Posted in Feature on March 22, 2006

By Chris Millar

As Mark Rosewater illustrated on Monday, there exists a useful taxonomy (it's like astronomy, but with taxes) of Magic player types. It consists of Timmy, Johnny, and Spike (and, as I learned during Swap Week, Vorthos). Mark's article comes just in the nick of time, because, unfortunately, those three player profiles have degenerated to the point where people (not you) thought Spike was a good player who played good decks, Johnny was a good player who played bad decks, and Timmy was a bad player who played bad decks. It had nothing to do with the player's motivations, or what attracted them to the game. So when a few readers called me a Johnny-Timmy, I was a little dismayed. Maybe even a bit insulted. I'm not young, or new, or bad at the game (relatively speaking). Like many, though, I was missing the point. If having fun is what Timmy is all about, then pass the Craw Wurms, Ricky, I'm attacking for six. While House of Cards is the Johnny column, I'd like to take a second to talk a little more about the other half of my psychographic (it's like a normal graphic, but crazier) profile.

There's a problem plaguing poor Timmy. No, Lassie, it's not that he's trapped in a well down by the Old Mill. It's not plagues, either. It's his Leviathans. He's still waiting to summon them, and it's been years since Unglued. To make matters worse, the Leviathan has become a sort of double agent, providing massive exploitable drawbacks for Johnny while still being the sizable monsters Timmy has come to expect.

When not selling him out to the Johnny-side Lando Calrissian-style, his Leviathans are deficient in other ways. For one, they are featured in terrible Peter Weller movies (although, come to think of it, Robocop 2 might have benefited from some Leviathans). Beyond that, they are bad role models, plain and simple. Just look at their diets! Eater of Days? Sky Swallower? These guys have possibly the most absurd abstract-concept-based diet since Thought Devourer. Or Atkins. Now, you might think that eating days isn't so bad, and swallowing some sky is okay (as long as you chew it first). But where does it lead? First little Timmy's eating a few days here and there with his friends on weekends, and the next thing you know he's lying face down in a ditch after a two-week calendar-binge, fingernails yellowed from too much Tuesday and little bits of Wednesday stuck in his beard. Does anybody want that for poor Timmy? I didn't think so. Man cannot live on Sky alone. You also need some protein.

I can often gauge the amount of mad Johnny-love cards are getting by the volume of email I receive about those cards. People send me their decklists (very useful) or ask me to build a deck for them based around a certain card (less useful, but not entirely pointless). If my inbox is any indication, Sky Swallower is by far the most popular card of all time. Since that is indisputably true based on the mountain of evidence I have just marshaled (yes, you can marshal a mountain), I just have to ask: why are we wasting time (with, among other things, parenthetical asides) when we could be building some decks around Sky Swallower, hereafter intermittently known as Big Gulps?

Strap on you Sauna Belts, Timmy-Johnnies, and welcome to your worst nightmare - welcome to Leviathan!

Gimme that!

Sky Swallower
A reader by the name of Shai_Hulud wrote to inform me that there had been a discussion on Magic Online regarding the relative “rejectedness” of the so-called “Reject Rares” from Guildpact. Apparently, Sky Swallower was the recipient of this dubious honour. That isn't terribly surprising (I have a hunch that it won't be appearing in any tournaments any time soon). The question becomes, then, what do you do with it?

Of all the drawbacks a creature could have, having an opponent gain control of all of your other permanents when it comes into play is definitely one of the worst. It's right up there with Flametongue Kavu's comes-into-play ability, which is pretty useless if your opponent isn't playing with creatures. Most people of a certain skill-level know this to be true. To illustrate my skill level, I regretfully inform you that I have played a Keening Banshee with no other creatures on the table. Twice. Few know my shame.

So how do you turn the Sky Swallowers drawback into a drawforward? Luckily in that same email, I was also provided with the answer: Endless Whispers. An old trick to get Phage the Untouchable to come into play under an opponent's control, it works just fine with Sky Swallower as well. In Shai_Hulud's words, “The idea is to get an Endless Whispers in play then play Sky Swallower and float enough mana to cast Innocent Blood, Chainer's Edict, or Cabal Therapy. At the end of your turn, you get all the non-Sky Swallower permanents in play.” Yoink!

This means that your primary kill mechanisms are your opponent's creatures or the single copy of Phage the Untouchable. Once you have collected all of the permanents in play, and bounced the Sky Swallower, you can either play Phage and just swing for the win, or sacrifice her with one of your many sacrifice outlets (with Endless Whispers in play, naturally). This deck is not for the merciful. My wins with it have been complete blowouts, but it was sometimes hard to tell because the kill was agonizingly slow. It's extremely difficult for your opponent to come back once you've stolen everything on the board. Basically, the game has restarted except you get to begin with a dozen lands in play. So you can take your time: use your Chainer's Edicts to control creatures, use your Cabal Therapies to take away anything remotely castable, bounce lands if you're feeling particularly malicious. Watch ‘em squirm for awhile. Keep saying, “Don't hit yourself,” as you chip away at their life total with their own creatures (yes, that is annoying). Then whenever you feel like it, you can finally pull off the ol' play-and-sac with Phage. Bang! You're dead. Wasn't that fun, Timmy? Nothing like the joy of playing for ten turns without any permanents, eh?

I made a couple of minor changes to the deck Shai_Hulud sent me, first swapping Echoing Truth for the pricier, but Endless Whispers-fetching Clutch of the Undercity, then adding the Quiet Speculations and Deep Analyses. Dematerialize is not a spectacular card by any stretch of the imagination, but it has the good fortune of being the only bounce spell with Flashback (i.e. can be fetched with Quiet Speculation).

