Ascension. A fascinating concept, to ethereally rise into a vortex spun from mind fibers. Intriguing, right? Now imagine that, but with dark. All around. A black mass of nothingness... or is it everythingness? Could ascension truly be at the tip of our fingers? Yet without ignition, we brush past it, only scraping it in dreams, unable to detect it, catching the merest glimpses of it like shades in a mirror.
For now, humanity remains ignorant of the supreme exhilaration, a bleakness reflected by our compatriots of Innistrad. The Dark Ascension spoiler has been out for days now, and every time I stray near it, it yanks me inside and onward to a journey where these questions pop up like natural attractions on the side of the path.
Screeching Skaab | Art by Clint Cearley
My favorite Magic sets tend to be the ones that appeal to not just my Johnny side (well advertised by now) but my Vorthos side as well. I thought Innistrad (the plane) was incredibly expansive and well-sculpted. The mechanical innovations seemed to me very promising—particularly transform. The various sun-and-moon cards in the set, however, were all creatures (excepting Garruk Relentless, of course). I knew, then, to save my hyper excitement for the real wackiness, of which Garruk was but a precursor.
Right: Receive this exclusive promo version at Prereleases this weekend! (While supplies last)
For me, Dark Ascension delivers. This is the set where really dark, twisted stuff happens to Humans (right on the card text!). They're being diced and drained by various Vampires, sacrificed to Ravenous Demons (a neat and bloody good riff on Lord of the Pit), attacked by psychotic members of their own race (Skirsdag Flayer, Deranged Outcast), betrayed by their former ringleader (Mikaeus, the Unhallowed... just wait for a certain theme week, folks), and completely consumed in an actual Zombie Apocalypse. This is the set where you can bust out the scariest thing to ever grace a game board (Withengar Unbound. You know this to be true.). THIS is the Gothic Horror set. This is the set to play Paranoid to. (Or insert your favorite metal album. That's mine.)
Now that the whole set is opened up, I officially sound the Johnny conch shell. I will probably need lots of help uncovering the secrets of this set. If you think of a wacky way to use a Dark Ascension card, let me know in a shapely email. Judging by the email responses to both of my preview cards, I should be in luck for a month or so of material.
Sudden Dissapearance | Art by Cliff Childs
Lots of people emailed me in response to Sudden Disappearance, for example. The most common combo in these inboxes is indeed the one that seems well circulated around Magical forums. Why, some wanted to know, did I not think of using Sundial of the Infinite, one of my well-frothed-about previews from last year? If you end your turn prematurely, the exiled cards never come back! Yep, that makes Leyline of Anticipation + Magus of the Disk seem a bit clumsy. I can only surmise that the combo simply didn't occur to me. Either that or I thought of it but purposely left it out of the article to prompt a flood of emails about the Sundial combo that I missed, and in fact, ensure the existence of this paragraph. I guess you can't know, can you?
In a way, I'm still happy with that Magus of the Disk deck, despite the slight lapse of my combo sense. How often does that card pop up into your spellscape? I'd hazard a guess as: Not a lot. And here's the thing: that guess is indeed a guess, flimsy and potentially inaccurate. Maybe Magus of the Disk was the frustrating nuclear weapon in an early Magic buddy's deck. Maybe you have one in a Commander deck. My point, basically, is that due to the infinity of cards placed under the lens of the finite amount of Magical minds, the obscurity of some cards becomes irrelevant. Gaze through your Magical spyglass. If you only see the words "Limited" and "Constructed" there, you are still plugged into the notion that Magic is just another game, defined by winning and losing. You could be seeing a streaming kaleidoscope of color and possibility, a windblown natural universe in which patterns can be discerned to spell out a sought-after message.
