Right now we have about the biggest Standard card pool we can expect to have anytime soon, and that means there are lots of options open to the creative deck-builder. If you are feeling like you need a fresh look at your options now that Eventide is in the mix, then you have come to the right place.
When I first started writing this article, I was asking around at the local game store as to what folks wanted to be doing in Standard right now. The answer was "going infinite."
Now, infinity in Magic is a tricky beast to nail down. Getting a loop of three Faceless Butchers removing each other from the game forces a draw. You don't want that. Those "uncontrolled loops" are the kind of infinity that is not a whole lot of fun. The real good times are in "repeatable loops." This is where you set up a situation where you can keep doing the exact same thing again and again. Once you've demonstrated your loop, you can just pick a number of times to execute it and go nuts.
For example, with Juniper Order Ranger, a sacrifice outlet, and Murderous Redcap, you can keep making the most of the fact that you can wipe out that persist -1/-1 counter with Juniper Order Ranger. Each time you go through the loop, you deal 2 damage to a creature or player of your choice. It's not infinite damage, but it should be enough. From now on, any time I start talking about infinity, I'll actually be talking about these big loops. Infinity sounds more dramatic than, you know, a billion.
There are a few decks in standard that already go crazy with big loops. The Reveillark deck can quite happily bounce all of your permanents and draw a ton of cards with its loops (generally involving Body Double and Greater Gargadon). There is already a Juniper Order Ranger combo deck out there. With Eventide though, there are a few new options, which led to today's first deck.
This deck features ways of ending up with infinite green mana, an infinite number of creatures, infinitely large creatures, and infinite life. Turning it all into infinite damage is just a matter of attacking. If you wanted to make things a little more direct, all it would take would be the addition of another colour—either red for Roar of the Crowd, or black for Rite of Consumption. Conveniently enough, Manamorphose would help with either of those splashes. For the list above, though, what can we do?
Well, firstly let's have a go at infinite mana. All you need is Umbral Mantle, Immaculate Magistrate, Devoted Druid, and at least two other Elves. Equip the Immaculate Magistrate with Umbral Mantle, and you can start putting counters on Devoted Druid, then tapping and untapping Devoted Druid enough times to be able to afford the untap cost of Umbral Mantle, with at least to spare. Rinse, repeat. At the end of it you have all the green mana you want, and your Immaculate Magistrate will be as large as you could possibly want, kind of as a bonus.
If you are really looking for a bonus, you can also start putting as many counters as you might like on any of your creatures. You might need some bigger dice.
That is a good start. For kicks and giggles, given that Devoted Druid is in the deck anyway, Quillspike is along for the ride, to get as big as feels appropriate by eating Devoted Druid's counters, letting it untap again to get another counter and another green mana, and so on. We are really cooking now.
For infinite life, we need infinite creatures, so that we can get infinite triggers off Essence Warden. So how do we go about that? For that we need Sprout Swarm. With infinite mana, Sprout Swarm is obviously infinite creatures, but we don't actually need infinite mana to get infinite Saprolings. Cue Nettle Sentinel. This 2/2 for one is definitely an exciting attacker, but it's also a mana machine. With Heritage Druid, it is a neat little mana producer, giving you a rebate on each and every spell. With Sprout Swarm, Nettle Sentinel is effectively Emerald Medallion. If you have 4 copies of Nettle Sentinel in play, then every time you play Sprout Swarm, they all untap, and along with the new Saproling, you have enough creatures to convoke it out again. With Fable of Wolf and Owl, you can replace a Nettle Sentinel. One way or another, getting a boatload of creatures is really not as difficult as it used to be, thanks to an unassuming Eventide common.
Testing Your Nettle
Before Eventide, there was a passable "Elfball" deck. Elfball is a bit of a classic. It first showed up around the time of Urza's Saga and at the time used Priest of Titania, Gaea's Cradle, and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary to generate huge amounts of mana for a big Fireball. When Onslaught came out, it took a different twist, with Wirewood Lodge and Seeker of Skybreak enabling Wirewood Channeler to play really big spells.
These days, the main goal of Elfball hasn't changed. It generates a lot of Elves and a lot of mana, and eventually kills with a big spell. What has changed somewhat is the way that it goes about getting there. For a start, these days generating a lot of Elves has never been easier, what with all the token producers out there. On the downside though, there is nothing quite like Priest of Titania now. So how do we do it? Check it out.
