Beg, Borrow, Steal

Posted in Feature on March 8, 2006

By Chris Millar

Welcome ladies, gentlemen, germs, and Johnnies! It's a non-theme week here at, and we all know what that means: Knock Knock jokes!

Here's one I just wrote:

Knock, knock.

Who's there?

Mistform Ultimus.

Go away!

Okay, it still needs some work.

Before I get started, I'd like to apologize to everyone who's been reading my articles. Last week's edition of House of Cards included a number of glaring errors, mistakes so embarrassing and obvious as to be nearly unforgivable. In that article, I casually mentioned that Dragon Mage was the original (and only other) Dragon Wizard in the game, apart from Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind. This is catastrophically and categorically wrong. I neglected to include the universal asterisk, Mistform Ultimus. This Legendary Illusion is a Dragon Wizard, a Mutant Ninja Salamander, and a Major Pain-in-the-Neck.

Here's another joke:

How can you tell that Niv-Mizzet is the smartest being in Ravnica?

He never forgets about Mistform Ultimus.

Ooh, another good one. I'll let you pick yourselves up off the floor before I continue.

The other mistake I made was to suggest, in a very oblique way, that Uyo, Silent Prophet was a man. This is clearly not true. Only fans of ‘70's Glam Rock could make that mistake. I didn't realize that the gender of imaginary Moonpeople was such an overriding concern for people, and for that, I am sorry.

There's one last thing I'd like to apologize for. Lately, I've been making a lot of jokes about how lazy I am. While this is true, it is also a lie. It occurred to me that if I'm so lazy, then why do I come up with new decks every week instead of just stealing them from you, the readers? I mean, early on I asked you to share your ideas, your combos, and your decklists with me. It's been eight weeks with nary a deck-pilfering in sight. I'm here to tell you that things have changed.

Folks, consider yourselves pillaged.

Keeping Oaths, Taking Names

As you can probably tell, I love “bad” cards. Basically, if the card stinks, I'm smellin' it, if you know what I mean. (If you don't know what I mean, consider yourself lucky.) Evaluating cards is one of the most fascinating (and fun) aspects of Magic. I'm probably more generous than most, willing to give just about any card a chance. When I see something terrible, something others consider useless, I almost feel pity. I feel the urge to find it a home, to help it fully realize its untapped potential. In this way, I'm not unlike a high school guidance counselor or a Toronto Raptors general manager.

One with NothingMaybe not the end of the world after all?

I'm especially fond of so-called “Reject Rares.” I was tickled to death (no exaggeration) that the poster boy for Reject Rares, One with Nothing, showed up in some sideboards at last weekend's Pro Tour in Honolulu. And it was a constructed tournament. In fact, it was a constructed Pro Tour! Apparently, it actually does counter Sudden Impact. Who knew?

Given this completely natural and societally-accepted love of junk rares, you can imagine my delight when Robby Bullis (also known as Redland Jack, also known as one of the finalists of Bennie Smith's recent Tombstone Stairwell Challenge) sent me a deck that included Ashes of the Fallen, Vulshok Battlemaster, Artificial Evolution, and Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho. That's a motley crew we've got there, and I have to confess that upon first glance, I had no idea what was going on in the deck. The missing piece of the puzzle is Blasting Station. All clear? No? Here's how it works (I'm paraphrasing Robby here).

When the creature Oathkeeper is equipping is put into a graveyard from play, it bounces right back into play, provided that it's a Samurai. Vulshok Battlemaster, meanwhile, has two important abilities: the vital equipment gloms onto him for free when he comes into play, and it has haste. The problem is that Vulshok Battlemaster is not a Samurai. That's where Artificial Evolution comes in: play it on the Oathkeeper, changing Samurai to Human. Ashes of the Fallen works in a similar manner: by making all of your creatures Samurai as long as they are in your graveyard, any creature equipped with Oathkeeper will return to play when it hits the graveyard. You only ever need one or the other, either Artificial Evolution or Ashes of the Fallen, but he included both for redundancy and because Ashes of the Fallen can be tutored for by the Fabricates in the deck.

How do you get the equipped creature into the graveyard? Spawning Pit or Blasting Station will do the job, allowing you to sacrifice your Vulshok Battlemaster for zero mana. If you use Spawning Pit in the combo, you will also need Viridian Longbow. Blasting Station is a more straightforward way to win, requiring less combo pieces, but Robby assures me that Spawning Pit + Longbow is more stylish. I'd have to agree.

With these four (or five) pieces in play, when you sacrifice your Battlemaster, he pops back into play with the Oathkeeper equipped, ready to be sacrificed again. With Blasting Station or the Viridian Longbow, he can do one damage each time he comes back to life (or two damage if you have both Blasting Station and the Longbow in play). Without further ado, here's the deck:

Trinket Mage fetches Viridian Longbow, or acts as a Civic Wayfinder by fetching one of your artifact lands. There's also a small toolbox comprised of Meekstone and Dead-Iron Sledge which Robby uses slow the opponent's assault.

The deck Robby sent me was legal in Tribal Wars, with twenty-one Humans (and a single Merfolk). After playing the deck several times, I found that I was able to win with Oathkeeper-equipped creatures before I could assemble the combo. As a result, I made some changes, cutting some of the creatures for more copies of the combo pieces and more tutors/card draw to find them. Unfortunately, my version of the deck is not Tribal Wars legal and has a tougher time winning if you don't get all the combo pieces together. On the other hand, it is a lot easier to combo off, so both strategies have their merits. Here's my version:

Many of the cards are not useful in multiples, but are necessary for the combo, including Oathkeeper itself. I've found that Serum Visions, Thought Courier, and Thirst for Knowledge have been enough to keep my hand from being clogged with irrelevant cards.

