Weaving Another Spell

Posted in Building on a Budget on April 9, 2009

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Hello and welcome to another edition of Building on a Budget. Last week I began to examine Spellweaver Helix in Extended. This week I'd like to further explore our options.

I received a lot of email regarding last week's deck, and the forums were very active. I appreciate constructive criticism and was very happy with last week's response. I went to a PTQ on Saturday and was approached by a gentleman who was playing the deck. He went 1-3 and dropped, but he assured me that the deck was a lot of fun to play.

The two biggest complaints regarding the deck were its lack of win conditions and the choice of Arcane Sanctum over Crumbling Necropolis. People wanted the option of hardcasting their Cruel Ultimatums. I initially played with the Arcane Sanctum because the deck seemed very weak to burn. I wanted to play with Sunbeam Spellbomb. Including red gives us the option of playing with Flame Jab. We can maximize our chances of drawing the combo if we play a full playset of Raven's Crime and Flame Jab.

Choices and Changes

Crumbling Necropolis
Flame Jab

I want to try playing the deck with the suggested changes and see how it pans out. I'll start by explaining the card choices.

Fabricate: I wanted to expand the artifact toolbox we had last week and try including cards like Ensnaring Bridge. Fabricate can also search for Spellweaver Helix. This seems very important if we want to maximize our chances of going off.

Spellweaver Helix: This is the core of our combo. It allows us to take control of the game by casting one of our extremely powerful spells every turn.

Trinket Mage: Many people thought Trinket Mage was a weak win condition. I think it's important to try new things and I feel this deck can't reliably win without "going off." I'd like to try a version of the deck that kills people with Cruel Ultimatum. Trinket mage will see the axe.

Raven's Crime: A key combo piece that helps stabilize the game by taking away your opponent's Burn spells or counters.

Flame Jab: We now have two one-mana retrace spells. Flame Jab also serves as a nice tool against Elf and Faerie decks. I don't want to abandon the Darkblasts altogether, though—having an instant speed removal spell with that much versatility is too important.

Wretched Banquet: A lot of the problems the previous list had with Zoo are solved with the inclusion of Ensnaring Bridge. There isn't enough room for Wretched Banquet in the newer list.

Time Stretch: The new version of the deck doesn't really need to take infinite turns. A lot of you think it's better to just outright Cruel Ultimatum people than to take a pair of extra turns.

Cruel Ultimatum: The most powerful sorcery spell ever printed, and a perfect win condition for Nicol Bolas Week.

Firespout: Now that we're playing with red we get access to this incredible board sweeper. Drawing a single Firespout changes the Zoo matchup dramatically. The card is also quite valuable against Elves.

Thirst for Knowledge: This was one of the more expensive pieces of the deck and it doesn't seem as necessary now that we have eight one-mana spells with retrace.

The Silver Bullets

Executioner's Capsule: I like the synergy between the capsule and our Academy Ruins. We can slow the game down to a crawl and make sure they can't stick a threat. I think this still has a place in the sideboard, but I think Ensnaring Bridge fixes this situation in the main.

Engineered Explosives: This card seems necessary when I think about the deck. I understand how expensive it is, and I think you could probably replace it with an extra Firespout if you can't afford the big price tag.

Ensnaring Bridge: I was reading some Pro Tour–Berlin coverage the other night and I read a few game reports from Kenny Öberg. He had a singleton Ensnaring Bridge in his blue control deck and he smashed Zoo with it over and over again. People used to play the Bridge in conjunction with burn so they could empty their hand quickly. These days, one-mana creatures have 3 power and two-mana creatures have 5 power. The Bridge is fine on its own.

Chalice of the Void: The deck still avoids two-drops pretty well. The only cards that actually cost two now are the Signets.

Etched Oracle: With the inclusion of Vivid lands (for the green half of Firespout). I figured we could easily play a single copy of Etched Oracle to tutor for. I'm not sure if you've ever been on the receiving end of an Etched Oracle as a control player. It actually seems impossible to win. Throw Academy Ruins into the mix and we have a very strong way to deal with dedicated control decks.

