One of my biggest eye-rolling moments in Magic is when an opponent gets to start the game with a powerful, free effect that dramatically constrains my options in the first few turns. The three biggest offenders, historically, have been Leyline of the Void, Leyline of Sanctity, and Chancellor of the Annex. These cards absolutely demolish opposing strategies when they're in exactly the top seven cards of the library, but there's a notable drawback to these ham-fisted hate cards. If drawn in the next seven cards, they are truly embarrassing. Without a way to filter away these midgame monstrosities, I'm always worried about the chance of drawing one in the middle turns and falling behind because of it. These powerful free effects are often held back because they obviously break the game if they're too good. The few with unique sideboard potential are stellar, but it seems like they've only ever been designed to have a binary outcome.
And I hate, hate, hate cards that only offer a binary outcome of "game-winning" or "total brick." It's one of the reasons I generally loathe playing Leyline of the Void in Grixis Death's Shadow, which teaches valuable lessons about low-resource games and opportunity costs of drawing cards with no text during the game. Leylines, like Goblin Guides and Urza's lands, are the kind of cards that I rarely play and often lose to. What can I say? I can't take the polarizing nature of these "opening hand matters" cards.
Sphinx of Foresight changes all that wisdom. Sphinx of Foresight offers a beneficial, but not game-winning ability in your opening hand, alongside a respectable 4/4 flying body with Thassa, God of the Sea's most underrated ability attached. This is unprecedented and will require a re-evaluation of several important heuristics we use to determine both mulligan and deckbuilding decisions.
Right off the bat, Sphinx of Foresight immediately screams "best card in the set for Limited play" to those who recognize the impact of basically never having to mulligan a hand with this card. Of course, 4/4 flying creatures that prevent you from drawing more unneeded lands in the midgame are also incredible in Limited. Even more impressive is the fact that if Sphinx is in your opening hand, the scry 3 effect means you are highly likely to curve out properly into dropping this powerhouse on turn 4, and any way to reduce the inherent fail rate in most Limited decks is an extremely welcome development. I'll be first picking this in every draft, and I'll lean towards drafting blue in Ravnica Allegiance Draft just in case I open the Sphinx in pack 2 or 3.
It's that good.
But the implications are far subtler in Constructed, where the scry 3 ability impacts not only mulligan decisions but also offers a way for linear decks like Dredge to more consistently assemble their engine or find their answer to hate cards in the sideboard games. A full-blown four-color Dredge deck with City of Brass and Mana Confluence would even be able to cast Prized Amalgam and Sphinx of Foresight to fight fair in sideboard games against heavily diluted opposing strategies, and the Sphinx's card selection offers a powerful way to dig quickly for relevant answers like Nature's Claim or Abrupt Decay.
But trying to stitch together a semi-fair gameplan on top of a linear strategy isn't necessarily the best way to use Sphinx of Foresight, though it is an exciting line of thinking to follow.
No, I'd like to see Sphinx of Foresight used in (what else?) low-land-count blue decks with a cantrip suite and a desire to avoid flooding out in the midgame.
I'd like to play seventeen-land Standard decks with Sphinx of Foresight to act as a pseudo-Preordain in the opening hand. I'd like to try a sixteen-land Legacy deck with Sphinx of Foresight to pitch to Force of Will or get Brainstormed away if needed while also offering a creature that owns the sky in a world of Insectile Aberration and Vendilion Clique. I'm already getting heated thinking about how I can fit Sphinx of Foresight in Izzet Phoenix or Grixis Death's Shadow in Modern.
What people aren't quite wrapping their heads around with Sphinx of Foresight is that it's another way for us to cut a land or two from stock blue cantrip decks and barely feel the pinch. This card is a playable way to hedge against mana flood in the right strategies. And if there's one thing I know how to do, it's cut a land from stock decks and win with them. Whether it was nineteen lands and Traverse the Ulvenwald in Four-Color Saheeli, or cutting the eighteenth land from previously maligned "bad, flood-prone Grixis Death's Shadow" by adding a zero-mana Opt in Mishra's Bauble, or playing nineteen lands and Search for Azcanta to enable Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Izzet Phoenix at the Pro Tour, cutting a land has become a specialty of mine; and I expect Sphinx of Foresight is going to catch quite a few people off-guard in furthering the viability of this line of thinking.
