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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Sep 13 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! Before we jump into the new block, let’s update some things. First of all, if you missed my update on the Conspiracy article, the MTGO Tumblr confirmed we’ll be getting Conspiracy: Take the Crown and Commander 2016 cards in November, and we’ll find out how CTC is being released later this month. That means I’ll be able to fit my Designing Reprint Sets article on that into the three-week break in the Modern Flashback Series, though the exact format is subject to possibly doing a contest for PureMTGO on the set list. Speaking of reprint sets, we have an interesting take on reprints in Kaladesh, as the Masterpiece Series means “Expeditions” are now a regular thing for the foreseeable future. Theoretically that’s another thing I could predict, but even ignoring the fact that there are new cards in the mini-set, it’s basically like predicting a From the Vault, as the selections are a random assortment of Modern, Cube, Commander, and Eternal staples that all follow a theme (artifacts in this case). We’ll see what opportunities for content I have once the Modern Flashback Series comes to a close. Anyway, on to Scars of Mirrodin!
 
Scars of Mirrodin is the first traditional revisit block (unless you count Time Spiral), and sets the trend of the mechanics being familiar, yet with new twists. Here in Mirrodin, artifacts are still a major part of the set, but the Phyrexians have invaded and are poisoning the plane from within, bringing poison back for the first time since Mirage block (not counting the three cards in Time Spiral block). I could talk about more, but a lot of this requires going into the mechanics of the set.
 
Chrome Steed Auriok Sunchaser Blade-Tribe Berserkers
Metalcraft:
The primary mechanic for the Mirrans, this was going to be Affinity in the original design (under the pretense of “we can do it right this time”, along with the lack of artifact lands in the set), but calmer heads prevailed and instead we got this threshold mechanic—which ironically is played more in the current constructed formats than the actual Affinity cards (though that's mostly because Cranial Plating doesn't actually have Affinity). In limited there is a large distinction between artifacts with Metalcraft and colored cards with Metalcraft, as the artifacts are easier to trigger and are more reliable as a result, while the colored cards aren't as reliable and have more-swingy effects. In addition, if you're building around Metalcraft (which you need to do for most Metalcraft cards to be playable), you can't have that many colored cards in your deck, meaning “average” colored Metalcraft cards get replaced by premium spells.
 
Clone Shell Prototype Portal Strata Scythe
Imprint:
With Affinity out of the set, what other mechanic from Mirrodin could fit the set? With things like Equipment and Indestructible becoming evergreen, Sunburst not fitting the set, and Modular being broken with another mechanic we'll be covering in a bit, we're left with Imprint as the mechanic that's most-distinctly Mirrodin. However, the mechanic is inherently complex, with Clone Shell being the only non-rare Imprint card in Scars of Mirrodin (and only five total cards have the mechanic).
 
Blight Mamba Ichorclaw Myr Contagious Nim
Infect:
Here we go. Infect is one of the most divisive mechanics in the history of Magic, with one side loving it as a powerful alternate win condition, and another hating it as an invasive, overpowered damage source that can't be removed. However, that's a good thing—a mechanic that's equally loved and hated is much better than one that everyone likes and no one loves, and we'll certainly see poison (if not Infect specifically) again in the future. The biggest problem is that the mechanic becomes problematic in larger formats—designers can avoid printing many good pump effects in a block, or even in a Standard format, but cards like Invigorate and Might of Old Krosa will always exist, cards like Become Immense will be printed, and the density of both pump effects and Infect creatures makes it difficult to fix without a lot of bannings if necessary.
 
Moving back to limited, and triple Scars of Mirrodin in particular, Infect and poison is very limited (as the war between the Mirrans and Phyrexians hasn't started in earnest yet). Infect only shows up in green, black, and colorless, and the only non-combat way to inflict poison is Ichor Rats (and Relic Putrescence, but that isn't playable). Infect also needs to warp your deck to work—if you're trying to inflict both normal and Infect damage, you won't succeed at either (with Grafted Exoskeleton being a notable exception). This means that each table can support one or two Infect drafters at most.
 
Steady Progress Contagion Clasp Thrummingbird
Proliferate:
The most interesting mechanic in Scars of Mirrodin, Proliferate allows you to add to any counters on permanents or players. While the obvious synergies are with poison counters and -1/-1 counters to go along with Infect (and all the other -1/-1 counters used by the Phyrexians), it also works with the charge counter sub-theme for the Mirrans (though that theme won't be focused on until later in the block). In fact, since Proliferate only shows up in blue and colorless in Scars of Mirrodin, it actually fits better into the Mirran themes for right now (though any deck will take a Contagion Clasp). Of course, once you stretch beyond the block, there are many more interesting things to proliferate, from the obvious (+1/+1 counters, as seen in Modern Masters 2015), to the interesting (I'm sad proliferating loyalty counters on Planeswalkers isn't a Constructed-worthy thing), to the arcane (I remember being happy in MM2 testing when I proliferated a javelin counter on Icatian Javelineers).
 
