Magic’s next big set will be arriving soon. Scars of Mirrodin revisits the artifact-themed world of Mirrodin and is the opening salvo in an escalating war between that world and the invading Phyrexians. But not every card in Scars is an artifact. This black enchantment will force your opponent into a horrible decision.
A couple of interesting things about this card — first, it has nothing to do with artifacts. Second, it doesn’t use any of the new (or returning) Scars of Mirrodin mechanics, like Infest, Metalcraft or Imprint. Third, this is a deceptive card. Whatever you’re thinking about it, consider it carefully.
Less experienced Magic players are probably reading the card and thinking, “That’s awesome!” And they’re right, it is pretty awesome. But the more jaded Magic players are thinking that it doesn’t affect the board position immediately, yet costs five mana, and that in a lot of situations it’s a “win more” card. They’re right too, but the real answer is somewhere in between.
It’s true that Painful Quandary doesn’t actually do anything when you play it. Five mana and it just sits there until your opponent plays something. It’s the same knock against Sanguine Bond, and aside from a few not terribly successful combo decks, no one plays that. If your opponent already has control of the battlefield, this will not help you. On the other hand, if things are close, or if you have control of the board, this will help keep it that way.
The cool thing about this card is that even if your opponent has a card that will destroy an enchantment in his hand to cast right away, you’re still going to get some mileage out of the Painful Quandary. As soon as the removal card is played, Quandary triggers. Unless your opponent already has something like a Qasali Pridemage in play, Quandary will do some harm.
It’s interesting to consider how you can manipulate your opponent’s reaction to the Quandary. If you put this in a discard deck, your opponent is likely to have few cards in hand. If she ever tries to play one, she’s pretty much guaranteed to take the five life hit. Alternately, if you play this when your opponent’s life is already at five or below, he’ll have to play around it, holding cards in hand just to avoid dying to the Quandary.
In older formats, you can achieve a total control lock with Painful Quandary, Bitterblossom and Braids, Cabal Minion. I know it’s a three-card combo, but it’s a pretty brutal one. It also screws up a lot of other combo decks, forcing them to remove it (if you last long enough to cast it).
I really like this card in limited formats — I wouldn’t pick it too early in a draft, but I’d grab it in the second pack if I was already established in black. Will this see play in constructed formats? Chances are it won’t be common. But imagine game one against an opponent not packing any enchantment removal in his maindeck. My one real gripe about this card is the name, which is painfully literal.
By the way, the watermark in the text box is the Mirrodin symbol. There’s also a Phyrexia symbol. I’ll have more details on the Mirrodin/Phyrexia war and how Magic players can actually choose sides and get involved in the battle in a future article, but it does seem a bit odd that a black card is not on Phyrexia’s side.