IntoTheAether Keeps It Simple

Posted in Feature on October 26, 2004

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Something exciting is happening this weekend. But first...

Remember Hygglo's Tribal Wars deck based on Battlemages that I crowed about a couple of weeks ago? Well, playing against that deck reminded me how much I love Planeshift's Battlemages specifically and, more generally, the kicker mechanic. As people who already know my deckbuilding proclivities, I love utility and versatility in my Magic cards. Options are good. It's why, when pressed, I said that Desert Twister was my favorite card and why mechanics like Kicker, Entwine, and Cycling make me happy.

So when I decided to make a Singleton deck I could play and tweak for a long time, I based it on the Battlemages. I started with this foundation:

I figured a deck packed with a full compliment of Battlemages would allow me a near limitless array of options and thus provide me limitless happiness for all eternity. It would also, by definition, be a five-color deck, which gives me even more options. To borrow a phrase I used last week: Pretty simple, right?

Once I had the heart of my deck locked in, I decided to select two cards of each color that would help out my Battlemage core. Why two? Because I wanted to carefully keep the colors balanced (at least for now... more on this in a bit) and felt this was a number I could handle without lapsing into paralyzed confusion.

In green I selected:

The idea here was that if playing a Battlemage once is fun, then playing that same Battlemage twice would be twice as fun. Again: Simple.

Hey... recycling Battlemages. I bet black could help out there too:

Blue and White weren't great for returning Battlemages to my hand from the graveyard (remember that cards like Breath of Life and Reya Dawnbringer don't help my Battlemages). So instead I decided to focus on blue's card-drawing and white's ability to handle opposing artifacts and enchantments. More kicker... Yay!

Red was a little tougher, since I didn't see anything to immediately help my Battlemages. I figured I would add in some burn, and make it specialized burn that would help me find my Battlemages (Cycling! Scry! Wheeee!):

That was a solid start, but I was facing getting really, really mana hosed in a lot of games if I tried to keep the deck perfectly balanced across the five colors. As a result, I dipped more heavily into green and artifacts for some mana-fixing help:

That was twenty-five cards, which is usually the time in Singleton deckbuilding that I come up for air and realize that, gee, I still have a lot of cards to add to my deck. Since I had Genesis, Eternal Witness, Gravedigger, and Reaping the Graves, I decided to push the idea of one more card from each color that would be good with graveyard animation:

Realistically that left six more cards before land. So I dipped into each color once again, sprinkling in more mana-fixing, comes-into-play goodness, card-drawing and defense:

For the lands, I simply went crazy. I used every green painland in Magic Online along with every reasonable five-color land, then added two of each basic land and a small pile of Forests. In the end, my Singleton deck looked like this:

Simple

Download Arena Decklist

Honestly, if this deck can't keep me happy for the foreseeable future, then I am just way too picky. The deck might not be perfect, but just scanning the decklist for the first time made me cackle with glee. I only hope I can fit All Suns' Dawn in at some point.

Rather than walk through the dozens of games I played with my newfound pet deck, I decided instead to highlight one game in depth to give you a flavor of Singleton. It's too bad I don't have more space, because this deck has produced some wonderful back and forth contests in the past week. Why just highlight one game, then? Well, duh. It's Singleton!

Baby, You're The One

Eye of Singularity by Eric Peterson
Eye of Singularity art by Eric Peterson
If you're wondering how Singleton works and how the games might differ from other casual games, read on. The goal here is obviously not to show off my wonderful strategic play decisions, but instead to give you a glimpse of the massive card variation and guiltless-rare phenomena I mentioned last week.

Here's how it goes... I start a game in the Casual Constructed Room, say simply “Singleton” and within seconds Diktator sits at my virtual table. I win the coin-flip and choose to play first. My hand is Stormscape Battlemage, Grand Coliseum, Forest, Mirrodin's Core, Forest, Swamp, and Etched Oracle. That is obviously a land-heavy hand, but my deck likes land so I keep it. Diktator mulligans down to six cards, then keeps his hand.

