Something Quite Palette-able

Posted in Feature on May 8, 2008

By Chris Millar

Howdy, all. Now that Shadowmoor is very much out in the world, even appearing as far afield as Jean-Claude Van Damme's hometown, I guess it's time to start talking about some of the set's combo potential. Oh, wait, we've been doing that for weeks already, and for good reason. As I've mentioned before, Shadowmoor ranks very highly on the Johnny scale that I probably made up at some point. In my mind, it's right up there with Fifth Dawn's cog party and the Izzet-fueled wackiness of Guildpact. Lately, my inbox has been overflowing with mail from delighted Johnnies and lapsed Spikes who are eager to share the latest combos they've unearthed. Cards like Reaper King, who never met a mana symbol he didn't like, and weirder, more open-ended cards like Enchanted Evening have got people talking. They also had me talking, although I certainly neglected to bring up all the persist shenanigans you can pull off with the former and the Aura Thief shenanigans possible with the latter. Consider them brung up.

There's really a lot to discuss, but we have plenty of time. For now, I want to look at the one card that has inspired more mail than any other: Painter's Servant. Put on your berets and smocks, fellow Brushstroke Paintermages, because we're about to colour outside the lines.

Matters of Colour

Painter's Servant
Since Shadowmoor is a set where "colour matters" (I think I heard that somewhere), it only makes sense that a card like Painter's Servant would make an appearance therein. As Mark Rosewater stated in a recent article, "Whenever we have a "______ matters" theme, I'm compelled to make the card that lets you turn everything into a ______." I could not be more supportive of this tactic. The recurring "underscore matters" theme is perhaps my favourite of all the "punctuation matters" themes. It edges out the "parentheses matters" theme (devoted, presumably, to exploring reminder text design), or the "colon matters" theme (exploring, um, certain activated abilities).

One great thing about Painter's Servant is that there are so many cards in its own set that care about colour. As regular House of Cards contributor Efrén R. pointed out in a mammoth email entitled "42 Shadowmoor Combos," Painter's Servant works with the cycle of creatures that have a power and toughness equal to the number of permanents of a certain colour that you control (Kithkin Rabble, Faerie Swarm, Crowd of Cinders, Horde of Boggarts, Drove of Elves). What makes these cards so crazy with Painter's Servant is that unlike Shifting Sky, the card most comparable to it, Painter's Servant changes the colour of lands. As a result, each of those five creatures become like four-mana, nonlegendary Dakkon Blackblades or Molimo, Maro-Sorcerers that also get +1/+1 for every other permanent you control. Yikes!

Then there's the cycle of Mentors that grant a keyword ability to all creatures of a certain colour that you control, as well as the cycle of Initiates, the cycle of lands with a minor ability (Madblind Mountain, etc.), the cycle of Lieges, or the cycle of Duos. Whew. With respect to the latter two, note that Painter's Servant, again unlike Shifting Sky, adds the chosen colour to any existing colours. It doesn't overwrite (overpaint?) it. If you choose red, for example, playing a Tarmogoyf will trigger both abilities of your Tattermunge Duos and once it's in play, it will get +2/+2 from Boar-Tusk Liege. On top of all this, you can also tap any two creatures to copy a spell with conspire.

The possibilities are vast. Hidden Path can give every creature forestwalk, Patron of the Orochi can untap all creatures, King Crab can Repel any creature, Trolls of Tel-Jilad can regenerate any creature, and Kelsinko Ranger can give itself (or any other creature) trample. You can sacrifice any creature to Natural Order or put any creature into play with Dramatic Entrance, Lure of Prey, or Norwood Priestess. Titania's Chosen will get a +1/+1 counter whenever you play any spell. Kaysa will pump all of your creatures. Wurmweaver Coil can enchant any creature. Wort, the Raidmother can give any spell conspire. Verdant Succession will cause all sorts of insanity. And just how nutty will Rith, the Awakener be when every permanent that every player controls is green? Those are just some of the spells that interact with green things!

All that, and we've barely gone beyond looking at what Painter's Servant does to permanents. It also affects cards that aren't in play. Where would those cards be? In someone's hand, graveyard, or library, or in the removed-from-the-game zone. Just think of the madness this can cause! Persecute becomes a cheaper Wit's End. You can pitch an Island to Force of Will. The Cinder Seer, Scent of Cinder, and Martyr of Ashes cycles will count every card in your hand for their effects. You can remove any three cards from your graveyard to pay Spinning Darkness's alternate cost or remove any creature card to put your Ichorid back in play. Auction of the People favourite Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed can "regrow" any card, as can Revive. Merchant Scroll can tutor for any instant, while Summoner's Pact can find any creature. And that's just for starters!

I See a Red Ogre and I Want it Painted Black

Circle of Protection: Black
Some of the most common cards that care about colour are, of course, colour hosers. This is one of the richest veins we can tap when trying to exploit Painter's Servant. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Danish combo enthusiast Christian M. wrote in to suggest that:

"Painter's Servant also jumps out as an obvious combo piece...The deck would most likely have to have white as its main colour since white is in my opinion the colour that has the most nefarious colour hosers out there: Light of Day, Northern Paladin, Circles of Protection, Absolute Grace, etc."

