Each season on the Faithless Brewing podcast, we compile Top 5 lists of the most important cards as a capstone of our full set review. We try to predict the cards that will still be relevant months from now, when the hype has died down and wild experimentation has ended. We also call out the fun & interesting cards that personally excite us as brewers.
Sometimes it’s hard to choose just 5 cards. The Brothers’ War is one such set, since the power level is generally quite flat. A Top 5 list quickly becomes a Top 10, especially as time passes and we learn more about how to brew with these cards.
In this article, I give fuller explanations for each category: the Top 10 most impactful cards in Modern and Pioneer, the most interesting cards to brew, and a few cards that seem overhyped or misunderstood (at least based on early chatter).
The data will be rolling in quickly now that the set is available online, so we’ll soon be able to see how wise or foolish my analysis turns out to be.
Modern Top 10: The Most Impactful Cards
- The Stone Brain. Not particularly efficient, but fast enough that lots of decks might use it, not just Karn decks. Necromentia & Unmoored Ego are quite decent, but held back by being in black. Sometimes paying 2 + 2 is easier than paying 3 up front. This won’t be a life-changing, “Do you remember life before The Stone Brain?” watershed event, but it will be a useful staple for years to come.
- Haywire Mite. A simple, useful card. It’s a lot safer to dedicate a slot to this now that so many decks play Leyline Binding. Primarily for Urza’s Saga toolboxes and Karn wishboards, but might also show up in Yawgmoth. Also an Insect for Grist, which shouldn’t matter at all until suddenly it does.
- Scrapwork Mutt. A minor upgrade for red-based Vengevine decks, like a color-shifted Rotting Rats. Could also function within artifact and reanimator strategies. Scrapwork Mutt won’t see widespread play but neither will the rest of this set.
- Third Path Iconoclast. I don’t really believe in this card, but it’s cheap and does what it says without much fuss. The artifact tokens will buff your Urza’s Saga I guess. Grinding Breach could consider it for SB juke, and it technically functions within the Breach + Grinding Station combo for a win-more kill. Probably not Affinity. Maybe Urza?
- Diabolic Intent. I have this card in my “Top Pioneer Cards” section, as well as my “Most Overrated” section, so clearly there’s a lot to unpack here. Tutors excel when power ceilings are high, and Modern is such a format. But Intent is not easy to use. Aspiringspike had a bit of success already eating Bloodghast and Archfiend’s Vessel to dig up the Archon + Persist combo, so maybe there’s something to discover. We’ll be exploring Intent next week in greater detail on the podcast.
- Phyrexian Dragon Engine. Perhaps just a 1-of for Goblin Engineer to find, but it’s a very powerful ETB effect. The discard is even a “may” ability. 5 mana to rebuy is quite a lot but there’s Engineer, Unearth, Persist, etc.
- Mishra’s Research Desk. Thanks to Urza’s Saga, the bar for 1 mana artifacts to be relevant is not super high. That said, any contender still needs to offer something powerful. Research Desk looks clunky, but it’s a clean draw 2 effect that may be closer to “draw 4, pick 2.” Being able to split up the costs, and even loot away the front half for value, means this could be a promising sleeper.
- Combat Thresher. One of the only prototype cards that plays nicely with Ephemerate. The reward isn’t huge, but the floor is high enough. Is it crazy to Shape Anew for this?
- Brotherhood’s End. Mostly just for Obosh red decks, as a sideboard option. In other decks, Engineered Explosives is better.
- Machine Over Matter. When enabled, this is the cheapest we have ever seen this effect. Thought Monitor makes it somewhat plausible, since you can get another draw 2, but unclear if the effect is powerful enough even at U.
Pioneer Top 10: The Most Impactful Cards
- The Stone Brain. Karn, the Great Creator is a monster in Mono Green and there are tons of new wishboard targets that could make this “most impactful” list, e.g. Haywire Mite, Cityscape Leveler, Woodcaller Automaton (or perhaps not). I give the top slot to The Stone Brain because it seems poised to have the biggest impact in Mono Green mirrors.
