So Many Insane Plays – New Phyrexia Vintage Set Review

(Editor’s Note: This content was formerly published on Quiet Speculation, and the former Downloadable Product has since been made available free here with the permission of the author and QS. Enjoy!)

The Phyrexians have arrived, and they seek to remake the orb of Mirrodin in their own image. Will they remake Vintage as well?

Scars of Mirrodin block has proved to be a surprisingly worthy sequel to the original Mirrodin invasion. Scars of Mirrodin has been as impactful as any set from the previous block, and Mirrodin Besieged brought with it more than a few serious playables. Before we delve into the final set in this important block, let’s recap Mirrodin Besieged.

Mirrodin Besieged Recap

Many cards from Mirrodin Besieged have seen play in Vintage tournament Top 8s.

By far the most successful printing from Mirrodin Besieged – and this should surprise no one – is Blightssteel Colossus. In terms of Top 8 appearances, it has far and away surpassed everything else from the set, by a factor of two. There were 92 different decks with Blightsteel Colossus in them in Vintage Top 8s at the time of this writing. Ninety-two! That makes Blightsteel the standout from the entire block, let alone the set.

Phyrexian Revoker, Leonin Relic-Warder, Go for the Throat, Steel Sabotage, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas have also each appeared in Vintage Top 8s. Steel Sabotage has appeared 46 different Top 8 decks, followed by Phyrexian Revoker at 21. Tezzeret and Leonin Relic-Warder have appeared in under a dozen, but they are still making the rounds. Phyrexian Revoker is becoming very popular in Workshop decks, especially MUD lists, for its ability to shut down Jace and Moxen alike. As of this writing, no other Mirrodin Besieged cards have appeared in Vintage Top 8s, but that may well change. We will have a much better understanding of how these cards are being used in a few months.

New Phyrexia Set Review

Before I begin my card by card analysis, I think it’s worthwhile to make some general comments about this set. Scars of Mirrodin, as a block, has introduced many Vintage playables into the Vintage format, and in many ways has changed it forever. Both Scars of Mirrodin and Mirrodin Besieged have already left their mark. But let’s be honest: New Phyrexia is probably, on the whole, the weakest Vintage set of the block. The average card in New Phyrexia is probably slightly overcosted, at least compared with the incredible efficiency of recent sets. And, pound for pound, it offers fewer Vintage playables than its sister sets.

But New Phyrexia does bring something new and fresh to Vintage. It brings a new dimension of play, a new angle of attack. Ever since Glasses of Urza was printed, players have struggled to strike a balance between information and overall card utility and purpose. Jester’s Cap pushed that question to the hilt, and this set poses it in the most striking terms. This set actually introduces cheap or free effects that have done what cards since the earliest sets have tried to do: generate information about your opponent’s hand, deck, and strategy. Cards like Gitaxian Probe, Surgical Extraction, and Praetor’s Grasp are each cards that will see play, in no small part, on account of this role.

Information cuts both ways. Masters can squeeze every bit of information derived to maximize their playmaking and induce the opponents into traps, errors, and miscues. By the same token, the most skilled players need this information less, able to read their opponents and perceive the situation more deeply. The value of knowing may not be as significant as it may be for someone who has less experience in the Vintage format.

Aside from these more general issues of determining utility, there is a layer of play that New Phyrexia brings to Vintage – a dimension it either adds to it or greatly expands: and that is the surprise of being Probed, Extracted, or Grasped at just the right moment, or having your creature Dismembered. Free or nearly free spells are difficult to anticipate, let alone plan for. They strike without warning, and they will change, in subtle ways the way that Vintage is played. Surgical Extraction is so close to Extirpate, but miles, and miles away in terms of the kinds of game changing impact it will have when it strikes, if only because its free.

