Rarely Good Now

Posted in Feature on May 24, 2006

By Chris Millar

Before I get going, I'd like to say that I'm a Canadian. It may not be obvious to those of you outside of my increasingly exclusive inner-circle, but I am. Ted knows, because my articles are etched into fresh sheets of birch veneer and bound in hockey-tape. I'm sure they're hell to edit, but it's the way I've been taught to write, so tough-noogies.

So even though I can't tell the difference between a South African Cape Hyrax and a North American beaver, I assure you that I still bleed maple syrup. (Don't worry, though, I'm seeing a doctor about it later this week). Like a true Canuck, I like beer, and flannel, and I wear a toque and long-johns six months of the year. I like sports where part of the referee's job is to “repair ice” and shovel teeth off the playing surface.

This is very important information, obviously. Last week, I got some very concerned and, um, polite email wondering why I was dissing Canadian Magic players. “What do you have against Canadians?” they asked, with a lot of unnecessary punctuation. This caught me a little off-guard, to tell you the truth. What brought it on? It turns out that in last week's article, I said something like, “You won't win too many games with just Card X + Card Y, not even in Canada.” That's not a dis, that's a fact. If you don't believe me, try registering that at your next tournament. I know we're pretty laid-back about “the rules” up here, but that's completely unacceptable.

I know Canadians are good at Magic. I also have a lot of first-hand experience with how bad they can be. If you want proof, watch me play on MTGO. I like to mana-burn to death in front of a crowd. In the future, rest assured that when I “bash” Canada, I do so out of love. For now, though, I'm gonna sit in my ivory tower, eat some Kraft Dinner Spirals, sharpen my skates, and build some decks around those Guildpact cards that are rarely good.

A real fun guy

Tourney-folk have used the very playable Guild leaders of the Orzhov, Teysa, Orzhov Scion and Ghost Council of Orzhova. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has also seen his share of play in tournaments. In this column, I've used smasher-and-eater Borborygmos, the fantastic Mr. Mizzet, Tibor, and Lumia. My question, then, is: where's the love for Ulasht, the Hate Seed? In the course of my many games in the Casual Decks room online, I haven't had my opponent play an Ulasht once. To give you some perspective, I've lost games online to such tried-and-true winners as Champions of Kamigawa's Junkyo Bell (which is actually pretty good in Selesnya decks). That card even comes with its own built-in self-insult!

Ulasht has no such deficiency. Just the opposite, in fact. Of all the Guild-affiliated Legends, he/she/it has the name I most like to say (I pronounce it Ooh-lawsh'd, no matter what Sekki says). Plus he/she/it has frickin' Hellions for heads! Cool stuff, to be sure, but what I don't get is why a Hydra with Hellion-heads spawns little green fungus creatures. Call Maury, I want a paternity test!

In the Web of War
Ulasht, the Hate Seed is the poster boy for cards that “do nothing on their own.” I found this out the hard way when I played Ulasht on an empty board only to watch him make a bee-line for the graveyard crying, “Nobody understands me!” As it turns out, he counts other Red and Green creatures as he comes into play. With no friends around, I suspect it was the loneliness that killed him, state-based effects be damned.

How do we make Ulasht some friends? He's very needy, so I turned to Selesnya stalwarts, Fists of Ironwood and Scatter the Seeds. Doubling Season was the next card to go in, followed by Saviors of Kamigawa snake-maker, Seed the Land. To cast these spells and to fuel Seed the Land, I went with the usual suspects: Gruul Turf, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and, finally, Wood Elves, since they make lands appear and stick around to power up Ulasht.

The last cards in were Cloudstone Curio and In the Web of War, both of which work extremely well with Ulasht's Saproling-making ability. With all three in play, you can make 3/1 Hasted Saprolings until Ulasht is down to two counters. With the penultimate counter, take advantage of Cloudstone Curio's triggered effect and return Ulasht to your hand. When you replay him, he'll have nearly twice as many counters as before, and he'll get +2/+0 and Haste! There's a reason he's not called Ulasht, the Nice-to-Other-People Seed. It wouldn't fit on the card!

With Scatter the Seeds, Seed the Land, and Ulasht, the Hate Seed in the deck, you're only a hop, skip, and a jump away from having a full-blown “Seed” theme deck. Here's the non-theme version:

This deck can take a while to get going, but it can be incredibly explosive when it does. In one game, my opponent and I spent the first few turns of the game making mana. My first real play was In the Web of War, and he responded with Ink-Treader Nephilim. I was holding a pair of Fists of Ironwood at the time (Note to self: Don't sacrifice your Elders unless you actually need the mana.). The card I drew for my turn was Cloudstone Curio. With the mana left over, I played a Fists on his Nephilim, played a second Fists, bouncing the first one, and then replayed the first Fists bouncing the second one. Each Fists produced two tokens, which became pseudo-Spark Elementals thanks to In the Web of War. I attacked for eighteen, leaving my opponent at one life. (Note to self: See previous note.) Of course, he untapped and did something ridiculous with Ink-Treader Nephilim and some Splice onto Arcane spells, killing me from twenty in one shot. C'est la vie.

