[Contest] Phyrexian Metamorph

The Submission

This contest is meant to highlight cards that can be ‘built around’ in Cube design when included in multiples. Often this requires – and incentivizes – a top-down redesign of the Cube to enable the card to work properly; one entrant, for instance, said they originally considered Astral Slide. It’s an interesting card, with a lot of nostalgia value for people who played it in Constructed (which also acts as a source of ideas for exploiting it), but it can’t just be slotted into your Cube without further thought – most Cubes have a single-digit number of cycling cards, so clearly more support is needed for it to be realistic. We might look for cards in which cycling is stapled on to a regular effect and include them in place of cards that usually play that role – Starstorm and Akroma’s Vengeance over some other red and white sweepers. We also want ways to recur our cyclers, so Loam and Disentomb effects rise in value (at which point we branch out into other cards that work well with these, such as those that can sacrifice themselves). With this many ways of drawing a card at instant-speed, Miracles now look more appealing and we could use more effects that let us manipulate the top of the deck. We can also add cards that are good against cycling, such as Notion Thief.

Typically, an experiment like that is ‘successful’ if it’s able to become a noticeably important part of the Cube without encroaching on other things. That’s a hard balance to strike, though, and you can only properly support one or two of these cards at a time. It’s also not a relevant idea if you’re not in the market for that sort of commitment, so few people will get to try it for themselves. For my entry I wanted to do something different. This card doesn’t require a complete restructuring of the Cube to be good; in fact, I’d say that with no other changes, almost any Cube will be improved by adding an extra copy of this card:

Phyrexian Metamorph

Universal applicability

No matter what stance you take on power maximization as a Cube philosophy, Metamorph will make decks and games better. If your goal with Cube is to do the most crazy, powerful, and memorable things, Metamorph is just what you need. Copying haymakers like Thundermaw HellkiteBaneslayer Angel, or Grave Titan– from either side – at a discount lets you steamroll over opponents or turn lost games around in dramatic fashion. Alternatively, you might be aiming to promote synergy over raw power. Metamorph can act as a second copy of a key piece of the puzzle, increasing the payoff when an interaction comes together.

Perhaps you want games to be longer and contain more complex decisions; in that case, Metamorph has your back. Whether it’s deciding when to pull the trigger on an opponent’s play or figuring out how to bait removal to maximize the chance of copying your best card, having a good sense of timing is crucial. Cubes with a focus on ‘grindy’ cards – typically with some inbuilt card advantage mechanism, such as Ghitu Slinger or Sphinx of Lost Truths – are more conducive to this type of gameplay, and these cards conveniently interact well with Metamorph.

It also works well with many ‘build-around-me’ cards (likely including some featured in this contest!). If your deck is built around milking a card for all its worth, doubling up on it can only help. One Young Pyromancer is respectable; two Young Pyromancers can snowball out of control very quickly. Even if your deck is more ‘normal’, it probably contains cards that get disproportionately better in multiples. Hellrider is a scary card by itself; two Hellriders is even worse. It’s easy to feel like you’ve ‘unlocked an achievement’ with Metamorph, beyond the usual sense of satisfaction that Clones can provide.

Metamorph certainly can be the linchpin of a strategy – more on that in a little bit – but its primary use is as a strong and interesting tactical play that all colours and decks have access to. When opened in a pack it doesn’t stand out as a card that challenges you to take a risk on it; rather, it’s a solid card that you’re always happy to pick and play. It’s never going to end up circling the table at the end of a pack or lying rejected in a sideboard, and it’s rarely a dead card in-game. For the purposes of this contest it might not be the most flashy card, but it frees you up to try cards that are flashy by shoring up the ‘regular’ part of the Cube in a clear way.

Effect on games

Beyond its obvious and specific interactions with certain cards, it’s worth thinking about how Metamorph affects games in general. It’s costed at the sweet spot to remain fair even when it’s used for unfair things – 3 mana and 2 life is just right (cf. Phantasmal Image, which feels undercosted at times, or 4-mana Clones, which are mostly unplayable). It’s a great way of restoring balance in games where you’re behind: one easy way to lose is for you to stumble when the opponent plays a threat that can’t be dealt with by normal removal, like Titans or ‘army-in-a-can’ cards, and Metamorph is one of the few cards that can restore parity there. It enables some awesome comebacks (going from being manascrewed and having my board wiped by Inferno Titan to getting my own Titan and killing his, in a recent draft) out of nowhere, and has an element of surprise: you expect a black deck to Doom Blade your guy, but you don’t expect a white deck to get a copy of it.

This lack of a colour requirement is what makes it so flexible and fun. There are some understandable objections to cards like Dismember existing, on the grounds that they do unnecessary violence to the colour pie; Metamorph gives every colour access to an effect that’s always been reserved for blue, but because it’s often a reactive card it feels much less offensive. It adds a whole new dimension to games in a way that few other cards can, without blurring the identity of each colour: your green deck gets to play with Archangel of Thune, but Archangel remains a quintessentially white card.

It also has wider implications for Cube design, and not in the obvious way suggested by the more ambitious contest entries. We have to consider not just how cards fit together when played, but whether the tools are there for opponents to keep them in check: in the Zombie theme headlined by Gravecrawlers, cards like Pillar of Flame ensure that the usual threats vs. answers dynamic is maintained. Often, this can feel a little forced – if I’m playing a control deck I might be pleased to have Pillar when the situation arises but still wish it was a Firebolt instead, since I have to play other matchups too.

