I have always been a sucker for expensive sorceries. Even in the current card development climate, a spell like Inspired Ultimatum had me jump for joy the moment it was previewed. I enjoy producing a giant effect off one spell, win condition or otherwise, to swing the game and seal the deal. This usually takes an expensive spell to do so, which gave me the old nickname of “Expensive Sorcery Master” over a decade ago. It was Cruel Ultimatum then; however, additional spells came down the pike that allowed me to run with that label to this day.
Even though it’s in my nickname, my favorite spells do not have to be sorceries. Instants, creatures, artifacts, and enchantments all heed the call to enter a control deck of mine, so long as the effect is big and likely game-ending. It may be too late to rebrand to “Expensive Spell Master,” so the title will have to remain a bit inaccurate. Just know when you see an overpriced spell in the appropriate control colors, I will be right there with you, gauging its playability the moment it is previewed.
That leads us to the latest prize from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) — Sublime Epiphany.
Sublime Epiphany is the return of the expensive counterspell with massive rewards attached. Either counterspells offer this or they are reduced in cost with drawbacks. Those are the two options that Play Design will work with to make a counterspell playable. Great examples are Mystical Dispute and Miscast from today; they have limited impact but are very reasonable in the mana cost department. In the upside category, we have cards like Cryptic Command and Dismiss that provide a strong reward for costing additional mana. If a counterspell falls between, it will cost three mana and disappoint us all. That is the new norm: three mana for the standard effect, and the best we will ever get there is Absorb. Even counterspells with upside have looked much weaker in recent sets.
Confirm Suspicions and Spell Swindle are recent examples of counterspells that cost a bit more but deliver a nice bonus. These two spells were somewhat unplayable, even though I was caught once or twice trying to make them work. I have been very disappointed in the development shift away from powerful, cheap counterspells for many years, especially with products like these delivered to us. Counterspells must produce something great when they cost more than three mana and I assumed Confirm Suspicions was the best we were going to get. Luckily, this six-mana bomb arrived to raise the ceiling just a bit.
- Counter target spell.
- Counter target activated or triggered ability.
- Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand.
- Create a token that’s a copy of target creature you control.
- Target player draws a card.
The modes on Sublime Epiphany are all very powerful. The first is the most relevant and necessary, countering any spell without stipulation. The second adds the Stifle effect, countering any activated or triggered ability. This is a nice addition that makes this piece of disruption distinct from the counterspells of old.
With a card like Cryptic Command, I was often stuck waiting for a spell to counter before firing it off, rarely using it to bounce a land and draw a card. Sublime Epiphany will allow control users to stop an ability on the battlefield, draw a card, and bounce a nonland permanent at minimum when the opportunity arises. This could be as simple as the opponent playing a Fabled Passage on Turn 6 and trying to use it, only to find themselves down a land, a nonland permanent, and a card. That is a simple but devastating turn of events that can now happen at instant speed.
The other modes on Sublime Epiphany are where we get more bang for our buck. Returning a nonland permanent, copying a Dream Trawler, and drawing a card before blockers are declared is a devastating triple play against any opponent attacking. This could take place after an attack with Dream Trawler to signify that the shields are down and we’re ready to take some damage back.
I could whip up scenario after scenario in my head to get you all as hyped as I am on this card, but I’m sure you all already have the gears turning like I do. Even if you’re not big on having creatures in your deck, the same play can take place and you can substitute Yorion, Sky Nomad instead. We’re all playing this companion for the foreseeable future, making it the obvious target of a late-game Sublime Epiphany. It being legendary is a bit less exciting, but having it untapped with the enters-the-battlefield effects redone is still a strong play.
The card draw is what makes Sublime Epiphany worthwhile. Having these diverse modes makes it interesting, but the raw card advantage makes it playable. Cryptic Command would be a bulk rare if the card advantage were replaced by some other option and that holds true for many of the blue spells that have come and gone over the years. Since blue is not actively pressuring from the start of the game, the late-game spells must get us back in using card advantage. Sublime Epiphany works to clear the stack, disrupt nonland permanents on the battlefield, produce an additional body, and draw a card all at once. With all this combined, the expensive mana cost makes perfect sense and is still worth the investment.
Torrential Gearhulk may not see play in older formats since it costs six mana, but the thought of using this to stop battlefield shenanigans with Torrential Gearhulk in the picture is gross. Flashing back Sublime Epiphany seems like the thing to do, but I do not think it will happen. The mana cost is restrictive; however, it is the existence of Dig Through Time that kills this interaction.
Torrential Gearhulk does not see play with one of the most powerful card draw spells of all time around, so this marriage will likely not happen. Even if Torrential Gearhulk spiked in Pioneer playability, it would likely lean on just Dig Through Time. As someone who has flashed back Dig Through Time with Torrential Gearhulk many times, I can confidently say the game has ended shortly after. It is tough to lose with that series of plays and we will have to enjoy Sublime Epiphany in Standard for the time being.
Sublime Epiphany is a fantastic spell and it will be in consideration for every Standard control deck I have moving forward. This expensive gem is not a four-of, or even a maindeck card, but it will have devastating impact on the midrange and control matchups while it is legal in Standard. There are a few naysayers that point out the obvious cons right off the bat but categorize them as dealbreakers instead of hurdles to overcome. Let us get those out of the way now.
We all know that Mystical Dispute counters Sublime Epiphany for one mana. This argument is the most infuriating one, as it takes me back to the “dies to Doom Blade” line that eventually became a meme. Most spells can get countered, and since many that I run are blue, they are extra-vulnerable to Mystical Dispute. This school of thought would disqualify us from running Dream Trawler and Inspired Ultimatum, two spells that I have no intention of putting down anytime soon. Once the giant rotation hits and the format sheds the more broken elements, these expensive blue cards and Mystical Dispute will still be here. Disruption is always around and must be fought through.
Thoughtseize made life difficult for control players, but the power of Aetherling and Sphinx’s Revelation overcame it. At that time, Mono-Black Devotion was at the top of the metagame with Esper Control in shared dominance. The existence of a powerful disruption spell, one that both Yorion, Sky Nomad control and enemy blue decks can run, is not enough to invalidate an expensive spell. Once rotation kicks in and Teferi, Time Raveler and Wilderness Reclamation are gone, the gates will open for high-cost spells to become competitive. We already see that as a possibility with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon being previewed, so get ready to tap a bunch of mana for some sweet effects.
The other negative brought up against Sublime Epiphany is obvious — it costs costs six mana, making it tough to justify against decks that kill you much earlier. Not only is it expensive, it does very little to rebound you from a rough start. Cards like Dream Trawler and Inspired Ultimatum provide a lifegain punch, as well as a host of other great effects to stabilize against an established enemy battlefield. This criticism is justified and the reason I cannot guarantee Sublime Epiphany will have a starting role Game 1. Spells like this may have to come from the sideboard, especially if decks like Mono-Red Aggro survive rotation.
Even if that is not the aggro flavor of the future, there will always be something pressuring life totals early. This negative does not disqualify Sublime Epiphany from competitive play either, as expensive spells still have roles to fill. The amount of firepower this piece of disruption has is unprecedented, dwarfing what Cryptic Command can do in a game. The two extra mana makes it much worse than the iconic counterspell, but at least there is a tangible payoff written in. Countering a spell, producing an additional win condition, and drawing a card, all on the opponent’s turn, would be lights-out.
I’m excited to wield this expensive spell against my future opponents and show them how strong it is. Just like with Inspired Ultimatum, the payoff is powerful enough to justify the cost, regardless of the disruption available to stop us.