Five by Five by Five by Five by Five ... by Five?

Posted in Top Decks on September 23, 2010

By Mike Flores

At the point that you're reading this, the Scars of Mirrodin Visual Spoiler will already be complete, and the time for new card previews will be over ... but the conversation over this powerful new set will have just begun.

I decided to pore over the list of new Scars of Mirrodin cards—all five colors—and pick about five from each to talk about. With just a couple of exceptions I tried to avoid cards that already had preview articles attached to them; I am not really intending to pick "the best" cards this time around (though some of these are certainly among the best ... and one of them looks to be the best). Instead these cards are ones I feel to be super interesting.

Last, I pulled another five preexisting cards to discuss how their fates might fare with the addition of this mighty artifact-centered set.

In picking some candidates for white, I wanted to avoid just grabbing at ostensibly efficient metalcraft beaters. Auriok Edgewright and Auriok Sunchaser could scar a stack of opponents for life ... But Scars of Mirrodin—even if it provides a goodly number of sick white attackers—has a lot of interesting things to say about white.

I had just lost the Goblins mirror to Tiago Chan, but even with my second loss, there was an outside chance I could make Top 8 if the stars aligned correctly. I asked my friend Patrick Sullivan—who for some inexplicable reason given the fact that the best deck in the format was probably the Mono-Red beatdown deck was playing Astral Slide—if he would consider playing the last round rather than intentionally drawing into the Top 8.

"I can't," psulli said. "I don't recognize any of the players in my bracket."

I didn't understand. "Isn't that good?"

"No. I don't have Wing Shards main deck. And sticks don't play around Wing Shards."

You can't argue with that logic.

Pat went on to make Top 8, but Tiago took down the Blue Envelope.

Dispense Justice reminds me of Wing Shards. It will do what it is supposed to do 100% of the time (I mean, barring countermagic); but sometimes it will do twice what it is supposed to do. This card is super cool because it can take down like two 5/5 shroud Sphinxes for three mana.

It was at the point that I got to Glimmerpoint Stag that I decided I didn't want to focus on metalcraft beatdown when discussing white .... Not when there were Glimmerpoint Stags to ponder!

Superficial stuff: A 3/3 for four mana isn't good enough for Constructed. A 3/3 with vigilance, even, is not good enough. I think you would be hard pressed to argue that a 3/3 with vigilance for three mana is good enough.

However the Turn to Mist-like ability attached to this card changes quite a few things.

Need a couple of life points? You can flip on and off Kabira Crossroads. You can reset a planeswalker, or move around a Journey to Nowhere.

Of course you can aim this creature's "enter the battlefield" ability in the other direction, as well. You can remove the counters from any kind of Ascension, bring Jace, the Mind Sculptor back from the edges of Ultimate, or permanently ace a token creature.

Glimmerpoint Stag might be too expensive for Standard (though, then again, it might not be) ... but it is probably good enough for Block.

Razor Hippogriff is very reminiscent of Crypt Angel (albeit without the protection from white that made it a metagame lever to pull against Rebels). But a 3/3 flyer is nothing to ignore, especially when you can re-buy a powerful enough card. Might I suggest Mindslaver? Maybe not ... but Razor Hippogriff will still allow you to engage, reasonably, in attrition wars against opposing "enters the battlefield" creatures like Manic Vandal.

This card is so clearly bananas.

The obvious combo is with Sleep, but Sunblast Angel might be so good you don't even "need" Sleep to make heads spin (and roll). A lot of the time the opponent will have to turn all his guys sideways to try to get through some copies of Wall of Omens or Sea Gate Oracle; you will basically put him or her in a position where all his or her creatures are going to jump into the grumper, whereas at least some of your Walls will stick around.

I know it's early but this might be the answer to Finest Hour / Sovereigns of Lost Alara for the onetime Mythic Conscription decks. The mana requirements are similar (and still approachable with Lotus Cobra sticking around) and the upside remains considerable.

Can you imagine clocking someone with Primeval Titan with one of these on the 'field?

Unsurprisingly, blue had a wide variety of "interesting" cards to discuss, ranging from surefire utility staples to potential game-enders (and in the case of Volition Reins, sometimes both).

Once your metalcraft tax has been paid, this card seems in most ways, shapes, and forms the superior to Rainbow Efreet. Rainbow Efreet was, of course, one of the premiere finishers for blue in the game ... and at a time when Suq'Ata Firewalker was a common main-deck card.

The synergies with Day of Judgment and Elspeth Tirel are fairly obvious. The question is, provided metalcraft capability, does a blue (or white-blue) deck want a creature that is "merely" better than one of the best finishers of its age? It is quite possible that all you need are planeswalkers, that Baneslayer Angel is still the better path to the end times, etc.

Halt Order presents an interesting tension. Were Annul to be legal, we would see most Blue decks windmill slam all four copies into their main decks as mana efficient foils to not only artifacts but the odd enchantment (Pyromancer Ascension, Luminarch Ascension, a host of others). The question is, will blue mages be willing to risk the space for a time-sensitive, conditional two-for-one?

