The Man Behind the Curtain

Posted in Feature on November 1, 2006

By Chris Millar

Name_DroppingHowdy, all. In case we haven't met, I'd like to introduce myself.
My name is Christopher Bruce Millar (birth certificate).
My name is Chris Millar (article bylines).
My name is C-Dog (friends, especially my pirate and hiphop artist friends).
My name is Master (my hunchbacked lab assistant).
My name is JackSquat (various Internets).
My name is _houseofcards (Magic Online).
My name is Prehistoric Bull Charmer (Anagram Council of Canada).
My name is The Stunning Mr. Handsome (South Renfrew Wrestling League).
My name is ChMi (message boards).

ChMi. I'll be honest: this name has been bugging me for years. Not only is it fourth- or fifth-generation nickname-technology, but it is nigh unpronounceable. At least MaRo, MaGo, and MaCa resemble actual words. “ChMi” – not so much. (Why did my name have to start with so many freakin' consonants?) A cookie goes to anyone who can find a word in the English language that contains those four letters in succession.

About a year ago, just as I thought I might have to start writing about the competitive Magic scene (since that seems to have spared MiFlo and FraKa the ignominy of such a derivative nickname), some very forward-thinking individual sent me this message:

Dear Chris,

I am from some far off land that you've probably never heard of. I'm writing this letter to you now because I was sad to discover that you are somewhat dissatisfied with your Message Board nickname, ChMi. You'll be glad to know that it has many wonderful associations!

For instance, did you know that CHMI is the acronym used by a number of incredibly dynamic and exciting-sounding organizations, including the Centre for Health Micro-Insurance, the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute, the Centre for Human-Machine Interaction (“This week, we examine the psychosocial effects of the dust-buster.”), the Centre for Healthcare Modelling and Informatics at the University of Portsmouth, and, of course, Custom Hardware Manufacturing, Inc. (producer of the world's finest bevelled shower hinges!). You are in good company, my friend! If this news somehow fails to cheer you up, I will happily inform you that Chmi is also the name of a town in northwest Russia, a town that is world-famous for sharing its name with the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute!

As you might expect, I've been saving the best for last. You probably won't believe this, but where I come from “chmi” means “wizard!” Since my country is so obscure, it will be very difficult for anyone to prove that this is completely false!


Wow! I write for a company named Wizards of the Coast, about a game called Magic, my favourite Fred Savage movie is The Wizard, and my randomly-derived nickname actually means wizard in some language I just made up! Names sure are full of improbable coincidences.

By the way, welcome to Wizard Week!

Touched by an Aura

When you think of Wizards, what colour do you think of? White, right? I know I do. Historically, many of my favourite cards have been white Wizards, like Auramancer, and, uh, Dega Disciple. Okay, admittedly white is a little lacking in the Wizards department. That's blue's area of expertise. Still, it doesn't mean that we can't build a white Wizard deck. We'll just have to get creative.

Auratouched Mage is one of the few white Build-Around-Me cards that have appeared in recent sets. Several industrious Johnny-types have sent me Auratouched Mage combos. There are so many! Auratouched Mage and Mythic Proportions. Auratouched Mage and Followed Footsteps. Auratouched Mage and Holy Strength. The list goes on and on. Perhaps the niftiest is the one sent to me a few times since Ravnica's release and most recently by Marvin Lepp:

Auratouched Mage

I don't usually deal with such unwieldy, Rube Goldberg-ian combinations, so I'll slow things down and explain this one. The trick here is to search out Flickerform with the Mage's comes-into-play ability. Then, at some point in the future, you can use Flickerform to remove the Mage from play. When it comes back into play, you'll be able to fetch another Aura!

Now, you might be saying – “Boring! I've seen that combo a million times!” Well, my heckling friend, I've seen it infinity-plus-one times, but it's going into the deck nonetheless. But don't worry, ennui-nistas. I have a good reason for treading down this beaten path. You see, Time Spiral brings Auratouched Mage some wizardly comrades in white: Mangara of Corondor and Magus of the Disk. Luckily for me, they also have insane interactions with Flickerform.

