Bad Decisions

Posted in From the Lab on November 18, 2013

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.

Welcome back to the Lab, my fellow mad scientists. I've got an interesting experiment planned for today. We're going to have a bit of fun with mind control. Not Mind Control, mind you. Controlling creatures is far too easy. We're going to control other players.

A Contest of Wills

Wielding the power of Mindslaver, you can control your opponent for a turn, making all choices for him or her. Controlling your opponent forever with cards like Academy Ruins to bring back the artifact is old hat at this point, so I have another idea. Instead of retaining control forever, we're just going to make some extremely bad decisions for our opponent. So bad, in fact, that they prove to be fatal.

Mages' Contest is an odd little card that is essentially a sort of counterspell for red. However, it can be used for far more evil purposes. When you are controlling your opponent, you can cast any spell, then target it with Mages' Contest. You start the bidding off at 1, and then your opponent bids, say, 10,000. "Oh well, I guess you win. Your spell doesn't get countered. Also you are dead."

Another great card for this is Tidal Control, which works from the opposite end. You have to cast a red or green spell, and then can activate Tidal Control's ability as many times as he or she can afford. At an even life total, this means instant death. At an odd life total, your opponent will still be alive at 1 life.

Mages' Contest
Tidal Control

So, you need to cast a red or green spell on your opponent's turn, which will be countered, and you need to be able to deal 1 damage to your opponent. There are a couple cards that can help both of these problems. Lava Dart and Geistflame are both red instants, so they can be countered with Tidal Control. They also both deal 1 damage, so they can be used to kill an opponent at 1 life. Just to tie it all together, they have flashback, so they can do both at the same time.

Fabricate is a great tool for searching up Mindslaver, and with multiple cards to fill the other half of the combo, you shouldn't need any more tutors. Now the only question that remains is what kind of shell to put the deck in. I tend to lean toward mana acceleration much of the time, so I'll shake it up with this one and make it a control deck. After all, both of your win conditions are counterspells of sorts.

For some more consistent counters, I'll throw in Mana Leak and newcomer Dissolve. Dissolve's scry 1 should make it slightly easier to dig to your combo, and Mana Leak is just a solid counterspell that can be easily cast on turn two.

Mana Leak

Cyclonic Rift can help deal with anything bad that does resolve, and Fact or Fiction can refill your hand with counterspells, find a combo piece, or even both. It all depends on how your opponent splits the piles. Having odd cards like Tidal Control and Mage's Contest in here makes that much harder, and the flashback spells don't really care which pile they end up in.


Download Arena Decklist


This next deck was sent to me by James Cannon (no relation). He created a deck around the idea of Elite Arcanist going infinite with Triton Tactics. You could combine the two with any creature that makes more than one mana to produce infinite mana, but James took a faster route. With Zhur-Taa Druid as the second creature you untap, you deal 1 damage to your opponent on each iteration, killing him or her instantly.

James put the combo into a defensive shell, using Deadly Recluse and Omenspeaker to soak up attacks while killing other creatures with Magma Jet and Izzet Charm. Here's the list he provided.

James Cannon's Elite Tactics

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Not-So-Standard Standard

I decided to build my own take on the deck. I kept the central combo and Standard legality of the original but lost the budget restrictions and added a little sub-theme of my own.

Elite Arcanist, Zhur-Taa Druid, and Triton Tactics are all still here, so that lays out the colors of the deck for me. However, I do like to cut down on extra colors whenever possible, so I elected to make the deck primarily blue and red, splashing green for the Druid.

Elite Arcanist
Zhur-Taa Druid

One of the main failings of many combo decks is that the cards aren't very good if you don't have the whole combo. With this particular combo, we can limit that effect somewhat. Zhur-Taa Druid is already decent on its own. It does accelerate your mana if you cast it on turn two, and it provides a consistent source of damage throughout the game.

Triton Tactics was created to help out the heroic mechanic, so I decided to build the deck with a small heroic subtheme to take advantage of the card. Triton Fortune Hunter not only has heroic, but its ability allows you to draw extra cards, helping find your combo pieces more quickly. Akroan Crusader will create a Soldier token every time you target it, helping you stay alive in the meantime. I also included Coordinated Assault as an additional heroic enabler.

Elite Arcanist already fits in reasonably well with the heroic theme. Imprinting Triton Tactics on the Arcanist is already what you want to do for your combo, but even without Zhur-Taa Druid, it allows you to trigger a heroic ability for every mana you spend. Having access to ": Draw a card" and as many one-mana 1/1s as you can handle seem like decent way to win the game already.

Triton Tactics
Triton Fortune Hunter

Elite Arcanist works with any instant, so I'll include a few more options. Dissolve can be used to defend yourself and your combo early on, but it really shines when imprinted on the Arcanist. Suddenly, your opponent is faced with a massive wall of countermagic that will make it extremely difficult to accomplish much of anything.

Magma Jet can be used to kill off small creatures while also digging for your combo pieces. When imprinted on Elite Arcanist, it turns into a relentless source of both damage and card selection. Although it can't be exiled with Elite Arcanist, I've added a few copies of Mizzium Mortars as a more heavyweight removal spell. It can even be used as a one-sided sweeper later in the game, getting rid of most of the average riff-raff you'll come across.

Magma Jet
Mizzium Mortars

Since you're already planning on casting so many instants and sorceries, especially with Elite Arcanist on the board, Young Pyromancer seemed like a great inclusion. Triggering off over a quarter of the spells in the deck, it can make it significantly more difficult for your opponent to get through on the ground.

