By Stephen Menendian
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So Many Insane Plays – The Mirrodin Besieged Vintage Set Review and Updated Complete Vintage Checklist
Welcome loyal reader! In this article I continue my long tradition of reviewing new sets for Vintage format (the greatest format!) applications. As always, I will also provide a checklist of cards from Mirrodin Besieged that you will want to acquire to complete your collection and enable you to play any deck in the format. This checklist will give you a heads up over the competition and allow you to make better trades. I will tell you which cards you should pick up now, which cards you should wait to pick up (because I expect them to fall in price), and which cards will be the sleepers you can make a killing on. In addition, I continue my tradition of updating the “Complete Vintage Checklist,” a checklist of cards that features every single playable in the Vintage format for dealers, traders and players alike.
While continuing those traditions, this set review marks a major change in my approach. In the past, I have selected for review only those cards that I perceived to be either clearly Vintage playable, borderline Vintage playable, or were otherwise mentioned or discussed by others in the Vintage context. In this article, I review every single card in the set. I do so for a number of reasons.
First of all, while my previous approach has proven successful, there have been a few times where I have overlooked, underestimated or failed to mention cards that later became Vintage staples or otherwise saw Vintage play. The two critical examples of this in the last five years are Empty the Warrens and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I dismissed the former and did not mention the latter. By reviewing every single card, I avoided such omissions, even if my conclusions turn out to be wrong. Second, by forcing myself to analyze every card for Vintage playability, I reduced the chance that I inadvertently dismiss a card based on existing standards of playability. Direct comparisons to existing cards are inadequate because small differences can make a big difference. It is rare that a card is strictly inferior to another, and minor advantages can make a big difference in the Vintage context.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, by reviewing every single card, I am compelled to explicitly confront and describe the boundaries of Vintage playability, to explore the range and mixture of functions that matter in Vintage, and to more directly compare new cards with pre-existing cards in terms of utility and efficiency. This process of trying to draw a line between playability and unplayability and of more explicitly identifying functions that matter in this format, and trying to measure them, is valuable in itself for a number of other reasons. For example, it should help you better understand the limits of Vintage playability, and to see what kinds of changes actually make a difference.
In short, this article will be more analytical and broad in its sweep. When evaluating whether a card is playable or not, I will as a consequence also consider what changes would make it so. There will be more comparisons to existing cards, and a broader view of the format as a whole. This should make for a deeper and more insightful read. This will be the most analytical, and longest, set review I’ve ever produced. This would not be possible had I been bound by the deadlines of a weekly column. My goal is to make this the best Vintage set review you’ve ever read, and certainly the best set review of Mirrodin Besieged.
Mirrodin Besieged is a thinking man’s set. It’s a set of many Pithing Needles. By that analogy I mean that Mirrodin Besieged is a set with many playables, but whose application and usage is highly contextual and skill-dependent. Pithing Needle is a card card whose utility is often a sum of its individual applications, rather than a single, obvious application. This set offers many cards in that mold. It’s also a set of complicated cards. Knowledge Pool is symbolic in this regard. Knowledge Pool is arguably the most complicated single card ever created, even more than the infamous Chains of Mephistopheles. It involves more specific zone transfers than any card since Mind’s Desire, and it has one of the arguably most confusing triggers ever printed. The type of review I offer here befits the nature of this set.
Please email me at Stephen@quietspeculation.com if you have any questions or comments. I’d love to hear from you.
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Artifact Creature — Horror
When Core Prowler is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, proliferate.
At first glance, a 4 casting cost 2/2 does not appear to be a very efficient creature, by any standard, let alone Vintage. That’s worse than a Grey Ogre, let alone Grizzly Bear. However, this creature has infect. Delivering 2 poison counters per swing can win the game in 5 swings, the same amount of turns a 4/4 (think Su-Chi) would deliver a death blow. A coup de-grace, if this creature were to leave play, it would deliver another poision counter.
Unfortunately, in terms of killing the opponent, the additional poison counter is unlikely to matter, since it wouldn’t supply the critical 10th counter, unless another means of poisoning could be produced. That means that this would likely need to swing in at least five times, without being destroyed or blocked, to win the game. That’s simply too slow. As a point of comparision, Su-Chi doesn’t even see play in current Vintage, and it has the same clock speed. Like Su-Chi, however, Core Prowler can trade with a Lodestone Golem or a Juggernaut, so it has that going for it. This card is simply too slow to be Vintage playable.
It does raise an interesting design question: how fast would a creature have to be to be a pure beater in a Workshop deck to see play? Juggernaut does, from time to time, see play, but the relative utility of slightly more expensive creatures like Precursor Golem, outshines it. Precursor Golem has begun to appear in Vintage Top 8s, as I forecast. The main advantage of Precursor Golem is permanent advantage in the Workshop mirror, and that’s why, for example, Ben Carp has included 4 in his sideboard. Precursor Golem offers 9 power for 5 mana, a standard that is pretty high. I would expect that Core Prowler would need at least 3 power to be considered for Vintage play. If it had 5 power, it would definitely be Vintage playable, since it could win the game in two swings. With 3 or 4 power, it might be Vintage playable. We need not answer the question definitively since we can conclude in any case that 2 power is not enough. Core Prowler is not Vintage playable unless Workshop Aggro decks can pair it with very efficient ways to generate poison counters.
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Spine of Ish Sah
When Spine of Ish Sah enters the battlefield, destroy target permanent.
When Spine of Ish Sah is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, return Spine of Ish Sah to its owner's hand.
In addition to having a very cool name, this card has a very useful effect. Workshop decks are in the business of mana denial and board advantage. This card can not only take out a basic land, it can kill difficult permanents like Jace or a Time Vault. The second ability actually makes this card subtly stronger. If you were to using Goblin Welder to weld out Spine of Ish Sah, you would find the Spine returned to your hand, at no loss of card or permanent advantage. If you use an effect like Bazaar of Baghdad to put it into your graveyard, you can then Weld it back in without it first going back to your hand. That gives you the best of both worlds. You can Weld it in, but when you Weld it out, it returns back to your hand, which can be incredibly powerful for recursive use of Bazaar of Baghdad, an application I fear this card is destined for. This card is Vintage playable, and will see a good deal of Vintage play.
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Creature — Sphinx
Whenever an opponent draws a card, you may draw two cards.
Six mana is the upper limit for the playability for non-artifact spells in Vintage, and it’s a standard set by cards like Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Mind’s Desire. Spells that cost more than six mana are playable, but they are playable only to the extent that they can be cheated into play with cards like Tinker, Oath, Show and Tell, or Reanimation effects. Example of such creatures include Iona, Shield of Emeria, Inkwell Leviathan, Terastodon, Tidespout Tyrant, and, much rarer these days, Worldgorger Dragon.
This card does not generate an effect powerful enough to warrant using cheats. Oath targets shut down the opponent in many ways and win the game. Reanimation targets generate lethal damage with Flame Kin Zealot or infinite mana with Worldgorger Dragon. Specifically, the effect allows you to draw cards whenever the opponent draws cards, but it doesn’t stop the opponent from drawing cards. It doesn’t shut the opponent down. If this card stopped the opponent from drawing cards at all, it would be a playable card. As it is, Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar is probably better in applications where you want this.
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