More good news! Since my last article aired scant weeks ago, I can skip a lot of the preamble about why I love preconstructed decks, what this article is supposed to do, and how I'm organizing my critiques. Suffice it to say, I love precons because I love theme decks, because they are a doorway for new players into the world of deckbuilding, and because each precon is a well of deckbuilding inspiration. Today is about tapping into some of that inspiration and getting you excited for your own, home-brewed, preconstructed deck evolutions.
Of course I do have a caveat or two. First, the odd thing about this article is that you actually have more knowledge of Future Sight than I do. I'm writing this article in mid-April, which means that I don't have the benefit of Prerelease tournaments, Release events, set reviews, articles, message board dissections, or any of the other ways you begin to absorb a new set. Thus when I talk about "Cards to Drop" and "Cards to Love," you should feel free to actively debate on the forum thread for this article. I'm bound to miss something somewhere along the way.
My second caveat is, well... no. I'll save that one for later. I'm too eager to take a trip down futuristic lane. Let's start by blasting some fate.
As we all know, one of the most frustrating things about Magic is that it relies on a certain degree of luck. You can have the best deck in the world and still draw five lands in a row while your opponent beats you senseless above the neck. The Fate Blaster deck is designed to forgo all that luck stuff for reliability and manipulation. Several cards—from Sage of Epityr to Cryptic Annelid to Mystic Speculation to Foresee—allow you to control what cards you'll draw off the top of your deck. Others, like Spin into Myth, allow you to control what your opponent will draw. This library manipulation is particularly helpful given cards like Shapeshifter's Marrow, Riddle of Lightning, and Barbed Shocker.
Don't let all of this sneak-peek stuff fool you, though. Fate Blaster is meant to be an aggressive deck, since many of the creatures serve no other purpose than to smash face. Fate Blaster also has a heavy theme of returning cards to a player's hand, which is helpful not only with your own comes-into-play creatures but also for slowing an opponent's tempo while your small, efficient creatures do their damage.
Cards to Love
As I said, it's tricky to pick out obviously good and bad cards from a deck without the benefit of playing that deck. Still, it seems to me that these two Future Sight cards (and remember: In these "Cards to Love" section, I'm talking solely about uncommons and rares), are ones that you'll find yourself either coveting or using in a wide variety of decks...
Magus of the Future: It's always nice when a preconstructed deck's two rares are cool and useful. Our own Ben Bleiweiss previewed this card on StarCityGames.com and determined it was the most promising Magus of the Time Spiral block. I'll let Ben convince you why this is so, but suffice it to say that this card will certainly be part of whatever Fate Blaster deck evolutions you pursue.
Cryptic Annelid: It's possible that I'm getting blinded by the same mechanic being listed three times in a row, but I have suspicion that casual blue decks everywhere will absolutely love this guy. He's got a respectable defensive body—which is what most blue decks need—and for four mana you can dig down as many as six cards into your deck. Not only does this make Cryptic Annelid one of the foundational cards for Fate Blaster, it makes it something you'll want in a wide variety of strategies. If you have some way of returning creatures to your hand or from the graveyard, the Annelid is going to be even juicier. And, hey... You only need one more for a full set of four!
Take note that Foresee also digs a potential six cards deep in your library for four mana. Keep an eye on this guy and get extra copies if you're loving how I helps your decks.
Cards to Drop
If those are two are wündercards, here are some cards that probably don't survive any of the ways you might evolve Fate Blaster. This is not to say these cards might not win you a game or two, but it is to say that far, far better options exist for your deck.
Fatal Attraction: So for three times the cost of Shock, I can do 2 damage to a creature at sorcery speed? A full turn later, if the creature is still around, I get to double that damage? In a word: No. Shock, Seal of Fire, or Char will almost always serve you better because a) they are more efficient mana-wise, b) they can inflict their damage at instant-speed, and c) they can be aimed directly at an opponent. I would also rather use Volcanic Hammer, Sudden Shock, Ghostfire, Guerrilla Tactics, Fiery Temper, and Rift Bolt than Fatal Attraction. If for some reason your deck relies on Auras, use Galvanic Arc instead.
