Single Card Strategy: Shard Convergence

Posted in Feature on March 23, 2009

By Chris Millar

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far better off economically, a brilliant young man named Garfield, who sought neither the presidency nor an oven-baked lasagna, created a game called Magic: The Gathering that took the gaming world by storm and shook it to its very core.

Ah, Magic: The Gathering. Like a regurgitated marble, the name rolls effortlessly off the tongue. Also like a regurgitated marble, the game was portable and could fit easily into the pocket of a trench coat or replica Starfleet uniform. I have no doubt that it was these similarities to a regurgitated marble that led to the game's breakout success, although it was the differences that made it a permanent fixture of the modern gamescape. You see, unlike a regurgitated marble, Magic presented gamers of all kinds with a near-limitless set of starting parameters, permutations and combinations for as far as the mind could see, like a box of five-coloured Legos that could be used to launch fireballs at your buddies or launch your career as a guy who writes about land-fetchers in his basement.

The sheer variety of the game's pieces and of its players enabled a gaming experience deeper and richer than the Marianas Trench stuffed with chocolate cheesecake. So subtle and complex are the interactions that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of laptop computers have barely begun to figure it out in the preceding fifteen years.

From the primordial ooze of its origins, the game evolved into a more sophisticated ooze mutant with new cards, new rules, new formats—sanctioned and not—which provided a world of discovery and a fresh set of challenges for the creative, the tenacious, and the grief-inducing gamer alike. With the parallel development of the global suggestion-box-slash-crank-file that was once known as the Information Superhighway, there existed an endless trough of minutiae right at the tip of our snouts.

However, in those early days, when many of us started playing the game, all you needed was a Starter Deck, a friend, and, presumably, a pocket. This was before the advent of the more structured preconstructed decks, Intro Packs, and Duel Decks which provide some direction and focus. Back then, you could and often would just take the five-coloured mess that came in the box, add a laughably insufficient number of lands, and shuffle them up. Maybe you soon began to split costs with friends or family and divvy up the cards according to your colour preferences, so that your group soon consisted of White Mages, Blue-Black Mages, Red-Green Mages and so on, each carving out a little territory of their own epitomized by their marquee cards like the noble Serra Angel, the high-maintenance Lord of the Pit, and the titanic Force of Nature.

This progression—bear with me—is very much like what happened on Magic's most recent planar port-of-call, Alara. According to my handy-dandy Planeswalker's Guide, Alara, once a five-colour special, had to be re-zoned to make way for a hyperspatial express route and, consequently, was splintered into five shards. It was like the gods opened up a cosmic Starter Deck and made sure the Angels, Demons, Dragons, and Plant Elephants ended up in separate decks.

Of course, that was then and this is now. The three-colour fiefdoms are in their final days. The shards are coming together. It's, like, a converging, a confluence, as the shards touch for the very first time. Alara is broken no more. All five colours in a single box, ready to be shuffled up. Like Kevin Garnett, anything is possible.

Farseeking the Horizon

For many players, myself included, the inevitable green land-fetching spell in a new set instantly becomes a deck-building staple. While less exciting than Progenitus or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, they are tools that are often necessary to cast these high-powered but high-priced game-warpers. Sometimes, these cards come to define a tournament format, like Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and Explosive Vegetation did, but more often than not they simply allow enterprising deck designers to expand their pool of "maybes." People often argue that these mana accelerators and/or fixers somehow besmirch green's honour because they allow and, in fact, encourage you to use the best tool for the job rather than a strictly green tool. For me, though, that's the whole point. With some amount of mana ramping and colour fixing, the number of different things you can squeeze into your deck skyrockets, which pleases me as a retired Johnny and Diversity Gamer Timmy and is something that Spike always has to examine closely when assessing new card pools. In the land of the uncastable, the one Ur-Golem's Eyed man is king.

This brings me, um, finally, to the topic of today: Shard Convergence. Like a cross between Farseek and Seek the Horizon, it allows you to search your library for a Plains, an Island, a Mountain, and a Swamp and put them into your hand. Under normal circumstances, that'd mean you can only find one copy of each type of land. However, like Farseek, Krosan Verge, and the Onslaught fetchlands, Shard Convergence is one of a handful of land-searching cards that specify a basic land type but don't actually require that you find a basic land. Compare the wording of Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta to Esper Panorama to see this distinction in action. Searching for basic lands is perfectly fine, of course, especially for the budget-conscious or the Blood Moon–fearing among us, but I wouldn't be doing my ethersworn duty if I didn't mention that Shard Convergence is just as capable of tutoring for Ravnica dual lands like Stomping Grounds or the original Alpha duals like Taiga, each of which have two basic land types. Using these dual lands also allows you to backdoor your way into searching for a Forest, which you would otherwise be unable to do. Shard Convergence can also be used to find four-fifths of the Shadowmoor cycle of nonbasic lands with basic land types, such as Mistveil Plains and Leechridden Swamp.

