The New Phyrexian Prerelease is this weekend and we will finally have the opportunity to have the cards in our hands (despite knowing about them for 3 weeks now). Much of the talk regarding NPH is about the new equipment or the new ways to fight Jace. In fact, as I listed in my set review, my top 5 constructed cards from the set are:
Looks like a bunch of control cards to me, with only the Sword being a potential aggro inclusion (or maybe Batterskull, but only until Stoneforge Mystic rotates). But the top 5 cards hardly paints an accurate picture of the years to come. In fact, this set has a lot of neat uncommon that should play a vital role in reviving combo archetypes as well as aggro archetypes. You have already read about 3 book’s worth on Deceiver Exarch plus Splinter Twin, so let’s focus on the aggro side of things today. In my opinion, outside of additions to current decks, there are two distinct aggro decks that are born out of NPH: Tempered Steel and Poison.
With every block, there seems to be some aggro deck that rises up built out of the sets mechanics or themes that starts out small, maybe being successful in Block Constructed, and eventually becomes a mainstay in some way on Standard or even Extended. Landfall aggro and Vampires came out of Zendikar; aggro cascade and Jund came out of Shards of Alara, and all Lorwyn Block was was a bunch of aggro tribes trying to beat Faeries. Tempered Steel, and to a lesser extent Infect, are those decks here. These will both be played in Block to varying degrees of success and will begin to make the jump over to Standard as well.
While Tempered Steel has seen moderate success thus far, even top 16ing the Pro Tour in Paris, it has not been able to stay competitive with the ever-evolving metagame and CawBlade. Then again, the reason behind this is not necessarily because it is an inferior strategy. If you step back from the strategy, or rather step toward it, you begin to realize that individual cards within it are actually the inferior building blocks. Some of them are indeed perfect. Obviously a card like Tempered Steel is going to stay strong and be important to its own namesake deck, but Vector Asp? Really?
Here is the list Sam Black played in Paris to a 7-3 record
With all due respect, good grief is that a mess. Five mana sources in the sideboard of our aggro deck to turn it into an inferior fish deck? Multiple 1/1s for one who on their absolute best day say morph into a Wild Nacatl? 2 mana 2/2 fliers that still need work to be able to attack? I mean yes, with a Tempered Steel out, these things do look more impressive, but compare them to a Steppe Lynx who requires a land to be a 4/5 etc. Luckily for us, New Phyrexia must have taken a liking to the archetype, because it received all of the following. (In alphabetical order)
And that is even leaving out other fringe playables like Moltensteel Dragon or Phyrexian Metamorph. In fact, that list of cards combined with Tempered Steel alone is probably better than the previous 2 sets could offer when combined. There are some sweet upgrades here for sure, so lets touch on a few of them.
The Phyrexian Manas
All of the new Phyrexian Mana guys are significant upgrades to this deck because they come on the cheap and provide more upside than traditional artifacts of the same cost. It is important to note that the life loss they present is not nearly as bad as it is for a control deck because of the speed at which you want to win. Therefore, despite 12 of these in the deck, I think you end up being fine. Remember that you can cast them for full mana in a pinch off of Mox Opal or Scars land, and Vault Skirge does offer lifelink, which is relevant when he beefs up.
Spined Thopter is mostly an upgrade to Glint Hawk Idol other than it being prone to Wrath, which can be a back and forth switch as Wrath effects become more or less popular. Vault Skirge is most certainly an upgrade to Glint Hawk. You never took advantage of the Hawk’s resetting things, so it was just a vanilla flier that made for a bad top deck at times. Skirge gets a bonus from Tempered Steel and a 1/1 lifelink is not that much worse than a 2/2 vanilla. It is weaker to Squadron Hawk when your pumpers aren’t present, but I will live with that. And Porcelain Legionnaire is just an auto-include.
The Other Guys
Blade Splicer is basically the only 3-drop that a deck like this wants. For your 3 mana you are already getting huge value and with Tempered Steel out, it just gets better. The 1/1 will get in some extra damage but he is pure bonus, and his death does not matter too much. Hex Parasite is a a strict upgrade to Vector Asp and his ability is surprisingly relevant. He gets to meddle with all of the main deck Tumble Magnets, planeswalkers, Chalices, and Spheres running around while also providing insurance against something like Contagion Clasp. Sure, most of the time he won’t kill a planeswalker due to the light mana in the deck, but just giving him firebreathing and making an opponent play differently is valuable.
Dispatch may not be a very versatile card, but it is basically hand made for this style of deck. Heck, even without metalcraft it gives you a desired ability, and it will not be without metalcraft very often. This deals with all of the problematic creatures you may face, whether they are a Baneslayer Angel, Wurmcoil Engine, or Precursor Golem.
While neither of these cards may be main deck worthy, they both offer some nice options at protecting your squad. Apostle’s Blessing may be worse than countermagic in effect alone, but it strengthens your mana base and also allows you to get through on the ground on occasion, which can be huge. Spellskite on the other hand, not only protects your entire squad against things like Lightning Bolt, Arc Trail, or Nature’s Claim, it also becomes a 2/6 with a Steel in play and get get aggressive.
