The Impact of Mirrodin Besieged on Standard!

Friday, February 4 – Brian Kibler gives you a quick look at some decks made possible with the new set: Tempered Steel, Tezzeret Control, and Infect! Check this article before you go to Indy for the StarCityGames.com Open this weekend!

The release of Mirrodin Besieged comes with a plethora of questions for Magic players everywhere. Will the Phyrexian invaders or the Mirran faithful
prove triumphant in the war ahead? What has become of Karn, creator of the plane? Who the hell are all these bizarrely named characters alluded to in
half of the flavor text? Jin-Gitaxias – really?

Okay, maybe those aren’t the questions you’re asking. If you’re at all like me (and you probably are, since you’re reading my article right now),
you’re probably much more concerned with questions like “What kind of impact will the cards in Mirrodin Besieged have on Standard?”

Keep in mind that the question isn’t simply “What new Mirrodin Besieged cards will see play?” When evaluating the new set, it’s important to keep in
mind the impact the new cards have on old cards as well. Scars of Mirrodin introduced two major mechanics in metalcraft and infect, but thus far,
neither of them has seen much tournament action outside of Limited. That has a lot to do with the fact both of them are very linear mechanics – that
is, mechanics that build upon themselves.

Scars didn’t have enough powerful infect creatures or potent enough artifacts and metalcraft cards to spawn decks based around either of the mechanics.
We have seen both show up a bit in older formats – infect sure is funny with Invigorate, for instance, and Etched Champion makes a great carrier
for Cranial Plating – but there just hasn’t been the support for either in Standard. That’s probably a good thing, too. If either metalcraft or
infect had been a major player out of the gate, it would’ve been hard for WotC to make new exciting cards for them in the subsequent sets without
sending them over the edge.

I’m not sure if infect has what it takes just yet, but it certainly has some powerful tools in MBS. The most impressive of these is Phyrexian
Vatmother. A 4/5 infect creature for four mana is no joke! If we consider the Vatmother on the scale of “normal” creatures, she’s
like an 8/5 that deals two damage to you during your upkeep – except in some ways, she’s better than that because the life total she deals
damage to each turn isn’t the same one your opponent is attacking. Granted, you can’t pair her with other efficient creatures like Vampire
Lacerator or effects like Kalastria Highborn, but it’s still a decent way to think about the power level of the card.

Phyrexian Crusader is another impressive infect card – essentially a four-power creature for three mana and one with very relevant protections in
a world where Lightning Bolt is everywhere. Woe to the Boros player who runs into an infect deck!

Between these two above-the-curve beaters and Inkmoth Nexus, I’d be shocked if infect doesn’t at least start to show up at tournaments.

My first go at an Infect deck would look something like this:

Granted, this is an incredibly rough draft but plays on one of the important advantages of infect – the ability to kill via Proliferate.
Contagion Clasps help kill small, opposing creatures and then spread the Phyrexian plague until the opponent falls over dead. While many creature decks
have to kill the opponent with a fast rush before they gain control or rely on ripping burn spells to end it, infect decks can win off of a single,
repeatable proliferate effect once they’ve gotten in even a single hit. It’s possible the strategy would be better off trying to race with
pump effects, whether via equipment or jank like Vampire’s Bite (or just breaking down and adding green), but I think there’s something to
be said for the inevitability of what’s going on here.

One card standing in the way of declaring the Phyrexians our new overlords is also in that list above. Not long ago, a five-toughness black creature
would’ve been pretty much invincible against most decks – see exhibit A, Grave Titan. But the Vampires of Mirrodin have provided us with a new
tool to fight back against the invaders, and it’s fitting, too, because it’s exactly what Vampires has been looking for in Standard to be
able to take Grave Daddy down a notch. Go for the Throat is the best removal spell we’ve seen in a long time, trading the usual
“nonblack” clause for “nonartifact” – basically, Doom_Blade_Guy and the Vampire tribe each got half of the old Terror
restrictions. It certainly seems like Twilight fans got the better side of the deal.

The implications of Go for the Throat are far reaching and go well beyond keeping Phyrexian Vatmother in check. Grave Titan was so dominant at the
World Championships because so few decks could actually do anything about it once it hit play. The game plan of the U/B decks that made up so much of
the Top 8 was basically to survive until they could play Grave Titan, and then Daddy took care of the rest. With Go for the Throat likely to replace
Doom Blade in Vampires and other U/B decks, that dynamic completely changes. Gone is the ability to simply “go over the top” of whatever
your opponent does. Similarly, sideboard cards like Skinrender and Vampire Nighthawk – while still potent – will no longer be such brick
walls against Vampires. Perhaps more to the point – how much reason is there to bother playing red in Vampires when you can get all the removal
you want and more while staying mono-black?

The ripple effect of Go for the Throat doesn’t stop there. If the general shift is to drop Doom Blade entirely, how much more attractive do
artifact creatures become? Lodestone Golem, in particular, is a card that always seems on the brink of awesomeness but just hasn’t seemed to cut
it since it dies to the format’s most commonly played removal spells – Lightning Bolt and Doom Blade. If Doom Blade drops out of favor for
Go for the Throat, Golem’s stock goes up dramatically, as does that of every artifact creature out there. We’ve already seen Valakut decks
shift away from Lightning Bolt for Pyroclasm – will they shift again for Slagstorm, a mass removal spell that can also kill Jace in a pinch?
It’s certainly a lot harder to kill a Lodestone Golem with a three-cost sorcery than with a one-cost instant.