- Brushland / Underground River. We have seen how key Karplusan Forest was for GR. Brushland does the same for GW — historically a worse pair, but still with potential. Underground River could help with Rogues or some other offbeat Dimir tribe.
- Third Path Iconoclast. Will 8-Peezy be a thing? Many are sure to try. More interesting to me is the possibility of artifact token synergies. In fact, David has already sketched up four different lists in Pioneer all featuring the Iconoclast, which you can read about here.
- Evangel of Synthesis. Basically a Raffine’s Informant that doesn’t die to Stomp. Also has some serious aggressive potential. High floor, low ceiling, overall great rate. Esper Greasefang? Pair with Ledger Shredder for Dimir midrange? Go aggro with Raffine, Scheming Seer?
- Mishra’s Research Desk. As noted in the Modern section, the power level here is sneaky high. But in Pioneer, Research Desk plays a different role. Artifact decks in Pioneer lack cheap glue cards (such as Mishra’s Bauble) that aren’t embarrassing to play early and can keep the cards flowing late. Decks full of Springleaf Drums and Moonsnare Prototypes also are prone to flooding, and sometimes have full graveyards thanks to Emry — both scenarios in which Research Desk shines.
- Cityscape Leveler. Leveler can replace Meteor Golem in Karn wishboards. It’s also just an absolute beating of a card that might be worth ramping to on its own, almost like mini-Ulamog. In a ramp style deck, such as the old shell with Elvish Rejuvenator and Eldrazi, you even get these for free off Cavalier of Thorns. More a sleeper than a sure thing, but I suspect this card is better than it looks.
- Diabolic Intent. Unlike Modern, sacrifice decks are at least a known strategy in Pioneer: there are Oni-Cult Anvil decks, Food decks, and Bolas’s Citadel decks. Whether this is good enough depends on the quality of the bullets. Few main deck Pioneer cards are currently worth an extra 2 mana (Citadel perhaps being the best of them). Might turn out to be a great sideboard card.
- Razorlash Transmogrant. I wanted to put a black card here, since the color got so many tools. This could also be Misery’s Shadow, or Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor, or Transmogrant’s Crown, or Go for the Throat. I like Razorlash Transmogrant the best of these. In addition to being a top-tier recursive threat that several decks might want, there’s also a slight chance for a Zombies revival.
- Arcane Proxy. I put this card on my overrated list, but David is a big believer, so in deference to him I’ll also add it here. If Proxy does anything it will be because Proxy into See the Truth[c/] is a broken interaction, kind of like [c]Shardless Agent into Ancestral Vision. This is the first card we are brewing around on the podcast, so we’ll know more soon.
- Audacity. Hexproof is a boring deck, so I hate to mention it, but this is a nice clean upgrade for the strategy. Together with Brushland, it could be a difference maker.
Brewing Top 10: The Most Fun & Interesting Cards
- Drafna, Founder of Lat-Nam. Grab your Kinnans and your Mox Ambers and let’s go to Combo Town! Even without Kinnan, Drafna + Amber let’s you cheaply re-trigger whatever your payoff piece is. Can almost see this being decent in Modern, but maybe I’m lost in the sauce.
- Scrapwork Mutt. Does it Vengevine? If so, I will play it. I’ve cast a huge number of Rotting Rats in my time, so I gotta stay on brand. Any drug that will enable my addiction to Ox of Agonas (or perhaps now Phyrexian Dragon Engine) is a yes in my book.
- Sarinth Steelseeker. Squire stats are a bad sign, but dang this card is so much fun. GB Food in Modern seems like a decent starting place: The Underworld Cookbook ensures lots of artifacts to trigger Sarinth, and we have high-value cards like Urza’s Saga and Ovalchase Daredevil to dig for. Unclear if this will actually be good enough.
- Perennial Behemoth. It’s weird, but it unearths cheaply and it even brings card advantage for doing so. David has a cool list with Neoform that uses Behemoth in a cool way. The self-mill lands strategy is always fun.
- Terisian Mindbreaker. If you have Fraying Sanity in play, this is a 1 shot kill from the graveyard. Gimmicky? Yes, but I like gimmicks. Just don’t get tricked into playing a mill deck. Treat the combo as Splinter Twin, a finisher in a control deck.
