Rarely Good Too

Posted in Feature on April 26, 2006

By Chris Millar

Welcome back, folks! You may have noticed I've been out of sight for a while. It's been a whole week since my last column, and during that time many panicked readers sent me frantic messages, wondering where I was. It turns out that I'm only scheduled for one column a week, so you needn't have worried. Thanks for all the phone calls and the many lovely cards. The flowers were also a nice touch, if slightly disconcerting. Luckily for you (but more importantly, for me), rumours of my demise have been, like, blown way out of proportion. Now that I'm back, I think we ought to continue where we left off last week: having fun with Guildpact's lovelorn Rares. First up, Ghost Council of Orzhova. Rejoice, casual mages, because its mana cost is much too strict for tournament play. Two White and two Black? In a colour combination not known for its mana-fixing? Impossible to cast, I say. Besides, when I pay mana for something, it'd better win me the game. You'd have to sacrifice twenty creatures (or, I guess, attack five times) for Ghost Council to win the game! Might as well play Mortal Combat, I say.

Just kidding. Put the Council in a pile with Giant Solifuge and company, we have much smaller fish to fry. Like perch, or small-mouthed bass, or some of the other Guild leaders. Onward!

I, Bald Minotaur

A reader by the name of Mark Matics sent me his latest pet combo: a hamster-ball and a Chihuahua. I'm not exactly sure what the combo does, but from what I can tell, you end up with a clear plastic ball that rolls around the floor, yapping incessantly.

In all seriousness, Mark's actual pet combo is Student of Elements and Tibor and Lumia. With both cards in play, just sling a Blue spell and use Tibor's Flight-granting power to turn the Student upside-down. Once the circle is complete, and the Student (of Elements) becomes the Master (of Winds), all of your future critters - be they Giant Solifuges, Magnivores, or even Horned Turtles - will find themselves floating above the ground, out of the reach of Lumia's little Earthquakes.

By a quirk of fate, another reader, John LaPine, sent me a deck idea along the same lines. His plan was to give his opponent's creatures flying, and then shoot them out of the sky with Green spells. As John's email indicated, we live in the Golden Age of Flyer Hate. Sure, there's no Hurricane any more, but in Standard alone we have Crash Landing, Matsu-Tribe Sniper, Silklash Spider, Needle Storm, Trophy Hunter, Elvish Skysweeper, Gale Force, and Arashi, the Sky Asunder. I've seen decks very similar to this, decks that essentially turn you opponent's creatures into Clay Pigeons, so it wasn't going to be too groundbreaking, but then again, Standard features all kinds of fresh new tricks for such a deck (among them Lifted by Clouds, Shinen of Flight's Wings, Phantom Wings, and Flight of Fancy), so maybe, I thought, it was still worth pursuing.

Tibor and Lumia
It wasn't until he mentioned the possibility of splashing Leap of Flame and Tibor and Lumia, that a light went on. Then my eyes turned to dollar signs, a little storm cloud appeared overhead, and a series of punctuation marks shot out of my mouth. Clearly, I'd had an idea that would simultaneously make me very sad and obscenely @#$%&^* rich. It was a very strange moment, but at least I was inspired to build a deck.

Tibor and Lumia are a tumid, baronial duo with two very synergistic abilities, not including their delightful anagram possibilities. You might think I'm crazy for liking this aspect of the card, but I'm rational, bud. So rational, in fact, that I included a few other ways to flip Student of Elements, including the aforementioned Leap of Flame and Shinen of Flight's Wings (more on that later). I left out Guardian of Solitude, because it had the unfortunate tendency of getting killed in the crossfire.

To make life miserable for all of the creatures-without-flying you'll face, I filled the deck a bunch of mothers-in-law-without-flying, namely Earthshaker, Jiwari, the Earth Aflame, and Hammerfist Giant (on top of Tibor and Lumia, of course). I left Ryusei, the Falling Star on the sidelines, because you have much less control over when its ability goes off. If your opponent won't cooperate and play some ground-based creatures, you can give him some with Hunted Dragon and Hunted Phantasm. All those donated Goblins? As a man much wiser than I once said, “They make funny little popping sounds when they die.” Just like corn. I'm not sure what sound Hunted Dragon's knighted enemies make when they die, but Mark says they sound a little bit like a Chihuahua in a hamster-ball. (Note: No animals were harmed in the making of this joke.)

