Kinda Sorta the Top 10

Posted in Top Decks on May 5, 2011

By Mike Flores

New Phyrexia is awesome!

When was the last time we had a new set where you would take your very first look and say, "You know what? That is going to be a huge staple in Legacy... And that, and that too..." over and over, card after card?

That's what I thought! It's simply not an everyday—err... every-set—kinda thing to say to yourself.

Some of the cards are awesome on their faces, and you don't need any columnist or set reviewer to tell you how good they are. I mean if I were going to write a straightforward Top 10 article, my list would for sure include these five cards, possibly as the top five:

5.Karn Liberated
4.Sword of War and Peace
2.Mental Misstep
1.Gitaxian Probe

And my reasons why would go something like this:

Karn Liberated is the sole planeswalker populating New Phyrexia. As we know from documentation aplenty, one of the chief purposes of planeswalkers is to be awesome. Even the smallest of the stock has proven to be, consistently, close to the best card in at least the Standard format, and even the sixes and eights have contributed to productive decks in formats from Block to Extended. Ergo. As the lone representative in the new set, chances are... Yadda yadda yadda.

Karn may even be the great silver hope of the great big green. Eldrazi Green decks have never lacked for awesome big ends (on the Top 8 Magic podcast my daughter Bella once commented that "fifteen"—that is, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn—was so good it might as well have been a planeswalker), but the strategy has never really embraced a planeswalker proper.

Karn's "Vindicate"-like ability aside (and you can't really discount the ability for a mono-green deck to suddenly interact with a Sword of Feast and Famine–wielding foe), his "Liliana Vess" +4 is potentially unreal in a strategy that already plays with huge Eldrazi. You can lock down the opponent, sure; but what might be more unbeatable is hiding behind your Walls while making yourself discard. "Sure, let's start the game over... Except I start out with Ulamog in play!"

Karn will definitely find a place, maybe a place of honor.


We know from Sword of Body and Mind that Swords are so exciting that mages will play whichever ones are legal... Even if all they do is nothing and/or making a Wolf (and despite the season, not even a dire wolf).

So Sword of War and Peace should almost automatically end up a staple. I mean if Sword of Body and Mind can find space in more than half of the Caw-Blade decks in the field, then a Sword that can not only tighten up the race but, in large part, tag in for onetime main-deck staple Sylvok Lifestaff seems like a no-brainer... Especially when it guarantees being able to run past the ubiquitous Squadron Hawk.

Of the new cards, Batterskull will probably be the most dramatic in its expected effect on the metagame. Considering Standard, Stoneforge Mystic is already far and away the strongest creature in the format. How about now? Will it be a bluff? An idiot test?

So your opponent runs out a second-turn Stoneforge Mystic. He goes and gets something innocuous... Say a Mortarpod. He looks at his grip, plays a Celestial Colonnade, and passes. Just keeping his options open, right? He is leaving up two for a Mana Leak if he needs it... and why not?

Please, please don't run in there with your Goblin Guide.

Life is going to be tough either way, but you don't have to serve the game up on a silver platter! He has got it. Trust me... The only reason he didn't show you a more dangerous piece of Equipment is that he already had the worst one!

For sake of argument, you rumble into the Red Zone... What do you think happens in that spot?


Instant-speed Baneslayer Angel.


Lifelinkand vigilence?

Superficially, Batterskull is expensive (essentially Baneslayer Angel in cost, and Baneslayer Angel every time you want to equip), but the fact that you only plan to pay to put it onto the battlefield with Stoneforge Mystic (as a free card), and that the Batterskull's Germ has 5 big toughness means that you will often have no call to move it from creature to creature anyway.

With these new tools, I think it will honestly be possible for Stoneforge Mystic to jump Jace, the Mind Sculptor for first place overall in Standard. I'm not saying Stoneforge Mysticwill be the best, just that it's possible. I know that might seem unbelievable right now, but don't forget that not that long ago Bloodbraid Elf was the top of the format, and prior to Mirrodin Besieged, Primeval Titan posed a legitimate challenge for Jace's number one title.

Between these two new Equipment (and Sword of Feast and Famine, and Mortarpod still), Stoneforge Mystic is going to have quite the backup singers.

And what about Gitaxian Probe over Mental Misstep? I think it is a tough call, but my sense is that one of these will be number one in New Phyrexia and the other will be number two. Both of them have the same attractive mana (or even better, nonmana) cost; Gitaxian Probe gets the nod from YT right now because it is proactive (and perfectly ushers in a potential new age of combo, gobbling up the Standard Ponder position), whereas the jury is out in terms of Mental Misstep as a consistent main deck spell in Standard. Legacy, probably; Standard, probably not yet.

And if Gitaxian Probe isn't the best? That's okay... After all, this isn't that kind of article.

But if this were meant to be a regular old set review or Rop 10 list, that's what I would have done throughout. But instead I wanted to spend at least half of this kinda, sorta Top 10 talking about what should be great tournament cards... that you might not be talking about yet.

Cards like...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Deceiver Exarch. Yes, Deceiver Exarch is like an even better Pestermite for purposes of combo-killing your opponent. All the flash; four times the toughness. Deceiver Exarch and oldie-but-goodie Splinter Twin will set up countless fourth turn kills in Standard. Obviously great there.

But what about Inquisitor Exarch? Traditionally is among the most competitive mana costs for a White Weenie deck, with everyone from White Knight to Soltari Priest throwing elbows to get the nod, Knight of Meadowgrain and Knight of the White Orchid and Silver Knight all distinguishing themselves in decks like Red-White Slide, White-Blue Reveillark, and even Five-Color Control.

It is no secret that has given us some good drops...

But Inquisitor Exarch offers something different: a way to win the game.