Really, though, I'd put Sundial of the Infinite in that exclusive group of Johnny cards that are just too stupidly good. Adding them to any deck, even just a lone copy, is an act of supercharging the deck, giving it ridiculous potential fireworks to blast off. A recent example came in the barrage of Havengul Lich emails. Noting my use of Bloodline Keeper in that deck, one person wanted to know why I didn't just skip the Lich antics and use Intruder Alarm? Maybe 'cuz Intruder Alarm is totally broken with so many cards (Imperious Perfect and Llanowar Elves comes to mind) and is so nuts that it broke through the misty boundaries of normal combination cards and is now part of this exclusive group. Club Borken. Other members include Doubling Season ("What's that?" says someone out there, perhaps new to Magic but with an early deckbuilding kick, caressing his or her black-green Zombie token deck with Parallel Lives as its centerpiece. "Only a card that's about to wreck your mind," I reply.), Rite of Replication (five copies of any creature is nearly always amazing—I've seen it cast on creatures up and down the power scale, from Sea Gate Oracle to Rune-Scarred Demon), and Knowledge Pool (for six colorless mana COMPLETELY DISTORT THE GAME).
I think I mentioned a certain "barrage of Havengul Lich emails." Yep, they were clogging up my inbox a couple weeks ago. Leo Schwarz hit me up with a tasty turn sequence in Standard that could lead to a quick game. As he put it: "Turn 1: Faithless Looting, pitching the Lich and Devil's Play. Turn 2: Heartless Summoning. Turn 3: for Necrotic Ooze. for Priest of Urabrask. It dies, you have in pool. Ooze can activate Lich's ability, you pay to recast, you pay to cast, giving you again, and the loop only takes . Flashback Devil's Play for the win." I love the use of Faithless Looting, one of many commons in the new set that I just adore. (Nothing tops Sanctuary Cat, though.)
This scouring of the Lich emails leads to me to today's first deck. Reader Isc laid down a neat riff on further implications of returning a Grimgrin, Corpse-Born with the Lich.
"The way the deck is meant to play (in my mind) is to ramp out mana as fast as possible to play your Havengul Lich (using Dimir Signet or Darkslick Shores to get the normally inaccessible color). During the ramp, use Ponder and the Shrine to sculpt your deck to get whatever you need, and Silverglade to discard out a Bloom Tender and Grimgrin (Goblin Fireslinger too if you want to go that way for the infinite kill). Once those parts are set up, you can begin an infinite stream of +1/+1 counters. But if you add Transguild Courier, you can add an infinite supply of mana, which can then be funneled into a big Fireball, adding the Fireslinger to the combo, or to force out a large Increasing Confusion to take away your opponent's deck."
I really like the idea of using Bloom Tender. A modification I would suggest is Scuttlemutt over Transguild Courier. The Scarecrow has yummy activated abilities for the Lich to leech, and it provides more mana acceleration and fixing.
I'll feature one more deck for today. As always, I need to strategize and save certain cards for certain theme weeks. What's a relatively innocent-looking card from Dark Ascension that's easily broken?
I'll go with Midnight Guard. A fairly simplistic guy, the Guard merely untaps whenever another creature enters the battlefield. The flavor seems easy enough to decipher. This Guard is very watchful, always prepared for any newcomers. The big attraction point for me, though, is the lack of the word "nontoken." This means I can go infinite with Presence of Gond. Slap the Presence on Midnight Guard and you've got infinite 1/1 Elf tokens. Token strategies seem like the road to pursue here, so I added Selesnya Evangel to make good use of my untap-happy Midnight Guard.
Any effect that allows me to tap an untapped creature I control for a particular benefit seems amazing in a deck with a bunch of tokens and Midnight Guard. Glare of Subdual slides right into the budding green and white feel of the deck, and it's an excellent defensive card. What I'm really jazzed about, though, is Cryptic Gateway.
This card is an old favorite of mine, and was one of the first cards to trigger the Johnny siren that currently wails in my head all the time. Here's the lowdown: With two Midnight Guards, tap them both to send a Human or Soldier through the Cryptic Gateway. After consulting various card databases, I found my ideal card: Kor Skyfisher, which can bounce itself back to your hand. Since it'll untap the Guards upon entering the battlefield, this becomes an infinite machine. All that's needed for capitalization would be something like Essence Warden (infinite life... also seems good with the Presence of Gond combo), Stormfront Riders (a wacky singleton), Sigil Captain (ditto... and it's a Soldier), or Mantle of Leadership (on an evasive creature; a Skyfisher or anything boosted by a Bant Battlemage should do.)
Yep, I just snuck the whole article into the introduction. That's a first. It just goes to show how excited I am about Dark Ascension. Next week, though, we'll take a bit of a break to tackle the results of a certain contest! Until then.