Chaos on a Plane

Posted in Feature on January 31, 2007

By Chris Millar

Prodigal Pyromancer
Welcome, Johnnies, to Timeshifted Week II! It’s just like the first Timeshifted Week, but with a bigger budget, no plot, and the questionable use of anatomically correct costumes. The last time we explored this theme, I took the opportunity to build a whole bunch of decks around Tim, everyone’s favourite sorcerer prodigy. Since I’m such a fountain of ideas, a veritable geyser, I’m going to do something radically different this time. There’s a particular Planar Chaos timeshiftee that caught my eye, and I’d like to devote an entire column to the exploration of the plethora of deckbuilding ideas that it inspires. The card? Prodigal Pyromancer!

On second thought, maybe I won’t do that.

Mesa Kicks Butte

Sometimes it seems like there are more white cards that draw games than draw cards. In fact, if you leave out cantrips and cycling cards (which everyone gets in roughly equal quantities), the number is frighteningly close. That’s probably why white is a distant fifth when I rank my favourite colours. More cards equals more options and greater deck consistency. More options and greater consistency equals more fun. More fun equals 15.

Naturally, I was pretty psyched to see that there was a white Verduran Enchantress among the timeshifted cards. Let me just say that enchantment-heavy white decks have reached a new plateau with the printing of Mesa Enchantress. White has long had a relationship with enchantments (though they claim to be “just friends”). A few recent cards, like Tallowisp, Three Dreams, and Retether, have allowed the colour to strengthen this relationship (at least when it comes to Auras).

When I previewed Retether, the one colour combination I didn’t really talk about was B/W. Might as well do that now. Luckily, black got some nifty timeshifted creature enchantments, like Vampiric Link and Melancholy, and white was the recipient of Serra’s Boon, which isn’t timeshifted but is a neat mirror of Phyrexian Boon. The good thing about Vampiric Link and Serra’s Boon is that they’re versatile. You can use as makeshift removal spells on an opponent’s creatures, or you can use them to enhance your own. As a result, you’re less likely to be stuck with a handful of auras (with no creatures) and you can play Retether without worrying that it’ll backfire horribly. Melancholy also helps with respect to the latter. Note that, unlike Pacifism or Gelid Shackles, if a Melancholy ends up on one of your guys during a Retethering gone wrong, it won’t cripple that creature permanently, since you can simply choose not to pay the upkeep. Better still, if it ends up on a Phyrexian Ironfoot, you can simply use its ability to untap itself.

Hunted Lammasu
As I said in my preview article, Retether works well with creatures that are hard to kill, like regenerators or creatures that can’t be the target of spells or abilities. It just so happens that there are a few timeshiftees that fit the bill: Revered Dead, Calciderm, and Malach of the Dawn, which are timeshifted from Drudge Skeletons, Blastoderm, and Ghost Ship, respectively. I didn’t end up using Calciderm in the final deck, but the other two found a place – as did Rimebound Dead and Phyrexian Ironfoot, the former because it’s an efficient regenerator, and the latter because it’s really good and it makes me laugh when I think about enchanting it with Sinstriker’s Will. With the “skeletons” gumming up the ground, I decided to include another card I mentioned during my Retether preview: Hunted Lammasu. It’s an efficient flyer, but the drawback is that your opponent gets a 4/4 Horror token when it comes into play. Your ground forces should be able to keep it at bay, and if not, you can always toss a Vampiric Link, Melancholy, or best of all, an Enslave on it. Interestingly, if you control an Enslave'd Horror token (not to be confused with an Enslaved Horror token), you will take the damage. That’s because of semi-obscure rule 216.1 (not to be confused with very-obscure rule 612.1). From the comprehensive rules:

216. Tokens

216.1. Some effects put a token creature into play. He who supplied it, denied it. More importantly, he who supplied it is technically the owner.

Please forgive any inaccuracies; I’m quoting from memory. Basically, the player who controlled the spell or ability that created the token is considered its owner. Since you controlled the Hunted Lammasu when it spawned the Horror token, you own it. And since Enslave pings the creature’s owner, not its controller as you might expect, you will take one damage per turn. Don’t get too upset, though. You probably deserve it.

