Whenever a new set is released a handful of writers do a set review, and we’re throwing our hat into the ring now too. We’re not going to review every card in the set here, because that would be a waste of everyone’s time. What we will do is touch on the things that we think are remotely playable in the Eternal formats, and try to figure out a home for these cards in either new or existing decks. This will be a new feature here at Eternal Central, so buckle up your seat belts and join us for the ride as we review New Phyrexia in Legacy, Vintage, and Type 4 (bonus)!
Beast Within – a Green Vindicate at Instant speed! Well, your opponent gets a 3/3 creature (or you could blow up one of your own permanents in a pinch for a 3/3), so this card is not really the nuts. In Vintage people are going to try to jam it in Oath (it makes a creature; yay!), but when you’re spending 5-7 mana to try to cast it against a MUD deck they’ll probably realize it sucks pretty hard. It does have nice uses in taking out an opposing Time Vault, Jace, or even Trygon Predator though, so it’s not completely bad. Similarly in Legacy people will try to use it for a catch all answer in stuff like Elves, but Krosan Grip is usually just better against the things you care most about (Humility, Counterbalance, Ethersworn Canonist). I expect this to see zero play in tournament winning decks in Eternal once the testing and hype wears off, but that won’t stop people from trying. I think in Oath your biggest challenge is finding and resolving Oath of Druids as soon as freaking possible, and this card really does nothing to address that minor shortcoming of the archetype.
Deceiver Exarch – like Pestermite and Sky Hussar, Deceiver Exarch can combo with either Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to make an arbitrarily large number of creatures instantly to kill your opponent with, so if you are playing either a Cephalid Breakfast or Splinter Twin deck you can give this a look. The benefits are that it’s easier to hard cast than Sky Hussar and can survive a Lightning Bolt (or Firespout), but like Pestermite it fails to beat a resolved Engineered Plague (whereas Sky Hussar would still kill the opponent when comboing). If you play in a Burn or RUG Threshhold heavy metagame this is probably better, otherwise I would probably just stick with Sky Hussar in those decks.
Dispatch – the ability to exile a creature for one White mana is always appealing, but the only deck this really fits into potentially is Legacy Affinity, which doesn’t even play Swords to Plowshares anyway (where the drawback is your opponent gaining life, rather than making sure you have 3 artifacts in play before it comes online, like this). This card might see play in Standard, but realistically doesn’t have merit in Legacy or Vintage.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite – pretty useless in Vintage, Elesh is a pumped up version of the old Ascendant Evincar and actually has a home in Legacy in Reanimator. While cards like Blazing Archon and Stormtide Leviathan prevent an opponent from attacking, they don’t kill the opposing creatures on the battlefield outright, and often provide the opponent outs to simply finding a way to remove or trump your big fatty while they dump stuff into play. Elesh attacks them differently, by basically wiping out all of their creatures, and is better against things like Elves who seek to interact in ways other than just attacking for 4-5 turns. I would recommend picking up a copy if you’re an aspiring Reanimator player.
Gitaxian Probe – not enough can be said in this short paragraph about this card and its applications in Eternal formats, where combo is heavily played. Not only does it up Storm count basically for free (2 life), it replaces itself (cantrips), and you get to see your opponent’s hand to know if the coast is clear or what kind of resistance you’re facing. This definitely has a home as a 4-of in both Legacy and Vintage Goblin Charbelcher decks, as the question is usually “do you have Force of Will or no?” Gitaxian Probe helps answer that question proactively, at the cost of zero mana, and effectively shrinks your deck to 56 cards, making it that much much efficient, as you have better odds of getting to your imporant spells in a slimmer deck. I think this possibly has applications for other Storm decks and maybe even some Dredge variants (ala Street Wraith) as well, and I plan on testing this heavily. One of the most important things in Magic is knowing what is information, and this helps gather information about what your opponent has, their potential lines of play, and how you can adjust your in-game plan accordingly. In decks with things like Cabal Therapy (such as Cephalid Breakfast) this could definitely see play in place of Ponder, as you can see if the coast is clear or use it to help pick aparty their hand with Therapy. This will be a cheap common so pick up for 4 copies for a rainy day when you want to possibly play it in combo.
Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur – there has been chatter about this card in both Legacy Reanimator and Vintage Oath, and I don’t think it’s good enough in either, given the available options. If you’re able to actually get a fatty into play in Legacy that means you should be winning the game with whatever specialized creature you’ve managed to get into play (such as Iona, Shield of Emeria, Blazing Archon, Inkwell Leviathan, etc.), and it often comes at the cost of 6-10 life by playing Reanimate. That’s not an insignificant amount, so if your plan is to Reanimate this guy and spend 10 life doing it he better damn well win the game. This has no evasion and is easily dealt with, while only being a 5/4, so I wouldn’t ever recommend playing this in Reanimator. In Vintage you have a similarly powerful pool of game ending threats available to you when you are able to successfully trigger Oath of Druids, and if you’re able to trigger Oath (or Show and Tell) you should be winning in 2 turns. This guy just doesn’t do enough to justify his inclusion in either deck.
