There's No Shaman Trying

Posted in Feature on March 27, 2008

By Chris Millar

Welcome to Shaman Week! It's kind of like two weeks ago, but with a different banner(et). Let me start this week's column by admitting that I had no idea what kind of puns I would use when I sat down. When I don't know what to do, my fallback for random theme weeks (and this week's theme was selected by Rainbow Knights' armourer) is to type the word in question into the Orb of Punsight (itself a non-hilarious, non-pun) and see what verbal misdemeanors it spits out. This is unlike my old process, whereby I sat around and played a one-man word association game, repeating the word (in this case "shaman") out loud until some hitherto hidden connection revealed itself. I abandoned the technique since there was potential for embarrassment when you chanted made-up words like "Meadowboon" with different intonations or inflections... alone... in the public library. As it turned out, the Orb wasn't much help, either. It seems that Mr. Rosewater beat me to the pun(ch) and I decided to borrow other parts of his article instead. Luckily, there was at least one unused "shaman" pun, so this article will thankfully not go untitled.

Since it's Shaman Week, I guess I ought to build some decks around Shamans. As with most of these creature-type theme weeks, I have a few options. I can put together some tribal decks or I can pick some creatures with the relevant subtype and build decks around them. I've already built my fair share of Shaman tribal decks (well, at least two), so I'm going to do the latter. Hold on to your britches.

Weirdy Goblins At?

Ah, the infinite. Is there any number you don't encompass? In the vernacular of the Magic player, infinity is an "arbitrarily large" number. To give you an idea of how this term is used, I might say, for example, "My student debt is arbitrarily large" or "I feel ill after eating an arbitrarily large amount of Laffy Taffy." I might also say, "I'm going to use Weirding Shaman to create an arbitrarily large number of Goblin Rogue tokens." In fact, I will say that.

Weirding Shaman
I'm sure there are plenty of ways to go about doing this. You could tweak the combo that Mark Gottlieb wrote about in last week's feature article. He combined Weirding Shaman with Doubling Season and both Phyrexian Altar and Ashnod's Altar to make infinite mana. With a second Doubling Season, you could make infinite Goblin Rogues. At five cards, however, the combo seems more than a little convoluted. That's why I'm going to make my arbitrarily large number of Goblin Rogues with, um, six cards. Okay, things didn't work out quite as planned (I'm going to fire my efficiency expert), but you can still make a lot of tokens.

You start with Weirding Shaman, of course. Then you add world-famous mana engine Carnival of Souls. Whenever a creature comes into play (any creature, from anywhere), you lose 1 life and one black mana to your mana pool. Now when you use Weirding Shaman's ability, you will pay , make two Goblin Rogue tokens, get from Carnival of Souls, and lose 2 life. Unfortunately, infinity is nowhere to be seen. However, if you add a second Carnival of Souls to the equation, you will pay , make two Goblin Rogues, get , and lose 4 life. You can use the to make two new Goblin Rogues with Weirding Shaman. Once again, you will get your mana back and lose another 4 life. As long as your life was infinite, you could make an infinite number of tokens. Sadly, unless your name is Connor MacLeod, life is not infinite. You could an infinite life combo to the deck (and that's basically what I'm going to do), but all you really need to do is break even. Traditionally, decks built around Carnival of Souls have used cards like Soul Warden or Angelic Chorus to offset the life loss as it happens. With one of those cards in play, you will lose 1 life and then gain 1 life (or more, if it's Angelic Chorus) whenever a creature comes into play. Angelic Chorus only gains you life when creatures come into play on your side, but the increased toughness-based life-gain should hopefully offset the life you'll lose to Carnival of Souls when opposing creatures come into play. So, to keep the combo going, you will need one Soul Warden (or Angelic Chorus) for each Carnival of Souls in play. That makes two life-gainers, two Carnivals, a Weirding Shaman, and some random Goblin to sacrifice in order to get things started. Phew!

A pair of Dross Harvesters provide some measure of redundancy, as you will gain 2 life at the front end of the combo (when you sacrifice a creature). Similarly, a pair of Heartstones (reducing the cost of Weirding Shaman's ability to ) will eliminate the need for a second Carnival of Souls and the second Soul Warden, Angelic Chorus, or Dross Harvester. While they won't allow you to make infinite tokens with Weirding Shaman on their own, a trio of Heartstones will let you turn one black mana into one black Goblin Rogue, which, as you might expect, can get out of hand pretty quickly. I had devised a handy spreadsheet outlining all of the possible combinations and permutations, but my dog ate it or I'm lying.

Skirk Ridge Exhumer, meanwhile, provides a steady stream of Goblins to sacrifice, while Knucklebone Witch can grow to be infinitely powerful (You might say "omnipotent" and you might not) and Grave Pact can force your opponent to sacrifice an arbitrarily large number of creatures (if he or she has that many). Boggart Harbinger (another Goblin Shaman) and Diabolic Tutor help you to assemble the combo.

Infinitely Weird

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Branches? Branches? We Don't Need No Reach of Branches!

Reach of Branches
Er, wait. Yes, we do. It's Shaman Week, after all, and Reach of Branches is the first name in Shaman token making. Outside of a few red spells (Hearthcage Giant, Hostility, and Rebellion of the Flamekin) and some artifacts (Riptide Replicator and Volrath's Laboratory), Shaman creature tokens have been difficult to come by. Reach of Branches changes all that, gives them an extra creature type (Treefolk), and has a very abusable mechanic which lets you return it to your hand whenever a Forest comes into play under your control. Besides offering you near-unlimited replay value, it makes you more resilient to opposing discard spells and enables you to take better advantage of various self-discard effects. With respect to the latter, Reach of Branches can act much like Squee, Goblin Nabob or Sosuke's Summons, but with a self-Regrowth condition that is arguably easier to meet (at least if you want to return it multiple times per turn) than either of those cards.