Due to the unorthodox location of Mangara's colon (wedged between the tap symbol and the text instructing you to remove Mangara of Corondor from the game), you only have to remove Mangara when the ability resolves. This allows you to tap Mangara and respond with a number of effects. You can untap the RFG specialist with Freed from the Real (as Mark Gottlieb suggested on Monday) in order to squeeze in some extra activations. You can also remove Mangara from the game with something like Momentary Blink, Astral Slide, or Flickerform. When it's time to resolve, Mangara will be gone and all that will be left for you to do is remove an opponent's permanent from the game.

Magus of the Disk works similarly. You can activate its ability, then remove it from the game with Flickerform. Even though the Magus won't be around, you will still get to destroy every creature, artifact, and enchantment in play. I believe this is in the Rules somewhere.

Magus of the Disk
With Magus of the Disk able to sweep the board clean on a regular basis, I thought it might be nice to play with some resilient permanents. A number of creatures in the deck can regenerate, including Dimir House Guard (which can also be used to fetch Magus of the Disk), Skeletal Vampire, and whichever creature is enchanted by Strands of Undeath. Fallen Ideal and Spirit Loop will return to your hand if they are destroyed by Magus of the Disk, and Griffin Guide will still produce a Griffin token. Almost all of the rest of the cards in the deck either replace themselves (like Pentarch Ward and late-game Pit Keepers), or take out an opposing permanent (Mangara of Corondor and Angel of Despair). You'll get some value out of your cards even if you have to blow them up at some point.

Orzhov Guildmage is the only oddball card that fits into none of these categories. It doesn't regenerate and it will never be a two-for-one, but it has a few things going for it. First of all, it fits the colour scheme and is a Wizard (though my Edgewalkers wish it was a Cleric). Second of all, it's another two-drop you can follow up with a turn-three Griffin Guide. Thirdly, it can provide you with some late-game (okay, really late-game) “reach.” Plus, the art is incredibly cool.

Of course, if you want to move into the Extended card pool, you get Auramancer and not a whole lot else. You might try to squeeze Zur the Enchanter in there, too, but I don't think it's necessary.

When Is a Magus not a Magus?

When it's a jar. A Memory Jar to be precise. While that particular card is no longer around, we just got its non-union Time Spiral equivalent: Magus of the Jar. All of the Time Spiral Magi are Wizards (even the green one!). Did I mention that it's Wizard Week?

The blue Magus didn't really excite me at first. I couldn't think of any exciting uses for it, any particularly spicy combos. Then it hit me like a ton of zombified bricks: Dawn of the Dead! I immediately put in my DVD copy of the George Romero classic. And then it hit me: Dawn of the Dead is also a Magic card, and it works wonderfully with Magus of the Jar! Thanks, Football Zombie!

Dawn of the Dead is like a free Corpse Dance every turn. That's the upside. The downside is that you lose one life per turn and the creature that you return to play is removed from the game at the end of the turn. This would normally prevent you from recurring the same creature turn after turn. You can circumvent this in couple ways. You can play with creatures that can be sacrificed (Magus of the Jar, Cabal Patriarch, any creature by way of Miren, the Moaning Well), or you can use creatures that can be returned to your hand (any Wizard by way of Riptide Laboratory). Either way, the creature won't be in play when Dawn of the Dead instructs it to be removed from the game.

The other advantage to Magus of the Jar is that it can fill your graveyard, making Dawn of the Dead even more powerful during the next turn. Hapless Researcher and Thought Courier also help you fill up your graveyard with creatures like Hoverguard Sweepers and Wonder. Chainer's Edict, Crippling Fatigue, and Think Twice don't mind spending some time in the bin.

Most creatures get better when you give them haste, but some get better-er than others. One such card is the “timeshifted” Ovinomancer, who goes from unplayable to darn near amazing when you can use it the turn it comes into play. The sheep-maker has one of the nastiest drawbacks ever conceived. When it comes into play, you have to return three (!) basic (!!) lands (!!!) to your hand, or sacrifice it. That's the price blue has to pay if it wants to destroy creatures. Sorry I killed your Angel. Here's some Sheep. If the Ovinomancer has haste, however, you can use its creature-destroying ability while its comes-into-play ability is stuck on the stack! Your opponent will end up with a Sheep token and you will end up with an Ovinomancer in your hand. Pitch it to Thought Courier and you can make another Sheep the following turn.

Another card that loves haste is Magus of the Mirror. Unfortunately, you can only play its life-total-switching ability during your upkeep. Fortunately, that's precisely when it will come into play with Dawn of the Dead! The same goes for Hell's Caretaker. One nice thing about the Caretaker is that you can reanimate it with Dawn of the Dead, activate its ability (sacrificing itself), and the creature you return will not be subjected to Dawn of the Dead's remove-from-game clause. This can be useful in situations where you need a blocker.

