Night of the Rarely Good

Posted in Feature on February 21, 2008

By Chris Millar

Hidey-ho, fellow magicians! It's that time of year again: the third week of February! Is there a more thrilling segment of the calendar? Besides every other week of the year, I can't think of one. February's got a little bit of everything: ice, snow, a smidgeon of forced romance, and, let's not forget, slush. It's like a nonstop party, especially if you're a polar bear in a long-term relationship. On the other hand, if you don't like cinnamon hearts and lack a thick coat of white hair, you've always got the latest Magic expansion.

Morningtide's been out for long enough now that I feel comfortable attaching labels to certain cards. We all know that Chameleon Colossus, Mutavault, and Countryside Crusher are among the "chase" rares of the set. They're either nakedly powerful, a deckbuilding staple, or the flagship card in decks at all points on the casual/competitive continuum. But what about the unchased rares, the ones who spent last Thursday at home with a cup of chamomile and a tub of ice cream? Who's going to show them some love and shuffle them up? A little love is all they need and love don't cost a thing (well, maybe half a ticket). I figured that now would be a good time to take a peek at some of these under-the-radar rares and love them for what they are, warts and all.

Fen Summoner's Tales

A couple weeks ago, I got my first taste of Morningtide. My friends and I had our own little release event, with some drafts of various types. Following the drafts, as sure as night follows day, we did some trading. I ended up with a few choice rares (Chameleon Colossus, Titan's Revenge, Scapeshift, and Reveillark) as well as some of the under-lauded ones (Rustic Clachan and the card I'm going to talk about next, Fendeep Summoner).

I'm a sucker for symmetry, so it pleases me greatly that Fendeep Summoner has its virtual equal-and-opposite in Everbark Shaman.

Fendeep Summoner
Everbark Shaman

They are both 3/5's for five mana, one of which is coloured. They both have interesting tap abilities that involve creating two of something. Fendeep Summoner turns two Swamps into two 3/5 Treefolk Warriors, while the Everbark Shaman turns spent Treefolk cards into quasi-Hunting Wilds. If it wasn't for the fact that they reference different basic land types, they'd have a ton of synergy. If the Shaman fetched Swamps or the Summoner animated Forests, you would have a regenerating army of Treefolk at your disposal. Sure, you would run out of lands eventually, but it would take a while to get to that point.

Of course, this is Magic. Even though these two don't get along very well right now, there are always ways to create synergy where there was none previously. You could use a Mind Bend or Magical Hack to make it so that your Treefolk care about the same land types, but that would require an additional colour. This is unnecessary. The reason is that there is already a handy way to make sure you have lands of the type that you need: Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Voilà! All of your Forests are now Swamps. With Urborg out, your Everbark Shamans can search out Forests and those Forests will become Swamps to animate as soon as they hit play. Note that Fendeep Summoner doesn't need basic Swamps to do its thing and that Everbark Shaman only needs the lands it finds to be Forests, not basic Forests. The latter is particularly relevant because of the fact that the Treefolk-aligned land, Murmuring Bosk, is a non-basic Forest. On a related note, if you wanted to build the deck for a format other than Standard, you could use Bayou or Overgrown Tomb. Both cards are Swamps and Forests and can therefore be fetched and animated by the deciduous duo. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth would also be a fine addition to such a deck.

Now, Treefolk have an affinity for Forests. Besides Everbark Shaman, you've got Treefolk Harbinger, Battlewand Oak, Reach of Branches, and Timber Protector, to name a few. So it would make sense that the deck would be heavy on Forests. At the same time, you want to have an Urborg on the board by the time you can play Fendeep Summoner. Diabolic Tutor aside, there are two easy ways to find this land in your library: Tenth Edition's oh-so-thematic Sylvan Scrying and the aforementioned Scapeshift. Not only can Scapeshift go fetch an Urborg at the expense of a measly Forest, but, as Gareth A. pointed out via email, it is also fantastic with Battlewand Oak. Since the Battlewands trigger whenever a Forest comes into play instead of whenever you play a Forest, you can play Scapeshift, sacrifice all of your lands, and give your Battlewands a ridiculous bonus. In this particular deck with its twenty-one Forests, you can give them a maximum of +20/+20 with a single Scapeshift! Throw in some copies of Baru, Fist of Krosa, as Gareth suggests, and they could get an additional +10/+10 and trample! Yikes.

