It Gets By With A Little Help From Its Friends

A pre-Worldwake look back at post-Zendikar blue.

Blue was never bad. Just not as good as we’re accustomed to.
A 450-lb man who loses 150 lbs—a full 33% of his body weight—would certainly not be considered “skinny” by any means.

This, I feel, sums up the current state of blue in Standard. While blue may have been worse between October and January than it ever has been, in hindsight I think it was a mistake to say it was “bad.” Counterspells were narrow and card-drawing was much less effective, true, but the color still had its strengths.

To wit: There was a time when many considered Morphling to be the best creature ever printed. With a wealth of abilities previously unheard of, Morphling could pump itself to 5/1, stack damage, and then become a 1/5; it could gain Flying; it could gain Shroud. It could untap itself, doing a passable impression of Vigilance.

Now compare Morphling to Sphinx of Jwar Isle:


For 1 additional mana, the Sphinx enters the battlefield with Flying. It enters the battlefield with Shroud. It enters the battlefield as a 5/5, and for all of these Morphling-esque characteristics it requires no more mana than the inital investment. It trades faux-Vigilance for an ability that—in a format with fetchlands, cascades, and soon Treasure Hunts—may be even more relevant. (Not to mention “Knowledge is Power” is the unofficial mantra of the blue mage, right?)

Could the Sphinx actually be better than Morphling?! Well, yes and no. It’s all about context, and when Morphling ruled the skies, blue spells were at their best. (And as much as I would’ve loved to see it, if Morphling were to have been reprinted it would likely occupy the slot in your trade binder right next to Meddling Mage.)

Still, the Sphinx exemplifies the quintessential blue finisher quite nicely: difficult to block, and easy to protect.

No, blue was not bad. Rather, it simply could not stand on its own. Yet, with another color or two along for support, blue found a way to stay strong. With a bit of persistence, blue-based control strategies started showing up as early as six weeks into the post-Zendikar format! At Worlds (late November), a Standard RWU Control deck was in the Team Finals, and Gerry Thompson unveiled his “Spread ‘Em” deck. As Conley Woods put it:

Typically, control decks are only able to emerge as “good” decks once a metagame as been firmly established. This is because the deck needs to know exactly what problems exist in order to determine which answers it must run. (Blue Uprising)

The difference between pre-Zendikar blue decks and those we’ve seen of late, as Conley goes on to point out, is that usually the counterspells are more versatile. This allows them to appear a bit earlier, as their answers don’t have to be so specifically tailored for the metagame. It is this loss of versatility, coupled with the loss of Instant-speed library manipulation, that fueled the perception of blue’s demise.

So, now we have Worldwake. Now we have the Mind Sculptor himself to help sculpt our hands into the ideal mix of answers and threats. We can dig for Treasure in the Halimar Depths, and accelerate our mana by drinking from the motherlovin’ cup. BLUE IS BACK!!!1!!


Not so fast. Let’s take a step back.

Blue mages—like starving children in a frenzy over a hunk of stale bread—have managed to drive the price of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to near-Baneslayer levels. I’m not exactly saying the price is unwarranted, because the card is certainly a piece of beauty, and I hope it’s every bit as good as people are expecting. But it has yet to prove itself. Had JtMS been released while Lorwyn was Standard-legal, I’d have been surprised to see it reach a pre-sale price half as high as it’s seeing now.

But, but…we’re SO HUNGRY!!

Worldwake is certainly giving blue a nice shot in the arm, don’t get me wrong. But I think we’re putting the cart before the horse, here. Blue mages are feeling so under-nourished from Zendikar that what may turn out to be a Happy Meal is looking like Thanksgiving Dinner.

So yes, go test your blue-based control decks. Play your Jaces, and your Treasure Hunts (I know I will be). But don’t set your expectations so highly that anything less than “bah-ro-ken” is a disappointment. I don’t think Mono Blue Control will be a reality, but pair it with a pal and I think blue control decks will be just fine.


