IntoTheAether Invokes the Ultimus Principle

Posted in Feature on October 12, 2004

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar


Mistform Ultimus, recently sighted in a field of forget-me-nots

I issued a (small, admittedly) challenge, and you rose from your computer chairs to meet that challenge. Thanks to you, I played a thoroughly enjoyable week of Tribal Wars games versus a menagerie of kooky decks. I saw monoblack-Beasts, Spiders, Cephalids, Illusions, Kavu, Dwarves, and Battlemages, just to name a few. Well done, folks!

Last week I tackled two tribes spawned by Mirrodin block, Humans and Vedalken. Several readers pointed out to me that although only five different Vedalken exist, in Tribal Wars there is always Mistform Ultimus. The Ultimus is a great addition to otherwise anemic tribes of any kind, and it's something that often helps you against other tribes (imagine facing Slivers, for example, or Elvish Champion). You'd think I would remember Mistform Ultimus, since I said these exact same things in my preview of him many moons ago. Anyway, in my Vedalken deck I think dropping Synod Artificer for Mistform Ultimus is a terrific idea. Let's all agree that from now on, any deck that needs an extra boost to its tribe can invoke the Ultimus Principle.

The Ultimus Principle: When in doubt, give Mistform Ultimus a Tribal Wars shout.

This week I want to do some preparation for Champions of Kamigawa on the horizon. Champions is going to introduce or enhance a whole slew of Tribal Wars tribes, so I thought it would be fun to look at a few of these tribes to see how they fare pre-Kamigawa.

Before Spirits Joined A War

Since it's Spirit Week, let's start there. The Spirit decks I've seen online are almost exclusively green/white and revolve around Odyssey's Phantom creatures--like Phantom Nomad and Phantom Tiger--in combination with a permanent toughness enhancer like Elephant Guide, Mirari's Wake, or Shared Triumph. This idea is a good one, but I've got this “create my own original deck” curse that has me wanting to try something different. For example, a black Spirits deck is possible with Vampiric Spirit, Revenant, Emissary of Despair, Bellowing Fiend, and Graveborn Muse (or hey... you could invoke the Ultimus Principle!).

Another idea is to focus on the Phantom creatures from a different angle. I decided to try my hand at a monowhite Spirit deck that relies on adding +1/+1 counters via Test of Faith (one of my favorite utility cards in Darksteel) and Power Conduit. Here's the deck:

PRE-KAMI

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Note that you can focus on a mostly green deck using the artifacts above along with Seedborn Muse, Phantom Tiger, Phantom Nantuko, Phantom Centaur, and Phantom Nishoba. If you can afford such a deck, the beauty of this strategy is the addition of Forgotten Ancient. Anyway, I like my modest white approach which, it turns out, has some punch of its own...

Spirits vs. Wizards (blue/white)

Pure Reflection
Props to graveltoungue for using as many tricks as Wizards can manage all in the same deck. Early on I was worried because he put Pure Reflection into play and then used Artificial Evolution to have “Reflection” say “Spirit.” Ouch. He also had Riptide Biologist, Stormscape Apprentice and Patron Wizard, the last two of which were really frustrating. I played a Sun Droplet to keep me in the game and two Power Conduits just because I could. Eventually I drew into two Eternal Dragons to sift through all of my land and make sure the “Spirit” token was always on my side. He drew Wirefly Hive, but lost two of three coin flips to slow down my Dragons. Whew. I wish I could have drawn Disenchant to make the game less stressful.

Spirits vs. Beasts (black)

That's right, it's a monoblack Beasts deck. He used Prowling Pangolin, Spined Basher, Putrid Raptor, and Wretched Anurid with things like Cruel Revival, Spawning Pit, and Phyrexian Arena as support cards. It's a neat idea, but he thought my deck was spiffy too since I'm able to get a Phantom Nomad to go along with Power Conduit, two Sun Droplets, and Mirrodin's Core. His creature removal eventually got the best of me despite some amazing topdecking on my part, and he ran me over sitting on one life (which he would lose at his next upkeep thanks to the Arena). Good stuff and a fun game.

Spirits vs. Soldiers (white)

The Spirits faced off against a fairly typical Onslaught deck this time around, though it was a Soldier deck with Honorable Scout and Reborn Hero to go along Leonin Shikari, Daru Warchief, and equipment like Bonesplitter and Loxodon Warhammer. A second turn Phantom Nomad, coupled with a grip of three Tests of Faith meant that the military folks really had no chance. My Nomad mowed through the opposition while the combination of Windborn Muse and Sun Droplet kept me at twenty life. A Power Conduit in the end simply sped up the Soldier's death.

