Keeping Up

Posted in From the Lab on August 18, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

You never know where your inspiration is going to come from. This week, I was looking through the cards being reprinted in From the Vault: Annihilation when one in particular stood out to me. Smokestack has been around for a long time, and has frequently made appearances in tournament decks. However, the card has mostly been used on its own, depriving both players of resources. I decided to try to skew things in my favor a little.

Smoke and Haze

Longtime readers of this column are well aware of my love for Paradox Haze. It's already appeared in three separate articles I've written, but this time I'm doing something a bit different. You see, Paradox Haze isn't just a way for you to get an extra upkeep every turn. You can also choose to enchant your opponent. Then he or she will get an extra upkeep each turn, while you stick to just one.

That's where Smokestack comes in. Although you'll be forced to sacrifice an increasing number of permanents each turn, your opponent will have to sacrifice twice as many. Add that to the traditional exploit of stacking the triggers so you add a counter after you've already sacrificed your permanents, and you can completely shatter the symmetry of the effect. On your first upkeep, you'll sacrifice no permanents. Then your opponent will sacrifice two. You'll have to ditch one thing next turn while your opponent will lose four, and so on. If you can feed the Smokestack for just a few turns before sacrificing it you can obliterate your opponent's entire battlefield.

There are other cards that can be used to similar effect. Braids, Cabal Minion will annihilate permanents, although not quite as well as Smokestack. Sunken Hope only hits creatures, but it will usually keep your opponent from being able to attack while not affecting you at all.

Ponder, Preordain, and Impulse can dig through your library to find the cards you need, whether that be Paradox Haze, Smokestack, or just more lands. I've also included Rune Snag and Mana Leak to help stop your opponent from disrupting your plans. Although paying two or three extra mana is normally something your opponent can work around, Smokestack and Braids turn it into a nearly impossible task.

But wait, the deck is still missing one thing: A win condition. Although attacking with Braids, Cabal Minion could work, that would mean you'd have to keep sacrificing permanents every turn. Instead, I've chosen to go with Abyssal Persecutor. It can end the game quickly, even if your opponent still has a creature or two to block with. Once your opponent is below 0 life, the same cards you use to cripple your opponent can get rid of the Demon so you win the game.

Paradox Smoke

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All or Nothing

With upkeeps on the mind, it wasn't long before I turned to a quirky card I've been meaning to take proper advantage of. Whereas Paradox Haze gives you or your opponent extra upkeeps, Eon Hub eliminates them. When I first encountered the card shortly after Coldsnap was released, I used it to eliminate cumulative upkeep costs on large creatures. Today, I'll still be getting rid of cumulative upkeep, but I have something better than large creatures in mind.

Glacial Chasm has a game-breaking ability. Simply play it and sacrifice a land, and you won't take damage for the rest of the game. The only reason the card isn't completely broken is its cumulative upkeep cost. You have to pay an increasing amount of life each turn to keep it around. Fortunately, Eon Hub gets rid of that drawback quite nicely, making you nearly invincible.

Your opponent could still get rid of Eon Hub with a card like Banishing Light. However, another cumulative upkeep card can take care of that problem. Ritual of Subdual makes all lands produce colorless mana, which means your opponent won't be able to cast most spells without help from other mana sources, which he or she may not have access to at all.

Once you have Ritual of Subdual on the battlefield, you don't really need to cast any colored spells. Eon Hub is colorless, Glacial Chasm is a land, and I've included a pair of artifacts as win conditions. Sands of Delirium can quickly get rid of all the cards in your opponent's deck, while Rod of Ruin provides a slow and painful death at the hands of a card that's rarely playable in anything ever.

Enlightened Tutor searches your library for the cards you need, and I've also included a variety of mana-producing cards to help you reach the five mana for Eon Hub more quickly. They also have the benefit of allowing you to cast Enlightened Tutor while under the effects of Ritual of Subdual. Avacyn's Pilgrim and Birds of Paradise can serve as blockers if needed, and Utopia Sprawl has a net cost of nothing if you tap the enchanted land that same turn. Coalition Relic is slower, but can give you two extra mana at once, allowing you to cast Eon Hub or Ritual of Subdual two turns earlier than you would otherwise be able to.

Eon Chasm

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Let's Do That Again!

I wanted to continue with the upkeep theme, so I decided to look for some potential combo cards involving upkeeps. One oddball card I particularly like but have never written about is Timesifter. The card could easily allow you to take an unlimited number of turns and make sure you always win the converted mana cost war. However, it's set up to make that difficult. By exiling both cards, Timesifter makes it much more difficult to fix the outcome.

That isn't to say it's impossible. In Magic, few things are. My first thought was to use Misthollow Griffin. Cast it from exile and, if you can put it back on top of your library you're good to go for next turn. However, that would most likely require the services of Sunscape Apprentice, and I just used that card recently.

So if you can't use the same card over and over, why not just make sure every card has a high converted mana cost? And thus was born one of the most unusual decks I've ever written about.

Here's the plan: Fill the deck with really expensive creatures that have morph. Doesn't matter what they are, because you will never cast them or turn them face up. Once you hit five lands, cast Mana Severance to get rid of the rest of them. Whether you cast Timesifter before or after, the next time it triggers it should exile a morph creature that costs at least eight mana, giving you the next turn. As you take all the turns thanks to a deck full of expensive things, you can cast creatures face down until you win the game with an army of 2/2s.

We'll need some way to find the key cards, so Fabricate is in to tutor up Timesifter. Mystical Tutor grabs Mana Severance, and can even search for Fabricate to search for Timesifter if need be. Unfortunately, using these means you might lose a Timesifter war every once in a while, but assuming that five mana will usually be enough to win against most cards your opponent has, you'll be taking at least two or three turns. The least expensive cards in your deck still beat out the lands in your opponent's, so you'll likely win even more often.

Despite a variety of colors in the morph creatures, the deck only really needs blue to function. That means I had room to throw in Halimar Depths, which can help you move a land closer to the top or even do a bit of digging for the combo pieces. Normally, the ability leaves you stuck with cards you don't want on top of your library, but in addition to Fabricate, Mana Severance, and Mystical Tutor, I've added Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn to allow you to shuffle away unwanted cards.

Time Severance

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At the End of the Beginning

When I started writing this article I had no idea where inspiration would take me. What started with a particular card in From the Vault: Annihilation led to the exploration of a single step in the turn. But the upkeep is only the beginning. If you'd like to see me take a look at some of the other steps and phases in Magic, or if you think it's a terrible idea, let me know through my Twitter account (@MTGCannon) or by sending an email to MTGCannon@gmail.com. Either way, join me next week when we'll look to the past to learn more about the future. See ya!

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