Winter’s Chill

Posted in Feature on November 22, 2006

By Chris Millar

Winters_ChillGreetings, Johnnies! Way back in January, when I started writing this column, I expressed a severe dislike for winter. It's one of my least favourite seasons. Bottom four, anyway. It's just so cold and miserable. I'm very sad to report that it's snowing a bit as write this. Right now, I can see the crisp little flakes fluttering to the ground from the window of my chalet and/or basement apartment. Sigh.

The change in weather is a sign that the holiday season is nearly upon us. Many of my fellow columnists will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming weekend. I bring this up not because the holiday affects my column in any way (it doesn't), but because Time Spiral has a bit of a “temporal chaos” theme. Since I pretty much live and breathe Magic (you should see my lungs!), I figured I'd run with this theme and celebrate Thanksgiving six weeks early. Luckily for me, everyone else in my country – the glorious nation of Canada – embraced the temporal chaos and did likewise.

Come to Canada: It's like living in the future!

What Not to Wary

As anyone who is stuck in the past would know, last week was Legendary Creatures of Time Spiral Week. It was a nice week, to be sure, but there are so many cool Legends in Time Spiral that I couldn't possibly have covered them all. I wrote about three of them (Dralnu, Lich Lord, Stonebrow, Krosan Hero, and Mishra, Artificer Prodigy), but if I had to cover just one more, it'd have to be Norin the Wary.

Nicknamed “Nervous Nelly” in playtesting (at least, in my playtesting), Norin the Wary is a pretty polarizing character. After I wrote about him a few weeks ago, the responses I received varied from “He's useless and boring. Stop talking about him!” to “I just named my first-born son Norin, because I love this card so much. (My son is also a reluctant adventurer.)” Unfortunately for the haters, I'm going to talk about Norin a little bit more.

In his feature article Magicthegathering.combos Time Spiral Edition, Mark Gottlieb wrote about pairing Primal Forcemage with Pandemonium. Both cards will trigger any time a creature comes into play on your side, so you just have to make sure that the Forcemage's pump-effect is applied first to maximize your Pandemonium damage. A number of readers (including Zac Chute, Geoff Matteson, and Kevin Thompson) wrote in to tell me how well Norin fits into this equation, since the Wary Warrior keeps flickering in and out of play. Along similar lines, Loren “eL'z” mentioned that he uses Norin with Pandemonium in an all-Legend deck with Day of Destiny.

Now all we have to do is put these things together and build a deck. Primal Forcemage works best with two kinds of creatures: the kind you can play as an instant and the kind with haste. The instant creatures make great surprise blockers, and the haste creatures allow you to take advantage of the Forcemage's free Giant Growth while on offense. Nicky Castermans sent me deck that used the Forcemage in exactly this way. Imagine following up a turn-three Forcemage with a turn-four Pandemonium and a turn-five Giant Solifuge, Viashino Sandstalker, or Avalanche Riders. You could put your opponent in quite a hole with such an opening.

Besides the haste guys, Nicky had a couple of other nifty innovations. The first one is the inclusion of Kher Keep. By itself, it can churn out an endless number of 0/1 chump-blockers, which isn't bad. With Primal Forcemage, those powerless Kobolds become 3/4 monsters. Add Pandemonium and those 3/4 monsters hit the scene shooting frickin' Lightning Bolts. The second card I was pleased to see in Nicky's deck is none other than the Balduvian Chieftain herself, Lovisa Coldeyes. It confused me for a while, but then I realized that, wary though he is, Norin is in fact a Warrior. So is Viashino Sandstalker. Nicky also used Raging Goblin, whose Berserker status means that Lovisa pumps him up as well.

Not long after I heard from Nicky, Chris Martin wrote to tell me that he took a Norin + Pandemonium deck to Friday Night Magic … and won! Admittedly, the deck isn't really a Norin the Wary deck (Chris only played two copies of the Legend), but it still uses Norin to great effect. Chris built his deck with many of the same critters Nicky did (Avalanche Riders, Giant Solifuge, Viashino Sandstalker), but he added Homelands “favourite” Eron the Relentless to the mix and replaced some of the weaker creatures (Raging Goblin) with more burn. Here's what you'd get when you combined Nicky's deck and Chris's deck. Feel free to tweak it and make it your own.

Fans of Standard Tribal Wars take heed. You know what, keep the heed and take notice. While I haven't actually built a Warrior deck myself, Lovisa Coldeyes, Pandemonium, Norin the Wary, and Viashino Sandstalker seem like they'd form the nucleus of a fun deck. Just sign a few Goblins as free agents to fill out the roster, and you'll be set.

A Traitor in Our Midst

For the past several weeks, I've been building a lot of decks with Pandemonium. Is it my fault that it combos with half the cards ever made? To avoid repeating myself too much, I promise I won't talk about the card again for at least the middle third of this article. So forget the “Pan-”. Forget the “-ium.” I want to cut to the heart of the matter and talk about the “demon.”

One of the earliest “combos,” whispered about in dark alleys and high school lunch rooms alongside such venerable duos as Royal Assassin and Icy Manipulator or Merfolk Assassin and War Barge, involved four Nether Shadows and Lord of the Pit, a sort of 7/7 flying trampling Michael Flatley of the Underworld. Basically, the “combo” allows you pay Lord of the Pit's upkeep. I have no idea why this seemed so cool at the time. No one thought that combining Force of Nature with four Forests was particularly neato (Take that, upkeep payment!).