As a 3/3 Flyer for five-mana, Shinen of Flight's Wings is kind of unimpressive. For the same amount of mana, you can get a Meloku the Clouded Mirror and for one more mana, you can get Keiga, the Tide Star. Sure, we all know that Dragons are cool, and that pasty-fleshed and floppy-eared Moon-people are off-the-charts cool, but are they really cooler than bug-eyed mutant frog spirits? I think the answer is clear: Probably. Unfortunately for those two tournament staples, neither of them can be used to both flip Student of Elements and trigger Earthshaker's Spiritcraft ability. Really, though, it's all about the artwork.

I added the Neko-Te's on a lark, but they work well on an Earthshaker, too. Since Neko-Te works with any damage, not just combat damage, Earthshaker or Tibor and Lumia can effectively lock down all non-flying creatures. Keep in mind that the ninja weapon doesn't discriminate between your creatures and your opponent's creatures, so unless they have flying themselves, your little ‘quakers will end up locking themselves down. One trick to get around this is to declare Earthshaker as an attacker before setting off its Neko-Te-enhanced ability. I won one game where my opponent had seven life, and a Carven Caryatid plus a slew of Saprolings tokens in play to my lone Earthshaker. I drew Neko-Te, played it and equipped it, and then sent him into the Red Zone. During the declare attackers phase, I sent a Glacial Ray to the dome, triggering the Earthshaker. The Saprolings made some popping sounds and the Caryatid became tapped. Earthshaker swung in unimpeded and, combined with Neko-Te's life-loss ability, did the five damage needed to kill my opponent.

If you wanted to take the deck in a slightly different direction, while still keeping the Izzet flavour, you could up the Neko-Te count to four and throw in a set of Gelectrodes.

Sword of Ridiculous, Sword of Not

A couple weeks ago, back when I was still in my regrettable “Spike Phase,” I wrote about a fun (and unbeatable) Goblin Tribal deck that featured Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. I mentioned at the end of that article that Sword of the Paruns worked well with the Mirror Breaker. One reader, Sam Smith, wrote in to show-off a nifty three-card infinite-mana, infinite-creature combo using those two cards. The third card? Composite Golem. As Sam says, “Kiki-Jiki plus Sword of the Paruns lets you copy a creature for each three mana you spend. Now, what if that creature could return the investment... and more? If you happen to have a Composite Golem in play (one of my favourite cards ever, due to its unbelievable ability to combo with so many cards, like Corpse Dance or Nighteyes the Desecrator), you can pay three to make a copy of Composite Golem, sacrifice it for five mana, use that mana to untap Kiki-Jiki, and repeat for infinite mana!” At this point, you can use that infinite (or arbitrarily large, if you want to get Judge-y) mana to untap Kiki-Jiki as many times as you please, copying the Golem each time. That's a lot of Golems, and it means ol' Kiki is going to have bad luck for the next infinity-times-seven years. Don't play the lottery, Kiki-Jiki!

I put together a version of that deck, and it was okay. Unfortunately, it's a three-card combo which contains a four-, five-, and six-mana card, none of which do a whole lot on their own. The deck had the three key cards, Godo, Bandit Warlord to fetch the Sword, and lots of Green cards to accelerate and fix your mana. It wasn't working out, so I scrapped it. Where to now, though?

Sword of the Paruns
All this talk of Hammerfist Giant has got me thinking. Actually, it's got me remembering. Actually, it's got me trying to remember and failing. Someone somewhere mentioned in some forum that Hammerfist Giant goes great with Sword of the Paruns. If this was you, give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie. The trick is to activate ol' Hammy's Breath of Darigaaz-ability and use the Sword to untap him in response. Since the Giant will be untapped, and therefore pumped +0/+2, it won't deal itself lethal damage and can be used again! You can get the same effect by pumping its toughness some other way, with Vulshok Morningstar or Manriki-Gusari. The advantage to Sword of the Paruns, however, is that it allows you to fire off the Giant's ability multiple times in a single turn, which can be relevant if you want to destroy creatures with a toughness greater than four, or if you just want to burn your opponent out of the game (note that the Giant hits players, as well as creatures).