New Phyrexia brings into Vintage something that is very old: free. But what it does is tantalizingly offer these spells, which can have a tremendous strategic and tactical impact, at a price, of both the card slot and some life. All the while, it brings Vintage closer to an era in which information, and the manipulation of information, becomes more and more a part of the fabric of the format. We are arriving at a moment in which using this information to generate meaningful strategic advantages is merely the first level of mastery. Gently pushing the opponent’s into making mistakes, inducing and seducing the opponent into game shifting blunders, is the profound upshot of New Phyrexia, and the area of rich potential for the Vintage master.

The Chancellors: Chancellor of the Annex, Chancellor of the Spires, Chancellor of the Dross, Chancellor of the Forge, Chancellor of the Tangle – In 2004, Wizards crossed a very important design bridge: they created a card that does something before the game actually begins. That card, of course, is Serum Powder, and was printed in Darksteel. They continued to explore this design space with the Leyline cycle out of Guildpact, and then Gemstone Caverns from Time Spiral. Wizards returned with another cycle of (mostly) new Leylines for Magic 2011, indicating a willingness to continue to print these type of effects.

With this cycle new Chancellors, Wizards continues to mine this unique – and potentially important – design space, although perhaps too apprehensively or hesitantly. Each of the Chancellors is overcosted, not just for the effect, but for the body. None of them is castable by conventional means in Vintage. And the effects, in each case, are quite marginal and timid: Mana Tithe, Elvish Spirit Guide, Raging Goblin, Siphon Soul, Glimpse the Unthinkable (more or less). The cost, in each case then, is not mana, but deck space and the opportunity cost of a dead draw after the opening hand.

I don’t fault Wizards for being cautious in developing these kinds of effects. Producing too many pre-game effects can be dangerous. Vintage games are compressed into fewer turns compared to most Magical formats, and so these effects are potentially very important here. Leyline of the Void is among the most played cards in the entire Vintage format, usually in the top 5, and sometimes just behind Force of Will. Serum Powder sees substantial play as well. Leyline of Singularity and Leyline of Sanctity have also seen Vintage play. Gemstone Caverns has also appeared in Vintage Top 8s before.

The Siphon Soul Chancellor is pretty clearly unplayable, as that is the least useful potential effect. At least a Raging Goblin token can be used for a variety of other purposes, from Gaea’s Cradle to Diabolic Intent, among others. I don’t think Raging Goblin Chancellor is playable either, but it at least offers interactions that are theoretically useful.

The Glimpse the Unthinkable Chancellor has an effect that is not only marginal, but potentially very dangerous. If you were to do this to the opponent you might actually give your opponent a tremendous advantage. You wouldn’t want your opponent to open the game with Bazaar of Baghdad or Goblin Welder after you apply this effect. Perhaps most importantly, decking remains a viable Vintage win condition, but each such victory condition in the format does so in one fell swoop rather than through over time. The three main examples are Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s ultimate, Helm of Obedience with Leyline of the Void in play, or activating Grindstone with Painter’s Servant in play. What that means is that this effect is pretty worthless unless you can also somehow get the guy into play, which seems unlikely. These three Chancellors seem the least playable. That leaves two possibilities.

Mana Tithe Chancellor is a potentially potent effect, generating tempo and other advantages. However, this advantage is in large measure negated by simple awareness of it. It’s like telling your opponent you have Daze. They’ll just play around it. Still, the tempo advantage is meaningful, but I don’t think it nearly compensates for the cost of having to run this card. This card would be most effective, I would imagine, in a deck where having it in your opening hand is not a tremendous disadvantage, such as in a Dredge deck. But Dredge decks already have so many excellent options that I don’t think this is worth the space in your maindeck. And it almost certainly isn’t worth the precious sideboard space, slots reserved for the post-board war.

