Uncommon Deck Incarnations

Posted in Feature on July 11, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

I love card cycles. Card cycles, such as the Judgment Wishes, are like mini-themes embedded in a set. Each card in the cycle tries to capture a single functional mechanic while staying in flavor for its color(s). To me, it's fun to take those cycles and see what kind of decks they make. Like the cards themselves, deck "cycles" have both functional similarities and flavorful differences.

My recent favorite cycle of cards is the Incarnations. Genesis and Glory are arguably the most powerful of the Incarnations, but they are also slightly less interesting because they don't fill a thematic role. Instead, it is their uncommon counterparts, Brawn and Valor, that form a cycle along with Anger, Filth, and Wonder.

Let me step back for a moment and smile at the idea behind Incarnations. A creature named Anger or Brawn with creature type Incarnation is just cool. I understand the need to make cards with flavor, such as Aboshan's Desire, but the Incarnations speak volumes to my inner fantasy geek.

When I find a cycle of cards around which I want to make a cycle of decks, I start to get very systematic in my approach to deckbuilding. First, I make one monocolor deck per card. This approach helps me understand how the cards in the cycle are similar in regard to deckbuilding and how each provides its own unique flavor. After that, I start to mix and match the various color combinations to see what happens. Sometimes, if I'm feeling particularly enamored with a cycle, I will make two-color decks for each of the cards before jumping into the mix-and-match stage.

To demonstrate what I'm talking about, what follows below is my exploration of the five uncommon Incarnations. The monocolor decks are slightly more straightforward than those you usually find in this column, because they represent the kind of "testing" I do with new card ideas to see how they work. Doing systematic deckbuilding like this provides the same kind of fruitful information as does playtesting a particular deck. I know of no better way to explore a card's relative worth than to try building a series of decks around it.

Anger

I'll start with Anger, which feels a little antithetical to my mood. But it's alphabetically appropriate, so I'll go with it.

In your hand, Anger is strictly worse than Goblin Chariot or Talruum Minotaur. A 2/2 with haste for is, to put it mildly, a pretty raw deal. Compare it to Skizzik, Suq'Ata Lancer, Avalanche Riders, or Keldon Champion, and you start to see its lack of appeal. The good news about Anger is that a creature with haste can mess up a lot of math and render bounce a lot less effective.

When Anger "becomes" Fervor, life gets slightly more interesting. In addition, red isn't lacking for fun cards with discard effects: Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption, Reckless Charge, and Firebolt come to mind as cards you don't mind tossing away. With a core complement of Anger and madness and flashback cards, red's random discard effects become slightly more bearable.

A rareless “lite” version of an Anger deck might look like this:

Angry Red

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With rares, you might want to take a more fattie-esque approach and use cards like Shivan Dragon, Savage Firecat, Bloodshot Cyclops, and so on. You can also try the straight Balthor the Stout "Barbarian" deck or the Dwarven Bloodboiler "Dwarf" deck. All of these ideas can benefit from a little Anger.

Brawn

Brawn is the best (brawniest?) of the Incarnations as a straight-up creature. Although for a 3/3 trampler isn't the best stuff that green can muster, it doesn't look completely out of place sitting in your hand. Indeed, usually you have to spend five mana to get a decent green creature with trample these days (Kavu Titan, Gorilla Titan, Shivan Wurm). In addition, a creature with 3 power is a legitimate threat to end the game, meaning your opponent will usually find a way to send Brawn to your graveyard.

When Brawn becomes a global (for you, anyway) Primal Rage, of course, your green fatties start to dominate the board. Green has no problem playing incredibly big monsters, and it loves to pump up those monsters with cards like Giant Growth. Add trample, and that horde of fatties is tough to handle. One way to use Brawn, then, is to just load up on big, efficient creatures and let them attack with abandon.

Yet green also happens to have the arguably the best madness spells (Basking Rootwalla and Arrogant Wurm), the best flashback spells (Call of the Herd, Roar of the Wurm, Sylvan Might, Moment's Peace), the best threshold spells (Werebear, Nimble Mongoose, Krosan Beast), and the single best self-discard spell ever: Wild Mongrel. Why wouldn't you try to build a discard-heavy deck?

Brawny Green

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Filth

And then there's Filth. Poor Filth. Not only is swampwalk just a silly ability, the creature itself is strictly worse than Bog Wraith and even Raiding Nightstalker. Oy. Filth is as weak as Brawn is strong. This makes some sense--because Filth shows up in Judgment, green's and white's set--but it's still sad.

Filth is so bad there isn't even a global (again, for you) enchantment to mimic its graveyard ability. The best that can be said is that you are able to enchant each and every creature with Leshrac's Rite. Um . . . wow?

