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Feature Article – Reviewing New Phyrexia

With New Phyrexia being fully spoiled ahead of schedule and the current format being what it is (stale and uninteresting), I think it’s a good time for some thoughts and brewing with NPH for the upcoming formats.

NPH is a very good set that impacts a lot of different formats, but I want to focus mostly on Standard (hopefully we all know what Mental Misstep means for Legacy by now). There’s a few things that jump out at me for other formats as well, but Standard is currently in need of some new ideas. To start things off:

Gitaxian Probe

There’s a lot of value in information, yet Peek never saw much play. Sometimes Gitaxian Probe is just a Peek, but those are the times that you are actually spending blue mana on it, which are only the times you can afford to. For other times, which can include Gitaxian Probe being cast out of any deck, it’s a free cantrip that gives you valuable information.

When this card becomes legal, it will be possible for every deck to contain it. The same might have been said about Street Wraith, but there’s a big difference in cycling a card and seeing your opponent’s hand. You can base your decision of whether or not to play around Day of Judgment on whether or not they actually have it, regardless of what colors you’re playing. And the same can now be said about any card in any situation for any deck (coincidentally, this is relevant with the next card on my list)!

The implications of this are very interesting. Gitaxian Probe isn’t a card that can be built around in the usual sense, but is a card that a lot of players will want to start off almost any list with, much like what has become of Preordain in blue decks. Finding the room for it in existing decks may be difficult (even blue decks because of Preordain), but I think people will find creative ways to do so.

With all that being said, some decks can’t make use of the information very well or don’t need Gitaxian Probe(decks with Thoughtseize effects). It will probably only find its way into select blue decks for the time being, but I look forward to the day that it replaces Preordain in just about every decklist.

Deceiver Exarch

Pestermite wasn’t legal in Standard at the same time as Splinter Twin, but it is now, and with more toughness than ever before! There are a few ways to go about building a deck that features this combo:

1. A sideboard plan for a Pyromancer Ascension deck

Depending on how good Pyromancer Ascension turns out to be with the new set, the sideboard for that deck could be a good home for this combo. Though, there is a slight overlap in hate cards for Ascension and the SplinterMite combo (instant speed enchantment removal), which could end up ruining the plan. But if the Ascension deck pans out, this sideboard plan should work until it starts getting hated out properly (Surgical Extraction isn’t so good against two thousand 1/4s).

2. A win condition in a control deck

The Extended URw Splintermite control deck that showed up earlier this year had the capability of abusing Splinter Twin with Wall of Omens in addition to the Pestermite kill, which gave it some much needed consistency. I think the same idea can be put to use in current Standard. There aren’t many other ETB creatures that would fill the role besides Wall of Omens (Seagate Oracle? No thanks), so I think the white splash is the way to go.

 

This version of the deck is pretty much as close as it gets without actually being a strict combo deck. The only thing it’s really lacking is a suitable backup plan. Jace and Celestial Colonnade are usually not going to go all the way by themselves. Sun Titan or Gideon Jura could both serve as acceptable backup plans that still contribute to the idea of the deck.

The commonly played removal spells, Oust, Condemn, Day of Judgment, Lightning Bolt, and Tumble Magnet (barring two copies) all do nothing against the combo, which leaves very few ways to disrupt it. Mana Leak, Spell Pierce, Doom Blade, and Despise are some of the cards that you’ll be afraid of. Playing around some of those isn’t difficult, especially when you know your opponent’s hand, but instant speed removal is definitely the hardest.

The answers that are available for cards like Doom Blade are limited in this color combination. They include protection cards like Apostle’s Blessing, Spellskite, and hard counters (maybe Dispel). But if you want something that isn’t as narrow, going black might be your best bet. You lose Wall of Omens, but you gain access to a slew of discard spells.

Since I originally wrote this, this combo has been hyped up a lot. I think that the combo is almost deserving of the hype, but when it’s well-known and being targeted it’s most likely not going to get the desired result. Your best bet is coming up with a good version of the deck in time for the first couple of PTQs. After that, people should be prepared for it if it’s actually as good as it seems.