Elvish Spirit Guide Chancellor actually strikes me as the most playable of the cycle. Elvish Spirit Guide is a powerful effect that sees play in a range of archetypes from aggro decks to Belcher. This is yet another way to generate a free mana on your first turn. But the reduced versatility – the inability to use this as a beater, to use it in subsequent turns, or to even use it to play Myr Superiorn – I think make it too narrow to consider it even remotely Vintage playable. If it appears anywhere, I would expect to see it in RG Belcher, where it can be used to play Tinder Wall or cast Manamorphose.

Post-Phyrexia Belcher, by Stephen Menendian

Business (13)
Goblin Charbelcher
Empty the Warrens
Gitaxian Probe
Wheel of Fortune
Memory Jar

Mana Sources (47)
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Lotus Petal
Mox Opal
Chrome Mox
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Mana Vault
Sol Ring
Chancellor of the Tangle
Elvish Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide
Rite of Flame
Tinder Wall
Grim Monolith

Seems like fun! Although, to be honest, I think a list with just Gitaxian Probe is an improvement anyway!

Gitaxian ProbeGitaxian Probe – When Street Wraith was spoiled, I lost my head. I predicted that Street Wraith would be the most important card in the set. Part of what had me jazzed about it was the unbelievable synergy with Dredge. Street Wraith 1) triggered Dredge, 2) could be removed to put Ichorid into play, 3) helped activate Nether Shadow, which was used before Future Sight, 4) could be pitched to Unmask, and 5) fed Sutured Ghoul, the win condition used in Dredge before Future Sight. I was right about that. Street Wraith became a staple in Dredge decks and continues to see play in the archetype.

However, I envisioned broader usage. I imagined a card that would see play across archetypes, not just within one. Street Wraith came the closest we’ve seen to my theorized card:

Urza’s Broken Bauble
Tap, sacrifice: draw a card.

My interest in this theoretical design comes out of Meandeck Tendrils, a deck I designed in late 2004 to win on the first turn by simply storming out to 10 spells and playing a Tendrils of Agony. The opening hand simply had to generate 4 black mana and cycle through 9 spells. I believed that a card like this would help you do that. Street Wraith was a huge step in that direction. Gitaxian Probe actually is a tremendous upgrade. It is the closest card ever printed to Urza’s Broken Bauble. Unlike Street Wraith, it actually adds to the Storm count. Unlike Urza’s Broken Bauble, this card actually produces a meaningful effect, nor is it stopped by Null Rod or Chalice of the Void set to 0.

As many of you may know, I was invited, courtesy of Wizards R&D, to participate in the last Magic Invitational. I ran my Grow deck, updated with Future Sight, and that meant Street Wraith. I did not know until the week before that Lorywn would be legal, or else I would have tested Ponder. I went 1-2 in the Vintage portion of the Invitational (I know, I know) because I ran Street Wraith instead of Ponder. I still went 6-8 at the Invitational, which is at least respectable. But had I won the Vintage portion 3-0, and won one or two other matches (say, because I didn’t over bid in the Auction) or ran Samarai of the Pale Curtain in my sideboard in the BYOB, I would have potentially been in the finals. So my exasperation with Street Wraith is deep seated and probably not something I can express without feeling noxious regret.

I say all that for a few reasons. First, to make it clear that I have extensive experience – high level experience – with Street Wraith. And with that experience I can articulate and explain probably better than most exactly what the problem with it is. That gives me a critical, and insightful, perspective regarding this card.

What, exactly, then is the problem with Street Wraith? That question can’t be adequately answered without actually a good deal of Magic theory as context. Let me begin by making a critical distinction. I would like to distinguish between cards drawn in the opening hand and cards drawn during the course of the game. Both sets of cards are drawn from the library, but they are drawn under very different circumstances.

In my recent Grow article I emphasized the ways in which the game of Magic is defined by variance, and the efforts to overcome it. I said:

The rules of magic generate bounded variance in opening hands. The minimum 60 card deck rule and the maximum 4 of any card (except basic land) rule make it impossible to sculpt an opening hand of 7 cards randomly drawn or to guarantee a ratio of spells to mana. The mulligan rule ameliorates the worst features of this – the most extreme variance, allowing players to reduce the chances of getting no land hands or no spell hands. Other effects, like Serum Powder, can be used to influence these outcomes as well.

