What's that? Mark Rosewater already used that one? Dang it! Sorry, folks. You have my sincere apologies for re-subjecting you to this kind of, er, Gruul and unusual pun-ishment. (Save some of those groans for later – you'll need 'em.)
This week is a bit of a milestone for me: my first theme week! What, you may ask, would the Gruul do with such a milestone? Probably the same thing they'd do with any other kind of stone: Bash stuff with it in a manner that can only be described as both willy and nilly. Or throw it through a shop window, perhaps. Maybe set it on fire. It's hard to blame the Gruul for the wanton, and non-wanton, destruction they cause. The partially-wanton destruction is also understandable. They are led, after all, by a gigantic Borborygmos with no depth perception, who takes his name from a character from Welcome Back, Kotter.
That'd be enough to make anyone a little pillage-happy.
Given that this is my first theme week, I figured it would be best to ignore the theme completely. Guildpact doesn't hit Magic Online until the end of February, so I haven't had a chance to really test out the cards. Plus, I need to save some material for the upcoming “Bludgeon Stuff Week.”
January is the Gruul-est month, if you don't count April, or the other months
For those of us unfortunate enough to find ourselves in snow up to our armpits with icicles hanging from our beards, the fiery passion of the Gruul (and the rampant arson) is enough to make you forget about the cold.
Carven CaryatidWhen I set out to build some Red and Green decks, I figured I'd play to each colour's strength. Red will be used for setting things on fire. Green will do what it does best: block creatures. Luckily for all the blocking enthusiasts out there, Standard boasts two of the best Green “Walls” ever printed. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “Wall” is a continuous upright structure forming one side of a building or room. It is also a more-or-less defunct type of creature, defined by its inability to attack. This doesn't leave much for the Wall to do, so it ends up spending most of its time blocking and knitting afghan blankets for relatives. The “Walls” in question are Sakura-Tribe Elder and Carven Caryatid. Of course, I'm using the term “Wall” pretty loosely, since neither creature is actually a Wall, and the Sakura-Tribe Elder can attack. They sure do a good job of blocking, though.
One of the hurdles you encounter when building casual combo decks, is that they generally require a lot of mana. This means you will either have to accelerate your mana, or survive long enough to play the required amount of lands. Either way, the Elder and Caryatid work wonderfully towards this goal. So while you're trying to set up your combo, and your opponent attacks you with some big, mean monster, thankfully, you have some naked ladies made of wood to get in the way.
In keeping with the spirit of the Gruul, I decided to raid the magicthegathering.com archives and pillage an article by Brian David-Marshall called “An Unnatural Affinity.” Contained therein is a list for the Masques Block Constructed deck known as Roshambo.
Further keeping with the Gruul theme, I printed up the decklist, burned it, smashed it with a hammer, ate some of it, then adapted the deck for Standard. As BDM says, “The core of this deck is a simple combo. Death Pit Offering and Natural Affinity allows you to destroy all of your opponent's lands with a Massacre while yours remained intact.” Natural Affinity is back in the Core Set. Death Pit Offering, on the other hand, left the Core Set after a brief stint in Eighth Edition. When I went looking for replacements, I stumbled upon the Saviors of Kamigawa flipper, Homura, Human Ascendant. Perfect! Because, honestly, if there's anything better than Walls and land, it's flying, firebreathing Walls and land! Homura, obviously puts us into Red, which is a good thing since the Black creature sweepers featured in Roshambo are easily replaced by Pyroclasm, Shard Phoenix, and, to a lesser extent, Flowstone Slide. The various parts of Ramos can be swapped for Fellwar Stones. This is what I ended up with:
The only tricky thing about the deck is getting Homura, Human Ascendant to flip. Miren, the Moaning Well is your best bet (and perhaps there should even be a third copy of it). Otherwise, he'll have to be collateral damage during one of your board sweepings. There are a few sacrifice outlets in Standard, but none of them are very exciting. I tried Instill Furor and Fiery Conclusion, but Instill Furor was terrible and Fiery Conclusion was too situational. Other options I considered were Perilous Forays, Elvish Skysweepers, Blood Rites, Crack the Earth, Soulblast, and Through the Breach. Once Guildpact hits, Scorched Rusalka might be worth trying, and the Flowstone Slides could be upgraded to Savage Twisters.