The deck needed a lot of mana, and the usual suspects volunteered to provide it. Kodama's Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Wood Elves make your big monsters castable, and the latter two make great targets for the lone copy of Kiki-Jiki that made it into the deck. While we're trying to make use of Sword of the Paruns, I figured we might as well throw in some other creatures with devastating tap-abilities, like Jiwari, the Earth Aflame, Arashi, the Sky Asunder, and Heartless Hidetsugu. Jiwari and Arashi both have abilities that are too mana-intensive to be used repeatedly, but you can at least use them to blow up a creature and still attack. Since they are all Legendary creatures, and since Godo, Bandit Warlord is also going into the deck, I included a few copies of Time of Need to fetch them.

Godo, Bandit Warlord is Sword of the Paruns' best friend, for a couple reasons. As a four-mana Equipment, Sword of the Paruns is (obviously) best when you can get it into play for a 100% discount, directly from your library. How many libraries have swords you can take out of them? This one does. The other thing to note is that Godo's oft-forgotten Relentless Assault-ability only untaps himself and your Samurai, so your other creatures often end up sitting around, waiting for your next turn to attack while Godo and his schoolyard chums are having all the fun. Sword of the Paruns lets you untap the creature it's equipping, so you can make the most of all those extra combat steps.

Since it was already a Legend-fest, I threw in a copy of Borborygmos, Ravnica's favourite Sweat-Hog. When he's not crushing things and eating them, he's making sure his hair is properly coiffed. He also likes it when Godo says he can attack two times.

Loboto-me, Loboto-you

I set out to write a multi-week series catching up on all of the neat decks made possible by Guildpact Rares, but now I'm going to throw you for a loop. I'm not sure how a person goes about throwing someone for a loop, but I think it involves a Chihuahua in a hamster-ball. (Sorry, that just cracks me up.) With the final deck, I'm going to go back even further, all the way back to Ravnica, a set which, in my mind, is still full of untapped potential. The deck coming up is actually one of the first decks I built when I started writing the column. Since Dimir Week was way back in November, pre-dating my arrival on the site by two months, it became difficult to squeeze this deck into an article. What's in the deck? Circu, Dimir Lobotomist. So far, so obvious. What makes the deck special? A cute little bird-like Beast from Planeshift called Cavern Harpy. With Circu on the board, and a Harpy in hand, each you pay will removed the top two cards of your opponent's library. This adds up quickly, like my gambling debts.

There are a few ways you can build a Circu deck. One way would be to use Circu to supplement a milling strategy based around Glimpse the Unthinkable and company. Another would be to use Circu as part of an aggro-control strategy, his ability locking your opponent out of playing spells long enough to get in twenty points worth of beats. This is the path I chose.

Now that Visions has made its way into the Magic Online environment, I thought I'd add one of my favourite cards of all time: Man-o'-War! I've talked a bit about it before, but, man, I love this card. It's an amazing tempo card, for one thing, and it gets even better when you can replay it repeatedly by combining it with something like Cavern Harpy. There isn't much that's more frustrating than replaying the same creature a hundred times, except, I guess, replaying it two hundred times. Man-o'-War, like Cavern Harpy, can also turn into a Lobotomist's assistant with it's ability to be return itself to your hand. The same goes for another Visions favourite, Shrieking Drake.

The rest of the deck is filled with nifty Blue or Black creatures with comes-into-play abilities, and some general utility. Dimir Infiltrator acts as Cavern Harpies number five and six. Crypt Angel lets you get back any fallen Circus, while Sakashima the Impostor allows you to double your lobotomizing power. And what would a Circu deck be with some copies of Lobotomy itself? Less fun, I say.

If you don't have some of the IPA cards, they can certainly be replaced. I'd try Memory Lapse or Hinder in place of Undermine. Putting cards on top of your opponent's library is something Circu likes. You won't get to remove the card you counter (stupid stack!), but you can do that later.

Until next time, keep on trucking, but, more importantly, keep on caring!

Chris Millar

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