Turn 1

I play Grand Coliseum. Diktator plays a Mountain. We're off and running!

Turn 2

I draw Repulse, then play Mirrodin's Core and pass the turn. Diktator drops Goblin Burrows, casts Goblin Striker, then attacks for one. Uh oh. Goblins. My land-heavy hand is a liability against an aggressive deck, but Etched Oracle and Repulse may save me. At the end of Diktator's turn, I put a charge counter on my Core.

Turn 3

I play a Forest and pass the turn. Diktator plays another Mountain, then Raging Goblin and Sparksmith. I take two damage from Goblins and then Repulse his Sparksmith at the end of turn. I decide to use my Coliseum to cast Repulse so that I can save my charge counter for Etched Oracle. I'm at sixteen life.

Feels like a normal game so far, right? Just remember that my Etched Oracle and Repulse are the only copies in my deck. Likewise, if his Sparksmith or Goblin Burrows dies I'm never seeing another one. This is a subtle difference, but also hard not to forget when playing Singleton. I can't tell you how many times I've celebrated when killing something vexing, knowing that I'll never see another copy the rest of the game.

Turn 4

Etched Oracle
I play a Swamp, then go for it and play Etched Oracle. Doing so takes me to fifteen life and puts me at risk of losing the Oracle without the card-drawing payback, but I need to staunch the early bleeding, especially if he pulls out more critters with haste. The turn passes to Diktator, who attacks with his Goblins. I block and kill Raging Goblin, take one damage, then lose the Oracle to Volcanic Hammer. Oh well, that's still card advantage.

Turn 5

I play a Forest, then Morgue Theft my Etched Oracle back to hand. With only three mana open I pass the turn since I'm holding Magma Jet. Diktator plays Great Furnace (uh oh... Shrapnel Blast?), then follows it up with Rukh Egg. I take another point of damage from Goblin Striker to drop to fourteen. I put a charge counter on Mirrodin's Core, then Magma Jet the Goblin Striker. I put two land on the bottom of my library.

Turn 6

I play Etched Oracle with four counters, dropping me to thirteen, and pass the turn. I'm staring at a Sunscape Battlemage in hand, which can deal with Rukh tokens if need be. Diktator taps four mana for Goblin Ringleader. Thankfully he reveals Goblin Goon to go along with two land and burn. Whew. That could have been a lot uglier. So Diktator has his Egg and Ringleader to go along with four land. I have Etched Oracle and five land.

Turn 7

I draw and play Explosive Vegetation, finally giving me a comfortable land base. My situation gets even better when Diktator attacks into my Oracle, pumps his Ringleader with Goblin Burrows, and both die (me gaining three cards, 'natch). I now have a full hand while he has four cards including the Goon and Sparksmith.

Turn 8

I play a Terminal Moraine, then the Clone I just drew to give myself a Rukh Egg. Ha ha! Let Goblin Goon attack me now! Sure enough, Diktator plays his Goon. At end of turn I activate my Moraine and put another charge counter on Mirrodin's Core.

Turn 9

Stormscape Battlemage
I play a Mountain, then Stormscape Battlemage with double-kicker. I kill his Goblin Goon, gain three life, then cast Wayfarer's Bauble. Things are looking up. I now have the Battlemage and Rukh Egg to face off against his lone Rukh Egg. Diktator draws, then Carbonizes my Egg/Clone. I make a frowny face in the game, then make another when he Electrostatic Bolts my Battlemage. “Go red!” he says, and I pathetically add a charge counter to Mirrodin's Core.

Turn 10

I play Brushland, then use an Entwined Reap and Sow to kill his Goblin Burrows and fetch me a Plains. I then play Viridian Shaman, killing off his Great Furnace. “Good game,” Diktator says. “Aw, c'mon!” I respond, “You have 20 life!” He untaps, plays a Mountain (see? land karma!), then finally replays his Sparksmith. I activate my Wayfarer's Bauble, giving me a whole mess of land on the table.