Don't Gimme That!

When it comes to cards that Sky Swallower can “Donate,” you don't have to look much further than the original “Donate-ee,” Illusions of Grandeur, or for Magic Online purposes, Delusions of Mediocrity. As I was busily testing a not-very-successful Sky Swallower deck online, a player by the name of Dark Lord of the Slith challenged me to a duel. It was pistols at 3,426 paces, which seemed way too far to me, so we played Magic instead. The game was over quickly as his Slithiness played turn 3 and turn 4 Delusions of Mediocrity (thanks to a Signet), followed by a Diabolic Tutor with counter back-up, followed by a Sky Swallower (giving me, among other things, both Delusions), followed by an Echoing Truth on one of the Delusions, followed by me losing twenty life because of the Delusions' leaves-play “ability,” followed by so many tears. (I happened to be chopping onions at the time. Always multi-tasking.)

This is a (slightly modified) version of the deck the Slith Lord played:

Delusions of Mediocrity
The only differences between this deck and the original is that I added some more card drawing and Rare-d up the mana base because I am independently wealthy. Independent of reality, at least. As D.L.O.T.S. notes, with all of the card drawing, Transmute cards, and Diabolic Tutors, the combo comes together quite quickly. Delusions of Mediocrity and Night's Whisper combine to provide a little of that long lost “Necro-Donate” flavour. That just so happens to be my second favourite flavour, after cinnamon.

It's worth noting that you can kill simply by donating one Delusions (or even none at all), but if you risk it, it's pretty much an auto-loss if your opponent can kill or bounce the Sky Swallower. If you play with fire (or water) you're gonna get burned (or lose all of your permanents).

Other nasty cards you could donate include either Lich (the original from Alpha, or its Nefarious cousin), and Rust Elemental (which was originally in Dark Lord of the Slith's deck). At the eleventh hour (around 2:30 pm), I got an email from Robby Bullis (a.k.a. Redland_Jack) who'd built a Sky Swallower deck which used the Leviathan to give away Transcendence (Robby used Life Burst as the “kill” card).

When Timmy Met Johnny

As I mentioned before, when I do the Timmy, Johnny, Spike Quiz, most of the time I end up as a Johnny-Timmy. The last two decks have been pretty controllish (yes, it's a word), so I thought I'd Channel a little of the ol' Power Gamer and show off a deck sent to me by Jake Conner. Sometimes it's more fun to just ramp up to some expensive spells and pull off something ridiculous. Here's how it works:

Plan A: Play Myojin of Life's Web, followed by Weird Harvest. Remove the Divinity counter from the Myojin to plop Sky Swallower, Hokori, Dust Drinker, and four Forces of Nature into play. Your opponent gets everything but Big Gulps, and at the beginning of his or her upkeep will have to deal with four very cantankerous Forces of Nature who will be demanding a payment of sixteen Green mana (with no installment plan). Unfortunately for your opponent, Hokori puts a damper on that plan. Two dampers if you're lucky. With only one untappable land, coming up with sixteen mana might be a tad tricky. And by “a tad” I mean “extremely,” and by “tricky” I mean “tricky.” If he or she can't pay the mana, those cranky old Forces are going to revolt and deal somewhere in the neighbourhood of thirty-two-damage. That's the neighbourhood I want to live in.

Plan B: Beat down with 8/8 monsters.

Plans C-Z: Beat down with 8/8 monsters. What? We're Power-Gamin'.

Jake's deck had some White cards in it - Yosei, the Morning Star and Wrath of God in particular – but I felt they had to go to make room for more land. There might even be too much now, but you are going to want to cast Myojin of Life's Web sometime this century (preferably not long after you start playing your game).

You Mist One …

Unlike previous weeks, I haven't forgotten about our mutual friend, Mistform Ultimus. Not only is he/she/it a Legendary Illusion who's had more jobs than Barbie, but he/she/it is also a Leviathan. With the printing of Sky Swallower, this means that there are now enough Leviathans for Tribal Wars. Eater of Days, Sky Swallower, and ol' Misty are joined by Ravnica's Grozoth as well as the original Leviathan, Grozoth's nine-mana tag-team partner. As a result, every Leviathan ever printed is included, except the Segovian Leviathan who isn't actually a Leviathan. I think the story goes that he was abandoned by his birth parents (two upper-class Leviathans from Manhattan) and raised by a working-class family of Serpents in Brooklyn. Hence the creature-type. I could be mistaken, or making that up.

The deck is rougher than sandpaper wrestling, and its mana-curve balloons in the middle like, uh, I do. After a balloon-eating contest.

The idea is to use your smaller Leviathans – Mistform Ultimus and the Leviathan-by-choice Proteus Machine – to accelerate out your bigger Leviathans by using Cryptic Gateway. Once that happens, you can either attack with your big monsters (never a bad plan), or Grab their respective Reins and fling a Timmy-load of damage straight at your opponent's head. (Note: a “Timmy-load” is eight to ten. For example, you would say that a baseball team has a Timmy-load of players. At least, I would.)

There are a ton of other things you can do with Sky Swallower, most of which involve floating some amount of mana to cast a brutal spell like Balancing Act, or maybe even Acidic Soil. Enjoy those lands I just gave you! They have acid in them. Oh, those Red mages and their practical jokes.

Until next time, show others how much fun you can have!

Chris Millar

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