Spirits vs. Spiders (green/blue/red)

Silklash Spider
When I played my first Spirit, my opponent said “Ah, just the kind of deck I like.” I was nervously wondering what he meant, since all I had seen to that point was a Shivan Oasis, Rampant Growth, Forest, and Island. Turns out he had a Spider deck, including Spiders of the Pincer, Canopy, Giant, and Spitting Variety. It was when he dropped Silklash Spider, though, that my heart sank. Flying Spirits versus Spiders? Urgh! A Loxodon Warhammer made the situation look even more bleak. So the Spirits lost, right? No way! Not with Faith and Hope on my side! Two timely Tests of Faith kept an Emissary of Hope out of Silklash reach, and then a Power Conduit combined with Mirrodin's Core kept it growing. My 13/12 Spirit finally overwhelmed the arachnids and that warhammer they had stolen from the Elephants.

Spirits vs. Angels

Ah, a nice peaceful conversation between two friendly white tribes. Sustainer of the Realm, Serra Advocate, and Angel of Mercy faced off against a Phantom Nomad, Windborn Muse, Sun Droplet, and Power Conduit. Once again a timely Test of Faith turned the tide of battle, robbing my opponent of an Angel while allowing my Nomad to become enormous. I had a grip full of Spirits while my opponent had stalled on five land, then he conceded because of needing to leave. I would say I had divine luck on my side, but I was playing against Angels after all.

Spirits vs. Shamans (green/red)

The trouble with Shamans before Champions of Kamigawa is that the best Shamans either have double-green or double-red in their mana cost. My opponent's deck was pretty much how I would have built it, with Eternal Witness, Spikeshot Goblin, Vulshok Sorcerer, Viridian Acolyte, and although I didn't see them I'm betting Troll Ascetic was in there too. He capped the deck off with some affinity tricks like artifact land, Cranial Plating, Frogmite and Ornithopter. Unfortunately, he was stuck on green mana for too long, which let my pair of Phantom Nomads be aggressive. Windborn Muse and Sun Droplet kept his offense in check. By the time Spikeshot Goblin and Vulshok Sorcerer came into play, I already had three Spirits with multiple counters on the offensive.

Spirits vs. Cephalids (blue)

My opponent started the game with Manipulate Fate, which was fun to see. Cephalids of varying shapes and sizes appeared, but not fast enough as my Phantom Nomad, Windborn Muse, and Emissary of Hope ate into his life total. When he tapped out to play Parallel Thoughts (commenting on how blazingly fast the Spirits were), I looked sorrowfully at the three Disenchants in my hand. Poor Cephalids and their well-laid plans. I'm sorry to say I forgot what was hiding under the Thoughts since I waited an hour to write the game log. Well, whatever it was disappeared, and Spirits flew to victory.

Spirits vs. Wizards (blue/white)

Shared Fate
I saw some normal Wizard fare, with Stormscape Apprentice, Echo Tracer, and Information Dealer in the lead. Imagine my surprise, then, when my opponent dropped Cephalid Aristocrat. Although his deck didn't perform as intended, the deck was meant to empty his library into his graveyard, then play Shared Fate. A cool idea, but my airforce of Spirits and a pile of +1/+1 counters put a stop to any nonsense before it got started.

Spirits vs. Dwarves (red)

This turned out to be a best two-of-three match versus Wabu and his Dwarf deck, actually, because in the first game I was manashy and I was run over by 1/1 dorks backed up by Dwarven Bloodboiler. In the second game he was manashy and my Spirits did their thing without impediment. The third game showed more promise, and the combination of Windborn Muse, Sun Droplet, Power Conduit, and Phantom dudes allowed the Spirits to soar to victory despite heavy land-destruction, two Dwarven Drillers, and a Dwarven Strike Force. Dwarven Strike Force, incidentally, is a card name that makes me giggle.

Spirits vs. Illusions (blue)

Ooooo... foil Phantom Warrior. Mistform Ultimus, Mistform Warchief, and Fleeting Image all showed up in the early turns, but thankfully two Sun Droplets and a Windborn Muse kept them in check. An Emissary of Hope and Angelic Page continued to grow bigger thanks to Power Conduit and Mirrodin's Core, eventually outpacing a Fleeting Image and Mistform Dreamer. As my opponent was about to die he cast Standardize, which panicked me for a moment until I realized it did nothing but turn the table into a horde of Ouphe. Whew.