Karn Liberated – this card is incredibly powerful, but will be incredibly difficult to cast. It’s best home will or should be in a Metalworker deck, as they would be able to cast it reliably relatively early. It can also deal with problematic permanents that have slipped into play, so this is potentially a very powerful tool for the Metalworker pilot, and could take the deck in a more combo related direction in which 13+ Sphere effects might not be necessary in Vintage.
In Legacy the deck that this is most likely to see play in is Mike Bomholt’s Metalworker MUD deck, which can reliably cast 6 and 7 costing cards with either Metalworker or lands and Grim Monolith (and often Voltaic Key for good measure). Karn Liberated can deal with problematic things like Moat or Humility (or anything, for that matter, with the -3 loyalty ability), and is a game ender by himself if left unchecked for a couple of turns. I see some nice potential with this, and will probably be trimming a few cards from my Metalworker decks to fit these in.
Mental Misstep – in Vintage there are some significant cards that cost only 1 mana (Ancestral Recall, Vampiric Tutor, Goblin Welder, Voltaic Key, Dark Ritual, etc.), but there are many more cards that the format is defined by that don’t cost 1 mana (Tinker, Sphere effects, Oath of Druids, Dread Return, Gush, Time Vault, Jace, Yawgmoth’s Will, Black Lotus, etc.). It’s kind of cute, but not a real barn burner in Vintage.
Now when it comes to Legacy, Mental Misstep will have as much to do with defining and shaping the format than any other card since AEther Vial. There are a huge number of decks that rely on resolving crucial 1 casting cost spells early in order to function smoothly or efficiently, and the ability to counter them FOR FREE (well, a non-trivial 2 life, but no mana) is what makes this card bonkers. Spell Snare had similar utility and was quite awesome for a long time in Legacy, but it’s relevance has dropped off sharply as the format has become more diverse and the metagame has shifted. Just think about a handful of very powerful cards that Mental Misstep counters: AEther Vial, Brainstorm/Ponder/Preordain, Sensei’s Divining Top, Swords to Plowshares/Path to Exile, High Tide, Candelabra of Tawnos, Dark Ritual, Duress/Thoughtseize, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Welder, Grindstone, Reanimate, Spell Pierce, Wild Nacatl/Kird Ape/Steppe Lynx, Grim Lavamancer, and many more. Now think about the fact that because the casting cost is one Phyrexian Blue (can be paid with either one Blue or 2 life points) any deck that wants to play it will be able to. The effect is very powerful in terms of tempo and efficiency, and the alternate casting cost makes it splashable in anything, so expect this to see play in Legacy in a huge swath of decks as soon as it is legal in mid-May. This will radically alter the face of Legacy as we know it, so make sure you get 4 copies if you’re a Legacy player, and do yourself a favor and start thinking in terms of a Mental Misstep metagame immediately (or after your Grand Prix Providence Trials wrap up this weekend).
Phyrexian Metamorph – in Legacy the Stax/MUD archetype is much weaker, but in Vintage it is arguably the strongest archetype and constantly one of the best performing. While I initially overlooked this card because of the similarity to Sculpting Steel, Metamorph does something much more valuable in that it can copy any creature in play, including the opponent’s. So while Sculpting Steel will often be a mediocre draw, Metamorph is almost always a live draw, copying your most impactful card in play (whether it is Tangle Wire at a specific moment, Lodestone Golem, etc.) or it can copy something the opponent has Tinkered in or Oathed up, which is incredible because it addresses things that the MUD archetype is normally weak to. At the urging of some people’s opions who I respect I have tried this and found it to be very worthwhile. I find myself always want to include Duplicant main to address these things, but now that may not be neccessary thanks to Phrexian Metamorph’s utility.
Psychic Surgery – in formats that are tutor-dense this card and cards like it are often looked at as possible solutions to specific strategies, but these cards are always too narrow to be relevant against a diverse field, so don’t bother wasting your time with this one.
Sheoldred, Whispering One – like Reya Dawnbringer on steroids, this large body brings back your own creatures, but also acts as a one sided The Abyss, forcing opponents to sacrifice a creature at the beginning of each upkeep, which is awesome. This doesn’t matter in Vintage, but in Legacy this could definitely be useful in Buried Alive or Intuition style Reanimator decks (a rarity, but some people try).
Slag Fiend – at first glance this card seems like a piece of junk, but it’s intriguing. It only costs one Red mana to cast and it’s power and toughness are both equal to the number of artifacts in all graveyards, so if you have an effect that can dump a lot of cards into the graveyard quickly (like the Cephalid Breakfast deck in Legacy, or a Hermit Druid deck in Vintage) it might be useful. I’d probably pass on this for now and wait until they’re junk rare status, but keep it floating in the back of your mind as a possibility if you’re a deck brewer.
Surgical Extraction – the usefulness of Extirpate waxes and wanes in both Legacy and Vintage, and this card has a similar function, but with slightly different strengths and weaknesses. If you’re playing Black and already use Extirpate you’ll likely just keep that because of the importance (and uncounterability) of the Split Second mechanic, but if you’re not playing Black and want the effect of removing all Bridge From Belows (or whatever else) at Instant speed, this card is useful and will probably see some sideboard play in both Eternal formats. The ability to cast this for free (one Black Phyrexian mana, which can be cast paying 2 life instead) without playing Black, or casting it while tapped out, is very cool and non-trivial, and presents us all with yet another graveyard hating option.
