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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Nov 14 2022 10:54am
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It’s time to head back to the past, as Magic is continuing its 30th anniversary celebration with a trip back to one of the game’s most famous storylines. That has led to an interesting set full of mechanical monsters and some interesting mechanics. There’s a lot to work through, so let’s get started, starting with the mechanics.

 

Mechanics:

Retro Artifacts:

This isn’t technically a mechanic, but it’s the loudest thing in every booster of this “artifact set that looks at the past.” However, unlike the generic spells in Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive, it’s harder to throw most artifacts in an average deck, especially the uncommons. Most of these are generic fixers and/or cantrips, which are fine, but not great in the average deck. The main standouts from the uncommons are Foundry Inspector, Pristine Talisman, Jalum Tome, and Self-Assembler in generic decks, but as we’ll see some artifacts are better in specific decks. Meanwhile, the higher-rarity artifacts range from worthless to absolute bombs, and it’ll be interesting to see how much something like Precursor Golem warps things in a format that doesn’t have that many game-dominating bombs, especially outside of mythic.

 

Prototype:

Prototype is an interesting take on Kicker, combining smaller colored creatures with giant colorless ones on the same card. The weirdest part is that their power seems to be all over the map, from extremely bad in a generic deck (Depth Charge Colossus, Cradle Clearcutter), to unbelievably powerful (the mythic cycle), to very good (Combat Thresher, Boulderbranch Golem), to fine (Blitz Automaton, Rust Goliath). They’re pretty evenly spread through all the colors, and there’s no way to exploit their weird nature (there’s no blink in the set, and cards like Ashnod's Intervention and Meticulous Excavation

have been templated to self-bounce instead). While you should definitely treat them like their base forms, the expensive versions will be relevant, especially with the next mechanic...

 

Powerstones:

Both technically not a mechanic (just a named artifact token type) and not technically new, this interesting way to ramp is having its coming out party in The Brothers’ War. They’re spread pretty evenly through the colors (though with an emphasis in blue), and they’re surprisingly cheap for permanent ramp—there are multiple three mana Powerstone cards with a good effect, like Argothian Opportunist, Stern Lesson, and Excavation Explosion. The question is just how good a powerstone is. Obviously any deck that cares about artifacts (either casting them or using them in other ways) likes them, but I don’t know how much an average deck cares—or if the average deck is artifact-focused. Either way they seem strong, and a defining part of this environment.

 

Unearth:

What was “creature flashback” in Shards of Alara block is now “artifact flashback,” including the mechanic’s first appearance on non-creatures. However, the mechanic is mostly here as a value mechanic: a place to dump Powerstone mana, a payoff for the multiple graveyard themes in the set, a way to more consistently have artifacts on the field. It’s still powerful overall.

 

Meld:

We’re ending things on a whimper, at least for Limited. All three Meld pairs are mythic/rare combos, so you’ll likely never see them in Limited. Apparently the designers tried to make Meld matter at lower rarities, but there isn’t even a Graf Rats-style attempt at making it relevant.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Soldiers

When your signpost uncommon is a lord, the archetype is obvious, even if Yotian Tactician is a fairly unexciting one. The main payoff is the density of soldiers, as there are ten commons and six uncommons that are soldiers (counting Mass Production). The problem is that most of them aren’t good, at least on base rate. Survivor of Korlis is a nice one-drop (especially considering the lord and Aeronaut Cavalry to turn it into a real card beyond the rider), while Scrapwork Cohort and Wing Commando are decent, but Warlord's Elite feels like a trap that’s not nearly efficient enough for modern Magic, while cards like Retrieval Agent and Yotian Medic feel too slow for what this deck wants to be. The build-around rares are good, but otherwise I don’t think this deck works.

