Chromium, the Mutable is a hard card to evaluate because it has so many distinct abilities, and it’s so different from what we’ve seen before.
Chromium has a lot of good things going for it. It has flash and flies, which means that it can be a surprise blocker for basically anything, from Torrential Gearhulk to Glorybringer, or even Hazoret the Fervent. Because it has flash, it’s a good kill condition. It doesn’t require you to tap out, so you can play a normal game and then, if you have 7 mana to spare, you slam Chromium at the end of the turn. It’s also big enough to kill virtually any planeswalker in one attack, and kills the opponent in three turns.
It has hexproof, but not really. Discarding a card is a minimal cost (since they probably spent a card too), but they do get to almost Fog it for a turn. The worst part, however, is that if it’s in combat, then it stays in combat (and very likely dies).
Imagine this scenario:
Your opponent attacks with their Glorybringer. You flash in a Chromium. They allow you to block, and then they cast Unlicensed Disintegration. Now, what do you do? If you discard a card, Chromium will become a 1/1 and die anyway. There’s really no counterplay to this—you just have to hope that they don’t have a removal spell that’s capable of killing it the turn that you block.
On offense this can also happen, but it’s way less likely because they need a flying blocker (since they have to block first), and there aren’t that many of those around (though if you ever play versus someone on the ChannelFireball team, we’ll be sure to have a couple of Glint-Nest Cranes ready).
Chromium also has an issue in that it’s not actually immune to certain removal spells people play. Both Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage can kill it, as can, for example, Doomfall or Vraska’s Contempt + Yahenni’s Expertise. Luckily, neither of those get to kill it immediately, so you can just play it at the end of their turn, untap, and then fight over the sweepers or Doomfall. It’s impossible for them to win the game if Chromium stays there, so their whole deck basically turns into 5-6 cards that they need to have. On top of that, those are usually the first cards to be discarded in the control mirror, so it’s possible that one or two of them are already gone. The other issue is that it’s not immune to Commit // Memory.
Overall, Chromium is going to be great in a couple of spots:
- It’ll be great versus control decks. They can answer it, but they won’t necessarily have the answer and you can fight over it because it’s all sorcery speed with the exception of Commit // Memory. The Jeskai deck that Top 4’d U.S. Nationals, for example, had zero ways of killing it short of blocking with a Thopter token and then casting Harnessed Lightning for 7.
- It’ll be great versus U/B Midrange decks. They can potentially deal with it thorough Doomfall and Commit, but those do not pressure you at all and most of the time if you draw this card it’ll be game over.
- It’ll be great versus matchups where you have to actually kill them. If you play versus Banefire, for example, you need to close out the game before they can finish you off, and Chromium does that. It also helps versus those green decks post-board where they morph into a grindy deck full of Lifecraft’s Bestiary and planeswalkers, or versus Arguel’s Blood Fast.
As a general rule, I think Chromium is a better sideboard card than it is a main deck card. In game 1, there will be ways for people to incidentally kill it (e.g., Settle the Wreckage), and in games 2 and 3 there won’t. Post-sideboard, you also have more need of a creature to actually close out the game since a lot of people become more grindy against you. It might be weird to “spotlight” a sideboard card, but I think it’s really good at what it does out of the sideboard and will make a difference. In the right metagame, it can be a 1-of in the main deck to win certain matchups, but that’s probably after the Kaladesh rotation.
The only place for Chromium right now is in an Esper Control deck, not unlike the one from U.S. Nationals. We can take Justin Andrus’s deck and port it to an M19 Standard deck. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else the deck gains from M19, but the set doesn’t look strong to me overall, so I don’t feel bad about not playing any new cards in my main deck.
I’ve kept his main deck the same except for -1 Chart a Course and +1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Teferi is broken and I’m going to play four in my deck. If the very high curve offends you, then you can cut an Eldest Reborn or a Liliana, Death’s Majesty for it, but I think you should play four Teferis even if this deck doesn’t have that many counterspells. Then, in the sideboard, you can play the two Chromiums:
This approach should also work for a more standard Esper build (without Expertise/Downfall and without any creatures), and I would also play two Chromiums in the sideboard.
So, to answer the question of whether Chromium is more Nezahal or Ojutai—I think it’s more of a Nezahal in the sense that it’s a sideboard card—but it’s a much, much better version of it.