Boldwyr Intimidator: For a truly casual theme deck, Boldwyr Intimidator is awesome. The whole Coward-Warrior thing is ripe for comedy around your dining room table. For most decks trying to win, however, it does too little for way too much mana. I don't know that a Fate Blaster game will ever last long enough for you to cast a seven-mana behemoth, and if you do shouldn't you instantly win the game? If what you want to do is set up a flashy Shapeshifter's Marrow or Riddle of Lightning, there are cooler cards like Bogardan Hellkite out there for you. Boldwyr Intimidator is cute. It's funny. It's also inefficient and clunky.
Blind Phantasm: Speaking of inefficient, I can't think of a single color or strategy in Constructed that really wants a vanilla 2/3 for three mana. Even blue. Even if the art is cool. If I am looking for a creature to attack and block, I am almost certain to want Vexing Sphinx or Tidewalker instead. Heck, I would rather have Wind Drake, which will more reliably deal its two damage. If my deck is trying to do something besides just attack and block, Blind Phantasm is taking up valuable slots that could help me achieve my goals. Blind Phantasm probably isn't the first card you think of cutting because it doesn't do anything wrong per se, but very quickly you'll realize that it doesn't do anything well, either.
Fate Blaster Deck Ideas
Armed with which cards you consider champions and which cards you consider chaff, you're sure to start evolving your Fate Blaster deck into... well, your own deck. To me, this is the most fun reason to own precons. A single preconstructed deck can spawn literally dozens of different deck ideas. If you decide to start modifying Fate Blaster into your own creation, I can see several fun paths to pursue. As with all of my suggestions today, these are places to start rather than exhaustive lists.
Bouncy Bounce-a-Thon: SmashEing things is fun and all, but it's sometimes more amusing to watch your opponent's face turn beet-red out of frustration. Standard is set up perfectly to take advantage of comes-into-play and leaves-play creatures in any color combination. Keep Sage of Epityr, Cryptic Annelid, Stingscourger, Venser's Diffusion, and Spin into Myth. Add Sparkmage Apprentice, Dream Stalker, Avalanche Riders, Mogg War Marshal, and other fun creatures you want to replay. Since your deck will also aim to return opposing permanents, you can also add Boomerang, Peel from Reality, Snapback, Repeal, Wipe Away, and Dead. Throw Anarchist in there and things can get truly wacky.
CMC Monster: Fate Blaster's second rare, Shapeshifter's Marrow, is a card I am absolutely certain Chris Millar will use in a deck someday. Riddle of Lightning also reminds me of trying again and again to make a "cost matters" deck with Erratic Explosion and all of Scourge's wackiness. Fate Blaster provides an opportunity to showcase Shapeshifter's Marrow while also making good use of Riddle of Lightning. Keep all of the deck's scry effects, add Erratic Mutation and a few huge, high-end spells (morph cards like Brine Elemental and Akroma, Angel of Fury are particularly useful here), and I think you have a very fun deck.
Wizards!: Finally, you may have noticed the unique and peculiar word on Vedalken Æthermage: Wizardcycling. Fate Blaster currently has seven Wizards in it, but there's no reason you couldn't maximize this number to focus on a Tribal Wars-type deck. The Æthermage is the key here, and I can see it being used to fish out Sparkmage Apprentice, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir; Linessa, Zephyr Mage; Venser, Shaper Savant and Magi of varying flavors. Voidmage Prodigy is also a likely feature card in such a deck. Combined with all of the deck's existing library manipulation, I can see Wizards getting pretty scary. In fact, never mind that I suggested it. Boo, Wizards, boo!