Hex Parasite

One of many fine answers to planeswalkers to appear in NPH, but Hex Parasite is still just a 1/1 for one mana. Besides being a good Trinket Mage target, it’ll be hard to find a deck for this card that didn’t already want that 1/1 for one mana (it might be better than Vector Asp in that one Tempered Steel deck).

Even in Block, where you are likely to face a deck with Tezzeret, Koth, or Tumble Magnet, Hex Parasite is probably only good when you are abusing it in some other way whether it’s the aforementioned Trinket Mage, Tempered Steel, or a Sword.

Phyrexian Metamorph

Clone has never been an amazing card, but Clone variants have sometimes proven to be good. Phyrexian Metamorph is going to be one of the good ones. It has a similar flaw to the original Clone (requiring something else good for it to matter) but it is a lot more versatile.

One thing that Phyrexian Metamorph excels at is being a versatile artifact, which is something that Tezzeret decks, both in Standard and Block, have been lacking. Those decks are gaining a few different artifacts with the release of NPH, but Phyrexian Metamorph is going to be one of the best options available. Any Tezzeret deck I work on will certainly feature some copies of this card.
Phyrexian Metamorph also fits pretty well into any Fauna Shaman deck as a versatile card to tutor for. It won’t put those decks over the top by itself, but it’s something that those decks should certainly have a copy of.

Act of Aggression

Act of Aggression is good against Primeval Titan. The problem is that it doesn’t help any decks that are already weak to Valakut. Aggressive strategies are generally weak to Valakut because of cards like Pyroclasm and the decks that aren’t probably have access to Mark of Mutiny. If Elves or GW gets off the ground without Valakut casting a mass removal spell, then they could probably benefit from the use of Act of Aggression (you’ll also need two Teetering Peaks), but I don’t think Act of Aggression is what those decks need to beat Valakut.

Praetors Grasp

Praetor’s Grasp is a Demonic Tutor from your opponent’s deck. That may sound a lot better than it actually is, but when I first saw the card, I was impressed. You get to take whatever card you want from your opponent and then you get to play it!

But, for most cards, there are going to be color requirements.

Praetor’s Grasp wants you to play as many colors as possible. Some of the ways I’ve come up with to meet those requirements are as follows:

• Fetchlands (including Terramorphic Expanse) and basic lands
Prophetic Prism and Sphere of the Suns
• Boarding Praetor’s Grasp for appropriate matchups

When the format is more defined, it will be a lot easier to know what to do with this card. For now I am relegating it to the sidelines.
In other formats, like EDH and Vintage, Praetor’s Grasp is pretty good. Color requirements are usually not a problem in those formats and tutoring for whatever broken singleton you’d rather have than have your opponent have access to makes for a strong card.

Despise

It’s been a while since Ostracize has been legal in Standard, long enough that I don’t know how much play it saw, but I can safely say that Despise is going to see a lot of play. Vampire Hexmage is too narrow an answer to planeswalkers for my liking, but Despise is quite the opposite. It’s a preemptive answer to planeswalkers that is also an answer to problem creatures that have been otherwise very hard to deal with, such as Primeval Titan.

The key to it being better than Inquisition of Kozilek is that the cards that Inquisition takes are almost always less impactful to the game as the ones that Despise takes. That won’t always be the case, but with creatures being a lot stronger than they’ve been in the past and Planeswalkers being more powerful and harder to answer, Despise is currently better.

Despise is one card from NPH that is fueling the return of Mono-Black Control, but the way I see it MBC doesn’t really have anything going for it that a two color control deck, like UB, doesn’t also have except for Mind Sludge and Lashwrithe. But those pale in comparison to the cards available to blue like Mana Leak, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Creeping Tar Pit. People will probably play MBC or at least try to make it work, but they just need to play with Jace for bit to see the light.

Blade Splicer

Blade Splicer is in the same vein as Hero of Bladehold, but it costs less and can be slightly better or slightly worse against Jace depending on if you have another creature or an equipment in play. In any case, a colorless 3/3 with first strike that comes with an extra body is a pretty significant package.

CawBlade hasn’t had access to a good 3-drop creature until now (Mirran Crusader notwithstanding), but that’s not to say that it’s been in need of one. Turn 3 is usually taken up by casting a second Squadron Hawk or putting down the equipment you searched for with Stoneforge Mystic while leaving Spell Pierce mana up or playing a tapland.

