Feature Article – New Phyrexia in Vintage

Hello from the land of wooden shoes, windmills and tulips!

I know most people skip the part where the writer talks about himself or any other non-Magic related content, but I for one enjoy those glimpses into another players life. After all, the thing that makes Magic more special than any other game is its community. I’ve been a part of this wonderful game since early 1999 (nearly 12 years now), and in that time I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge regarding the game and the people in it, and I’ve developed a lot of tools to deal with stuff that comes your way. I hope to share those with you all someday.

I’ve been a tournament organizer, occasional judge, and player mostly active in Eternal formats since 2007, when our little group brought the Vintage format (which is thriving to this day) back from the dead. I switched to playing more competitive “real” formats last year when I got dragged into Qing for Dutch Nationals, after my first string of success (Qed in my first try) I felt the thirst and fire for more and decided to switch to trying to make the Train. I’ll be talking about that road more in the future.

Today, I want to talk to you guys about the spoiling of New Phyrexia. Lots can be (and should be) said about how this all came to be. I definitely have an opinion regarding the subject but everybody already said enough about this. Lets delve deeper into what this set has to offer, lots of people are talking about this set already, the implications in various formats are tremendous, but lets focus on Vintage for a second, a format near and dear to me. Lets get started with this Vintage Set Review with the cards (in no particular order) I think should set people in Vintage thinking.

Karn Liberated

Now, planeswalkers have been pretty under played in Vintage for some time, until they printed Tezzeret the Seeker, which enabled people to go find and untap Time Vault. The second Planeswalker that actually saw a lot of play (which I’m mostly responsible for even, as you can see in an article one of my team members wrote a while back. There’s a lot that’s been said about Jace in the past weeks so I’ll not go and add my views. He’s definitely fair in Eternal, as far as fair cards can go and still be playable. I truly think people should experiment more with Planeswalkers in Vintage, lots of effects are worth having and the virtual card advantage these cards offer is not to be overlooked. Let’s take a closer look at the newest and perhaps most anticipated planeswalker of them all.

Karn starts off with a massive 6 loyalty, which is nothing to scoff at. His plus ability:

+4: Target player exiles a card from his or her hand.

Is also nothing to be overlooked, it’s really a shame it’s not targeted (we can wish, now can’t we?) and you don’t even get a peek at the opponent’s hand. Now, by itself this effect is hardly powerful enough to warrant the massive 7 mana Karn costs to actually get into play. He’s colorless and not an artifact (c’mon! storywise this doesn’t make sense) so you can’t cast him off something like Mishra’s Workshop, but there are enough ways to get something like Karn into play. Now the most interesting ability probably is his minus.

-3: Exile target permanent.

This basically means Karn is a 7 mana colorless Vindicate. Now, there are decks that could abuse this and it all ties into his ultimate nicely.

-14: Restart the game, leaving in exile all non-Aura permanent cards exiled with Karn Liberated. Then put those cards onto the battlefield under your control.

Now, him starting off at 6 means that you could theoretically ultimate Karn within 3 turns, the biggest question would be if you’d get enough value out of him, the high spell density in Vintage also means that it might be possible you have nothing to return and are merely restarting the game. This is nothing to get hugely exited about, but like I said, I think all planeswalkers should get some review time and considering in Vintage. There are strategies that might want the effect Karn gives you and it’s a card I’m definitely going to keep in mind in the future.

Now, lets start with the most reviled and fun color in Magic, blue.

Gitaxian Probe

Now this card has some serious potential.

It’s a shame this card suffers from the fact that it’s a sorcery (it would’ve been too strong if it was an instant), but the fact that it’s basically “free” makes this a valuable inclusion in any deck especially Vintage Storm Combo. The 2 life shouldn’t be overlooked however, even in a format practically devoid of creatures (unless we count Tinker Robot’s utility creatures like Dark Confidant, Trygon Predator, etc.) but losing the game because your opponent needed only storm 5-6 is hardly the situation you want to find yourself in. Damage adds up and Vintage decks in particular have no issue dealing huge amounts to themselves. Fetchlands, Force of Wills, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Grim Tutor, and Dark Confidant all add up quickly.

There’s also the not to be overlooked problem that even while you could potentially cast it for 0 mana and just 2 life, you’re hardly guaranteed to be able to do so. Mishra’s Workshop based (Prison) strategies are currently the top dog in Vintage, with multiple ways to disrupt your “cheap” spells in cards like Lodestone Golem, Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, Chalice of the Void (set at 1) etc, all of which can potentially come down as fast as turn 1. This card is definitely an upgrade over Street Wraith, but the it also has its own pitfalls and I’m not entirely sure that the fact that this adds to the storm count, can be replayed off Yawgmoth’s Will and pitches to Force of Will make this card way better then the aforementioned Wraith.