I'm not even sure if this ever actually worked quite the way people thought it did (just check out the archives of various judging resources – many of the Nether Shadow questions involve the phrase “a billion times” which is usually not an amount of times you can sacrifice one of your Shadows during your upkeep). I never actually used the “combo” myself. It seemed like a long way to go just to avoid a little bit of damage. Besides, Nether Shadow was a piddly 1/1 (Why would I play that, when I could play Sengir Vampire?), and it was rare. Like most people, I used Breeding Pit to feed the demon instead.

Ah, the Golden Age of Magic! Royal Assassin, Sengir Vampire, Lord of the Pit, Nether Shadow. We'll never see the likes of those cards again. Except, the first two of those cards are in Ninth Edition, while the last two have been given the Time Spiral makeover and appear in that set disguised as Liege of the Pit and Nether Traitor. I'll leave it up to you to figure out which card is an update of which.

That was a bit of a roundabout way of saying that Dan Sale sent me a very spicy Nether Traitor deck. The cool thing about Nether Traitor (versus Nether Shadow) is that once you have one in play and one in the graveyard, along with a sacrifice outlet, you can sacrifice them “a billion times” as long as you have a billion black mana. Of course, you don't need to sacrifice them a billion times, especially if you're sacrificing them to, say, Nantuko Husk. Unless my math is off, you'd only need seven mana to make the Husk a 20/20 creature (all of your Nether Traitors would end up in the graveyard). You'd need even less mana if you also have a Golgari Germination on the table.

I made a couple changes to Dan's deck. First, I swapped out Stonewood Invocation for Moldervine Cloak. The Invocation is a great card, one of my favourites from Time Spiral. It does some things that the Cloak can't do, like thwart opposing removal spells. However, dredging back the Cloak fuels the deck's game plan by putting Nether Traitor, Stinkweed Imp, Dread Return, and Traitor's Clutch into the bin. The other change I made was suggested by Michael Pape. In response to my Wizard Week article, in which I used Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, his thrull minions, and Thoughtpicker Witch to effectively determine the card my opponent would draw for the rest of the game, Michael wrote in to tell me that he's been having a lot of success with the Witch in conjunction with a pair of Nether Traitors. Here's where I ended up:

There are a number of different directions you could take this deck. Since most of the key cards are black, you could ditch the green altogether and run a mono-black version of the deck. Efrén Ramirez wrote in suggesting a B/W variation on the deck that used Nether Traitor alongside Nantuko Husk, Grave Pact, Fallen Ideal, Sengir Autocrat, and Teysa, Orzhov Scion.

Greater Gargadon
You could even do as Jacois suggested and pair Nether Traitor with Greater Gargadon. Nether Traitors always work better in pairs, and in this case they significantly reduce the suspend time of your Gargadons. With all these creatures coming into play (first the Traitors, then the Gargadon), I couldn't help but think of, uh, Pandemonium. That's mostly because I've got Pandemonium on the brain, and because the next combo on Jacois' list consisted of the red enchantment and its bloodsucking f(r)iend, the evil Count Orlok, a.k.a. Sengir Nosferatu. The latest vampire can transform himself into a bat and back again. Quite conveniently, he leaves play to do this, which means that when he returns, Pandemonium will trigger. For each that you pay, you can deal five damage. One when he becomes a bat and four more when he changes back.

Sengir Nosferatu isn't the only vampire that is great with Pandemonium. Guildpact's Skeletal Vampire is also quite saucy, what with its token making and all. It gets even saucier when you have a Bad Moon kicking around. It'll deal eight on its way in, and four more each time you make some bat tokens. Bad Moon pumps up the rest of the non-Gargadon creatures in the deck, including Sengir Autocrat (who mostly feeds the Gargadon), Stinkweed Imp, and Pit Keeper.

In keeping with my stunningly original deck-naming scheme (see Mishra-monium, Norin-demonium), I present to you:

My Land Can Beat Up Your Land

The last deck comes from a reader named Harley who sent me a frighteningly cool combo, just before All Hallows' Eve. Because he likes his Armageddons to be as kooky as possible, Harley decided to use Ixidron with Natural Affinity. Nicknamed “Backslide Joe” during development (or at least it should have been) due to its similarity to Onslaught's Backslide, Ixidron is actually much more versatile than its namesake. Backslide could only be played on a creature with morph. Ixidron, meanwhile, turns all non-token creatures face down (probably in the muck). If you happen to have animated all the lands in play with Natural Affinity before playing Ixidron, those lands will become face-down 2/2 creatures with no name and no abilities (including the ability to produce mana). As a result of this sudden surge in face-down creatures, Ixidron's power and toughness will shoot through the roof (For this reason, I recommend playing this deck outdoors).

To win the battle of the morph-lands, Harley added Glorious Anthem and Valor to his deck. These two cards are great with creatures in general, but they are particularly good with Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Without the Anthem, if your opponent played a 10/10 Leviathan, you could copy it with the Shapeshifter and you'd be stuck in a bit of a stale-mate. With the Anthem, your opponent would still have his 10/10, but your Shapeshifter would go all the way up to 11/11. Giving the Shapeshifter first strike by dumping Valor into the graveyard is another way you can trump the creature it's copying.

The great thing about the deck is that you don't have play the combo all in one turn, due to the inclusion of Momentary Blink. You can just run your Ixidron out there on turn 5 if you want. He'll be big enough, since you have plenty of morphs to go along with whatever creatures your opponent will have to turn face down. Then at some point in the future, like your opponent's end of turn step, you can play Natural Affinity and follow it up with a Momentary Blink on your Ixidron. This is particularly effective if your opponent tapped out on his turn, because he'll be helpless as you attack with a huge Ixidron and your army of morph-lands.

Until next time, enjoy the present (while it lasts)!

Chris Millar

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