Some combos are sneaky. They slip through the cracks of card evaluation with ease, moving like liquid into the shady corners of the ever-entangling threads that make up Magic. Like a swiftly thrown dart hitting the bull's eye, these combos smack the table and resonate. Not surprisingly, I enjoy discovering these combos on my frequent walks through the infinite.
Whenever a new set comes out, I try to read the Card Image Gallery many times, and draft the set if I can, to assimilate the existence of these new Magic cards in my mind's eye. Then, when I get to build decks every week, I use the new set as essentially jet fuel. I usually sputter out just as a new release hits (creating an interesting and sanity-bending roller coaster effect). At this point, I'm still riding on Innistrad's waves. In fact, I've been sitting on some of these deck ideas for a while, since the last two nontheme weeks were devoted to contest results (Part 1, Part 2). (By the way: Y'all want another contest? I love running them, because sifting through the numerous submissions is sooooo worth two weeks of getting to copy and paste—I mean, because reader participation is something this website strives for! Is that better?)
So let's see what darts Innistrad enables us Planeswalkers to sling. (Why the dart imagery? Simple: NEVER turn out a palindrome opportunity.)
- Stone Free
It can be funny how Magical history progresses. Stony Silence seems like nothing more than a strange and sinister hoser of artifacts, randomly thrown into Innistrad. Yet its inclusion was probably based on the preceding block. Scars of Mirrodin, a heavily artifact-based block, probably needed a card to balance it out (for, ick, tournament purposes). What's amusing to me is that the set after the original Mirrodin had an equally bewildering artifact hoser (Imi Statue). Patterns are cool!
Stony Silence petrifies artifacts, specifically their ability to have abilities. (The meta-ability?) Not that enticing, until you remember two things. First, that adding mana to your pool is an activated ability. Second, that Mycosynth Lattice exists.
That is to say: No more mana. Ever. Lands are turned off completely. Even something like Seal of Cleansing won't work. At this point, if you're ahead in the creature front, you can bash for the win over the course of many silent turns. Running a 62-card deck is an odd victory condition as well (so I will!).
Of course, to get around this "no-mana" issue, the deck is packed with cards that can be cast for free (well, mana-free, at least). For instance, Abolish can be cast without mana, and alongside a Mycosynth Lattice it becomes an instant problem destroyer. Myr Enforcer becomes a free 4/4 that can beat down for the win. Sunscour is a nice board-sweeper effect that can be cast pre-Enforcer, equalizing the creature front.
Sunscour requires lots of white cards, however, but this problem was easily remedied. Enlightened Tutor is still a high-quality tutor of artifacts and enchantments. Oblivion Ring solves problems. Endless Horizons is a fine card for any Plains-heavy deck, as it thins your deck considerably and provides a guaranteed land a turn. Indomitable Archangel can be another victory condition, and it's nutty with a Lattice out.
I wanted permanents that did things without needing mana, and, weirdly, Porphyry Nodes seems perfect for this sort of deck. Once it's out, it operates without mana and slowly wipes out creatures. Emeria, the Sky Ruin is a great way to get back fallen Myr Enforcers or Indomitable Archangels. Finally, I decided Epochrasite was worth four slots here. It's a great creature, acting as a chump-blocker in the early game and just never leaving, always coming back bigger. After you lock down the board, a subsequent Sunscour would kill everything but Epochrasite, which then goes into suspension, only to return.
- Preyed Upon
I've long been enamored with Auras that have other targets beside boring old permanents, like creatures or lands. My tastes lie in abstract realms, like "Enchant instant card in a graveyard." (Note: That's a real piece of card text.) But I'll happily accept enchanting players. I remember when Psychic Possession blew my mind. Enchant opponent? An expansion later, Paradox Haze (previewed in this very column!) took up my top spot. Ever since, I've wanted a set to riff on this obvious design space.
Innistrad has answered my pleas in the form of Curses, which I find flavorful and exciting. So far, my appetite for Curses has been but whetted, and I hope to see some wacky ones later in the block. Of the available Curses, Curse of Stalked Prey has induced the most lip tapping. It obviously benefits from being in a hyper-aggressive deck, but I wondered wackier.