If you love the Future Sight "timeshifted borders," this deck is for you. Future Shock is a very classic green-red "fattie" deck, using mana acceleration and big creatures to pound your opponent to a pulp. The only wrinkle is that you're using [echo voice] cards... of the future! [/echo voice] Since I've made several green-red decks like this in the past (ah, Jackalope Herd, how I miss thee), I can't help but smile when looking at the Future Shock decklist. Make mana. Make fat. Hulk smash.
Actually, there's more to it than that. Yes, there are big butts to be had here, but there are also plenty of quick critters, a subtheme of enchanting creatures, and a sprinkle of both lifegain and burn as well. These themes are minor, but they are there if you look for them, and they do their best to enhance what is an otherwise classic strategy.
Cards to Love
When I look at this pile of spiffily futuristic uncommons and rares, trying to figure out which are the ones you'll use in deck after deck, I come up with two gems...
Baru, Fist of Krosa: Okay, it's true that I had a bit of a love affair with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. It's also true that I'm a green mage at heart and love legendary creatures. So perhaps I'm not entirely objective when I say that Baru, Fist of Krosa is. So. C. O. O. L. I love his Stampede ability. I love his grandeur ability. I love him being a 4/4 for five mana on top of these two cool abilities. I can already picture him in ten different decks I want to make. Whether you get extra copies of Baru or not, I am definitely going to.
Imperiosaur: 5/5. Four mana. That's good, even if it does limit you to basic land. For budget deckbuilders looking to make a mono-green Stompy type deck, this card is going to be superb. It's too bad that it doesn't play nice with Dryad Arbor and other mana-producing creatures like Llanowar Elves, but any deck like, say, my Wood deck would surely find a place for Imperiosaur.
I know this sounds crazy, but also keep a close eye on Spellwild Ouphe. Yes, it's easy for your opponents to kill, but Aura-focused or aggressive green decks just might love this guy.
Cards to Drop
Boldwyr Intimidator: Wha-a!?! He's back?! How did that happen? I'm not sure I ever remember the same card-I-want-to-drop showing up in two precons from the same set. In any case, even with extra mana acceleration this card costs too much. It makes more sense in Future Shock than Fate Blaster, but there are still many better alternatives for the price. It's still funny, though. Also, in the last several paragraphs I've realized that one deck I could see using the Intimidator in is a Tribal Warrior deck. He's going to be great in those.
Sporoloth Ancient: There's nothing wrong with Sporoloth Ancient on its own. Like Baru, it's a 4/4 for five mana with an added ability. It's a Saproling producer, which is nice. The problem is that no other card in the deck uses spore counters, and if all you need is a fattie then why mess around with a slow token producer? Get extra copies of Baru. Use Allosaurus Rider, Spectral Force, or Indrik Stomphowler instead, not to mention countless other green fatties who would fit better in this slot.
Fomori Nomad: Speaking of bad deals for the mana, I think it's fair to go back to two of the cards I just mentioned. Indrik Stomphowler and Spectral Force both cost five mana. One has the same stats as Fomori Nomad with an invaluable ability. The other is an 8/8 beatstick. In other words, 4/4 for five mana and no other abilities just doesn't cut it in today's Standard. I'm hard-pressed to remember a time when it ever cut it, in fact. Still, the art is really, really cool.
Future Shock Deck Ideas
Unlike the other Future Sight precons, I don't see a huge variety of ways to take the Future Shock deck. What mana acceleration you use and how much, sure. Which fatties and how fat, sure. The balance between green and red, sure. But each deck idea that surfaces for me involves the core of mana acceleration and big monsters. That said, here are few ways to tweak this basic archetype...
Enchanta-Fattie: Since Future Shock went to all of the trouble to include an Aura theme, I don't see why you couldn't push the deck further in this direction. I don't think it's fair to try for a full on Enchantress deck because that probably turns over the entire deck, but you could include Bramble Elemental as a fattie, along with high-end Auras like Shape of the Wiitigo and Verdant Embrace. Keep Spellwild Ouphe, Bloodshot Trainee, and Flowstone Embrace, then build from there.