Currently, the wrath protection available to Tempered Steel is basically Glint Hawk Idol and Chimeric Mass. Both are fairly underwhelming overall. Shrine of Loyal Legions on the other hand, provides a sort of ticking time bomb that can eventually dump out a squad of 3/3s at the most inopportune of times for an opposing control player. I am not sure how well this does in the main deck, but it seems very nice out of the sideboard.
Obviously that list is pretty rough and untested, but I would not be surprised to see something very similar come out in the weeks following New Phyrexia’s release. The most notable card missing from this list is [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card], but with the new class of beaters, I just don’t know if he is needed. Time will tell though. But as we alluded to before, there is still an infection to tend to.
Unlike Tempered Steel, infect does not quite have the pedigree behind it to really work from. This is mostly due to the tools it was missing before that we now have access to. Yes, some people were slinging around Canopy Covers and Assault Strobes, but that deck was never real. The push that aggro infect needed really comes off of only 2 cards, but here is a list of possibles in addition to those two.
The two cards that stand out here are of course Glistener Elf and Mutagenic Growth. While the other cards may play a role in certain builds or out of the sideboard, they are not going to be the catalyst needed to push the deck over the hump. So, with that said, let’s examine exactly what they offer.
This was the big missing piece as it finally gives infect its first official 1-drop. Inkmoth Nexus was a much-needed card out of Mirrodin Besieged as it could attack on turn 2, but it could not be targeted by your pump spells or equipment, which was quite huge. Now with a 1-drop, you can theoretically obtain turn 2 wins if you happen to draw enough Mutagenic Growths. While that will be uncommon of course, it is still an amazing feat to even be able to do that. On its best day Boros could never claim a turn 2 win. Granted, what Boros lacks in explosive speed (ha!) it makes up for in consistency, which is a huge cloud hanging over Infect’s head.
Because Infect is a deck that relies on its pump spells so much, it is also a deck that trips up on its mana restriction. In other words, its team is only as powerful as the number of pump spells you have in hand and the amount of mana you have to play them. Well, I think it is easy to see that with a curve that tops out at 3, your mana base is not going to be as extensive as a 27 land CawBlade deck. Mutagenic Growth allows you to take 20% off of the opponent’s life total for free! This allows you to do things like pump an unblocked Glistener Elf on turn 2 and then wait. If your opponent lets it through, accept the 3 poison more often than not. If they go to stop it, now you have a Vines of the Vastwood with kicker to punish them for 7 poison damage on turn 2!
There are going to be split camps on how to best build the poison deck. The most obvious build is a GB one that utilizes a host of two drops and Glistener Elf, along with a bunch of pump spells to end the game quickly. However, with the printing of Blighted Agent, blue is also an option as it provides a two-drop to rival Plague Stinger and countermagic where black would provide discard spells. Red is another option, much like that Canopy Cover deck I mentioned earlier. Here you try to abuse Assault Strobe and Smoldering Spires, but you really do not gain access to any disruption or secondary creatures. Pyroclasm was the closest thing to disruption at the Pro Tour. The last option, and the one I expect to be adapted the least, is to include White for basically Lost Leonin to try to gain value out of an extra power, but I think evasion will just be better in the long run.
The creatures that will likely be in any build are as follows:
Blight Mamba will be a 4-of in some lists, nonexistent in others and everything in between. The spells will probably end up looking like:
Most lists will have between 20 and 24 lands as well, although I expect the average to hug the 21 mark. Of course, the only land that is a must-have is 4 Inkmoth Nexus.
These color options do make for some interesting tension, though. While I have not played with the deck at all, here are a few sample lists of each color to demonstrate what I am talking about.
The mana in this deck is the biggest weakness to it I think. Without Plague Stinger in the mix, the deck loses some reach, but gains a much more solid mana base. Lets look at the blue version.
The maindeck on this one looks a lot more fluid than the previous list, although the mana issues are most certainly there. The big loss here is access to solid sideboard cards that Black offered you. Mono Green fixes the mana issues, but leaves you wanting more with your spells.
This version tries to use Chancellor of the Tangle to increase the number of turn 1 plays that the deck has. Unfortunately though, by doing so you need to jam a useless 6/7 into your deck, but I suppose if you just look at him as an Elvish Spirit Guide that only works on turn 1, he isn’t the worst. This version has a tougher time connecting with your poison crew, so we need that speed and Adventuring Gear synergy to make it count when we do.
Obviously once we get a ton of people cramming games with various builds, we are bound to learn just what the best strategy for infect is, but this was just a bit of a firestarter.
Well there you have it, just a few ideas to get your adrenaline pumping. For all of your Jace haters out there, this seems like a nice place to start tweaking for the format. For all of you Jace lovers out there, I know you are still going to be dropping Mr. Hundo, so carry on my wayward son. Hopefully everyone has fun at this weekend’s prerelease. I will be in Denver slinging cards next to Gerry T, so stop by and say hi if you happen to be there. Thanks for reading!