighter manabase. That said, I do believe a viable Vintage Ad Nauseam deck will emerge. It won’t be quite as insane as the advocates believe, but it is certainly a lot more playable than the critics believe. There is even a realistic chance, probably 33%, that it’s good enough to be restricted.

Courier’s Capsule

Is this the long-lost missing partner to Thirst For Knowledge? Four mana for two cards is not a good deal. However, if there are easy recursion possibilities, then this could be playable.

Covenant of Mind

Oh, how I wish you had been an Instant. Sweet design.

Empyrial Archangel

Beautiful. The only criticism I have for this wonderful card is to ask why we haven’t seen a card like this until now.

Simic Sky Swallower had found a brief home in Control Oath of Druids decklists. This is superior in most ways. This will be a contender for Oath finishers.

Etherium Sculptor

Helm of Awakening for Artifacts. Combos with Spellbombs, Eggs, and Skullclamp. Deck could be facilitated with Artificer’s Intuition. Suicide Virus?

Ethersworn Canonist

Another jaw-dropper.

Rule of Law at “Mox, Land” mana with Workshop synergies and two-power. My eyes bulged when I read this one.

Let’s see if we can build a White Stax deck:

Etherworn Canonist has a lot of synergy in this deck, and could motivate us to build an optimal White Stax list.

Ultimately, this guy will see a lot of play, from Fish maindecks to sideboards to all over the place.

Goblin Assault

I can’t wait to see this card mess up the smaller formats! Betterblossom v. 2.0? Combo with Skullmulcher?

Hellkite Overlord

Already the standard Oath creature in Vintage Oath decks.

Immortal Coil

Oh look, another combo card with Donate!

Jhessian Lookout

That’s quite an aggressively costed card for blue. I could see someone trying it out in a Fish type deck. If only he were a merfolk!

Lich’s Mirror

This card is a sweet card by design. I LOVE this card for Type 4. It’s probably not very good in Type 4, but it’s highly flavorful.

Teammates immediately listed ways to abuse this card in Vintage, and came up with Channel just as Zac Hill did last week. Unfortunately, that deck is probably not even close to viable, even with Personal Tutor unrestricted. It’s a bad draw7.

However, I have seen another application that is quite intriguing. Harlequin on the Mana Drain put this in a new Doomsday list as a Doomsday kill.

As the designer explained:

What Lich’s Mirror Offers:

Lich offers, hands down, the strongest/simplest pile I’ve seen yet when it comes to Doomsday. The standard pile is:

Lich’s Mirror
Cunning Wish

This pile wins for U alone after you draw Recall, no storm required. Also it beats essentially ANY amount of graveyard hate, and can power through Sphere effects fairly easily (assuming you enough mana in play to cast Channel). Also, Recall and Lotus are interchangeable with Duress and/or Pact if you have draw effects or two Green mana.

More on this deck in future weeks, I’m sure of that…

Master of Etherium

This card has the ironic twist of being weaker because he is Blue. Once you add Blue into an artifact deck, it sort of takes over. You’ll want Ancestral, Walk, Tinker, at a minimum. If you are splashing Blue, the costs of splashing a second color are nil. You can play another color, such as Black or Red, at no cost or virtually no cost. Underground Sea/Volc and Fetchlands can provide you will all of the mana you need. That opens the door to Welders or Black tutors. My point is that pretty soon you have a large number of non-artifact spells, which makes this card weaker and weaker. Still, it could see play. Unlikely though.


A great design, but a little too expensive to see Vintage play. Amazing synergy with Gush and Force of Will.

Mindlock Orb

This is an incredibly powerful effect. The potency of this card is predicated on its ability to stop the two things that hurt Workshop decks: Fetchland usage and tutors for silver bullet bounce cards. It’s also slow a little too slow to stop all fetchlands. It’s true, you can use Workshops to pay for it, but it’s still not a likely turn 1 play. You would need either 1) Workshop and Mox Sapphire/Lotus Petal/BlackLotus, or 2) Black Lotus and another mana source, or 3) Mana Crypt/ Mana Vault, a Mox, and a land, 4) Tolarian Academy and at least two artifact accelerants to play this on turn 1. With a Workshop, it is a possible turn 2 play, but if your turn 1 involved Sphere or Thorn, you will need another Mox to pull it off.

Still, it may be a powerful enough lock piece to work. If we run Mindlock Orb, we know we aren’t going to run Black, since the primary purpose of Black in Stax is tutoring. Take a look at this:

Mindlock Stax

1 Trinisphere
4 Sphere of Resistance
3 Thorn of Amethyst
4 Tangle Wire
4 Smokestack
3 Crucible of Worlds
3 Mindlock Orb

1 Tinker (I know, it doesn’t combo well with Mindlock Orb)
1 Ancestral Recall
2 In the Eye of Chaos
4 Goblin Welder
2 Gorilla Shaman
1 Triskelion
1 Sundering Titan

1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Emerald
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Vault
1 Mana Crypt
1 Black Lotus
4 Mishra’s Workshop
4 Wasteland
1 Strip Mine
4 Volcanic Island
4 Shivan Reef
1 Steam Vents
1 Tolarian Academy

Quietus Spike

This card is Type 4 terrifying and possibly playable in Vintage as well! Nice card!

Relic of Progenitus

Nice design, but too inferior to Tormod’s Crypt to see any play.

Salvage Titan

In order for this guy to be playable in Vintage, you will need him on turn 1. In order to get him on turn 1, you’ll need a deck that opens its normal hands with about 4 artifacts on average. That pretty much means that you are running a deck with more than 30 artifact cards, which means you are probably Mono Brown MUD type deck or Affinity. Seems potentially weak for Affinity, although who knows….

Sigil of Distinction

Another MUD artifact equipment possibility.

Skill Borrower

Pretty sweet with Top. Probably stronger in Legacy than Vintage, on account of the fact that both Brainstorm and Ponder are legal in that format, and it is a little bit slower.

Tezzeret the Seeker

I already wrote an article on this guy. He’ll see a lot of play in Vintage. I’m psyched.

Tez Control

2 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Time Vault
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Echoing Truth
4 Thirst For Knowledge
1 Tinker
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Duress
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
2 Volcanic Island
3 Underground Sea
5 Fetchlands
1 Snow-Covered Island
2 Island
1 Tolarian Academy
1 Library of Alexandria
5 Moxen
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Lotus Petal
1 Sol Ring
1 Black Lotus

This is close to what I might play at the next major Vintage tournament. I’ve added two Duresses to the lists from my previous article on Tez. Get ready, boys and girls. Tezzeret is here!

Top 5 Picks from Shards of Alara for Vintage:

1. Tezzeret the Seeker
2. Ad Nauseam
3. Ethersworn Canonist
4. Hellkite Overlord
5. Mindlock Orb

Type 4 Review

Bant Charm

This is a nice utility card that fits into any Type 4 stack.

Brilliant Ultimatum

Recently there has been a split in the Type 4 community about how the Alterative Casting Cost rule works. Some Type 4 players are now using a rule that whenever you play a spell in which you do not have to pay mana for it, that spell does not count as your spell for the turn. Under this rule, Force of Will and Misdirection do not count as your spell for the turn. However, cards taken with Spelljack also do not count as your spell for the turn.

If we apply that rule, and not simply the rule that spells with “alternative casting costs” do not count as your spell for the turn, this card is playable. All of the cards your opponent puts in one of the piles can be played without counting as your spell for the turn. I think that’s probably how it should be.

Nice for Type 4. It’s a big splashy effect that costs a ton of mana. Someone will be thrilled to draft it and play it.

Broodmate Dragon

Playable in many Type 4 stacks. It’s the Stangg of Dragons. A low pick, but still fun.

Cruel Ultimatum

Incredibly powerful in Type 4. It will practically kill an opponent while powering you up immensely. Imagine putting this on a Panoptic Mirror. Because it is a sorcery speed and so overpowered, it is unlikely to resolve. If you can force it into play with a Decree of Silence or a Force of Will, you are going to be in great shape. However, in a large game, playing this and resolving it will practically be suicide.

It’s an automatic inclusion into all Type 4 stacks, but it’s probably not a very high pick.

Empyrial Archangel

In addition to potentially seeing play in Vintage, I’m excited about this card for Type 4. Shroud is very powerful in Type 4. The fact that this guy only has five power means that he won’t be immediately feared when played, so he is more likely to resolve. He will be a tremendous defensive play. It will save you from all manner of combo threat and direct burn spells that could wipe you off the table, such as Urza’s Rage. He should be an included in every Type 4 stack. I would pick this guy pretty high, as I already pick Iridescent Angel very highly.

Executioner’s Capsule

I like this card for Type 4. Low pick, but a solid defensive card.

Gather Specimens

This is sort of like Dominate, an Instant Speed Control Magic. It’s not quite as powerful, since its so conditional, but it’s still going to be a desirable pick.


Seems like a lot of fun in Type 4! This is the sort of card that is perfectly suited for Type 4. A large monster with a cool ability. You can even attack with him and then use his ability.

Hindering Light

Nice cantrip for Type 4! It’s another narrow counterspell whose presence can be justified by its cantripping.

