A couple of years ago, I made a rule for myself to avoid talking about previewed cards until I had the full set list. Trying to determine the power level of a given card when you are missing a hundred or so others from the environment in which that card will be played is hard, even more so when you are talking about a large set. Recent set releases have conspired with some poor Standard environments to make me break that rule, and now here we are again with previews coming at us faster than Standard bans and I am just too excited to not start the brewing process.
That said, one card that has been previewed is already exciting not only me, but brewers everywhere.
I have long said that unique effects are the cornerstones of many brewed masterpieces, and Hour of Devastation is about to present us with a new, unique effect that does something I would have considered impossible had you asked me about it. Fortunately R&D is not afraid to keep pushing the envelope and pushing it hard. I can only imagine the conversation between Mark Rosewater and the rules manager as this card left design.
Mark Rosewater: So we want to make a card...
Rules Manager: No.
MaRo: ...that stops players and most permanents from getting counters.
RM: Look, Mark, I said....hmm. Actually, I think we can do that.
MaRo: Wait, what?
There was really only one place to start with this ridiculous and hilarious card that looks ready to break a whole bunch of cards clean in half. No sooner was the card previewed than people started gushing about its interactions...and they are legion and cover the three main Constructed formats. This is exactly the kind of card I live for, so let's look at all the silly things we can do!
Unsurprisingly, the smallest format is the one where Solemnity is at its least ridiculous. Even here it has some powerful applications that give us options we have just never had before. Not least among those is the application I would imagine the card was designed to have: it stops either player from accumulating energy counters. While it is debatable as to whether the card would have had enough impact out of the sideboard to stop Aetherworks Marvel decks, it might be able to slow down the heir apparent in Temur Energy. The problem there will be that the card doesn't actually do enough to help you win the game.
But maybe it could!
Green and black both have a plethora of creatures in Amonkhet that are greatly undercosted but enter the battlefield with some number of -1/-1 counters. Channeler Initiate has seen some play, but I am also interested in Exemplar of Strength and Baleful Ammit here.
The cards are still playable without Solemnity, but with it they just become hyper-efficient creatures. The rest of the deck could be some sort of Abzan Rock shell or an aggressive Delirium deck with Grim Flayer, Gnarlwood Dryad, and the like.
We don't need to go with that sort of counter though. Other cards in Standard have counters that we might not want to have. Ice counters, for example. Casting Thing in the Ice under Solemnity will give you a 0/4 that is ready to transform with your next instant or sorcery, giving you a huge monster and your opponent a headache.
We could even stick to two colors as white has some very powerful removal at low costs to combine with blue's tempo spells.
If we're content with sideboard options, Solemnity is also pretty good against G/B Constrictor decks that rely on effects like Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Verdurous Gearhulk to get a jump on the opponent. If we're using Solemnity as a sideboard option, it needs to be in a deck that can play removal on turn 2 and follow this on turn 3 with a threat or more removal. It's a powerful option for sure that makes their deck much worse, but a 4/4 trampler will beat you anyway if you can't do anything effective.
With a deeper card pool comes more potential for abuse. Imagine that. While some of the best combos are going to show up a little later, we still have plenty of room for fun in Modern. Let's start with something pretty straightforward: Solemnity shuts down Infect. Poison counters go on a player, so Solemnity just flat-out stops that from happening. Aside from hosing the former best deck in the format, though, this interaction allows us to do something else: never die to damage.
Any Ad Nauseam player can tell you how great it feels to cast Phyrexian Unlife and then an Ad Nauseam to draw their deck. How about we have that feeling of immortality all game (or until they find an Abrupt Decay, anyway)? When New Phyrexia came out, I toyed around with a deck that played Melira, Sylvok Outcast with Phyrexian Unlife and Etched Monstrosity. It was very bad, but on the rare occasion when Melira didn't just eat a Lightning Bolt, it was actually okay. A 10/10 for five (with no evasion...) is pretty good, after all. Solemnity does not die to Lightning Bolt and can interact well with a whole bunch more cards in Modern that are way better than Etched Monstrosity.
But it draws so many cards!
For example, we could play Kitchen Finks in this deck. Persist is another mechanic that Solemnity just flat-out breaks, as the creatures do what they do with Vizier of Remedies and Melira, Sylvok Outcast: they keep coming back. That deck is already a force, but perhaps a variant could exist that is just W/B? Vizier and Solemnity both allow us to combo, and we have access to both Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap.
We can play Phyrexian Unlife if we want, plus Cartel Aristocrat as an additional sacrifice outlet. If we want to be adventurous, we could even look at Geralf's Messenger as an additional win condition, but one that would only work with Solemnity. I don't know that this deck is better than traditional Abzan Company, but in fleshing it out we might find some advantages. By the way, Devoted Druid is not a good card to try here, as Solemnity prevents you from paying the untap cost.
The Unlife combo might be best served in a R/W Enchantment Prison shell, which was popular a while ago when Todd Stevens was playing something similar. That deck is already looking to play Idyllic Tutor, and has cards like Sphere of Safety that will synergize with your plan. Sadly, playing Solemnity does mean we cannot use Assemble the Legion as a finisher, but options like Sigil of the Empty Throne are still open to us.
Although it is probably not as effective as Stony Silence, Solemnity really does a number on Affinity. A deck that thrives on powerful two-drops is only left with one that can do anything, that being Cranial Plating. Steel Overseer is embarrassing and Arcbound Ravager needs help to even stay on the battlefield.