To quell any imminent riots, I should say that I left Auratog and Spirit Loop on the bench on purpose because I used them fairly heavily in my Retether preview and I wanted to make room for some new ideas. By all means, add them to your Mesa Enchantress decks. You do what you want. I’m certainly not paying your bills. Besides those two, a few other cards seem very worthy of exploration, such as Pillory of the Sleepless, Gelid Shackles, Temporal Isolation, Feebleness, Riot Spikes, Strands of Undeath, Necromancer’s Magemark, Guardian’s Magemark, Pentarch Ward, and Griffin Guide.

Infused with Bloodfire

Whenever a new set comes out, there’s usually one combo that’s got everybody talking. In years past, it’s been Goblin Charbelcher and Mana Severance, or Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Curiosity. Judging by my email, the Planar Chaos version of that combo is Volcano Hellion and Stuffy Doll. So far, the combo has been sent to me by Kaushal A, Chris S., Jordi, and Will. Basically, as long as you have a higher life-total than your opponent, you can play both cards and win on the spot. Play Stuffy Doll, followed by Volcano Hellion. When the Hellion comes into play, target the Stuffy Doll and make X equal to your opponent’s life-total. You will end up dealing X to your Doll and X to yourself. Then the Doll will deal that much damage to your opponent, killing him.

Theo K. and Efrén R. both paired Stuffy Doll with Furnace of Rath. With a Furnace in play, Stuffy Doll will deal two damage to itself, and then four to your opponent. That’s quad damage! Add another Furnace and a single Stuffy Doll activation will hit your opponent for a whopping sixteen! Theo sent me a nifty deck that used red’s board sweepers like Pyroclasm and Jaya Ballard, Task Mage to maintain control of the game or finish off his opponent when combined with Stuffy Doll.

One card that fits into each of these concepts is the timeshifted version of Pestilence, Pyrohemia. Translated literally, it means “a burning sensation in the hemia.” It’s also the title of a totally killer album by Def Leppard, if that’s not a contradiction in terms and/or completely made up. Most importantly, those of us who’ve built decks combining Pestilence with cards like Cemetery Gate can relive our reckless youths in Standard. It’s like the whole deck concept has been colorshifted! The switch from black to red is significant for a couple reasons. One, a red creature is almost twice as likely to have protection from its own colour. And two, protection from red is generally more significant than protection from black, since red usually needs to deal damage in order to kill creatures, whereas black can get around protection with forced sacrifice (Cruel Edict), -X/-X effects (Hideous Laughter), and, now, Damnation. In general, being flame-retardant is a much better quality than being bog-water-repellent (Someone should tell that to the makers of my khakis). Keeping the fires at bay in Standard, you’ve got Soltari Priest, Paladin en-Vec, Opal Guardian, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and Tivadar of Thorn in white, Thick-Skinned Goblin in red, and Jodah’s Avenger in blue. Besides those fine lads and lasses, you’ve got access to a number of other, more adorable creatures that will allow you to keep Pyrohemia around. There’s Order of the Stars (set ‘em to red!), Guardian of the Guildpact (count Pyrohemia’s colours – it’s one!), and the enchantment-resistant Azorius First-Wing (check Pyrohemia’s type-line!). Even the Kobold factory, Kher Keep, can be good with Pyrohemia, since you sweep the board and make a token before the end of the turn.

So far we’ve got Volcano Hellion, Stuffy Doll, and Pyrohemia. Thick-Skinned Goblin seems like a no-brainer, since it can both gain Protection from Red and reduce Volcano Hellion’s potentially-exorbitant echo cost to zero. I’m going to skip white, because I think the aggressiveness of the creatures would end up pulling the deck in too many different directions, and, besides, Paladin en-Vec and company see plenty of play already. Instead, I’m going to use blue because I’m really excited about Jodah’s Avenger. Unlike its predecessor (Urza’s Avenger), it can grant itself a number of very synergistic abilities, and, barring Sudden Shock, it is almost impossible for a red deck to destroy. It gets even better when you equip it with a Loxodon Warhammer. You can give it, say, shadow and double strike, shrinking it to 5/2. The subsequent attack will result in a twenty-point life swing! If you give it vigilance on top of that, you will be able to hit for eight, gain eight life, and still have a 7/4 back to block! The Warhammers will also help you offset the damage you’ll be dealing to yourself with Volcano Hellion and Pyrohemia, they make chump-blocking very unappealing for your opponent, and they turn even a lowly 0/1 Kobold into a serious threat. Besides, what would a deck full of Avengers be without a mighty hammer?

