PV’s Playhouse – Early Thoughts on New Phyrexia

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

Hello everyone!

Until a couple hours ago, I had no idea what I was going to write about. In fact, I was almost accepting Lauren Lee’s insistent suggestion that I write about my love life. Luckily for me, a bunch of cards were spoiled right this moment, so I’m going to talk a little bit about them. It is uncertain whether the cards are real or not; people keep claiming “fake!” as if they know it for sure, but I have the strong suspicion people would do that regardless of what was spoiled – they always seem to find something wrong with the card. As far as I am concerned, they seem real. If they turn out to be not real, I promise everyone their money back.

Anyway, this is what I HAD written about one hour ago. Right now the whole set is spoiled, which makes me pretty sad to be honest – when we sneak a peek at a card or two, it’s sweet, but the whole set? There is a reason they do it the way they do, after all – I would prefer if that hadn’t happened. What’s going to happen to all the spoiler articles now, to “spoiler week?” Or the site previews? It did happen, though, so there is no point in me closing my eyes, I might as well go read it like everybody else. Part of me wishes this was all a big prank from Mark Rosewater, and then at the pre-release we’d find ourselves staring at packs named “Mirrodin Pure” with completely different cards.

I will obviously not talk about every card, but I’ll talk about the ones I was talking about before the big leak happened and then some that I think are interesting. I know the full set is out, but we haven’t really had the time to absorb the impact of the whole of it, so some evaluations might be a little off with what the “new metagame” is going to become. And, again, this is only my opinion. So, let’s begin!

This card is ridiculous!!!!!

This is, to me, the most important card spoiled so far (or it was… shrug), and if any card gets Stoneforge Mystic banned, it will be this one. Searching for a creature with your Mystic is always good, but this is not “a creature” – it is almost a Baneslayer Angel. In fact, it trumps Baneslayer Angel in many situations. Let’s examine why this is so good:

First of all, you get to play it on turn three if you have a Stoneforge Mystic. Where Baneslayer could possibly too slow, this will never be. Imagine you’re playing an aggressive deck and your opponent leads with Mystic; on turn three, you can’t even attack! And on turn four you will be attacked, the opponent is going to gain four life no matter what, and then he still has his 4/4 to block because it has vigilance! If the creature dies somehow, you can always equip it to your Mystic, or bounce and replay it. Even if they try to kill the artifact, you can stop it with three open mana. If they kill the Mystic, it’s still a very solid card, especially because it was “free” and they had to spend mana/time killing the mystic.

This is not all, though. Imagine that you are on the draw, and you had turn 2 Mystic for this. Your opponent can’t even play Jace on turn four, because you’ll just flash this in and kill it no matter what he does! And, to make matters even worse, the token is black and not white or red, so it completely trumps the new sword by being a 4/4 to their 3/4.

Boros also gets to play this card, which makes it a lot better against any creature deck, but I think it’s much better against Boros than in Boros – spending your turn 3 to put this in play so you can attack on turn 4 is not the fastest ordeal, and a Boros deck minds the loss of time a lot more than a UW deck that wants to go to the late game anyway. Besides, if two of those clash, then the control player is ahead because the four life benefits him a lot more.

I suspect that, for an aggro deck to be viable, it will have to either play Mystic and this itself, or to make SURE it can kill a turn two Stoneforge, and even then I am not very positive it has a lot of chances to beat this card.

This card does not impress me. I understand that it “deals” with Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, and Primeval Titan (though not really) to an extent, but it looks like it simply doesn’t do enough. It’s the kind of card that stops them from doing something, but they don’t even have to do it because you were busy drawing and playing cards like Torpor Orb. In the turn that you give them by playing it, maybe they get to attack with Primeval Titan anyway, for example. If I have a “Jace” hand, I don’t see how I can lose if my opponent spends his early turns playing this. It also doesn’t stop any of the two drops on the draw, AND it is symmetric. If you are in the market for that, I would stick to Leonin Arbiter.

I like this card, and I suspect I would like it a lot more if it wasn’t for Batterskull. A deck like Caw-Blade often has its hand full, for better or for worse, which means this card is excellent in it and against it. For an aggressive deck, getting hit with a Sword is not the end of the world, but getting hit with this one will actually be if they manage to gain like six life – it will give them another turn at least, and that’ll be another attack because you cannot remove the guy, can you? Imagine you’re playing Boros again – your opponent’s turn 2 is Stoneforge Mystic, on turn 3 he plays this, on turn four he equips and attacks for ~ 6 life and 6 damage – it’s actually impossible to race if you don’t have your own. The saving grace is that it’s probably better for the aggro deck if both have those, since you trade the blows, but that might not even be true if they manage to play two or three cards after combat.