A Yo! MTG Taps! Video Supplement – Coverage of the Worldwake Prerelease!

Recorded at Dream Wizards Games in Rockville, MD.

Apologies for low audio. We recorded with an iPhone, and I did my best to try to clean it up, but it’s still a bit iffy.

No footage of actual games, but hosts BigHeadJoe and Joey talk a bit about their experiences at the Magic: The Gathering – Worldwake prerelease.


The Other Sphinx

As I mentioned on Yo! MTG Taps!, I have been thinking quite a bit about the “other” Zendikar sphinx, Sphinx of Lost Truths. While I think this was the first sphinx to get any love (Gavin Verhey included it in a Sphinx Control list just after Zendikar’s release, and it was in a deck that made the top 8 of a Last Chance Qualifier for Pro Tour Austin), it seemed to quickly be overshadowed by its bigger untouchable brother, Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

True, it did see the light of day in a few Dredge lists at Pro Tour Austin, but I can’t help but think there’s great potential for this guy in Standard.

First, let’s take a look at Gavin’s deck:

4 Courier’s Capsule

3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Negate
2 Terminate

3 Chandra Nalaar
4 Jace Beleren

3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Pyroclasm
4 Wretched Banquet

Basic Lands
4 Island
5 Mountain
4 Swamp

4 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Magosi, The Waterveil
4 Scalding Tarn

4 Countersquall
3 Essence Scatter
1 Negate
2 Terminate
2 Liliana Vess
2 Haunting Echoes
1 Magosi, The Waterveil

This was the list I originally planned on running when Zendikar first hit the stores. However, Richard Feldman presented such a great argument for his URW “Rembrandt” deck that I switched to his list before I even got a chance to try Gavin’s. After feeling like the Feldman list was lackluster, I switched to a Kyle Sanchez version of Izzet Control (UR), cutting the white for more mana consistency. Of course, as I stated a few weeks ago, that version seemed to be a bit deficient as well. I never felt like I had the right answers in my hand.

Last week I asked Gavin whether he felt his Sphinx Control deck was still a viable choice for Standard, and he pointed me to Patrick Chapin’s Wafo-Grixis build (it’s technically Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s Grixis list, with a few modifications by Chapin).

While the list is from a StarCityGames Premium article (and I encourage everyone to sign up for SCG Premium, it’s well worth it), I am going to justify posting it here because I just found the list easily without even visiting the StarCity site (thanks Google!):

Wafo-Grixis (as modified by Patrick Chapin)

3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

2 Countersquall
2 Essence Scatter
3 Flashfreeze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate

2 Sorin Markov

3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Divination
3 Earthquake
4 Sign In Blood

Basic Lands
2 Island
2 Mountain
6 Swamp

4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Scalding Tarn

1 Pithing Needle
1 Relic Of Progenitus
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Siege-gang Commander
1 Sphinx Of Jwar Isle
2 Countersquall
1 Flashfreeze
1 Negate
2 Deathmark
1 Thought Hemorrhage

If you read Lloyd Frias’ tournament report, you might recall that this was the list that he used as the basis for his States-winning deck.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my own build of Cruel Control, which—after suggestions and playtesting—has slowly evolved to be quite similar to the lists above.

Here it is, Super Sphinx Bros.:

3 Courier’s Capsule

1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
2 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Flashfreeze
2 Essence Scatter
2 Countersquall
4 Terminate
3 Double Negative

3 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Earthquake

3 Jace Beleren
1 Sorin Markov
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Basic Lands
6 Island
3 Mountain
4 Swamp

2 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Scalding Tarn

4 Spreading Seas
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Telemin Performance
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Flashfreeze
2 Chandra Nalaar
1 Earthquake
2 Pithing Needle

As you might expect, the deck is constantly evolving. The most recent changes were cutting Sign in Blood for Courier’s Capsule, and shaving a Countersquall and a Double Negative to fit Sorin and Bolas. (These changes came after talking to Lloyd about his card choices on Yo! Ep 6). So far, so good. I’m liking Sorin and Bolas, but I haven’t played Capsule enough to notice a big difference between it and Sign in Blood.