One of the other unexpected bonuses of a card with such a potent card selection effect on the first turn of the game is an increase in the impact and virtual density of, you guessed it, sideboard cards. Rather than praying for a Leyline of the Void to be in your opening hand, a Sphinx of Foresight allows a hypothetical Azorius Midrange deck to dig deeply to try and find a Rest in Peace in Modern against Dredge, or a Legacy Grixis Control deck to find its Diabolic Edict against Turbo Depths. In Modern and Legacy, particularly, the impact of sideboard cards can't be overstated, and I expect the combination of a scry 1 from a mulligan in concert with the scry 3 from Sphinx of Foresight to lead to a significantly higher percentage of sideboard games against linear decks with the appropriate hate cards.
Oh, and by the way, Sphinx of Foresight is a four-power creature. Stubborn Denial, anybody? Plus, on the play it works wonders with Street Wraith, creating basically a super-Preordain for zero mana. Seems like a match made in heaven with some of my favorite cards, no?
It's not only the older formats where Sphinx's card selection impact will change the dynamic against linear decks. Now Jeskai Drakes will be able to consistently find a sideboard Deafening Clarion to fight aggro. And yes, reading between the lines, I do fully expect that Deafening Clarion and Sphinx of Foresight are going to be quite good together. With improved mana from Hallowed Fountain, Jeskai Drakes will be quite a force in upcoming Standard. Four-toughness, flying monsters and a sweeper that also gains back huge chunks of life is a combo long overdue for center stage in Standard.
The only unfortunate conflict with Sphinx of Foresight in such a deck is the clogged four-mana slot on the mana curve, competing with Crackling Drake for the role of game-ending finisher. The fact that I'm not completely sold on which flying creature is better in such a deck is reason enough to respect the Sphinx. Should a Sultai or Simic deck arrive to compete with Azorius, Izzet, or Jeskai, though, expect Sphinx of Foresight to be a huge part of that deck's success. And should a Jeskai or Azorius Angels deck (a la Brad Nelson's Boros Angels deck from just prior to the Pro Tour at Grand Prix New Jersey) rise up in this new Standard, expect the Sphinx to be a large player in smoothing out the draws of an often-disjointed midrange deck to better compete with control in post-sideboard games.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Tocatli Honor Guard
- 3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
Clearly, Sphinx of Foresight has a powerful consistency-improving effect in opening hands while offering a reasonable rate for a game-ending creature alone. There's one small point that remains somewhat understated, though, one which may be of some interest to players who are willing to experiment a bit with various sacred cows of Magic theory.
Sphinx of Foresight, unlike the Leylines before it, offers a trigger upon revealing it in the opening hand. This trigger occurs not during the first upkeep of the game, but during your first upkeep of the game. Being on the draw improves the effectiveness of such a trigger by quite a significant margin. Knowing what you are up against informs what you'll be looking to do on the first turn of the game. How many times have you mulliganed an opening hand, looked at a Fatal Push on top of your deck, and not known whether you even wanted the card against an unknown matchup? We must revert to live reads of our opponents or looking up an opponent's MTGO screenname to try to figure out what deck they might be on to help make this annoying decision. With Sphinx of Foresight, this problem will only get worse, but on the draw, suddenly Sphinx of Foresight looks an awful lot like a zero-mana super-Preordain to find whatever piece of interaction is necessary that turn.
Adding fetchlands in Modern and Legacy into the equation, and perhaps losing the die roll won't sting quite so hard anymore. Fetching away your carefully scryed top three cards in order to facilitate casting a turn 1 Thoughtseize or Lightning Bolt is a unique disappointment. Super-Preordaining on the draw for that turn-1 discard spell, removal spell, or necessary land is equally thrilling, and I applaud Wizards of the Coast for designing a card that reduces the feel-bad of losing the die roll in such an elegant way. Forget Gemstone Caverns (though I do suspect that it is underplayed relative to its power level, but that's a discussion for a different day). Sphinx of Foresight is upgraded on the draw to a point where I'm not confident that being on the play with certain decks in certain formats against certain matchups is necessarily correct. And anything that adds more balance to the inherently random factors in a game of Magic is a good place to experiment, so bravo to WotC for creating that small bit of tension to spice up this potent card.
Sphinx of Foresight may not look like it on first glance, but the card offers a lot for the decks that are able to make use of both halves. I'm excited to push the boundaries of conventional Magic wisdom with this.