Look Up, Look Way Up

Posted in Feature on March 13, 2008

By Chris Millar

Ho, ho, ho, midgets! Welcome to Giant Week! Now, I don't want to brag, or come across as a dude with a big head or something, but I often think of myself as a giant. That's because I'm a tall-ish person. In my youth, I had nicknames like Stretch and, uh, Millar, and my friends and family conspired to strap cinder blocks to my head to stop me from growing. They were thwarted at every turn by a little thing called the law, but I like to think that it was because they actually like me. In any case, I was spared the nickname Cindy until I was a full-grown adult. The truth is that I'm not that big. I'm about halfway between Earl Boykins and Manute Bol, if you need a sense of scale. By no means can I storm through a fort's wall as if it were nothing more than a picket fence. Unless it's a snow fort. In which case, I'll plow through that sucker without even checking my blind spots. Sorry, neighbourhood children.

According to the Local Institute of Ego-boosting Statistics, tall men are supposed to make more money and have more success with the ladies than short men. If that's true, I wish I could set up a meeting between these statisticians, my boss, and some ladies. You know, to get them all on the same page. One thing these number-crunchers always fail to mention is all that extra money and all of those extra special ladies don't mean much when you're laid up because of the frequent concussions suffered due to low-hanging light fixtures, store signage, air ducts, water pipes, and the general miserliness of the nation's entryways and exits. I'm not a giant, but inside my hobbit-hole of a basement apartment my height is artificially increased by a couple feet. I live in sub-basement 1 ½. For the first few weeks I was there, after experiencing a handful of preliminary injuries, I considered donning a hard-hat around the house while I got used to the bobbing and weaving necessary to stand in the kitchen and fry an egg without fracturing my skull. Walking from one end of the apartment to the other was like my head navigating the Turbo Tunnel in Battletoads. The place does have its advantages, of course. It's in a good location, the rent is affordable, and it's really easy to change lightbulbs. I don't want to move, but besides a safety helmet, or a really thick headband, what options do I have? The only thing I could think of was to complain a lot in a Magic article. (Hey, you go to print with the ideas you have, not the ideas you might want or wish to have. That's what I always paraphrase.)

Let's build some Giant decks!

Excuse Me While I Break the Sky

Stone_GiantThere have been Giants in Magic since the game's infancy. From Hill Giant (the archetypal 3/3 for four), to Stone Giant (the original "Chuck"), all the way to Two-Headed Giant of Foriys (the herald of a thousand excruciating puns), Alpha got the Giant ball rolling in a big way. Okay, not really. Three Giants isn't that many. That won't even get you an infield in San Francisco, if you know what I mean. I'm just trying to make things sound extra grandiose because it's Giant Week. Big it up. You know how it is.

Forced grandiosity is unnecessary, however. I already have quite a soft spot for the gigantes of Magic (especially the Ostrica Gigantes). They're big and ornery and have to scrape Kithkin bits from between their toes. Add a predilection for cattle baseball and it's hard to find something not to like. My love of these big galoots and galootesses is nothing new. Before Lorwyn made Giants cool again, I wrote about a couple of Giant decks built for Standard Tribal Wars.

Since then, House of Cards has been a virtual clearinghouse for Giant and Giant-related decks. I helped in the production of millions upon millions of giant tokens (courtesy of Pact of the Titan, so they were also Giant tokens). I've built decks around Giant-helpers like Kithkin Greatheart and Elvish Handservant, in both budget and non-budget form. Many of the Johnnier Giants have been the subject of some fun deck experiments, including Hamletback Goliath, Boldwyr Heavyweights, and, most recently, Borderland Behemoth. On top of that, I've worked Giant subthemes into a normal, sixty-card deck, as well as the much larger (giant?) Elder Dragon Highlander deck that I recently brought to Worlds.

Yeesh. I guess I painted myself into a bit of a corner. I appear to have forgotten Millar's Law of the Conservation of Material. Luckily, Magic is a game of near-infinite possibilities (seriously, count 'em up), so despite scooping myself on the Giant story repeatedly, there's still plenty to talk about. There are still some Giants that are flying under the radar. It's a very high radar, presumably.

I'll start off with one of the few Giants I wished I had played in the aforementioned EDH deck: Skarrgan Skybreaker. This bloodthirsty, Gruul-aligned monster is like a super-charged, super-expensive Mogg Fanatic. Unlike the pinging Goblin, Skarrgan Skybreaker has a little green in him, which makes him a wonderful match for one of my favourite cards of all-time: Verdant Succession. It's a combo engine that works well whether you're trying to go to infinity or not. I've used it "fairly" with cards like Spore Frog and Yavimaya Elder (along with Battlefield Scrounger), as well as with an infinite mana / damage / milling engine made up of Nantuko Tracer (or Elvish Soultiller) and a sacrifice outlet like Phryexian Altar, Blasting Station, or Altar of Dementia. All of these ideas sprang from some old House of Cards articles, but I'm confident that we can find a few new wrinkles.

