IntoTheAether And The Really Big Door

Posted in Feature on September 21, 2004

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

This week the new Prismatic bannings kick in, which means it's going to be a whole new format (let me be clear: I love the Prismatic format post-bannings). I asked which Fifth Dawn rare you wanted me to build my deck around and you selected Door to Nothingness, which I'm realizing more and more was awfully sadistic of you in the face of the bannings.

Keep in mind the constraints of Prismatic deckbuilding, in addition to the banned list:

  • Your deck must contain at least 250 cards.
  • Your deck must contain at least 20 white cards, 20 blue cards, 20 black cards, 20 red cards, and 20 green cards. Multicolor and split cards count as one color or the other, not both.
  • Decks usually use the Online Extended cardpool.

These restrictions can make an initial journey into Prismatic daunting. A deck over four times the size of a “normal” constructed deck? All five colors? Access to sets as old as Invasion? Where do you even begin? Indeed, it's safe to say that building your first deck is one of the biggest hurdles to playing Prismatic online.


Resident Prismatic aficionado Doug Beyer

There are two bits of good news, though. First, as I said last week, you have some good starting material in Doug Beyer's articles. Doug provides a terrific primer about how to think about deckbuilding, which cards in the newer sets really shine in Prismatic, and several other helpful tips. Everything I say today will build upon what Doug has already outlined.

The second bit of good news comes later in my article (I am Teaser, hear me roar). For now, let's keep our attention on how a lonely hermit deckbuilder like myself thinks about making a Door to Nothingness Prismatic deck.

 

Door to Nothingness
I'm assuming that when you voted for Door to Nothingness you intended me to try and win with it. That is, it's not as much fun if I make a “typical” five-color deck and throw in four copies of Door to Nothingness just in case my “attacking with Slivers” strategy doesn't work out. First and foremost, then, the trick of this deckbuilding exercise is to win with the Door. Prismatic isn't any different than any other Constructed format: Having a strategy on which to hang your hat is tremendously helpful when thinking about what cards to include in your deck.

It turns out that winning with Door to Nothingness in a Prismatic deck brings with it lots of difficult questions. In particular, I think three fundamental questions are:

Below you'll see me grappling with these fundamental questions. Each question leads to a whole bundle of cards that get included in the deck. As I go, I'll keep a running tally of how many cards I have in each color. This question-answer-tally system is actually how I built my deck, so hopefully it provides some kind of example template to follow in your own Prismatic deckbuilding.

Question #1: Where's the Door?

(How do I reliably find Door to Nothingness?)

First thing's first; I need to find Door to Nothingness in a two-hundred-and-fifty card deck, which is easier said than done since the bannings strip most of the tutors from the format. No more casting Tooth and Nail for two Composite Golems. No more Diabolic Tutor, Fabricate, or Death Wish. A few tutors still exist in the format, though, and since a few is better than none they're the first cards in my big, multicolor deck are:

4 Bringer of the Black Dawn (0 W, 0 U, 4 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Golden Wish (4 W, 0 U, 4 B, 0 R, 0 G)
8 cards total

Eight tutors clearly isn't going to be enough to reliably find the Door, however. As a result, I need to throw some card-drawing at the problem. Initially I really loaded up the card-drawing with things like Ambition's Cost, Night's Whisper, and Browbeat. It turns out I needed those slots for survival, though, which leaves:

4 Deep Analysis (4 W, 4 U, 4 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Fact or Fiction (4 W, 8 U, 4 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Reviving Vapors (4 W, 12 U, 4 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Skeletal Scrying (4 W, 12 U, 8 B, 0 R, 0 G)
24 cards total.

That's a good start, but another idea suddenly occurs to me (and is reinforced by some Boards comments and e-mail I received). What if I dump a bunch of cards into my graveyard and then try to fish the Door out? I already have Reviving Vapors and Fact or Fiction to start me on my way, so I push this idea a little to include:

4 Traumatize (4 W, 16 U, 8 B, 0 R, 0 G)
3 Mesmeric Orb (4 W, 16 U, 8 B, 0 R, 0 G)
31 cards total.

Note that I fully intend to Traumatize myself, not my opponent, and that the Orb is meant to benefit me more than it's meant to hurt my opponent. (I don't actually own more than four copies of any card, including Orb. I mean, who thinks it's fair to have access to copies five through eight of your coolest cards? Some people have sideboards for decks with Wishes to keep them somewhat balanced. I put in three copies maindeck.).

