And for those waiting for the Round Robin—it's returning next week, so mark the date on your calendar as Building on a Budget will return, 3.0 style!
Back when Magic was first released, life gain was considered a relatively weak mechanic. Take a look at the boon cycle from Alpha—cards that give you three of something for one mana. You have Ancestral Recall (three cards), Lightning Bolt (3 damage), Dark Ritual (three mana), Giant Growth (+3/+3 to a creature), and Healing Salve (prevent 3 damage or gain 3 life). Ancestral Recall was so good it was banned in most formats, and restricted in Vintage. Lightning Bolt and Dark Ritual were considered too powerful, and were replaced over time with other variants (Shard Volley, Shock, Cabal Ritual, Rite of Flame). Giant Growth is a staple, and has seen its share of tournament play.
But Healing Salve? Poor Healing Salve, just not on par with the other boons. And as went Healing Salve, so went life gain as a mechanic—what good is gaining 3 life, when that's one swing of an opponent's two-drop creature? Did you want to spend a card to stop Watchwolf for a turn? No!
Over time, Wizards of the Coast began ramping up the power level of life gain. Compare Natural Spring to Nourish, or Warrior Angel to Exalted Angel. Clearly the newer cards are more powerful, and never has this been the case more than with Shadowmoor. Yes, green-white has had Loxodon Hierarch and Exalted Angel and Nourish in the past—but in this set, you also get Augury Adept, Boon Reflection, Dawnglow Infusion (twice as good as Stream of Life!), Fracturing Gust, Kitchen Finks (which is a staple budget card—get four of these as soon as you can!), and Oracle of Nectars (among others). Life gain in-and-of itself won't win games, but it will allow you to win a race when attached to a creature (Finks) or card advantage (Adept), or when it is an obscene amount of life gain (Dawnglow Infusion, at , is a 12-point life gain swing).
Because life gain is being pushed so hard in green-white right now, it seems like there's plenty of tools now available to build around Ageless Entity and his friend, Well of Lost Dreams. Ageless Entity can easily be pushed to 10/10 or higher on turn six, while still shoring up your board position. Well of Lost Dreams turns your life gain into card advantage on the spot. With eight copies of these cards (four of each), twenty or so life gain creatures and spells, and some utility cards, it seems like you have a great basis for a budget green-white deck that can outlast other creature decks due to sheer tempo swing!
Back when I did set reviews for Vintage for StarCityGames.com, I picked this as the best card out of Fifth Dawn for Vintage. It's seen some fringe play, mostly involving decks that have Skullclamp, or Auriok Salvagers / Black Lotus / Lion's Eye Diamond for unlimited mana. By and large though, it's been a fringe rare and has only marginally been paid attention to.
Here's a list of artifacts of note in Extended you can fetch with Artificer's Intuition:
Aether Spellbomb, Bonesplitter, Brass Gnat, Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, Claws of Gix, Conjurer's Bauble, Heap Doll, Liar's Pendulum, Locket of Yesterdays, Lotus Bloom, Meekstone, Mishra's Bauble, Moratorium Stone, Myr Servitor (combo!), Ornithopter, Paradise Mantle, Pithing Needle (okay, maybe not this one—that's not budget!), Pyrite Spellbomb, Scrabbling Claws, Sensei's Divining Top, Springleaf Drum, The Rack, Tormod's Crypt, Wanderer's Twig, Wayfarer's Bauble, and the six artifact lands from Mirrodin and Darksteel.
Just off the bat, there's a lot of utility in a potential Artificer's Intuition deck—you have bounce and creature kill (Spellbombs), ground control (Myr Servitor), graveyard removal (Heap Doll, Tormod's Crypt), mana acceleration (Springleaf Drum, Paradise Mantle, Lotus Bloom, Wayfarer's Bauble), and card drawing (Conjurer's Bauble, Mishra's Bauble, Liar's Pendulum), not to mention the combo-riffic Locket of Yesterdays.
