Back to Basics

Posted in From the Lab on June 11, 2009

By Noel deCordova

Hey all, and welcome back to this wonderful (I hope) laboratory of Magical dexterity. First of all, let me quickly say that I had an amusing time recollecting my most hazy of Magic memories during last week's Origin Stories theme. Far more than I expected, actually. My wistful reminiscing on my first deck intrigued me so much that I reached the point where I had to find it. I knew for some strange reason I hadn't completely disassembled it, and after digging through the very bowels of my attic (right next to the dead bodies and Christina Aguilera CDs), I found the crimped remains of that first list. Some stellar cards that made an appearance in the deck (which, as you may recall, was a four-color monstrosity that finished with Nightmare): Land Leeches (make that a five-color monstrosity), a Swords to Plowshares (nifty—guess it wasn't all garbage), and rounding it off, Howl From Beyond and Aspect of Wolf. These latter two mark my first thematic exploits, which was kind of fun to discover.

But enough of last week (well, for now.) These past couple of lab visits have been slightly lacking in the deck department in terms of quantity, which is why we're heading back into three-deck terrain. No muss, no fuss. Just three individual card discussions (focusing on quirky Alara Reborn cards) and capping them off with hopefully fun lists. I guess now is as good a time as any to remind you all: My lists are never set in stone, and I certainly would not be offended if you change certain card choices. In fact, I'd be offended if you didn't! Well, not really, but the point is: Feel free to customize at will. Perhaps there's some cool interaction with Tainted Sigil that I missed. I don't doubt it.

Sigil of Distortion

Speaking of Tainted Sigil, let's have a look at probably the last white and black artifact in Magic. (Oh, hello there, archive-diggers from 2080! Go ahead and cyber slap me!) The first card that Tainted Sigil reminds me of is Children of Korlis, in that it takes the amount of life you may have lost (or damage dealt to you) and gains you that much life. The difference between the Children and the Sigil is that the artifact capitalizes on opponent's life loss as well, which makes it potentially a greater life-boost.


Tainted Sigil
Children of Korlis

Similar to Children of Korlis, who was used in the popular Proclamation of Rebirth decks alongside Martyr of Sands back in the day (if not competitively, then casually), Tainted Sigil can also be reused. Mine Excavation is a good way to double up on those duties. Other quick beaters that are appropriately color-aligned are Orzhov Guildmage and Putrid Warrior. If you have the mana to pump through the Guildmage, Tainted Sigil could make things very unfair. The Warrior, meanwhile, is on theme and is cheap, so I guess that fits.

Stern Judge alongside a boatload of Swamps and the darkened Sigil seems like a good combo. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can assure your lands are the right type for this.

Syphon Soul effects are decent here, so we might as well go with the one attached to a body: Urborg Syphon-Mage. Another cheap body that brings pain for both sides is Ebonblade Reaper. I guess whenever it swings that dicey hook-scythe of his, both you and your unfortunate opponent take a Heartless Hidetsugu-sized blow. Tainted Sigil tips the scales in your favor and provides you with more life to feed the Reaper. Lots of cards should be hitting the graveyard, with all this discarding and sacrificing and all. Grave Consequences (which couldn't have a more appropriate name) could be a neat trump card.

Of course, I was all excited to be the combo player when an obvious solution hit me: lifelink. Regular old creature damage can turn on the Sigil as well, and it might as well be something that can give me even more life! Just to be different and not choose game-winners like Exalted Angel or Windbrisk Raptor, I went with Doubtless One. Ebonblade Reaper and Stern Judge are Clerics, as is Cabal Archon (who drains life and fills the graveyard—perfect!) and Mutavault. Shields of Velis Vel is a clutch card in those situations.

Doubtless One

From lifelink, I went to the opposite: beaters that hurt both you and your opponent. Flesh Reaver is dangerous, but less so when a Sigil is planted on your board. Bellowing Fiend, meanwhile, provides flying and is barely used. Speaking of barely used cards, how about Plague of Vermin? Go ahead and pay 15 life, because your Sigil can cover you. Your opponent can either decide to give you more life or more Rats. Either way, it'll probably lead to their short demise.

Clerical Caste

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Children of Korlis is also good friends with the Nightmares of Odyssey block, specifically Soulgorger Orgg. Tainted Sigil, likewise, seems decent with Laquatus's Champion. When else are you going to target yourself? With something like Phyrexian Vault on the board, you could gain the 6 life, draw a card, and bring it back with Phyrexian Reclamation for a once-a-turn engine. Or something.

Scythe, Lover of Queens

I assume that the previous headline is the rather pompous title of the mirror image of Unscythe, Killer of Kings. Hey, it's an Unscythe. I just had to figure out what the regular old Scythe would be like, if the terrifying Grixis-tinged equipment is the opposite model. As exciting as that sounds, creepy armory from Grixis is more tangible at the moment. Those who also dig patterns might notice that this is also a colored artifact (and probably one of the only red ones ... sorry again, 2080ers!), but never fear. Today's last deck does not deal with the amazing combo opportunities of Etherwrought Page.