On the Top8Magic podcast, Mike Flores mentioned that when he designed Naya Lightsaber, he made sure not to run any lands that didn’t at least have a good chance of coming into play untapped (ie., the M10 duals). The more I thought about this strategy, the more I wondered: Why couldn’t this work for a control deck? The resulting manabase I’ve come up with has only two lands that enter the battlefield tapped (Crumbling Necropolis). For me, this—along with running a sizable amount of instants—has worked WONDERS. Being able to interact in the early game has been crucial. By allowing me to have an impact before my big spells are online, this mana configuration forces my opponents to keep applying pressure in order to have any chance of winning, and helps set me up for the late game, where the deck shines. There is even the possibility of a turn 5 Sphinx of Lost Truths, turn 6 Sorin (drop them to 10, swing for 3), turn 7 Cruel Ultimatum + swing or ping with Sorin for the win. Obviously, with only 1 copy of Sorin in the deck, it’s not going to happen regularly, but the potential is there.


This deck just feels so much more powerful than the Rembrandt and Izzet versions. I no longer have to rely on attacking with Sphinxes to win games; I have Sphinxes, Planeswalkers, and oh, that’s right, Cruel Ultimatum. Before, I was playing my ‘walkers out of necessity, because there was a threat that needed to be answered. Chandra was there to kill a Baneslayer and then die to any Llanowar Elf that was in the mood for a tussle. Ajani Vengeant (while still awesome), was difficult to protect when my own life total was in danger. But in this deck, the ‘walkers are threats in and of themselves.

Now, just a few stories from tonight.

Iona, Shield of Emeria is REALLY frustrating to play against. My opponent was playing a GW Summoning Trap deck, which would ramp up into Summoning Trap or, more often, Iona herself. It seemed like every time I tapped out for something, he would have the Iona or the Trap. With so much mana, hardcasting either spell was not a problem. In one game, I tapped out for Nicol Bolas and stole his tapped Rhox Meditant (my other choice was Birds of Paradise). At the end of my turn he plays Summoning Trap and gets a Rhox Meditant. On his turn he hardcasts Iona (naming black) and then attacks with Meditant into my Bolas, putting him on 1 loyalty and leaving me unable to deal with Iona. In two separate games I managed to destroy his Iona, only to see another one hit the board on his subsequent turn. I kept wishing for Into the Roil (which I had just removed from the sideboard because I had yet to use it). It’s likely I’ll remove the Spreading Seas from the ‘board to make room, because so far it hasn’t impressed me.

Also, tonight I had the opportunity to play against the Jacerator (TurboFog) deck that’s been seeing a lot of play. In game one, he rolled me. I tried to put up a fight, but I just had too many dead cards against that strategy (Flashfreeze, Terminate). In game two, however, I won on turn 5. You see, I had noticed the 1 copy of Telemin Performance in Lloyd’s sideboard, and I thought it was a decent card to try out. I sided it in for this matchup expecting to steal a Sphinx of Jwar Isle, which I knew my opponent was running. But lucky for me, he had sided it out. On his turn 4 he tapped out for Font of Mythos and passed the turn; I untapped and played Telemin Performance, and that was game. He had zero creatures in his library. Very exciting. It’s rare that one single spell wins the game on its own in one turn. WOW.


In game 3, he sided in Quest for Ancient Secrets to deal with the possibility of another loss to Telemin Performance. We battled back and forth a bit, and in the end, I was able to come up with enough burn to end the game before he could put together his combo. Because I hadn’t played any creatures thus far in the match, he sided out his removal and most of his fogs. I got there with Sphinx of Lost Truths + 2x Lightning Bolt + Earthquake (and a few timely counterspells, including a Double Negative for his Negate when he tried to counter my game-winning Earthquake).


Overall, a really fun evening of Magic. For the first time since Zendikar’s release, I feel like I have a deck that both fits my play style and has cards that I enjoy playing. Here’s to hoping Worldwake has some goodies in store for us island-lovers.