Unfortunately, despite all of my love for Baru (and despite his synergy with Everbark Shaman), I had to leave him out in favour of some other tricks. Feel free to add him back or build another deck entirely. It's February, the time of limitless possibilities.

The card that I immediately wanted to pair with Fendeep Summoner and Everbark Shaman was Thousand-Year Elixir. Creatures with powerful tap abilities are always better with haste. Usually these creatures are expensive and the ability provides some kind of recurring card advantage, making them lightning rods for opposing removal. That's the case with our Treefolk Shamans. Couple the haste with the Elixir's ability to untap creatures, and you can quickly empty your library of lands and send an army of 3/5's at your opponent each turn.

Since most of the deck's Treefolk are Shamans as well, I add some copies of Thornbite Staff. They give your weaker attackers like Treefolk Harbinger and Bosk Banneret something to do while they hold down the fort, and they act as extra copies of Thousand-Year Elixir. The cool thing about Thornbite Staff is that it was two separate abilities. The first allows you to ping a creature or player and the second allows you to untap the equipped creature whenever another creature goes to the graveyard. So, for example, you can blast a creature out of your way before attacking. Better yet, if you equip it to an Everbark Shaman, you can fetch two more Forests every time another creature hits the bin. Say, by having to chump block the Shaman in combat. Here's my list, although do note that there are tons of other things you can do. There's the aforementioned Baru, Fist of Krosa. You could also try Bramblewood Paragon or Doran, the Siege Tower to enhance your Treefolk Warrior Swamps. Leaf-Crowned Elder and Chameleon Colossus are both great follow-ups to a turn-two Banneret. And so on.

Bosk Pair

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To Behemoth or Not to Behemoth?

Borderland Behemoth
You don't have to look too far to find a rare Lorwyn Block Giant that hasn't been embraced by tournament players. They're all over the place. Besides Countryside Crusher and maybe Brion Stoutarm (and, technically, certain changelings), the rest of the rare Giants are more suited to giant beatings on the casual battlefield. I know I've been having a lot of fun with them in an Elder Dragon Highlander deck. With the possible exception of Hamletback Goliath, the Giant who can deliver the biggest beatings is newcomer Borderland Behemoth. An unimpressive 4/4 for seven mana, the Behemoth gets an additional +4/+4 for each other Giant you control. With another Giant in play, you've got a reasonably priced 8/8. Any more Giants and you've suddenly got a real powerhouse. The best part is that, unlike Hamletback Goliath, Borderland Behemoth comes with trample built right in.

Of course, when you already have two or three Giants in play, shouldn't you be winning anyway? Isn't Borderland Behemoth a "win more" card? It could be, but I'm hesitant to give any card that label because some of these so-called "win more" cards end up being "win now" cards (see: Knoll, Spinerock). On top of that, who says you have to play with other Giants, anyway?

There are ways to produce a whole bunch of Giants without actually playing a whole bunch of Giants. Imagine this scenario: You spend a few turns making lots and lots of Merfolk tokens with some combination of Stonybrook Schoolmaster and Summon the School. Then you play Borderland Behemoth. Ker-Pow! Nothing happens. Then you play Shields of Velis Vel, turning all of your 1/1 Merfolk Wizards into Merfolk Wizard Brushwagg Giants. Ker-Pow! Now you have a really, really big Behemoth, and you weren't even winning! You can also use Mirror Entity to accomplish the same feat. If I understand how the "layer" system works, your Borderland Behemoths will still get the additional +4/+4's even after you use Mirror Entity to set your creatures' power and toughness. (Rules gurus feel free to let us all know on the message boards!)