Skarrgan_SkybreakerNow, Skarrgan Skybreaker deals damage equal to its power to a creature or player when you sacrifice it. Once you've played a Verdant Succession, this means that the first Skybreaker won't even have to be bloodthirsted if you want to send a lethal amount of damage straight to the dome. The first one will do 3, the second one will be bloodthirsted because of the damage dealt by the first one, so it will do 6, as will the following two Skybreakers. Three plus six plus six plus six should be enough damage to kill all but the most robust of opponents, provided that my math is correct. I tried to verify this, but my abacus crashed while performing the calculation. Also, I don't know how to use an abacus. Great word, though.

Of course, this is assuming that all of but one of your Skarrgan Skybreakers are still in your library, which is not guaranteed by any Stretch, least of all me. Have no fear! There are a few tricks we can pull out of the old trick bag. I don't know why it didn't occur to me before, but the green evoke Elementals are excellent with Verdant Succession. For instance, you can evoke your Briarhorn to pump your Skarrgan Skybreaker, and when it goes to the graveyard (because you have to sacrifice it), you can go get a second Briarhorn to pump your Skybreaker up even more. For two mana, you got a Hill Giant and gave a guy +6/+6! Twigwalker, Child of Thorns, and Martyr of Spores are some other creature-pumping options.

Cloudthresher is even better with Verdant Succession. Not only does it fit in with the whole "tearing the sky apart" theme (all that's missing is Sky Swallower), but for four measly mana you get a four-point Squall Line and a 7/7 body to boot! Normally, that would cost thirteen mana, so even taking the price of a Verdant Succession into account, that's still a great deal.

Verdant Succession is great with creatures that have sacrifice abilities (like Wall of Mulch, Ravenous Baloth, and, in a way, Fertilid), creatures with goes-to-the-graveyard abilities (like Symbiotic Beast or Symbiotic Wurm), and creatures that have comes-into-play abilities (like Yavimaya Dryad, Masked Admirers, or Eternal Witness). Of course, you will need a sacrifice outlet to take advantage of creatures in the last two categories if one isn't built in the way it is with Yavimaya Elder or the evoke Elementals. I'm going to go with the tried-and-true Blasting Station. It seems like the most exciting option available in Extended, and it allows you win suddenly (and, sadly, without Skarrgan Skybreaker) if you manage to get it into play alongside a Loaming Shaman. It's very much like the Nantuko Tracer combo I linked to. You sacrifice the Shaman to do 1 damage, go get another Shaman with Verdant Succession, restock your library, sacrifice the second Shaman, and so on, unto infinity. I rounded out the deck with a set of Living Wishes to fetch some of the key creatures as well as a toolbox of utility creatures and lands. A single copy of Deathrender is there to give you a way to cheat some of your fatties into play and it works well with all of the sacrificing the deck does. You'll have creatures coming into play from every direction.


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Favor of the Mighty? Flavor of the Week

Favor of the Mighty
As I sought out underused Giant cards to build around this week, I thought about Favor of the Mighty. It certainly has its uses. I've been using mine to make sure my trade binder is fully stocked. It also combos with expensive creatures that deal lots of damage to each creature in play, like Hammerfist Giant and, uh, that's about it. That still sounds like fun to me, and I would've built that deck if it wasn't for the fact that it probably would've ended up pretty close to the Hammerfist Giant + Light of Sanction deck that I already wrote about.

Instead, I decided to build around Durkwood Tracker. Like many creatures from Time Spiral block, Durkwood Tracker references a couple of older cards. It's from Durkwood (of Durkwood Boars fame) and it has an activated ability reminiscent of The Dark favourite Tracker. Unlike its ancestor and similar cards like Karplusan Yeti, Tahngarth, Talruum Hero, and Gargantuan Gorilla, Durkwood Tracker needs the enemy creature to be attacking before it can enter the arena to do battle. This makes it weaker because it can't take out small utility creatures. It also makes you wonder why you wouldn't just block with your 4/3. Obviously, there are some creatures that it can't block (flyers like Avian Changeling, shadow creatures like Soltari Priest, and unblockable creatures like Phantom Warrior) and there are some situations where it would be advantageous to kill a creature before blocking (say, with Groundbreaker) and you can block one creature and kill another. But there are also many situations where it would be better to just race such creatures. You do have a near-fatty after all.