As you might expect, some of the "fringe" uses in Modern are pretty impressive. Cards like Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista are useless, Gemstone Mine is very bad, Aether Vial gets stuck, Counters Company loses half its combo, Pyromancer Ascension never goes active...all sorts of cards that see play become either useless or much worse. Chalice of the Void and Engineered Explosives fall into the latter category, as it is sometimes correct to play them for zero. Ratchet Bomb is just straight ruined.
Initially I thought that most of you reading this would not remember the vanishing mechanic, but then I remembered...you're brewers. Remembering obscure mechanics that only appeared in one set and on fourteen cards is what you do.
A caveat here: this works under the rules the way they are currently worded. It is possible, though unlikely, that the rules around vanishing will change to prevent this. Right now, we only sacrifice the creature when the last time counter is removed. If the creature never had any time counters...well, that works out pretty well for us. While almost all the vanishing cards get better in combination with Solemnity (not you, Tidewalker...), some really shine.
Calciderm was a new twist on an old Constructed staple in Blastoderm, and a 5/5 with shroud for four mana is nothing to sniff at even if it doesn't have evasion. Keldon Marauders becomes a hyper-efficient beat machine, though I don't know if Solemnity goes in decks that are looking for hyper-efficient beat machines. Lost Auramancers can find us a Solemnity but also tutor any other enchantment...and put it directly on the battlefield. Hi, Omniscience, how are you? The card that really interests me in this vein, though, is this forgotten draft bomb:
Heck yeah, killer paramecia! As you can see, the Chronozoa will enter the battlefield without counters, and won't have to be sacrificed due to vanishing. Okay, easy enough. When it does die, we get two copies of it. Seems fine so far...except those copies also have no time counters. But...what if they were to die? Say, immediately. Due to, oh I don't know, a sacrifice outlet? Why, we'd get two more copies for each one! How interesting!
That we can do this at instant speed and that it is immune to any removal except exile effects makes me think that this combo might just be worth exploring on a competitive front. It's not one I have even seen mentioned, so you (maybe) heard it here first. The usual suspects apply for sacrifice outlets:
From there you can just win the game by attacking with your arbitrarily large army of amoebae, from the triggers on something like Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat, or by gaining arbitrarily large amounts of life. You could even get tricky and not play a sacrifice outlet, opting instead for Pandemonium. The first one enters the battlefield, triggers, and targets itself. It dies, of course, and you get two triggers. One targets the opponent; the other targets itself. Repeat until opponent is very dead.
This was the first thing that many people spotted and the reason the card is expected to see a decent amount of play in Legacy. The Lands deck is already very powerful and top-tier, and adding redundancy cannot hurt. There is also the Turbo Depths deck that runs Dark Depths with Vampire Hexmage as well as Thespian's Stage, which could look to play this.
While a lot of people have mentioned that interaction in the Lands deck, fewer people have been talking about how well the card interacts with some cumulative upkeep cards, chief among them Glacial Chasm. The rules around cumulative upkeep require you, in your upkeep (naturally...) to put an age counter on the permanent and then pay the cumulative upkeep cost once for each age counter on the permanent. It sure would be a shame if we couldn't put those counters on in the first place, wouldn't it?
Technically there were cards with cumulative upkeep in Modern because of Coldsnap, but most of the good ones are looking for the number of age counters for some beneficial effect, making the interaction less valuable. The one card I did consider was Phyrexian Soulgorger, as an 8/8 trampler for three mana is just too good to pass up.
In Legacy that cumulative upkeep trick becomes much more relevant. Take, for example, this list from the Legacy Classic in Baltimore:
See the Elephant Grass? That card is a complete house if you no longer have to pay mana to keep it around.
Conveniently, Solemnity is an enchantment that fits right into a deck that...well, wants to be casting enchantments. Imagine that. Nothing else in the deck cares about counters, so you won't randomly hose your own deck plan, which is always annoying.
Some cards with very large numbers in the top right-hand corner will dominate tournament landscapes. Cards like Omniscience, Karn Liberated, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn are consistently part of top-tier competitive decks. Others, like Decree of Silence, look pretty in your binder. But let's take a closer look at a card that you have probably only cycled, and then only in Commander.
Well, would you look at that. We have to put counters on it when we counter a spell, and when it gets three or more counters you sacrifice the Decree...except you don't, because we aren't putting those counters on there. Yes, effectively our opponent is locked out of casting spells for the rest of the game. The obvious drawback here is that Decree of Silence costs approximately a billion mana, which would be a problem if I actually planned to cast it. Fortunately, Replenish is still a legal card in the format and conveniently brings back both halves of the combo.
We have no shortage of ways to fill our graveyard, but one of my personal favorites is Attunement. We can also play Phyrexian Unlife to never die, and then all we need is a way to win. Opalescence would do the trick, but you can take your pick from any number of options. You have plenty of time. Oh, and if you want to have some real fun, consider trying to find a way to play Tornado in this deck. Yeah. That's a Magic card.
I could go on (remember depletion counter lands?), but the really important stuff has already been mentioned, so that's all we have for this week. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB, where Lansdell's Always Brewing. Somehow we managed the entire article without a single Simulacrum joke.
Until next time, my friends...Brew On!