 

Blue/Black: Card Draw

The “drawn two or more cards this turn” archetype hops to another color pair, as it’s now a Dimir thing. The main twist this go-around is that Powerstones give you more to do with your extra cards, especially if you focus on artifacts. Stern Lesson and Urza, Powerstone Prodigy work well to get Powerstones, and Thraxodemon is a surprisingly efficient draw engine. The deck also gets a lot of benefits from all the random cantripping artifacts on the retro sheet. However, the question is if the payoffs are good enough. Lat-Nam Adept is clunky, but the uncommons are good (especially Gurgling Anointer), so it probably works well enough if you get good support.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice

The sacrifice deck is in a strange place this go-around. There’s a ton of fodder between various creature tokens, Powerstones, and Unearth cards that are going away anyway (not to mention Sibling Rivalry at common), but there aren’t that many ways to sacrifice things. Penregon Strongbull is the star, though it’s limited in what you can do. After that, Kill-Zone Acrobat and Thraxodemon are fine but a little clunky, as is Powerstone Fracture. The question is left is how deep to go on the payoffs—Gixian Infiltrator is probably good, but Goblin Blast-Runner is likely too deep. That might depend on how much incidental sacrifice you can get: cards like Mishra's Research Desk, Chromatic Star, and even Evolving Wilds. Overall I think this deck is good, but it might take some skill to build it right.

 

Red/Green: Midrange?

Arbalest Engineers is the strange kind of signpost uncommon: something that’s obviously powerful but doesn’t point in a direction besides “strong cards.” If anything, there’s a minor “pump” theme that goes alongside explicit payoffs like Boulderbranch Golem and less explicit ones like Fallaji Chaindancer. As for the pump itself, Giant Growth is always fine (as is the “fixed” Rancor Audacity), and Mishra's Domination is the all-upside version of always underrated Maniacal Rage. The deck seems fine just based on rate, but again, a synergy deck almost always beats a “normal” deck by the end of the format.

 

Green/White: “Artifact-fall”

Beyond being the new lynchpin of Hardened Scales decks, Yotian Dissident seems like an extremely powerful build-around, since it seems extremely easy to get artifacts into play. Even beyond something like Mass Production or Fallaji Excavation, Scrapwork Cohort is a simple way to get multiple triggers at a decent rate, as are other random creatures with Powerstones like Argothian Opportunist. The one problem is that there aren’t that many payoffs (only two commons and three uncommons), but the rate is good enough that the deck should work, though I’d want good payoffs (either Yotian Dissident or Sarnith Steelseeker) before going all-in.

 

White/Black: Small Aggro

Hero of the Dunes is clearly pointing towards a theme for WB, and while there’s some support, it feels unnecessarily at-odds with what the set is doing. In particular, there’s a huge anti-synergy with Prototype (though it’ll still work with the relevant cards when they’re on the battlefield), and while white and black only have a single Prototype creature each below rare (and I’d still play both), that just isn’t great in general. The deck also feels like it wants graveyard synergies (notably with both Recommission and No One Left Behind), but white doesn’t have the enablers and I’d rather just play more creatures. I don’t think this deck works on the same level as the others.

 

Blue/Red: Prowess

This set’s spells archetype cares about all non-creature spells, so you can work with artifacts in addition to instants and sorceries. It also is more aggro-focused than other spells decks, as signpost Third Path Iconoclast is a token maker and the Prowess creatures are small. The problem is that the spells just aren’t that good for an aggro strategy. Sure, the removal spells are fine (and Urza's Rebuff giving Cancel a relevant alternate mode is very intriguing), but the tricks like Whirling Strike, Involuntary Cooldown, and Machine over Matter don’t give you the deck flow this kind of deck wants. That means you have to rely on the pure draw spells like Curate and Mishra's Research Desk along with random cantripping artifacts, which are fine but don’t directly advance your gameplan. I’d stay away unless it’s clear an efficient aggro deck can win.