Lodestone Golem isn’t the only artifact creature around who’s thrilled to see Go for the Throat enter the picture. I’m not sure
Standard has quite the critical mass of solid artifact creatures to make Tempered Steel viable, but we might not be far away. Consider this very rough

This deck can goldfish incredibly quickly, has resilience to mass removal in the form of Etched Champion and Glint Hawk Idol, and has disruptive
elements in Lodestone Golem and Phyrexian Revoker. The only new card in it is the Revoker, but the metagame shifts surrounding Mirrodin Besieged could
do a lot toward making it a potentially viable choice. A deck like this will certainly make its way into my gauntlet for Paris.

The other artifact deck that’s certain to be on people’s radars is one built around Tezzeret. Tezzeret is one of those cards that is hard to evaluate
without having played it, and I have to admit that I haven’t had the pleasure just yet. My initial impression is that Tezzeret feels like
something of a trump card in blue mirrors. Right now, blue mirrors are all about Jace and who can keep him in play. When Tezzeret becomes a factor,
everything changes. If your opponent taps out for Jace on turn 4, and you respond with Tezzeret, make a guy, kill your Jace – well, you’re
quite far ahead. And even if you don’t have an artifact in play right away, you get value out of Tezzeret by Impulsing for one to play next turn.

Here’s my first sketch of a potential Tezzeret deck:

Again, this list is obviously super rough but gets a few principles across. Twenty-one artifacts, the majority of which cost three or less, provide
fuel for Tezzeret’s abilities. The Treasure Mage package is quite experimental, but I think there’s a lot of potential in all of the
targets included. Spine of Ish Sah is the strangest one, but the ability to search up a Vindicate, however expensive, has some merit, and its combo
with the singleton Throne of Geth, which can also help refresh the planeswalker-protecting Tumble Magnets and Sphere of the Suns as well as boost the
planeswalkers themselves toward their ultimates, is worth trying out at the very least. I’ve sketched out versions that have both Trinket and
Treasure Mage, but the more non-artifact cards that make their way into the deck, the less impressive Tezzeret becomes. I’m sure we’ll
figure out a minimum threshold of acceptable artifacts to fuel Mr. Agent of Bolas soon, but that’s not a point in deck design I’ve quite
gotten to yet.

Of course, the cards in Mirrodin Besieged won’t just find homes in all-new decks. There are many much more staple types of effects besides Go for
the Throat that will find their way into the decks that have been tearing up the Standard metagame for months. Two of those cards are part of the same
cycle – the green and black Zeniths.

The Green Sun’s Zenith is, I think, the most obviously powerful one. Tutor effects have always been powerful in any format, and though this one is
restricted to green creatures, it’s certain to be no exception. Valakut decks have long played Summoning Trap, not just to punish countermagic,
but essentially as more ways to find Primeval Titan. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Valakut players jettison the Traps altogether or at least relegate
them to the sideboard in favor of four copies of Green Sun’s Zenith. If that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few one-of
“utility” creatures like Acidic Slime make their way into some Valakut lists or even a lone Birds of Paradise so Zenith can serve as
Rampant Growth. Other decks in Standard are less likely to make nearly as good use of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it popping up in
Extended or even Legacy Elf decks.

Black Sun’s Zenith is an interesting card for decks like U/B Control. Modern U/B lists have relied on spot removal and maybe a few copies of
Consume the Meek for their removal suite, which can be a bit slow to handle fast starts from decks like Boros or Vampires. Black Sun’s Zenith can
be an absolute wrecking ball against those decks, wiping out any number of Steppe Lynxes, Plated Geopedes, and even Squadron Hawks as early as turn 3
and killing every Vampire in play as soon as turn 4. It’s important to note that the Zenith gives -1/-1 counters, so it can be used to shrink
incoming Vampire Lacerators and Highborn in a pinch and can take some of the bite out of something like Thrun, the Last Troll, even if it doesn’t
kill it outright.

Thrun is a card that seems tailor-made to fight against Jace decks, but he’s in something of a strange spot. Standard right now is so dominated
by Titans that it’s not clear mid-sized creatures have much of a place – even Vengevine, a major player in Extended and Legacy,
doesn’t really show up in winning decks. Standard decks these days seem to fall into one of very few camps. Win by playing Titans, win by
stopping Titans, and win by killing opponents before they can play Titans. A Troll Ascetic who can actually win creature fights is certainly good
somewhere, but it’s just not clear whether that somewhere is the current Standard environment. He’ll certainly see play, but I see him more
as a sideboard card for RUG against control than as a major player in the format.

Unlike Thrun, who I think is getting more hype than is warranted, one card that I think is a possible sleeper is Contested War Zone. If you never lose
control of it, this is effectively a Crusade for two mana each turn. That’s a pretty powerful effect in decks that are attacking with a swarm of
creatures. And how many of the top decks in Standard can really punish you for its drawback? U/B decks can at best hit you with a Creeping Tar Pit. If
Valakut is attacking you, you’re probably dead anyway. While swarm decks face quite a few challenges fighting past Pyroclasms, Slagstorms, and
Black Sun’s Zenith, if they’re viable, I wouldn’t be shocked if Contested War Zone contributed to their success. Consider trying it out in the
Tempered Steel deck I suggested above or as Honor of the Pure 5+ in a white battle cry deck. Just how much damage can you get your Squadron Hawks to
attack for?

That’s it for this week. By the time you read this, I’m going to have spent a week testing these decks and then some in preparation for
Paris, so please don’t be offended that I’m going to be keeping full radio silence on Standard until the Pro Tour.

Until next time,