Unscythe, Killer of Kings

The following deck, however, deals with the infinite, something Unscythe, Killer of Kings is capable of. There are probably many ways of doing this, but here are just two that I have found. One uses another explosively Johnny card, Intruder Alarm, and Kamahl, Pit Fighter to go off. Have the Equipment on Kamahl, and have another creature with toughness less than 4 to begin. Kill that creature, and the Alarm will untap Kamahl, Pit Fighter when Unscythe creates a Zombie token. Repeat, targeting the token, and just have Pandemonium or something go for the kill.

The second way is the one I actually like better, despite the use of Kamahl in the first one. This time, just give Unscythe to any generic pinger that can poke something for one for free, like Prodigal Pyromancer. The kicker is that Death Pits of Rath is in play, which is neat because across the tabletops I've seen, it often isn't. Use your kingkilling pinger to off any creature on the board thanks to the Death Pits (go after your own Walls if you need to.) Unscythe will make a token, and Intruder Alarm will untap your Pyromancer. Repeat, targeting the tokens now, and viva la infinite!

These combos use similar cards, so naturally I stuffed them into the same deck. With luck, you'll draw into one of them. Walls help you stave off attacks until you land your artifacts and enchantments. Death Pits of Rath is pretty nutty with a lowly Flame Jab, and if needed, Unscythe can just play beatdown.


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You have it, I have it. We all tend to lean towards the things we prefer over others, or at least I do when I'm building decks. For instance, today's last deck, which is also capable of going infinite, uses some of my favorite strategies and card types. One of these cards is Vengeful Rebirth. Now, Alara Reborn hasn't really been out long enough for me to name any real favorites besides maybe Bituminous Blast, but Vengeful Rebirth is another of those red and green "addition" cards. For instance, Exploding Borders (definitely a favorite) is simply Rampant Growth + Lava Axe. I like that. Frenzied Tilling (an old friend) is simply Rampant Growth + Stone Rain. I also like that. Vengeful Rebirth doesn't have any land searching within its frame, but I like to think of it as Woodland Guidance + Riddle of Lightning (to be a little more exotic and a little less accurate.)

One of my favorite cards of all time definitely has to be Spellweaver Helix, and yes, that is a light bulb flashing above your head. Having loads of Vengeful Rebirth copies essentially negates the exiling clause of the Rebirth. Of course, the Helix needs another sorcery, preferably an easily cast sorcery, to work its spellweaving. In the past I've abused sorceries with buyback, flashback, and retrace with Helix, but here there is no need for such things. The copy of Vengeful Rebirth will simply bring the activating sorcery back into your hand, doing some damage along the way.

What mystery sorcery am I hinting at? Only the Helix veteran itself: Channel the Suns. If you're a bit confused, here's the combo in a nutshell. Have the Helix imprinting these sorceries. Cast Channel the Suns to add to your mana pool. The Vengeful copy happens first however, and you use it to bring back Channel the Suns #2 from your graveyard to your hand. Once the stack is clear, you'll be in the same exact position, except you have in your mana pool and you've Scorching Missiled your opponent. Now you can spend of that to cast the returned Channel the Suns and start the loop over with one mana to spare. So not only is this infinite damage, but infinite mana!

Channel the Suns

Getting the Channel the Suns where they need to be isn't hard. Infernal Tutor can find duplicates of any card in your hand, and is a sorcery. Burning Wish on the Helix is scary indeed. Just cast the Channel the Suns to pay for Helixs or Dragonsoul Knight if you want.

Vengeful Rebirth is nice without going infinite, too. Bring back any Tutor with a Shock to boot. Shriekmaw is simply evil here. Bringer of the Black Dawn is the hat trick: tutoring, -ing, and being expensive-ing. Suspend cards like to cheat on converted mana cost tricks, and Search for Tomorrow is one of my favorites. Curse of the Cabal is particularly mean.


Bringer of the Black Dawn

I added a Maelstrom Nexus as a singleton, and if you ask me, any cascade card makes a fun singleton. (Pay for it with Channel the Suns, of course.) Oh, what the heck. Bituminous Blasts enter, capping off a deck I just might build in real life.

Channeled Vengeance

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A sideboard would include one copy of each 3-of sorcery as well as any fun sorcery you can think of. I leave it up to you.

Before we part for the week, a word about the Birthday Contest. I've received an enormous amount of interest this (about 150 decks so far, with a week to go) and I thank you all. Some general questions have popped up, however, and here are the answers.

Ante cards have the green light. It wouldn't be fair if somebody had Contract From Below in their pile but couldn't use it. Similarly, Un-cards are definitely okay.

Some people noticed that their birthday was on a weekend some years and, puzzled, filled that slot with the closest weekday card. Sadly, that is not allowed. Most people so far have done the proper thing and skipped these weekend years.

Finally, you may only send one submission, although if these clarifications disqualify your deck, you may resend.

Thanks all, see you next time!

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