 

Black/Green: Graveyard Value

Skyfisher Spider may not be a particularly loud signpost, but there’s definitely a creature-focused graveyard theme here. There are a ton of enablers, as the Blanchwood Prowler cycle is both a neat design and efficient creature mill. Gnawing Vermin is also the best a Festering Goblin has ever been—there’s a reason it’s uncommon. There are also decent payoffs, with Gaea's Courser, Gixian Skullflayer, and even just generic Unearth cards. This seems like one of the default good decks on day one, though it might get worse once people decide to start prioritizing graveyard hate.

 

Red/White: Token Aggro

Fallaji Vanguard is definitely a powerful signpost, but it seems extremely clunky for what’s supposed to be an aggro deck. The cheap creatures are powerful, but they mostly have a low toughness, so I don’t know how resilient the deck is overall. I think this deck might get better later in the format, when cards like Disfigure start getting played less due to how badly they match up with all the big Prototype cards and cards that get value, but I wouldn’t start it day one if I had my preference.

 

Green/Blue: Powerstone Ramp

And here’s the deck that actually wants to cast the Prototype cards for their full cost—but the question is how you’re going to do it. Obviously Battery Bearer is a good way (though it’s an instant removal magnet), but then you’re left with Citanul Stalwart (the kind of card that’s rarely good in Limited), Tower Worker, and three mana uncommons like Pristine Talisman and Cradle Clearcutter. The targets are also mixed, as Boulderbranch Golem is good, but then others like Rust Goliath could be too clunky. I think the power of the Prototype cards makes this deck good enough in the early going, but once people start targeting it (fewer Disfigures, more Shoot Downs) it could get difficult.

 

Other Important Cards:

As you might expect from an artifact set, there are more build-around cards than most sets. The obvious one is the Urza worker cycle (Tower Worker and friends), but I don’t think they’re great, mostly because Power Plant Worker is clunky even when turned on (and Mine Worker isn’t awful on its own). The six mono-color cards are also interesting, as they vary wildly in strength—Sardian Cliffstomper, and Flow of Knowledge are bad in a normal deck, Lay Down Arms is great in any normal white deck, and Steel Exemplar, Blanchwood Armor, and Corrupt are just okay. Finally, don’t overlook Symmetry Matrix as a build-around—it doesn’t say non-token (or once per turn) so that’s an obvious route to take, but most decks will have enough cards to trigger it.

 

Looking at the format as a whole, you need artifact removal, especially if you don’t have Overwhelming Remorses. Raze to the Ground is one of the best Shatters in a while (the split card of “kill a big Prototype creature” and “cycle to kill a Powerstone”) is great, Disenchant is maindeckable, and Shoot Down is probably good enough (note how it’s not an instant, so it was probably too good as one in UG). In general, most of the non-prototype creatures are very small—there are a ton of one toughness creatures between Soldier tokens, most of the Airlift Chaplain cycle, Goring Warplow, and more generic creatures, so Disfigure is good and Gruesome Realization is the best Cower in Fear in a long time. Finally, Unearth means incidental graveyard hate is great, so Ashnod's Harvester is great even in non-black decks and Carrion Locust might even be playable.

 

Conclusion:

Overall Brothers’ War is a very interesting set, and while it’ll be hard to live up to Dominaria United, this format doesn’t seem too flawed. Meanwhile, the anniversary is bringing us a lot more reprint sets, and while we already know the contents of the proxy set, there are two more I am working on. Obviously I’m behind on Dominaria Remastered, but I should be getting it done soon enough—I have the commons and archetypes mostly done, now I just have to pick rares to taste. However, we finally got confirmation that Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered is coming to Arena next year. It’s strange that it’s finally coming now, after the vast majority of the important cards have been printed between Historic Anthologies and the massive dump in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. I’ve actually had a full design of this for a while, though it needs more updates (mostly to react to all the other reprints), so I should get that done quickly (though probably not until after Phyrexia: All Will Be One just to space out my reprint content, if nothing else). So until next time.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter