It’s been seven years since we first set foot on the metallic plane of Mirrodin. While many look back on that time as fondly as they do Combo Winter, I had a much fonder memory. This was a time where in a flash, more cards were banned in Standard from a single block than had been banned in years, forcing the broken Skullclamp and Affinity archetypes to be pushed to the wayside, but the game was fast. It was – dare I say it – fun. Now, with Yawgmoth’s legacy bearing down on Mirrodin, and the quicksilver seas turning to ichor, how will this set fare against it’s predecessor?
Thinkering with Mechanics
First, I will focus on the mechanics of this scarred plane, and how I feel about them, both for limited and for constructed.
Metalcraft – This is what would be considered the “fixed” version of Affinity from Mirrodin. Instead of allowing free spells, when a player achieves Metalcraft (controls three artifacts), his spells and permanents become significantly more powerful and very under-costed. For example, Galvanic Blast is a Shock that becomes a kicked Burst Lightning when a player achieves Metalcraft.
Limited – This ability is amazing in limited, simply because of how many good, playable artifacts are in the set and how aggressive a player who achieves Metalcraft can become. It’s also worth mentioning many spells with Metalcraft are actually artifacts themselves, such as Rusted Relic, requiring the player to only control two additional artifacts to gain the bonus.
Constructed - Gauging the effect this ability will have on Constructed is very tough, as a few of the better cards with Metalcraft aren’t artifacts themselves, and the artifacts you will be using to obtain Metalcraft quickly, like Ornithopter or Memnite, simply don’t work well on their own. They need the aid of something like Tempered Steel to warrant playing en masse. Also, it’s interesting that Etched Champion is a great Metalcraft artifact if an aggro version of the strategy is playable, but that if it is more popular than people are expecting, the soldier of artifice loses quite a bit of its value.
Infect - Oh, Lord, did I underestimate this ability! Poison is back, and with a vengeance. Taking Wither and adding dealing damage to players in the form of poison counters is just nuts. Why was Boggart Ram-Gang good? Now what about the Ram-Gang in a format where the opponent starts at 10 life? Just think about that for a second.
Limited - I really underestimated the power of poison in Limited. At first, it seemed like I was going to be playing against an opponent with 30 life, having to deal damage in poison AND regular damage, but I was stone wrong. This ability is the so powerful and is probably one of my favorite keywords ever, not just in this set. Plague Stinger won me enough games on his own, as there are so few playable fliers in this set that he was able to get enough poison in for me to finish off opponents later. However, Ichorclaw Myr is by far my favorite non-rare Infect creature. He comes down early and is almost impossible to block early. Combine him with Golem Artisan and blocking him just gets near impossible!
Constructed - I’m less than thrilled about this ability in Standard right now, though I’m expecting more, better Infect creatures in Mirrodin Besieged. What this archetype really needs is a one-drop, just like Allies did last season, pre-Worldwake. I’ve been working on a list that uses Infect creatures and Overrun effects to generate a pseudo +6/+6 and trample effect, since only ten damage needs to get through, but it’s testing poorly. I think this is a strategy to look out for as the set progresses, though.
Proliferate - Okay, this is probably the best keyword in this set, in so many ways. After doing a decent amount of playing around, I have found that Contagion Clasp is probably one of the best cards in the set. This ability lets you put another counter on any permanent or player that already has a counter on it. Bringing an opponent one turn closer to death, or an Planeswalker one turn closer to the win, or even negating the cost of Elspeth Tirel‘s [-1] ability for a turn are all powerful, powerful plays. I know that I just sung praises for Infect, but this is by far my favorite ability ever printed (and it’s not even close).
Limited – I never realized how heavy the counter theme was in this set until I started playing Limited with it. Every time I was proliferating, I had at least three or four targets, one of which always seemed to be my opponent. Sacrificing an artifact to Throne of Geth to put a -1/-1 counter of three of my opponent’s creatures, a poison counter on my opponent, and a charge counter on my Trigon of Infestation to keep the infection of -1/-1 counters going was more than worth the artifact I sacrificed. This requires a lot of building around, but is very, very easy to do in this set.
Constructed – I could go on and on about this ability, but I will save it for when I talk about my favorite cards from this set. Just know that this ability will be nearly unstoppable in Constructed.
Whenever a new set comes out, there are bound to be over-hyped cards, as well as ones that don’t seem to get their due until someone breaks them. I think a lot of cards in this set are very breakable, but I also think that some are getting a little too much praise when they don’t do enough.