Turn 11

Time to go on the offensive. I flashback Morgue Theft for my Etched Oracle, then replay it with four counters for the third time this game. I drop Yavimaya Coast from my hand and pass the turn. Diktator plays a Goblin Piledriver on his turn, and I recycle Renewed Faith to get my life up to acceptable levels against a Goblin deck. I'm feeling confident despite the Sparksmith and Piledriver.

Turn 12

I draw Eternal Witness, play it to retrieve Magma Jet, then attack with my Oracle. He blocks, obviously, with his Rukh Egg, and it dies. Somehow I forgot about the whole “at end of turn” business with the Rukh token, which ruins the Sunscape Battlemage I had expected to play (so much for being at acceptable life). I instead play a Forest and pass the turn. The Rukh appears, Sparksmith kills my Eternal Witness, then Diktator untaps and plays a morph creature face down with his three mana. Hmmm... now this could easily be a Goblin of somesort, but it could be Blistering Firecat too. I still decide that the Piledriver is too dangerous, so I Magma Jet it during his attack, putting Orim's Thunder on the bottom of my library and Krosan Tusker on the top. In response, the Sparksmith kills my Viridian Shaman. The Rukh hits me for four. That leaves him with a tapped Sparksmith and Rukh token and an untapped morph. I meanwhile have the ever-present Etched Oracle.

Turn 13

Now I get to play Sunscape Battlemage with both kickers. I kill the token and draw two cards... wheee! I play Karplusan Forest, and attack with the Oracle, bringing Diktator to twelve life. I then tap out to cast Krosan Tusker, figuring that I am officially on the offensive. On his turn, Diktator attacks with his morph, I block with the Tusker, and sure enough... it's Blistering Firecat. I take one damage and both creatures die. Whew.

Turn 14

I play Llanowar Wastes. I attack with Etched Oracle, keeping my Battlemage back to block in case more hasty things show up, and Diktator drops to eight life. He comments “sheesh” after drawing his card, which is Goblin War Strike. I take one damage from the Strike.

Turn 15

I attack with everything. He blocks the Oracle with Sparksmith and drops to six from the Battlemage. I Rampant Growth out one of my last lands then pass the turn. He draws, says “gg” and that's it. Whew.

As you can see, Singleton games have the same rhythm of any other Magic game, but the variety of cards you see are dizzying. You hopefully get a sense of this diversity from the above example, and I imagine if Diktator and I had play several more games that they all would have been highly varied. Imagine if he had drawn his Goblin Matron, Goblin Warchief, Smash, land-destruction, Skullclamp, or Siege-Gang Commander, for example, all of which likely would have swung the game wildly into his favor.

Keep in mind, too, that over the last two days I've just focused my attention on “normal” Singleton. Lots of fun variations exist, including Prismatic Singleton (pause for a moment and let your mind fully grasp that one), One-Cost Singleton (all of the cards in your deck cost one mana... also known in my mind as “The Skullclamp Agenda”), Singleton Legions (all creatures, which can easily become Tribal Wars Singleton), All Commons Singleton, All Rares Singleton, and on and on. Someday I may tackle these variations. In the meantime, expect me to update you on my pet Singleton deck and its exploits from time to time.

Waitaminute! It's Top 10 Week!

Holy cow! I can't believe I've written this much already without mentioning Champions of Kamigawa. Yet Champions is HERE! WOOOOOO HOOOOOOO!

Okay, you jaded folks might think I'm just a corporate shill looking to artificially hype you on the new set and thus entice you to spend lots of money that will eventually find its way into my back pocket. Actually, I sort of wish the world worked that way. Not only would I make a lot more cash, but I could think of myself as slowly corrupting the mind of today's youth with my personal agenda. Keen.

Alas, the truth of the matter is that I am genuinely, positively geeked about the Release Events this Thursday through November 2nd. Keep in mind that I played a part in the set via my role as a Creative Writer and that since I play almost exclusively online, the Release Events are my first shot at playing Champions of Kamigawa. The past month or so has been excruciating as I've waited to get my hands on Champions online.