Springtime in the Void

Leyline of the Void
There are some cards that, upon seeing them for the first time in the set spoiler, are quickly written off. At least by me. It's not that these cards aren't good, it's that they are extraordinarily narrow. They do what they do very well, but you can tell that they're destined for Spike's sideboard. What I'm talking about, Arnold, are cards like Suppression Field, Parallectric Feedback, and Leyline of the Void. You know, the kind of card that people say will hose an entire deck archetype out of existence, but rarely does.

Speaking of the Leylines, if I had to rank them in terms of the elusive (and completely made-up) “Johnny Factor,” it'd be like so:

  1. Leyline of Singularity. By a mile, or, I guess, about a kilometer and a half.
  2. Leyline of Lightning. Not particularly “wacky,” but it's still a card that rewards creative deckbuilders.
  3. Leyline of the Meek. A less-than-glorified Glorious Anthem, this one requires that you build a deck around it since it only affects token creatures. Pretty straightforward.
  4. TIE. Leyline of the Void and Leyline of Lifeforce. A graveyard hoser and counter magic hoser, respectively. End of story.

Or so I thought.

Reader Kilian C. has other ideas. A little while ago, he sent me a deck in which Leyline of the Void does its usual thing, raining on the parade of Dredgers and Kamigawa Dragons alike. It turns out that it also puts your opponent into a dilly of a pickle when you send a Measure of Wickedness their way. Since Leyline of the Void takes your opponent's cards on a detour around his graveyard and into the removed-from-game zone, he'll have a hard time shipping Measure of Wickedness back to you. It's a hot potato with a one-way ticket, except it causes life-loss and not potato-shaped burn scars.

As Kilian explains, “The idea is to get a Leyline into play, then foist a Measure onto your opponent using a sacrifice outlet. Dimir House Guard Transmutes for Measures, Leylines, Grave Pacts, and Empty the Catacombs, which becomes a one-sided reload engine for re-sacrificing. The Skeletal Vampire makes tokens to sacrifice, serves as an outlet, and blocks fliers that aren't destroyed with Last Gasp.”

I've played it and it's wickedly fun. Admittedly, some of that sadistic glee comes from playing such a powerful hoser in your maindeck. “Your entire deck is based on graveyard recursion? Geez, I had no idea. Guess I win, then.” It's like the first time you play your “wacky” Circle of Protection: Red + Orcish Artillery deck against your friend's burn deck. “Sorry, I didn't know!” *Impish grin*

That's the deck almost exactly as Kilian designed it. I shaved an Empty the Catacombs for another Swamp and added the Signets because his deck was only fifty-six cards. With so many spells in the four slot, the extra mana seemed appropriate. If you wanted to stray from mono-black, there are a few things I would recommend trying. One, add Green for Bloodbond March. Two, add Red for Dissension's Crypt Champion. The Black Leyline very nicely breaks the symmetry of both of those cards.

Sold To the Hy-est Brid-der

The hybrid-mana spells are what we wafflers call “interesting.” Since their debut, players have remarked that you could use the hybrid cards in mono-colour decks, but outside of various mono-Red builds, this hasn't really happened. It makes sense. Why play a mono-coloured deck when mana-fixing is so powerful and so plentiful? Now that all ten Guilds are available, however, it occurred to me that you could build a “mono-colour” deck that featured cards of all five colours. You could, for example, play all of the Green Guildmages, Gleancrawler, and that very large Solifuge that everyone loves to hate. (Maybe it's just me). Why would it matter if you have cards of all five colours in your mono-Green deck? Three words: All Suns' Dawn. Twenty-three words: Since we're dipping into Extended, I thought I'd include some of the Invasion split cards, which also count as spells of two colours.

All Suns' Dawn
In the end, I decided against a mono-coloured deck, as fun as that would be. Instead, I went with an even more fun two-colour build. It's basically an R/G aggro deck, with weenies (the Red or Green Guildmages) and some pump-slash-burn spells (Assault // Battery, Fire // Ice, Wax // Wane). If your opponent handles your first wave, you can reload with All Suns' Dawn. By my count, the deck has twenty-four Green spells, twenty Red spells, seven Black spells, seven White spells, and ten Blue spells, so you should rarely return less than three cards with All Suns' Dawn. Sometimes, All Suns' Dawn will effectively read, “Put your graveyard into your hand.” That's the kind of sentence non-Magic players love.

Simic Guildmage is in there as a one-of because his abilities are so narrow. He can shuffle around Golgari Guildmage's +1/+1 counters, and thwart opposing spot-removal by moving Shielding Plax from creature to creature. Since that's also a one-of, it won't happen too often. The real stars are the Izzet cards, Djinn Illuminatus and Izzet Guildmage, since the Invasion Block Split cards are all pretty sweet when copied.

With so many different activated abilities and such a variety spells, this deck does just about everything under the sun. Each game is different, and your opponents will have a tough time figuring out what you're going to do next.

The Number One Threat - Extended

Download Arena Decklist

The mana base is a little pricey, not to mention a little hazardous to your health. With some tweaks, I think you could get away with more basics and use fixers like Utopia Sprawl and Fertile Ground to ensure you have the mana to cast your spells. Another solution would be to use some kind of industrial-strength “mana-washer” like Joiner Adept, Pulse of Llanowar, or Mycosynth Lattice. A third possibility is Apocalypse's Dragon Arch. Heck, you could even use Vanguard's Birds of Paradise Avatar to fix your mana.

Until next time, keep your stick on the ice and your teeth off it!

Chris Millar

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