If there is a weakness to White Weenie, it is that so many games are won exclusively in the Red Zone. So often a control deck can use its life total as a resource, trading damage and time for the certainty that White Weenie will never be able to do the last 2...

Until now?

A Shock might not seem like much, but this isn't really a Shock. Inquisitor Exarch causes loss of life, not regular damage; and of course, in a pinch, you can gain 2 life instead.

In the vein of two-mana white spells (and we have said many a time that Magic is a game largely built on awesome two-mana spells), we move on to Due Respect.

And seriously... You have got to give this card some respect.

When I look at this card, I see nothing but potential, nothing but awesome applications. Here is a pretty obvious one: Your opponent puts (God knows how many) Vengevine triggers on the stack, with the intention of killing you to death... Or maybe he is only going to send one Vengevine, leaving one back to defend (with an intended re-buy next turn, maybe)... We'll, he can forget about any of that. All your Vengevines are belong to Due Respect (a.k.a. "us").

You know that turn that your opponent, flush with Hawks, plans to cast more than one, clouding the battlefield and sky with 1/1 bodies? Well, any intended Sword of Feast and Famine chump-blockers... Well, they won't be doing any of that, thank you very much.

The combat tricks—and tricks within tricks—are going to prove positively tricky. Like when one mage comes in with a Sword of War and Peace–equipped 3/4 Stoneforge Mystic, and the other intends to drop a 4/4 Batterskull-equipped living weapon straight onto the red zone, and no measure of one-drops—no Condemns, no Ousts—will save Sally Stoneforge... Due Respect can buy some room.

On the second turn this card is like a Solfatara (no Lotus Cobra for you... and by the way, your Copperline Gorge is basically a Shivan Oasis). It will save attackers from White Sun's Zenith, give you a leg up in the Tumble Magnet wars, and make big and expensive green strategies shudder.

All the while, Due Respect will be earning your respect, by drawing a motherloving card.

That's right, Zektar Shrine Expedition, this card is also an instant-speed cantrip.

If Due Respect isn't all over the place from the outset, it will just be because of opportunity cost. As much tempo as it can buy you at the best of times (especially given that it probably increases your number of keepable hands in the Stoneforge Mystic mirrors), as cheaply as playing it will come (always replaces itself), the fact that it doesn't "do anything" out of context may put Due Respect at odds with, say, a Mana Leak.

But then again... Maybe not. I think the card is just awesome.

Okay, I know we just got done talking about Due Respect, and how it can possibly make life miserable for expensive, green, Ramp-ish stuff, but Chancellor of the Tangle has its own angle on awesome.

Imagine, if you will, a first-turn Lotus Cobra.

Cool, huh?

That ain't nothin'.

How about a first turn Fauna Shaman?

I mean a second-turn Fauna Shaman is pretty good; and much of the time, if you don't immediately contain a Fauna Shaman, it will demolish you in sea of Vengevines. But in this case—wait for it—Fauna Shaman is especially awesome.


Because you can get rid of the Chancellor of the Tangle!

Long story short, this is kinda, sorta, a Dark Ritual that doesn't actually cost you a card.

Remember Divination? Tezzeret's Gambit can do a fair Divination impression. Now I know that when it was legal in Standard, Divination wasn't exactly an automatic four-of in decks that could play it (in fact, it was often just a two-of), and in fact, it was often running up against a certain Mr. Beleren in terms of curve point and functionality.

But hear me out...

In the past, only blue even got to ask questions like this.

Tezzeret's Gambit gives other colors the option to draw two cards for a reasonable mana cost (three)... or, if you have access to a single blue, you can save yourself a Phyrexian scratch. For example, a Mono-White Control deck might want to make room for one Island (accessible via Pilgrim's Eye and sometimes Expedition Map)... But white might have more than enough life that the 2 points don't matter.

That said, you can't discount the proliferate on Tezzeret's Gambit. To date, proliferate has been costed similarly to drawing a card (four mana on Contagion Clasp, for example; three mana and a card on Steady Progress). On Tezzeret's Gambit, proliferate comes bundled seemingly as a bonus. Keep an eye out, though. Proliferate might end up being as significant as the spell's attractive costing.

Speaking of Phyrexian mana, Dismember is probably a card you have already been thinking about... but if you haven't been (yet), you probably should give it a go.

You can pay regular old three mana for Dismember, and that's fine. A Mono-Black Control deck, for example, can play Dismember as a regular card, or pay the Phyrexian premium early in the game to fight Lotus Cobra or Fauna Shaman in the opening turns. Dismember is a remarkably flexible removal card. One mana or two mana or three mana; kills even regenerating or indestructible creatures to death... or you can run it in whatever deck, even those with no Swamps.

And really, that's what is most interesting about this card.

Dismember is a great spell you can play in a red deck, especially after sideboarding. You don't need any black mana, just—as with love—the willingness to sacrifice. So, you want to get your Goblin Guide past a Kor Firewalker?

Go ahead.

This was only kinda sorta a discussion of ten great cards from New Phyrexia.

But what is most exciting to me is the boundless horizons afforded us by Phyrexian mana. Think about not just the greater consistency handed to us on the silver platter of Gitaxian Probe, or the second coming of Force of Will... but how much less mana-screwed we will all be!

All of you who complain about being mana-screwed... Well, you just won't be (as much). Not only will your Gitaxian Probe fix your land drops, your Dismembers will give you defensive deck speed even when you are stuck on lands, and your Tezzeret's Gambit will draw you out of it anyway.

So like I said, awesome.

And (also) like I said... Go ahead.

You can have your first swipe at New Phyrexia this weekend. Click the banner for more information about what to do this weekend than you can shake a Batterskull at.

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