I am guessing Halt Order will not be a unanimous four-of main deck, but will see some main deck play and scattered sideboard play. It is obviously a Constructed-caliber card, just not a universally popular one. That's my guess ten or more days out from the first Scars of Mirrodin Constructed tournament, anyway.

This card might not initially look like much, but I will call your attention to two things: 1) it's an instant, and 2) any time you can proliferate for more than one counter with a single move, you are probably getting ahead in mana. At some point you can be getting like four counters (maybe some even on planeswalkers, and maybe right before some sick Ultimate); at that point the progress is going to seem very real / appreciable, "steady" or no. Sleeper hit of the set.

Trinket Mage was a dominator in Mirrodin, a card that grew into a cross-format all-time great. Between Venser, the Sojourner (for more and more shenanigans) and targets like Brittle Effigy, Trinket Mage could be better than ever. This is a card to be excited about ... a blocker, a card drawer, a potential way to win; given the right card set (say in Extended), the tools expansion to Relic of Progenitus and Pithing Needle starts to look really obvious.

Need more power? A big, middle-turns Everflowing Chalice is well within this card's reach.

This card is going to be around as good as Confiscate. Confiscate has been much more successful in Standard (cross-Standard formats) than Mind Control. Cheaper than Take Possession, slightly more powerful than Confiscate (if slightly more difficult to play), I would expect Volition Reins to be more exciting especially against beatdown, where Volition Reins can produce an instant blocker where once there was a tapped attacker.

Unlike the last time Confiscate was a decent-sized deal in Standard, now we have planeswalkers to steal. Some of them will have sizable counter tallies! Can you imagine stealing a near-Ultimate 'walker? Goodness gravy!

Coming into combing the spoiler, I really wanted to focus on infect / poison for a black analysis, but on initial inspection the card support doesn't seem to be there in just Scars of Mirrodin, alone.

Instead, and surprisingly, black proved to be a color of all five-star finishers. This color has an embarrassment of unbeatable end game threats. It is therefore essentially obvious that they can't all be played ... at least by a single deck, due to curve concerns. Each will probably find a different home; despite all being big and relatively expensive, they all do different things, fit into different kinds of places, and are exciting for very different reasons.

But again, they are all big and for the most part all expensive. Their primary competition coming into the new Standard will be Ob Nixilis, the Fallen ... and each other!

I was once passionately proud of developing an end game strategy against Compost (then the bane of black) around playing multiple Laquatus's Champions. Positing metalcraft competence, any deck that would have appreciated the Champions will absolutely chase Bleak Coven Vampires. This Vampire Warrior is cheaper than Laquatus's Champion by more than one (you don't feel any obligation to leave regeneration mana open), doesn't give the life back for any reason, can move to evasive attacks immediately ...

It is essentially a faster, meaner (if more removal-vulnerable) Malakir Bloodwitch. Especially with white's losing two different choice spot removal options in Oblivion Ring and Path to Exile, look for Bleak Coven Vampires to overcome the popular Bloodwitch in the hearts of many.

Look for Carnifex Demon to become a tool for skilled or strategic players to run all over blunt, swarming, players for the next two years.

If you play Carnifex Demon with, say, eight lands on the battlefield .... Bananas.

With a little patience (and maybe a Contagion Clasp already out there) .... Bananas.

Carnifex Demon is huge, Dragon-efficient, and mean. Some opponents will have to think very carefully before blocking (what is the math again?); others will never have the chance to.

I don't know how much it matters when you have a tough, 5/5 evader in play, but you can't use Geth's milling ability without a pre-existing reanimation target.

That said, seemingly unreal.

You can probably see that Carnifex Demon and Geth seem almost at odds with one another. Both are six drops (that is, quite expensive); both have particular competence against creature decks ... and in particular creature decks with small enough creatures to be vulnerable to either -1/-1 counters or Geth's reamation / Millstone ability on a consistent basis. It will be interesting to see which proves the more appropriate finisher, because I don't yet know the black deck that can afford to play both, or has the card slots to do so.

Likely a deck that can play this would choose to do so over, say, Doom Blade. Effective against Bleak Coven Vampires, so-called indestructible creatures, etc.

This card is one of the biggest question marks in the set. At its best, the Blight Dragon is faster than Rorix Bladewing. However, that question of infect / poison support rears its head. Will we see a legendary Dragon Skeleton who hastes in for 4, another 4 the next turn, then sits back on a pair of Steady Progress or on-board proliferate options? Is there a reasonable way to get down the poison path more quickly?

Big upside, but again, biggest question marks.

I don't know that I anticipate Furnace Celebration being hella popular because it doesn't do anything on its own, but I felt like it was worth a discussion.

For one thing, Furnace Celebration is cheap enough that you cast play it for significant value with very little cost beyond the devotion of your third turn's mana. It makes a simple Arid Mesa even more attractive (and Arid Mesa is already a heck of a card). If Furnace Celebration is good enough, you might even see mono-red using Evolving Wilds!