The result is that I've dedicated my Top 10 list to the reasons to look forward to this weekend's events. So, without further adieu...

The Top 10 Reasons To Play Magic Online This Weekend

10. Compete... Casually

Release events are a lot like Pre-Release events in paper Magic. They attract players of all different dispositions to try out the new cards. Pro players will attend, as will amateur competitive players, as will people like me who primarily play kooky decks, as will people who spend almost all of their time in the Multiplayer Room. Folks who know Champions of Kamigawa intimately from playing paper Magic will flip digital cards with folks who are seeing Champions for the first time. It's a mixed bag, which is what makes Release Events fun. No one gets too uptight during these first days of a new set. Release Events are a step up from typical Sealed Leagues in their competitiveness because the prizes are more immediate and tied to individual match performance, yet the events are still a place for low-stress competition. Expect when you log in over the next week to be bombarded by talk of Champions and a variety of opinions on the new set in every room. Expect too that people will be focused far more on the fun of the new set than the cuthroat competition of their matches.

9. Beat IntoTheAether Senseless

The bad news for me is that my wife and son are out of town this weekend visiting family. The good news for all of you is that I won't have the usual constraints on my time to play in tournaments. As a result, expect me to be online almost constantly this weekend playing in the full breadth of the Release Events.

Although I'd like to think of myself as a competent player, I take the casual side of the Release Events to heart. I try out weird Draft strategies, I change my Sealed Decks every game to experience the full spectrum of my cards, and I use very marginal cards if they look fun to play. If you end up facing me at a Release Event, then, you should expect that either you'll a) lose to some bizarre deck or, more likely, pound me into the ground. Since next week's article will be a recap of my Release Event experience, you have an opportunity to be showcased in all of your Sealed Deck or Drafting glory.

8. Endless Sealed Decks

MTGO Leagues

The Release events don't just touch Premiere Events over the next week, though there will certainly be a lot of Premiere Event action. Instead, you will have an opportunity to play in Champions of Kamigawa Draft pods, Sealed Deck tournaments, and Sealed Leagues. In other words, Champions of Kamigawa is coming to all of Magic Online simultaneously. However you normally access your digital cards, you will see a healthy injection of Champions starting Thursday. For me, this means I can start multiple Sealed Leagues as well as play in the traditional Sealed Deck Premiere Events. Also, with so many opportunities for Sealed deck card pools, I can really experiment with the kind of decks I build. If you like Sealed Deck play, the Release Events are going to feel like an oasis of Limited goodness.

7. 2x Prizes

If you do end up choosing to play in the Sealed Deck Premiere Events, you're setting yourself up to win a lot of Champions of Kamigawa packs. Personally, I think the prize payout is pretty good in normal Magic Online Limited experiences, anyway. That is, if you are a fair player you can expect to win a decent amount of packs to either a) start you on your way to Contructed games, b) sell back to people interested in Constructed, or c) fuel lots of drafting. Release Events are even better because they have twice the prize payout. This means, in a measly thirty-two person tournament, you get twenty-four boosters for winning first. Even eighth wins you four boosters. Booya.

6. Your First Taste of Constructed

Let's be honest, people go cuh-razy during these Release Events, playing in Draft after Draft after Sealed Deck after Draft after Sealed League. Rabid players have been waiting for a long time, chomping at the bit to experience Champions of Kamigawa and now it's finally, triumphantly here. (Okay, seriously... I know I sound like a shill)

As the week progresses, then, more and more collections will start to swell with Champions of Kamigawa. Swelling collections mean two things. First, many of you will have enough of a nucleus to start building those Constructed decks you've been planning, whether they be Two-Headed Giant, Standard, Prismatic, or Singleton (Singleton especially seems like an easy format to break into this week). Second, the Trading Post will start flowing with more and more opportunities to buy Champions of Kamigawa singles. Prices will rise and fall over the week. Commons and uncommons will get snatched up from Magic Online's big dealers. More and more games in every Constructed format will start including Champions as the week unfolds.