There are a lot of ways to set up the top card of your deck, especially in green: Treefolk Harbinger, Elvish Harbinger, Worldly Tutor (for Classic online), any scry card—so it seems like you could make sure that Bioplasm is extremely huge on any given attack. Combine this with Undying Flames / Riddle of Lightning / Erratic Explosion, and you've got the core of a red-green "mana cost matters" deck where you can win the game in one (literally) explosive turn! Add in Timesifter to make sure that your opponent doesn't take another turn for the rest of the game!
Once a tournament staple, Braids has fallen to the budget range online (2.5 tickets each). Braids works best in a deck that can generate a lot of extra creatures early, and so usually you'll see her in a black-green deck. There are a ton of token creature generators in Lorwyn block, so pairing Braids with Elves might be a way to start locking down your opponent early in the game without having to give up anything other than an Imperious Perfect token.
One of the problems with Chisei, Heart of Oceans is that you usually don't want to remove counters from your own cards—in general, counters on your cards are beneficial, although there are exceptions (Dark Depths, cumulative upkeep cards' age counters, etc). Once Shadowmoor hits, you'll have a slew of -1/-1 counters that you actively want to remove from your own creatures, especially those with persist. Chisei, Heart of Oceans would be a great offensive weapon in a world where you are playing creatures that are undercosted by the addition of -1/-1 counters (Chainbreaker and Leech Bonder, in blue or artifacts).
It surprised me, when researching this article, that Equilibrium only goes for about a ticket each online. The ability to recursively bounce your creatures (Momentary Blink, anyone?) or take your opponent's creatures off the board for a single mana is powerful! Equilibrium lets you race, and win the race, against other creatures decks. Riftwing Cloudskate turns from a Boomerang into an Undo, and you can recur Nekrataals or Murderous Redcaps against one another! Equilibrium is on-par with Cloudstone Curio—while the former only focuses on creatures, you are gaining the ability to keep your opponent's creatures off the board.
The main problem with Eye of the Storm isn't that it costs seven mana—it's that after you spent seven mana to play it, you still need to have spells left in hand to make it work. This works extremely well with suspend instants and sorceries, since you can align them to work all at once, after you've gotten Eye of the Storm on the table.
Gleancrawler seems like he would work really well as the center of a deck filled not only with creatures that self-sacrifice, but with persist creatures as well—bring them back after they've died a second time! Gleancrawler is also a huge monster on its own (6/6 trampler for six), and while there aren't any black-green hybrid cards in Shadowmoor, it wouldn't be a stretch to include Gleancrawler in a green-X or a black-X deck without the need for playing both colors.
There are two huge problems with decks that revolve around a milling strategy. First, your opponent starts at 60 life (53 if you count the opening hand). Milling away 40-50 cards (counting draw phases) takes a lot longer to do than just attacking for 20 points of damage. Also, milling generally doesn't affect board position. If you play Glimpse the Unthinkable, you're taken out about a fifth of your opponent's deck... but you're down a card in hand, and you haven't killed a creature, a card in hand, or a land. In fact, given how many cards and abilities now key off of the graveyard (dredge, flashback, threshold), you very well may have helped your opponent out!
Guiltfeeder is a fantastic solution to the problem of how to kill an opponent with milling, besides decking them. It's entirely conceivable that Guiltfeeder can swing for a minimum 10 points if you are dedicating your deck to milling. Moreover, Guiltfeeder has evasion, so it's almost assuredly going to hit for that 10 damage a turn.
Horobi, Death's Wail himself can die to any targeted spell or ability in the game of Magic. However, you always have priority after you play a spell on your turn, so you have first dibs on wiping out your opponent's army. Drop a permanent that can target multiple creatures for free (Cauldron of Souls, anyone?), and you've just Wrath of Goded your opponent. Timing is the key here—once you target the creature, the triggered ability of "Destroy this creature" goes on the stack, killing the creature before the spell or effect resolves. Your opponent's creatures won't have persist, and you'll still have Horobi, Death's Wail and Cauldron of Souls on the table. Given that Horobi, Death's Wail himself is a 4/4 flyer for four, that should be enough to win the game.