On one final note, I just wanted to mention the upcoming Baltimore Open, hosted by GoneToPlaid Games. I won’t be able to make it as I’ll be out of town, but this looks like a great option for anyone who can attend. Here’s the info:

$1,000 Standard Tournament
Followed by
$1,000 Extended Tournament

Saturday, December 19th 2009 at the Sheraton Inn Harbor Hotel
In the Inner Harbor of Baltimore

Entry fee for each tournament is $25

Prize structure:
1st – $400
2nd – $200
3rd-4th – $100
5th-8th – $50
$1,000 purse is guaranteed, additional prizes will be awarded based on attendance.
Doors open at 9:00 a.m.
The Standard Tournament will start at 10:00 am
The Extended Tournament will start at 1:00 pm

For more information, visit

CURRENTLY READING: Jonny Magic & The Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas.

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 6 – Now Available!

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 6 – UnderStatements is now available for download!

Check it out over on MTGCast!

Interview and discussion with the winner of Maryland States 2009, Lloyd Frias!

Follow us on Twitter @YoMTGTaps or @AffinityForBlue.

CURRENTLY READING: Jonny Magic & The Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas.

Maryland State Championships 2009 Tournament Report *1st*

By special guest writer, Lloyd Frias.
Note: Surnames of Lloyd’s opponents have been removed for privacy.

Event: Maryland 2009 State Championships
Date: December 5, 2009
Location: Dream Wizards – Rockville, Maryland

126 players competing

7 Rounds Swiss then Top 8

It was Saturday morning and the snow was falling. My brother Marc tried using the air compressor in our garage to inflate his tires. Well, he tripped. The compressor stopped working and did not function when he tried to restart it. Given these conditions, my brother, the engineer, stated there was the possibility of the device exploding. We unplugged it, put it back in the garage, hoped for the best, and started our journey.

We went to a nearby gas station to add air to the tires. I realized that I didn’t have the directions to the tournament site. We went back to the house and got the directions. (The air compressor was still okay). Yes, we’re off to an auspicious start already.

We arrived at the tournament and the parking lot was slippery. There was a line of people outside at 10:20 AM. We saw a group of players from our local store and waited in company.

In preparation for States, the first step was actually deciding to attend. I’ve been playing off and on since 1994. Until recently, the bulk of my tournament experience is from Extended (post-Necro, pre-rotation) and Vintage. There was also a Vintage tournament up in Philly to which we had considered going. Ultimately, my brother and I chose to attend our first ever States for the fun of the experience.

My tournament deck history includes the following: Wildfire, Forbiddian, Counter-Oath, Keeper/the Deck, Hulk Smash, Control Slaver, Meandeck Gifts. Looking at that list, the obvious is that I have a predisposition to control. I enjoy parrying an opponent’s attacks while setting up a riposte.

Given that context, my deck choice should be no surprise.


Main Deck:

4 Courier’s Capsule

2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

3 Double Negative
2 Flashfreeze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate
2 Traumatic Visions

3 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Deathmark
2 Divination
2 Earthquake

1 Chandra Nalaar
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1 Sorin Markov

Basic Lands:
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Swamp

4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacombs
4 Scalding Tarn

2 Flashfreeze
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Negate
2 Pithing Needle
2 Pyroclasm
4 Spreading Seas
1 Telemin Performance

Since I began playing Standard M10Zen, my deck building has been influenced by various Internets postings, in particular, the articles of Pat Chapin. As you can see, the maindeck is very close to his Wafo-Grixis list.

Since Pat discussed a lot of his card choices in his article, I encourage you to read that article: I can’t explain better. I will explain, however, my variations.

Courier’s Capsule vs. Sign in Blood – The 2 mana draw slot is critical for hitting land drops. In general, Sign in Blood is a stronger card. The double black cost, however, shapes the mana base differently, and I was cautious about the life loss, especially in a burn and aggro meta (Jund, Naya, Boros).