That idea leaves me another dilemma, though: Once the Door has been dumped into my graveyard, how do I get it out?

4 Bringer of the White Dawn (8 W, 16 U, 8 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Beacon of Unrest (8 W, 16 U, 12 B, 0 R, 0 G)
4 Eternal Witness (8 W, 16 U, 12 B, 0 R, 4 G)
4 Myr Retriever (8 W, 16 U, 12 B, 0 R, 4 G)
4 Zombify (8 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
3 Hanna Ship's Navigator (11 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
3 Roar of Reclamation (14 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
57 cards total.

The comforting thing about these cards is that if an opponent decides to kill my Door before I can use it (which they will most certainly do if possible), these cards can all get it back. Well, all except Zombify. Zombify doesn't get Door to Nothingness per se, but it can grab a Bringer, Witness, Retriever, or Hanna to do the job. Remember that the key to Prismatic decks is redundancy (what Doug calls “using analogues”).

I think with these fifty-seven cards I have a decent shot at reliably finding a Door to Nothingness. The next question then becomes:

Question #2: How do I open the Door?

(Once I've found it, how do I live long enough to cast Door to Nothingness and then live a turn afterwards so it untaps?)

There are really two questions here: First, how do I survive long enough to use those first fifty-seven cards to get Door to Nothingness into play. Second, how do I make sure it stays in play for at least a turn.

In terms of survival, I first think about simple lifegain:

1 Ancestral Tribute (15 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
4 Bottle Gnomes (15 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
4 Renewed Faith (19 W, 16 U, 16 B, 0 R, 4 G)
66 cards total.

The Ancestral Tribute seems good if I ever get a chance to Traumatize myself. The Bottle Gnomes make great early defense and can recur with Bringer of the White Dawn or some of my other graveyard reanimation if needed. Renewed Faith, meanwhile, not only gains me life but cycles to dig for my Door to Nothingness.

Then I think of survival in terms of killing opposing creatures:

4 Spite/Malice (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 0 R, 4 G)
4 Fire/Ice (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 4 R, 4 G)
4 Fireball (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 8 R, 4 G)
1 Legacy Weapon (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 8 R, 4 G)
4 Magma Jet (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 12 R, 4 G)
4 Moment's Peace (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 12 R, 8 G)
4 Slice and Dice (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 16 R, 8 G)
91 cards total.

Again, I'm trying to both kill opposing creatures while also searching through my library via cycling, cantrips, and scry. Moment's Peace is one of those cards that I'll probably never regret drawing and is terrific with some of my graveyard-filling cards. Sure there are rares better able to kill creature swarms like Wrath of God, Akroma's Vengeance, and Starstorm, but I think my deck is already going to have enough rares so I'll cut corners where I can.

Finally, I think of survival in terms of dealing with opposing artifacts and enchantments:

4 Hull Breach (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 20 R, 8 G)
4 Naturalize (19 W, 16 U, 20 B, 20 R, 12 G)
99 cards total.

I'm less concerned with keeping the Door protected once it's cast since I have so much graveyard reanimation. Still, it's nice to have a little defense, so I add:

4 Complicate (19 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 12 G)
4 Leonin Abunas (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 12 G)
107 cards total.

Question #3: How do I walk into Nothingness?

(Once Door to Nothingness has untapped, how do I generate the mana to activate it?)

Mana is always a tricky issue in a Prismatic deck. Here, though, it's even trickier since I'm trying to reliably get two mana of each color in order to win the game. If you assume one-hundred-fifty cards in my deck with a hundred land, I still have over forty cards to help me accelerate and fix my mana. I've consciously been holding off on adding too many green cards for precisely this purpose. As a result:

4 Chromatic Sphere (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 16 G)
4 Composite Golem (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 16 G)
4 Channel the Suns (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 16 G)
4 Explosive Vegetation (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 20 G)
4 Harrow (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 24 G)
4 Krosan Tusker (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 28 G)
4 Pentad Prism (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 28 G)
4 Reap and Sow (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 32 G)
4 Solemn Simulacrum (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 32 G)
4 Wayfarer's Bauble (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 32 G)
147 cards total.