Shard Convergence

Why pick Shard Convergence for a Single Card Strategy column? To perhaps belabor the obvious, the card does a bunch of very useful things and it does them in ways that are subtly unlike any card before it. As Serious Funster Kelly Digges noted after casting it for the full four in a Limited game, "I'm not sure which I liked more—getting all five colors, not missing a land drop until turn twelve, or drawing off of a twenty-card deck with five lands in it. So good!" In short, it helps you to play your spells, no matter what those spells are, and it ensures that you will draw more of such spells in the future. Sounds like win-win to me. On top of that, it has a build-around-me quality unlike other cards of its ilk and it supports the set's theme of five-colour play, which I am all too happy to endorse.

Practically the Whole World in Your Hand

Okay. So you've just played your first Shard Convergence and dug up four lands. Now what? If this is turn four, you won't miss a land drop until turn nine at the earliest and you'll almost certainly be able to produce mana of all five colours and have a mana base that features all five of the associated land types. That being the case, it doesn't come as much of surprise that we can and ought to turn to cards featuring the Domain ability word like Matca Rioters, cards with sunburst like Etched Oracle, cards that have for a mana cost or activated ability cost like Maelstrom Archangel and Dragonsoul Knight, as well as cards with outrageous mana costs like Progenitus and Apocalypse Hydra and cards with activated abilities of all five colours like Obelisk of Alara. And that we will do.

Etched Oracle
Dragonsoul Knight

With the most obvious paths out of the way, let's look at some of the other things that Shard Convergence can do for us. For starters, simply filling your hand with cards has its uses. Maro and its offshoots like Overbeing of Myth are creatures whose power keys off the number of cards in your hand. While there is not, as of yet, a five-colour Maro, thanks to Saviors of Kamigawa there is at least one such creature in each colour. Empyrial Armor and Empyrial Plate, meanwhile, can Maroize any creature, and I can certainly envision Shard Convergence being a part of Aura- or Equipment-based decks that take advantage of these cards, as well as their domain equivalents (Strength of Unity and Manaforce Mace). Besides the cycle of Maros, Saviors of Kamigawa also brought with it a handful a "wisdom" cards that got a power boost as long as you had a full grip, like Thoughts of Ruin, a tricky Armageddon that actually seems like a pretty exciting play following a Shard Convergence. There are also a few stragglers that have appeared throughout the years, like Promise of Power, Spontaneous Generation, and the Warren Beatty vehicle Bulwark. The domain / "wisdom" Saproling-token deck is practically begging to be mentioned in passing, and I can see Spore Burst and Spontaneous Generation being a nice set-up for a Tromp the Domainscoup de grâce.

Now, these aren't just cards you have in your hand, useful only because they modify the stats of a spell or creature, or, in the case of Strength of Unity, a creature's pants. No, they are lands, specifically. Flooding your hand with four cards is a good deal at four mana, but them being lands makes the situation slightly awkward due to the whole one-land-per-turn rule. Luckily, getting lands out your hand and into some other zone is not that hard. Green is the king of putting lands into play, so you have tons of options in the form of creatures like Budoka Gardener, Elvish Pioneer, Krosan Wayfarer, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Skyshroud Ranger, and Loam Dweller, or enchantments like Fastbond, Manabond, Exploration, and often overlooked multiplayer gem Burgeoning. Other colours aren't left entirely in the cold, with Patron of the Moon and Firebrand Ranger able to shift lands from your hand and into play, although the latter needs green mana to operate and has actually proven to be more useful in the competitive sphere as a "vanilla" 2/1. Then, of course, there's Nemesis standout Terrain Generator, which was recently featured in Duel Decks: Terrain Generator Combo vs. Chandra.

