What, a GBM article on Tuesday? I just couldn’t help myself – spoiler season comes along and I dive right in, ignoring everything else around me (sorry, honey!). This article goes a bit long, but a card-by-card review is a little easier to read than a normal article, and there’s nothing wrong with reading a couple of cards, taking a break and then coming back when you’re ready for more. To keep things fresh, and to prevent me from having to review more than 100 cards, the Muses drafted our favorite rares and uncommons, so you’ll get a sample of our different views for each color, cycle and style. If I didn’t mention your favorite card it doesn’t mean I don’t like it or can’t see how good it is, it just means Bruce or Brandon drafted it.
As I go through the lower rarities, some of my comments will mainly involve pointing out the similarity between these and older cards that have proved themselves to be powerful and effective. I played multiplayer with Noah back on the Ark (I cleaned up, because everyone else was afraid to play blue; suckers!), but for those of you who don’t have knowledge of or access to older cards, I hope that these comparisons will suggest some cards that are deserving of a second look.
Before we get started, here’s a metagame strategy note. In addition to the continuing influx of strong artifacts that you expect from a Mirrodin block, a lot of the new Phyrexian mana cards are artifacts. That means that Creeping Corrosion is looking pretty damn good right now. It might be time to dust off the old elf deck, load up on Creeping Corrosion, Viridian Shaman and Naturalize, then beat your opponents senseless until they become totally disheartened with their new cards. Then trade the cards off them at a fraction of their market value, put them into new decks of your own and PEEL THEIR FILTHY SOULS!!! Hey, this is New Phyrexia; we don’t have time for your outdated morality here!
Super Oblivion Ring is here! I personally despise O-Ring and all its ilk, but this is the business – white’s ability to wag its finger reproachfully and say “No, you can’t play with your toys until I say so” has received a major shot in the arm. Building a deck around one of your favorite overpowered cards just got even more dangerous, with the white mage now having the option of shutting down your entire deck theme. One more reason to kill the white mage first, as far as I’m concerned, but expect to see playsets of this killjoy enchantment in white decks around the world for years to come.
This reminds me of the overlooked aura Sigil of Sleep. Obviously this is going to be a slightly situational card – you have to be able to get through with your creatures when the defender still has forces that are important enough for you to try to deal with – but in addition to being broadly useful in any deck with evasive creatures (such as blue favorite Thieving Magpies), it is very easy to build around it. Just put in as many of blue’s unblockable creature as you can, send everyone else’s critters to Sleep, and when they wake up, bounce them all. It may be a bit frustrating to play against, but nobody minds a novel deck once in a while, even if it is based on reduced interaction.
Did someone say Thieving Magpies? Impaler Shrike offers a very interesting alternative to the proven Magpies: give up the option of having a reliable blocker and in return you get three turns worth of action in one go. In an environment where creatures don’t last long, this has a lot of potential, although it is more likely to be overlooked than any other card that says “draw three cards” has ever been.
Duplicant has long been a multiplayer staple, and is one of the most commonly used cards in EDH in my experience. The Ingester is worse in almost every way, but worse than the best can still be pretty good. I see this as a likely feature in any monoblue EDH deck, and it will no doubt find homes in many other places as well. Like Duplicant, it doesn’t work too well at taking Commanders, as they will be moved to the Command Zone rather than the Exile Zone, leaving you with a very expensive 3/3. It also sucks that it’s a beast, when this type of card is supposed to be a Shapeshifter from a flavor point of view.
On the whole, while it doesn’t get to copy all of the special abilities and so on of the copied card, a la Clone, and is significantly more expensive, you do get to remove a player from the other team. A worthy addition to the blue mage’s copying/stealing arsenal.
Sign in Blood is a strong card in black, and now everyone gets to play with it – three colorless mana and two life to draw a card! On the face of it, this may not have much impact in EDH, where blue decks have better options and non-blue decks can’t touch it, but without the color identity restrictions I’d expect to see four of these in any aggressive deck that is scared of running out of steam and doesn’t have any other options for refilling its hand.
And all of that is assuming that Proliferate doesn’t have any value. There are so many decks that can benefit from adding counters that even a pure blue deck may want to use this over a card like Concentrate, or a monoblack deck may prefer this over Sign in Blood – or just run both of them.
