Riley Knight would claim that Sai does a squillion different things, but I’ll limit myself to just ten. Let’s break them down.
- He quickly produces an army: If you cast Sai and an artifact on the same turn, you net a token even if your opponent has a removal spell. And if left unopposed in an artifact-centric deck, Sai’s steady stream of tokens can buy time against aggro, overwhelm control, or help cast improvise spells.
- He’s a combo enabler: Cast triggers are easily abused by looping zero-cost artifacts. A Standard idea is to use Sai, Master Thopterist in conjunction with Arcane Adaptation (on Zombies), Walking Ballista (in your graveyard), and Liliana, Untouched by Death (to keep casting the same 0/0 Ballista). Although infinite damage via Metallic Mimic is better than infinite Thopters from Sai, it’s nice to have redundant combo pieces. By the way, if you want to go deep with Arcane Adaptation brews, then you can add Liliana’s Contract too, but we’ll leave that for another day.
- He’s a sacrifice enabler: Sacrificing is a powerful mechanic because it allows you to activate death triggers at will. Standard-legal options include Servo Schematic, Scrap Trawler, and Marionette Master.
- He’s a legend: Sai is best friends with Mox Amber, enables Karn’s Temporal Sundering, and triggers Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle.
- He’s an Artificer: It’s not the most-supported tribe, but Inventor’s Goggles is still legal in Standard.
- He’s a Human: It seems unlikely that Sai will find a home in Thalia’s Lieutenant decks, but the Human type could prove relevant for decks with both Trophy Mage and Unclaimed Territory.
- He survives Lightning Bolt and Abrade: 4 toughness is a big deal, especially when the most-played removal spells only deal 3 damage.
- He blocks Bloodbraid Elf and Scrapheap Scrounger: I really can’t emphasize enough how important that 4th point of toughness is.
- He’s a late-game card draw engine: It’s just icing on the cake, but you’re not going to say no to free cards in the late game. Especially when you’re chump-blocking with two Thopters.
- He’s 3 mana: Many artifact-based decks are based around a bunch of 1-2 mana setup cards (Chromatic Star, Prophetic Prism, etc.) and 4+ mana payoff cards (such as Karn, Scion of Urza or Whir of Invention). Especially in Standard, a good 3-drop was missing as a bridge.
In Modern, there are a lot of focused artifact decks that have trouble with Ancient Grudge or Stony Silence after board. Examples of such decks include Affinity, Ironworks, Blue Steel, Thopter-Sword, and Lantern Control. Their main decks are generally too focused to afford a slow card like Sai, but after sideboard, when opponents bring in their hate cards and the games get more grindy, the Master Thopterist can prove useful.
So in my mind, Sai is akin to Etched Champion, Ghirapur Aether Grid, or The Antiquities War: It’s a proactive way of fighting back against Ancient Grudge, Stony Silence, and other artifact hate cards. My latest Affinity build with four Master of Etherium is already overloaded at the 3-drop slot, but I am still intrigued. Maybe I’ll cut a Master to try out one Sai. If your build has a different mana curve, then it may be easier to find a slot in your 75. Either way, the legend looks like a speculative 1-of at best.
A good home for Sai would be a Mox Amber deck or an improvise deck. An ideal home combines both angles, and such a deck actually exists in Standard. As mentioned in the preview video, there is a competitive combo deck that exploits both Mox Amber and Inspiring Statuary. This strategy is fueled by Paradoxical Outcome and eventually wins with Aetherflux Reservoir.
Perhaps the best-known player who has found success with this archetype is Marc Tobiasch. The Gold pro did well with the deck in a Magic Online Championship Series and recently went 10-5 at Grand Prix Copenhagen. When I asked him about Sai, he praised the 4th toughness in particular. He also told me that at some point he had Efficient Construction in his sideboard, which is a good sign. Marc recommends to start with two Sai in the main deck, cutting one Reverse Engineer and one Glint-Nest Crane from his Grand Prix Copenhagen list.
While this deck may be the ideal home for Sai in Standard, it’s certainly not the only one. For my next article, I have a sweet Herald of Anguish deck that can also utilize the Artificer. And if you’re a Commander player, then Sai slots right into Breya, Etherium Shaper decks or Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain decks. All in all, Sai is the perfect package, and I see a lot of potential.