Oooo... it's going to be a good week.

5. Drafts, Drafts, Drafts

Sealed Decks are fun, but people really salivate when they start thinking about Champions of Kamigawa Drafts. Drafting provides the game-within-a-game of what cards you and your fellow players select, and it's also possible to get four, five, or even six copies of some cards in your deck. Moreover, Drafts don't take as long as Sealed Deck Premier Events, which means you can fit in several Drafts in a single day. This is a great time to start learning the set and which cards you want to target in Champions Limited.

Personally, I'm looking forward to my dedicated “Zubera Draft” where I pick as many Zuberas as I can get my hands on. I'll probably try a dedicated “Arcane/Spirit Draft” too at some point. Maybe I'll make a tribal deck or two. I can't wait until I cause my first flip card to flip. Champions Drafts will be running constantly over the next week, so jump in the mix and let the Kami War begin.

4. 4x Prizes

If twice the prize payout is good, then what about four times the prize payout? Every three hours from October 29th through November 2nd a 4x 24-128 person Sealed Deck Premier Event will launch. These events are larger than the “normal” Premier Events, but they also bring a larger payoff. Place sixteenth and you receive six boosters for your effort. Place first and you've just added a whopping forty-eight boosters to your collection.

3. Playing with the new cards

I thought about putting this as #1 and then thought that would be sort of lame. For me, though, this is arguably the biggest draw of the Release Events. I want to see Samurai clash with Demons on my computer screen. I want to see a bunch of Zuberas die. I want to cast Legendary Dragon Spirits. I want flip cards to flip. I want to experience the new Legend rule in action. Etc. etc. etc. Already I'm plotting my Prismatic, Singleton, and Multiplayer decks and rubbing my hands together.

2. New Avatars

Before I started writing this column (i.e. back in the “doctorjay” days), I was an Avatar junkie. My Avatars, along with multicolor lands, were part of my “untouchable” collection, the digital objects I owned that I refused to trade. I delighted in flitting from Avatar to Avatar as my mood changed, or picking my Avatar based on what deck I happened to be playing (I've recently returned to this sort of behavior, actually). Release Events for me, then, were largely about getting my hands on new Avatars quickly.

The Champions of Kamigawa Release Events bring two new Avatars into the fold, Seshiro the Anointed and Eight-and-a-Half Tails. Enter any Release Event and you get Seshiro. Place towards the top two of a Release Event and you get Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. To whet your appetite, here's a sneak peek of skin you might be able to don this week...


New MTGO Avatars for Champions of Kamigawa

1. Time Stop

If you win first place in one of the normal Premier Events, you qualify for the Release Events Championship on November 6th. Place in the Top 4 of the 4x Events and you also qualify for the Championship. That sounds pretty impressive, and everyone who qualifies gets to play in the Championship for free.

What will you be playing for, though? Well, first you win the admiration of your fellow players for being the best of the best. If you win the Championship you bear the mantle of THE Champion of Kamigawa. Suddenly you flip upside down and gain Legendary status among your peers.

Second, you win a whopping seventy-two Booster Packs of Champions of Kamigawa, which is just a ridiculous number of packs. In fact, if you place in the top thirty-two of the Championship we're talking 6x the normal prize payout.

But none of that is as cool as the Ultra Grand Prize. The Championship winner also receives the original art for Time Stop:

Time Stop art by Scott M. Fischer
Time Stop art by Scott M. Fischer

Signed Time Stop Yep, win the Release Event Championship and you win the framed original art as your trophy. Not only that, but you get signed foil and regular copies of Time Stop too. You lucky Samurai, you.

See you online this weekend. My current plan is to play in at least four Drafts, two Pemier Events, one 4x Event, and build at least one Constructed deck based on my Champions cards from the week. We'll see if I can pull all of that off or not. Regardless of what happens, you'll get a full recap in next week's article.

I can't wait!

-j

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