Why does this matter? Well, Metamorph by itself prompts an evaluation of cards from another perspective. As designers, we can stack the Cube with cards that create an interesting dynamic when controlled by both players. Whip of Erebos caught many people’s attention as a curious and fun card in its own right; when both players have a Whip, some truly epic board states can occur. The changes to the legend rule gave Metamorph a new functionality: rather than acting as a Vindicate, it can now match whatever benefit a legend is having on the other side. It was nice for your green deck to have an answer to Meloku, but it’s a lot more fun for your green deck to conscript its own Meloku and face off in the skies. As anyone who played Standard a few years ago can testify, Metamorphing an opposing Consecrated Sphinx leads to good times all around. Metamorph doesn’t need any help to create this excitement – it feeds off of cards that you would be including anyway.

Ways to exploit it

Restoration AngelReveillarkFiend HunterLeonin Relic-Warder

Most Cubes have a large number of creatures that work well with blink effects, from Wall of Omens to Flametongue Kavu, and copying them is just as good. Those effects also go nicely with Metamorph, allowing you to reset Metamorph when needed. Fiend Hunter and the champion mechanic can ‘protect’ a Metamorph, as can Relic-Warder (which can also go infinite if you have effect that triggers on a creature entering/leaving play).

Strangleroot GeistEpochrasiteGeralf's MessengerKitchen FinksGlen Elendra ArchmageMurderous Redcap

Copying a persist/undying creature with Metamorph gives you a second barrel to fire later in the game when there are more appealing targets on the other side, and the opponent always has to be wary of killing the Metamorphed guy for fear of it turning into something bigger and better. With a sac outlet, you can pull off some ridiculous tricks at instant speed.

BatterskullSensei's Divining Top

Metamorph’s ability to copy artifacts gives you a manual reset option when combined with these cards. Duelling Batterskulls leads to some incredibly intricate games.

Mayor of AvabruckDiregraf CaptainDeranged Hermit

Anything that gives a bonus to your team gets much better in multiples, and so Metamorph is in especially high demand in any kind of tribal deck. Some, like Captain, only make the cut if you’re pushing a tribal theme, but the likes of Mayor and Hermit stand on their own merits.

Gray Merchant of AsphodelMaster of WavesFanatic of Mogis

If you’re one of those wise souls that supports a devotion theme, Metamorph is great both in advance to increase your devotion count and as a follow-up to your devotion card. It’s truly excellent with Master of Waves (as most things are).

Overgrown BattlementThran DynamoGilded Lotus

If you have more refined tastes and prefer to cast 11-drops on turn 5, Metamorph does that too!

Sphere of ResistanceTangle WireSmokestack

Phyrexian Metamorph has added a lot of depth to Mishra’s Workshop decks in Vintage, and its applications there can be replicated to good effect in Cube. If you’re pushing a heavy artifact theme, you can also set up loops with Goblin Welder or Trading Post or turbo-charge your draws with Etherium SculptorGrand Architect is basically the perfect card with Metamorph, letting you play it for free most of the time and acting as another copy-able anthem.

As you can see, there are a lot of cool things you can do with Metamorph, and since it demands nothing of you there’s no reason not to try doubling up on it. Give it a try!

Jason’s Critique

Phyrexian Metamorph brings an interesting angle to the contest, as it’s not a card that explicitly supports any given strategy, but is full of subtle interactions and gameplay decisions to be made. I personally don’t even run a single copy, even though it certainly qualifies on the basis of power level considerations.

I’m all for cards that increase the decision density of games, and Metamorph certainly brings that to the table. This entry made a compelling case for me to consider re-including a copy of Metamorph, but I wish it had done more to argue the merits of a second. I suppose the argument boils down to “one is good, more is better”. Would a second Metamorph increase the net fun of my cube? Quite possibly. Does it open up or bolster archetypes that were previously underpowered or unfeasible? Unlikely. But it is a card that many different decks can use in diverse ways, and one that produces its fair share of great gameplay stories. The question is, does that warrant a second slot?

Eric’s Critique

First of all, I should note my obvious biases when it comes to a card like Phyrexian Metamorph. Undercosted artifacts? Not a fan. Cards that can slot into any deck, and thus are high picks during the draft, but don’t require any commitment? Yuck. A card that doesn’t take much skill to harness its considerable power? Check, and check.

Having said all that, I can’t deny the satisfaction that comes from copying a gigantic threat – I’ve answered an opponent’s Consecrated Sphinx with a Metamorph, and it was a hoot. And while Metamorph is juicy even in the hands of a beginner, there’s no doubt that skilled players can squeeze even more value out of cloning persist bodies or hard-to-answer artifacts. A cube with multiple Metamorphs wouldn’t lack for excitement.

Ultimately, though, the same argument could be made for any generically strong colorless card that fits into most any deck, aggro, midrange, or control. Multiple Metamorphs will provide for more varied situations than simply jamming multiple Wurmcoils or Jittes, but if everyone is always on the Metamorph plan, I could conceivably see things getting stale after a period of time. “Cast Grave Titan. No counters? Oh, you have the clone, then. A-yup.” I don’t see that Metamorph pushes any particular archetype to the forefront, a la Jason’s Gravecrawler theme, and I find it hard to get behind a Universal Creature For All Archetypes. Again, a cube with a whole bunch of clone effects would always let people come from behind with giant haymakers. But something that takes a little bit more effort and synergy before its potential is unlocked makes for better a build-around, and would be more satisfying when drafting the archetype in question, as well as during gameplay.

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