Part 2: New Strategies with New Phyrexia
Scars of Mirrodin block has proven to be one of the stranger blocks with so many build-around-me cards and so many unusual new tools to work with. Many of the cards that are good are types of cards that have never been good (or at least this good) before. Figuring out how to use all of these new tools is going to take some time and some testing but if you're like me you love an opportunity to brew.
Today we're going to do quite a bit of brewing as today's topic is New Strategies with New Phyrexia (NPH). We're going to focus on new types of decks made possible by NPH's incredibly intriguing card pool. Cards fitting into existing strategies were covered in Monday's installmenthere though we'll touch on a few cards today that are also possibilities for those decks. Many of these decks aren't going to be ready for tournament play but were designed to be jumping off points to get the creative juices flowing.
New Phyrexia continues with the Johnny Love enabling a multitude of new combo decks. Not all of these strategies can take center stage but it will be interesting to see what kind of effect all the strange and different combo decks will have on the format.
The first new archetype we'll be examining today revolves around one of the most compelling build-around-me's in the set Birthing Pod to set up a new infinite-life combo.
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Deceiver Exarch
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 4 Soul's Attendant
- 3 Suture Priest
- 1 Trinket Mage
- 2 Vengevine
- 1 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Let's start with the basic combo:
Turn 1: Land Soul's Attendant
Turn 2: Land Leonin Relic-Warder
Turn 3: Land Phyrexian Metamorph
The Metamorph enters play as a copy of Relic-Warder so you get an "enters the battlefield" trigger to exile an artifact (or enchantment). Target itself with the ability (which is legal since Phyrexian Metamorph says that it stays an artifact) and gain a life from Soul's Attendant. Once the Metamorph exiles itself it will cause a trigger that will return it to the battlefield. When that trigger resolves you can have it return to the battlefield as a Relic-Warder again gaining another life and beginning the loop anew. Repeat this a billion times then just stop choosing to use the Relic-Warder's ability (or target something else or have the Metamorph come back as something else). An arbitrary amount of life goes a long way and many people will be stone-cold drawing dead; however we must take great care as there are a few ways we can lose despite this massive advantage namely decking poison and a bigger combo.
Ulamog basically ensures that you'll never be decked by traditional mill or even just the game getting locked up. However Jace the Mind Sculptor is a pretty popular card from what I hear and he has an ultimate they never survive. When you play against a blue deck it's important to start moving the game in a direction where you'll be able to continually attack Jace. A combination of Day of Judgments and Gideons could potentially make this very annoying but you do have another plan available to you. If you can set it up Ajani's Pridemate can be looped infinitely ending games in a hurry (and letting you win through the mirror).
Playing against a larger combo such as Splinter Twin + Deceiver Exarch follows a similar path though usually that combo can be interacted with more easily. In order for them to combo off through a billion life they're going to need to get every Soul's Attendant and Suture Priest off of the table (which does get easier after game one when they add cards like Pyroclasm). Additionally Spellskite can provide additional disruption and protect your combo and is generally an excellent card which we'll be discussing at greater length below.
Infect is particularly challenging as your combo is basically useless against them. Sideboarding in Melira Sylvok Outcast turns you combo "back on" though only temporarily as creature removal can still shut you out. Melira is commonly thought of with Phyrexian Unlife providing a soft lock that's particularly effective against opponents with limited creature removal. I don't think that combo is good enough here but you're probably still going to want some Melira action to combat Infect.
Phyrexian Unlife is a strange card appearing to be life gain on the surface but combining in unusual ways with Ad Nauseam–type cards (cards that make you lose life) as well as with Near-Death Experience and Phyrexian mana cards that let you quickly knock your score to one. This tactic also works very well with Soul Conduit if you just have mana for days.
Both Birthing Pod and Fauna Shaman are used to assemble the "Life Combo" though both have backup plans. Fauna Shaman can also run the classic Vengevine plan while Birthing Pod calls for a little more improvisation. Some of the best creatures to sacrifice are Viridian Emissary Pilgrim's Eye Trinket Mage and out of the sideboard Blade Splicer Precursor Golem Viridian Corrupter and Acidic Slime.
Trinket Mage is just a way to find the one Voltaic Key which is primarily to Pod twice a turn. While the Key is not great without the Pod at least it can be used to untap artifact creatures like Pilgrim's Eye and Phyrexian Metamorph.
Deceiver Exarch is another clever three-drop that can be used to skip straight from a two-drop into a four-drop (namely the Metamorph) letting you combo people out of nowhere. If you have the mana you can Birthing Pod your two-drop into a Deceiver then untap the Pod and sac the Deceiver moving straight to the Metamorph.
This is definitely the sort of deck that's going to require a lot of tuning but hopefully this can be a useful jumping-off point. It's very possible to focus on the Blade Splicer/Precursor Golem aspect of the deck (possibly including some Master Splicer action as the next stop on the curve). For more on some specific Birthing Pod tactics I recommend rereading Gavin's article here as well as mine here . I'd like to hit a couple other Birthing Pod possibilities before we move on.