That's a lot of mana-fixing, hopefully enough for my purposes. I'll be watching my games closely to see if I get mana-flooded, but it's hard to imagine a Door to Nothingness ever having too much mana. Besides, most of these effects thin land from my library, maximizing the chances to draw “business” cards later in the game.

Let's see... three cards to go before the land. Three cards to go. Three cards. What am I missing? Seems like I'm missing something. Oh. That's right:

3 Door to Nothingness (23 W, 20 U, 20 B, 20 R, 36 G)
150 cards total.

Of course, with a hundred cards left I'm faced with another issue:

Question #4: How do I make sense of my land?

I don't see the need to use every color-fixing land available in Online Extended for the same reason I don't see the need to use Wrath of God. Crystal Quarry seems necessary in a Door deck even though it's expensive to acquire. The others on the list below are prismatic lands I think are relatively affordable.

4 Crystal Quarry
4 Grand Coliseum
4 Mirrodin's Core
4 Terminal Moraine
166 cards total.

My deck also seems to be more green and white than the other colors. As a result:

4 Elfhame Palace
4 Krosan Verge
4 Windswept Heath
40 Forest
12 Plains
8 Island
6 Mountain
6 Swamp
250 cards total. Whew.

Just so you have everything all in one place, here's the deck:

The Doors v.1.0

Download Arena Decklist

That's a pretty cursory look at my card choices, but hopefully it gives you enough handholds to understand the kind of preliminary thinking that goes into a sample Prismatic deck. Keep in mind that I'm not in any way arguing that you should trade for these cards to build my deck. It's my deck, and untested (for another couple of paragraphs anyway) to boot.

A lot of feedback I've received over the last two weeks made its way into my first-draft deck, although some of it didn't. The most interesting paths I didn't pursue include Mycosynth Lattice (in conjunction with Krark-Clan Ironworks), which alleviates the color problems associated with the Door's activation cost, and things like Seedborn Muse or Aphetto Alchemist to untap the Door early.

One thing I have to say, there's something freeing about making a Prismatic deck. It's fun to just throw every card that might possibly help you into a deck to see what happens. The fact that rarely will two games with the deck ever be exactly the same is also very attractive. Which leads me to the second bit of good news I mentioned earlier...

Break On Through To The Other Side

...Once you've finally been able to cobble together a tower of virtual cards, you are in for some very, very fun games. Players rave about the original “Five-Color” format, but with Magic Online the experience is arguably even better because you don't have to worry about shuffling your monstrous creation. Indeed, Prismatic is the current favorite format of a number of Wizards employees, including our very own editor Scott Johns. You'll hopefully see why through my own experiences below.

For example, my inaugural game with the deck demonstrates how much fun Prismatic can be...


Then there’s shuffling...

A fellow by the name of the4squarechamp shows up with a--I'm not kidding here--1500-card deck. By the way, this is why online Prismatic is so beautiful. Who could do this with physical cards, even if they had the collection? Who could even afford 1500 sleeves?

Anyway, he says his deck is loosely based on a theme. I ask what theme could possibly encompass so many cards and he answers “it's built around every Onslaught tribe.” Ah. I see. Well that would do it then, yes.

Sure enough, Elves, Birds, Beasts, Soldiers, and Goblins fly at me with abandon. The first wave gets slowed down by a Moment's Peace from me, then an Ancestral Tribute to bring me back to twenty life, then a Fact or Fiction for Slice and Dice to clear the board. I flash the Tribute back as the4squarechamp reloads with creatures. We each accumulate a silly amount of land. Between all of my artifacts and land, I can almost activate Door to Nothingness three times over.