Elite Heroes

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How Elite?

Since I have a Standard-legal deck in today's article, I decided to eschew the normal arena match. Instead, I'll be playing a real Standard match against one of the top decks in the format. Let's see how the heroes fare when thrust into the competitive scene.

Game 1

I started things off with Temple of Mystery, and my opponent played a Temple of Abandon. I followed up with a Mountain and Young Pyromancer, and my opponent played a Forest before slamming down a Kalonian Tusker. I played a land and cast Triton Fortune Hunter before passing the turn, and my opponent attacked with the Tusker. I took the damage, and my opponent played a Forest and ended the turn.

I attacked with both of my creatures, and my opponent flashed in Boon Satyr to block Young Pyromancer, and I cast Coordinated Assault, making an Elemental token, drawing a card, and killing the Satyr. Sweet deal. I played a mountain, cast a second Triton Fortune Hunter, and passed the turn.

Young Pyromancer

My opponent played a land and cast Polukranos, World Eater. I played Stomping Ground and passed back. My opponent attacked with Polukranos, World Eater and Kalonian Tusker. I blocked the Tusker with my Elemental and Polukranos, World Eater with both Triton Fortune Hunters. I cast another Coordinated Assault on them, drawing two cards and making a token. Polukranos, World Eater bit the dust, but my opponent cast another one.

I played an Island, cast Akroan Crusader, then passed the turn. My opponent played a Forest and activated Polukranos, World Eater's monstrosity ability, targeting Young Pyromancer and Akroan Crusader. I cast Triton Tactics on them, giving them +0/+3 and making two tokens. My opponent passed the turn.

I played Steam Vents and passed the turn. My opponent played a land, cast Stormbreath Dragon, and attacked with everything. I blocked Kalonian Tusker with the three Elemental tokens and the Hydra with Akroan Crusader. I took 4 from the Dragon.

I played another land and passed the turn. My opponent played Temple of Abandon and cast Mistcutter Hydra for five, then attacked with everything. I cast Triton Tactics on my Fortune Hunters and blocked Mistcutter Hydra with the Elemental and Polukranos, World Eater with a Triton Fortune Hunter. I took 4 from the Dragon.

I cast Zhur-Taa Druid and Akroan Crusader, then played a land and passed the turn. My opponent activated Stormbreath Dragon's monstrosity ability, dealing 1 damage to me. My opponent then attacked with everything again. I blocked Mistcutter with my Crusader and Polukranos, World Eater with Triton Fortune Hunter. I cast Magma Jet on the Hunter, but failing to find Elite Arcanist, I conceded.

Stormbreath Dragon

Game 2

I played Izzet Guildgate and passed the turn. My opponent played Temple of Abandon and passed back. I played an Island, cast Young Pyromancer, and ended my turn. My opponent played a Mountain and cast Sylvan Caryatid before passing the turn.

I played Izzet Guildgate, cast a second Young Pyromancer, and ended my turn. My opponent cast Elvish Mystic and Scavenging Ooze before passing back. I paid 2 life to put a Breeding Pool onto the battlefield untapped, then cast Elite Arcanist, exiling Triton Tactics. I ended my turn.

My opponent attacked with Scavenging Ooze and I took the damage. Then, my opponent played a land and cast another Elvish Mystic along with Polukranos, World Eater. On my turn, I cast Akroan Crusader.

My opponent cast Domri Rade and used his -2 ability, targeting Elite Arcanist and Polukranos, World Eater. I activated the Arcanist in response, and my opponent responded to that by activating Polukranos, World Eater for one, targeting the Arcanist. I responded to that with a Triton Tactics from my hand, targeting Akroan Crusader and Elite Arcanist. After Triton Tactics untapped the Arcanist, I activated it a second time. When the stack finally resolved, I had nine 1/1 tokens, and my Arcanist was a 1/10, still alive despite the 7 damage on it. My opponent ended the turn.

I sent my nine tokens at my opponent. Polukranos, World Eater and Scavenging Ooze each ate one, Sylvan Caryatid blocked another, and my opponent took 6 damage. I ended my turn. My opponent activated Domri Rade, finding nothing, then cast Scavenging Ooze and Stormbreath Dragon before attacking for 4 with the Dragon. I used Elite Arcanist to make twelve tokens during the end step, then untapped and attacked with everything for the win.

Elite Arcanist

Game 3

My opponent played Temple of Abandon and passed the turn, and I copied the move. Then my opponent played a Forest and cast Sylvan Caryatid, and I paid 2 life to play Breeding Pool untapped and cast Zhur-Taa Druid. My opponent played a Forest and cast Polukranos, World Eater. I played an Island and cast Triton Fortune Hunter and Akroan Crusader, dealing 1 damage to my opponent. I passed the turn.

My opponent played a Mountain and activated Polukranos, World Eater's monstrosity ability for two, killing Zhur-Taa Druid and Akroan Crusader, then attacked for 7; I took the damage. On my turn, I played a Mountain and cast Young Pyromancer and Akroan Crusader.

My opponent cast Stormbreath Dragon and attacked with both creatures. I blocked the Hydra with Akroan Crusader and dropped to 7. I cast Magma Jet on my Triton Fortune Hunter, but failed to find Mizzium Mortars and died to the monstrous Dragon on the following turn.

Polukranos, World Eater

Maybe Not So Much

Well, that didn't exactly go according to plan, although Elite Arcanist definitely showed off what it can do in the second game, even without the combo. Thanks to James for the deck idea, and remember to keep sending in your crazy combos! Until next time, may you avoid being murdered by dragons. See ya!

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