Future-Ball: Finally, if you wanted to you could abandon the classic fattie themes for another ancient green-red archetype. Keep Edge of Autumn and Grinning Ignus, adding in a number of other mana-acceleration goodies. Centaur Omenreader probably stays as well. Instead of loading up on mana to cast big creatures, however, you would aim to fuel a giant Demonfire, Blaze, Disintegrate, or even Wurmcalling. This strategy probably takes the deck far a field, but I can see you staring with Future Shock and ending up with an X-spell based deck.
It's about time! Time Spiral re-introduced those pesky Rebels and their once-dominating mechanic to the Magic world, yet the folks at Wizards of the Coast have waited until the full complement of Rebels was available to build a precon around them.
Although the basic idea in Rebels Unite is that you play Rebels and use their tutor ability to a) make more Rebels, and b) find exactly the card you need when you need it, there are some fun and funky synergies in the deck. For example, the deck's two rares—Angel of Salvation and Magus of the Abyss—both play well with the Rebel mechanic. It's also cool that Bound in Silence is a useful enchantment that's uniquely tutor-able in a Rebels deck. All in all, though, Rebels Unite should play similarly to Rebel decks of the past: win with quick, small creatures, and never run out of steam thanks to their ability to find more of themselves.
Cards to Love
I must think in terms of threes, because I see three non-commons to love, three obvious cards to drop when evolving the deck, and three potential twists on the basic deck you could pursue. Is it a coincidence that this is the third deck I'm covering today? I think not.
Knight of the Holy Nimbus: If you fill your collection with four copies of one of the Rebels Unite cards, it should probably be Knight of the Holy Nimbus. Not only is it the best Rebel in Standard today, it is one of the best white aggressive creatures period. The cost is only a pain if you aren't playing heavy white—otherwise, this creature is going to be a major headache for your opponent to handle in the first several turns of the game.
Magus of the Abyss: The cool thing about the Magi of Future Sight is that they don't tap to do cool stuff. Magus of the Abyss will almost always kill at least one of your opponent's creatures, and if you have any reliable token-producers it will likely swing the game wildly in your favor. The fact that it also comes attached to a respectable 4/3 body for four mana (only one of which is black) is a huge bonus. Put simply, this is a great rare to get in a preconstructed deck.
Bound in Silence: Outside of a Rebel deck, Faith's Fetters is a lot more useful for its extra mana. In any deck able to search for Rebels, though, Bound in Silence is going to be incredibly cool. The ability to neutralize an opposing creature at instant speed with a, say, Amrou Scout in my mind pushes Standard Rebels from annoying to dangerous. It's hard for me to imagine a Rebel deck using less than three copies of this card.
Cards to Drop
As promised, I see three cards that probably won't survive whatever direction you decide to tweak Rebels Unite. In all three cases, there are simply much better options for your deck even if you like what these cards do.
Samite Censer-Bearer: The fact that it can prevent one damage to all of your creatures makes Samite Censer-Bearer a pretty good trick for Limited decks with a Rebel engine. In Constructed, though, that's too small an effect to use up a card slot for. I would much rather use the Rebel-happy Soul Warden for one mana, or Weathered Wayfarer, or Savannah Lions. Just because it's a Rebel deck doesn't mean that you have to settle for underwhelming cards.
Errant Doomsayers: It feels like only last article that I was saying: "cards like Master Decoy, Squall Drifter, Azorius Guildmage, and Minister of Impediments are just better at what the Doomsayers try to do. Personally, I think your two mana are better spent on something other than a tappity-tap guy, but even if you want to go that route there are better options." Now that Rathi Trapper exists, I am certain there are better options even for the Rebel clan.
Lumithread Field: Lumithread Field is a lot like Boldwyr Intimidator in that it's a really cool idea. An enchantment with morph is just plain neat, and it allows your 2/2 creature to avoid creature removal by flipping into an enchantment. The problem is that for you can have Veteran Armorer, which is a better deal in every single way. Heck, spend an additional mana for Glorious Anthem if you're feeling a huge need to enhance your little white guys. Leave Lumithread Field on the sidelines, though.