I flash the Moment's Peace back when things look grim, then play another. Finally I draw Traumatize and send 101 cards into my graveyard. Another Fact or Fiction gets me Roar of Reclamation, which in turn gets me a mighty army of blockers and two Door to Nothingness on the table. the4squarechamp, meanwhile, has no less than twelve attackers and the two that trouble me the most are a Rhox and a Gustcloak Skirmisher with Vulshok Morningstar on it. Unfortunately, my Traumatize failed to put any more Moment's Peaces into my graveyard, which means I'm relying on my artifact blockers and two Fire/Ice in my hand to tap the offensive critters.

After three Mesmeric Orbs dump a HUGE number of cards in the4squarechamp's graveyard, he draws Lava Axe. Lucky me. An Axe hits my head, then everyone attacks. Waitaminute! Everyone attacks? Ugh. I had failed to put a “stop” on his Beginning of Combat phase, which means I lost my opportunity to use Ice. I instead Fire some weenies, but two Bottle Gnomes mean I take just enough damage to bring me to zero. I tasted a Door victory, but it was not to be.

My first official Door victory comes in the next game. I take some early damage from my opponent's creatures, then stabilize with Slice and Dice and by drawing all four of my Bottle Gnomes. Eventually I use Golden Wish to get a Door and win. It was a hollow victory, though, since I could have won a turn before the Door via creature damage. My opponent kept drawing lands after I cleared the board and used Roar of Reclamation, which meant my Composite Golems, Bottle Gnomes (4!), and Solemn Simulacrums (Simulacrae?) could have easily overwhelmed his lone Canopy Spider. Stupid creatures and their ability to win games.

After that I play a whole slew of Prismatic games. I won't take you through every endeavor, but I will say I played about thirty games and activated Door to Nothingness around forty percent of the time. Some truly funny things happened along the way, including:


Willbender by Eric Peterson

Of course, those are just the games. To me, one of the very fun things about Prismatic is the endless deck-tinkering you can do (mmmm... deck tinkering). With such a monstrously-big creation, there are all sorts of opportunities to tweak, push, and pull cards from your decklist. After that it takes a lot more games to see if the changes you make are any good, since you may play for days without seeing any of the new cards you've added.

Here are the changes I made throughout the week, in chronological order:

OUT: 1 Myr Retriever, 1 Plains, 1 Forest
IN: 3 Dross Scorpion

I really was getting too much mana, so figured dropping from 100 land to 98 would somehow help (he says, only a little sarcastically). It was the4squarechamp who suggested Dross Scorpion, especially since I had cards like Bottle Gnomes and Composite Golem to sacrifice after the Door comes into play. At the time, I assumed the addition of the Scorpion would allow me to win the turn I played Door to Nothingness. It never happened, though, and eventually I took the Dross Scorpions out. Still, it was a cool idea.

OUT: 4 Fireball
IN: 4 Pyroclasm

Having so much mana and a Fireball in hand was too tempting. It wasn't my goal to handicap myself in games and try not to win with damage since I would rather have my most natural route to victory be via the Door. Pyroclasm is just a nicer fit for my deck. Although it can't deal with huge creatures, Pyroclasm has come in handy time and again for clearing away opposing swarms.

OUT: 4 Reap and Sow
IN: 4 Far Wanderings

Far Wanderings was just an oversight on my part. It has such natural synergy with what I'm trying to do that it's inane not to use it. Why take out Reap and Sow for it? I've had many entwined Reap and Sows aimed at me, and I've realized that land destruction in Prismatic is no fun. Besides, I didn't see anything else I wanted to take out.

OUT: 3 Dross Scorpion
IN: 3 Ensnaring Bridge

The Scorpions weren't working out for me and I realized that the only times I used Golden Wish for anything other than Door to Nothingness or Doubling Cube was for Ensnaring Bridge. The great thing about Ensnaring Bridge is that it shuts down not only my opponent's attack, but it disallows me attacking with my own Bringers, etc. This was, I think, the most significant addition to the deck.

 

Silent Arbiter
OUT: 4 Composite Golem
IN: 4 Silent Arbiter

Having Composite Golem sounds obvious. It sacrifices itself for half of the mana I need to activate Door to Nothingness, and with Roar of Reclamation or Bringer of the White Dawn it's easy to win during my untap step. Theoretically this is all true but in practice I found Composite Golem to just be a big, dumb blocker. If I want a blocker, I figured, why not use Silent Arbiter? Silent Arbiter is probably the second most significant addition to my deck.