Mental Misstep

Even though Vintage holds one of the most powerful cards ever printed at the 1-mana slot (Ancestral Recall) There are better ways to deal with that (Misdirection). The sad fact is that there are few cards in Vintage this actually stop that you want to counter. You could potentially hit:


Take a closer look at the list I just mentioned. An old rule (Might I recommend The Control Player’s Bible for some historic matches and insights as well as TONS of information that’s even still very true and useful today, it’s over 20 articles long so you better bring popcorn) any blue-wielding mage (especially those veteran Type 1 players) will tell you is that it’s almost always better to counter what they tutor for instead of the tutor itself. There’s a case to be made for Crop Rotation though, even if that’s pretty narrow.

Countering Duress (and friends) can be valid, but it also feels pretty narrow, then there’s the fact that you have ways to get cards lost back (Yawgmoth’s Will, Timetwister, and Regrowth, to name a few) Same goes for countering mana, although Sol Ring and Mana Vault are among the best colorless mana sources ever printed (ask any EDH… erhm, Commander player) it’s still not worth it including cards specifically for that purpose.

Then we have the card drawers / fixers in Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Ponder. All are restricted and none save Ancestral are cards I’d wish to counter especially going as far as to include Mental Misstep for them. If Brainstorm and or Ponder ever find their way off the restricted list, Mental Mistep gets a whole lot better though.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur

The effect this guy gives you is off the charts and it’s definitely something people should be mindful of. His mana cost almost guarantees you’re going to Oath (using Oath of Druids) or Show and Tell him into play. That being said, once you get a single turn’s value out of this guy you’re almost 100% guaranteed to win that game. Same can be said for oathing up Blightsteel Colossus, which also has the added benefit of being an artifact (because Tinker exists), so there’s that.

In recent years Oath of Druids has gotten a lot of new creatures to Oath up, my team created even one of the most successful Oath decks in recent years. To be fair, none of the new creatures they print will solve the fundamental issue all these decks are going to have. You’re bound to have 1-3 (depending on how many targets you play) dead cards in your deck unless you have Oath of Druids or some other way to get dudes into play (Show and Tell, Sneak Attack, etc.) We “solved” that by adding robots (Tinker) and Show and Tells to the sideboard but eventually this is just something you’re going to have to accept.

Phyrexian Metamorph

This card is basically an upgraded Sculpting Steel which already sees tons of play; it might be the reason shop decks play more Mox Opals in favor of other Moxen (highly unlikely, but still) to make sure they get the U mana. It’s not needed as you can pay 2 life, but Mishra’s Workshop-based decks are punishing to face but also very punishing to the pilots. Ancient Tombs, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and the need to tap down most of the mana you have each turn make Workshop decks deal insane amounts of damage to themselves. It’s not uncommon to finish a game around or under 10 life without an opponent ever damaging you. This is probably the biggest downside the card has. The biggest upside is the fact that it will let you copy Trygon Predator AND each card Sculpting steel could copy. We can discuss if this is an effect that you’d want in a Workshop deck, but that’s probably saved for later. People are going to want to play this, it’s probably one of the most exciting cards for people into Workshop aggro decks.

Tezzerets Gambit

This card is interesting for a host of reasons. It’s colorless draw and proliferate is something that is underrated and unexplored in Vintage at the moment. There are tons of cards you’d love to add counters to, not mentioning the planeswalkers, but also cards like Chalice of the Void, Tangle Wire, etc. It’s something to keep in mind and I could see it fit into some Blue Shop decks (Featuring Esperzoa and Master of Etherium)

Lets get to the second best color, black.

Phyrexian Obliterator

This card is interesting and will probably have a lot of black mages’ hearts beating a bit faster. Sadly in Vintage one can play with Phyrexian Negator, which is better costed although the issues of having your negator blocked don’t weigh up to the extra B this is going to cost you (can’t cast it off Dark Ritual unless you have 2 or Swamp, Mox, Ritual) meaning it will most likely come too late.