Rebels Unite Deck Ideas
The most obvious way to take Rebels Unite is simply to make a better, tighter Rebel deck. I imagine to do this you would load up on Amrou Scout, Blightspeaker, and Defiant Vanguard—maybe with a Ramosian Revivalist or two thrown in—as the backbone of the deck. You probably then use four Knight of the Holy Nimbus and four Bound in Silence, and add a sprinkling of other Rebels. I'm less sure about the support cards, but Mortify undoubtedly makes an appearance.
Anyway, assuming you want to depart from the traditional Rebel view, here are a few additional ideas from which to leap...
Rebel Conspiracy: Bummed out that there are so few Rebels to choose from for your deck and so many non-Rebels you wish you could use? Try a little Conspiracy. In truth, Conspiracy is too expensive and passive for true competitive play, but that doesn't mean you couldn't make a hugely fun deck with Rebel tutors, Conspiracy, and a toolbox of creatures to aid your cause. Black has plenty of other tutors to help you find Conspiracy reliably and complement your toolbox approach.
Magus of the Abyss: Finally, I don't see any reason not to try and use the Rebel engine to break Magus of the Abyss. If you can find the mana and keep him alive, Ramosian Revivalist is the a soft lock with the Magus, and I could also imagine you using Goldmeadow Lookout, Icatian Crier, or any other of a number of token-producing cards to enhance the Magus as well. This option probably involves changing a good amount of the deck to bend it towards a single card, but then again this option also holds the possibility of your friends succumbing to The Abyss, man.
There's bad news and good news with our final Future Sight preconstructed deck. The bad news is that Suspended Sentence is trying to do a lot of disparate—and not necessarily synergistic—things. It's a time counters deck, sort of. It's a bounce deck, sort of. It's a morph deck, sort of. It's a Paradox Haze deck, sort of. It's a blue-black control deck, sort of. It has a lot of cards marching in a lot of different ways, and as a result it doesn't accomplish any one of its goals particularly well. All precons are in need of some winnowing of 1-of and 2-of cards to make the deck more consistent, reliable, and focused on its goals. Suspended Sentence happens to be more of a culprit here than most.
The good news is that the deck's scatterbrained nature makes it unpredictable to play (which can be fun, and why formats like Highlander exist) and also unpredictable to play against. Even more importantly, it means that no other Future Sight precon can likely spawn more deck ideas than Suspended Sentence. Fun two- and three-card combinations abound...
Cards to Love
I ask you, where is the love? And when looking at Suspended Sentence's uncommons and rares, here are some of your potential answers:
Riftwing Cloudskate: Riftwing Cloudskate has been around for a while now, long enough for me to recognize it as a heck of a good card. It's easy to think, "Wha? Five mana for a 2/2 flier? I thought this was the 'Cards to Love' section?!" Yet I have seen countless blue decks content to suspend a Riftwing Cloudskate on turn two and wait for it to burst into play for a huge tempo swing. If your deck can actually remove time counters and/or replay this guy somehow, you definitely want more copies of him.
Paradox Haze: Hardcore tournament players may not see a use for Paradox Haze, but if you have any casual deckbuilding in you at all it's easy to get excited by this card. Check out Chris Millar's preview of Paradox Haze. Or you can look to the Great MaGo for inspiration. Whatever the case, wacky deckbuilders agree that Paradox Haze is keen. You're fortunate that after Suspended Sentence you only need one more copy!
Shimian Specter: It's a Lobotomy with a body. I'm not sure Shimian Specter works well with many of the other cards in Suspended Sentence except for the bounce, but it's certainly a card you'll be happy to have in your collection. And, if you decide to evolve the deck into a blue-black control or mono-black deck, you'll want several of these moth-riding, skeletal lancer thingies.