It's color time!
 
Sunspear Shikari Razor Hippogriff Arrest Soul Parry
White:
Commons Uncommons
There is a lot of Metalcraft in white, but even though the buffs look good, remember that Metalcraft on colored cards isn't as good as it looks, especially on aggressive cards like Auriok Sunchaser and Auriok Edgewright. Instead, the artifact-synergy cards you should be looking for are Sunspear Shikari (a 2/2 for 2 with good upside that's easy to turn on), Glint Hawk (a way to reset artifacts with charge counters or artifact creatures hobbled by -1/-1 counters while being a meaningful card on its own), and Razor Hippogriff (a Gravedigger on a meaningful body with an extra bonus). Of course, Arrest and Revoke Existence are both great common removal spells, but if you're looking for an underrated card, how about Soul Parry—again, one-sided prevention effects are always better than they look.
 
Sky-Eel School Neurok Invisimancer Darkslick Drake Volition Reins
Blue:
Commons Uncommons
Wow, blue does not look good at all in this set. On one hand we have more Metalcraft cards, and even though the Metalcraft cards are more controlling, that still isn't a great spot to be in. On the other hand, all the generically-powerful cards have a lot of blue mana symbols in their costs. At common, Sky-Eel School and Neurok Invisimancer are both good evasive creatures, and Plated Seastrider is a good defensive creature, but UU and 1UU are hard costs. It only gets worse at uncommon, as Darkslick Drake and Volition Reins are both top-tier cards, but double-blue and triple-blue strikes again. Maybe there's a mono-blue deck that can leverage a lot of artifacts to use both the Metalcraft cards and the heavy-blue costs?
 
Plague Stinger Blistergrub Grasp of Darkness Skinrender
Black:
Commons Uncommons
Black is the first color we see with Infect, and with it the divide of the two strategies. The Infect's side primary creatures are Plague Stinger at common and Ichor Rats at uncommon, with Blackcleave Goblin and Contagious Nim filling the gaps. There isn't nearly as much for a non-Infect strategy, though cards like Blistergrub and Necrogen Scudder aren't awful. Of course, either side wants the removal, with Grasp of Darkness and Skinrender being premium cards.
 
Galvanic Blast Oxidda Scrapmelter Embersmith Barrage Ogre
Red:
Commons Uncommons
So much removal! The color starts with multiple premium unconditional pieces of removal, with Galvanic Blast and Shatter at common are good and cheap, while Oxidda Scrapmelter and Arc Trail at uncommon are both easy two-for-ones. However, if you have artifacts, you have even more removal—Galvanic Blast gets even better, Embersmith and Barrage Ogre are great as pingers against all the small Infect creatures, and Bloodshot Trainee can dominate a board with just a single Darksteel Axe. The “artifact sacrifice” theme from original Mirrodin continues here, with better payoffs—I already mentioned Barrage Ogre, and Ferrovore is good as well (threat-of-activation helps a lot), though unfortunately you can't quite go deep enough for Furnace Celebration in most circumstances (though I love the card, especially in that Standard format with both fetchlands and Eldrazi Spawn).
 
Cystbearer Carapace Forger Bellowing Tanglewurm Untamed Might
Green:
Commons Uncommons
Another color split between Infect and non-Infect creatures, but unlike black, there are actually enough cards for both strategies to be viable (mostly because green has more creatures overall). The Infect creatures are much more defensive than black's, either through higher toughness (Cystbearer, Tangle Angler) or other protection (Tel-Jilad Fallen's protection from artifacts, Blight Mamba's regeneration, Carrion Call being instant-speed and providing multiple bodies), which makes them better in general (heck, Tangle Angler's lure effect makes it playable in non-Infect decks). On the non-Infect side, Carapace Forger isn't awful (mostly since a 2/2 for 2 is fine), but Molder Beast works well with red's artifact sacrifice theme, or even just destroying your opponent's artifacts (the latter more-explicitly called out on Viridian Revel). Up at uncommon, the two-for-one removal spells of Acid Web Spider and Slice in Twain are the obvious standouts, but Bellowing Tanglewurm is also great—Intimidate in green is a rare thing (Gastaf Howler is the only other card with it), and both green decks appreciate the added evasion, even if it isn't quite as good in the artifact set. Finally, don't forget Untamed Might exists at common—it isn't an accident that the X-cost pump spell appears in the format with Infect.
 
