It's said that good things come in small packages, and Leonin Relic-Warder s no exception. For a mere two mana, you get a 2/2 body that removes an artifact or enchantment for the duration of its stay on the battlefield. It's brutal efficiency, plain and simple. Marijn Lybaert, who uses the Relic-Warder as a keystone in his white control deck, had this to say about it.
"It's a cheap card that gets you a creature and removes artifacts and enchantments. What more could you want? It is absolutely the cheapest way to deal with Tempered Steel, which you need to be able to do in this format. Also, it's a guy, which means that it can attack planeswalkers, which is very important."
Considering the hullabaloo that was made about Tempered Steel coming into this event, having a reliable way to deal with the offensive enchantment is undeniably essential to a deck. Considering the fact that it wasn't near the monster people thought it was going to be, the card's sheer versatility allows it to deal with all manner of threats, from Birthing Pod to Phyrexian Metamorph to Wurmcoil Engine to Golem tokens. It can do it all, and all attached to a lithe, 2/2 body for two mana.
Urabrask the Hidden
The Praetors from New Phyrexia are starting to see a little bit of play, be it Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in the mono-white decks or Sheoldred, Whispering One in the Birthing Pod decks. The most interesting of the lot to me has been Urabrask the Hidden. Hiding in the sideboards of the mono-red deck that many pros brought to the tournament, Urabrask is one of the few sideboard cards they have devoted to decks other than Tempered Steel. Brian Kibler explained:
"Urabrask the Hidden was included to be a sideboard card against the mirror match and control. In the mirror, you can get it down before their Kuldotha Phoenix and take away the haste. The mirror match really comes down to 4/4 hasters, and he cements your advantage. On top of that, you get to swing with your Wurmcoil Engine on the next turn, which is great. Against control, our plan was to bring in Urabrask and Hero of Oxid Ridge, trying to put a ton of pressure on them before they can mount a defense. Once they do pay their six-drop, Consecrated Sphinx or Wurmcoil Engine, to stabilize, Urabrask keeps them tapped down for a crucial turn."
The planeswalkers have a new addition to their ranks, and he is one of the most storied characters in the history of Magic. Since Mirage block, Karn has been a part of Magic lore, even getting his own card, in his pre-planeswalker days, as Karn, Silver Golem in Urza's Saga. The last time a character that was as important to the lore of Magic got his own planeswalker card (Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker), it was about as big and splashy as you can get. When Karn's planeswalker card was revealed, he did not disappoint.
One of the biggest problems that planeswalkers have is that in order to get value out of them, they have to survive. As such, most have some intrinsic "defense mechanism." Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas animates artifacts. Elspeth Tirel makes tokens. Koth of the Hammer adds red mana to your pool, allowing you to cast a blocker. Karn puts them all to shame. As Conrad Kolos put it:
"The planeswalkers tend to work best in aggressive decks. Otherwise, they have no way to protect themselves. Karn just doesn't care. You get to seven mana, play him, and he simply removes any card that could hurt him."
He is as proactive about his defense as a planeswalker can get, which makes him useful for control decks. He is colorless, which makes him useful for red and black decks, which can't kill certain types of permanents. No matter what you're trying to do, Karn is the planeswalker for you.
Swords to Plowshares. Path to Exile. Condemn. There is quite the precedent set for one-mana white removal spells. Traditionally, they have simply owned the formats in which they are legal. Their sheer efficiency and tempo advantage made them the premier removal spells while they were legal.
Dispatch without metalcraft is nothing to write home about. In fact, it's dreadful. Tapping a creature for a card and a white mana is everything that these other cards are not. Heck, even Niveous Wisps drew a card. Now get to metalcraft, and you have another story. With metalcraft, you have a card that is strictly better than Swords to Plowshares. With metalcraft, Dispatch becomes the best single-target removal spell ever printed. Luis Scott-Vargas, who went undefeated in the Block Constructed portion of the event yesterday, had this to say about the card:
"It kills Consecrated Sphinx. It kills Hero of Bladehold. It kills… well, just about everything. In our deck, you've always got metalcraft, so it's always on." That is one of the benefits of the Tempered Steel decks. Considering the fact that the deck is built around incredibly cheap and efficient artifact creatures, you have metalcraft from pretty much turn two onwards. Having a one-mana answer to a threat when you are an aggressive deck allows you to remove something while still adding more to the board. It is the ultimate in cementing a tempo advantage and essential to the deck.
At first glance, it's not exactly clear how good the card is. Three mana for a 1/1 flier isn't exciting, even one with infect. The value of the discard is a bit unclear, because you don't know how many poison counters your opponent is going to have when you get them with this guy. In short it appears good, but you aren't really sure. I've been Shrieking Specter.
And then you see it in action. Gaudenis Vidugiris had plenty of experience with the card in his infect deck yesterday and chimed in with his opinions. "First of all, it has flying. So many of the decks in the format—the red-green decks, the Tempered Steel decks, the blue decks… they all try to pound it in on the ground. The fact that this flies is huge. And then they just don't have a hand. I can't count the number of times I've hit someone with this guy and sacrificed him to Mind Twist them. You've got six cards? Lose them. From there with an empty hand? Good luck. "
With the infect deck's ability to poke away at opponents while creating an attrition war if opponents can block, the one thing it lacks is a good way to gain card advantage. However, the deck always manages to get three or four points in unabated. If you can sacrifice this guy for three and a half cards every time, you are incredibly happy. Often that's an entire hand. That is how this deck gets card advantage: it makes opponents play off the top of their decks. Even if they're winning, the infect deck can usually whittle an opponent's advantage away while they're struggling to find more threats. All because of a little 1/1 flier.