I went with 2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle maindeck as a drop-and-forget win condition. I anticipated expending my counter base forestalling my opponent and would be unable to protect a creature during riposte.

Since I was only running 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths, I wanted to minimize situational cards. Yes, Flashfreeze is awesome and in every green/red matchup I boarded the other 2; however, given my unfamiliarity with States, I played it safe and went with a more well-rounded counter base.

I went with a 2 Divination/2 Deathmark split. Moving the Deathmarks to the maindeck freed up sideboard slots and would be good in the anticipated meta. The adding of more removal also enabled me to draw into more answers for opposing threats.

Chandra Nalaar was more flexible than a 3rd Earthquake. In addition to frying Great Sable venison and singeing an opponent, you can shoot down a Walletslayer.

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker was there instead of a second Sorin Markov. The noted weakness of this deck is non-creature permanent destruction. Bolas fixes that problem, whether it be Valakut, Emeria, other planeswalkers.

Onto the matches:

Round 1 – Ben B. – Jund

Game 1 Jund does its thing and rolls me.
In: 4 Spreading Seas, 2 Flashfreeze
Out: 3 Double Negative, 2 Earthquake, 1 Sorin Markov

Game 2 Spreading Seas stalls him until I gain control and win.

Game 3 I landstall, and he overwhelms me.


Round 2 – Conor M. – Jund

Game 1 He stalls out and I take over after Cruel.
In: as in Round 1
Out: 3 Double Negative, 2 Traumatic Visions, 1 Sorin Markov

Game 2 Spreading Seas and lack of land draws stall him and forces him to play unkicked Goblin Ruinblasters to apply pressure. I clear the board and stabilize with Cruel. He runs out of gas, and control is mine.


Round 3 – Greg Q. – Up Down Dralnu
Initially I thought he was playing Dredge when he started cycling Architects of Will. Apparently, it was Gavin Verhey’s Up Down Dralnu.

Game 1 – I resolve Sorin and drop him to 10. I bolt, drain 2, and end with Cruel
In: 2 Pithing Needle, 2 Negate
Out: 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Deathmark

Game 2 – I draw dead and get pounded by Vampire Nighthawk and a Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
In: Telemin Performance
Out: Traumatic Visions (I think)

Game 3 – After seeing Sphinx of Jwar Isle game 2, I decide to see if I can steal his to add to my Sphinx collection. I resolve Telemin Performance, mill a Terramorphic Expense and get…Vampire Nighthawk. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I had milled more than 1 card at least. Ah well. We trade Nighthawk life swings. I get a Sphinx of Jwar Isle on the board and he sits back on defense. At this time, I was at 19 and he was at 25. I play Sorin and drop him to 10. I Cruel, then I terminate his Nighthawk and swing with Sphinx for game.


Round 4 – David Z. – Vampires

Game 1 – I draw dead, and his minions suck me dry.
In: 2 Negate, 2 Pyroclasm
Out: 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Deathmark

Game 2 and 3 – I Cruel and take over from there.


Round 5 – Nathaniel C. – Naya

Game 1 – I answer his threats. I set up Cruel and finish with double Bolt headshots.
In: 2 Pithing Needle, 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Malakir Bloodwitch
Out: 2 Double Negative, 2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle, 2 Traumatic Visions

Game 2 – I stall and his Luminarch Ascension gets to 4 counters. Between angels, soldiers and Elspeth, I drop from 17 to 0 in one turn.

Game 3 – He drops a Baneslayer. I drop a Malakir Bloodwitch to hold that off. He plays Luminarch Ascension. I drop Pithing Needle to shut it down. I play Sorin and drain him until I get a removal for Baneslayer at which point he’s at 11. 2 turns later thanks to Sorin and Bloodwitch, I down him.


Round 6 – Billy K. – Naya

Game 1 – He gets Baneslayer active. I’m at 6 and he’s at 28 before I deal with it. I play Sorin and drop him back to 10. He fetches to go to 9 to thin out his deck for threats. I drain for 2 with Sorin to put me at 8 and him at 7. He has an empty hand, so I Earthquake him for lethal.
Sideboarding as in Round 5

Game 2 – I Cruel twice. Then I play Bloodwitch and Sorin to close.