Two words: Haunting Misery. Next time I'm playing classic, we'll have a look at this deck!
There were a lot of +1/+1 counters going around in Fifth Dawn because of sunburst, but there were even more to be found in the world of Lorwyn (and Morningtide). Ion Storm is a great way to turn those extra counters into mucho damage, and at a low cost (two mana), which can be used multiple times a turn.
I used to run a deck that had token creature generators, countermagic, bounce, no actual creature cards, and Goblin Charbelcher. If you fail to find a creature after activating Proteus Staff, you can literally stack every card that is in your deck in whatever order you want. This allows you to put Goblin Charbelcher as your top card, and then a land as the thirtieth or so card down in the stack, for a one-shot kill. This is a deck that might be worth taking a look at due to all the great token creature generators in Lorwyn block.
Have you noticed that a lot of cards on this list benefit greatly from the token creatures available in Lorwyn block? Rakdos Riteknife is perfect in a deck that can dish out a ton of creatures and then blow away the opponent's board. Once it gets going, you can block with your token creature, sacrifice it (or another creature) to give the Riteknife another counter, and eventually take out every permanent your opponent has in play.
The Japanese pros, who are restless innovators, built a deck around Spellweaver Helix, Crush of Wurms, and draw effects. You would discard cards (Thirst for Knowledge / Compulsive Research), get a cheap sorcery (Sleight of Hand) imprinted on the Helix along with Crush of Wurms, and then go nuts making 6/6 token creatures. This deck hasn't been revisited in a long time—what would three blocks worth of sorceries do to improve this deck? Are there better options than Crush of Wurms available right now?
I have the basis of a combo deck here—Sprouting Phytohydra and Æther Flash. Put the two together, and you've got a theoretically infinite number of dead 0/2 creatures coming into play and going to the graveyard. Since the Phytohydra is a may ability, you can stop the chain any time you want to cast a sorcery, or another creature. Anyone have any ideas what to do once you've had 1,000+ 0/2 creatures come into play and die in a single turn? If so, speak up in the forums!
In general, my fifth rule of deckbuilding is that you do not want to base a deck around Auras that enchant your creatures. You are just opening yourself up for card disadvantage—if your creature dies in response to being enchanted, you're down two cards for one. If your creature dies after being enchanted, you're still probably down two for one (stuff like Griffin Guide nonwithstanding). Three Dreams nets you three-for-one card advantage—you get three Auras, of your choice, in hand. This is a very powerful effect indeed, and even if your creatures get two-for-oned, you're still going to be up cards.
Persist creatures seem the perfect pairing for an enchantment / Aura based strategy. Yes, your creature still loses the Aura once it goes to the graveyard—but you'll still have a creature when it comes back, so you don't have the problem of "all my creatures are dead, now what do I enchant?" Pair this with Auratouched Mage and the new color-matters Auras from Shadowmoor, and you have a potentially viable Aura deck that doesn't roll over and die to Terror and Shriekmaw!
I once built a deck for this column based around Sky Swallower (not Simic Sky Swallower—he's the good one! I mean Sky Swallower, as in "give all your permanents to your opponent!) and was accused of the deck being based more around Zur's Weirding locks than Sky Swallower himself. Zur's Weirding is a huge lock card, and one that can potentially backfire in this world of dredge, flashback, and graveyard recursion. On the other hand, gain 2 life a turn (or have any board advantage), and Zur's Weirding is one of the hardest soft locks in Magic. I've always wanted to revisit a proper Zur's Weirding lock deck for this column, and this would be an interesting card to use in the future as a basis for a deck.
I'd like to hear from you about which of these cards intrigues you the most! Take these deck ideas and run with them in the forums. Feel free to use either Classic Online or Extended Online (but keep it budget, please), and I may use your deck idea (or suggestions) in a future column. And to top this off, let's have a vote to see which of these cards you, the reader, most want to see a deck built around!
See you all in seven days, as the Building on a Budget Round Robin picks back up with the Bringer / Composite Golem deck!