Rarely Good

Posted in Feature on April 19, 2006

By Chris Millar

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Slow down there, Johnnies, Johnny-wannabes, and Johnnabes! I know you're all excited about the Dissension Previews, and who can blame you? The cards look so sweet, four out of five Magical dentists are greedily rubbing their hands together and cackling maniacally in anticipation. Personally, I can't wait to get my greedy little hands on Experiment Kraj (the card, not the Kraj). Who can resist a purple Ooze Mutant? Certainly not me. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Dissension is almost here, but with the delay between set releases online and in real life, I've barely begun to goof around with Guildpact. Since I don't have a preview card this week, I thought I'd take the time to do some catching up. Without further delay, let's make a deck!

Hatching, Matching, Dispatching

Hatching Plans
Of all the Guildpact Rares, Hatching Plans is the one with the largest gap between how good it could be and how bad it probably is. Between those two points there's an ever-widening gulf. A veritable canyon. A vast expanse with enough space for two little gulfs, a crevasse, and half a chasm. The main point of interest are those three little words: Is. Put. Into. Er … I mean: Draw. Three. Cards. That little phrase has some serious pedigree. From Alpha's Ancestral Recall, to Beta's Ancestral Recall, all the way up to Unlimited's Ancestral Recall, players have loved always loved “drawing three.” Drawing three cards is super-cool, even if you have to Brainstorm, if you have to Concentrate, or if you have to Standstill. I'm not even going to get into the metagame-warping power of Rushing-Tide Zubera, which is half Hill Giant, half Concentrate, and the bane of Giant Solifuge and Wildfire players everywhere. Or not.

We've clearly established that Hatching Plans is in good company, but is it a Standstill, which has seen a lot of play in Block, Legacy, Vintage, and multiplayer, or is it more like Saprazzan Heir, which is about as good as Hazy Homunculus? I guess we'll never know … unless we build some decks!

The first thing to figure out is how we're going to get Hatching Plans from Point A (the in-play zone) to Point B (the graveyard). I've seen some interesting ideas floating around, which include the Enchantment-eating Atogs (Auratog, Thaumatog, Phantatog) and Leyline of Singularity. With the Leyline in play, you'd need to play a second copy of Hatching Plans (or Copy Enchantment) and the Legend Rule will do the rest. This is surprisingly effective, and when I received (by carrier pigeon) a tight-looking decklist from Henrik Dithmer, I started testing it out. He used Hatching Plans and Leyline of Singularity, and while he was using abusing Rule 420.5e, he figured he might as well use some Hunted creatures, Horrors and Phantasms, as his win condition. With a Leyline in play, those Centaurs and Goblins you so generously gave your opponent are D.O.A.

I adjusted some numbers to make room for the Transmute cards Muddle the Mixture and Clutch of the Undercity. They are ideal in a deck like this, which requires that you assemble a specific set of cards in order to be effective. My only other change was to add a copy of Sakashima the Impostor, whose “the same, but different” philosophy allows you to effectively have two copies of your kill card in play at the same time.

As I learned while playing the deck online, this basic concept has been around for a while and has even been tried by some of the more adventurous tournament-goers. After a series of quick concessions, and a lecture about how I shouldn't be playing this deck in the Casual Room, I figured I'd try to hatch some different plans. I reached into my deckbuilder's bag of tricks, pulled out a frighteningly large ball of lint and a little piece paper with the words “Search Gatherer” written on it. My search terms: “Sacrifice a permanent.” What came up? Drinker of Sorrow, Greater Harvester, Read the Runes, Dispersing Orb, and Lich's Tomb. Other than the latter, those cards seemed like the basis for a solid two-colour deck.

A couple weeks ago, I built some all-powerful Tribal Wars decks. While they were undefeated and undefeatable, some readers were disappointed that I used a couple of obvious tribes, namely Wizards and Goblins. “Yawn,” they said yawningly. This week I hope to make amends. With Drinker of Sorrow and Greater Harvester already slated for inclusion, I figured I might as well go all the way and make it a Horror Tribal deck. Those crazy Horrors, always working together towards a common goal. While Hatching Plans is a nice permanent to sacrifice, it's not the only one that is better off dead, especially in a Horror deck. Shambling Swarm is almost always a two-for-one (at least) and Mindslicer has a nasty habit of putting each player into topdeck mode, which is not a bad mode to be in if you have Hatching Plans on the board. It's like hiding your hand in plain sight. Phyrexian Rager is my second favourite Gray Ogre of all time (after Man-o'-War), so it's in. Meanwhile, Gleancrawler makes the team because it interacts well with all of the sacrifice effects. I threw a Mindleech Mass into the deck for fun, but it can be very effective when you start denying your opponent permanents with Greater Harvester and Dispersing Orb. If your opponent can't play his spells, you might as well do it.

If you don't want to keep to the Magic Online cardpool, and I know many of you do not, Phyrexian Negator is an obvious inclusion, being both a Horror and a handy way to send to Hatching Plans to the graveyard. Since we're also in Blue, I'd try Barrin, Master Wizard as well. His Unsummon-ing ability goes very well Hatching Plans and creatures that really want to get through your opponent's defenses.