Another important aspect of this card is that it lets you attack players while also killing planeswalkers. Playing Jace against Feast and Famine would often prompt a choice between hitting the player and the Walker, but with this one you do both. The lifegain is probably not relevant in this scenario, but it’s good to know you didn’t waste your attack to kill the planeswalker alone, and if you have another sword equipped, it suddenly becomes game-changing.

This card is better than Inquisition of Kozilek against both UW and RUG, and probably better against aggro with Koth too. It’s much worse against UB, and I’m unsure against Valakut – if they’re playing Lotus Cobra/Inferno Titan versions it might be better, but I think it depends on the situation. Nowadays, I would definitely go for this one, but I’d probably play around 6 of them – 4 of this and 2 Inquisition. I like the name, too!

This card is pretty sweet; 4 mana and 4 life for a 4/4 flier is not horrible, and then by turn 5 you get to attack for 16 in the air. I cannot imagine where I would play it, and it sure does seem bad to get it Jaced, but I’d like to keep in mind that this card exists.

I don’t like this card as much as most people seem to, though I see it has applications. Sure, it deals with Batterskull or with Gideon, but you spend a card, 3 mana AND they get a 3/3, so I don’t think this is very good if you want to be attacking. If you don’t care much about that, it’s probably good – I think RUG or Valakut could make use of that on some level because the 3/3 is not very relevant against them. If your opponent manages to land Jace, for example, you can go Beast Within, Jace bounce the token, or you can deal with a Titan that slips through, a general weakness of the RUG archetype. In Valakut, it kills Sword or Jace, though I don’t like the fact that it is not a ramp spell or a card that is good to be ramped into. Worse comes to worst you just turn a land into a creature and block their guy – if that means you’re killing Goblin Guide, it’s not that bad of an exchange. I would not go around playing this in all my green decks, but I wouldn’t be averse to trying some in RUG either.

Pretty cool for a reanimator target – the fact that you get to draw 7 means you’ll probably find another creature, which you can then discard for hand size, and another reanimation spell, so you’ll likely be able to reanimate something else next turn even if they deal with this.

This is better than the reverse Negator, but I think everyone knows that by now. The obvious problem with this is that you have to play Mono-Black, and, honestly, who wants to do that? MBC has never really been good (other than Odyssey Block), and it took a very big hit when they printed planeswalkers because it just cannot deal with them (though the new discard helps). I am pretty sure people will try to build MBC because of this card and the 5/5, and I am reasonably confident that they will fail.

MBA is another story. Vampires is an obvious home for this card, and I think it’s more than worth it to abandon red, which was an annoyance in the mana base anyway, for a bunch of those.

This gets my vote for sleeper card of the set (I know, I know, no one has even had time to not like it yet, but still…). This is probably the best red answer to Kor Firewalker around (though the Red Shrine seems decent versus him too), and it’s awesome that it also kills Baneslayer and Batterskull. Too bad it is not -6/-6 to kill Titans.

This seems pretty narrow for Standard (where it might see SB play), so Legacy is where we should look at. What does it counter in Legacy? From the top of my head, I can think of:

Brainstorm
Ponder
Aether Vial
Noble Hierarch
Sensei’s Divining Top
Goblin Lackey
Wild Nacatl (does anyone play this anymore?)
Stifle (same)
Thoughtseize
Pyroblast
Swords to Plowshares
Dark Ritual
Spell Snare
Grim Lavamancer
Putrid Imp
Manabond

This is a considerable amount of cards. When it does work it’s pretty sweet, but I think we’re looking at it working against 8-12 cards per deck, and it does not do ANYTHING if it doesn’t work. I guess you could draw a parallel to Spell Snare, which is the exact same, but the difference is that with Spell Snare I actually want those spells countered, and with this I will jump into an opportunity to counter anything because I know it’s soon going to stop hitting relevant cards. This makes me want to play four, because I really want it on turn one, but also makes me want to play zero because I really do not want it on turn six, because those 1 casting cost spells are likely not relevant anymore.

That said, It is pretty good that you get to interact with them even if you’re on the draw, and the tempo you gain is actually huge – I think it’s actually much better in an aggressive deck than on a deck that would normally want counterspells, where you can really punish them for the tempo loss and the damage is less likely to matter. Another factor to consider is that it counters other copies of itself, which will end up creating some sweet counter wars with both players losing a ton of life.

In any case, it’ll definitely impact a lot of decks – I never felt like I had much reason to play Goblins, but after this I’ll have even less, when many of the free wins you get by playing Lackey or Vial t1 will no longer exist.

