he new core set is ready to be released this next weekend. Like last year's core set, Magic 2011 introduces a number of new and exciting cards alongside old favorites. I haven't had the pleasure of opening up a Titan yet, but I've had the misfortune of playing against one and I can assure you of their power levels.
I got home from the Prerelease and looked through the cards I had acquired from my Sealed Deck and two Drafts. I noticed two copies of a new card, Phylactery Lich. 5/5 indestructible creatures for three mana seem pretty good to me. I checked the internet and found that the new artifact-loving lich is fairly easy to get a hold of. I decided to begin working on a deck list.
I knew I wanted to be mono-black, so there were a few auto-includes right out of the gates:
Gatekeeper of Malakir has always seemed like an all-star to me. It's very difficult to imagine a world where you would not want to play with a card like this. Gatekeeper of Malakir is on par, as far as power level is concerned, with cards like Bone Shredder and Shriekmaw. Gatekeeper's casting cost makes him a difficult endeavor for anything but a mono-black deck. I'll be happy to include this as a four-of.
It's difficult to explain just how good Black Knight is these days. It cannot be blocked by Wall of Omens or Elspeth, Knight-Errant's Soldier tokens. Having two copies of Black Knight essentially blanks any opponent's opportunity to attack. Personally, I think a card like Black Knight is perfect these days. The only reason it hasn't seen more play up to this point is its creature type.
Vampire Nighthawk is absurdly powerful. It attacks for 4-life swings and puts opponents in very difficult racing situations. I've always been more impressed with this card than I thought I was going to be. It's surprising how often your red opponent is missing that crucial Lightning Bolt or Searing Blaze. Nighthawk is extraordinarily hard to race and it seems like a good fit.
One of the most interesting matches I played at the Prerelease was against Morgan Chang. Morgan and I were having a pretty close game where I assumed I had an edge to close it. Morgan drew for his turn and played Sword of Vengeance. I picked up the card and read each keyword aloud: "First strike, vigilance, trample, and haste?" Morgan smiled, tapped another three lands, stuck it onto a Wild Griffin, and attacked me for 4. I can assure you that Sword of Vengeance is certainly one of the best cards you can open in the new set. After playing Sealed I was fortunate enough to open one in a Draft I did. I didn't lose a single game in that Draft when I drew my Sword.
Now that we're playing with Sword of Vengeance it makes sense that we take a look at what available black cards have the greatest synergy with the new equipment. Vampire Nighthawk was already making an appearance, but Sword of Vengeance really pushes that one over the top. Bloodghast is another card that works beautifully with the new sword. We don't need to dilute the mono-black to cast Vengevines when we can be bashing with our Bloodghasts.
Another artifact I'd like to give a try is Crystal Ball. I've seen the card in action and I've been really impressed with the things it's capable of. I wouldn't be surprised if one-of Crystal Balls became a relatively common thing in the new Standard. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. You actually draw exactly what you need to at all times.
I needed a lot more artifacts to make the deck function in a way that allows Phylactery Lich to be played. I decided to play with a full eight Borderposts—Mistvein and Veinfire. You can basically think of them as Swamps that come into play tapped. They may be worth the drawback because they allow us to play a 5/5 indestructible on our third turn with a decent amount of consistency.
The Borderposts mean we can't use haymakers like Mind Sludge, so our remaining slots in the main will probably need to be filled by removal that can hit Baneslayer Angel and disruption that can strip Path to Exile, Condemn, and Oblivion Ring. I decided that Doom Blade was the best removal available in today's Standard. I liked the flexibility of Duress. I would like to avoid Jund players blowing me out with Maelstrom Pulse and this seems like a reasonable plan.
I still need a few more artifacts to make the Phylactery Lich more consistent. I like the idea of playing a bit more removal so I'd like to round the deck out with a pair of Executioner's Capsule.
Sign in Blood feels like the best card draw option available. I'll try to find room for as many of those as I can.
Here's the list once all the numbers have been crammed. A lot of you may be surprised at the absence of cards like Prophetic Prism. I still feel like I would rather be casting Bloodghasts and Black Knights than Prophetic Prisms on the second turn in today's Standard.
I convinced my friend, Steve, to play some games with me.
Game 1 vs. Red Deck Wins
I won the roll and kept Swamp, Veinfire Borderpost, Duress, Black Knight, Vampire Nighthawk, Bloodghast, Sign in Blood. I played the Swamp and used the alternate cost on Veinfire Borderpost before passing the turn. Steve cast a Goblin Guide and attacked me for 2. I revealed a Swamp off the top of my library and put it into my hand. I drew another Swamp, played one of them, and cast Black Knight. Steve played a Mountain, cast Searing Blaze, and attacked me down to 13 with his Goblin Guide. The Guide showed me a Sword of Vengeance. I drew the Sword of Vengeance I had just revealed, played my Swamp, cast Vampire Nighthawk, and passed the turn. Steve played a Mountain, cast a Lightning Bolt on my Nighthawk, cast a Hellspark Elemental, and attacked me down to 8. I revealed a Phylactery Lich from the Guide.