In other words, although Magic features inherent variance – a function of the interaction of two rules of deck construction and the game rule of drawing an opening 7 cards from a randomized deck – we do our best as deck designers to reduce this variance. We use mathematical formulas like hyper-geomtric distribution to generate probabilistically desirable outcomes. We carefully tune our mana base and spell ratios. We include ratios of certain kinds of effects to maximize our chances of seeing them without impinging on other needs. We do all we can, but even with all of this, there are limits. The mulligan rule and cards like Serum Powder are basically the only other mechanisms for reducing this variance. The variance of the drawn opening hand can’t be controlled in any other way. Nor would it be desirable to do so for the game of Magic. That’s the genius behind the 60 card minimum rule and the maximum 4 of any individual card rule. If they had chosen different numbers for those two rules, Magic could look much more deterministic.

Once the game begins, Magic actually becomes much more deterministic. This is actually the value of blue, the color that gives you the most library manipulation. Vintage decks, particularly blue ones, begin manipulating their library from turn one. To what end? To reduce variance. You can imagine a game in which every single draw is pretty much predetermined by Vampiric Tutor, Preordain, Sensei’s Divining Top, Jace, etc. In other words, we manipulate the library to find the kinds of cards we want. We need mana? That’s what Ponder is for. Ponder sees three cards so you can dig up a counterspell or mana source, depending on what you need.

What does this have to do with Street Wraith of Gitaxian Probe? Some people say that the main problem with Street Wriath is that it complicates mulligan decisions. I do not deny this fact, but I think it is overstated somewhat. Let me explain. When it comes to mulliganing, there are basically three categories: automatic keeps, automatic mulligans, and everything in between. Street Wraith, in my opinion, doesn’t actually shift a hand from one category into another. It merely complicates the third, difficult category. But, even within that category, I don’t think it makes it much more difficult than those hands already are, just slightly so.

The real problem with cards like Street Wraith or, by extension, Gitaxian Probe, is the fact that they are not effective at reducing in-game variance. The theory behind these cards is that they actually reduce the size of your deck. This is the Turbo-Xerox/Grow theory: you can cut mana and spells by including cantrips, which functionally replace them. That is true. But what’s overlooked is that replacing cards is not actually the best thing you can be doing when you can include cards that actually manipulate your library, not simply shrink it. The two are not the same. This is the problem with Street Wraith. It’s not that Street Wraith doesn’t give you a functionally 56 card deck, or something close to it. It does in many respects. But it is better to have a 60 card deck where you use those last four slots to see three cards instead of using them on a card that only replaces itself? In other words, you’d rather run Ponder or Preordain than Street Wraith. The main reason for this goes to the distinction I made above: Vintage decks want to reduce variance as much as possible when the game begins. Running a 56 card deck indirectly reduces variance, but not to the same degree as more robust library manipulation. The problem with Street Wraith is nothing less than the opportunity cost of the slot. Now, maybe a different case would entail if two life weren’t at issue, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Two life does matter when using a GushBond deck, which hungrily replays lands with Fastbond, but that’s not the main issue. The main issue is that Street Wraith only sees one card when you could pay one blue mana and see three cards instead. That’s why Street Wraith sees no play in blue decks.

Now, you might wonder: doesn’t that suggest that we should run decks of more than 60 cards but use more library manipulation to compensate? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. We are compelled to run at least 60 cards, so the issue is how we make the best use of those slots within that constraint. In my opinion, Ponder would have been far superior to Street Wraith in my Magic Invitational Grow deck. Experience later established this beyond dispute. Not only do you want greater library manipulation immediately, but that need becomes more pressing as the game goes on. In the mid and late game, the freeness of Street Wraith becomes much less relevant than the number of cards it sees. Drawing a land when you could have found a spell (Preordain into Underground Sea and Duress, for example) can actually be decisive.