Round 7 – Matt D. – Jund

Game 1 – I forestall him and hit 2 Cruels to drop him to 9. I bolt and then Earthquake for 6.
Sideboarding as Round 2

Game 2 – I cut off red sources with Spreading Seas. I hit 2 Cruels to drop him to 8. I drop Bolas and begin destroying red sources to ramp to ultimate. I hold off his creatures as he tries to stop Bolas with Lightning Bolts. At some point I drop a Sphinx of Jwar Isle. After getting an opening I drop him to 3 with Sphinx and have Bolas at 10 as I pass the turn. With my board position so overwhelming, he effectively concedes the match to me: on his turn, plays Sprouting Thrinax and asks me to finish him with Bolas’ ultimate, so he can go down in style.


Top 8 – Jacob W. – RDW

Game 1 – Red Deck Wins
In: 2 Flashfreeze, 2 Pithing Needle, 2 Pyroclasm
Out:2 Deathmark, 1 Chandra Nalaar, 2 Earthquake, 1 Nicol Bolas

Game 2 – I stall him and drain with Sorin to stall him further. At 3 Life, I drop his life to 10 with Sorin, I Cruel and then take over from there.

Game 3 – He stalls out on 2 Teetering Peeks. I hit him with 2 Cruels but have trouble finishing him: I do not draw another kill card until there are only 4 cards left in my library. I play nearly every land in my deck by that time. Eventually, I play a Sphinx of Jwar Isle to seal the game and match.


Top 4 – Jim B. – Naya

Game 1 – I weather the onslaught down to 6 life. I play Sorin, drop him to 10, and follow with Cruel.
Sideboarding as Round 5

Game 2 – Malakir Bloodwitch holds off Baneslayer all day. I play Chandra and fry the Angel. I Terminate the next Angel. Between Chandra and Bloodwitch I finish him off in 3 turns.


Finals – Steve K. – Jund

Game 1 – I blunt his offense, while ramping to Cruel. I use Sorin to siphon life and finish with an Earthquake.
Sideboarding as Round 2

Game 2 – Spreading Seas hamstrings his offense. I Cruel to disarm him further and knock him to 14. I lay Sphinx of Jwar Isle and swing to 9. I have a full grip with Cruel in hand along with counter and removal spells. Next turn I plan to swing with Sphinx and finish with Cruel. He draws and concedes.

On a final note, in addition to the standard States prizes, Dream Wizards also awarded 18 packs of either Zendikar or M10. I went with the M10 packs. The second pack I opened had a foil Baneslayer Angel.

In closing, I wanted to thank the following people:

Pat Chapin for another excellent deck.

The Rotunda/Amazing Spiral crew for helping me field test my initial build going into States.

The Legends crew for your support throughout the Tournament.

Michael P. Hantsch for the peer critique of my draft of this report.

My younger brother, Marc, for driving and lending me his cards.

Thanks for reading.
Lloyd Frias

Affinity For Turning Lands Into Islands

First, the bad news: There was only ONE Island in the entire top 8 of Worlds this weekend. It was in a Bant deck piloted by Manuel Bucher, who was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Now, the good news: I’d heard about this tech a couple of weeks ago, but it’s becoming more and more widespread. This weekend at Worlds, Gerry Thompson did a video deck tech about a Standard build he designed, which he dubbed “Spread ‘Em” after its primary strategy:


See, the thing about Jund (and many other popular Standard decks right now) is a not-quite-reliable manabase. This deck attacks that weakness, and seems to be having some success. As I write this, I’m watching live video of the team finals of Worlds. The Standard portion is a URW deck (not at all unlike my own current build) facing off against a Jund deck. Spreading Seas has entirely shut down the red mana sources of the Jund deck, slowing things down enough for the control player to stick an Ajani Vengeant and a Sphinx of Jwar Isle to win the game.