Torpor Orb – another card with little application in Vintage, this card has a lot of potential in the right Legacy deck, as it can be used not only for your own benefit (you don’t have to sacrifice Phyrexian Dreadnought because the effect won’t trigger, for example), but also to shut down your opponent’s bonus effects (Goblin Ringleader, Silvergill Adept, Trinket Mage, Goblin Matron, Sword of the Meek, Vendilion Clique, Sky Hussar, etc.). I think the most logical place is a Black-Blue shell, probably with Dark Confidant, Force of Will, Mental Misstep, Stifle, and more goodies. Some people will be tempted to load up stuff like Hunted Horror as well for the quick beats in a very aggressive deck. Stifle can and should be used to help mitigate the drawbacks of both Dreadnought and Horror in these decks, and Firespout would make an interesting addition to this type of deck because it can deal with aggro strategies well in order to buy you time if need be, and it can also wipe out Centaur tokens that would be created by Hunted Horror if you don’t have the Stifle or Torpor Orb available. I can see this being a very viable strategy going forward, so you might want to pick these cards up now while they’re relatively cheap.
BONUS Type 4 Review
If you’re not familiar with Type 4, it’s a casual and incredibly fun format with infinite mana and the ability to play with all of the big dumb creatures and spells that you wouldn’t normally get to play in other constructed formats (because of casting cost, speed of the format, and whatever else). You can brush up on it by reading an introduction here. We here at Eternal Central love us some Type 4, so we’ll give you our picks for the standout cards for Type 4 that we’ll be picking up.
Beast Within – Instant speed removal of any permanent is pretty good, even if your opponent gets a measly 3/3, which is not very threatening in a format like Type 4. I expect this will be in most stacks going forward, as the ability to destroy any permanent at Instant speed is worth the drawback when you’re limited to only one spell per turn, and can play this removal on opponent’s turns (hint: Instants always carry a premium).
Chancellor of the Spires – a 5/7 flyer with the sick ‘comes into play’ ability of casting a Sorcery or Instant from any opponent’s graveyard for free; sign me up!
Enslave – if you like a ton of Control Magic effects in your stack this fits the bill, but for those with already overpowered stacks this probably won’t make the cut.
Entomber Exarch – this card has two possible comes into play abilities, being either Duress or bringing a creature card from your graveyard back to your hand. If you have something like Duress or Gravedigger in your stack this will probably immediately replace those.
Etched Montrosity – you get a 10/10 creature and get to draw 3 cards. Done and done.
Geth’s Verdict – instant speed untargeted removal that makes a player sacrifice a creatures is always good, to help get rid of stuff like Darksteel Colossus or Progenitus, so this is probably an auto-include in most stacks.
Jin-Gitaxis, Core Augur – this guy is a decent size and the draw a million cards ability will make you a huge target in a Type 4 multiplayer game, but what ridiculous card won’t? This is an auto-include.
Karn Liberated – all of the abilities on Karn are pretty sick, especially with the power level of Type 4, so while this might make you a target (ala Planar Portal) it has a good chance of winning you the game if it sticks around for a few turns.
Life’s Finale – similar to a Wrath of God board clearing card, but this has the ability to either strip out menacing creatures from an opponent’s deck (insuring they don’t draw them later). This should be going in every stack with Wrath effects.
Phyrexian Ingester – if you’re a fan of creatures with nice ‘comes into play ‘ effects, you will no doubt like this one, as it is essentially a Blue Duplicant, removing target creature and absorbing its power and toughness when it hits play.
Phyrexian Metamorph – Type 4 is full of busted creatures and artifacts and this can copy either one, so I suspect this will find a home in nearly all stacks.
Praetor’s Grasp – a Sorcery speed Grinning Totem that lets you take any card from an opponent’s deck and play as though it were your own, this card should be an auto-include in every stack, so be sure to scoop one up.
Remember the Fallen – Regrowth style effects are generally playable in Type 4 if the card goes directly to your hand, and this one returns both a creature and an artifact to your hand. If you’re looking for cards to expand your newer Type 4 stack this is a great option, but for the veterans pushing 400-500+ cards already you’ll probably want to pass on this.
Sheoldred, Whispering One – this card is the heat, bringing back your own creatures and making functioning as a mini-Abyss, forcing opponents to sacrifice a creature at the beginning of each upkeep. If you can get this for $1-2 go for it, otherwise wait for it to hit junk status and then pick up later.
Whether you are looking to fill out a budding Type 4 stack or just modifying your old stack to cycle in some fresh and powerful cards, New Phyrexia certainly does not disappoint for Type 4 fans. There are a lot of great cards for both new players and experienced vets alike, so be on the lookout for the cards above at the prerelease or when flipping through trade binders.
That wraps up our set review of New Phyrexia. Do you think we missed anything? Please let us know in the comments section below or in the forums. Thanks for checking in, and keep it tuned to EC for more Legacy and Vintage articles!