Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Phantasmal Sphere vs. more than one opponent

May 2011's Rules Update bulletin has given me the idea to talk about Phantasmal Sphere. Especially since no one will be talking about Master of Arms ever again, I imagine.

Ahem. I have all sorts of arguments I could bring up about Tabak's rule changes regarding the first, unnamed, Gerrard. First of all would be this…who in their right mind would ever use Master of Arms if they did not know the previous Oracle wording? He uses the theoretical situation of two fresh new players, completely removed from the Internet, playing with a sack full of penny commons and uncommons they just picked up from the bulk bin at Hot Comics. Well, I say those players are going to be pretty unnerved trying to figure out the point of tapping a blocking creature in the first place. "Wait…your creature is already defending…I don't understand how this helps." They will probably assume a tapped creature no longer blocks, much like how I and many others thought for the longest time that any creature who becomes untapped is no longer attacking…thanks Maze of Ith.


I was talking about Phantasmal Sphere.

This card is getting slightly nerfed, too, but I'm willing to accept that since the card does indeed say "target opponent" in a world where the word "target" was invoked far less then intended to begin with.

Phantasmal Sphere is, believe it or not, the evolution of the ooze. It still gets +1/+1 counters, but this one has the advantage of flying. It is also not technically an ooze. I would take this over, say, Primordial Ooze any day of the week.

So it's not technically a good card. The traditional thought is to combine the Sphere with cards like Ion Storm and Power Conduit as a cheap source of counters. Which you can do. People have done this.

But you're going to run into some problems. Especially from an EDH perspective, you might have trouble finding enough abilities to benefit off this creature before it goes "poof". And this is only one single flying 0/1 creature in your entire 99 card deck, after-all. How much effort do you want to put into making this guy fit?

We are also dealing with the nasty fact that Phantasmal Sphere gives an opponent a free flying "Orb" no matter how it dies. Any sort of removal will result in you losing your costly-to-maintain Sphere and someone else getting a free-as-sin floating Orb to play with the rest of the match.


So lets wash our minds out with soap for a second and look at this Sphere with a completely fresh perspective.

What if we just played with it as the card-designers intended? Let's look at Phantasmal Sphere in a vacuum.

Stage 1: You cast a 0/1 creature for 2 mana. It has flying. Every turn, it gets another +1/+1 counter and you have to pay an extra mana during your upkeep step.

If you manage to get the Sphere down on your first or second turn, this might be enough to hold your opponents at bay for a little while. It flies, it can block little bitty attackers, you can even throw equipment on it.

But after a while, you are going to get really sick of paying extra mana. Especially once you have the cards to execute your Master Plan, but the stupid Sphere upkeep is preventing you from developing your board.

So inevitably, we have to move on to:

Stage 2: The Phantasmal Sphere DIES. It happens. It's going to happen. There's no way to stop it. That puppy is going to get sacrificed, Doom Bladed, killed in combat, what have you. Your imagination and the imagination of your opponents is the only limit to the calamity that will eventually befall your Sphere.

You can't prevent it, but its important to accept this situation from the correct perspective. And the first and only rule of Stage 2 Phantasmal Sphere is this…Don't be a victim.

You knew and planned for this all along. It says it right on the card. You may even be welcoming this event if you have some good cards in your hand to spend mana on.

So don't be a victim and remember that in a multiplayer game you can CHOOSE which opponent you give the Orb to. Instead of an opportunity to lose an Orb, look at this as an opportunity to gain a friend. Preferably a friend who is in peril.

Remember that if you do the sacrificing, you can even make Phantasmal Sphere into a combat trick. Dump him into your Greater Gargadon, and give your most non-threatening opponent an instant flying blocker they can use to get rid of something nasty.

The Orb might be a 2/3, a 4/5 or even a 5/6 at this point. It might be enough to help, while not necessarily giving your opponent a "winning edge" that might come back to bite you.

Now there are probably better ways to do this. Forbidden Orchard comes to mind, as well as the Phelddagrifs. The Orb is bigger and better, and it fits into more decks. And you might just stumble across it as you sift through the slush bin at your local Hot Comics.

Budget, combined with Unconventional Thinking, quickly leads to an Awesome EDH deck. Take that, Matt Tabak. I guess.

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