Iron Myr Sylvok Replica Origin Spellbomb Trigon of Corruption
Colorless/Land:
Commons Uncommons
As you would expect, there are a lot of artifacts, and there are a lot of cycles, many of which have analogs in the original Mirrodin. To start with, the mana Myrs are back, and while they aren't quite as good as their original printings (no Sunburst, and there are more ways to kill them like Embersmith and Instill Infection), they're still very good as ways to accelerate and enable Metalcraft. Next are the Replicas, and now that damage-on-the-stack has been removed, the Replicas can be much better, both in terms of their bodies and their abilities (seriously, compare Sylvok Replica to Goblin Replica and Elf Replica), and they're all playable. The Spellbombs are very different than their Mirrodin incarnations (as you can either get both the ability and the card or a different sacrifice and the card), and work well if you need cheap artifacts or the ability is good (notably Horizon Spellbomb and Origin Spellbomb). The cycle of creatures with activated abilities is more varied though—Glint Hawk Idol is great and Wall of Tanglecord is surprisingly efficient, but the rest are underwhelming. Finally, at uncommon are the Trigons, and they're all reasonable even without ways to add counters (either through the colored ability or Proliferate)—sure, Trigon of Corruption and Trigon of Rage are premium cards, but even Trigon of Mending isn't awful if you need the lifegain to play a slower game (though obviously lifegain gets worse in a format with Infect).
 
Corpse Cur Darksteel Axe Golem Foundry Liquimetal Coating
There's more to the artifacts than all the cycles though. Starting with Infect, Corpse Cur and Trigon of Infestation provide the deck longevity, while Ichorclaw Myr and Necropede are great two-drops. Looking at the Equipment next, the common Equipment provide utility (with Sylvok Lifestaff being the highlight), while the large power boosts are at uncommon (Darksteel Axe is obviously powerful, while Grafted Exoskeleton is one of the few Infect cards that's good in a non-Infect deck). The Metalcraft support takes many forms, as while a Snapsail Glider is a fine filler card, the pair of Chrome Steed and Rusted Relic are powerful four-drops, and Golem Foundry can go into overdrive if you have 20 artifacts. Speaking of Golem Foundry, it along with cards like Tumble Magnet, Necrogen Censer and Culling Dais benefit from all the Proliferate in the set while being fine on their own. There's so much to talk about, even without mentioning individual standouts like Rust Tick and Golem Artisan, but Liquimetal Coating requires a special callout, as it makes Metalcraft easy while giving your Shatters more targets.
 
Now we're moving to archetypes, but since the Infect divide makes lots of color pairs not truly viable (notably any non-Infect black deck), I'm going to categorize by archetype rather than by color pair.
 
Infect: (BG, BGu)
As I mentioned in the mechanics section, you cannot be dealing both Infect and non-Infect damage and expect to reliably win games. As such, your selection of creatures is limited: only nine Infect creatures at common (counting Vector Asp) and five at uncommon (though some include multiple creatures). Of course, your reward is having your opponent start from 10, and all your creatures having Wither. Other than the Infect creatures and the black removal spells, you want support in the form of pump effects, protection effects, and Proliferate. Proliferate is obvious and the protection spells are fine (though note Withstand Death is worse than average in a format of Infect and -1/-1 counters), but the pump is more interesting, mostly because there isn't that much of it—Equipment is good and Untamed Might is the blowout you would expect, but the one people forget about is Trigon of Rage, which is a near-bomb in Infect, especially since you'll probably have Proliferate to replenish it.
 
Metalcraft: (WR, WU, others)
Most of the Metalcraft abilities are powerful, but the problem is getting the required density of artifacts while playing the non-artifact spells you need (bombs, removal, Metalcraft payoffs). If you want to average getting Metalcraft on turn four or five (pumping a Blade-Tribe Berserkers or animating a Rusted Relic), you need around 30% artifacts minimum (12 in a 40 card deck), but I wouldn't feel comfortable unless I'm pushing that to around 45% (18 in a 40 card deck). There are a lot of artifacts you can use to fill out a curve (Spellbombs, mana Myr, Replicas), but you need to prioritize them.
 
Artifact Sacrifice/Removal: (RG)
This is the closest thing to a “good stuff” deck in Scars of Mirrodin, as artifact removal is great in this format (especially when you can use a Shatter to shut off Metalcraft at a perfect time), and a Molder Beast or Ferrovore is just a big creature. Still, there are plenty of ways to super-charge the archetype, whether it's Liquimetal Coating to make your Shatters better or Furnace Celebration to improve your Spellbombs.
 
Those are the main three archetype categories, and while other combinations are possible, they don't have the synergy to push the deck over the top (though they might be better than an overdrafted combination). Next time the war heats up in Mirrodin Besieged.
 
Vincent

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