There are certainly other paths you can take, as Robby notes: “A different way to go with the same concept would be to go White-Green, and have Auriok Steelshaper do the work of equipping the Oathkeeper for free, with Steelshaper's Gifts as your primary Oathkeeper tutor, a Golden Wish or two, four Blasting Stations, a stack of Samurai, and Congregation at Dawn and Eladamri's Call to make sure you get two Auriok Steelshapers in play.”

Brother, Can You Spare an Orzhov Basilica?


Vedalken Plotter

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Terraformer deck that made use of powerful spells that had effects normally unavailable to Blue decks. Spells like Beacon of Creation and Mind Sludge. In response to that article, I got an email from Miguel (of indeterminate surname) who had built a mono-Blue “land destruction” deck. Miguel's deck used a combination of Vedalken Plotter and Shifting Borders to trade lands with his opponent, only to bounce them with Temporal Adept or Eye of Nowhere. Since these effects return the land to its owner's hand, Miguel gets his land back while his opponent probably goes home and bawls his eyes out. Literally! Or figuratively, I guess.

At the time, I was working on a similar deck, so I decided to merge the two. My version of the deck played this card:

Scourge of the Casual Room

, Destroy target land.

Seems a little overpowered, no? Of course, that card doesn't really exist. Or does it? In conjunction with Vedalken Plotter, that's exactly what Tel-Jilad Stylus does. Except, instead of destroying an opponent's land, you get to put it into your library instead. This is similar to the old Avarice Totem + Tel-Jilad Stylus trick, where you'd exchange the Totem for some permanent of your opponents and then use the Stylus to put the Totem on the bottom of its owner's library, which just so happens to be your library. At this point, Trinket Mage seemed a logical inclusion. Since I was going to include Trinket Mages, I made a few other changes to Miguel's deck, swapping out the Blue Enchantments (Annex, Dream Leash, and Confiscate) and the copies of Keiga, the Tide Star for more Wizards. Vedalken Mastermind works very well with both Vedalken Plotter and Trinket Mage. Vedalken Dismisser and Aven Fogbringer are also Wizards with good comes-into-play abilities (abusable with the Mastermind or Riptide Laboratory). The rest of the deck is made up of Trinket Mage targets (AEther Spellbombs, Avarice Totem, a full set of Tel-Jilad Stylus') and mana.

There's a Tribal Wars deck this week after all!

If you've got some, it might be worth trying Spawnbroker in the deck, too. I just couldn't find room.

El Cheapo

In the forums of my article last week, there was some discussion about what Guildpact offers combo deckbuilders on a budget, in particular, what it provides fans of the more extreme budget formats like Peasant Magic and its thriftier brethren, Pauper Magic. Two of the Izzet Guild's Replicate spells fit right into decks that can generate an arbitrary large amount of mana. Train of Thought will allow you to draw your deck to find your kill card, which could very well be Pyromatics. This reminded me of an email I got a little while ago from Matt Davis. In it, Matt said:

“I like to design decks and stumbled upon a way to generate infinite black mana in Pre-Guildpact Standard. The three pieces are: Tidewater Minion, Freed from the Real, and Dimir Aqueduct. I'm sure you can see the implications, and in my testing, if you can get the Real to stick, you win. In my version, I first dump a bunch of the mana into a Dimir Guildmage, erasing my opponent's hand, and then I make a huge Psychic Drain or Consume Spirit.”

With the Dimir Aqueduct in play, and Freed from the Real enchanting Tidewater Minion, you can tap the Aqueduct for one Blue and one Black mana and untap it with Tidewater Minion. Use the Blue mana generated this way to untap Tidewater Minion with Freed from the Real. You are back where you started, with an untapped Aqueduct and an untapped Tidewater Minion, but now you have one Black mana in your mana pool. Repeat this process as many times as you like, although usually twenty or so will do.

Matt didn't send me a decklist, so I put one together myself (So much for letting you guys do all the work! Sheesh.). Since all three pieces are common, I figured I might as well make the deck Rare-free, or in House of Cards-speak, Lite. The deck uses the power of the Dimir Guild's Transmute mechanic to search up the missing combo pieces. Dimir Infiltrator fetches mana (Dimir Signet), answers to problems (Last Gasp), or the kill card (Consume Spirit). Perplex can tutor up Freed from the Real, while Brainspoil gets Tidewater Minion. There are only five Uncommons in the deck (one Dimir Guildmage, and four Diabolic Tutors), so it's legal in the Peasant format (Consume Spirit doesn't count as an Uncommon, since it appeared in an earlier set as a Common).

Now that Guildpact is out, we can take the same basic structure and build a Blue-Red version of the deck. This time, the deck is entirely made of Commons. Since only the mono-Blue Transmute cards can be used (and no Diabolic Tutors) this deck is a little heavier on the card drawing, with Compulsive Research, Sleight of Hand, and Sift doing the work of tutors. Freed from the Real can still be found via Transmuting Drift of Phantasms, while Pyromatics can be fetched with Muddle the Mixture. Like Dimir Infiltrator in the previous deck, Muddle can also find the appropriate Signet, as well as Volcanic Hammer to deal with creatures.

I'll wrap things up by saying thanks to everyone who's sent me decks, or just combos looking for decks. I can always use more! Nobody writes a column like this week-in and week-out without lots of help from the readers (that's you). Thinking for myself is hard work, so I need all the help I can get. Show me the money! Or, if you prefer, show me your wacky decks!

Until next time, steal yourself!

Chris Millar

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