I had a different topic planned for this week’s article, but now is the time to be talking about new technology. The first section features some standard brews that show promise, and the second section focuses on a new legacy build that mimics the infamous Hulk Flash.
New Phyrexian Standard
I’ve been grinding with Caw Blade lately, and have come to the conclusion that the deck has no bad matchups save a competent RUG, GW, or mirror opponent that draws better. My test group initially thought Vamps with Hero of Oxid Ridge was a bad matchup, but as I keep knocking them out of top eights (a PTQ and then the Indy MMS,) I think they’re starting to come around.
During the grind, fellow Caw Blade players have asked me what changes I’m going to make with the new set, excited about the possible additions to their deck. Then I tell them I won’t be playing Squadron Hawk anymore, and their faces fall.
I’ve been gauntleting the new format, and so far I have Valakut, Caw Blade, and Boros all underperforming to the point where I would only consider Caw Blade with Sword of War and Peace as viable, and then only so long as the mirror is still played, which should only last so long.
Why? Wouldn’t it make sense for the metagame to stay roughly similar, with slight alterations to existing decks? The best Splinter Twin deck could be a red Caw Blade build with the combo worked in, for example.
Towards the start of the season, with the new cards generally untested and unpurchased, things should feel roughly the same. However, soon the meta, quickened by the SCG opens, will become a different sort of netdeckable. While only a few cards from the new set stand out as big movers, the change they imply should be enough to shift things around.
Look at Sword of War and Peace. What does it do? It punishes people for playing white creatures and having cards in hand. What is Caw Blade based around? White creatures that put cards in hand. What does that make sword? Sick tech for the mirror? Sure, but it also makes it a meta changer. Before, there wasn’t a reason not to play Caw Blade. Now, we have a Hero of Oxid Ridge on a stick. For the first month that New Phyrexia is legal, this new sword will be the best card ever. As people wise up and play fewer Squadron Hawks, it should gradually lose value (but I could easily be wrong on that second part).
From a design standpoint, a few of the new cards caught my eye, starting with the shrines. They remind me of suspend cards, only you get to choose how powerful the card is and how long it stays suspended.
At first glance the blue and red ones looked the most playable, with the white one being good in Limited. After a bit of testing, I found my hunch to be correct. While the blue one won’t show up in every deck, it’ll make the odd combo deck sing or add another layer of tricky filter to the right type of control deck. I love the feel of sitting there with a Shrine of Piercing Vision on six counters, my hapless opponent not knowing to play around counters or removal. It can cycle if it has to, but at a certain point it functions as a Demonic Tutor. Even if your digging whiffs, you’ve still scryed away a pile of cards, and that’s useful too.
The red one, on the other hand, could very well make it into every mono red variant as a four of. I can see a format where a turn two Shrine is much scarier than a turn one Goblin Guide.
I talked to Patrick Sullivan, and he had this to say:
In a general sense I certainly agree with you though.
Extra benefit of cutting Koth could be cutting a land or two, allowing you to play another (presumably cheap) red spell.
My testing moved from RDW to Splinter Twin. I played, and wrote about, the Pestermite deck through most of the last Extended season, so my inbox was quickly flooded with lists, requests for lists, and speculations. I did some testing with Alex Ledbetter, the guy who qualified with the deck in Extended, and talked shop with everyone I could.
This is almost a straight port of the Extended deck and of all the builds, I like it the best. Wall of Omens cantrips into the combo while ensuring a steady flow of land drops. It also functions as a fine secondary target for Splinter Twin, and it slows the game down so that the deck’s inevitability has time to matter. Unlike Sea Gate Oracle, it doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt.
However, the new sword is going to see some play, which will make both Condemn and Wall of Omens a trifle worse. The deck’s curve could be increased to up the number of Tumble Magnets, Into the Roils, and Day of Judgments in the maindeck, but that’s a tradeoff I don’t want to make until I’m sure that I have to.
The other version we tested was a Grixis build, similar to Weedmonkey’s list that Josh Silvestri wrote about here:
One difference between our list and Weedmonkey’s is the inclusion of Liliana Vess, suggested by one Susan Zell, which has been testing wonderfully, and I might want a second. The card adds the same planeswalker control pressure that Jace does, and can also tutor up either of the win conditions. I’m guessing that the deck will end up playing two.