Black surely gets the worst of it. Besides the handful that Christian mentioned, and the many creatures with protection from black, there are some other black hosers worth mentioning. White seems to have the Savannah Lion's share, but green's got some good ones, too (and black itself gets in on the act with Razorjaw Oni and Repentant Vampire, among others). Elephant Grass, Lifeforce, and Snake Pit are all pretty spiffy when every spell your opponent plays is black, but perhaps the most exciting black hosers to pair with Painter's Servant are Nantuko Blightcutter, Compost, and—I figuratively lost my mind when I saw this one–Reap. I'm sure pumping up Wild Mongrels or powering up Narcissism isn't the most devastating thing you can do with Reap and Painter's Servant (for that you would need a Black Lotus and a Reap-Lace primer), but it seems fun to me. I'm also sure that there's goofier things you can do with Compost, but that'll have to wait for a few paragraphs. In the meantime, here's a sample list that is probably too hoser-heavy to work reliably:

Black Hoser-y

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Of course, black isn't the only colour that can get hosed. With Painter's Servant naming blue, Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast become one-mana Counterspells that double as instant Vindicates. Jaya Ballard, Task Mage can trade cards in hand for opposing permanents. Seedtime and Eyes of the Wisent punish your opponent for trying anything on your turn. Spinal Villain becomes Visara the Dreadful, and Spellbane Centaur says, "Keep your hands off my stuff, um, everybody." Blue gets to fight back with its own Blasts, as well as Douse, Dream Tides, and, in a way, Chill. There are many more possibilities. Check your local card database for details. Or simply continue reading.

Llawan, Cephalid Empress
Robby B. (a.k.a. Redland Jack) took the Painter's Servant + colour hoser combo in an old, yet new, direction. He writes:

"An update on an old classic, Painter's Servant + Llawan, Cephalid Empress seems far superior to the old Llawan, Cephalid Empress + Alter Reality (the first combo I ever "discovered"). Being able to play the pieces out separately can allow you to crush your opponent's dreams with four lands instead of waiting for six."

Following up a Painter's Servant naming blue with Llawan, Cephalid Empress will bounce all of your opponent's creatures. Better yet, since those creatures will be blue once they get to your opponent's hand, he or she will not be able to replay them. Furthermore, he or she will not be able to play any other creatures, either, since they will also be blue (This is another reason the combo is superior to one involving Alter Reality and the like). While your opponent is creatureless (except, I guess, for man-lands, tokens created by noncreatures, and creatures put directly into play by something like Zombify or Elvish Piper), you can "beat down" with Painter's Servant and Llawan, Cephalid Empress.

Robby added a few more interesting twists as well. Earnest Fellowship protects your creatures from removal and makes them unblockable, but it makes your opponent's creatures unblockable as well. "It's a double-edge sword. Flash of Insight also seems to pick up a bit of additional utility with the Painter, as even your lands power up the flashback cost." I made some minor changes to Robby's deck, trimming a few cards to add the Faerie Swarms for a faster kill and swapping Pact of Negation for Muddle the Mixture, which can be used to protect or transmute for Painter's Servant.

Blue Period

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As I hinted at a few decks ago, there are much more silly things that can be done with painted Compost. Robby B., once again, has a solution: "Painter's Servant + Compost seems like it could be very dangerous." More dangerous than just drawing a card whenever your opponent deigns to put one in his or her graveyard? Yes, even more dangerous than that. How? By using the ancient art of milling! "I'm not sure what is the best milling route, but I figured I'd try Mesmeric Orb and Drowner of Secrets. Cephalid Broker can help find pieces and later convert to a miller, if desired. I figured Words of War would be the fastest "kill" card. It also can stop you from decking yourself if you have Compost and Mesmeric Orb going."

Basically what happens is that you play Painter's Servant naming black, then you put cards into your opponent's graveyard with Drowner of Secrets or Mesmeric Orb. Compost triggers and you draw a card for each one that was sent to the bin. You can either draw the cards if you need them, or you can replace those draws with Words of War, Shocking your opponent for one mana each time. One way or another, your opponent will be in trouble. The good thing about this combo is that, even though it might be more fragile, many of the pieces work together even if you don't have the entire combo in play. Here's a very slightly tweaked version of Robby's deck:

War Paint

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No Paint, No Gain

I'll wrap things up with one last set of Painter's Servant combos. These ones come from Chris S. and are perhaps the nastiest of the bunch:

"Another combolicious Shadowmoor card that seems to be under the radar is Painter's Servant. One neat in-block combo is with Oona, Queen of the Fae. With both out, every mana you spend on Oona, Queen of the Fae's ability will get you a token, even if you mill lands! But the big daddy broken combo is with Tempest's Grindstone. First turn Grindstone, second turn Painter's Servant, third turn activate Grindstone and mill the opponent's entire deck. It's cheap, colorless, and simple."

Since both Oona, Queen of the Fae and Grindstone eat away at your opponent's library, I decided to put both combos into the same deck, but you don't have to. Oona, Queen of the Fae is also a "dragon" who can win the game all by herself, so you can also win without the library destruction. Gauntlet of Power, um, powers up Oona, Queen of the Fae more than any creature this side of Verdeloth the Ancient. Not only will you remove more cards and get more tokens, but those tokens will, uh, get more bigger.

I decided that I would name red with Painter's Servant for this deck, so I could use the Blue Elemental Blasts that I mentioned before as well as the Baleful Stares that I didn't. You can certainly tweak this one however you like.


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Until next time, don't forget about radiance and Tsabo's Assassin! Or do.

Chris Millar

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