Common Courtesy

Posted in From the Lab on April 21, 2011

By Noel deCordova

Welcome back to the Lab. It's another Thursday, which means another day of cool card interactions. Today these interactions are strictly black-symboled only. Gold and silver get the short end of the stick for once.

Before I dive in, I want to quickly address Bazaargate, otherwise known as the mistake I made in last week's article. Many wrote in to remind me that Bazaar Trader cannot actually give Dissipation Field to your opponent, since it's an enchantment. Hmmm. That does add a wrinkle to that deck.

Mistakes happen, folks, and this time I messed up in my presentation. See, I actually didn't build that deck. Last week was a mailbag column, remember. I loved the idea behind the deck, so much that I assumed the deck worked. A classic psychological pitfall of Johnnys. As some of you brought up, adding Liquimetal Coating to the deck corrects the combo. I'm glad I got your minds whirring even in failure.

I'm not too worried about it, so let's move on, shall we? (I'm green-lighting a massive cover-up as we speak anyway.)

And with that, let's move on to Common Week.

    March of the Black Symbols

Commons are great. As Mark Rosewater has said in multiple design articles, commons are the crux of any set. Seemingly, the more Rosewater articles I absorb, the less I understand about card design. There's just so much! But the black-symboled cards play a huge role in the reception of a Magic set in general. Check out the nifty New Phyrexia Mechanics article, in which a couple cards from the set were previewed. Whether it was a nod to Common Week or not, they were all common and exciting to boot. (Colored artifacts return!)

I decided to give myself a challenge this week. As always, the challenge manifested in the form of: Build a Johnny deck. This week, though, I decided to give myself two key restrictions. First, I must use only commons. Second, I must stay in the Standard card pool. This harkens back to the old days of this website, in which Nate Heiss underwent a similar challenge. At the time, the Standard card pool was mid-Mirrodin (the original one, kids), with Onslaught block around as well. Nate noted the affinity for basic land cards (namely Tangle Golem and Spire Golem) had naturally high converted mana costs. Scourge (the third set in Onslaught block) happened to have a miniature theme of cards that cared about converted mana costs. Namely, Rush of Knowledge, which could draw six or seven cards at a time. Hopefully you drew into more Golems and Rushes, and finished off a giant turn of these antics with a Temporal Fissure, returning tons of your opponent's permanents to their hand. It was a quirky specimen of a deck that stuck in my mind at the time.

Inspired by the challenge, I decided to undertake it as well. As of now, Standard consists of Zendikar block, Magic 2011, and the first two sets of Scars of Mirrodin block (New Phyrexia just misses the cut this week.) What Johnnytastic combinations could exist amongst the commons of these sets?

I love spending time on Gatherer. Whenever a new set comes out, I basically download the whole thing into my brain. It's not a foolproof process by any means; it's rather like eating cereal out of your hands. No matter what, some milk spills, and the same goes for some cards. But I like to think I have a decent command of card names and functions. Commons are ironically the hardest cards to memorize for me, because it's simply easier to remember exciting uncommons and rares. So strolling through the commons of Standard was a bit tedious to start out.

However, my heart started quivering when I stumbled upon Overgrown Battlement. Falling into the fine tradition of the green two-drop defender that provides mana (previous examples include Vine Trellis and Wall of Roots), Overgrown Battlement could be the best one yet. Alone, it taps for one. Slap another Battlement on the board, though, and the green mana will start to flow.

I want my Battlement to tap for gobs of mana. That means we'll need some more defenders. Are there any that meet my dual requirements? Wall of Tanglecord (secretly a Limited staple) sure as heck does. Reinforced Bulwark steps up as a severely underused Wall as well.

Now that we've got some more defenders protecting me from danger, let's get all hypothetical. Let's say my Overgrown Battlement can tap for, oh, five green mana. Pretty nice... but is there any way I could, you know, untap it repeatedly or something? With a card that fulfills my crazy restrictions? Actually, yeah. Say hello to non-Limited-staple Mirran Spy, marked as a Johnny Card to Watch in Noel Land. Cards like this just beg for someone like me to come around and break them in half.

So now I can repeatedly untap my Overgrown Battlement with Mirran Spy... if I have lots of artifacts to cast. But how can I ensure this? Surely there isn't another card that somehow meets my restrictions and slides perfectly into my budding insanity, right? Wrong. It's the trump card of every Limited infect deck ever, Corpse Cur! (Yes, I'm mentioning Limited quite a bit today. What can I say, the format encourages playing with commons. Ring that theme bell.)

Stick with me here, folks. If you have a Corpse Cur in your hand and another in your graveyard, you can cast the Cur from your hand with Battlement mana, and have the Spy untap the Battlement while you return the second Cur to your hand. Say that five times fast.

There's just one more piece we need to go infinite: A sacrifice outlet to get a Cur into my graveyard, so the cycle can continue forever. Will my insanely restrictive card pool provide me a common sacrifice outlet in Standard? My eyes bugged out of my head when I typed my request into a card database and Rusted Slasher popped up. Rusted Slasher!!! As part of an infinite combo! I love it.

So the whole combo is... have the Curs in their respective places and a Slasher on the battlefield. To achieve infinite mana, you'll need either five defenders on the board (so Overgrown Battlement taps for each time, gaining you a every time) or only three defenders, but two Mirran Spies (so you untap the Battlement twice, tapping for in between). Then go off, casting the Curs over and over, using the Slasher to bin them.

So, now I have infinite green mana. Now what? They generally don't print spells at common (at least game-winning ones... sorry, Molder). But my amazingly adaptive card pool provides yet again, this time in the form of the lovely Invoker cycle from Rise of the Eldrazi. These cards are great mana sinks for combos like this, and Wildheart Invoker can channel all the infinite Battlement mana into an infinitely large trampler. Wow.

However, the deck's going to need lots of support, as this combo isn't exactly easy to cobble together in a game. I didn't want Corpse Cur to be useless half the time, and I also needed an early spark. Ichorclaw Myr was the perfect linking card. It's a great attacker and blocker, and reCurring it seems like a good play.

I also wanted other cards to untap with the Spy besides Overgrown Battlement. Card draw was a definite need, so I turned to fellow perfect fit Reckless Scholar. Since metalcraft was a definite possibility with this deck, and since I needed all the pre-combo defense I could muster, I also went with some copies of Vedalken Certarch. Into the Roil rounds out the deck as a great bounce spell.

The resulting deck is an insane hybrid of infect, defenders, and metalcraft, with a crazy infinite combo hiding as the deck's maximum potential moment. I'm not too familiar with the Pauper scene, but this deck could earn some oddball rogue victories. Even if it doesn't, I'm pretty sure I succeeded here.

Common Nonsense

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I hope you all enjoyed today's column. Next week we enter New Phyrexia! Until then!

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