This list is a safe choice for an open metagame. Like the white version, this deck takes the control role, with the Splinter Twin there to act as the best four mana end the game card ever. A nice aspect of this list is that the good main deck cards against the deck, like Into the Roil, and the bad sideboard cards, like Celestial Purge, are all weak to Inquisition. Have a Jace hand? Take the Valakut opponent’s Explore. Have the turn four kill? Take his Nature’s Claim.
New Phyrexian Legacy
There has been a bit of hullabaloo over Mental Misstep, which I believe to be overhyped. This is no Force of Will. The counterargument – that the card is narrow like Spell Snare, and will thus see minimal/niche play – is also off the mark. Mental Misstep is less powerful than Force of Will and less narrow than Spell Snare, and its level of play should be commensurate.
I like Brian Kibler’s argument that if Mental Misstep is going in, what’s coming out? You’ve gained a valuable tool, but is your card draw being depleted? What about threat count, or spot removal? The card is useful, but very specific, and throwing them into a deck isn’t all gravy, as some have been touting. It’ll make it into some lists, but not others. Goblin Ringleader still wants to flip goblins, and Ad Nauseam still wants to preemptively answer a Counterbalance or Force of Will. The card is probably close to Stifle in Bant. While powerful, it’s too high variance for the uber-consistent deck I want to be piloting. Unlike Stifle, it’s just as good on the play or on the draw.
To figure out whether or not a deck needs Mental Misstep, or any card at all, I use the following criteria:
1-What problem is being fixed? How effective is this solution? Are there better options already available?
2-How consistent is the card (is it ever dead?)
3-What is the tradeoff, here? Am I giving away power for utility, or vice versa? Is the change something my deck wants?
As a specific answer to Aether Vial decks, I prefer Pithing Needle because it shuts off Multiple Vials and can always hit another relevant card like Mutavault, Corelhelm Commander, or Gempalm Incinerator. Meanwhile, a Mental Misstep tends to be a useless draw in the mid- to late-game against Vial decks. As Alex Bertoncini has been gleefully posting on Facebook, Merfolk still wants the card. Besides handling other troublesome one-drops, they do not want to needle their own Aether Vial.
I haven’t worked out all the implications in Painter yet, but right now my list has -2 maindeck blast effects and -1 Trinket Mage for three Mental Misstep, which answers one mana spot disruption while upping the blue count to a more reasonable sixteen for Force of Will.
A card I am excited about is the free Peek, Gitaxian Probe, mostly because I also love Cabal Therapy. Thinking through the competitive history of Peek, I remembered this juicy number that Gadiel Szleifer ran to the top eight of GP Hulk Flash:
The deck is a thing of beauty, with a pile of interactive cards to help force through a brutally fast combo finish. Gadiel, generally derisive of Legacy in general, stated in his top eight interview that he didn’t test for the event. I think having access to Duress, Peek, and Cabal Therapy all let him know what to play around in a big way, with Peek serving double duty by cantripping into the combo. Likewise, I would recommend that any skilled technical player who hasn’t played much Legacy run something similar. If you’re hungry for winning, might I suggest some Cephalid Breakfast?
Note that this deck is very unforgiving of mistakes. Unless you’re Gadiel, I recommend testing before a Legacy event, especially with a deck packing this much interaction. That said, I do think someone newer to Legacy will benefit from repeatedly looking at his opponent’s hand, and someone experienced in Legacy will better maximize the value of Cabal Therapy.
I had an earlier version with a Tarmogoyf-fueled Sutured Ghoul as the win condition, which allowed me to run a beat down backup plan in the main deck. The beaters also worked as a speed bump, giving me more time to find the combo. Unfortunately, testing showed that needing four colors of mana (for Goyf and Worldly Tutor) was just too much in a deck that wanted to win turn two through four. This version has a mere three colors, making the win a lot more consistent and slightly more resistant to Wasteland.
While this combo costs three mana at sorcery speed, rather than two mana at instant, a lot of the best parts of Gadiel’s deck survive the transition, and now with some fresh toys. Mental Misstep is fantastic here, as the deck is trying to contain the game to the first few turns. The card solves problems such as single mana removal spells, discard, and opposing Mental Missteps. At the worst it can be pitched to Force of Will or shuffled away with Brainstorm, so it definitely makes the cut.