Could there be a substantial reason to Curse myself? As it turns out, there is indeed. Get a load of Cytoplast Manipulator. Since anything that attacks and hits you automatically gets a +1/+1 counter, the Manipulator can just straight-up steal it. Another benefactor of self-Cursing is Kulrath Knight. After one Cursed attack, your opponent's creatures will be stuck under the Knight's patrol.
I wanted other ways to put +1/+1 counters on creatures. Dragon Blood was pretty straight-forward, and Mark of Mutiny seems really funny. Take your guy, make it a bit bigger and swing, then give it back, except it can't attack or block now. Scoops?
I cushioned the combo in a classic blue and red Elemental shell. Smokebraider can power out a turn-three Kulrath Knight or Mulldrifter. Brighthearth Banneret links my two themes effectively. Flamekin Harbinger can find any Elemental in the deck, including two silver bullets. Spitebellows can waste creatures, and Hateflayer can waste opponents.
The final four slots were given to Sun Droplet. I am giving any +1/+1 counters like hotcakes, after all. Better to prepare for ruin with one of the better stalling artifacts. Oh, and just as a reminder, in case you're eating all my crazy-laced words: Cursing your opponent is still definitely viable! I just like options.
- Mad in the Mirror
And then there's Mirror-Mad Phantasm. What a bonkers card. Legend has it the mythic Spirit was mentally conceived by Richard Garfield himself. Everything about this card is wonky, from the bizarre 5/1 stats to the eerie artwork and implied flavor. And then there's that ability.
At first, I thought Mirror-Mad Phantasm was nothing but an excellent way to self-mill. A singleton Phantasm in a deck could very well put over half your library into your graveyard. I dreamed of shenanigans with Laboratory Maniac, or rumbling in with massive Boneyard Wurms.
Then I received an email from a familiar reader, Black Jester, who has sporadically but successfully contributed to this column over the years. (Wait, I've been doing this for years?) Black Jester's credits include a five-color cascade deck and inspiring the Planeswalker Contest (Part 1, Part 2) that ran two years ago.
He's topped himself this time.
The first word that popped out at me on Mirror-Mad Phantasm was "owner." It goes back to its OWNER'S deck. But, what if the owner was your opponent? And what if your opponent doesn't actually OWN Mirror-Mad Phantasm? I guess they just flip their entire deck into their graveyard! *cue malicious laughter* MWAA HAA HAA!!!
So, how do you activate a MMP that you own but your opponent doesn't own? You give them one. That's right, I steal one of your creatures, Cytoshape it INTO a MMP, then activate its ability. The creature goes back into their deck, stops being a MMP, and they get decked. Let me run that by you again:
Step 1: Steal a creature.
Step 2: Turn it into MMP.
Step 3: Activate it.
Step 4: ????????
Step 5: PROFIT!
This is hysterical. Black Jester's suggested method of ensuring your opponent has a creature was Beast Within, a removal spell I can certainly run with. Forbidden Orchard works just as well (and your opponent is likely running creatures anyway).
Black Jester's included decklist was chock full of singletons and was described as being geared for multiplayer. I was inspired by the intent of the deck, however, and mixed up one of my own.
How to steal creatures? Chamber of Manipulation is one great way. After the initial down payment, it costs a mere card in hand to steal a creature for a turn (and that's all you need). My other creature stealer is Sower of Temptation, which doubles as a very solid card for staying alive (just steal a threatening creature).
Beast Within is excellent removal, but I wanted more. I remembered that Cytoshape is effectively removal if you're playing with 0/0 creatures, as you can just Cytoshape an opposing creature into one and it'll get insta-killed. My 0/0s survive in the first place, because they came with +1/+1 counters, like Fertilid (an excellent mana ramper) and Plaxcaster Frogling (a card my mind leaps to in these deck-building situations). Even Boneyard Wurm sort of works, provided their graveyard is relatively empty. Ushering in Wurms led me to revolve my Plan B around them. Plan B is to use Mirror-Mad Phantasm as I described above, loading my graveyard with creatures so my Wurms are huge.
Sakura-Tribe Elder rules, as a rule. I also felt Citanul Woodreaders would be excellent for this deck. At their full power, they draw two cards for you, which is great, and even as a 1/4 for , they still fend off 3/3 Beasts.
A single Restock made the team, and after decking out my land base, my version of Black Jester's idea is thus (though I kept his fun music reference of a deck name):
Hope you all enjoyed. Until next time!