28 Days Later

Posted in From the Lab on May 14, 2009

By Noel deCordova

With a thwack of his spear, the last of his enemies crumpled beneath him. He reversed the shaft's polarity so the spearhead was facing the fallen foe. Bob swept down for the kill, and then halted. The mangy goblin was out cold, courtesy of the swelling egg on its temple. If he killed it, it could easily be reanimated as a zombie, undoing his effort. Better to leave it alive. Besides, Bob reckoned, it was only a goblin. He likened them to certain enemy characters in a video game he had played in his old life: slow, slippery, and above all else, stupid. With a grunt, he stepped over the small body and continued charging alongside the Nacatl, grunting a Nayan battle hymn.

After his adventurous introduction to the fractured world of Alara, Bob, initially hasty to leave Naya and return to Earth at all costs, pleaded with Mayael the Anima, the mysterious elf who had brought him there. But the milky-eyed elf, he learned, did not have the power to send him back to his universe of birth.

"Only a planeswalker has the ability to travel through the Blind Eternities," Mayael had said.

Bob, who hadn't the faintest idea what plains-walkers were, and who figured the Blind Eternities were some progressive rock band, decided to look up to watch the elf's sentence fly over his head. (There was a slight Downdraft, though, which promptly forced the flying sentence to plummet to the ground.) Finally, Bob got the message: Unless he found some revenge-laced cat-man with a giant rounded axe, he was stuck in this leafy forest forever.

For a former accountant whose physical strength topped out at benching the bar (a Milky Way bar, that is) surviving in Naya could be a challenge. However, Bob had mistakenly drunk from the Cradle of Vitality, and in that process gained a bunch of +1/+1 counters, which proved to be enough to topple a common gargantuan, and later, his worst nightmare, an Orgg. Although he had grown slightly more comfortable in Naya as he trained with the Nacatl, who accepted him in their ranks after hearing of his feats, he also trained to one day begin his quest to find Ajani Vengeant, his only hope of returning home.

Then, unexpectedly, the Conflux began. Out of nowhere, two new worlds sprouted next to Naya like unruly plants. One was a civil society made up of humans (to Bob's surprise) and rhinos (to Bob's bewilderment.) The other was a savage land of lava streams, filled to the brim with goblins and dragons. The Nacatl, stunned at this development, went to war with the two, and Bob joined in the mayhem.

Finally, the Conflux was completed, and the world of Alara was reborn. Bob's team of Nacatl was just finishing off the last of the Jundian army standing between them and what was formerly Grixis, the nightmarish shard of death.

"Why are we headed that way?" asked a cat-man.

"We believe Ajani is there. We must find him!" replied the other. Bob silently agreed.

The group trekked into the nightscape, surveying the fields of corpses in their presence. Suddenly, a bulbous zombie flashed out of nowhere and bounded toward the group. Its face was skeletal and deadly, and sparks crackled on the beast's hide. Bob drew his spear as the Lightning Reaver pounced.

    Thriving General

All right: Lightning Reaver, the first of the three Zombies from Alara Reborn I'll be talking about today. To begin my friendly analysis of this card for offbeat deck-building, I simply have to begin with that art. Admire it, but don't look too close, because it might just pop out of the card and rip out your eye.

The first thing Lightning Reaver reminded me of card-wise was Banshee's Blade. Sure, it's an Equipment, but like the Reaver, it grows charge counters and, with them, more damage. The Blade led me to the Sliths, the popular cycle of Mirrodin weenies. So think of Lightning Reaver as sort of a (literally) super-charged Slith. It has both fear and haste, so it should pick up a charge counter immediately.

My combo-seeking vision was drawn to the Reaver's third ability, which deals damage to your opponent (actually each, if you're a multiplayer buff) for each charge counter on it. So if one were to take advantage of this ability, one could try to connect with the Reaver as much as possible. I'm a fan of taking the road less traveled to wind up with a victory, so I'm going to attempt to put lots of charge counters on Lightning Reaver via alternate methods.

Unfortunately, all the cards I found that give charge counters to things require those things to be artifacts. Well, I wasn't about to let that stop me, so I turned to Johnny stalwart Mycosynth Lattice and its forgotten cousin, Ashnod's Transmogrant. I went with the one-mana "cog" because it also permanently metalizes the Reaver without drastically altering the board. From there, I could add cards like Coretapper and Power Conduit to load counters onto the Reaver. Energy Chamber sadly won't work here, as it can only give charge counters to non-creature artifacts.

A very important card that works without the artifact shenanigans is Gilder Bairn, who doesn't care about anything except doubling counters and wearing frog suits. Now, it's always tricky to play abilities, since the creatures need to start off tapped. Since I had already decided to run Trinket Mages to find the Transmogrants, I went with a swath of untap enablers. Springleaf Drum always helps, while Leonin Bola and Hankyu are offensive pieces of equipment. Plus, has anyone ever tapped a Hankyu'd Gilder Bairn, only to untap it to double the aim counters on it, and repeat? Sounds cool to me.

For Power Conduit to be consistently effective, I used Vivid lands and Coalition Relic, upping the charge counter load. I also went with artifacts that generate charge counters over time, the most diabolical of which is Darksteel Reactor. Sun Droplet helps you stay alive, and like Lightning Reaver, it thrives in multiplayer.