Which brings us to Gitaxian Probe. Gitaxian Probe has many advantages over Street Wraith. First, it’s blue, and can be pitched to Force of Will. Second, it can be played off of a blue mana, so in the late game you don’t have to lose two life to use it. Third, it counts as a spell, which means it adds to storm. Fourth, it can be replayed off of Yawgmoth’s Will. Fifth, it produces a really meaningful effect. Street Wraith could always be used as a late game win condition, but seeing your opponent’s hand is much better. The value of seeing your opponent’s hand cannot be underestimated in Vintage. Making the right play often means playing around your opponents hand or setting up traps. You can defeat far superior hands – that is better cards drawn by your opponent – through superior sequencing or by bottlenecking your opponent at key junctures. See my Grow Report last week, particularly Round Two, for examples. This is part of the value of Duress, not just that you take their best card, but that you can then plan around their hand.

These advantages have to be weighed against the simple and important drawback that in most cases you’d rather just have a Preordain. Library manipulation is at a premium, and this card’s cost is the opportunity cost of the slot. Do not make the mistake I made of assuming that a card like this has no opportunity cost (except for the 2 life loss). It does. When you cycle this card into your third land on turn one, you will sometimes wish this had just been Preordain. This cost becomes more apparent the longer the game goes on when the efficiency of the spell matters less.

So, what general principles might we derive?

First of all, I would never play this card over a Ponder or Preordain. This card does not replace actual library manipulation. It should be played only in addition to those effects.

Secondly, this card probably gets worse for decks that have longer-term game plans. The longer the game is likely to go, the weaker this card becomes. It is going to be strongest in decks that want to make a splash immediately, like Meandeck Tendrils or Goblin Charbelcher, where they need to see very quickly whether they should try to win now or whether they need to find a disruption spell first. This card is also strongest on the first turn, when the information regarding your opponent’s hand is most valuable.

Beyond those two principles, I think the greatest realistic possibility for this card is with very specific synergies. For example, this card dramatically powers up Cabal Therapy. For that reason, I think it will be at peak power in a deck like Dredge. Not only does it offer may of the same advantages as Street Wraith, triggering Dredge, and so on, but it will make Cabal Therapy far more deadly.

Here’s a good example of a Dredge deck with Gitaxian Probe:

Gitaxian Dredge, by Stephen Menendian

Business (51)
Bazaar of Baghdad
Serum Powder
Chalice of the Void
Leyline of the Void
Cabal Therapy
Gitaxian Probe
Nature’s Claim
Bridge from Below
Dread Return
Golgari Thug
Golgari Grave-Troll
Stinkweed Imp
Flame-Kin Zealot
Woodfall Primus

Mana Sources (9)
City of Brass
Dakmor Salvage
Petrified Field
Undiscovered Paradise

How insane is Gitaxian Probe in Dredge? You’ll know exactly what to name with Cabal Therapy, and, post-board, exactly what you’ll have to fight through to resolve your answers to their hate. This card is a big boost to Dredge.

Gitaxian Probe may also have ridiculous synergies with Kiln Fiend:

Gitaxian Fiend Grow, by Stephen Menendian

Business (40)
Force of Will
Mana Drain
Lightning Bolt
Hurkyl’s Recall
Ancient Grudge
Gitaxian Probe
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
Mystical Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Demonic Tutor
Merchant Scroll
Kiln Fiend
Yawgmoth’s Will

Mana Sources (20)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Misty Rainforest
Scalding Tarn
Underground Sea
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Sideboard (15)
Leyline of the Void
Steel Sabotage
Yixlid Jailer
Tormod’s Crypt
Mana Crypt
Mox Pearl
Red Elemental Blast
Lightning Bolt

Gitaxian Probe has many other possible synergies in the format, such as Tidespout Tyrant triggers, information for Meddling Mage, and more. I believe this card will see a decent amount of play in Vintage.