Other, already "good enough" threats like Ember Hauler start looking really fantastic, particularly in race situations.

At what point is this card paying you back? At what point was it worth it? Will Furnace Celebration be more effective in certain situations or matchups, perhaps as a sideboard card, or will it be a main-deck support spell?

This is certain to be one of the most popular cards in the new set. It's basically the Scars of Mirrodin response to Burst Lightning (a card played in a number of the best decks of the past 12 months ... from World Champion Naya Lightsaber as an anti-Malakir Bloodwitch sideboard spell to a redundant sometimes-main-deck second option for Pyromancer Ascension).

With metalcraft online, Galvanic Blast starts looking very "Fireblast," and it is serviceable all on its own.

I am not sure where you play this yet. Will artifacts—specifically heavy artifacts enabling metalcraft—be popular enough that you play Hoard-Smelter Dragon main deck? It might not be fast enough to be a consistently played sideboard card (over, say, Oxidda Scrapmelter) if artifacts are only popular enough to warrant hate out of the sideboard.

But when it's online? Certainly this will be one of the more frustrating cards to play against. Kind of a Molder Slug that is also a bit of a bully.

I know I did the preview article for this card already, but it bears mentioning: best card in the set, potentially the most consistently powerful planeswalker of all time.

I just like imagining this thing as a four-of played next to Manic Vandal as a four-of. Sooooo frustrating for the opponent; so strategic-looking for the Red Deck. Keep firing! No mercy!

Or ... you have Hill Giant.

In short: very strategic for red, but also potentially a gamble in the grand scheme of risk and reward, at least as a main deck go-to.

Green has a number of different themes, unlike some of the other colors: creature enhancement, poison, absurdly powerful Tinker-like effects. I think that the heavy play will be concentrated to a few cards, but they may become pillars of the metagame.

Especially at rare, I anticipate this being popular ... but maybe not for the Spike crowd.

Is it worth five mana to turn your forces into a brigade of Troll Ascetics?

Blight Mamba is not obviously powerful. It is, however, potentially relentless.

Imagine they reduced the regeneration cost to just . Would this be better than River Boa? Would being better than River Boa—once the hands-down best offensive two-drop in Magic—mean Blight Mamba was good enough for Standard play?

Besides the poison clock, think about how a regenerating infect creature affects the battlefield. Blight Mamba will tear at bigger and more expensive threats, turn after turn, never itself going anywhere. Especially with other infect animals, Blight Mamba may prove a real threat. Just don't go running it into any unnecessary Carnifex Demons!

Overrun on a stick?

Playing Ezuri with open is going to be hilarious.

Very Elves-focused, obviously.

The upside on this card is bananas.

I think you play it in mono-permanents—like a Mythic deck—with tons of acceleration ... and then see what happens next. A chain of Llanowar Elves into Lotus Cobra into a Genesis Wave off a Verdant Catacombs or two might be overwhelming as soon as the third turn. What happens when you flip something really interesting, like the new Renegade Leader or a planeswalker?

This could be the Compost of the format.

Worse due to its cost (a bit more expensive); worse because artifacts don't just all jump into the graveyard the way black removal spells did (which created obvious opportunities to turn removal into overwhelm).

But still, Compost was a dominator, unavoidable for anyone playing black. If all Viridian Revel does is make your copious removal even more attractive ... Well, no. If that's all it does, not that exciting. But if it does just a little bit more ... hella exciting.

Finally I wanted to spend a moment on some "already there" cards. How do these also-rans get better with a huge influx of artifacts?

I know a lot of people have been waiting on the edges of their seats to see Phylactery Lich go from "maybe" to "we finally have enough artifacts" ... I think the flashy three might have just gotten worse.

Are there tons more artifacts to play? Undoubtedly. Doesn't mean we suddenly have lots more phylactery counters. In fact, now the opposition will have lots more artifact removal ... to point at relatively few phylactery counters. See what just happened there?

Already a popular sideboard option, this card may evolve into a go-to sideboard due to its ability to help set up metalcraft, but with value; great value.

Already good enough. But now you can sculpt the battlefield with more colorless permanents for an even more imbalanced board. Then again, the opponent will have more artifacts, too.

All Is Dust—which was one of my favorites throughout the summer for its ability to deal with Jace, the Mind Sculptor—may have actually just dropped, not risen.

Look for this to make waves early. Obviously works very well with artifacts, and is relatively tough to kill for a three-butt. Auto-win against the mana-screwed opponent.

The Viridian Shaman of 2010 just graduated. Time to get crazy on the metagame; still, it probably remains a sideboard card.

As I said, this article was just to be some thoughts. Not 100% "the best" cards of each color, or for that matter the best of the preexisting cards .... More of a map to help guide our thinking as we all move forward to a new year of Constructed construction.

Good luck at the Prerelease!

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