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Pilgrim's Eye
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Leonin Relic-Warder
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Soul's Attendant
- 4 Suture Priest
Here we're trying to take advantage of the natural overlap between Soul Sisters and PodLife. It's pretty strange to be playing an awkward aggro deck with an infinite life combo but at least you can put enough pressure on people to close out games quickly particularly if you have an arbitrarily large Ajani's Pridemate. I really like how well this more aggressive build is able to take advantage of Suture Priest (a card that I think is going to surprise some people with how strong it is). Blood Seeker saw a little play and Suture Priest is nearly twice the card.
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Captivating Vampire
- 4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 1 Skinrender
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 1 Vampire Nighthawk
The ability to turn one of your one-drops into a Bloodghast (which is often your best card) then sacrifice Bloodghast every turn to create an unending stream of Captivating Vampires is quite formidable. The fetchlands help find the green mana to operate it without continually paying life; however the Phyrexian mana cost ensures that we won't get color-screwed (as we can always just pay our way out of it). I've opted for enough green mana to conceivably sideboard a light green splash if needed.
Birthing Pod also works quite well with Kalastria Highborn giving you a sacrifice outlet that continually furthers your game plan. Sometimes this game plan is just upgrading your guys into as many "Combo Pieces" as possible (Highborn/Bloodghast) to let you drain your opponent out while other times you might switch into toolbox mode (and the toolbox here could definitely be expanded quite a bit; just remember to keep the deck focused). It's important to remember that Birthing Pod only gets creatures that cost the exact right amount so your Bloodghasts are only turning into Captivating Vampires and Nighthawk here and Lacerators/Pulse Trackers become whichever two-drop you might want.
Geth's Verdict is an interesting new addition to black's arsenal not only as additional good creature kill (which it is) but also as a form of added reach. It may be that the extra point you get in here and there makes it worth replacing Go for the Throat entirely even in the main. Additionally Geth's Verdict gives you more answers to Mirran Crusader and Sword of Feast and Famine–equipped creatures.
Some Lashwrithes might need to find their way in here. Black has so many new options with New Phyrexia that it will be very exciting trying them all. My love for black decks is no secret and we'll definitely be discussing them in greater detail but before we go any further we really need to face the elephant in the room.
Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin
This combination is going to revolutionize Standard in much the same way Sword of Feast and Famine did leading to a cascading series of changes as the entire format adjusts to the new world order. We first discussed the combination here. Since that time PyroTwin has dominated Magic-League though it's far from clear that Pyromancer Ascension is the best complement to the Deceiver-Twin combo. It would seem that people are coming to realize just how strong the Deceiver combo is and the real question is what to support it with (rather than whether or not it is "good enough").
Deceiver Exarch curves perfectly with Splinter Twin to set up a turn four kill. While the combo is vulnerable to creature kill enchantment removal bounce discard permission and some proactive permanents (like Urabrask the Hidden and Torpor Orb) it's brutally fast. Now there is a serious price to pay for playing a non-interactive strategy (such as many old forms of Valakut).
Deceiver Exarch is a far superior creature to Pestermite (the original Splinter Twin combo card) and that combo was never even Standard legal. The four toughness makes him far more durable. Add to this just how great a defender a Horned Turtle can be sometimes (especially as a surprise) and you're talking about a pretty sweet "combo piece." Deceiver blocks Stoneforge with a Sword quite well and the ability to surprise tap something can be extremely useful tactically.
It's important to consider all your options with Deceiver including the untap option. For instance imagine someone Memoricides you. Deceiver in response untap your Island and Spell Pierce it. Now you are free to untap and combo off easy peasy. Some other great uses for Deceiver Exarch include:
-Tapping a Zektar Shrine Expedition token
-Keeping someone a mana short of casting something this turn (which you probably know they have from Gitaxian Probe)
-Stopping two attackers this turn (tap and block)
-Making a second red (unlikely to matter much and be careful to not get surprised by summoning sickness)
-Tapping the opponent's Spell Pierce mana
-Surprise blocking Porcelain Legionnaire (and tons of other creatures)
-Making your sideboard sweepers more effective (more Horned Turtle duty)
-Getting a surprise point in against planeswalkers (e.g. tap their Mountain that was Koth'ed then untap and combine with a Bolt to kill him)
The Pyromancer Ascension strategy has been a cantrip short ever since Ponder rotated out though despite this has seen a fair bit of play. Gitaxian Probe is a fantastic new addition that may not dig as well as Ponder but offers a number of great elements. Gitaxian Probe is one of the most interesting cards in New Phyrexia as well as one of the most dangerous. A sorcery-speed Peek is very nearly as strong as the previously borderline cantrip. The alternate cost requiring no mana however is a major upgrade. This basically makes Gitaxian Probe into a split card where it's either a better Street Wraith (exciting in its own right) or a Peek. Getting to look at your opponent's hand in either case is fantastic for combo decks letting you know if the coast is clear to "go off" as well as just gaining information on how to sculpt the game. Besides it has to make you smile thinking about Gitaxian Probing after playing Halimar Depths (no waiting!).
