Rarely Good 2010

Posted in Feature on June 6, 2007

By Chris Millar

Wellwisher with a big red XWelcome to Elf Week 2! The first Elf Week was such an unexpected success that you just knew there would be a hastily made sequel with half the original cast. I talked about every last one of the Future Sight Elves except for Llanowar Mentor, Llanowar Augur, and Thornweald Archer. This week, I figured I'd build some totally wacky, totally off-the-wall elf beatdown decks. What could be zanier than swinging for two?

Okay, I'm just kidding. Despite my half- to no-hearted efforts to convince Scott and Kelly to let me do a second Elf Week, I will be moving on to something new and exciting, something with only the smallest amount of Elves in it. Every set has some rares that take a while (sometimes forever) to get the respect they deserve. It's my job to help speed up that process. Let's rock and roll, shall we? (Feel free to rhythm and blues or country and western if that's more your style.)

Cutting a Wide Swath of Destruction

If there's one thing I like to cut, besides class and the mustard, it's a wide swath of destruction. Luckily for me, the first card I'm going to look at today allows me to do just that.

It has long been the case that cards with a brutal drawback are the domain of Johnny. After all, it is Johnny who likes to work with the raw materials that no one else will touch. These cards are the plutonium of Magic. You need a little ingenuity to harness their power, but if you can do it, the effect will be lethal for your opponent. If not, you will just die from radiation sickness. That analogy apparently had a half-life of one sentence. My apologies.

In terms of "brutal drawbacks," it doesn't get much worse than, "At end of turn, discard your hand," unless of course it's just "Discard your hand." There have been three cards throughout Magic's history that have featured the end-of-turn version of this drawback. One of them was quite good (Grafted Skullcap). One was higher-risk, higher-reward, so despite being "bad," it still tantalized Johnnies and kept them occupied (Psychic Vortex).

The latest such card is Future Sight's Pyromancer's Swath, which is a sort of cheaper and more powerful version of ultra-popular Urza's Saga rare Sulfuric Vapors. In an environment with both hellbent and madness, the drawback is barely a drawback at all, as we shall see.

Pyromancer's Swath
While Sulfuric Vapors adds 1 damage to your damage-dealing red spells, Pyromancer's Swath adds 2 damage to all of your damage-dealing instants and sorceries. So with a Swath on the board, your Lava Darts will do 3, your Psionic Blasts will do 6 (and 4 to you), and your Unyaro Bee Stings will do a whopping 4 damage (which is actually "whopping" for a bee sting). While all of those cards are fine options, we can do even better. You see, there's a pair of commons in Standard that seem like they were made for Pyromancer's Swath. They are the Stockton to its Malone, the Oates to its Hull, or the Hall to its Oates. I'm talking, of course, about Grapeshot and Pyromatics. The former has storm and the latter has replicate, which means that each card can produce copies of itself. Despite being the product of a single spell, each copy of Grapeshot or Pyromatics is a spell (and therefore a "source") all its own. Just ask a blue mage with one measly counterspell in hand. What this means is that each copy will deal 3 damage with Pyromancer's Swath on the board. That's a serious upgrade! You will only need to play a third as many spells for your Grapeshots to be lethal, and Pyromatics basically becomes an Incinerate with replicate! Now that we have a nice little package (or "module") to work with, let's see about building the rest of the deck.

Not last week but the week before, I wrote about a very spicy little number sent to me by Noel deCordova. His deck featured the storm-enabling Grinning Ignus, the X-spell-enabling Gauntlet of Power, and perhaps a few too many heartburn-enabling jalapeños. Well, it just so happens that two of those three things fit in perfectly with the cards we've already assembled (Sorry, jalapeños!). It can be tricky to ramp up your storm count when Pyromancer's Swath is making you discard your hand at the end of each turn. Grinning Ignus remedies this situation somewhat by being a storm enabler that can sit comfortably on the table, where it is safe from the Swath's end-of-turn trigger. I also added some Wheel of Fates, which accomplish much the same goal, being "hidden" as they are in the removed-from-game zone. Gauntlet of Power, meanwhile, effectively doubles your mana, which both powers up your Pyromatics and gives you the resources to play more spells for your Grapeshots.

As I mentioned above, Pyromancer's Swath is both a madness and hellbent enabler. Fiery Temper seems like an auto-include, since the Swath makes it a one-mana instant that deals five damage. Demonfire is another automatic. Keldon Megaliths is a nice colourless source of damage if you can reliably stay hellbent, and Rakdos Pit Dragon is spectacular when you have no cards in hand and Gauntlet of Power in play. To help keep you alive, I've included Aetherflame Wall, Rough, Molten Disaster, and a single copy of chump-blocker factory Kher Keep.

S.W.A.T.H. Team

Zephyr Say Zephyr Until Now

A few weeks ago during Timeshifted Week 3, I built a series of decks using the timeshifted "baby" legends. Oriss, Samite Guardian, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, and my personal favourite, Baru, Fist of Krosa, all made an appearance. The only two that were denied the spotlight were Tarox Bladewing, spawn of Rorix (who combos with Weird Harvest and Pack Hunt and nothing else I can think of), and Linessa, Zephyr Mage, progeny of Prophecy unsummonatrix, Alexi.