As a mechanic, I think Phyrexian mana, or Phybrid mana, is a lot of fun, and the inherent tension between accelerating an aggressive strategy and lowering your life to the point where you’re more vulnerable to aggressive strategies is interesting. My first instinct is that in 20-life multiplayer, the combination of lowering your life and sending the signal that you’re the biggest threat to your table may limit the utility of Phybrid mana, but it will of course depend on the card, the deck and the metagame. In EDH, I think we all tend to treat the first twenty points of damage quite cavalierly, so Phybrid mana will be a big hit there. The difference between being at 18 life and 38 life after you cast something with Phybrid is huge.
There’s a loose cycle of cards that have this sacrifice-and-saboteur ability, including the Impaler Shrike I discussed before, and Furnace Scamp, which is a 1/1 that costs R and turns into a Lightning Bolt if it connects. In multiplayer, these types of cards can have a lot of extra value, firstly because it’s easier to find someone who can’t or won’t block, and secondly because the frequency of removal can often be higher. It’s unusual to get hit by three Day of Judgment in a single duel (although it has happened to me more than once), but it’s fairly common to suffer through three of more sweepers of various kinds in multiplayer. With these ‘sac-boteur’ critters, you give up a little bit of power (Vampire Nighthawk is generally a better three-drop than Blind Zealot, for instance) for the chance to go out in blaze of glory before the broom hits. Unlike some of the weaker versions of this ability from as far back as Fallen Empires, you get to do damage as well as trigger a significant ability.
And a little bit of Secret Tech™: black has some cards that allow you to bring a critter back from your graveyard, with the restriction that you have to exile it at the end of turn (Corpse Dance and Dawn of the Dead come to mind). With Blind Zealot and friends, you get maximum value from your attack and your creature dies before the exile clause kicks in, so that you can do it again next turn. That would be a strong foundation to a casual deck whether or not you decided to follow those colors to Grixis and explore the Unearth mechanic.
This is the third black card in this set that gives me wowsers in my trousers. I love the whole Chancellor cycle, as it explores an underused part of the game, but Chancellor of the Dross seems like the best of them to me because of how well it scales in multiplayer. Everyone else is going to start on 17 if you get this in your opener, but what will you start on? 29 is normal, perhaps, but 35 or even 41 is not going to be impossible. Also, while it lacks the strong 187 power of some of the other cards in the cycle (see below), evasion and lifelink win games. If you get C.o.D. out (and black has no trouble getting fatties into play without paying retail), then even if your opponents are gunning for you, they’re gonna have a hard time taking you down. It may also be worth explaining to them that, if they want to attack you just because you have the highest life total, then swinging into a large lifelinker may be counterproductive.
And it’s a vampire? Just what that tribe needed!
Pro tip: what’s the only thing better than one Chancellor in your opening hand? No Chancellors in your opening hand. Unless the rest of the cards in your hand will guarantee you some strong early plays, it is better to mulligan a hand with too many fatties, no matter what. A hand with two Chancellors is usually the same as a double mulligan in terms of actual castable cards, so take that single mulligan instead.
A new Ostracize. If they reprinted Ostracize today, it might be decent in Standard given how much stronger creatures have become, but the added ability to get a Jace or a Karn ensures playability. Also, I love the way they’ve started to explicitly reference planeswalkers – it seems to open up a certain amount of design space. Perhaps we’ll eventually see a version of Nevinyrral’s Disk that only hits creatures and Planeswalkers, or even weirder, one that hits enchantments, artifacts and Planeswalkers but not creatures.
It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of this type of removal spell, generically called an edict (after the original Diabolic Edict). I’m also happy any time they add functionality to a card by increasing the amount of black mana you have to pay for it (with Phyrexian Obliterator being the most obvious example of this). In what universe is having to play monoblack a drawback?!
Of course, the added functionality is minimal, simply costing the target a life in addition to a creature, but as the original Edict may have been a little bit above the curve (Cruel Edict, a sorcery, has been printed and reprinted since, but not Diabolic), Geth’s Verdict seems like good value.
Additionally, this minor theme of making your opponents lose one life from each of your spells is interesting – kind of like the flavor text from Grim Affliction: “even the small wounds let hope bleed out.” My playgroup has been playing EDH almost exclusively for so long now that it’s easy to underestimate the importance of this ability, but that seems like an oversight. I recently had an EDH game where I got someone down to five life at the end of my turn, with the help of a Consuming Vapors (which was due to rebound next turn). He was able to pull out a win, but only after paying three life for a Grim Tutor and using a fetchland to get the last mana he needed. In other words, he fell to one life, and if I’d been able to hit with a Geth’s Verdict instead of the nominally more powerful Vapors, I would have won. Every little bit of life can add up, and not only in a 20-life format.