We will be discussing Gitaxian Probe more on Friday as it works very well with Storm combo decks decks with 'top of the library' tutors decks with Cabal Therapy or Meddling Mage and more. Today though it provides a very cheap way to cycle through your deck and trigger Pyromancer Ascension. While I recommend that combo decks always consider this card it does seem like people are trying to put it in too many decks. There's little reason why someone's Jund deck would want this card for example. Paying two life is not free. Additionally it hurts your ability to mulligan a little as you don't know what the card is when you see your opening hand.
On the flipside Gitaxian Probe is at least a consideration for other non-combo strategies such as U/B Control or Caw-Blade if only you can be disciplined enough to find a little room for a couple. This is a card that's sure to be hotly debated; some players will argue to cut it from others' decks while others will argue that it should be added to many that it is not in. At the end of the day though it probably won't really matter that much except in combo decks (where it will be excellent).
Another card to consider which I'm not currently sold on is Tezzeret's Gambit. I love the card and will look to use it in a variety of places. I'm not sure it's the best fit here because you aren't really taking advantage of its proliferate ability. Yes you'll get to add a second Ascension counter sometimes but is this enough? It may be but we have so many good options to try; we didn't even have room for Foresee here which is just fantastic for digging. It should be noted that if you have a Tezzeret's Gambit in your yard and cast another with Ascension out you'll get the counter first then proliferate which is pretty sweet. Normally I'd love to split between See Beyonds Foresees Tezzeret's Gambits and maybe an Into the Roil but the nature of Ascension is that you really do want to have as many playsets as you can for consistency. I see a lot of people trimming the fourth Splinter Twin but I seriously doubt this is what you want to be doing. This combo is so strong when you draw it naturally that I'd really want to maximize my chances of that happening.
One of the biggest advantages to playing both Pyromancer Ascension and Deceiver-Twin is the redundancy. Pyromancer always worked much better when you had the Ascension turn two but could struggle if you didn't. Now you can just set up the Twin combo instead. If you draw the Twin combo just win that way; if not it's as if you're just playing Ascension though now with access to Gitaxian Probe. On the other hand one of the major problems with playing Ascension with Twin is that the combo pieces themselves don't help each other. Another exciting direction to take Deceiver-Twin is Grixis.
Black gives us access to discard and the discard spells legal in Standard are just better than the counterspells at the moment. Additionally moving away from Ascension gives us some really good alternative lines of deckbuilding. After I talked with PV recently we are very much on the same page regarding this strategy and this is at the top of my list of decks to consider in the near future. I agree with PV completely that Spellskite is just awesome and in fact I'd go even further and play the full four. He does a ton of stuff for you including protecting:
-Splinter Twin from a removal spell (though not Demystify)
-You from an opponent trying to Deceiver-Twin you (since you can just take their Splinter Twin!)
-You from Stoneforge Mystic and any of the Swords
-You from early beats like Goblin Guide comboing well with sideboard sweepers
-Your Jaces from creature assaults (letting us get away with no Bolts or Doom Blades main)
There's kind of an interesting dance that takes place in the Deceiver-Twin mirror if both players have Spellskites. Into the Roil is usually going to be the way out but the contrast between Doom Blade and Go for the Throat is amusing. Go for the Throat can't be redirected to the Spellskite meaning it can reliably protect you from their combo but it can't help you force through your own. Doom Blade can take out the Spellskite stopping your combo but gets stopped by Spellskite if they're trying to combo off.
One risk of running Spellskite though is that it gets worse if maindeck artifact kill picks up significantly. Personally I think it may take people at least until the next Standard GP before they really start going this route. Most likely ubiquitous artifacts won't really catch on for about four to six weeks as people are slow to change their habits. Cards like Spellskite make Crush a lot less appealing. Is Shatter really out of the question?
The right mix of card draw is definitely up in the air but I like See Beyond's spot on the curve and it does give us good value out of dead cards later (like discard spells extra land or extra copies of cards you need only one of). I considered Liliana Vess but the problem with Liliana as a tutor is always "If you have a Liliana what more do you need?"
There are plenty of other homes for Deceiver-Twin such as a modified RUG deck. Such a deck would consider Gitaxian Probe Beast Within Dismember and Spellskite as well as all the old RUG classics. Watch for RUG master Michael Jacob's discussion on the strategy. Regardless of what home turns out to be the best for Deceiver-Twin it's the real deal and will revolutionize the format. It's not nearly as unfun to combat as Valakut despite being several turns faster. Valakut just ignores almost any attempt to interact whereas one can interact with Deceiver-Twin in countless ways and by colors besides blue (which is to say all of them). Whatever deck you're building it's crucial to have a plan and a lot of solutions to the Deceiver-Twin combo (since you really want to see an answer in your first ten cards every game).