I put together the new list and it looks like this:

Do Be Cruel

Download Arena Decklist

I liked last week's sideboard a lot and decided that most of it could be used again this week. I cut the Sunbeam Spellbombs for a combination of Firespout and Volcanic Fallout. The Cruel Ultimatums have been moved to the main so I decided to put the Time Stretch in the board. Time Stretch is still a better Helix target against decks like Astral Slide and Tron, and I think it's worth it to devote some sideboard slots. We've lost a lot of our game against burn decks, but our Zoo and Elf matchups have improved dramatically. The new sideboard looks like this.

1 Darkblast
1 Firespout
2 Volcanic Fallout
4 Trickbind
1 Night of Souls' Betrayal
3 Time Stretch
1 Spellweaver Helix
2 Cruel Edict

I brought the deck into the Tournament Practice room and played some matches.

Round 1 vs. Naya Zoo

Game 1

I keep Vivid Crag, Seat of the Synod, Mountain, Swamp, Raven's Crime, Fabricate, and Firespout on the play. I play my Swamp and cast Raven's Crime targeting my opponent. My opponent plays a Wild Nacatl and passes. I draw another Raven's Crime, play it, and play my Vivid Crag before passing. My opponent plays a Kird Ape and another Wild Nacatl after he attacks. I draw a Cruel Ultimatum, play my Firespout, and pass. My opponent plays a Tarmogoyf and a land before passing with no cards in hand. I draw a Vivid Marsh, play it, and play Fabricate searching for Ensnaring Bridge. My opponent attacks for 3 and passes. I draw a Mountain, play it, retrace my Raven's Crime, and play my Ensnaring Bridge. My opponent plays a burn spell on my end step. Two turns later I resolve my Cruel Ultimatum. My opponent is left with Tarmogoyf and is able to attack for 4 damage. I drew into the Helix off my Ultimatum and I play it the next turn and retrace Raven's Crime to cast another Ultimatum. Two more Cruel Ultimatums later, my opponent is dead.

Sideboarding: I side out the Etched Oracle and two Darkblasts to bring in the extra Firespout and the two Cruel Edict.

Game 2

I keep Cruel Edict, Firespout, Flame Jab, Spellweaver Helix, Vivid Crag, Vivid Marsh, and Academy Ruins on the draw. My opponent leads with Forest and Wild Nacatl. I draw a Mountain, play the Mountain, and Flame Jab the kitty. He plays a Tarmogoyf on turn two and passes. I draw another Academy Ruins, play my Vault of Whispers, and Cruel Edict the Goyf away. My opponent plays Kird Ape and passes. I draw a Chalice of the Void, play my Vivid Crag and pass. My opponent Incinerates me on my end step. He attacks and plays another Wild Nacatl before passing. I draw Compulsive Research, play my other Vivid land and Firespout, and pass. My opponent passes the turn back. I play Chalice of the Void for two, and my opponent responds by using Ancient Grudge to destroy my land. On his turn he simply passes the turn back. I play my Compulsive Research and find a Cruel Ultimatum, discarding it and another card. He plays Woolly Thoctar and passes. I draw my card, play Spellweaver Helix, and Cruel Ultimatum him twice. He concedes.

Match Overview: The new version of the deck has a lot more game in this matchup. Zoo has become one of the more popular decks in Extended and I'm happy to say the deck stands a fighting chance now. I wouldn't go so far as to say the matchup is great, but I'm pretty sure it's a lot better than it was.


Round 2 vs. Elves

Game 1

I keep Raven's Crime, Vivid Marsh, Academy Ruins, Fabricate, Firespout, Izzet Signet, and Seat of the Synod on the draw. My opponent plays a Nettle Sentinel and passes. I draw a Vivid Crag, play it, and pass. He attacks for 2 and plays an Elvish Visionary. I draw a Flame Jab, play my Signet, and pass. My opponent untaps and combos me out. This match may seem good with the Darkblasts and Flamejabs in conjunction with the Firespout, but it's very hard to win on the draw when they're killing you on turn three.