I think this could be just a solid card, or an absolute four of in every Legacy deck. Right now, I think it’s just a solid card, but most people seem to think it’s too good, so I could definitely be wrong and we might see 64 of those in the top 16 of Providence.

I love this card!

I don’t think it’s particularly powerful, but I think it’s very interesting. Seeing your opponent’s hand is certainly not irrelevant, and if you’re anyone but Travis Woo, this is almost a strict upgrade to Street Wraith (which, granted, was not very good to begin with, but still)…

I think this can see play in some control decks (Caw-Blade for example – knowing when the coast is clear to equip a Sword is sweet), but I think it’s also good in aggro decks, where the life loss is not going to be very relevant. Knowing if they have Wrath/Condemn/Into the Roil/Counterspell is huge, and might be worth a card in itself, perhaps even more than one.

As far as cards that do not kill you, this is probably in the top 5 most horrible of all time.

Other than being a house in Limited, this card could actually see play in a lot of non-red aggro, say, for example, Vampires without red. This gives non-red decks a better game against Valakut, though if you don’t play red you don’t have Teetering Peaks, which greatly diminishes its efficiency. It’s important to note that this is an instant, so you have to be careful with your attacks if this becomes heavily played.

Overview

I think this set will bring big changes to all formats. Free spells are very dangerous tools, and they make playing around things very important but at the same time almost impossible. You now cannot assume they can’t kill your guy because they are mono-green, or that they can’t counter your spell because they’re mono-red, or that they can’t burn you because they’re mono-blue.

One point, though – I don’t know about you, but when I see Phyrexian mana in the cost, that cost might as well not exist. This is not true – two life is not irrelevant, especially if you have a critical mass of those and if you actually can’t cast some without paying it. It is possible that Red benefits greatly from this. I think, however, that Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace are better against Red than the format makes red good. My prediction is that I at least will stay away from decks that intend to win the game by dealing a lot of damage very fast.

So far I do not see anything that makes me think Caw-Blade is not going to be dominant anymore, quite the opposite – if I had to pick a single deck that benefited the most from this set I would pick UW, for Batterskull alone – I think it is that important. I also think Into the Roil is going to become even more played than before – I already liked it, but with the new Sword it seems better than white removal. This means the new Peek might also play an important role, so that you don’t get blown out by anything.

Until some hours ago, I was against banning any card in Standard – I thought Jace was good, too good, but the format would be worse without him. Right now, though, I admit I would not be sad if they banned Stoneforge Mystic.

Bonus: to play or to draw?

A while ago, a debate on whether you should play or draw in the UW versus UB match arose on Facebook/Twitter. Most people seem to be on the “play” team, but the people who say “draw” are all good. So, what do I think?

I think you should play, and I think that very strongly. In fact, I think you should play in any current match in Standard, and it’s not close. The reason people say you should draw in this match is because it’s an attrition war, and then because you want to make your late land drops. Though that is true, I think this is not what is the most important in this matchup – the most important is the early game.

In the very late game, I think UB is favored. UW’s counters lose effectiveness, and UB has naturally more powerful cards. The goal of the UW deck then is to make sure it has enough advantage in the early game so that the game doesn’t go late, or at least that it doesn’t get to the late stage at parity. You (UW) are the only one that can have the advantage in the early game, so press it – your threats are cheaper (though it’s more accurate to say “you actually have threats,” since they don’t have anything you fear) and your counters are much better suited for a counter war.

Playing does many things for you, most concerning turn two. Stoneforge Mystic is an important card, but Squadron Hawk is even more important – I would say it is your most important card – and being on the play lets you push it through Mana Leak and also lets you Spell Pierce their Inquisition, both of which you’d be unable to do on the draw. Being on the play also lets you run a turn 5 Jace into their counter without fear that they can Jace you back on their turn 5 because of Spell Pierce. With Pierce, the difference between playing or drawing is huge.

There is also the fact that a lot of hands are keepable on the play, but not on the draw. If you’re UB, for example, you cannot keep a lot of Mana Leak hands on the draw that you’d snap keep on the play, and it kind of balances out the times when you’ll mulligan on the play because you’re land light but wouldn’t on the draw. Some hands just get infinitely better on the play – imagine, for example, 5 lands, Hawk, Pierce – pretty good on the play but on the draw not very impressive, as you’re probably just dead if they have Inquisition, and even if you wait until turn three to Pierce their Leak you’ll just find yourself staring at a Jace turn four to oppose your one Squadron Hawk.

Well, this is it. I hope you’ve liked this, and see you next week!
PV

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