While it's not strictly speaking a "combo deck" Bloodchief Ascension is another major winner from New Phyrexia. The other Ascension needs three counters to trigger rather than just two making it a more appealing proliferate target. Combine this with Volt Charge's natural synergy with your strategy and we're on our way.
Playing a more extreme B/R Vampires sort of game Bloodchief decks tend to function more like Lava Spike decks. A keepable hand is generally going to involve at least one creature or Bloodchief Ascension and too many lands might as well be a mulligan. The ideal curve is:
Turn 1- Land creature
Turn 2- Land Bloodchief Ascension attack and get a counter then Bolt/Burst on opponent's turn for another counter.
Turn 3- Land Mindcrank attack to trigger Ascension. Now they're basically locked and the first time they take damage or whenever a card goes to their graveyard they mill their entire library and lose that much life.
Why do we only play two Mindcranks then? Well we don't exactly have "library manipulation" to find the Bloodchief Ascension and without it Mindcrank is basically dead. It's very possible that we don't even want the two Mindcranks that are in here as we certainly don't need them (an active Ascension is pretty good on its own) but it does offer us a way to go really big so it might be worth it. I'd be way more excited about Mindcrank if it had any other backup functionality at all (like sacrificing it to Kuldotha Rebirth or Artillerize but those cards don't really fit into this build).
Volt Charge is a sweet addition as it generally adds both the second and the third counter. Tezzeret's Gambit could also be considered though it's a little slow for a strategy as suicidally berserk as this. If one added the Gambit it would be worth considering cutting some number of Swamps (and the Verdant Catacombs) for some Darkslick Shores. It interferes with your Dragonskull Summit but it does give you a way to backdoor the Gambit if your life is low.
Another possible direction to take this strategy is to incorporate Immolating Souleater and possibly Kiln Fiend or even Death's Shadow. Immolating Souleater is one of the most exciting new creatures capable of ending games really fast. For reference here is the Immolating Souleater deckdiscussed last week .
Outside of the use of Immolating Souleater as another way to set up the turn three kill it's also important to note the use of Dismember in the sideboard. Dismember provides an excellent answer to Phyrexian Crusader Kor Firewalker or Vulshok Refuge not to mention giving us more game against Splinter Twin.
While we're on the topic of Ascensions Luminarch Ascension and Beastmaster Ascension have already seen plenty of play but are both worth remembering in the days to come. Luminarch Ascension is an excellent choice for proliferate meaning Tezzeret's Gambit could be a great fit. Beastmaster on the other hand needs too many counters to really profit from proliferate; however it does work well with Eldrazi Spawn if one were going the dedicated Fresh Meat route.
This leaves only the redheaded stepchild the black sheep the blue Ascension. Archmage Ascension was heralded by some as the worst card in Zendikar as the ability to tutor instead of draw is good but if you've drawn multiple cards a turn for five turns how much more do you really need? Well there are a ton of great cards for such a deck if only a resourceful deckbuilder can crack the code of how many of each to use.
Tezzeret's Gambit is excellent as it triggers the Ascension twice in the same turn as does Steady Progress. Additionally they both power up your Everflowing Chalices to help fuel all this card drawing.
As a warning this is a very rough draft. A deck this radical and strange is going to take some loving and some tuning before it's ready for tournament battle but this should provide some food for thought. The ability to power up Everflowing Chalices with all the proliferating can make casting Emrakul easier than one might first imagine. Inkmoth Nexus only needs to connect once to put the opponent on a short clock from proliferating poison counters. Venser and Jace also provide excellent ways to gain an advantage or win the game outright. It's hard to say which of these plans you'll actually want as that mix needs to be worked out; it's also necessary to balance the defensive cards the card draw the bullets and more.
Luminarch Ascension could also be a possibility (and certainly out of the board). Throne of Geth/Ichor Wellspring takes you on another route entirely with Lux Cannon Mycosynth Wellspring Phyrexia's Core and more all fighting for a spot. While I'm skeptical that Archmage Ascension is really where you want to be the prospect of combining Venser with proliferate is very very appealing and takes a lot less work.
The advent of Mycosynth Wellspring opens some interesting doors deckbuilding-wise. Now that we have access to so many great artifacts to sacrifice we can actually evaluate sacrificing artifacts as a "good thing" in the right decks. For instance:
This is a very rough build designed to highlight some possibilities. If this style appeals to you it's probably a good idea to identify the elements that most appeal to you and focus on those trimming some of the other action. Once you can use Kuldotha Rebirth Artillerize Throne of Geth and Phyrexia's Core to add value (as opposed to losing it) you're have something worth working for. Shrine of Burning Rage is okay here and does kill pro-red creatures as well as end games but it's actually better suited to Mono-Red aggro decks. I definitely recommend Patrick Sullivan's commentary on updating Red decks.