Linessa, Zephyr Mage
While Linessa's tap ability isn't terribly exciting (compare it with Heidar, Rimewind Master's or even Temporal Adept's), her grandeur ability is extremely powerful. It's like the Decimate of bounce, allowing you to return a creature, artifact, enchantment, and land to their owner's hand. Unlike Decimate, which targets, you can use Linessa's ability without having to have a permanent of each type in play. But since it doesn't target, you don't get to pick what gets returned, your opponent does.

One of the cards that everyone wants to pair with the grandeur legends (especially Oriss) is Oversold Cemetery. Once you get four creatures into your graveyard, you can start recurring one of them per turn. There are plenty of other cards that complement both Linessa and Oversold Cemetery. Vedalken Aethermage wizardcycles, which allows you search up extra copies of Linessa. At this point, I'm thinking that I might as well make a wizard tribal deck. Martyr of Frost and Voidmage Prodigy can sacrifice themselves to counter spells, which helps to get Cemetery online. The blue and black Augurs from Future Sight are both wizards that you can sacrifice for an effect which complements Linessa. Just in case your opponent has plenty of creatures and lands but no artifacts for Linessa to boomerang, I've included a couple Neurok Transmuters which you can use to turn their creatures into artifacts. Note that you'll have to turn at least two creatures into artifacts for this to be effective. If you make just one creature into an artifact, your opponent can simply choose to return that creature to their hand. The Transmuter also works well with Llawan, Cephalid Empress. I rounded out the creature suite with Venser, Shaper Savant, Heidar, and Tidespout Tyrant.

With all of these permanents being bounced back to your opponent's hand, I figured that Warped Devotion would be a really nasty addition. Linessa becomes even more like Decimate with Warped Devotion in play. Here's where I ended up:

The Wizard of B-Oz.

Use the Force (of Savagery)

The last of the Future Sight rares that I'm going to build around is arguably the worst card in the entire set: Force of Savagery. Its eight power for three mana makes it seem promising. It's green, it's an elemental, and it has the word "force" in its name, which puts it in pretty good company. Force of Nature. Primeval Force. Verdant Force. Spectral Force. Force of Savagery. However, one, possibly two, of these things is not like the others.

Force of Savagery
Shockingly, it's the zero toughness that's the deal breaker. 8/0 creatures are rare—as rare, in fact, as 0/8 creatures. 8/8's, on the other hand, are pretty common. Apparently, Force of Nature is what you get when Force of Savagery and Wall of Stone have a baby. Now, the so-called "downside" of having no toughness, of having the ol' Hank Hill butt, is that you need some help if you want to, you know, not die immediately. There is no shortage of cards that will do the trick. In Standard alone, you've got Gaea's Anthem, Tolsimir Wolfblood, Lumithread Field, Glorious Anthem, Veteran Armorer, Oathsworn Giant, and Blessed Orator. I'm going to use Gaea's Anthem, since it's in colour.

Of course, you don't want to have to jump through an extra hoop just to be able to keep your Force of Savagery in play. There's got to be more you can do with the buttless chap. Well, there is! Since the Force has such a high power for so little mana, and since it will make a bee-line for the graveyard if you don't have an Anthem in play, it just makes sense to add both Pandemonium and Stalking Vengeance to the deck. Obvious, maybe, but undeniably powerful nevertheless. Another thing you always have to look at when you're dealing with card with a terrible drawback is the possibility of giving it to your opponent. In this case, I'm thinking of trading it for something good with Spawnbroker. You'll need to have the Anthem in play, making your Force of Savagery a 9/1. Then you get to broker a deal for just about any creature your opponent could possibly have. You get their sweet ride, say, a Spectral Force, while they get your Force of Savagery, which turns out to be a lemon without the aid of Gaea's Anthem.

Another card that works well with Pandemonium, Stalking Vengeance, and Spawnbroker is the colour-shifted Ball Lightning, Groundbreaker. Nacatl "I Was a Male" War-Pride is obviously very good with Pandemonium, especially if you also control one or more Gaea's Anthems. Since you remove the tokens Nacatl War-Pride makes from the game at end of turn, they don't have any special interaction with Stalking Vengeance. However, you can use Spawnbroker to trade a surviving token for a creature with three power or less. Jedit Ojanen of Efrava and his token-making abilities are also nice fits with both Pandemonium and Gaea's Anthem. I'm going to use Yavimaya Dryad as a mana-fixer anyway, so I should be able to forestwalk at will.

Evolution Charm is a triple threat in this deck, fixing your mana, getting back fallen Forces of Savagery, and giving your guys some non-trample evasion (which can be handy if you want to keep a War-Pride out of harm's way). Here's the deck:

Hawaii 8-0

See? Only four elves.

Until next time, have fun with elves even if I can't.

Chris Millar

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