Contagion Clasp – Proliferate has to be one of the best keywords ever printed. There is so much that it can do, and what it can’t do, the cards it helps can – and this card does it again and again, for a meager 2+4 mana! I know I’ve said it already, but this card is ridiculous, and is my vote for what will likely be the 3rd best card in the set. The only problem I have with this card right now is its name. After compiling lists of how best to use this card, it seems like spreading contagion is one of the least useful abilities. Contagion Clasp seems much more at home placing counters on Planeswalkers, Chimeric Masses, and Everflowing Chalices, or functioning as awkward removal on Turn 2 against aggro, or in combination with Venser the Sojourner after your chalices have grown big enough to proliferate twice in one turn. And any of the Clasp’s ill effects aren’t very contagious to Planeswalkers; they actually seem to love having it around to go ultimate! Like I said before, I could go on for hours about this card alone, but this article already seems to be running long, so I’ll have to save that for some other time.
Wurmcoil Engine – I know there’s been a power creep, but Jesus! Apparently, this is where we’re at now: a 6/6 with lifelink and deathtouch for six mana that can be played in any color and replaces itself after being removed. Obviously, like with Grave Titan, the deathtouch is rarely going to matter (except in random corner cases where the opponent only has two 4/4′s, or something life that), but gaining six life a turn is absolutely bonkers. Plus, after this guy dies, he leaves a 3/3 to keep gaining you life, and a 3/3 to kill any attackers on defense. This guy is just a gift that keeps on giving. We even got to have a cute little worm of our own as our present for attending the prerelease! Expect this guy to hold value for a little while, as six mana is pretty attainable in this environment, and should almost completely overshadow Baneslayer Angel as finisher of choice.
Chimeric Mass – Now I may just be seeing something that everyone isn’t, or I’m still wearing the beer goggles I was awarded for winning my prerelease and subsequent 8-4 draft with this guy, but he appears to be amazing. A classy threat is what we were missing the last time Trinket Mage was in Standard; he’s a tutorable win condition! With Trinket Mage, many things are possible that typically aren’t in a normal environment, but toolboxes are becoming even more popular nowadays, and this guy is the Mage’s Scute Mob. You’d be a fool not to have one in your bag of tricks.
Mimic Vat – Another product of much testing, this card seems absolutely nuts as well. Following up your own Day of Judgment with a hasty Grave Titan or Sun Titan every turn is just phenomenal. You can even take your opponent’s creatures- yes, this doubling as graveyard hate for those nasty Vengevines. I expect this card to rocket in value once everyone sees just how good it really is.
Mox Opal – I don’t think I can say it more plainly than this- SELL THIS CARD NOW! With four Mythics preordering at $40+, they can’t all possibly hold that kind of value over time; as at a certain point, it becomes more profitable to crack boxes than to buy singles. This is going to be the card that tanks first. Let’s go over the biggest problems with it.
Legendary – This has to be the biggest problem, not because you can only have one out (making hands with multiple become mulligans), but because if your opponent lands one first, you have to use yours as a Wasteland after he’s already pulled advantage from it.
Metalcraft – Yes, I know I just went into how Metalcraft is awesome in the first half of the article, but for this, it’s a downside. Cards that are expensive are expensive because they are unconditionally good. Getting Metalcraft early either requires you to play bad, cheap artifacts, or you to go just along your normal course of turns, casting spells as you normally would; in which case, Mox Opal just becomes another Signet.
Aggressive decks want Mox Opal but won’t be able to effectively and reliably use it. This deck may find a home, but not for a while and likely not in Standard. And while it may be highly playable in Eternal formats, cards that are in Standard but are only used in Eternal formats don’t tend to reach exceedingly high prices (see: Progenitus).
A Precursor of What’s to Come
Overall, Scars of Mirrodin, just like the first expansion of many blocks in the past few years, has failed to disappoint me. R&D is doing a great job of capturing the flavor of the sets compared to years past, and I really hope this trend continues. While power may be creeping slightly, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad step for the game overall, as R&D seems to be pushing more creature combat. The creep is just bringing creatures to the level where non-creature spells were in years past.
My favorite part about this set is how difficult it is for a lot of people to understand in Limited games. There are so many rules nuances and triggers that a bad player with a ridiculous deck will have a hard time winning game, unlike it has been in some of the recent, previous sets. I’ve yet to be blown out by any completely unbeatable bombs (looking at you, Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief) and have won every game where I actually set out to construct a perfect game state. Call me an elitist, but I think the better player should win a majority of games of Magic, not just the player who gets a better draw.
I’m excited to see how deck archetypes emerge from this, as it seems like the best decks in Block from last year may not be the best decks in Standard this season. I’ve been bouncing lots of deck ideas around with friends, and while I, unfortunately, will be unable to attend States, I will be keeping you in the loop with the hot deck types and, as always, will be giving you my own special brews. Stay tuned for the next edition of Rhythmik Study, where I’ll be floating around a couple of deck ideas to try on Magic Online, or at your next FNM. As always, you can follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Rhythmik) and Twitter (twitter.com/rhythmik). Until next time, play tight, and maybe I’ll see you at the top tables!