The exciting thing about this Elf deck is its explosiveness. As soon as Heritage Druid comes along to play, you can always generate quite a bit of mana. The real excitement, though, comes when you get Nettle Sentinel involved. The Sentinel turns Gilt-Leaf Ambush into effectively a free spell that builds up your team and lets you clash. Between Regal Force and Distant Melody, getting into position to be able to either swarm in for 20+ or Roar for the win is not too tough, and it can all happen scarily fast.
The way that I normally play this deck is relatively cagey. If you have five creatures down, then your opponent more or less has to do something to deal with them, or the plinking will start to hurt. You don't want to leave yourself too open to mass-removal by over-committing. Fortunately, Regal Force is a great card to commit with, as he gives you a second bite of the cherry should he hit play, letting you draw enough cards that rebuilding post-Wrath of God or similar isn't so hard. At some point, though, you will inevitably want to switch gears. Normally this is when you hit your Heritage Druid, who allows for some frankly stupid turns where far more spells are played than seem likely. Going from zero to hero is really not that tough once Heritage Druid gets involved.
Now, there are various ways to go with Elfball, and I am not 100% that this is the best way, though it is a lot of fun. I've seen other really interesting builds that use various big pump spells to both help get the kill and provide huge amounts of mana when played on Devoted Druid. There are also builds that use the more traditional Elvish finisher of Overrun to get there. For the best results, have a go with the deck and tweak it to fit your own style of play.
For this next deck, I have to give partial credit to Masami Ibamoto, who I bumped into in Kobe while doing coverage of the Grand Prix out there. One of the big themes in Shadowmoor and Eventide is -1/-1 counters, and with Eventide we have one of the most powerful spells that dishes them out: Pyrrhic Revival.
The trick to rogue deckbuilding general is finding something that excites you and running with it. That might be a whole big theme, like the wither mechanic, or it might be an individual card that sparks off a whole slew of ideas.
The important thing at the initial stages of deck design is to keep clear in your head what it is you want to do, and to make a plan that means that you can both do it and in turn win with it. It is all very well saying that you want to get one creature enchanted with ten Auras, so that it can swing for 20 in a single turn, but you'll want to have worked out in your head both what opposition you might face to your plan, and how you are going to achieve it once you face such opposition.
I normally keep a little notepad, so that if I suddenly come up with an interesting idea, I don't forget about it, and can put it together and give it a go.
Here are just some of my notes from Eventide. Feel free to build a deck around them if they strike your fancy!
Both of these are monsters that care not only about hitting your opponent, but about how hard they hit for. They rather remind me of one of my old favourites that has just been reprinted in Tenth Edition, namely Cephalid Constable. Could there be a blue-black deck with a lot of sabateurs and some pump effects? If so which ones? Loxodon Warhammer? Unstable Mutation? Whispersilk Cloak is good for getting guaranteed hits in, and keeping the team safe, but even something like Clout of the Dominus might also be a good choice, simply as it ensures that your creatures are safe from most removal.
We've already seen this potent combo showing up at U.S. Nationals, as an interesting sideboard plan. Is there a way of getting it to work harder for us as a main-deck plan? Under Painter's ServantBlood Knight gets a little more exciting, and we can potentially even run things like Battlegate Mimic and Balefire Liege for greater returns in our mono-red deck too.
I've been looking at Null Profusion and Enduring Renewal to build decks around for the entire time that they've been legal in the current Standard, and it feels like now might well be the moment for Null Profusion to do what it has always threatened to—namely to allow you to "go off" in a big turn of much crazyness. Clearly the Elfball deck above can generate sufficient mana to allow you to keep playing spells as long as you draw them, but also, with retrace available, you are now safe from stalling out when you hit two lands in hand, as those lands can turn into more spells.
Previously, Pyromancer's Swath was principally a component in storm decks, and a very powerful component at that. Now that retrace has come along, it seems a little safer to play even when you aren't winning the same turn. You can set up a situation where every land drawn is a Lightning Bolt, as Flame Jab turns into Flame Haymaker.
This is a card that has been in the back of my mind for a while. Playing it with Twincast seems a pretty big game, and for the first time ever there are enough cards around with lots of blue mana symbols that one might be able to live the dream and be a great milling deck that can actually race aggro decks. Cryptic Command seems a great start, and Shelldock Isle looks like a must, but are there really enough good control cards to win the race?
Eventide has certainly opened up a lot of options to deck-builders who choose to look for them. Whether you have Nationals, PTQ, Friday Night Magic, or just your regular game coming up, I wish you very happy hunting!