If you play with fire, you're gonna get burned
On the other hand, if you play with fire under the supervision of a Druid, you're liable to burn someone else. When I originally scanned the Ravnica spoiler, Stone-Seeder Hierophant was a card that screamed “combo”. Unfortunately, I was in the local public library at the time and was promptly asked to leave. The card should've whispered “combo” in that situation. Before my unceremonious expulsion, however, I jotted down a few words: eggs, bread, milk, Stone-Seeder Hierophant + New Frontiers.
New Frontiers Those familiar with the Beacon of Creation + Blasting Station combo will know how this works. Imagine this scenario, if you will. You have an active Hierophant and five lands in play. You tap all of your lands, then untap one with the Hierophant, then tap it again. You decide to play New Frontiers with X = 5. Your opponent tries to bluff counter magic, but he's playing White, so you don't fall for it. When the New Frontiers resolves, you put five lands in play. The Hierophant's untap ability will trigger five times. Let the first trigger resolve. Untap your Hierophant. Use it to untap another land. Let the next trigger resolve. Lather, rinse, repeat. At the end of this sequence, you should have five lands and a Stone-Seeder Hierophant untapped. You've essentially played New Frontiers for free!
Now imagine the same scenario as above, except that one of those lands is a Mountain enchanted with an Overgrowth. Instead of untapping a different land with the Stone-Seeder Hierophant, you could untap the same land (tapping it for the three-mana in between untappings, naturally). You would be able to play New Frontiers with X = 9 (Five lands plus Overgrowth is seven mana, and with the Hierophant to untap the Overgrowth'd land, you can get ten mana). The Hierophant will trigger nine times, allowing you to tap and untap the Overgrowth'd land nine times, resulting in twenty-seven mana in your mana pool. Now you can send a nice big Fireball straight for your opponent's head, nugget, and/or dome. You will even have enough mana to Burning Wish for one and then cast it. Burn, baby, burn!
There are no non-basics in the deck because you can't find them with any of the land-fetchers. Getting Red mana shouldn't be too much of a problem though, with ten land-tutors and four Fertile Grounds. To my chagrin, I discovered that neither Red nor Green has any real card drawing (at least, that is appropriate in the deck – see: Browbeat, Collective Unconscious, etc.), so I tossed in some Howling Mines to speed things along.
I'll warn you now: if you're playing this online, the combo requires a lot of clicking. Seriously, do some finger exercises before you start. The first time I managed to pull off the combo, I got a little overzealous with the clicking and clicked my way through to the end of the turn, resulting in a lethal mana-burn for twenty-six. My only advice is: “Don't do this!” Thus endeth the lesson.
The 'rhythm is gonna get you
Biorhythm Last week, I talked a bit about Ninth Edition combos. After the complicated deck gymnastics required to pull off the Booby Trap + Final Punishment combo, I thought I'd try to find something simpler. I thought I had found that something when I noticed the interaction between Rukh Egg and Biorhythm. If you played Biorhythm with a Rukh Egg in play – so went my reasoning - you wouldn't have to worry about your creature being destroyed in response, leaving you creatureless and, therefore, dead. Luckily, I quickly noticed that this isn't a combo at all, that, unfortunately, Rukh Egg doesn't really help you against instant-speed removal the way I thought it did, since you don't get the Bird token until the end of the turn. Good thing I read that friendly card. Otherwise, that could have been embarrassing!
Still, I was undaunted. Less daunted than usual, at least. So I kept searching. Maybe Rukh Egg doesn't work that way, but Dripping-Tongue Zubera certainly does. Barring something like Yamabushi's Flame (which will remove the Zubera from the game and you won't get any Spirit tokens), your opponent will require at least two removal spells to make your Biorhythm backfire on you. To round out the deck, I added our dynamic duo, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Carven Caryatid to the mix, along with the underrated and very Wall-like Traproot Kami. In the end, I left the Rukh Eggs in the deck anyway, since they work well as a Wall, and make it easier for you to recover from board sweepers.
Most of your creatures don't care about Pyroclasm. Only the Zubera will be destroyed by it, since you can sacrifice the Sakura-Tribe Elder in response and the Traproot Kami will usually have a toughness of three by the time you cast it. Shock is there to either finish off the opponent after a Biorhythm, or to burn away an opposing creature at the end of the opponent's turn. There were also times when I Shocked my own Rukh Egg after combat damage had been dealt to it, so I could Biorhythm the next turn and attack for lethal damage through the air with the Bird token.
This deck turned out to be pretty darn good. One of the last changes I made was to add the Seething Songs. After I did that, I went on a huge winning streak, and many of the wins weren't even close – most ended on turn 6, but there were a few turn 5 wins as well.
Until next time, keep on blocking in the free world!