fter weeks of previews and speculation, we are finally on the eve of the Magic 2012 Prerelease, our first opportunity to get our collective mitts on these freshly baked cards, hot from the oven. The set is chock full of cards I know I am going to want for Constructed formats ranging from Standard to Commander to Legacy. This week I am going to talk about a dozen of them and share some of the brainstorming I have done while waiting for this weekend to finally get here.
1. Personal Sanctuary
One card that I am looking at for Commander in a red-white-X—as-of-yet Commanderless—deck that can play cards like Ankh of Mishra, Sulfuric Vortex, and Zo-Zu the Punisher to punish everyone else while not having to take any damage from those cards thanks to my own Personal Sanctuary. There is even a perfect two-card combo right in the Core Set that will certainly go in that deck as well. Manabarbs is a tough card to play in Commander since, like everyone else, you need to tap a lot of mana to play those big cards that make the format so exciting. With Personal Sanctuary on the battlefield, you can tap to your heart's content—on your turn, of course—without any risk to your precious life total.
By the way, that is a Standard-ready combo for some red-white control deck. You can play your Day of Judgment and clear the board behind your enchantments, forcing your opponents to take damage from Manabarbs if they want to reinforce their board position. Next turn you tap out—pain free—and cast Gideon Jura. While you might not want to play both cards in a Standard deck built around the combo, it does showcase that Personal Sanctuary might find some space in sideboards if/when Manabarbs becomes a Standard format staple.
Other cards that can be foiled by Personal Sanctuary include anything like Black Vise, Obsidian Fireheart, or the aforementioned Ankh of Mishra. It plays well with Pestilence and lets you play Lord of the Pit without worrying about keeping any minions around to underwrite its usurious upkeep. Juzám Djinn, Plague Sliver, and Kookus are other cards that get better with the M12 enchantment.
2. Grand Abolisher
Grand Abolisher is another card that cares about whose turn it is and can give your opponent fits. What I really like about it is that it gives you a clean window to tap out and play something like Splinter Twin or Angelic Destiny. It also shuts off your opponents' ability to hide behind the ability of Spellskite, since they cannot activate abilities of creatures they control on your turn. You can feel free to Divine Offering that Birthing Pod without any worries about it being disrupted.
When I talked with former Daily MTG author Ben Bleiweiss about the new cards, he was VERY excited about board states where Grand Abolisher was stomping on opponent's hopes with a Swiftfoot Boots equipped to it. Abolisher also acts as an Silence of sorts when you absolutely, positively need your next spell to resolve. If your opponent does not get into a fight over the Abolisher, he or she is certainly not going to be able to do anything about any other spells that you plan to cast that turn. Much like the next card I am talking about, it is the embodiment of Mike Flores's famous article "Who's the Beatdown?"
3. Azure Mage
All five Mages in Magic 2012 are terrific Limited cards that are perfectly fine 2-power creatures for two mana with solid abilities. Some of those abilities may have more structural rigidity than the others, though. I love Jade Mage, essentially a more specialized Selesnya Guildmage that spits out Saprolings at a below-market , but it is Azure Mage that I am the most excited to play with in Limited—and that I would not be surprised at all to see played in Constructed.
Nearly everyone who plays Constructed has at some point played the sideboard game between a combo deck and a control deck. The control deck has to scramble to get all those Day of Judgments and other creature removal spells out of the main deck for Game 2, while the combo deck brings in Phyrexian Negators or Quirion Dryads. I love the idea of bringing in Azure Mage in this spot, which allows the combo player to have an alternate win condition and access to card advantage that can slip in under a control opponent's counter magic.
In our local draft circle it is hard to imagine a certain first-class Pro Tour Hall of Famer ever picking any card over this little card advantage/beater. Basically a card would need to rhyme with Pinks of Soothin for him to pick it over this.
4. Visions of Beyond
Visions of Beyond is such a joyous little card to me. I love cards that "cycle" with a good upside, and this card is that in spades. It is going straight into every blue Commander deck I own, since those games always go long, with graveyards that easily hit über-threshold at a point when most players' hands have been depleted and are hungry for a cheap and instant-speed card drawer. Is there a more powerful word for tipping point than "threshold" that we can use to refer to having twenty cards or more in a graveyard? (I am going to call it über-threshold until someone suggests something better.)