Without a doubt, there are more “broken” things you can do with seven extra cards per turn. There's the Storm combo approach, of course. With all the drawing and discarding you and your opponent will be doing, you might turn to cards like Underworld Dreams and Megrim (Memory Jar's original tag-team partner).

Conspiracy Theories

When I announced the results of the poll last week, I expressed a little surprise at the fact that Dralnu, Lich Lord won the vote by a fairly large margin, eclipsing second-place finisher Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder by nearly a thousand votes. I was shocked because my inbox was full of Endrek Sahr combos. By far the most common combo was Endrek Sahr and Conspiracy, and it was sent to me by Ryan d'Eon, Phil (aka Eiphel), Legend, Craig Tubb, and several members of the elusive Blah Fraternity currently residing at (they really like February, apparently). The combo has two key advantages. One, if you set Conspiracy to anything but Thrulls, Endrek Sahr's self-sacrifice ability will never trigger. This will allow you to keep breeding once you've reached the lethal seven. Two, Thrull is not a very exciting type of creature to pump out en masse, since very few cards actually interact with Thrulls (and those cards are in Fallen Empires). Conspiracy will allow you to produce creatures with a more relevant creature type, like, say, Saproling or Elf.

There are many, many things you can do once you combine these two cards. This is Wizard Week. Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder just so happens to be a Wizard. There's a card in the new Standard that is positively ridiculous when you add it to the mix. It's the third wheel on the tricycle that is the incredibly fragile soft-lock. The card in question is none other than Kai Budde himself, or at least, his cardboard avatar: Voidmage Prodigy.

With a Conspiratorial Endrek Sahr providing Wizard tokens, your Prodigies can start countering spells every turn. To ensure that the Master Breeder maintains his strict breeding regimen, I recommend Voidmage Husher. Since you can return it to your hand when you play a spell, it can be played and replayed, netting you four “Thrulls” each time.

If that seems a little too complicated, why not pair Endrek Sahr with another recent addition to the Wizard tribe, Thoughtpicker Witch? As long as you can keep playing creature spells, you can sacrifice the resultant tokens to the Witch and ensure that your opponent will draw nothing but land for the rest of the game! If even that seems too convoluted, you could always combine Thoughtpicker Witch with Sarpadian Empires, Vol. VII. You won't even need any other cards to set up your opponent's future draws. Throw in the recover-able Controvert, and you have a twelve-mana combo that allows you to counter one spell every single turn!

Shadowmage Infiltrator, Brainspoil (both of the important combo-pieces cost five), and Sage of Epityr will help you set things up. The latter is a card that makes me smile. It's a Fugitive Wizard and it's an Index (well, 80% of an Index). If that's not a recipe for success, then I don't know what is. It's such a simple card, it's surprising that it took this long to make. (I feel the same way about Grayscaled Gharial). There are very few one-mana creatures that have comes-into-play abilities and most of those “abilities” are really drawbacks (see: Rogue Elephant, Accursed Centaur, Icatian Moneychanger). Sage of Epityr's ability has appeared on blue creatures before. Sage Owl, Spire Owl, Sage Aven, and Aven Fateshaper all have it. The fact that it showed up on a Human Wizard proves that this ability isn't (just) for the Birds.

With a Wizard count of twenty-four, this deck is also legal in Standard Tribal Wars. Obviously, if you prefer the larger formats, feel free to add Patron Wizard and Azami, Lady of Scrolls to the deck. At that point, you might as well add Opposition to make the deck even more fun!

Dralnu, Lich Lord
My House Party (BYOD) Update

As I mentioned way up there, last week I announced a deckbuilding challenge. Your task was to build a cool and creative deck around Dralnu, Lich Lord. I'm very proud to say that this is the best turnout of any UnCon Deckbuilding Challenge that I have ever volunteered to judge. I was delighted that so many of you chose to participate. Heck, I was more than delighted. I was one step up from that – I was ce-lighted. Yeah, that's right. I said it. (I wasn't quite be-lighted, though. That would be absurd.) Next week, I'll analyze and discuss the finalists' decks and reveal the winner, so stay tuned!

Until next time, come up with something original!

Chris Millar

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