- Combat Courier. Can I interest you in two Clues in a trenchcoat? This cute little fella has interesting skills, but no obvious homes yet. I like the look of David’s UW Tezzerator brew (where Courier seems absolutely perfect) and am keen to find more shells.
- Fallaji Archaeologist. Self-mill is always valuable. The graveyard is a major resource, especially with delve. This makes Archaeologist far stronger than Augur of Bolas. Fallaji also grabs artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers. Friend of the podcast MrRaeb has already notched a trophy in a Jeskai Ascendancy shell, and David has marked Archaeologist as one of his favorite cards. Keep an eye on this one.
- Skitterbeam Battalion. This funky little Prototype is a sneaky way to add boatloads of red devotion. It single-handedly enables any red God: imagine Purphoros, God of the Forge, followed by Skitterbeam Battalion (6 damage) plus an attack for another 12 damage. Fanatic of Mogis, Anax, Torbran, Nykthos… all of these are great friends with Skitterbeam.
- Hurkyl, Master Wizard. What if we kissed under the moonlight? What if we drew an artifact, instant, and sorcery every turn? It’s surprisingly easy to run wild with Hurkyl, and that prospect entices me.
- Surge Engine. I was all set to ignore this card and move on with a happy life, but Morde had to utter the fateful words “Grand Architect” and now I have this silly card on the brain. David also pointed out the slick interaction with Tezzeret’s static ability. I’m sure this will be bad, but it will be fun to try.
Bonus: Top 5 Overrated & Misunderstood Cards
- Diabolic Intent. Many proponents of this card begin their arguments with statements like “Tutors are always good, and…” This is false. Tutors are not always good. In fact, we have ample evidence that sorcery speed tutors are quite bad. Tutors are only worth while if you can search for something truly spectacular, like a game winning combo or hate piece, to make up for the loss of tempo. I suspect that only sacrifice synergy decks should try this, and even there it’s likely worse than Deadly Dispute and Village Rites unless we have a specific combo to dig toward (such as Archon of Cruelty). As long as you keep that in mind, by all means feel free to brew with Diabolic Intent, but don’t just toss it into any deck.
- Phyrexian Fleshgorger. Does anyone remember Kunoros, Hound of Athreos? A three mana 3/3 menace, lifelink, vigilance, AND it nerfs graveyard decks? Anyone? Didn’t think so. Now, can we please stop pretending that 3/3 menace lifelink does anything. Sure, they lose some life when they kill your Fleshgorger (likely for 1 mana). That’s not enough to justify playing such a subpar creature.
- Arcane Proxy. I listed this card among the most impactful for Pioneer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not overrated. In Modern, Proxy is far worse than Snapcaster in almost every scenario and even Snappy isn’t too hot these days. Proxy can re-cast your Crashing Footfalls, but is the 5th Footfalls more important than the 1st one? Because you could just play another cascader instead. In Pioneer, it’s possible that Proxy is the Next Big Thing, but outside of exactly See the Truth I don’t think that a 2/1 body attached to a spell will be a difference maker. It’s just too small, and sorcery speed is tough.
- Portal to Phyrexia. Portal is one of the few high CMC artifacts in The Brothers’ War that isn’t nerfed by a “if you cast it” clause, so I can see why people are drawn to it. I like Shape Anew as much as the next brewer. Sadly, Portal’s ETB will be completely useless against many decks. If you work hard to cheat in a giant artifact, that artifact had better win the game. Re-buying one creature next upkeep (if Portal doesnt get hit by Leyline Binding first) is hardly game winning. It doesn’t even upgrade the creature like God-Pharaoh’s Gift does (another frequent card of comparison).
- Titania, Voice of Gaia. I understand the desire to Meld this and do the thing. Truly, I do. And I don’t fault anyone for trying. But let’s just be honest: 3/4 reach for 1GG and some incidental life gain is not good. Unless you’re paired against exactly red aggro, these stats are not worthy of inclusion in serious decks. So we’re left with the Meld dream, which is just that: a fun dream.