Other cards I'm contemplating include: Planar Portal, a fourth Roar of Reclamation, a second Ancestral Tribute, Collective Restraint, Chastise, Probe, Allied Strategies, and Night's Whisper. Skeletal Scrying and Pentad Prism are currently on my “you might go” hitlist.

For now, though, here is the decklist as it currently stands:

The Doors v.1.5

Download Arena Decklist

As the weeks roll by, I'll be tinkering and tweaking this deck and maybe building a few other Prismatic decks. If I discover anything particularly enlightening about my Door deck (or if you post something insightful on the Boards), I'll give an update on the decklist in a few weeks. Let me warn you now: I'm enjoying Prismatic so much that I might always have a deck in the hopper to discuss. It occurs to me that when Champions rolls around, morphing a Preconstructed deck into a Prismatic deck would be great fun.

For now, let's check in with Alan Comer, Magic Online's lead card programmer...

Ask Alan

Alan Comer, PT Barcelona '01Tony from Savage, Minnesota (a neighboring town to Beats, Wisconsin, I think), sent in the following question to Ask Wizards:

“What types of problems will Shortfang the Odious cause the programmers for Magic Online?”

Alan and I decided it would be nice to answer this question in today's article since a) some people have expressed an interest in more “developer/programmer” content in this column, b) Alan's answer is sorta long, and c) I have secretly dreamed of answering an Ask Wizards question, even if indirectly.

In my last update, I said that Alan and Rachel Reynolds had five cards yet to program for the new set. They finished those five cards quickly, which left only the “flip” cards from Champions of Kamigawa (a la Nezumi Shortfang) to worry over. The rules issues on the flip cards weren't the issue, apparently. Alan says “The rules issues turned out to be not much harder than normal cards. The card has attributes that replace its normal ones when it is flipped. After doing this, I just had to make sure that Triggers and Continuous Effects turned On (or Off) when the card flipped.”

No, what turned out to be the sticklers were the display issues on those little flippers. Alan says:

“Displaying the card, on the other hand, was a little more exciting. For those readers who don't know, we don't just use pictures of real cards, we piece them together on the computer as the card is being displayed. We do this for a number of reasons. Stuff like:

  • Smaller download for our users, especially those on 56k modems.
  • Resizing an image can do nasty things to text, and make it hard to read.
  • When images get really small, we abbreviate the text to help it fit.

 

Initiate of Blood
“The first question we had was: 'If we print the text upside-down, how can anybody read it?' So, we just put the text on right-side up. I showed this to Randy to see what he thought of that, and he asked me which side was currently active, because he couldn't tell. This made it obvious that we needed to do something with the text, with the preference being upside-down, like paper Magic. Now, for most games these days, writing text upside-down isn't that hard. They are running with DirectX, and can easily rotate text or pictures. However, the requirements to run Magic Online are very low, and even people still running Windows 95 can run Magic. As such, I don't have access to rotating text or pictures. In addition, Windows itself doesn't do a lot of writing text upside-down. In order to get flip cards to display correctly, I had to write a little function to invert a picture. From here, we build the card like normal, leaving the upside-down text off. After that, we rotate the card 180 degrees. Then we write the text on the card, and if the card has not flipped yet, we rotate it 180 degrees again.

“Oh yeah, and if a flip card isn't flipped, but is tapped, I must draw it, rotate 180 degrees, add text, rotate 180 degrees, then tap it, rotating it an extra 90 degrees.”

I have to admit, sometimes when Alan speaks I just nod and drool. I think what he said is that he had to attend some sort of dance function in which people were turning upside-down. Maybe a yoga, swing-dance sort of event, but he wasn't explicit and I wasn't about to ask. What these programmers do during their downtime is their own business, am I right?

Next week you can all join me in a round of chanting “Poor Jay!” Until then, here's a yummy poll...

[The survey originally included in this article has been removed.]

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