Gas, 'Tings, Etc.

Posted in Feature on January 17, 2008

By Chris Millar

Welcome to Morningtide Preview Week, Part II: This Time It's Later in the Year. I hope you've been enjoying the previews so far. Last week, I talked about, um, something that had nothing to do with prowling, reinforcing, kinshipping, or any other aspect of Morningtide. Well, no need to worry about missing out on a fancy and/or schmancy preview card this time. Instead of keeping you in suspense for, say, three thousand more words, why don't I just show you my preview card right now? Of all the cards I could've previewed, this one is the pick of the litter, the top dog, the, uh, best in show, and the...

Cream of the Crop

Upon seeing this card, my first thought was, "Wow, a green Sylvan Library." That statement is understandably a little confusing, since the Library has all of the trappings of a green card. Among said trappings are the fact that it's got a little piece of broccoli in the top right corner, it, for lack of a better word, is "green," and it has "Sylvan" in the title, which, as you may know, comes from a French word meaning "little piece of broccoli." Even with all of those points in its favour, however, Sylvan Library isn't really a green card. For one thing, what is a library doing in the forest? Are the Elves and the Beasts checking out copies of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Beaters or the latest Harry Potter? Despite those books being good reads, I highly doubt it. It makes no sense. Clearly, libraries should be on islands, where their contents can be perused by sentient fish and four-armed purple guys. It doesn't help Sylvan Library's case for greenness that it has appeared, most famously, in decks with a lot of counterspells or decks with next to no creatures (green's supposed forte).

Furthermore, given that similar cards like Brainstorm and Dream Cache are, well, blue, and that paying life to draw cards is black's domain, it just makes sense that if Sylvan Library were to printed today, it would be in Dimir's colours. You don't have to take my word for it, either.

Verdeloth the Ancient
Obviously, what makes Cream of the Crop so green is the fact that the card selection it provides is tied to the power of the creatures that come into play under your control. The bigger the guy, the more cards you'll see. In all my time pretending to be a Magician, I've played a lot of green decks and I have to say that filtering your best card to the top of your library seems like a good thing. One of the dangers of playing a Mono-Green Aggro deck full of little beaters and pump spells is that you can find yourself with a handful of pump spells and no creatures, or worse, you can draw too many lands. Cream of the Crop can help out in these situations. Similarly, "big mana" green decks usually devote a lot of deck space to mana acceleration (Search for Tomorrow, Wall of Roots, and Explosive Vegetation, for example), and those cards become increasingly less useful as the game goes on. Once you have a certain amount of mana, you'd much rather be drawing your massive threats like Verdeloth the Ancient, Verdant Force, and Verdie the Dinosaur. With Cream of the Crop, all you need is a little gas to get going, but after that, you will basically always have gas. In your hand.

Making Sure You Get the Crème de la Crème

And you thought Cream of the Crop was an odd expression.

Besides the obvious plan of playing one giant fatty after another (something I will always approve), you can use Cream of the Crop in other ways. To sum up, in the immortal words of site manager Scott Johns, Cream of the Crop is "surprisingly versatile, especially with anything that makes tokens bigger than 1/1, and offers some combos as well. Note also that it's 'comes into play' not 'cast from your hand,' which also matters for some combos/scenarios in addition to the token generating thing." Well put, as we shall see.

Imperious Perfect
Producing an endless swarm of at least two-power tokens with cards like Imperious Perfect, Bringer of the Green Dawn, and Urza's Factory allows you to use Cream of the Crop's pseudo-scrying every single turn. Jedit Ojanen of Efrava, Gemini Engine, Yore-Tiller Nephilim let you skim a little cream off the top smack dab in the middle of combat, if you want to do that for some reason (Oh, I know, Crown of Convergence!). As Scott alluded to, 1/1 creatures (heck, 1/10 creatures) don't do a whole lot with Cream of the Crop. When one comes into play, you'll get to look at the top card of your library...and put it back. With a little help, though, you turn all of your 1/1s into pseudo-scrying machines. Static pump effects like Gaea's Anthem or Gauntlet of Power will do the trick, as will the increasing number of triggered pump effects like Primal Forcemage, Ronin Warclub, or freshly previewed equipment Veteran's Armaments and Obsidian Battle-Axe.

So far, none of this sounds terribly combolicious. Luckily, there are plenty of cards that interact with top card of your library to good effect. Bioplasm eats the top card to pump itself up. Zoologist and Call of the Wild allow you to put the top card into play (if it's a creature). Aerial Caravan, Three Wishes, and Intet, the Dreamer allow you to play the top card of your library (under varying circumstances). Just knowing what's on top makes cards like Magus of the Future, Bloodline Shaman, Coiling Oracle, and Momir Vig, Simic Visionary much better. That's almost a deck right there.

The Cream Always Rises to the Top (of Your Library)

To kick off the deckbuilding segment of the show, why don't we look at a few existing decks in which Cream of the Crop could perhaps find a home.