So, why play Blade Splicer in CawBlade then? I think it still fills a few roles that CawBlade could benefit from (3-drop, Jace killer, good defensive and offensive creature) but there’s a good chance that the other new additions to CawBlade will make Blade Splicer obsolete for the time being. It’s still a card that I think is worth trying and keeping in mind for future use.

Batterskull

This is my favorite card in the set. It does so many things for being a card that I can search for with Stoneforge Mystic. It’s a huge, repeatable threat that can attack, block, gain life, and even equip to a Squadron Hawk for extra value.

Though it is very good, it probably won’t see a lot of play outside of the Stoneforge decks, and even then it’ll just be a 1-of. There are other equipments in the format that are at least as good…

Sword of War and Peace

The last sword of the cycle proves to be one of the best. It gives protection from two of the best colors to have protection from and it can kill Planeswalkers and players very fast. I’m not sure if it’s underrated or overrated yet because of the lack of reviews, but the card is very powerful.

Mirran Crusader has been seeing a bit of play in Extended and Standard, but I think Sword of War and Peace puts it over the top in both formats. Not only does Crusader with a Sword have protection from four colors, but it is capable of killing in 1-2 hits.

This is my current CawBlade list for post NPH:

 

It’s hard to know what exactly lies ahead in the format, but I think this list takes a few important things into account.

Mirran Crusader has always been an incredibly powerful card, but in a format where Sword of Feast and Famine is usually getting the job done, Bitterblossom doesn’t exist, and Jace and Lightning Bolt are common, it’s not necessary. Sword of War and Peace changes things slightly. It’s possible that I’m exaggerating its capabilities, but I think that a lot of decks will have a difficult time overcoming such resilience and large life swings.

Spell Pierce and Condemn are both worse with the arrival of Gitaxian Probe while Sword of War and Peace makes Condemn and Oust much worse and Tumble Magnet a bit better.

With protection from white becoming relevant, Into the Roil and Tumble Magnet have become my go-to spot removal.

Day of Judgment has been relegated to the sideboard to make room for Mirran Crusader. That, coupled with the lack of spot removal, has made the deck a lot weaker to Lightning Bolt and red decks in general. There is a balance that needs to be reached between cards for aggro decks and cards for control decks, and currently I’m favoring cards for control. As time passes, it will become clearer which should be favored.

There’s also the Splinter Twin deck to take into account. The deck currently doesn’t have a lot of interaction with the combo, but I’m not sure how much it needs to have.

Divine Offering is back in the board (for some people it never left), to answer the increase in Tumble Magnets and Sword of War and Peace. Baneslayer Angel is out because of Batterskull. The rest of the sideboard is similar to previous lists.

There are a lot of ideas in the above decklists and card evaluations that won’t prove useful or correct until the post-NPH format becomes more defined and some actual testing is done. Even the Splinter Twin deck seems like it could have an impact on the format. It’s hard to know what will come to light until the set eventually does come out, but I’m hoping this article has at least helped you understand the upcoming Standard format better and brought you to your own conclusions about NPH.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about the two new equipments in CawBlade. Both add a lot of power to the deck and I can’t wait to figure out which I’ll be searching for first!

Bonus Section on Phyrexian Mana (PM) and NMS Limited
The following may seem obvious to most players, but I think it’s important that all players are aware of it.
This is actually what a Phyrexian Mana card looks like:

Every PM card is capable of being played in any deck, it will just cost you a few life. The spoiler might trick you into grouping these cards into their assigned colors, but you shouldn’t! When drafting or building a sealed deck, these cards can all make the cut if it suits you. It’s a good idea to have a list of all of them handy when deckbuilding for constructed, just in case.

PM also affects the SOM Limited format in an interesting way. Every PM card is naturally good against infect decks because the life loss doesn’t matter against them. This, coupled with the loss of a Scars pack (which was overall better for dedicated infect strategies because NPH has very few cheap infect creatures), diminishes the power of a committed infect deck by a significant amount. Of course, this is just speculation since I haven’t actually played the Limited format, but the evidence is there.

Discussion

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