If putting lands into play isn't your bag, you can just search 'em up and then dump 'em. Cards like Seismic Assault and Coldsnap's Lightning Storm have been showing up lately in the Extended deck amusingly titled Swan Assault (I would pay to see that movie!). Prophecy featured a new twist on "pitch" cards, the twist being that instead of removing a card from the game as you would with, say, Pyrokinesis, you could discard a land of the relevant type. The blue fifth of the cycle, Foil, is the obvious winner here, but Abolish, Snag, Outbreak, and Flameshot have decent effects and could conceivably fit in the same type of deck (which is something you couldn't say about the Shoal cycle from Betrayers of Kamigawa, for example). Trade Routes, meanwhile, could turn your converged shards into random cards off the top of your deck while simultaneously filling your graveyard with lands, if you think that would get you anywhere. Knight of the Reliquary and Terravore think it might. Nantuko Cultivator can do something similar, trading those lands for new cards while simultaneously putting itself into Mosstodon range.

Perhaps the best thing you can do with a handful of lands is play one of the powerful retrace spells from Eventide, over and over again. Call the Skybreaker and Worm Harvest are proven finishers for control decks of various kinds, Waves of Aggression reeks of potential, and now you have an excuse and the ability to play them all in the same deck.

Mastering Your Domain

You can't do much strategizing around a single card if you never put it in a deck. Here are two decks that I put together with an eye towards maximizing Shard Convergence. Whenever possible, I tried to use cheaper or more recent cards, in keeping with SCS tradition and, frankly, my own personal preference. So while there are no dual lands or Sliver Queens in here, obviously they would fit right in.

After putting the decks together and playing them online, I still have a few lingering questions. How many copies of Shard Convergence do you play? I played four because it's hard to evaluate a card if you never draw it, but that's almost surely not the correct number. I only really wanted to resolve it once or twice in any game and rarely wanted to cast it on turn four, when adding four new cards to my hand just meant having to discard at the end of my turn. I probably should have included more cheap permanents and fewer reactive spells if I wanted to better manage my hand size. Executioner's Capsule over Terror, while not a choice I made in either of these decks, would be a good example of the kind of substitution I mean.

The other question I never really resolved was, "How many lands of each type do I play?" Ideally, you would play no Forests at all because you can't find them with Shard Convergence, but you obviously need green mana. In Standard without dual lands, you'd have to turn to artifact mana, i.e. Obelisks, which wasn't a terribly exciting option. Furthermore, if you want to cast Shard Convergence for the Full Four ™ each time, you'd need at least four of each non-Forest land to make that a possibility. Of course, that causes other problems. There are numbers that could be crunched, but, being a conjoined Timmy-Johnny, I decided to forego the bean-counting and express myself with a deck instead. The numbers, as a result, are okay, but obviously not optimal.

Paragon of the Amesha
Razormane Masticore

The first deck started off as a bit of an angel theme deck, with goodies like Paragon of the Amesha and Maestrom Archangel joining forces with Terror magnet Angelic Wall and heavenward mana-costing Kiss of the Amesha. Eventually, I cut some of those cards down to form what is basically a blue-white deck with "five-colour" board dominators like Obelisk of Alara and Legacy Weapon clearing the way for Paragon of the Amesha. You can't have enough mana with this deck, although perhaps there should be a few more ways to use heaping amounts of it, and any excess lands you get from Shard Convergence can be fed to Razormane Masticore or used to Call the Skybreaker.


Download Arena Decklist

Worldheart Phoenix

The second and last deck uses more green mana and takes advantage of some of the Jund-coloured domain cards from throughout Magic history, like Matca Rioters, Tribal Flames, and Planar Despair. It's basically a board control deck with lots of removal and sweepers and resilient threats like Worldheart Phoenix. Including the Phoenix gave me an excuse to use my new pet card, Corpse Connoisseur. Sure, you could use Buried Alive, but Buried Alive doesn't attack or block. It's pretty cool to Entomb useful creatures in a non-reanimator deck like this one. Since the deck supports all five colours, you can go get a number of awesome creatures and actually be able to play them and/or use their abilities. Incarnations like Anger, Glory, and Genesis, self-recurring creatures like Eternal Dragon; Firemane Angel; Haakon, Stromgald Scourge; Gigapede; Undead Gladiator; and other Phoenixes, and dredgers like Golgari Thug or Grave-Shell Scarab are only a few of the options available. I went with the unearthable Kederekt Leviathan and Genesis, which joins Child of Alara and Miren, the Moaning Well to form a super-expensive but repeatable board-sweeping-slash-life-gaining combo. As always, the details are up to you.

Jund Domain

Download Arena Decklist

Even after playing with it a fair bit, I still haven't decided if Shard Convergence is, as Mike Flores would say, "the flagship of a leaky armada," or if it's simply a nice utility card for a narrow range of decks (I'm looking at you, Elder Dragon Highlander!). More games will have to be played, of course, and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the forums, or, I guess, read them.

Until next time, have fun converging shards!

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