Another black board-sweeper? That makes two straight sets – I have now almost totally forgiven WotC for making Phyrexian Rebirth a white card. This card, which by the power vested in my by the internet I now officially rename Gethgasm, is a huge boost to black reanimation strategies – to the extent that I will soon be dusting off my copies of Ashen Powder. Any reanimation spell that says “target player’s graveyard,” or even “target opponent’s graveyard” (like recent addition Gruesome Encore), just became stronger.
As I understand it, you have to have a target for the second part of the spell before you cast it, although the first part will still work if that player somehow becomes an illegal target before resolution [EDIT: Thanks to Josh for pointing out that this doesn’t work. If there is still one valid target left for a multiple-target spell like Relic Crush then that is fine, but if a spell which is supposed to have targets has no legal targets on resolution, the whole spell – including the non-targeted, kill everything part of Life’s Finale – is countered. See rule 608.2b]. What that means is that every once in a while you’re going to end up with one opponent left, they’re going to be protected with an Ivory Mask or some such, and you won’t be able to cast this. It’s a corner case, but don’t say I didn’t warn you (and always remember to kill the white mage first).
I guess I’m late to the party on this, but this card is awesome. The closest analogy I can think of is Grinning Totem, which has significant limitations unless you are actually trying to put cards into your opponent’s graveyard (I’m looking at you, Wrexial). Praetor’s Grasp lets you look at their deck, take a relevant spell, hide it from them, and keep it out of their clutches until you are ready or able to cast it. In EDH, where a lot of decks may run the same five or ten utility artifacts, this is obviously a great early play, but the greatest value from this card may come in the late came, when it’s down to the wire and they are desperately figuring out how they can beat you, how many answers they have left in their deck, or what their chances of comboing out are, and all of their calculations are thrown off by the fact that they don’t know what that face down card is. If you don’t mind me using a little bit of jargon from game theory, knowing more about your opponent’s deck than they do in a game of hidden information is called a “good thing.”
Historically, there have been a number of 2/5 creatures for five mana – I’m thinking especially of The Wretched and Abomination in Legends and Belltower Sphinx in Ravnica – that weren’t quite ready for prime time. The Reaper may be ready to join their less-than-illustrious ranks, but I suspect that it will actually be an incredibly potent Rattlesnake card, warning your opponents not to mess with you. Whether in a dedicated Infect deck, something with a Proliferate theme, or just a regular old “please don’t attack me” deck, I think the threat of a poison counter is going to be a disproportionately effective deterrent to a lot of players.
The Buy-a-Box promo is of course an updated version of Extirpate from Planar Chaos, a card that is so incredibly versatile that you always have to consider including it in any black deck (at least in non-Highlander formats). Without split second, Surgical Extraction is much easier to disrupt, but being castable in any color is going to make things very tough for combo and control strategies, or any deck that doesn’t rely on a diverse range of threats. Now more than ever, make sure that you get three different creatures when you cast Buried Alive.
I’m glad that this was the ability they chose for the black card in the cycle of ‘free’ Phybrid mana cards; I would have been crushed if it was just “target player discards a card” or “target creature gets -1/-1.” Again, outside of Commander, these cards can and will go into any deck – don’t be surprised to see a monored goblins deck counter your Brainstorm, or a monoblue prison deck shoot your mana elves. And just because they’re tapped out doesn’t mean they can’t pump up their trampling fatty for lethal damage.
Goblin Grenade is back, baby! Don’t underestimate the power of this card; as a tribal sorcery, Goblin Grenade has killed more players than you’ve had hot dinners, and this is better in many ways. While some may see this as a less powerful version of Fling, the fact is that getting five damage out of one card is a triumph for the Philosophy of Fire (if you’re interested in Magic theory, check out the Flores original and the Zvi analysis). On top of that, an aggressive deck is likely to have more weenies that it wants to sacrifice than it does fatties, meaning that it’s easier to get five points of burn from Artillerize than to get five or more from Fling.
That’s the thing about red; it may not have the best critters, but it converts them into pain better than any other color.
A 5/5 Giant for seven is a bit vanilla, but I think this is going to be a casual hit. Compared to Chancellor of the Dross, which has an awesome start of the game trigger but no special 187 ability, Chancellor of the Forge has a start of the game ability that might as well read “neutered during development,” but its ETB ability is potentially insane. Obviously a goblin token deck would love to have this as a finisher, as would any deck running such casual favorites as Coat of Arms, Door of Destinies or perhaps even Hivestone.