Jin-Gitaxias, Core AugurJin-Gitaxias, Core Augur – This guy is a beast. He’s ten mana, but his abilities are as scary as the artwork. The card advantage this guy generates pretty much tops the scale. He Mind Twist’s your opponent and Contract From Belows you. If you can somehow cheat him into play, you should have little difficulty winning the game.

The most common way to cheat creatures of his ilk into play is Oath of Druids, but I would rule Oath out as a potential vehicle here because you risk decking yourself. Show and Tell and Animate Dead seem like other possibilities, but thus far no Show and Tell deck has ever had Vintage success. Tinkering up Blightsteel Colossus is one of the most efficient routes to victory in Vintage. So why wouldn’t a Show and Tell deck be built around Blightsteel instead? This card actually does a better job protecting you once it resolves, since you get a new hand at the end of your turn. Blightsteel is vulnerable for a turn. A more difficult case could be made for this guy over Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Let’s try to imagine the beginnings of a Vintage Show and Tell deck:
4 Force of Will
4 Spell Pierce
3 Mana Drain
4 Show and Tell
1 Tinker
1 Blightsteel Colossus
3 Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Preordain
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
1 Mystical Tutor
2 Jace, The Mind Sculptor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Imperial Seal

And around 25 mana sources. Possible, but unlikely.

Mental MisstepMental Misstep – People are getting very excited, particularly in Legacy quarters, about this card. Legacy features a compressed mana curve with most spells falling at 1, 2, or 3 mana, and a few big ones at 4. Mental Misstep is going to hit something in Legacy every game. In Vintage, mana costs are more diverse on account of the acceleration found in the format, like Dark Ritual and Mishra’s Workshop. That said, Mental Misstep hits a lot of Vintage cards. 14 of the 50 most played Vintage cards from March can be targeted with Mental Misstep. Despite the variety of targets, they tend to be less important spells as far as counter-targets are concerned. Only about 23% of the cards are the Restricted List can be hit with it: Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, Fastbond, Demonic Consultation, Imperial Seal, Vampiric Tutor, Mystical Tutor, Ponder, Sol Ring, and Mana Vault. And you would only counter about one or two of those most of the time anyway.

I think the greatest strength of this card is that it can be played in a deck that doesn’t have blue mana in it. That will give non-blue decks an actual counterspell. However, this card seems like a glorified Ancestral Recall counter. It’s definitely Vintage playable, but I’m kind of skeptical that it will see much play. I’d love to be proven wrong. I think it will be very good in Legacy, and will see plenty of play there. I just don’t think this card has a clear home in Vintage. The mana costs in Vintage are simply too diverse to warrant inclusion of this card.

Phyrexian MetamorphPhyrexian Metamorph – This card is definitely Vintage playable. Let’s start with the basics. This card is, in most cases, superior to Sculpting Steel. Sculpting Steel has seen quite a bit of Vintage play for its ability to copy Lodestone Golem on turn two, Tinker robots, or just Spheres, and continue to grind the opponent out. In fact, there were 27 different decks with Sculpting Steel in them in Vintage Top 8s in April alone. This card is a more versatile and flexible Sculpting Steel. The price is that it costs 2 life as well. That is a rather trivial cost in most situations. The fact that the card is blue actually makes it stronger, since it has more potential homes, and may eventually be the centerpiece of a Force of Will based Workshop deck.

Now, let’s drill down a bit. How is this card different from Sculpting Steel? And where will it see play? First and foremost, this card is a major asset against opposing Workshops. My teammate Brian DeMars conducted an experiment to ascertain the most valuable bullets in the Workshop mirror. His conclusion? Goblin Welder and Metalworker were the most important cards in the mirror. Sculpting Steel copies only one of those. Phyrexian Metamorph can copy both! When Goblin Welder becomes a major player again in the Workshop mirror, this card will gain tenfold in power and playability. In the meantime, it benefits from its extremely versatility.