As always sneaking in an Inkmoth hit can be game-winning in proliferate decks. Necropede is actually another fine card to consider as it plays good defense or sneaks an early hit in. One of my favorite cards to proliferate though is Lux Cannon. This is pretty much the core "machine" to build with a machine deck though there's a lot of allure to being an even more dedicated Cannon deck.
Another sketch for brainstorming purposes this build almost surely doesn't have enough defense. I wonder though how turbo can one go with setting up Lux Cannon and just proliferating and untapping it? Will anyone find a way to make it work before maindeck artifact hate appears everywhere? Is hybridizing this sort of strategy with Tezzeret Agent of Bolas the solution? After all if you can proliferate easily maybe you can set up a twenty-point Drain Life pretty quickly. I almost wonder if these artifact decks go far enough to want Semblance Anvil. I don't recommend the Anvil "just to do it" but there is some appeal to something like:
Turn 1 Land
Turn 2 Land Everflowing Chalice
Turn 3 Land Anvil (don't tap the Chalice) then Ichor Wellspring for free Throne of Geth for free sac the Wellspring setting the Chalice to two which could then be used to cast Lux Cannon assuming you don't have even more sweet action.
It's not necessarily the same deck but Myr Superion is also an interesting option for Anvil decks as you can just play them for free. I wonder what a dedicated Myr deck would look like? Myr Galvanizer Myr Battlesphere Myr Turbine and Myr Reservoir certainly provide a lot of ways to get paid for playing Myr. Can we really just fill out the deck with some mana Myr? It would be easy to add one or two support colors but which? White offers Tempered Steel and Dispatch. Red offers Whipflare and Galvanic Blast. Blue and black offer Tezzeret Agent of Bolas as well as Preordain permission Jace discard and removal.
All right enough of the crazy stuff for a few. Let's get back to something a little more tangible. Remember though the purpose of today's decks isn't to show what the most likely best decks are but rather these decks are thought experiments on what's possible as we search for the next big thing. With our deck tuning caps on we're going to want to be a lot more concerned about what is "best" and what ideas are "good." As long as we're focused on innovation however we need not be overly concerned with trivial matters like "reality." Many of the best ideas are far from realistic.
Speaking of realistic let's get back to my guilty pleasure Mono-Black.
Exploring black decks is very interesting as there are so many ways you can build them and so many great new cards that you can't possibly fit them all into the same deck. Here are my top 15 cards for Mono-B in New Phyrexia:
12. Life's Finale
11. Glistening Oil
7. Hex Parasite
While Dismember is probably in the top 5 cards in the set it loses a lot of utility in Mono-B as there are better options once you fully embrace the dark side. We've already discussed half of those cards in the three Mono-B links above so let's just address the others briefly.
Entomber Exarch is deceptively strong but isn't getting much spotlight on account of being in the same set as Phyrexian Obliterator/Lashwrithe. Gravedigger has seen some Constructed play over the years and the Duress option is exceptional. Obviously hitting Jace and Gideon is the primary plan and when you combine him with Despise Inquisition and Duress you can really rip apart an opponent's hand fast. Discard combined with creature removal and some great threats make Mono-Black an obvious foil to Deceiver-Twin. You can attack from so many angles put a lot of pressure on damage-wise and have access to annoying hate cards like Surgical Extraction (turn one Despise/Inquisition/Duress then Extract their Deceiver or Splinter Twin...). Yes this is the exact rationale that people use on Jace but the thing is few decks need Jace to win. Dedicated Splinter Twin decks are generally going to have a hell of a time winning without the combo. Pyromancer Ascension or Jace give them backups of course but this does make life annoying for them.
The other thing I love about Entomber Exarch (outside of just being another fabulous mediocre black two-for-one) is that he doesn't make your opponent's removal good. There are only two types of creatures in Magic:
Baneslayers are creatures where the value is in the creature itself. Mulldrifters are creatures that give you value outside of the creature.
Hero of Bladehold
Birds of Paradise
Wall of Omens
Sea Gate Oracle
Chancellor of the Forge
Gatekeeper of Malakir
There are a few creatures that are truly both which are quite rare and are normally identifiable by the word "Titan" appearing on the card. Emeria Angel Cunning Sparkmage Oracle of Mul Daya and Ulamog are examples. A good rule of thumb is: "If you care about killing it it's a Baneslayer." If killing it loses value it tends to be a Mulldrifter. Drawing extra cards has nothing to do with being a Mulldrifter as Consecrated Sphinx Dark Confidant and Scroll Thief are all Baneslayers. Card advantage is not a must for a card to be a Mulldrifter. If you're playing an aggressive deck most creatures with haste can end up being Mulldrifters since you can often get at least one hit in before it dies. Understanding the difference between Baneslayers and Mulldrifters is a crucial element of high-level deckbuilding.