The deck has a few other tricks. Brion Stoutarm's Fling ability is the perfect complement to Borderland Behemoth if you don't like the attack phase for some reason or you simply wish to win the turn the Behemoth comes into play. Another so-called "win more" card, Windbrisk Heights gives you the opportunity to cheat out one of your fatties when you attack with a few tokens. Also, Cloudgoat Ranger combines with Shields of Velis Vel to turn Borderland Behemoth into a massive 20/20 trampler. With a horde of Merfolk, Shields of Velis Vel can turn them into Kithkins as well, allowing you to further pump up your Ranger. Springleaf Drum and, to a lesser extent, Weight of Conscience, give you a way to use the "whenever [this] becomes tapped" of your Merfolk. Now, you might be asking, "Why Merfolk?" To which I say, "Why not Merfolk?" Here's how the deck looks:

Benthic Behemoths

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Of course, you don't have to use Merfolk. You don't have to use Shields of Velis Vel. There are many ways to generate tokens, and there is a least one other way to change all of your creatures into Giants: Conspiracy. Here's a different Borderland Behemoth deck, using black for Conspiracy and perhaps my favourite token-generator of all-time, Infernal Genesis.

Infernal Genesis

This Prophecy rare is a little unpredictable, but has the ability to churn out a huge amount of (Minion) tokens very quickly. How? It mills the top card of your library and puts a number of Minion tokens into play equal to that card's converted mana cost. Infernal Genesis is symmetrical, so your opponents will get these same benefits. There are a few ways to abuse this. Cards like Giant Harbinger provide a nice one-shot of token generation by putting a high-mana card on top. Even better, though, is something like Volrath's Stronghold (or, in another deck, Unholy Grotto or Academy Ruins) which can keep your library stacked for the rest of the game. Infernal Genesis' unique combination of token generation and milling is great with cards like Dread Return and one of the few black Giants, Necrosavant. Balthor the Defiled is another fine addition, since it can either reanimate all of your creatures or pump up your Minion tokens in the absence of a Conspiracy. Here's a sample list with a bit of a Giant toolbox and a trio of Diabolic Tutors to rope your combo together. Some number of Angers would also fit in well with the deck.

Vast Lorwyn Conspiracy

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New Tutor A Complete Fabrication

Idyllic Tutor
The last deck comes from the mysterious Ben B who wrote (in a very timely manner, for the purposes of this article):

"I recently won a LLM draft with some of my friends, and in one of the prize packs opened the (at the time) unexciting Idyllic Tutor. Out of curiosity, I looked through Gatherer to check out the enchantments in standard, and noticed the high-end aura Nettlevine Blight. Also on the page was Arcanum Wings, featuring that oh-so-Johnny ability, Aura Swap. Needless to say, the possibility of combining the two to pump out a crippling turn-three Blight tickled my fancy (whatever that is), and there were lots of other enchantment shenanigans in Standard to fit the theme. Lost Auramancers plays defense and can find almost any card in the deck, while Oblivion Ring answers basically everything. Enslave is another huge aura to cheat out, and Lucent Liminid can be fetched as a finisher. Here's my first stab at a decklist."

While Morningtide's Idyllic Tutor is not exactly a "reject rare" (it's a fairly efficient tutor that can be used in a wide range decks), it hasn't gotten a lot of press so far. If I really wanted to pursue the "reject rare" angle here, it wouldn't be tough to call this a Nettlevine Blight deck. A descendant of cards like Kudzu and Takklemaggot, Nettlevine Blight has a few things holding it back. First of all, it costs six mana. Second of all, it's slow, giving your opponent a whole turn to do something bad to you while you wait for it to trigger. And third of all, it isn't as good in multiples as it would appear (but that situation is not necessarily going to come up very often).

Arcanum Wings and the aura swap ability solve the first two problems simultaneously. It lets you get a Nettlevine Blight on a creature quickly (as early as turn three without any assistance) and at a slight discount (five mana versus six). Aura swap also lets you drop the Blight on an opposing creature during your opponent's turn, which isn't quite as exciting as I initially thought (your opponent still gets one last kick at the can with a, now flying, creature), but it does at least save you from tapping out on your own turn and it provides some interesting moments when you drop out a mid-combat Enslave instead. Here's a slightly tweaked version of Ben's deck. I adjusted the mana and made room for some more cards in the enchantment toolbox. I also added a Retether, which provides another way to cheat your expensive auras into play, this time from the graveyard.

Flight or Blight

Download Arena Decklist

Until next time, enjoy the February blahs.

Chris Millar

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