In a format with few Islands, Spreading Seas is essentially a cantripping land destruction spell. I absolutely love this strategy, and no doubt I’ll be trying it sometime this week.

A Misnomer?

I’m beginning to wonder whether I should have called this blog “Affinity for Sphinxes” judging by my recent posts.

Nevertheless, on Saturday morning my girlfriend and I paid a visit to The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where they had an exhibit called “Heroes: Mortals & Myths in Ancient Greece.” Around the exhibit were various bits of information about the different characters and creatures in Greek Mythology. Obviously, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this little blurb:

“Sphinx [sfingks] was a monster, usually represented as having the torso of a woman, the body of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. Seated on a rock outside of the city-state of Thebes, she posed a riddle to travelers, killing them when they answered incorrectly, as all did before the Greek hero Oedipus. When he answered her riddle correctly, the Sphinx killed herself.”

So often we see some sort of mythological creature on our cards, yet rarely do we give any thought to the mythology of that creature, and how the WotC creative team uses that mythology to guide them in adding flavor to our beloved game.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but you can almost apply the above to Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Once it hits the table, it “poses a riddle” to your opponent, and it’s difficult to find an answer for it. If you don’t find the correct answer, it will likely kill you. But if you answer it correctly (with, for example, Gatekeeper of Malakir or Fleshbag Marauder), it kills itself.

Just a thought!

By the way, you may have noticed the changes in the appearance of Affinity For Islands (and if you haven’t noticed, either I messed up somewhere or you might need your eyes examined). Let me know what you think!

Coming later this week: Yo! MTG Taps! #3 – More Standard Discussion!

All-In Sphinx

Check out this deck that bigheadjoe of Otherworldly Journey just sent me:

“All-In Sphinx”
4x Sphinx of Jwar Isle

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Terminate
3x Celestial Purge
4x Esper Charm

3x Cruel Ultimatum

4x Oblivion Ring

2x Obelisk of Alara

2x Ajani Vengeant
1x Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3x Jace Beleren

3x Scalding Tarn
1x Marsh Flats
2x Arid Mesa
4x Crumbling Necropolis
4x Arcane Sanctum
2x Exotic Orchard
4x Rupture Spire
2x Mountain
1x Swamp
1x Plains
3x Island

3x Meddling Mage
3x Thought Hemorrhage
3x Negate
2x Identity Crisis
3x Day of Judgment
1x Celestial Purge

He piloted this deck to a win at the local tournament earlier today. Note the whopping FOUR copies of Sphinx of Jwar Isle!

EDIT: You can read Joe’s tournament report here.

More Sphinx Love.

I wasn’t crazy. Here are a few quotes from around the web regarding Sphinx of Jwar Isle:

“The real creature I’m looking at including in this Bant brew is Sphinx of Jwar Isle. What is Jund supposed to do against him? He’s bigger than all their creatures, they have absolutely no way to remove him other than a Jund Charm when I’m blocking, and he gives my late game fetchlands a ton of value by enabling me to see the top card, as if it’s a land I can shuffle into a potential spell.

[On the matchup versus Jund:] Sphinx is the real bomb in here, and running it out turn 6 with no backup is the safest creature you can invest mana into in the Standard format. The longer he stays in play, the more foresight he provides, and he plays offense as well as being a stalwart on defense. I’d expect the number of these cards to rise dramatically to counteract Jund’s narrow answers to it.”Kyle Sanchez

“Sphinx of Jwar Isle has been in just about every non-aggressive deck list since Zendikar’s release, but the Jwar Jwar Movement has been steadily gaining followers in the past few weeks. Ebay, which is usually a leading indicator, supports the upwards price trends. Playsets are climbing from $4 closer to $6 or $8, so it’s not out of the question for the Sphinxes to end up being worth a few dollars each. Many vendors on the internet still have them at a dollar, which is too low. It’s even worth about 1.3 tickets on Magic Online, which roughly translates to $1.25. Grab a few playsets and you’ll double up without much work.”Kelly Reid