Sometimes removal is very popular in formats. Other times it's not. Still at other times almost everyone has a little but not a ton.
The common strategies for removing creatures need to be considered when deciding the sorts of creatures we want to play. Often we strive to play only Mulldrifters (at least maindeck) so as to make opponent's removal poor. Once you start playing with Baneslayers the more you have the better they get. The extreme example of this was Zvi's Mythic deck from San Diego last year.
See once you start playing with Baneslayers their removal spells are going to be good but if you play enough Baneslayers hopefully they run out of removal. This is not to say you need twenty or even more than four. Rather this is to say that percentage-wise the more Baneslayers you play the better each one is. The most common mistake I see novice deckbuilders make regarding Baneslayers and Mulldrifters is mixing them too much. Now there is no problem with adding Mulldrifters to Baneslayers but it doesn't work the other way.
If you need a certain Baneslayer for your deck to work such as Fauna Shaman or Lotus Cobra you're going to be vulnerable to creature kill; and that's okay. Once you have some Baneslayers in your deck there's no harm adding more (if they are right for your deck). However you don't need to play all Baneslayers since Mulldrifters can be added to any deck without clashing.
The problem is if you try to do it the other way. If your deck is all Mulldrifters then creature removal is bad against you. Once you add any true Baneslayers (that is Baneslayers that are not also Mulldrifters) you're opening yourself up to all of your opponent's removal. This is not an absolute deal-breaker by any means but all too often people recklessly throw Baneslayers into decks that didn't have any.
All I'm saying is: take a moment and ask yourself if you care about opening yourself up to removal.
I've been making decks with Vampire Nighthawk and Phyrexian Obliterator meaning opponent's removal will be good anyway (hopefully mitigated by the discard). There's an alternative however. If you cut the Nighthawks and Obliterators you can actually move towards a build with no good removal targets. Entomber Exarch is excellent for such a purpose and Phyrexian Rager can replace Nighthawk. Batterskull can be a fine alternative for life gain since if the Germ dies you can still move around the Equipment or bounce it. I can very easily imagine a future where people play so much maindeck good removal to stop Deceiver-Twin that Nighthawk and Obliterator take splash damage.
Keep in mind that not playing Baneslayers main doesn't carry over to the sideboard. In fact sideboarding Baneslayers is the oldest trick in the book (and one of the best). As such even if you didn't have Nighthawks or Obliterators main I'd strongly consider sideboarding them.
Caress of Phyrexia has a lot of depth to it doing some things that few cards come close to accomplishing. First of all it's more card advantage than black mages usually have access to these days. Against most opponents the poison counters will be irrelevant and the life loss is not actually that much. Five mana to draw three is decent but it's the versatility that really makes the card shine. Finishing someone off with the three damage is certainly reasonable but much more exciting is giving someone three extra poison counters. It's almost as if your Jace's Ingenuity can be used to deal six damage to an opponent giving a healthy amount of reach to semi-infect decks such as those with Phyrexian Crusader and Inkmoth Nexus.
Glistening Oil is a subtle card that a lot of people are sleeping on. It can eat away at creatures like Squadron Hawk and Birds of Paradise; however it does have a pretty major flaw that might prove too costly. Whatever creature you put it on is going to live another turn (or a lot more turns depending on what kind of creature it is) and for many of the most important creatures to kill you really just want to kill them right now (*ahem* Lotus Cobra *ahem*). That fact combined with its slightly awkward dis-synergy with Edict effects has me hesitant (especially since Geth's Verdict is in the same set).
However there is more to the card. If you can profit from the ability to give a creature infect this card can turn into a star. For instance if you have Immolating Souleater Glistening Oil is basically the same as an Assault Strobe but can actually be decent removal when you don't have the combo instead of a bad Giant Growth. Now what if you were playing a Phyrexian Crusader/Inkmoth Nexus deck that also happened to contain Lashwrithe and Batterskull? These powerful Equipment work great with those cards but are strong enough threats that they can win on their own (making them fine for the semi-infect hybrid). A surprise Glistening Oil can make a Germ lethal out of nowhere.
Chancellor of the Dross is appealing in that a 6/6 flying lifelink creature for seven is actually not a bad deal at all. As far as Baneslayers go that's pretty respectable. Once you add the ability to drain three at the start of the game for no mana or cards we're getting into territory where you're getting tons of value that's generally very hard to capitalize on. That's really the challenge with the Chancellors to build a deck that can actually take advantage of the value of having them in your opening hand as well as their value as a fatty. There are so many good finishers in black that it's very possible that Chancellor of the Dross will be overshadowed but he could also just be jammed into decks looking for a non-artifact victory condition perhaps in Block.
I will say however if you have a Chancellor of the Dross in your opening hand it really does go a long way towards helping you survive against an aggro deck long enough to get the Chancellor on to battlefield. Wurmcoil Engine Batterskull and Vampire Nighthawk all provide an awful lot of alternatives though.