Experienced and skilled players understand the importance having the proper solution to any problem. The more flexible and adaptable a card is, the more value it will provide to its controller. The only condition that this card imposes is that some relevant permanent be in play that is worth copying. That is not insignificant, but in the proper matchup, it’s not unlikely either.

The Mana Drain control deck that Brian DeMars has been championing runs a pair of meddlesome Goblin Welders. Other control decks run Dark Confidant. In the worst case scenario, you are forced to copy your own Spheres, rather than a monster or Golem. In most cases, that is fine. The upside is that this card can save your butt when facing a Blightsteel Colossus or an opponent Steel Hellkite or Karn, Silver Golem.nConsider this card in a hyper aggressive MUD list similar to the one I championed last year, but much improved with Scars block built into it!

Aggro MUD, by Stephen Menendian

Business (35)
Lodestone Golem
Precursor Golem
Phyrexian Metamorph
Phyrexian Revoker
Chalice of the Void
Sphere of Resistance
Thorn of Amethyst
Null Rod
Tangle Wire
Crucible of Worlds

Mana Sources (26)
Black Lotus
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mana Crypt
Sol Ring
Tolarian Academy
Mishra’s Workshop
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Strip Mine

This deck is fast, brutal, and lethal! Watch out!

Tezzeret’s Gambit – This card is unduly overlooked in the Vintage community. It’s direct card advantage, something Workshop decks generally lack. Workshop decks tend to emphasize board control as a way of generating virtual card advantage. This card can do both. It will draw you two cards and it can add counters to your Tangle Wire and/or Smokestack. If you are running an Affinity deck, then this card can really get out of control, and you can begin ramping up the power on board while drawing into more free spells. Most intriguingly, it could be the lynchpin of a blue Affinity deck in Vintage.

Dismember – I don’t think this card is likely to see much Vintage play, but it remains one of a number of marginal considerations that orbit the Vintage format, and sometimes seep into tournament results. It is a somewhat efficient answer to threats like Lodestone Golem, which can be played for a single mana. It’s most important because it can be played in Workshop decks, and it’s an instant. It is efficient enough for Vintage play. It remains to be seen where, and if, it will appear.

Praetor’s Grasp – Easily one of the most interesting cards in the set, from my unique perspective, although not one that is likely to see the most play from New Phyrexia. For years I urged Wizards to make Portal cards legal, and when they did I could hardly wait to play with Grim Tutor, and I did. I made the Top 8 at the first SCG Power 9 tournament in which Grim Tutor was legal, creating Grim Long. This card is a quasi-Grim Tutor, with tremendous upsides.

Grim Tutor serves a number of important functions in the Combo archetype. Primarily, it is a tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will, ensuring a sufficient density of tutors to find and fire off a lethal Yawgmoth’s Will. Post-will, Grim Tutor is used to find Tendrils of Agony. Preator’s Grasp can’t serve in precisely the same capacity, unless your opponent has both cards in their library. However, Grim Tutor derives most of its power from its versatility. With a Mox and two lands, you can find Ancestral Recall to generate card advantage. If you have Yawgmoth’s Will in hand, you can use it to find Black Lotus. Praetor’s Grasp does all this, for the most part.

The tremendous upside to it, however, is that it can deny your opponent access to win conditions or key strategic objectives, like a Time Vault. You can simply exile Time Vault, preventing your opponent from ever using it to combo out. Or you can steal their Tinker. The information gained by looking at your opponent’s library is likewise valuable.

This card serves so many potential functions that it’s hard to imagine not using it somewhere. In fact, I would begin by cutting Grim Tutor in TPS decks for this card. Then, I would probably add another to the sideboard. The TPS and combo mirror is a battle of attrition. Using this card to deploy bombs while denying your opponent theirs is certainly worthwhile.