Slightly more original: have Mana Echoes, Gemstone Array, Equilibrium and three goblins in play when you drop the Chancellor. Each of the three goblin tokens from the Chancellor will see five other goblins, generating 15 mana. 15 mana allows you to bounce the Chancellor for one, get three red mana from the Array and four generic mana so that you can recast him, and you’ll still have four mana left over (which could also be used to bounce someone else’s critters). The second time you cast the Chancellor, you’ll generate 66 mana from the Echoes, which you can use to do anything you want. I have a deck that tried fairly unsuccessfully to use the Mana/Array combo to generate mana by infinitely Reiterating a Dragon Fodder. The Chancellor is going to make that combo pop!
A little bit of landkill never hurt anyone! Whether you use this to permanently neautralize a troublesome land, such as Maze of Ith, Cabal Coffers or the Tower of the Magistrate that crippled my equipment deck last week, or use it to take a basic land and deal two points of damage to one or more players per turn, I think this critter is going to be worth it.
So the basic effect of the original Dark Ritual is now in red, although they’d never make a card that powerful today. But Priest of Urabrask is actually a functional reprint of an old Ritual variant from the days of Suicide Black: Priest of Gix. I was always a fan of the Priest, loving the fact that I could Dark Ritual into a Priest and use the mana from him to cast Hymn to Tourach and Carnophage (or Duress and Dauthi Slayer). Either way, I had four power on the first turn and they had fewer cards in hand. It also works pretty well in allowing you to cast stuff with a heavy black casting cost (back then I nicknamed it Priest of Necro, but today it might make horrible music with my new best friend, Phyrexian Obliterator).
This new Priest is going to play differently for a lot of reasons, but it’ll allow RDW to play a bunch of critters (maybe a post-Wrath Goblin Guide and Goblin Bushwhacker for eight damage), or perhaps allow a two or three color deck to play Ball Lightning reliably by the third turn every game. Get four.
Free mana can’t be wrong. This is a late game fatty that you only play for the early game boost it provides. Don’t get me wrong, a 6/7 with two strong defensive abilities is a good card, but with so many strong cards already occupying that slot, it wouldn’t make the cut on its own. On the other hand, an elf deck that wants to play Priest of Titania on the first turn instead of Llanowar Elf is looking for precisely this kind of acceleration, as is any deck that uses a lot of Rampant Growth effects. For that matter, any 60-card deck that is stacked at the two-drop position, whether that’s Tarmogoyf or Wellwisher, should at least consider this,
For all that, it’s probably my least favorite card of the cycle, and the Steve Prescott art doesn’t help it any, in my opinion.
There are a lot of different uses for this – I’ll let someone else deal with the possibility of killing your own creatures in order to increase the power you have on the board – but I just want to focus on the Beats Wrath aspect of the card. As an aggro player, I tend to struggle with ways to keep my deck relevant after one or more sweepers, especially as everyone in my meta runs O-Stone and there are way too many Wraths and Damnations. That’s why my eye is always drawn to cards like this.
It is, at the very least, an exciting addition to the aggro player’s toolbox, and should probably be at least a one-of in any deck that tends to get blown out by sweepers. Of course, if the creatures you lose are 5/5 dragons then you might feel a bit short-changed by just getting 3/3s, but a handful of beasts can still take the control player out of the game, and what more can you really ask from a card? Only if your deck is designed to play a single bomb, ride it until it gets destroyed, then play another massive bomb and repeat, will Fresh Meat be useless to you.
Another advantage of this card is that it works differently from most of the other cards that give you enhanced resilience against sweepers. For Wrath-proofing an aggro deck like Kresh, I generally rely on a combination of keeping critters in my hand, having protection, etc, on the board (e.g. Nim Deathmantle), and having graveyard recursion (e.g. Genesis in my ‘yard, Deadwood Treefolk or Reveillark in play). Fresh Meat provides another axis by giving me a way to refill my board at instant speed. The only other card that works this way is Caller of the Claw,[i] which is cool but which has been hard to come by for me.
Sometimes a card like this feels useless, just sitting in your hand; and to be honest, sometimes it is useless. But if your game plan is to bury your opponents in an avalanche of creatures and the only way they can beat you is to sweep your team away, then this fits into that plan very well. Put them in a position where they have to react to you, then if they do, react to their reaction and reestablish dominance.
