Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holy Crap! Phyrexia is Evil!

Sorry for the long time between posts! I've been trying to actually PLAY the game more often as opposed to just thinking about it, and I've been working on some longer essays. But when New Phyrexia got officially spoiled, I really wanted to weigh in. This set is puzzling for me as a wanna-be designer - it seemed like R&D was moving away from griefer mechanics, and yet here comes a set more or less devoted to suffering. I understand Phyrexians are not particularly pleasant creatures, but there are an awful lot of high-powered, Spike-lovin', cards that I honestly didn't expect to see again. Here's a quick walk-through on some cards that really stand out to me...

Dispatch: Metalcraft decks aren't exactly tearing up any of the metagames (even Affinity is looking a little flaccid in Legacy lately), but I think this will go the way of Path to Exile. It may take a while, but this card will creep into pretty much every deck playing white, and then every deck playing artifacts, and then decks will start to splash white and run a couple extra swords to set it up. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but I recall Mark Rosewater writing about how he was disappointed with how Path developed in Standard/Extended.

Gitaxian Probe: Other writers will beat this to death, but just to reiterate: a Street Wraith that Peeks seems really good.

Mental Misstep: This is another card that other writers will cover more in depth. I don't think it will quite live up to the hype ("it will change the way people play Legacy forever!"); its purpose seems to be to ride hard on some of the other 1-drop spells in this post. It will be most powerful against constructed aggro decks who are really dependent on resolving a turn 1, 1-drop creature to generate tempo. Could Misstep be an attempt to shift the standard metagame away from Elves and RDW-type strategies?

Despise: I'm eating some crow from my post a while back, where I said Ostracize wouldn't be seen again. It also dodges a critical deck-building puzzle that Ostracize posed: "How do I play this card most effectively if I expect to face decks that won't play creatures?" In the current game, there are plenty of decks that don't run much in the way of planeswalkers, and plenty of decks that don't play many creatures, but there are no decks that play neither planeswalkers nor creatures. So Despise will be good against any deck you play against.

Evil Presence: I feel like the Worldwake man-lands and some of the other current rare lands are very fun to play, while Evil Presence has never been fun (either to play with or against). Back in the day, I understood why you wanted to put it in your zombie deck... but that didn't make it as much fun as just having another zombie. Contaminated Ground / Spreading Seas / Convincing Mirage are all in the same boat - they're boring to play, and lame to play against. I don't really understand the logic behind efficient land destruction being unacceptable, but even more efficient color denial cards are fine. It doesn't make sense to me, and I wish they'd stop making cards in this vein.

Geth's Verdict: Again, edict effects are something I thought R&D was moving away from, and I especially didn't expect to see one at instant speed. I'm quite happy with it, since I think edicts are an important part of black's removal suite

Surgical Extraction: A free Extirpate also seems pretty strong, especially given you can drop it turn 1 on the back of Duress-type card (of which we'll now have 3 in standard, and 4 in extended).

Glistener Elf: This seems pretty scary in limited, especially if you're playing a slow deck where you don't get a decent creature down until turn three. It might as good as a 2/1 at common. Glistener Elf is also the missing piece that infect decks need to get going in Standard.

Torpor Orb: Like Mental Misstep, this is an answer card; it's powerful in the sense that it's good against other powerful cards, instead of being strong in its own right. I wish this hadn't been conceptualized as an orb, since the orb trope mostly tap/untap things, but this is a card I'm happy to see. I think it'll be a really good budget answer in constructed for players who want to hate on Cliques/Mystics/Titans, and it'll probably be a powerful sideboard tool as well. If you've created an environment where your most popular creatures are based around ETB effects, why print a card that'll likely be a $3 rare to punish the players who invested $100-200 on a playset of powerhouse creatures? Again, I'm not complaining as a player (I think budget answers to chase cards are good for the game), but this seems a major departure from the constructed environments of the past couple years, where it's been extra difficult for budget lists to break past the various mythic game-enders.

I feel like I'm much weaker at Limited than I am at the assorted constructed formats, so I can't really guess how New Phyrexia will change Scars drafting. I'm very confident though NPH is going to have a dramatic impact on constructed play. The question is, will it be a positive impact?

I know I'll have fun, but then again, I also like playing things like Affinity decks, or stompy-aggro with Stone Rain. Except for Evil Presence, all of the cards I've listed here seem really cool to me, and I'm going to try to find a playset of each ASAP. The thing is, when I think about the people and decks I see at a typical casual FNM, I have trouble imagining them being happy to see my new Esper-grief deck, and I'm not sure that's a good thing.


  1. I actually think the free spells will be the biggest griefers of the set, especially in limited. You can't play around every mana-less spell every time, so sometimes you have to walk into a trap, get hosed, and watch your opponent smugly think they outwitted you.

    Torpor Orb isn't good against Titans -- sure, Primeval doesn't fetch 2 lands on your first turn, but it still does every turn after. For two mana, Mana Leak / Doom Blade / etc. seem like better answers. Plus, in the late game, I'll happily play a second Titan while you play a second Orb.

    I don't see how Dispatch will eventually be in every white deck. You need a fair number of artifacts to make it more reliable than Condemn / Oust / Journey to Nowhere, which are also powerful. It'll definitely be best buddies with Tempered Steel, and I can see it as a one-of in decks that run Stoneforge Mystic and a bunch of equipment, or in the mono-white control deck that runs Pilgrim's Eye and Tumble Magnet. But it's no Path.

    Surgical Extraction seems like the right balance, actually -- usually not amazing, but makes the griefer feel powerful. Extracting Vengevines, Bloodghasts or Valakuts is definitely sweet, but I think most decks are okay with losing any given card. Duress + Extraction to take out a card in their hand and three in their library means you're still down a card, one mana and two life.

    Agree that Spreading Seas is unfun and contradicts their no-LD message.

    Glistener Elf can be scary, but basically any creature, from mana myr on up, trades with it. Elite Vanguard is fine, but it's not exactly a house in M11.

  2. One not on your list, especially for limited: Deceiver Exarch. Geez, Horned Turtle wasn't good enough? This thing eats up 1-toughness attackers for breakfast and lets your tapped creature munch on something else for lunch.

  3. The free spells do seem really strong in Limited, and it makes me uneasy. I hope they won't be miserable, but I keep thinkin' about the guy I played in a Scars prerelease who opened 2 Tel-Jilad Fallen and 3 Untamed Mights, and was generally being an insufferable douchebag because of it.

    I agree that Dispatch isn't going to take off immediately - but we're already seeing plenty of decks running 2-3 equipments and 2-3 Tumble Magnets main deck, so I don't think it's a stretch to imagine people adding a couple more artifacts to enable metalcraft (especially once Jace rotates and Tezzeret takes over as the main control planeswalker).

    Torpor Orb buys you an extra turn against Primeval Titan ramp, which is huge (although maybe not, 'cause Valakut ramp is feeling dead in the water). It also means you can play a relevant card on T2 without having to leave mana open to counter (or have to fret about summoning trap). Also, reducing Stoneforge Mystic/Squadron Hawk to junk seems pretty strong. It's not really a card I anticipate playing myself, but I expect to see it in hate decks.

    Deceiver Exarch is really good, but not in a way that startles me like the free spells or Despise. I'm sure the Splinter Twin combo will get played in Standard, but it seems like there'll be plenty of available answers.