The sideboard Show and Tell plan gradually proved itself to be more resilient and powerful than any other sideboard switch. You still have a pile of discard and counters to pave the way, but now you can tutor up a game-ending Eldrazi, similar to how Painter can transform and Intuition for the same thing. As an aside, Form of the Dragon has some fantastic synergy with Lim Dul’s Vault, and avoids problem cards like Sower of Temptation or Jace.
Testing this deck showed me the pleasure of drawing both Gitaxian Probe and Cabal Therapy in the opening hand. Not only can you sequence your plays more precisely, from your first land drop onward, but you can strip out multiples from your opponent, too! I wouldn’t be surprised if “take two, probe you, therapy you,” became a key Legacy weapon. It certainly feels filthy enough. Similarly, the synergy of Gitaxian Probe and Meddling Mage should be kept in mind for Extended.
Notes from testing:
2-The sideboarded Show and Tell plan doesn’t always have to come in, but note the number of cards that disrupt our main combo: Pithing Needle on Nomads En-Kor (though you can tutor for Fauna Shaman) Tormod’s Crypt, any removal spell, Engineered Plague, and so on and so forth. Show and Tell completely nullifies huge swaths of hate cards, just be wary of Knight of the Reliquary tutoring for a maindeck Karakas. Also, unlike Painter, the Show and Tell plan cannot coexist with the main combo, as you’ll simply end up shuffling your graveyard back in repeatedly. A conservative, but defensible, option is to only bring it in for game three, as then you’ll know what you’re playing around, and the combo is much better on the play.
3-Usually, it’s better to hold onto Cabal Therapy and/or Gitaxian Probe until ready to combo off. As conditions change, their power can increase. Probe might allow a Lim-Dul’s Vault to instantly win the game, for example.
4-If you find yourself losing with the deck, go back and go through the lines of play. Perhaps you fetched the wrong land, Mental Misstepped the wrong spell, made a loose keep, screwed up order of operations, Brainstorm shuffled away essential gas, or Cabal Therapied naming irrelevance itself. Other times, there simply wasn’t a way to win (this is why I didn’t like playing Hulk Flash; I never felt like I had control over my losses.)
5-Once my test partners grew comfortable playing around Daze, I would swap a couple in to keep them on their toes. I know some Legacy environments can grow stale, with the same people playing each other every week, and this is the type of little tweaking that consistently pays off.
Some thoughts on Hulk Flash: When looking up Gadiel’s list, I noticed a top eight interview from Channel Fireball’s own Owen Turtenwald claiming Hulk Flash was just another combo deck, and definitely didn’t need to be banned. Looking at the rough nature of those lists, as well as the lower power level of creatures at the time, I can’t help but think the deck would do much worse in our modern meta, and, while I’m sure many will disagree, I think it’s time we start talking about unbanning the combo. Look again at my Cephalid Breakfast list, then to the top eighting Hulk Flash list above it. Both decks are susceptible to graveyard hate, countermagic, discard, and spot removal. Both two card combos can force an early win through said disruption. Yet, one deck is considered a boogeyman, banished, and the other dismissed as a worse dredge deck by the Legacy majority.
Before I let you go, I have a bit of New Phyrexian spice left to share.
The deck has been testing well, and it has game against the field. I can see changing a few slots during tuning, but I like the shell. Note that Stoneforge has synergy with Ritual by fetching the 3cc swords, which is pretty important. The Obliterator is worth building around because it makes combat impossible for your opponents. The Shriekmaws in the board are sweet against fish and green decks, but they double as outs to an opponent’s Show and Tell+Emrakul.
This next list is courtesy of brewmaster Chefy and his buddy, Peter Sjostedt.
While I haven’t gauntleted this list yet, I found the use of the Chancellors in Hypergenesis to be wonderfully clever. The green one acts as a spirit guide, the white one forces through the combo, with both doubling as bodies. That said, this list runs more beaters than is typical, and fewer mana sources. I’m not sure how vital Serum Powder is. This is the type of deck for the card, but historically it tends to get cut as lists are smoothed out.
I’d suggest testing:
As always, thanks for reading, and you can reach me in the forums or at CalebDurward@hotmail.com.