A copy of a copy of a copy

Mizzium Transreliquat
Sometimes new cards fit it into old concepts so snugly, so effortlessly, you'd think they were meant to be there all along. I'm not sure if it's like putting old wine into new bottles, or new wine into old bottles, but I'm pretty sure bottles are involved somehow.

The bottles of destiny.

These are the kinds of mixed metaphors that drifted snugly and effortlessly through my mind as I read an email sent to me by AJ Richardson (nee Impy), a deckbuilder whose ingenuity is matched only by his incredible tolerance for pain. AJ writes:

“Here's an interesting deck I've been toying with lately. The Vesuvan Doppelganger of artifacts, Mizzium Transreliquat, is just about unique in its ability to change on demand, and seeing as it retains charge counters when it does so, insanity can ensue.”

Good call! It's one of those quirky rules things (a technical term). If charge counters (or +1/+1 counters, or any other kind of counters) end up on a permanent, they stay there until otherwise removed. You can have +1/+1 counters on a non-creature permanent (the counters just won't do anything), or charge counters on a permanent with no use for them. Okay, I guess that's not really “quirky” but it is exploitable. Ravager Affinity players, for instance, used to put +1/+1 counters on Blinkmoth Nexus via the Modular ability, and they would be there even when the Nexus reverted to being a land. To illustrate some of the possibilities, AJ writes:

“In one game, I managed to change Transreliquat into a Sun Droplet to receive four points of damage, then shifted it into an Engineered Explosives to kill a Nullmage Shepherd.”

Cool! I pulled off some fun stunts, too, like copying Sun Droplet to build up counters, before gaining an absurd amount of life by copying Clearwater Goblet, then following that up by cloning Orochi Hatchery and churning out a ridiculous quantity of Snake tokens. To me, eight is an absurd amount and a ridiculous quantity.

I've gone ahead and made some changes to the deck AJ sent me, no doubt making it worse in the process. After a few games in which I didn't draw a single Transreliquat, Mizzium or otherwise, I decided to shave some cards to make room for a set of Fabricates. With all that tutoring power, I figured I might as well random-up the decklist a bit, so I shaved off some more cards and cleared some space for a couple Jinxed Chokers, a Clearwater Goblet, and a pair of Dismantles. As I'm sure someone would have informed me by email, you can't play with Darksteel Reactor and not play with Dismantle. I think it's some kind of rule, a corollary to being unable to mention Niv-Mizzet in a sentence without also mentioning that the Dragon Wizard forms a game-winning combo with Curiosity.

“Other fun card possibilities include the rest of the Sunburst gang, Doubling season, or even the hated legendary fork of Toshi.” If I was ever going to use Umezawa's Jitte in a deck, it'd be this one. Still, I couldn't bring myself to include it, for a couple reasons. I'm certain that every game that featured an equipped Coretapper would end in a disheartening concession, which would be approximately zero fun, and while Jitte would be effective weenie-control with all the charge counters floating around, its complete lack of synergy with Mizzium Transreliquat made me decide against it.

Run, Forest, Run …

Earth Surge
… then, like, attack that guy. There are few things that I enjoy more than swinging with land cards. It seems like an obvious extrapolation from my professed love of Elves. I've already built a few decks that used Natural Affinity to Alpha Strike the opponent out of nowhere. In my second week here, I used creatures with a built-in Lure ability to run interference for my animated lands, and then a few weeks later, during Gruul Week, I made my Forests and Mountains into big, bad firebreathing Dragons with the help of Natural Affinity and an upside-down Homura, Human Ascendant. Luckily for me, Guildpact features a nearly-unplayable Rare which is ideal for decks that win with an all-terrain attack: Earth Surge! Its symmetry makes Natural Affinity a less exciting option, and, besides, I've used that card enough times already. John LaPine (also known as Piroteknix) wrote to me and suggested pairing Earth Surge with Living Lands, that way, you can break the symmetry as long as your opponent isn't playing with Forests. We can do even better than that. Ambush Commander is asymmetrical, provides a bit of security against mass removal (you can sacrifice it to its own ability to de-animate your lands so they won't be destroyed by cards like Wrath of God), and is available online to boot! Better still is Life/Death. For a measly Green mana, you can summon forth a lethal strike-force out of the blue.

Ravnica's forgotten Horror, Woodwraith Corrupter, makes some pretty beefy men, and with Earth Surge they get even beefier. The same can be said of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. He's a one-man wrecking crew who can quickly become a many-man wrecking crew. The deck wants a lot of mana, so I've included full sets of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Farseek, which help to ensure a turn 3 Reap and Sow, Explosive Vegetation, or Earth Surge. Man-lands like the aforementioned Blinkmoth Nexus, as well as Svogthos, the Restless Tomb, are also ideal inclusions, and can be fetched by Reap and Sow. Genju of the Cedars is a cheap and resilient threat which benefits greatly from Earth Surge's power-boost, and Rude Awakening is just way to good to omit.

When is a Forest not a Forest?

When it is a tacking.

Until next time, keep fit and have fun!

Chris Millar

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