Win, Lose, or Never Draw Again

The inspiration for the next deck comes from Ross M. He wrote a very brief but very exciting email about one of the Planar Chaos timeshiftees:

Molten Firebird + Confusion in the Ranks + Blood Rites = Kill all your opponent's creatures and deny all his draws at the same time. Needs creatures in play to work, but Forbidden Orchard can take care of that.

Molten Firebird
Confusion in the Ranks
Blood Rites

Basically, it goes like this: With Blood Rites and Confusion in the Ranks on the board, play Molten Firebird (a timeshifted Ivory Gargoyle). Confusion will trigger, and you can swap the Firebird for an opposing creature. Sacrifice your new creature to Blood Rites, choosing Molten Firebird as the target of the two damage. The Firebird will die, your opponent will skip his next draw phase (since he controlled the Firebird when it went to the graveyard), and the Phoenix will rise from its ashes on your side of the board at the end of the turn, kickstarting the process again.

It’s a fairly fragile combo, relying as it does on three five-mana spells. Any Disenchant effect will foil your plans, and even an opponent’s Glorious Anthem will throw a wrench in the works. Worst of all, the combo comes with its own built-in get-out-of-jail card. If your opponent is playing red, he can just pay and remove Molten Firebird from the game. Fortunately, you can do a few things about that.

1. Destroy red-producing lands. This is what Ross suggested, and the idea is sound. I don’t think I’d want to make the deck too-heavy on land destruction, but one card I like is Avalanche Riders. It’ll destroy a land and allow you trade for a creature with Confusion in the Ranks. Best of all, since it has echo and requires a payment of 3R during your opponent’s next upkeep, there’s a good chance that your opponent will not be able to keep it around. You just got a creature and destroyed a land, basically giving up nothing in return.

2. Use Damping Matrix or Pithing Needle. The Matrix will shut off the Phoenix’s activated ability, as will a Needle naming Molten Firebird. Both cards seem good with Confusion in the Ranks as well, since their effects are the same no matter who controls them. The only problem I can see is that the whole combo already has the potential to backfire horribly, and with either of these cards in play, you add the risk of getting locked out of your own draw step.

3. Don’t rely 100% on the lock. I’m a big fan of this approach. I love an unwieldy, unnecessarily complicated combo as much as the next guy, but expecting to pull it off on a regular basis is a recipe for frustration. Go ahead and put it in the deck, but at least make sure that your deck can do something if Plan A fails. That way, you can still experience the thrill of pulling off an unlikely combo when everything works, and you can still have a fun game when everything doesn’t.

Siege-Gang Commander
To that end, I filled the deck with cards that aren’t terrible on their own but become much better with either Blood Rites or Confusion in the Ranks or both. Festering Goblin, Mogg War Marshal, and Siege-Gang Commander all have synergy with the key, non-Phoenix cards and oodles of synergy with one another. The War Marshal is particularly useful. When it comes into play, both its comes-into-play and Confusion in the Ranks will trigger. Arrange things so that you make the swap first. Your opponent will get the War Marshal and you will get whatever monster they have on hand. Then, when the War Marshal’s comes-into-play ability resolves, you’ll get the Goblin token which you can then swap for the War Marshal. You end up with an extra creature. At the same time, Kher Keep provides you with an endless number of creatures to trade and gives you plenty of Blood Rites fodder as well. Howling Mine and Brainspoil help you to get all of the lock pieces. If do achieve the lock, your opponent will stop getting any benefit from Howling Mine. They’ll be left with whatever cards are in hand, and you can take those out with Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace.

Keldon Necropolis and Kher Keep: Is there a more mana-intensive “combo” between two rare lands beginning with the letter “K”? I’d say it gives you a way to machine-gun your opponent’s creatures, but that might be overstating it slightly. You’d be lucky to musket them.

Some other cards worth mentioning, since they seem to fit in with what the deck is trying to do, include Pain/Suffering, Nightscape Battlemage, Thunderscape Battlemage, Goblin Gardener, and Mindslicer.

Until next time, colour inside the lines!

Chris Millar

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