There is no shortage of existing deck archetypes in current formats that want to use a card like this, whether Dredge, some variant of Threshold, or other Dredge-like decks like Dredge-uh-Vine that stock their graveyards with the help of Hedron Crab. When you are actually dredging back cards, the ability to even draw one card can dump seven cards into your 'yard and get your engine rolling. For the more modern graveyard-based decks that want to dump an army of Vengevines onto the battlefield, you really want to be able to go three cards deeper into your deck when you need to play two creatures to make that happen.
5. Sorin's Vengeance
Is Sorin's Vengeance the card that puts Mono-Black Control on the metagame map, or is it just a poor vampire's Cruel Ultimatum? The more I think about it the more I think it might be the former. Think about all the tools at your disposal. For creatures you have your choice of Phyrexian Obliterator, Abyssal Persecutor, and Lashwrithe. Removal offers you a selection from Sorin's Thirst—an instant-speed upgrade to Vicious Hunger—to the board sweeping and deck depleting Life's Finale. It even has a two-card "yer dead" combo with Sorin Markov, who can reduce your opponent's life total to 10 and then use his Vengeance to mop up what's left.
I love the deep flavor that is imbued into this entire cycle of the five planeswalkers and their two satellite cards each. I would not be surprised to see many of the card combinations go straight into 60-card decks, and I am looking forward to finding twenty-five or so good Swamps and keeping them at the ready for when I start playtesting Standard.
6. Vengeful Pharaoh
Another two-card combo with a planeswalker that I am looking forward to is Vengeful Pharaoh and... well, really any planeswalker, but mostly Gideon Jura. The pseudo-No Mercy effect is powerful, and unlike that old enchantment, you don't need to invest a turn playing it and can even surprise your opponent if you can sneak it into your graveyard.
It is one thing to talk about cards that want to be in your graveyard, but you can't do that without having a reliable way to get them there. So let's look at some ways that we can do it—without clogging up our drawsteps with Vengeful Pharaohs that are more useful entombed than in hand.
We have already talked a little bit about Hedron Crab, and with fetch lands you can always keep one in reserve to be able to shuffle away the Pharaoh if drawing it would be inconvenient. You can quickly get it from hand to graveyard with the freshly reprinted Zombie Infestation—a card that I am definitely keeping my eye on for the next eighteen months or so—but it is not the most exciting way to keep the Pharaoh going binward if you are drawing it every time you get attacked by a creature.
Fauna Shaman, on the other hand, is super exciting. You get to pitch Vengeful Pharaoh when your opponent attacks, search for your best creature, kill your opponent's best creature, and then know you are drawing a Vengeful Pharaoh that can get turned into the next best creature in your deck on the following turn.
7. Stormblood Berserker (and Goblin Fireslinger)
Stormblood Berserker is a card that will be in many player's gauntlets for the new Standard format, and why not? Scab-Clan Mauler has already earned a Pro Tour title for Mark Herberholz, and this card is easier to cast and has a little more upside in the current metagame. Players are already utilizing the proliferate mechanic for their Everflowing Chalices, poison counters, and planeswalkers, so why not for their bloodthirst creatures? Stormblood Berserker is tough enough to block as is, but when you get to Volt Charge a blocker and make the Berserk into a 4/4 that needs to be blocked by two creatures, it can close out a game pretty quickly. Throw a Contagion Clasp into the mix and things get silly in a hurry.
Of course, if you don't have a way to damage your opponent and can't get your bloodthirst on in the first place, your proliferation will be for naught. Do not be surprised to see Goblin Fireslinger—a significant upgrade to other one-mana 1/1 Goblins who can look underwhelming at first glance—getting in there as a steady trickle of damage that ensures the bloodthirst will flow. Goblin Arsonist is a card that has already had some Constructed success at the PTQ level and will almost always ensure bloodthirst if it gets to the red zone. Unless your opponent has a zero-power blocker, he or she is going to take 1 either from blocking or from not blocking. We saw Vulshok Refugee get some sideboard—and even main-deck—love during Scars of Mirrodin Block Constructed at Pro Tour Nagoya. Thanks to the double-team clause in Stormblood Berserker's text, you can burn down all the Refugee's wingmen and rumble past it—at least until your Dismember shows up.
There is no shortage of cheap burn available in Standard, ranging from Lightning Bolt to Shock to Incinerate to Burst Lightning. While we are all taught at a young Magic age to use our burn spells at the end of our opponent's turn, the advent of bloodthirst creature means we need to think about holding them for a little main-phase action. If you are patient person and are willing to play your Beserkers later than turn two, you can always use everyone's favorite new red planeswalker and her new pet...