On the topic of the Chancellors the green one has gotten all the hype as a result of how mind-numbingly obviously it combines with Fauna Shaman (giving you something great to do with both "halves"). It gives you mana (something obviously good) and can be cast easily by the decks that would want it (thanks to cards like Joraga Treespeaker and Elvish Archdruid). A 6/7 vigilance reach isn't the sexiest beast on the runway but those numbers are not the worst for a cost that's actually pretty obtainable for green decks.
Chancellor of the Forge is my personal favorite of the Chancellors. People seem to be sleeping on him but that's mostly because he's good in a way that other cards haven't been before. It's easy to think of him as just a Memnite with haste or a bad Grave Titan but the fact that he is BOTH at the same time is hard for people to evaluate and figure out how to use.
He's obviously awesome in your opening hand giving you a zero-mana creature with haste and a cantrip. Why a cantrip? You get the hasty Memnite and you have the Chancellor in your hand. A hasty Memnite cantrip is worth almost three mana which is a lot of value... assuming you value the fatty as a card. The trick to using the Chancellor is putting him in a deck that appreciates a cantrip hasty Memnite as well as the fatty so that it's like an automatic two-for-one. Most people are trying to jam him into Kuldotha Red types but that's probably a mistake as they can't really take advantage of the fatty half. Then if you draw the Chancellor later it sucks (though the hasty Memnite dream might be so awesome that people do it anyway).
If you draw the Chancellor on turn six or seven he's generally going to be a great draw. He does provide some card advantage; haste is a great ability and if you play a bunch of tokens mana creatures or Mulldrifter types you might end up getting a pretty major effect when you play him. What's interesting to me is that in the right deck he's amazing as one of your first seven cards as well as any cards past twelve. That leaves a very small window where he's not an excellent draw. Even during those few cards however he isn't dead. He's still a fatty that you're getting ready to cast. A few mana creatures can make that critical turn come sooner than later. In addition to the usual accelerators there are a few other types that are kind of exciting.
One of the most interesting Chancellor of the Forge enablers is Garruk Wildspeaker. He curves perfectly into the turn five Chancellor (or turn four if you had anything else). To make things even more appealing he's threatening Overrun next turn letting you get paid big for all those tokens. Additionally Garruk is a card that plays well with lots of little dorks like Sylvan Ranger Lotus Cobra Birds of Paradise and so on while still working great with the Chancellor as a fatty.
An obvious new way to get to the Chancellor is Geosurge. It's a bit unwieldy but if you have a few ways to spend it it's still a Black Lotus worth of value. I certainly wouldn't want Chancellor of the Forge to be the only thing I was doing with my Geosurge if I played it but that does make for a very exciting turn four. Goblin Bushwhacker is another possible use of Geosurge as is Inferno Titan (fine waste a mana...) and even Urabrask plus a one- or two-drop. Koth of the Hammer could easily fit into such a deck or even just help enable the Chancellor without Geosurge (thanks to the -2 ability). It's possible that this actually ends up having a lot of overlap with the inevitable Urabrask the Hidden + Inferno Titan deck. If you're going to play the Chancellor in a Kuldotha Red style of deck it's probably best done in a build featuring four Koth of the Hammers.
Okay getting back to black Enslave is not strictly new; however this is a format with a lot more fatties than that of its original printing. Six is a pretty big commitment of mana (when you could get a Grave Titan or Wurmcoil or Massacre Wurm) but it does add a nice dimension to black's game. I'm generally a fan of cards that do something the color couldn't previously do. Enslave is pretty awful against most Mulldrifters but it might be the perfect tool against the right Baneslayers (including Titans).
Sheoldred Whispering One (She...Old...Red) is a pretty exciting fatty in terms of the impact she has on the board. She is pure Baneslayer as a single removal spell ruins your fun (assuming it can remove a 6/6 black creature) but her ability to take over a game is rivaled by few creatures in the game. Reya Dawnbringer was good enough for tournament play and Sheoldred kills a creature every turn on top of that. She's an obvious choice for reanimation-style decks if such a deck materializes. Still she is so reasonably costed that I could see her seeing play in a Debtors' Knell sort of situation as a one-of in the right deck. She may look like a casual card but I predict she sees tournament play.
What sort of Mono-Black deck to make is far from obvious but whatever it is needs to address the inevitable issue of "Why aren't you just playing Jace?" It's so easy to add four Darkslick Shores four Creeping Tar Pits four Drowned Catacombs and maybe a tiny bit more blue mana so why aren't you? The painful truth is that it might just be better to play B/u even if Jace (and probably Preordain) are your only cards. If you want to avoid this fate then the burden is on you to justify why you want Swamps instead of those cards. That's a big part of what draws me to cards like Lashwrithe. Lashwrithe is a very strong card that actually pays you for not playing Jace.