But take heart, Filth enthusiasts. If your friends are slaughtering you with their black-heavy decks, Filth might be just the main-deck creature for you to show them who's boss. Filth is also fun to use in a deck with Phantasmal Terrain, Shimmering Mirage, or Tainted Well. Sticking with the monoblack focus, Filth actually looks worthy of having a deck built around it and Zombie Trailblazer. . . .

Filthy Black

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Of course, if you're using rares then Phyrexian Scuta and Lord of the Undead should make an appearance. Heck, Temp of the Damned is great fun if you're playing with friends.

Valor

As a creature, Valor is not as good as Benalish Knight, Longbow Archer, or Razorfoot Griffin, just to name a few. We've established that most of the Incarnations outside of the graveyard could be more impressive. I will say, though, that first strike can wreak havoc during creature combat. Throw Valor and Serra Advocate onto the table and see how many creature-based strategies grind to a halt.

Still, Knighthood is generally considered a better defensive enchantment than an offensive one. When all of your creatures have first strike, you can effectively made a super wall on your side of the table. If any of your smaller first-striking creatures try to attack, however, they will probably be destroyed by a larger blocker. If you can find a way to make your creatures large or give them some evasion (flight, protection, and so on), then you can benefit from the defense of Valor as you pick away at your opponent.

Valorous White

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Of course, rares make a monowhite deck a lot better. Throw Divine Sacrament, Mystic Crusader, or Vengeful Dreams into the mix to improve upon this idea. Make a Master Apothecary "Cleric" deck with Valor to have the most annoying combat deck in history.

Wonder

Finally, there is Wonder. A 2/2 creature with flying for isn't horrible, although even Aven Fisher is a better deal for the cost. More than haste, trample, swampwalk, and first strike, flying is going to mean that Wonder will usually deal some damage before it goes to your graveyard.

Thus it comes as no surprise that, among all the Incarnation effects, Levitation is the best enchantment-like effect to have. Many people have already discovered that flying is fun to give Wurm tokens in a green-blue deck. Indeed, with its compliment of card-drawing, card-dumping, counterspells, and Wonder, blue is the most attractive color to add to any discard-based strategy.

The problem in a monoblue deck is that most of blue's good creatures already have flying. Wonder in a deck with Air Elemental, Wall of Air, and Thought Devourer is a bit redundant. As a result, I've bent the rare-less rule to make a "Merfolk" deck.

Wondrous Blue

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For giggles, a "Cephalid" deck is also loads of fun using Wonder; Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor; Cephalid Looter; Cephalid Broker; Cephalid Retainer, and so on.

So ends a monocolor view of the uncommoon Incarnations. I hope that this approach begins to demonstrate the ways in which the Incarnations are functionally similar yet distinct in flavor. You can try your own monocolor ideas, or use what I have here as a platform for making multicolor decks. Just to show you some wacky directions you can take things, I've included some multicolor deck ideas below.

Three-Color Incarnation

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Sorcery (4)
4 Rites of Spring
Instant (4)
4 Muscle Burst
Land (24)
18 Forest 3 Island 3 Mountain
60 Cards


Four-Color Incarnation

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Sorcery (4)
4 Rampant Growth
Instant (2)
2 Harrow
Artifact (5)
2 Chromatic Sphere 3 Coat of Arms
Land (21)
18 Forest 1 Island 1 Mountain 1 Plains
60 Cards


"Super-Monger" (Five-Color Incarnation)

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As a bonus section, I have two notes about the Transcendence article from Life Gain Week. I was apparently correct about the Cult of Transcendence, because you all flooded me with mail on the subject.

First, apparently Transcendence is indeed too complex for my wee little brain. I actually misinterpreted how the thing works, the evidence of which showed up most glaringly in my Soulgourger Orgg example. It's too complicated to go into here, but the article should be correct now. Sorry for any confusion reading the article caused before the changes were made. If you see anything that still doesn't look right, email Aaron at editor@wizards.com. In probably about four months of editing, we'll collectively have something that approximates an accurate view of Transcendece. Ouch, my head hurts.

Second, Viparas wrote me to note how unnecessarily creature-light my Transcendence decks were. Especially when using "the traditional approach" he argued that a black/white beatdown deck could be lots of fun, even sometimes targeting yourself with Laquatus's Champion. I agree, so here is a bonus deck to make up for that week's errors...

Ode to Viparas

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Sure, you could use cards like Death Grasp or Gerrard's Verdict, but you might as well rely heavily on Transcendence to save you.

Next week: The quest for the Mirari.

-j

Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

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