The first card that came to mind when I was looking for something to pair with Reach of Branches was Time Spiral's Greenseeker. (For those who feel that Mercadian Masques needs some love, you could also use Silverglade Pathfinder in this role. Or you could use both.) If you discard Reach of Branches to your Spellshaper, you can fetch a Forest, play it, and return Reach of Branches to your hand. And you can do this every turn until you run out of Forests in your library. But what then? Well, the second card, or rather class of cards, that came to mind were the various Moonfolk from Kamigawa block. Each one has an ability whose cost requires you to return a land or lands to your hand. You could use Soratami Cloudskater to slowly filter through your deck, Soratami Mirror-Guard to make your Treefolk Shaman tokens unblockable, or, most excitingly, Uyo, Silent Prophet to copy Reach of Branches itself. I'm going to opt for Uyo, Silent Prophet.

I wanted to get as many copies of Reach of Branches into my hand and/or graveyard as soon as possible, so besides Greenseeker shipping them from hand to graveyard, I added Rites of Spring to do the same thing, Treefolk Harbinger to put them on top of my library, and, most importantly, Intuition to dump just about all of the Reaches straight into the bin. There are a couple other Intuition targets in the deck: Wonder (because some of us like flying trees) and a flashback-able Parallel Evolution (because the people who like flying trees really, really like them).

With all of the mana-fetching, you will be able to hit most of your land drops. Budoka Gardener speeds things along, turns Rites of Spring into a pseudo-Explosive Vegetation, and gives you another late-game win condition once it's flipped. More importantly, it allows you to play (or put into play) more than one Forest per turn. This is relevant if you have multiple Greenseekers working their mojo, if you want to maintain (or even increase) your land count while using Uyo, Silent Prophet, or if you want to super-charge your Mindless Automatons, which are already fantastic when you have multiple copies of Reach of Branches in your graveyard. Here's where I ended up. This is only a small sampling of cards you can profitably pair with the latest Reach. Feel free to, uh, branch out into other territory. Or punch me.

Jolly Branchers

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Oh, Four Shaman!

The last deck is built around card that Ken Nagle recently described as "an 'Ire of Kaminari' finisher I designed for budget players and Elemental drafters." Sunflare Shaman is the card and it has a huge upside. It deals damage to a creature or player equal to the number of Elemental cards in your graveyard, not just the creatures, so it counts things like Nameless Inversion and Consuming Bonfire as well as Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter. The downside is that Sunflare Shaman also deals that much damage to itself. While this will most surely kill it, it isn't a sacrifice. It's more like Nevinyrral's Disk, say, than Oblivion Stone. This gives us the opportunity to negate the drawback in different ways.

As mesti wrote in the forums of my Vigor-centric column for +1/+1 Counter Week, Sunflare Shaman could fit right into the Vigor Eight deck.

Sunflare Shaman
Vigor prevents all the damage to other creatures you control and replaces it with the addition of +1/+1 counters, even if the damage is dealt by a source you control or by a creature to itself. Your Sunflare Shamans will get bigger and bigger while your opponent's life total (or their board presence) will get smaller and smaller. Another way to keep Shamans from self-immolating is by regenerating them. Yavimaya Hollow seems like a great way to do this. Sporeback Troll might be worth considering in a counter-heavy deck (perhaps with Rage Forgers). Rushwood Herbalist, Medicine Bag, and its poorer cousin, Draconian Cylix, allow you to trade cards in hand for regeneration, a trick which has the added bonus of being an easy way to fill your graveyard with Elementals. You could also give your Sunflare Shaman protection from red with something like Mother of Runes, Crimson Acolyte, or Wishmonger. Lastly, you could make Sunflare Shaman indestructible, with something as simple as Shield of Kaldra or by more arcane means.

Speaking of arcane means, I'd like to travel back to the land of Kamigawa, where mana costs ran wild and free and fish hovered in mid-air a lot more than usual. The reason is that Kamigawa contains a couple of cards that work well with Sunflare Shaman. You see, the Shaman counts Elemental cards in your graveyard when it does its thing. This limits your options somewhat, since you have to fill your deck with Elemental cards (which are not necessarily easy to get into the graveyard). Any non-Elemental card reduces its potency, but limiting yourself to Elementals might reduce your deck's potency. "If only there was a way to turn all of the creatures in your graveyard into Elementals," I transitioned awkwardly. Actually, there is: Ashes of the Fallen, which also happens to combo with Horde of Notions to allow you to play any creature spell from your graveyard for a measly .

"Now, if only there was a way to put a whole bunch of creatures into your graveyard at once," I mused dreamily. Well, there is one of those, too: Iname, Death Aspect! Play Iname, fill your graveyard with Spirits (which will become Elementals as well, because of Ashes of the Fallen), and then fire off your Sunflare Shamans for some arbitrarily medium-sized amount of damage. In order to bridge these two extremes, to make sure that neither card is useless on its own, I made sure that most of the Spirits were also Elementals (i.e. changelings). If you only used changelings and Elementals, you might not need Ashes of the Fallen at all. The only downside in that case would be that you couldn't count other copies of Iname, Death Aspect towards your Shamans' damage total.

I shoehorned some one-ofs into the deck, which was made possible by a trio of Diabolic Tutors. A single Thornbite Staff completes the Moonglove Changeling + Thornbite Staff combo outlined by Gottlieb last week, while a Horde of Notions (enabled by Crystal Quarry) allows you to replay some of your favourite non-Elementals (when you have Ashes of the Fallen in play). The deck is by no means complete or finely tuned, but I hope it gives you some ideas.

Sunflaring Pain

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Until next time, have an arbitrarily large amount of fun!

Chris Millar

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