The Spirits go 10-2 without the benefit of Champions of Kamigawa. I don't know about you, but that frightens me.

Hey, speaking of frightening...

Before Rats Walked On Two Legs

There are some mighty good Rats in Champions. Until then, we have Relentless Rats.

DIRTY RATS

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The unfortunate thing about Relentless Rats decks, I've found, is how uninspired they feel. Not that they're bad, mind you, but I still have that “create my own original deck” curse thing. More on this in a moment.

Rats vs. Zombies (black)

It's nice to finally play a deck that isn't afraid of Withered Wretch. In fact, this game wasn't even close. His Undead Warchief, Withered Wretch and Gempalm Polluter played speedbump to my three 4/4 Relentless Rats, a Ravenous Rats, and a Chittering Rats. To Rats, apparently, the undead just look like a tasty snack.

Rats vs. Kavu (red/green)

He conceded after two Relentless Rats, saying that there was no way to beat a Rats deck in Tribal. Really? Tell that to the Nightmares and Myr...

Rats vs. Nightmares (black)

A flurry of Mesmeric Fiends, Faceless Butchers, Chainer's Edicts, and Corrupt kept my Ravenous Rats and Relentless Rats in check. I Echoing Decayed twice to balance the board, and eventually it came down to a topdecking war between two 3/3 Rats and a Butcher. Unfortunately, I drew Swamps while my opponent drew, fittingly enough, Nightmare. The 6/6 bad dream flew high over the Rats and pounded me into submission.

Rats vs. Myr (mostly colorless)

The game progressed for us both in the early turns, him with Gold Myr, Arcbound Crusher, and Scythe of the Wretched and me with a Ravenous Rats and three Relentless Rats. The problem came when Lodestone Myr hit the table. I tried attacking into it, since my hand was--literally--five more Relentless Rats. I figured I would just overpower him, especially if I drew some creature removal. A spectator commented about how dumb my attack was, and I responded with “Have faith...” Six or seven turns later I died to a big Lodestone Myr. Oh well... these weren't Spirits so the “having faith” trick apparently doesn't work.

Rats vs. Dwarves (red)

The Dwarves were back, this time with Aether Vial tech. Unfortunately, his land destruction was a turn too late for me to get out two Relentless Rats. When he Demolished and Molten Rained me back to two land, I drew Night's Whisper to get me a third land and continue dropping Rats. It was all downhill from there for the poor little folk.

I found myself not having much fun with an endless stream of Rats whose only “trick” was to play more Rats. If I made another Relentless Rats deck, I think I would try something like this:

DIRTY RATS v.2

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Moving on...

Hygglo asked if I wanted to see his Battlemages deck. What a silly question... Of COURSE I want to see a Battlemages deck! Sure enough, he has twenty Battlemages, two of each Familiar (a la Thornscape Familiar), and color-fixers like Harrow. I had been tinkering with a Drone deck that invokes the Ultimus Principle, so we shuffle up and play.

DRONE PATROL

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Drones vs. Battlemages (5-color)

Hygglo's mana was great in the game, but he unfortunately drew very few actual Battlemages. A Stormscape Battlemage killed my first Mistform Ultimus, a Thornscape Battlemage wrecked a Silver Myr, and a Thunderscape Battlemage made me discard two cards. It was his Stormscape Familiar, though, that did upwards of twelve damage to me. In the end, the mindless Drones kept coming with workmanlike discipline, stalling Hygglo's offense and flying overhead for the victory. The Drone deck isn't one I decided to keep playing, mostly again because of the lack of tricks. I highlight this game because I think a Battlemages deck is a cool idea.

Before Snakes Walked On Any Legs

Last week Mark Gottlieb gave you a glimpse of what a Snake deck looks like post-Champions of Kamigawa. The question is, can we build one pre-Champions? The trick with Snakes, like a lot of tribes, is that most of their stock is expensive to cast. That means you either need a lot of mana acceleration or some other way to slow down your opponent. I decided to try a bit of both, once again invoking the Ultimus Principle.

ULTIMUSSSS

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That's just a brutal, brutal manacurve, not really able to do anything without three mana. Maybe the Excludes should be either Wayfarer's Bauble or Aether Spellbomb. Heck, Aether Vial wouldn't be a terrible idea either since sixteen creatures cost four mana. In any case, the above deck is what I used...