Mono-Black Aggro is going to be just fine thanks to the ultra-aggressive Vampire tribe but it's possible for Mono-Black Control to make a comeback if creative deckbuilders find a way to address a few key issues:
2) MBC has generally only succeeded when it has had good card draw. Necropotence Skeletal Scrying Phyrexian Arena and Dark Confidant are all successful card sources from days gone by. Sign in Blood is great but not enough. If you can't find enough card advantage you better be pretty sure you're doing something else worth doing.
3) MBC has been without a good four-drop for a while. Abyssal Persecutor is still an option and with Geth's Verdict and Go for the Throat you have more ways than ever to kill him. Lashwrithe Phyrexian Obliterator and Entomber Exarch are all great new additions meaning that Persecutor's drawback is definitely no longer a weakness for black decks. The burden is still on the black mage to prove that his or her deck isn't better off with Jace though.
Overcome these three obstacles and you'll have invented a new major archetype in Standard.
Mono-Black can take more forms than just Vampires and MBC however. For instance:
Here we see a sort of Infect/MBC hybrid. Phyrexian Crusader is an awesome enough card that it will entice players to play hybrids though keep in mind he's a bit worse with the printing of Dismember for red and white mages. I've opted to not use creatures like Plague Stinger here as I want every creature to be a good defender (keeping in line with the MBC theme). We don't take advantage of the life loss from Geth's Verdict but the ability to kill creatures with Sword of Feast and Famine might be enough to pull us away from Go for the Throat. Lashwrithe is a fine man in his own right but can be used as a very powerful enhancement for your guys. For instance a turn three Crusader followed by a turn four Lashwrithe with an Inkmoth Nexus in play puts the opponent on a one-turn clock. Then even if they Day of Judgment away your Crusader your Nexus threatens lethal immediately. Sometimes it only takes one hit to put someone on a clock thanks to Contagion Clasp (with Caress to end it).
There are obviously enough new infect cards to spawn a variety of new strategies. One of the most basic of these is the Mono-Green Giant Growth style.
I'm not a fan of this sort of strategy as I feel it's too weak to blockers. Still Glistener Elf is the one-drop many infect players have been clamoring for. Mutagenic Growth is a very exciting card for infect decks as it makes it next to impossible for opponents to actually know what you're capable of. After all the six-card hand of Glistener Elf Groundswell Groundswell Mutagenic Growth Forest Forest kills on turn two and even in less Magical Christmas Land scenarios you can still surprise someone out of nowhere with a flurry of pumps surpassing your mana supply. It also makes an ideal tempo play for clearing away blockers. For instance if you attack with your Glistener Elf into their Stoneforge Mystic you can Mutagenic Growth to trade up and still have your mana available to play an Ichorclaw Myr.
Blighted Agent and Lost Leonin are peculiar in that they are more aggressively costed than the other two-drop infect creatures on account of being in the colors least suited to an infect aggro strategy. This makes them more interesting in Legacy but even in Standard we must consider them for our infect aggro decks if we can make the mana work. Blighted Agent could easily fit in a U/B infect deck giving you access to a lot of "unblockable" two-drops. Distortion Strike is also an option plus the usual blue business like Jace Preordain permission Into the Roil and maybe even Tezzeret.
It was not only Phyrexia that gained in NPH however. The Mirran cards were not very numerous but there were some high-impact ones. We already discussed some of the great tools that Hawkward decks gained on Monday but for more on this archetype check out Sam Black's article here.
There are other ways to use metalcraft however such as utilizing Puresteel Paladin. One possibility is to just try to break him:
While Puresteel Paladin can just be tossed in existing Quest decks as a backup way to get your Argentum Armor online as discussedhere he can also be built around. One possibility is to capitalize on his card drawing abilities with lots of living weapons.
- 4 Porcelain Legionnaire
- 3 Kor Duelist
- 4 Puresteel Paladin
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 2 Kemba, Kha Regent
There is a strange tension between Quest and Puresteel Paladin though. Puresteel Paladin gets paid from living weapons whereas Quest for the Holy Relic doesn't actually play well with them at all. White-based metalcraft decks gained so many options that finding the right style will take some finesse. The basic pillars of white metalcraft are:
Additionally it's very possible that adding red could be the right way to metalcraft. Jor Kadeen is very underrated. A 5/4 first striker for five is not the worst and his ability is basically a permanent overrun. The biggest trick with him is playing him in a deck that can actually get up to five mana; however he is generally going to be one of the better cards in any deck he is in. Whipflare and Galvanic Blast could potentially offer more incentives but the big hurdle here is justifying a five-mana Baneslayer style of creature.
This is only scratching the surface as there is even more wacky stuff possible like Turntimber Ranger and Xenograft making infinite dudes a dedicated Golem deck Rage Extractor decks and Slag Fiend/Scrapyard Salvo decks but we're already running very long so some of that might be a little more appropriate for Block or Extended which will be included on Friday as well as Legacy and even Vintage. Join me then for the exciting conclusion of "The Innovator's Guide to New Phyrexia!"