Exploring New Phyrexia

Posted in The Week That Was on May 6, 2011

By Brian David-Marshall

More than any set in recent memory, the impending release of New Phyrexia has the deckbuilding part of my brain firing on all synapses. I wrote last week about Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and its potential home in my Commander deck, but I am also champing at the bit to see exactly which of these cards will shine in the new Standard format.

Speaking of Jin... I actually had a jaw-drop moment last week while podcasting with Top Decks author Michael Flores when he suggested that he could very well be playing Jin-Gitaxias as a one-of in a blue-red shell. Later in the week Patrick Chapin pointed out on Twitter that by virtue of being able to cast your ten-drop at instant speed, you can float mana through the trigger from Sword of Feast and Famine and sneak the blue Praetor into play midcombat with just five lands. When two of the game's most respected deck designers are casually talking about playing a ten-drop creature you know that anything could be on the horizon for the new Standard.

One of the first cards that I want to find 56 other cards to go around is Puresteel Paladin. There are few things I like more than drawing cards and tearing through my deck. It feels like there has to be some combination lurking out there that would let you rip through all your cards. In commander you could pull it off with a Tidespout Tyrant, Puresteel Paladin and any two zero-cost artifacts—assuming one of them was piece of Equipment. In Standard the closest I have been able to find is pairing this card with Semblance Anvil, which could turn all your Equipment that cost two or less into free cantrips.

The problem with that is that you end up with a deck chock-full of Equipment, and if you don't draw Puresteel Paladin—or it gets killed—you are not doing anything terribly exciting. The metalcraft clause on the Paladin might be more exciting because it lets you get around the cumbersome task of equipping your team. There have already been a number of decks, mostly orginated by US National team member Conrad Kolos, that have added an Equipment theme to a White Weenie shell. Puresteel Paladin might just be a pure upgrade over Kor Outfitter in those decks—assuming you can get yourself to a state of metalcraft.


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Leading off with Vault Skirge into turn-two Stoneforge Mystic for Argentum Armor means that a Puresteel Paladin and Mox Opal on turn three will allow you to crash in for 7, destroy a permanent, gain 7 life, and draw a card from the Armor entering the battlefield. This is obviously a very rough list, but Puresteel Paladin is going to one of the cards that keeps bringing me back to the drawing board.

I was jokingly working on a list with Puresteel Paladin, all the living weapons I could cram into the deck, and Fresh Meat, another card that I can't wait to build around. It is pretty unusual for cards that care about creatures hitting the graveyard to not have the word "nontoken" appear somewhere in the rules text. One of the last significant cards I remember that was missing that word was Fecundity, and it led to all sorts of filthy—dirty, even—combos over the years. The idea behind the combination of cards listed above is that you could equip all your living weapons for free with the Paladin and then after all your Germ tokens ever-so-briefly hit the graveyard you can cast Fresh Meat and get a 3/3 beast token in exchange for each of them.

It is admittedly not the best use for Fresh Meat, which does not actually need to do much in the way of fanciness to be an amazing card in the new Standard. On its own the card is simply a great answer in a creature-based deck to any kind of board sweeper like Day of Judgment, Pryoclasm, or All Is Dust. Caller of the Claw saw plenty of play for this reason, and I expect that Fresh Meat is no different. On the other paw, Caller of the Claw also saw some play in combo deck—with the aforementioned Fecundity, in fact—and I fully anticipate that many deck builders will be lining up at the meat counter to do something with this.

Jacob Van Lunen wrote briefly this week about combining Awakening Zone with Fresh Meat to create a ticking time bomb for your opponent, especially if they are counting on disrupting your plan with Mana Leak or—even more laughably in this case—Spell Pierce. What is kind of cool about Fresh Meat is that even if your opponent kills your team of Beasts you can always just restock if you are holding another copy of the spell—something that Caller of the Claw did not help out with—with the added bonus from whatever your Awakening Zones have contributed to the cause along the way.

Still, the ability to make instant-speed creatures has to have some other applications in the new Standard format. My mind harkens back to one of my first coverage assignments when I got to watch Tomi Walamies go to work with a Nantuko Husk / Pattern of Rebirth combo deck at the Yokohama Masters.

Tomi Walamies

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I have tried to build a Bloodthrone Vampire deck throughout that card's presence in Standard. and I wonder if Fresh Meat is the card that could push it over the top. My last efforts with the deck already had meat counter staples like Nest Invader, Kozilek's Predator, and the rare delicacy of Pawn of Ulamog. The current version looks a little something like this:

Carnivore's Dilemma

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This deck has a handful of ways to win and can use Fresh Meat as either a source of reinforcements by upgrading Eldrazi Spawn tokens or as a Hatred-esque card mid combat to boost the stats of both Bloodthrone Vampire and Mortician Beetle into the lethal range. I had briefly toyed with adding Unnatural Predation to be able to trample for lethal, but in the end decided to enjoy playing with Eldrazi Monument while it was still legal in the format. This deck is capable of piling up damage very quickly and also has some long game power with Eldrazi Monument, Awakening Zone, and Fresh Meat.

The card I am most excited about updating one of my Standard experiments with is Birthing Pod. I have been playing with Liquimetal Coating decks since it was printed and can't wait to add Birthing Pod into the mix. The deck—dubbed "Will it Blend?"—works by turning your opponent's lands, creatures, and/or planeswalkers into artifacts and destroying them with the likes of Manic Vandal, Oxidda Scrapmelter, and Acidic Slime. Conveniently, those cards curve perfectly from three to five and play nicely with the demands of the text box on Birthing Pod.

Will it Birth?

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Ideally you would lead off with an Ancient Stirrings to make sure you have Liquimetal Coating, which gets cast on turn two. On the next turn you can turn a land or creature into an artifact and cast Manic Vandal to dispatch it. One of the fun things about this deck is the ability to attack lands or nonlands based on how an opponent's deck is functioning, attacking the ground they are shakiest on. On turn four you can pay 4 life to cast and activate Birthing Pod to upgrade your Vandal to a Scrapmelter, blowing up something else. On turn five you can upgrade to an Acidic Slime, and you are able to hold back your Liquimetal Coating—assuming you are attacking mana at this point—and then still have enough mana to use your Coating and another Vandal or Scrapmelter to hit two lands that turn. On the sixth turn you can trade the Slime in for a Brutalizer Exarch, which can deal with a pesky permanent from your opponent or help you find another cheap creature to restart the whole cycle on the next turn.

Glistener Elf is another card I am anxious to start trading for a playset of this weekend. It is not very often that you find a turn-two kill in Standard—that revolves around a common no less! Turn-one Glistener Elf followed by a turn-two land and Groundswell is lethal with the help of Assault Strobe. Don't be surprised to see that opening coming to an FNM event near you as soon as this is legal.

I am also wondering how many copies of Glistener Elf will find their way into the Top 8 of Grand Prix Providence, one of the first big Legacy events to occur after this set becomes legal for play. Free pump spells like Invigorate, cheap trampling from the oldie-but-goodie that is Berserk, and the ability to play free counters like Mental Mistep, Force of Will, and Daze—not mention being forewarned about what you might need to use those spells for thanks to Gitaxian Probe.

It is going to be an exciting weekend for the Prerelease. If you happen to be in New York City make sure you swing by the Gray Matter Conventions events and say hello!

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