Snakes vs. Soldiers (white)

Leonin Bola
A single Anaconda--even with Plainswalk--is no match for Daru Warchief, Auriok Glaivemaster, Noble Templar, and a Bonesplitter. Leonin Bola just added insult to injury, since it tapped my Mistform Ultimus to prevent it from being used as a chump-blocker while I held two more of the Legends in my hand. Good Soldiers are prepared for jungle warfare, apparently.

Snakes vs. Zombies (black)

My heart sunk a bit when I saw Festering Goblin, but it turned out that thanks to some nice mana acceleration I was able to power out an early Anaconda. My Tangle Asp took down his first Soulless One and an Exclude took down the second. Discard let me slough some of the Spectral Shifts in my hand without losing momentum, and my lone Anaconda brought me to victory.

Snakes vs. Illusions (blue/green)

Repulse slowed down a Mistform Wakecaster and a Mystic Snake countered a Mistform Seaswift. Mistform Ultimus and Anaconda showed up for the Snakes (stranding, it turned out, an Ultimus in my opponent's hand... yay for the new Legend rule not hitting MTGO yet!), which made the game a bit of a race. When he enchanted his Wakecaster with Alpha Status, though, the race swung back into his favor. I dug with Exclude to look for another Repulse but it was not to be. A flying, giant, Mistform illusionary Snake finished me off.

Snakes vs. Birds (blue/white)

You know what? Snakes don't fly. I could only Repulse, Exclude, and Mystic Snake so many times. My opponent was using Frozen Solid as creature control, which managed to shut down a Mistform Ultimus and an Islandwalking Anaconda. Aven of various kinds and a Suntail Hawk chirped their way over my Snakes' hissing heads. We played another game after that and the Snakes triumphed easily, largely because 1/1 flying bodies couldn't stand up to 3/3 non-flying bodies. The Snakes and Birds will have to wait for the rubber game, I suppose.

Snakes vs. Elves (green)

This was just a weird game. My opponent played a quick Wirewood Hivemaster and two Everglove Couriers. I Mystic Snaked a Wellwisher, then Repulsed it back to my hand to nab a Heedless One. The Elvish beats kept on coming, though, and the only thing keeping my opponent in check was a Tangle Asp and a few 3/3 bodies. An Anaconda of mine evolved to have Forestwalk, so I ticked away at his life but eventually had to hold back to block. Then... the Elves... stopped. No more attacking. No more casting. I guess my Snakes looked intimidating, but I'm sure if my opponent kept up the pressure I would have died. Instead, I gathered Mystic Snakes and Excludes in hand to counter the Elves he drew, freeing up my Anaconda to attack. I cast Mystic Snake six times in the game thanks to Repulse and at one point had ten Snakes on the table.

Oh, there are so many other tribes left untouched. My approach to Tribal Wars has been to make some unusual tribal decks and jump into the fray so you can see what games are like. As I said, when Champions of Kamigawa rolls around, expect me to revisit the format to look at the new and improved tribes. Tribal Wars harkens back to my earliest experiences with theme deckbuilding, so it's no surprise that it turns out to be one of my favorite formats to play. Expect some Demon, Ogre, Fox, and Moonfolk decks in a month or two.

A Common Problem

In other news, apparently I stink at Pauper Magic, the all-commons format. After going 1-2 with Nate Heiss' cool commons combo deck in PDC 13, I was determined to show up to either PDC 15 or 16 to try a deck of my own creation. After several ideas, I came up with a deck that was nearly unstoppable in my testing throughout the week. Here's the deck:

HARPO

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The basic idea is to use solid comes-into-play creatures multiple times, winning through sheer stubbornness. In testing, as I said, the deck performed beautifully. I'm not sure I ever lost a game in which I hit three mana.

Then I showed up for PDC 15.

The good news is that almost fifty players showed up to match all-commons wits, doubling the usual attendance. Throughout the evening players would send me messages to let me know that they were playing in the event because of my article and were either winning, having fun, or--usually--both. All in all, I think PDC 15 was a great success (I'm assuming PDC 16 was fun too, though I didn't make it to that one).

The bad news is that I got creamed. It all started off well enough, beating EJO's monoblack Zombie deck 2-0. Then I fell to Guler's Madness deck 1-2, Repressed's monoblack deck 1-2, and, finally, got steamrolled by toda1905's Affinity deck. I ended the evening at 1-3 in matches, 4-6 in games. Ah well. After the PDC Worlds, a new season of Pauper Magic will roll around, so maybe you haven't heard the last of my all-commons ineptitude.

Next week it's time to roll out a whole new format and take a peek into Champions of Kamigawa Beta Land. In the meantime, let's hope we get a chance to match wits online.

-j

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