Why not do all of these things at once? Attack and take down any enemy that tries to strike back. It's easy to do with Thousand-Year Elixir, increasingly one of my favourite new cards. To make sure the Elixir is always useful, I filled the deck with creatures with useful tap abilities. Greenseeker and Silverglade Pathfinder keep your mana flowing with help from Squee, Goblin Nabob. Chuck some of that mana at your opponent's noggin with Heartwood Giant. Chuck that Heartwood Giant at your opponent's noggin with Bloodshot Cyclops. Tracker, Tahngarth, and Hammerfist Giant round out the complement of creatures with tap abilities, while Fumiko the Lowblood ensures that Durkwood Tracker will always be on someone's trail and Genesis brings your Trackers back from the dead in the event that they stumble upon prey that is too much to handle.

I added a couple tricks to make our small army of Trackers and Talruum Heros into real powerhouses. The first is Vigor. The second is Scythe of the Wretched. Vigor makes sure your monsters leave the battlefield stronger than ever (remember that it looks at all damage, not just combat damage), while the Scythe turns all of your small enemies into allies after each dust up. Both cards are ridiculous with Hammerfist Giant.

Big Durk

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Acts of Justifiable Countrycide

One Giant that is most assuredly on everybody's radar is one-time Swimming With Sharks previewee Countryside Crusher. This souped-up Trained Armodon has unleashed greater torrents of gamer drool than any souped-up Trained Armodon in the history of Magic, including Akroma, Angel of Fury and Akroma, Angel of Wrath (they're really souped-up Trained Armodons). Countryside Crusher combos with everything from Greater Gargadon to Lesser Gargadon to fifty-five Mountains and a random card of your choice. It obviously holds appeal for Spikier types. Note that a deck packing four copies of the Giant Warrior went undefeated on the first day of Grand Prix–Shizuoka.

Countryside Crusher
Despite its tournament success, it still has lots of Johnny applications. I think the Johnnies and the Spikes split this one halfway down the middle. There are tons of cards you can pair with Countryside Crusher to make him bigger than he has any right to be. You can sacrifice lands to burn cards like Magma Burst, Shard Volley, Fireblast, Landslide, and Magma Vein. Land sacrifice is a common feature (not a bug) of red creatures, whether it's an upkeep cost (Cosmic Larva), an echo cost (Skizzik Surger), or just something the red creature likes to do for fun (Akki Avalanchers). Green has similar creatures, like Plant Elemental, Primeval Force, and Wood Elemental. You can sacrifice land for mana (Mana Seism, Squandered Resources), to gain life (Reap the Rewards), or to make token creatures (Goblin Trenches, Pegasus Stampede, Squirrel Wrangler). You can pump up some creatures by sacrificing lands (Copper-Leaf Angel, Lithatog, Thaumatog). There are also the less common abilities of cards like Sylvan Safekeeper and Spitting Spider. Lands that cycle or that have nice sacrifice abilities (Barbarian Ring, Wasteland) also work well with Countryside Crusher.

Your Crushers prevent you from drawing lands once its in play, but there are definitely ways to take advantage of the resulting mana deficit. Rivalry will Shock an opponent who has more lands than you. Land Tax, Oath of Lieges, Tithe, and Gift of Estates benefit the person who has the fewest lands.

Countryside Crusher also has some more combo potential. A couple of readers, Sam S. and Noel d.C., wrote in to point out that a Scouting Trek for all your remaining lands can make your Crushers instantly lethal. That's certainly a good one. I'm going to do something similar, using Lodestone Bauble. The main difference is that the lands are put on top of your library from your graveyard, you can only put four of them there, and you can use the ability on an opponent. The advantage is that it carries less risk than a big Scouting Trek and it can be recurred more easily with cards like Leonin Squire and Auriok Salvagers. Besides Countryside Crusher, you can fill up your graveyard with lands by discarding them (Patrol Hound), milling them (Loafing Giant—I mean, why not?), sacrificing them (Torpid Moloch), or just blowing them all up (Armageddon). Once your graveyard is full, you can start recurring your Baubles, or you can play Planar Birth and put all of those lands (at least the basic ones) directly into play. Tormod's Crypt, another "cog" you can recur with the Squires and Salvagers, will help to break the symmetry of Planar Birth, especially if you want to play one following an Armageddon.

Mama's Pryin' Bar

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Until next time, show some big love for Giants.

Chris Millar

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