Kederekt Leviathan

I’m intrigued by this card. It doesn’t seem very strong to me, but I think what makes this card actually decent is the Unearth ability. If your opponent counters it, you can try again later. Or, if it resolves, but is killed, you can try again later. I’m sold.

Lich’s Mirror

One of the problems of Type 4, being a multi-player game, is that sometimes a player has to sit around for a while after they’ve been killed off. I’ve tried to get Paul Mastriano to invent a card that could return a player to the game. In the meantime, this card would allow a player to stay in after they’ve been killed. I think it’s a great addition to Type 4, flavorwise, even if it isn’t a strong card. This is probably my favorite card for Type 4 in this set, although it’s definitely not the strongest.


This a smartly designed update of Night Soil. I don’t think it’s better than Night Soil though. This could be included in medium powered Type 4 stacks.

Prince of Thralls

This is very powerful. I think what this means is that so long as he is in play, you will get the most mediocre cards of your opponent’s. And that is quite good. If you can keep this guy in play, you will end up with an army of Type 4 chaff on your side of the board. Eventually, it will be enough. In any case, your opponent’s will be suffering as a result, slowly draining life to keep you from acquiring their best gems. Sooner or later, it will dawn on someone to murder this Demon.

This card, to me, demonstrates why this is such a good set for Type 4. At its highest levels, Type 4 tends to become a war of Instants. The best cards in this set for Type 4, or at least the most intriguing, are the worst cards in competitive Type 4: creatures and sorceries. This means that Type 4 will be enriched immeasurably. These sorceries and creature are to powerful not to run, but they won’t be drafted first or second pick. So they’ll be played and have an impact, and make Type 4 more fun by emphasizing those things that make Type 4 fun: Timmy and Jimmy cards.

Punish Ignorance

Undermine and Absorb on the same card. Nice design! Automatic inclusion into any Type 4 stack. Probably in the top third of countermagic.

Resounding Roar

This card is probably not good enough to make it into the best Type 4 stacks. If you have a young stack, give it a try.

Resounding Scream

Seems good for Type 4. This card will be brutalizing if there are only a few players remaining in the game. This could singlehandedly empty someone’s hand so that you can resolve your key threat and wrap things up. Very nice penultimate play. I’d draft it somewhere between 3rd and 6th pick.

Resounding Silence

Another great Type 4 staple. Again, cycling is huge in Type 4 since these effects, which are normally ridiculously overcosted, do not count as your spell for the turn.

Resounding Thunder

Not quite as exciting as the other Resounders, but still Type 4 playable.

Resounding Wave

Hello Type 4! Introduce yourself. You’ll be here for a while.

1st Pick.

Bouncing a key permanent with an almost uncounterable effect could be a life raft. This card will be a ‘save your butt’ card for years to come. The fact that it bounces two cards means that it can break up all sorts of potential combos as well. Really amazing printing for Type 4.

Sarkhan Vol

This may be the first Planeswalker that is Type 4 viable. His steal ability could make him good enough to play. I suggest using him in medium powered and lower powered Type 4 stacks. He looks like fun to play.

Sederis the Traitor King

He’s probably Type 4 playable, but I have a feeling he won’t be as good as he may strike some players.

Sharuum the Hegemon

This is a perfect example of the kind of card you want to run in a medium powered Type 4 stack. It’s a decent sized flyer with a nice ability. Too weak for the hyper powered stack I’d play though.

Spearbreaker Behemoth

I am not sure if this guy is good enough for Type 4. First of all, he’s a great blocker. But he also has the potential to make your other creatures indestructible. Unfortunately, not every creature gets his protection. If he made any creature indestructible, I think he would probably make the cut.


This is definitely an include for Type 4. It’s cheap enough to see play in Vintage, but won’t.

Vicious Shadows

I think this card is too annoying for Type 4, and too unfun. It’s pretty much a conditional direct burn spell. I really don’t like Kaervek as it is. I think it’s a clunky, ugly card for the format. Still, you can try it if you’d like.

Violent Ultimatum

This is definitely powerful enough to put into a Type 4 Stack. Destroying three permanents could actually make this better than cards like Wrath of God or Akroma’s Vengeance, which also take your cards with them. Usually, there won’t be more than a couple of key permanents you’d like to destroy. This card can take them. I think it’s a great addition to Type 4.

Top Five Picks for Type 4:

1) Resounding Wave
2) Cruel Ultimatum
3) Empyreal Archangel
4) Resounding Silence
5) Punish Ignorance

This is a fantastic set for Type 4. Not too shabby for Vintage either.

Well done, Wizards. Well done.

Until next time…

Stephen Menendian