Praetors Grasp

Now we’re talking! The effect this card gives you is just amazing. Especially in Vintage where every card is the most powerful version of whatever effect it’s giving you. Grab your opponent’s Yawgmoth’s Will, Time Vault (to combo with your Voltaic Key), Tinker or whatnot ? The possibilities are endless. The sad part is that this card is great or horrible depending on what you’re facing and that might be a bit too much to make it actually bonkers. That being said, making people search an opponent’s deck is no effect to laugh at. The information alone is value enough, even if it only means you’re playing a Mishra’s Workshop or Tolarian Academy from their deck (yes this card lets you pick lands….) Basically you’re trading 1BB and a card for the best card currently in their deck. Which is a deal that can potentially be backbreaking in highly powered formats like Vintage. The fact that you can “hold on” to it and don’t even have to cast it straight away AND keep it out of reach from disruption (Duress, Thoughtseize) is even better. Sadly they errated the Wish cycle (Burning Wish, Cunning Wish, Death Wish, etc.) to only be able to fetch cards from “outside” the game and not the exiled zone.

Surgical Extraction

Extirpate without split second but with the ability to be “free.” This card will undoubtedly see some form of play among people looking for such an effect. It’s good at what it does no doubt.


This card gets a mention because of its ability to be amazing in Dredge-based strategies. It takes out Yixlid Jailer and whatnot and it’s only 1 colorless. It’s situationally better then something like Contagion (which does see play), since the 4 life is irrelevant most of the time. It’s definitely a card I’d keep in the back of my mind when looking at SB card for Dredge that deal with Jailers.

Noxious Revival

It’s a basically free more versatile (you can screw with your opponents top decks making sure he draws dead or mess with a game-winning top deck tutor) Reclaim. Again, the fact that this card is free and lets you put “any” card back on top of your deck is certainly something worth considering. You can even run it if your only green source is Mox Emerald. The danger is in the fact that 2 life is nothing to scoff at, even in Vintage. I can definitely see this card being included in a host of possible strategies and it’s one of the sets more exiting cards for me as a deckbuilder.

Now, to be fair, there are cards in the other colors i could see people playing in some fringe decks or to duplicate effects they already have etc. But nothing really stands out, let me give you guys a quick overview of some cards that have potential before we move to the artifacts of the set:

Notable mentions in other colors:


Looks awesome if you’re in the market for huge amounts of red mana, Goblin Charbelcher decks might want to run this.

Beast Within

Mono-colored Vindicate effect at instant speed that gives the opponent a token. How can this card not be totally bonkers?! Well, first of all it’s green…. (just kidding Forest-loving readers, I love me some fatties and elves) This isn’t a card you’re willing to splash green for. Now if you’re already running green (like for example if you’re sporting Oath of Druids) this is a great card. If you want this type of effect, Oath decks in particular actually benefit from the card giving away a free dude to the opponent.

Fresh Meat

Skullclamp is legal in Vintage and there have been several Elves! Lists that made pretty good showings in Vintage. This effect might be to cute, but it’s something worth keeping in the back of your mind.

Actually beyond some people that are actually going to Oath or Dread Return Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, white has nothing of interest to offer as far as I can tell. I guess a notable mention should go out to Dispatch but you’re better off playing Sword to Plowshares and Path to Exile first before starting to consider Dispatch as being a real card.

Let us finally bow down and please our new masters and look at what our Mishra’s Workshop wielding artifact loving overlords get (I for one welcome our new overlords)

Darksteel Relic

This card blew my mind when I first saw it, it’s the missing link in my Mono Brown (or Mono Gray nowadays, what can I say, I’m an old guy) storm combo deck was missing. This doesn’t only lend it self to upping the storm count, it’s also not affected by Null Rod (a serious issue for other artifacts), but sadly the card doesn’t “do” anything all on it’s own (extra kudos for the reader that knows what flavor text I’m referencing here in the comment section, if you get it without even opening Gatherer or searching for flavor text I salute you and will give you a digital cookie.)

All kidding aside, we do have some sweet artifacts.

Hex Parasite

Not only does this card give Workshop decks a way to deal with Jace, TMS (which it first didn’t have beyond not allowing the opponent to get to 4 mana)

Notable mentions:

Omen Machine

This card is interesting for a host of reasons, 6 mana is a lot don’t get me wrong, even in Vintage. But cards like Possesed Portal have also seen play and I could well see this card get some fringe action in a Cerebral Assassin type deck.

I do hope you guys enjoyed this look at a new set from a Vintage player’s perspective. If you guys want, I can include more Eternal stuff in future articles. I’m currently trying to switch to other formats (as you can read in the intro) but I’ll always keep a pulse on the Vintage community.

This is it for this time. I’m making it an issue to be as available as possible for the people that liked (or disliked, there’s no such thing as too little feedback) the stuff I’m writing. So if you want to leave a comment or tell me how good or bad this was, feel free to contact me.

Marius “Marske” van Zundert
Marske1984 on Twitter
Marske on MTGO and everywhere else



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