Nihilith: Yay for two intriguing rares! I'm going out on a limb here, but I think Nihilith has potential. Anyone who has played with or against Vulturous Zombie knows how often cards fall into graveyards, meaning that you should be able to get a 4/4 fear creature onto the table quickly with a little discard, a little creature removal, and a little creativity. I'm not thrilled about what you get for the mana if you have to actually cast Nihilith, but at six mana at least it's possible to cast him later in the game (unlike, say, Ivory Giant or Deep-Sea Kraken). I think black mages in Standard may soon find that if they aren't holding Dark Confidant, Nihilith is a fine turn-two play.
Card(s) to Drop
I've had a hard time deciding what cards are truly not going to fit into any way you might evolve Suspended Sentence. This is not to say all of the cards are awesome, but most of them have a place somewhere in some kind of deck. Still, here are two cards I think you probably drop no matter what:
Mindstab: The good thing about Mindstab is that it is something to play on the first turn and has the potential to really cripple an opponent. The bad news is that your opponent knows that it's coming and you may be far behind by the time it actually resolves. Even though three cards is sexy, Blackmail, Cry of Contrition, Nightmare Void, Persecute, and Stupor are all going to be more effective at discard. If what you're looking to do is remove time counters to do something impressive, I'm certain that you have better targets.
Suspended Sentence Deck Ideas
As I said, because Suspended Sentence is sort of all over the place, there are plenty of opportunities to hone it into something cool. The way it probably most begs to be changed is towards a classic blue-black control deck with a few deadly creatures to go along with discard, bounce, creature removal, countermagic, and every other way that blue and black can control the board. Assuming you want to try something wackier, here are a few ideas...
More Bounce: I like the idea in the Suspended Sentence insert that one of the fun things to do in the deck is keep bouncing Reality Acid with cards like Riftwing Cloudskate, Dream Stalker, and Reality Strobe. If you maximize the number of each of these cards, you've just opened the deck up for a lot of comes-into-play effects like Clone, Flight of Fancy, Sage of Epityr, and Venser, Shaper Savant. Add Boomerang, Repeal, Snapback, or other blue bounce and you can probably ditch the black altogether for a wacky deck.
More Morph: There are so many morph cards in Standard right now, and Suspended Sentence doesn't dip into some of the juicier ones like Willbender, Brine Elemental, Fathom Seer, and Soul Collector. It does, however, have Zoetic Cavern and Unblinking Bleb. Add more of both, along with some of the cards I just mentioned, and Suspended Sentence will begin to take shape. Or lose shape. Or... you know what I mean.
More Paradox: Remember the Millar and Gottlieb articles I mentioned earlier? Read those, look at all of the cards in Suspended Sentence that benefit from Paradox Haze, and let your imagination roam free. Just be sure to include a way to find Paradox Haze in your library, either lots of blue card drawing, black tutors, or other ways like Drift of Phantasms.
Back to My Future (Again)
I started off today saying that I had a second caveat to this article. Well, life is funny.
When I started writing Magic articles regularly, it was 1997 and I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan. In ten years, I've entered corporate life, gotten married, had two children, and moved three times within California. All the while my career has continued to skyrocket. You'll remember that I gave up my weekly column last year because of becoming a Director at Taco Bell. I literally receive email from readers every week asking me to start up again with another weekly series, and each time I reply that I just can't do it.
Well, I've left Taco Bell now to become a Vice President at Barclays Global Investors, a division of Barclays Bank of London. I don't know how else to explain my new responsibilities except to say it's a big job—long hours, lots of international travel, etc. Whereas my Taco Bell job crowded out a weekly Magic column, this new job is crowding out pretty much any Magic at all. In fact, I've been writing this article in fits and starts amidst selling my house and relocating to San Francisco from southern California.
My hope is to continue on with both Going Rogue and these precon articles, but I'm going to need a break until I find some routine. Expect me to resurface soon—I mean, when have I ever truly disappeared from Magic?—and cross your fingers that my new life is easy, stress-free, and full of time for Magic Online.
In the meantime, keep crackin' open precons, keep evolving decks, keep going rogue, and for heaven's sake...
Think hard and have fun!