I drew the Lich for my turn, played my last land, then cast Duress. His hand contained Quenchable Fire, Ball Lightning, and Burst Lightning—I took the Quenchable Fire, cast my Phylactery Lich, and passed the turn. Steve played a land and passed the turn. I drew a Swamp, played it, then cast Bloodghast and Sword of Vengeance. Steve cast a Quenchable Fire and things stopped looking good for me as I went to 5. I drew my card and it wasn't an out to the Burst Lightning left in his hand. Since I couldn't pay the for Quenchable Fire, the Burst Lightning was game.
The red deck seems like it comes out of the gates too quickly. Phylactery Lich is certainly strong here, but it probably needs a Basilisk Collar to make the match reasonable.
Game 2 vs. Jund
I lost the roll and kept Mistvein Borderpost, two Swamps, Phylactery Lich, Black Knight, Doom Blade, Sword of Vengeance. Steve played a Raging Ravine and passed the turn. I drew a Duress, dropped a Swamp then cast it. In his hand was a Maelstrom Pulse, Putrid Leech, Bloodbraid Elf, and two Verdant Catacombs to help cast them. I took the Maelstrom Pulse and passed the turn. Steve played a Verdant Catacombs, popped it for a Swamp, cast his Putrid Leech and passed the turn. I drew another Phylactery Lich, played my land, used the alternate cost of the Borderpost, and passed the turn. Steve attacked me for 4, cast another Putrid Leech, played a Raging Ravine, and passed the turn. I drew a Gatekeeper of Malakir, cast Phylactery Lich (using the Borderpost for the phylactery counter), and passed the turn.
Steve played his fourth land and cast Bloodbraid Elf. He cascaded into a Blightning and I discarded my Doom Blade and my Black Knight. I drew a Swamp for my turn, cast Sword of Vengeance, then played my land. Steve cast another Blightning. I lost the second Lich and the Gatekeeper. I had tried to play the equipment first to prevent my opponent from blowing me out with a Maelstrom Pulse off the top. I drew for my turn and found a Gatekeeper of Malakir, I cast it with kicker and Steve offed his Bloodbraid Elf. He drew for his turn and tapped out for a Siege-Gang Commander before passing the turn back. I drew another Borderpost, played it, and passed the turn. Steve untapped, cast a fresh new Bloodbraid Elf off the top and flipped into a Maelstrom Pulse that destroyed my Borderpost and my Phylactery Lich. I promptly lost the game.
The deck seems like it may just not have enough power to compete with what's available in Standard these days. Lets see how we do against the control decks. If the control match-up is good, we can build the sideboard to better handle the aggro and mid-range games.
Game 3 vs. Planeswalker Control
Steve won the roll again. I kept three Swamps, Duress, Bloodghast, Sword of Vengeance, and Phylactery Lich. Steve played a Celestial Colonnade then passed the turn. I drew a Black Knight, played my land, and cast Duress. His hand was: Wall of Omens, Oblivion Ring, Jace, The Mind Sculptor, Arid Mesa, Glacial Fortress, and a Mountain. I took the Oblivion Ring and passed the turn. Steve drew for his turn, played his Mountain, cast Wall of Omens, drew his card and passed the turn. I drew a Borderpost, played my land, cast Black Knight, and passed the turn. Steve played his land and passed the turn. I drew another Phylactery Lich, cast Sword of Vengeance, and attacked for 2. Steve played Jace, the Mind Sculptor, bounced my Black Knight, and passed the turn. I drew another Swamp, cast Black Knight and Bloodghast, then passed the turn. Steve used the Brainstorm ability on Jace, the Mind Sculptor, found a Day of Judgment, cast it, played another Celestial Colonnade, then passed the turn.
I drew a land, used the alternate cost on the Borderpost, then replayed the land I bounced. I equipped the Sword of Vengeance to the Bloodghast, attacked Jace, and passed the turn. Steve drew and played an Oblivion Ring taking out the Sword of Vengeance. I drew another Borderpost, cast it for the alternate cost, cast Phylactery Lich, then attacked for 2. Steve cast a Divination and passed the turn. I drew another Sword of Vengeance, played it, cast another Phylactery Lich (putting the second phylactery counter on the Sword) and attacked for 7. Steve used a Path to Exile to exile the first Phylactery Lich. Steve cast Martial Coup for five and passed the turn again.
I drew a third Phylactery Lich, played it, equipped the Sword, and attacked for 12, Steve chumped the Lich without a sword. On his turn, Steve cast a Gideon Jura, used the +2 ability, and passed the turn. I drew a card and attacked Gideon with both Liches. Steve blocked the one without trample, and Gideon went down to one loyalty. Steve played a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, brainstormed, made all creatures attack Gideon the next turn again, and passed the turn. I attacked Gideon to death, and cast the Bloodghast I had drawn for the turn. Steve cast another Martial Coup, this time for seven. I drew a land, played it, got back both Bloodghasts, attacked Jace with the equipped Lich and attacked my opponent with the rest. He let the Jace die and chumped the rest. Steve passed the next turn without any action. I drew another Sword of Vengeance and he conceded.
Control match-ups seem a little better for a deck like this.
Things didn't go as well as one might hope this week, but I'm sure Scars of Mirrodin will bring a bunch of new toys to help out our friend the Phylactery Lich. In the meantime, we have Magic 2011Launch Parties to further explore the new set. There are a lot of new cards that I'm very eager to write about in the coming weeks. Destructive Force seems like it may be one of the best cards in Standard. I'd love to hear what kind of decks you've all been working on with M11 in an email or on the forums.