Sideboarding: I take out three Fabricate, the Ensnaring Bridge, and one Cruel Ultimatum and bring in the Firespout, the Volcanic Fallouts, the Night of Souls' Betrayal, and the extra Darkblast.

Game 2

I mulligan and keep Darkblast, Vault of Whispers, Cruel Ultimatum, Night of Souls' Betrayal, Dimir Signet, and Academy Ruins. I play my Vault and pass. My opponent plays a Birchlore Ranger, but I Darkblast it. I untap, draw a Mountain, play my Dimir Signet, and pass. My opponent plays an Elvish Visionary and passes. I untap and draw Chalice of the Void. I play my Night of Souls' Betrayal and pass. My opponent proceeds to do nothing for a few turns. He can't put anything on the board because of the enchantment. Eventually I hardcast Cruel Ultimatum. I draw into Spellweaver Helix and Raven's Crime, and I imprint the Crime and the Ultimatum before playing a Chalice for three. (Chalice for three prevents my opponent from using Harmonic Sliver to get rid of the enchantment.) I use Compulsive Research the next turn and find another Raven's Crime. My opponent concedes.

Game 3

I keep Flame Jab, Vivid Crag, Seat of the Synod, Academy Ruins, Engineered Explosives, Darkblast, and Spellweaver Helix. My opponent opens with a Nettle Sentinel. I play my Vivid Crag and pass. My opponent goes off on his second turn and I lose.

Match Overview: I think Elves is probably one of this deck's better matchups. The big problem is that the Elf deck can get draws that don't lose to anything. It's important that we recognize how powerful the Elf deck really is. I don't think we can do much to improve this matchup; the cards in our deck are already extremely potent against their game plan.


Round 3 vs. Mono Red Burn

Game 1

I keep Raven's Crime, Vivid Marsh, Academy Ruins, Firespout, Spellweaver Helix, Fabricate, and Seat of the Synod on the draw. My opponent plays a Lava Spike turn one. This is not the matchup I want to see. I draw a Vault of Whispers, play it, and use Raven's Crime. He plays a Hellspark Elemental and puts me at 14. I draw another Vivid land, play it, and pass. My opponent unearths his Hellspark Elemental, attacks for 3, and plays another Lava Spike. I draw a Compulsive Research and play it. I find another Raven's Crime and a Cruel Ultimatum, and things start looking pretty good. If I survive the next turn I will win the game. Unfortunately, my opponent plays Shard Volley and Shrapnel Blast and I die.

Sideboarding: We have no action out of our sideboard to beat the burn decks. We just have to hope we can get lucky and stick a Helix with so we can start using Ultimatum.

Game 2

I keep Flame Jab, Flame Jab, Fabricate, Compulsive Research, Vivid Crag, Vivid Creek, and Academy Ruins. My opponent plays a land and passes. I draw a Chalice of the Void, play my land, and pass. My opponent plays a Hellspark Elemental and attacks for 3. I draw another Flame Jab, cast one, play another Vivid land, and pass. My opponent plays another Hellspark Elemental, plays a land, and attacks. I draw an Island and play my Compulsive Research, drawing Raven's Crime, Academy Ruins, and Mountain. I discard the extra Academy Ruins and pass. My opponent unearths both Hellspark Elementals and attacks. I draw a Cruel Ultimatum, play Fabricate to find my Spellweaver Helix, and pass. Again, I will win if I can get another turn. Unfortunately for me, my opponent has me at 8 and has only used two cards. On his turn he plays a pair of Incinerates and a Shard Volley and I die.

Match Overview: This match is incredibly difficult. I don't think it's exceptionally relevant because of the decline in popularity of burn decks.


I hope you've all enjoyed my second go at playing with Spellweaver Helix in Extended. This deck didn't do as well in the test games, but I'm confident it's more prepared for the Extended field. If anyone is looking to add less budget-friendly cards to this deck, I'd recommend splashing green for Life from the Loam and playing Gifts Ungiven along with one copy of Eternal Witness. This could make the combo more consistent and allow you to play fewer cards that are strictly devoted to it.

Happy brewing!

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