8. Chandra's Phoenix
Chandra's Phoenix is one of the most exciting cards in the set for me. I have always liked recursion cards going back from Vengevine to Squee, Goblin Nabob to Hammer of Bogardan and all the way back to my incessant attempts to build decks with snow-covered lands and Whiteout. We have come a long way, baby, as the Phoenix hits about as hard as anything since Hammer of Bogardan and is easily the combination of planeswalker and minion you are most likely to see in Round 1 of your first FNM when the set becomes street legal for Standard next week.
I have already mentioned Fauna Shaman and Zombie Infestation in conjunction with other cards that care about graveyards, and there is likely a sweet red-green Vengevine deck that can search for cards with any number of Phoenixes and Vengevines and have them all come back and get their haste on.
9. Garruk, Primal Hunter (and Hunter's Insight)
Is it just me or did green get some over the top card drawing in Magic 2012? Hunter's Insight seems like a nice way to draw three or four cards, but it doesn't get better than Garruk, Primal Hunter—and we even get Autumn's Veil to make it stick against those pesky blue decks that don't want anyone to draw cards unless they play Islands. I have already rooted around in my green box for a foily copy of Doubling Season in anticipation of playing the newest green machine in Commander as a spell that starts out as for ten 6/6 tokens on turn six. I'm just saying...
10. Stingerfling Spider
I don't know if Stingerfling Spider is ever going to make a splash in Constructed—although I have played Silklash Spider more than once—but I just love this card. I will certainly run it in my Commander deck, and it is definitely on the short list of five-mana options for my Birthing Pod all-stars.
11. Solemn Simulacrum
It feels wrong to be this happy about a card like Solemn Simulacrum—and all the power reprints in this set between this, Grim Lavamancer, and Manabarbs—but it is the first card going into the four slot of the aforementioned Birthing Pod All-Stars and is likely one of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas's best friends in the new Standard. Will it be the card that gets Throne of Geth off the bench? (Probably not, but I hope so!)
12. Sundial of the Infinite
The card I am the most excited about playing with in just about every format is one that has continued to grow on me ever since it was previewed. Sundial of the Infinite started out as an interesting one-sided City of Solitude in my mind, but it has grown into a full-scale fascination as I keep finding ways to break the rules with the card...
Going back to Legacy and Vintage—and Noel deCordova's preview article—the Sundial has potential for abuse with both Phyrexian Dreadnought and Smokestack, and both cards are templates for ways to abuse the card. With any card that has an "enters the battlefield" drawback like the Dreadnought, you can end your turn with the Sundial after the creature is on the battlefield and with the trigger on the stack. With Dreadnought it means you get to make a 12/12 for one mana and then spend another one mana to end your turn before you need to sacrifice 12 power worth of creatures. It also works with the Hunted family of creatures. For three mana you can make a 7/7 tramply Hunted Horror and not give your opponent anything as a side effect.
Years ago in Extended I played a Chronatog / Smokestack deck that would set up behind the artifact and blue creature with a couple of counters on the 'Stack and let my opponent take the remainder of the turns. With a Sphere of Resistance on the battlefield they could do nothing about it unless they were playing Contagion to kill the 'Tog. Sundial of the Infinite plays a sturdier role than Chronatog here and even lets you stack things in such a way that you can put another counter on your Smokestack and then end your turn with the sacrifice ability languishing on the stack.
More fun that can be had with Sundial is when you evoke a Mulldrifter or Shriekmaw and then use Sundial to make it stick with the sacrifice on the stack. In current Standard you can get your Zektar Shrine Expedition token—assuming it isn't blocked—to stick around for more by ending your turn with the "exile it at the beginning of the next end step" trigger on the stack... and the same goes Elemental Mastery and Elemental Appeal, among others (though not for Hell's Thunder or Ball Lightning, which will just ask to be sacrificed again on your opponent's turn). You can exile a permanent permanently with Glimmerpoint Stag similarly, by using the Sundial's ability with the "Return that card to the battlefield" ability on the stack.
In a more practical application, the Sundial makes it very hard for your opponent to go off with Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin. Opponents will usually cast the Exarch during your turn. They need to have an Exarch free of summoning sickness, and they also don't want to give you a whole turn to find a way—or the mana—to deal with it. But with the Sundial on the table, casting the Exarch on your turn means it's not likely to resolve.
These are some of the cards I am hoping to open this weekend. I hope you find the cards you are looking for at a Prerelease event somewhere near you!