1. Mono-Green Aggro

Here's a deck that made the Top 8 at U.S. Nationals this year. While I wouldn't suggest you just throw four copies of Cream of the Crop in there, the idea of "chaining" Timbermares, Groundbreakers, or Spectral Forces is very appealing. The two Pendelhavens would allow you to pseudo-scry even with your 1/1s. Just respond to the Cream of the Crop trigger by pumping your guy.

Michael Jacob

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2. Elves!

Elf decks are great at a couple things: producing tons of guys quickly and then running out of steam. Recent cards like Masked Admirers, Wren's Run Packmaster, Imperious Perfect, and Garruk Wildspeaker give you near limitless gas by themselves, and the fact that they (and the tokens they produce) have two-plus power means that Cream of the Crop will be refining the top of the library all the while. If more creatures won't do the job, why not ship a Profane Command to the top of your library? Here's a deck from the Top 8 of Worlds 2007 that uses most of these Cream of the Crop-friendly tools:

Yoshitaka Nakano

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3. Norin the Wary-Pandemonium Combo

In case you needed another reason to de-binder your Norin the Warys, Cream of the Crop is just what you're looking for. Everyone's favourite coward combines with Primal Forcemage and Pandemonium to blast your opponent for five every turn. Add a dollop of Cream of the Crop to the mix and you can draw the best card out of your top five every turn as well. Here's a cleverly titled deck I wrote about a little while ago to illustrate this concept. You could easily port the deck to a format like Legacy (or Online Classic) and run a set of Phryexian Dreadnoughts, which would allow you to looking at a whopping twelve cards! Add some Eternal Witnesses, Regrowths, and, I don't know, Phyrexian Soulgorgers, and you might have a deck.


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Hopefully that little whirlwind tour of decks that I mostly didn't build gave you some ideas, some starting points for your own experiments. You might also try using Cream of the Crop to "abuse" Lammastide Weave. Set up the top of your library with Loxodon Hierarch or Ageless Entity and use the Weave to mill an Autochthon Wurm. Nourishing Shoal could act as a backup Weave in case you draw the Wurms. Win with either a massive Ageless Entity, Test of Endurance, or just smash face with the Wurms you put directly into play with your Zoologist.

You could also build a green-white deck using a lot of "spiritcraft," with Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens and Elder-Pine of Jukai, Kodama's Reach and Spiritual Visit, Harsh Deceiver and Feral Deceiver, and Long-Forgotten Gohei tying everything together. Mirror Entity would probably be a good fit as well.

Top of the Morningtide

So, while preparing for this column I was looking through the Lorwyn spoiler and the Morningtide Card Preview Archive, and wouldn't you know it? There are tons of cards in this block that care about the top card of your library. Besides the aforementioned Lammastide Weave, the most important card (representing a whole subset of cards with the same mechanic) is Leaf-Crowned Elder. Creatures that have the kinship ability word check the top card of your library every upkeep. If the top card shares a creature type, you get to do some cool thing. Leaf-Crowned Elder is especially good with Cream of the Crop because it puts the creature into play if it meets the condition. This triggers Cream of the Crop and lets you set up the top card for next turn, which you will put into play and then restack library. And on and on. Wolf-Skull Shaman does a similar thing, but, you know, with Wolves.

Leaf-Crowned ElderWolf-Skull Shaman

On top of the kinship nonsense, there is, of course, all the cards that let you clash. Nath's Elite is particularly saucy with Cream of the Crop. Since both cards will trigger when the Elite comes into play, you can choose the order in which they resolve. Have Cream of the Crop resolve first and you can stack the top of your library before you clash! As long as you control Cream of the Crop and can keep clashing, Rebellion of the Flamekin will keep making 3/1 tokens, which will in turn make it more likely that you will win the next clash. Knowing what's on top of your library makes Lash Out and Morningtide's Titan's Revenge easier to maximize.

Finally, there are the hideaway lands. Mosswort Bridge and Spinerock Knoll seem particularly well-suited to decks using Cream of the Crop. Not only will you be certain that there's a good spell in the top four (as long as it's in the top one), but both cards' trigger-conditions can be met by playing with big creatures: Mosswort Bridge's by simply controlling them and Spinerock Knoll's by connecting with an opponent.

Here are two decks using many of the ideas I just discussed. The first is an Elemental deck that uses high-powered guys like Nova Chaser and Spectral Force and cheats them into play with Smokebraider or Incandescent Soulstoke. You can finish off your opponent with some clash and burn spells like Lash Out and Titan's Revenge, or with a seven-point Stomping Slabs. If only there was a way to know if you had a Stomping Slabs in your top seven cards.

The second deck is a Shaman-heavy deck aiming to make use of some of the spoiled kinship cards (Leaf-Crowned Elder, Wolf-Skull Shaman, and Sensation Gorger). They all want Shamans, so I filled up their ranks with some Masked Admirers, Chameleon Colossi, and Taurean Maulers. You could probably make room for some Garruk Wildspeakers in both of these decks, too.

Slabs of Beef

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A Low Down Dirty Shaman

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Until next time, have fun with what's on top!

Chris Millar

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