The Splicer cycle is interesting to me, although I’m very disappointed in Maul Splicer; the art just looked so awesome, then it turns out to be a measly 1/1 that makes Golems. For some reason, Golems don’t immediately evoke a reaction from me[ii] the way other creature types have (Slivers, Kavu and that freaky Alien-looking thing that is actually in the art for Maul Splicer). That being said, I think there is a lot of potential here for a fairer version of Slivers. Most obviously, in an environment where there is a lot of spot removal, paying seven mana for a 7/7 may be worse than paying seven mana for a 1/1 and a pair of 3/3s. In addition, if you enjoy pump spells like Glorious Anthem or Elesh Norn, then smaller creatures equals more total power. For example, your 7/7 might become an 8/8 with an Anthem in play, whereas your Maul Splicer becomes a 10/10.
Pro tip: Precursor Golem is not an auto-include in Splicer.dec.
Not the strongest card in the set, Spinebiter may not even make it into a monogreen poison build, but it is worth pointing out that, for an infect creature, “may assign combat damage as though it weren’t blocked” is soooooooooooo good! This is not Trample; this is something that beats Trample to death with a 20-pound roll of razor wire, sells Trample’s organs on the Uzbeki black market, and posts a video of the dissection on YouTube.
While we are on the subject of infect and trample, this card is very interesting. It seems apparent that it was designed as a finisher in limited, especially in a deck that may not have enough infect creatures. However, in multiplayer it may be useful as a bolt from the blue (or a bolt against the blue mage), even in a non-infect deck.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, as I am strictly opposed to running Blightsteel Colossus in EDH. Like the One-Shot Robot, I can promise you that Triumph of the Hordes will be used in a lot of decks, but I can also promise that it’s likely to be abused. On the other hand, you could argue that it isn’t that different from Overrun or Overwhelming Stampede, both of which are definitely a legitimate green strategy, so I’m not sure yet if it actually crosses the line between ‘good’ and ‘broken.’
Gauntlets of Power 2: The Sequel. Lots of power, no subtlety: monocolored decks love it, big mana decks get even crazier, and Maelstrom Pulse becomes even better because everyone in my playgroup is going to run this.
Pro tip: Artifact Mutation (with or without Triumph of the Hordes as a follow-up).
Did I mention how much I love milling in multiplayer? Of course, my last multiplayer mill deck was Lorwyn Block tribal, and won as many games from beatdown as from milling, but this is a completely different kettle of merfolk.
In a duel, you have to choose between winning with damage and winning with mill. You can combine them, but then at the end of the game you’ll find that all of your efforts along one of those two axes was wasted; if you milled them out then the damage was pointless, but if you beat them down then the milling per se was pointless.[iii] But with Mindcrank in multiplayer, the damage that your opponents do to each other will also help you to mill them out. If someone is playing with cards like Worldly Tutor or Sensei’s Divining Top, your opponents might damage them specifically in order to mill them with your Mindcrank (which means they aren’t damaging you). In terms of threat perception, the creatures are a more direct threat, and your (playset of copied) Mindcranks sitting on the table aren’t really threatening anyone. This card is so good that it might even replace Millstone.
Armillary Sphere 2: The Sequel. The difference between Mycosynth Wellspring and Caged Sun is that everyone knows how good those big splashy effects are, but many people will miss the utility of mana fixing spells like this. Unless your deck is made almost completely of nonbasic lands, or is in colors that allow a lot of mana fixing, then this is likely to be a good addition to it. In EDH in particular, this goes in every one of my monored and monoblack decks without a doubt (five, since you’re asking). Of course I’d prefer that it put the land directly into play, but I’m not complaining.
Those are the cards that I will be looking out for, trying to pick up on the cheap, building around, etc. I look forward to playing with the new cards, being proven wrong on some of them and being pleasantly surprised by others. Feel free to chime in with your ideas, favorite picks, deck ideas and historical comparisons, and don’t forget to go to the prerelease even though the set’s been leaked. New cards always means good times!
[i] I suppose Reincarnation works in a similar way, although it’s old and really hard to come by. Also, it works best in a deck with a smaller number of bigger creatures, at which point you have to wonder if Vines of Vastwood or Withstand Death might be better options. I actually had a Reincarnation in my Molimo EDH deck, but recently replaced it with something a little more proactive…still not sure if that was a good move or not.
[ii] Although one of my favorite books of all time is Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett. His golems are fine, but these new Phyrexian ones have still got to prove themselves to me.
[iii] Obviously this isn’t true if you took something from their graveyard to kill them, but in that case the milling is probably instrumental rather than the goal of the deck.