Sparks and Charges

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    Cats vs. Zombies

Bob coolly dispatched the electrified undead from a distance, skewering the Lightning Reaver on his spear and chucking it into a muddy swamp, where it sank with its mad laughter. The beast's demise had obviously triggered something, as hordes of zombies began pouring from the darkness. The group was soon surrounded by four massive walls of zombies.

"There's got to be a source of these ... things!" cried one Nacatl as he burst into one wall, weapon drawn.

"There! In the shadow of the marsh!" cried another as she busted through the second wall. Sure enough, a Lich Lord of Unx was causing all the trouble, muttering garbled phrases that became the living dead.

Bob said nothing as he focused on the zombies encircling him. "Just like in The Matrix Reloaded," he mumbled, and then leapt into the fray, slowly demolishing the third wall.

Syeena, the only elf who ventured with the group, did some murmuring of her own. "I hope die-hard Vorthoses who are reading this understand that the story of Alara doesn't really happen like this, and that this author is simply parodying both zombie movies and the plot of the block!" she exclaimed as she broke through the fourth wall.

    Dralnu, of Unx

I for one am glad to see another member of the Lich Lord team with the release of Alara Reborn. Dralnu was getting pretty bored all this time, with naught but the same spells flashing back and forth. Enter the latest free agent, the Lich Lord of Unx, who can fill out the rest of the team by himself. Once the battlefield is clogged with Zombie tokens, the latest Lord can use them to sap both life and cards from your opponent, eventually defeating them by one method or the other.

Of course, although Lich Lord of Unx can certainly pump out the Zombies, there are alternatives that coexist with it, such as Odyssey block staple Zombie Infestation. By turning cards in your hand into Zombies for free, you speed up the possibility of giant Lich Lord activations.

But what cards to discard? My first suggestion is Grixis Slavedriver, since you can unearth it for another Zombie token, but any creature will do. Why? Because your next Zombie token producer is the unholy Tombstone Stairwell, which will last long enough to fill the halls with temporary undead. The Stairwell plays into some weird synergy with Necromancer's Covenant: If the former's in play, your opponent will want to stuff his or her graveyard, at which point you punish them with a giant Covenant. And if you're milling your opponent with Lich Lord of Unx anyway, the Covenant should definitely be worth it. Here's the undeadlicious mix:

Drain of the Dead

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    Deeper into Grixis

Once the Lich Lord's carrion reservoir had run dry, Bob and his friends defeated him, in the end allowing a Nacatl to crush his head under her foot. Er, paw. Er, footpaw.

The quartet soldiered on, but was once again stopped by a disturbance. However, unlike zombies and psychotic lightning beasts, this one was unexpected. A little boy, gaunt and dark-haired, popped out from the shadowy undergrowth next to Bob, clearly attempting to startle him.

Bob guffawed. "What is this, The Grudge 3?"

Syeena ignored him. (He often said strange things like this.) "What is it, child?"

The boy's eyes were like pools of ink. "Leave immediately, or be damned from the inside out." And with that, he swept his cloak and was gone.

"What the ...." muttered a cat-man.

"Was he wearing that the whole time?" wondered Bob. A roar made up of a thousand burning innocents answered him. The party slowly turned around to face the source, which was, of course, Thraximundar.

    He Sees a Black Earth and He Wants to Paint it Red

Upon reading Thraximundar for the first time, I was tickled pink to scan the following phrase: "Whenever a player sacrifices a creature[...]" The deckbuilding possibilities with such a phrase are endless! However, I was tickled not-so-pink to see the cool phrase on a creature that's a gigantic hasty 6/6 at its worst. This isn't such a bad thing, though! I will probably devote a section in the coming weeks to Dragon Appeasement and all it may stand for, but right now, I think I'll Thrax it up a bit.

Unlike the similarly worded Jund enchantment, Thraximundar triggers off of any sacrifice, not just your own. This allows to me to spread the pain with cards like Barrin's Spite and Ashling, the Extinguisher (of whom Thraximundar seems like an obvious mechanical descendent.) Three-drop beaters like Ogre Marauder and his Fleshbag cohort spread the sacrificing. I wanted to play a base of Goblin tokens to support Warren Weirding, so Marsh Flitter and Siege-Gang Commander join the crew. Grave Pact obviously becomes bananas at this point.

The weirdest card I found that works well with Thraximundar was Basalt Golem. According to its Oracle text, your opponent is forced to sacrifice any blocker now. As a bonus, it can create even more creatures for your opponent to sacrifice.

Sacrificial Bam

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    The Last Laugh

After witnessing Thraximundar's pregame warm-up, which consisted of bloody fire and skulls, Bob and his friends felt it prudent to beat a hasty retreat. As they left the former shard of Grixis, deflated, the mysterious boy from earlier showed up again and addressed Bob.

"Perfect, Bob. You did exactly as I asked."

"All I did was save myself and my friends," protested Bob. "Hey, what's your name?"

"Call me Nick," the boy sneered. "And don't worry about it: Just like everyone else's seemingly meaningless actions, yours will play a pivotal role in my plans. Now my incredibly evil scheme will definitely assuredly succeed. I swear." He breathed in, and then said, "Want to go home now? I am, in fact, a planeswalker."

"Really? You'd take me home?" inquired Bob, seeing a ray of hope.

Nick smiled, and in that smile Bob saw ruthlessness, cunning, and ... a crumb of cheesecake?

"Nope!" the boy replied. And with that, he vanished.

Bob shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever," he said. "You're not a revenge-laced cat-man with a giant rounded axe anyway." And with that, he turned with his fellow Nayans and headed home.

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