“If all of a sudden, everyone said, “Let’s boycott Baneslayer Angel and play Sphinx of Jwar Isle instead!” then that would definitely change the demand [for Baneslayer] (and given the amount of Jund around, that might not be the worst idea!) That could happen, but I wouldn’t count on it just yet. On a side note, you may want to pick up Sphinx of Jwar Isle just in case.”Jeremy Fuentes

LAST-MINUTE UPDATE: HA! Kelly Reid just posted this on Twitter about 10 minutes ago: Got your Jwar Jwar Sphinxes yet?”

If you follow the link you’ll see this blurb:
“Interesting to note – Star City bumped up their price on Sphinx of Jwar Isle recently, to $4. Some other sites are starting to charge real money for Sphinx too. Most sites that had listed the rare under a dollar are already sold out, and eBay prices are starting to perk up too. Sphinx of Jwar Isle may not be the next Baneslayer, but it’s better than a junk rare. Pick yours up before you have to actually trade something valuable for them.”

EDIT: Another vote for Sphinx of Jwar Isle, this time from blogger Russell Tassicker of Gwafa’s Bazaar:
Sphinx of Jwar Isle: Buy. This guy is creeping into more and more netdecks from such well respected deckbuilders and writers as Patrick Chapin and Conley Woods. I expect the price to gradually rise, and if he is a hit at Worlds then the price will shoot up. Blue is also extremely weak at the moment but if Worldwake brings some goodies this guy will find a good deck to fit in.”

Take a look at Russell’s blog (link added to sidebar); if you’re interested in the trading/financial aspect of Magic, it’s another good source for information.

Think Sphinx.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the two sphinxes printed in Zendikar, Sphinx of Lost Truths and Sphinx of Jwar Isle:


It’s fairly obvious that Wizards has deemed the sphinx to be blue’s iconic creature type (alongside white’s angels, black’s demons, red’s dragons, and green’s beasts), which many could have guessed all the way back in Planar Chaos.

Until now, however, we’ve had yet to see a Constructed-worthy sphinx for Standard (with the possible exception of the Alara-block sphinxes, Enigma Sphinx and Sphinx of the Steel Wind, et al, which haven’t really done much aside from some appearances in the Alara Block Constructed format). These two Zendi-sphinxes go a long way toward changing that.

Sphinx of Lost Truths functions similarly to Mulldrifter. For the same 5 mana, you get a larger body and dig one card deeper, but instead of card advantage you merely get card quality/selection. For an extra 2, you get to keep the three cards you draw. Both of these are solid options. Any deck that can take advantage of cards in the graveyard (or that has a way to easily get them back) can expect to get even more bang out of this sphinx. Grim Discovery, Soul Manipulation, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin are just a few cards that immediately come to mind.

Sphinx of Jwar Isle may turn out to be even more important to the format. In an environment filled to the brim with spot removal, a creature with Shroud can be a real pain to get rid of—especially one that doesn’t die to Volcanic Fallout or Pyroclasm. The only real threats to this Sphinx are Day of Judgment and Gatekeeper of Malakir. Don’t discount the option to look at the top card of your library either; with fetchlands in the format, you can see if the top card is relevant before you crack your fetch. In a cascade deck, you can get a bit more information on what you might cascade into.

Already, several pro players and Magic columnists have begun touting decks that include one—if not both—of these sphinxes. Patrick Chapin created a build of Five-Color Control using Sphinx of Jwar Isle as a finisher and coined the nickname “Jwar Jwar Sphinx.” Gavin Verhey recommended a Grixis-based Sphinx Control deck for the PT Austin grinders, while Richard Feldman claimed his Rembrandt (RWU control) deck to be the best he’d ever built. Stan Bessey and Brian Greer gave props to the sphinxes on the most recent episode of Deck Builder Radio.

Both of these sphinxes seem poised to make an impact on the current Standard. If a blue-based control deck finds its way into the metagame, expect one or both of these guys to show up.