The main drawback to this card is when you play a matchup, like the Workshop matchup, where there may be little of value to take, aside from a Black Lotus. But even there, you are replacing the mana spent and the card, at no loss of card disadvantage. This card is really good. When and if the metagame shifts again and combo is good, this card will see play. I’m excited to play with this card!

Surgical ExtractionSurgical Extraction – Dredge is a menace in Vintage, and this card is now one of the better answers to it. Extirpate appeared in 17 different Top 8 decklists in April alone, demonstrating the popularity of this tactic against Dredge. Cards like Faerie Macabre, Tormod’s Crypt, Extirpate, Ravenous Trap, Relic of Progenitius, and others each see play in Vintage for the same reason. Nihil Spellbomb was among the most played cards from Scars of Mirrodin. This card to the mix. Although it is not uncounterable, or split second, it trumps those advantages with something far more important: being free. Nothing sells like Free. This is true in Vintage as well.

This card is frankly good enough for other purposes as well. I could see, for example, people trying this card in the Gush mirror, to strip out opposing Gushes or Force of Wills. Being free is just so damned good! The information you derive for no mana cost is tremendous. Any good player should be able to use this to win games. This card should see play everywhere. It’s also going to be a backbreaking (or should I say spine-ripping) surprise. Watch out.

Slag Fiend – This is no construct, it’s a Lhurgoyf! And a potentially ridiculously efficient one at that. One could imagine building a Skullclamp deck around this card, and growing him to enormous proportions very quickly. In terms of playability, the target power and toughness would be 7-8 by turn 2 or 3 to make him playable, but it seems feasible with the proper work in the right design.

Whipflare – I kind of like this card more than Pyroclasm. The only thing that makes me nervous about it is that it can’t kill a Phyrexian Revoker in a Fish deck.

Birthing Pod – What an absolute beating this card is with Frogmite and Myr Enforcer. Get this card out, and then start just comboing out. Sacrifice Frogmite to get out Kuldotha Forgemaster/Precursor Golem. Sacrifice Myr Enforcer to find Myr Battlesphere. From there, it’s pretty simple to combo out. Use Voltaic Key, or whatever suits you, to grab the Time Vault combo our just put a million men into play. Lots of potential here. Should be a simple thing to retrofit some MUD lists to abuse these combos.

Beast Within – This card was pretty obviously printed as another way to destroy planeswalkers. In Vintage, we have a much better one: Red Elemental Blast. Of course, the problem is that Red Elemental Blast is (arguably) not generally useful, although cards like Phyrexian Metamorph might help change that, and is mostly a sideboard card. Beast Within, as an anti-Jace spell, is serviceable. The upshot of being able to hit any other permanent is far from trivial. In fact this card can hit land! Yes, that means Mishra’s Workshop to basic Island. Ice Storm has returned, with a twist? This is possibly the best Desert Twister ever printed, although Vindicate may have some argument.

Where would this card sit in Vintage? Who would play it? It’s hard to say. The archetype that, without question, could make the most if it is Oath. It’s an archetype where you want your opponent to have a creature. This card is probably a nice fit into the Oath sideboard, or even main deck. It can kill anything while doing quite a bit of damage in the process. It would nicely complement Terastodon, if that’s your plan. Or, it could just clear out the opposing Jace, break up the Time Vault combo, or kill a Meddling Mage on Oath or Leonin Relic-Warder/Qasali Pridemage.

New Phyrexia Checklist

These are cards I’m confident will see play in Vintage:
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Surgical Extraction
1-3 Praetor’s Grasp
4 Mental Misstep (although I’m not a fan)

And here are cards that I think are playable, and could very well see play at some point:
1-3 Beast Within
3-4 Birthing Pod
1-4 Dismember
1-4 Tezzeret’s Gambit
4 Chancellor of the Tangle
2-4 Whipflare

I’d suggest you pick up these cards for your collection.

Until next time,
Stephen Menendian