Housin' Shards

Posted in From the Lab on October 1, 2008

By Noel deCordova

As Shards of Alara is let loose among the general public, I (with teary eyes and a tender heart) have bidden farewell to Time Spiral block and the last set of Ice Age block. Apparently Time Spiral's last vanishing counter came off, causing its rotation. As for Coldsnap, I couldn't afford to pay any more cumulative upkeep. Or hypothermia costs. Or for Jokulmorder, that Timmy-esque rare that screams "Use me!! I'm shiny!" and yet laughs in the face of decent deck-building in general. While thinking up unused angles for forgotten Coldsnap cards last week, I managed to land an Elemental Mastery on the giant orca (who was saddled with Pacifism at the time), and play an Island to create 12 hasty tokens to win the game. That happened all of once, but it was still thrilling.

While talking about Elemental Mastery, I'd like to share a nifty reader combo with the interesting Aura before delving into Shards of Alara (yes, I'm tinkering around with Shards today). Some of you may have seen it before, but it tickled my fancy. Skander brought the unwieldy Elemental Mastery + Duergar Mine-Captain + Thermopod combo to my attention. With a Mastered Mine-Captain, declare an attack, then pay two mana to untap it. Tap the Mine Captain, now a 3/1, to make three tokens, which you then sacrifice to Thermopod to generate enough mana to repeat the process. Eventually you'll wind up with "an infinite-power attacker and infinite mana," as Skander put it. I wanted to write about it last week due to it involving the Coldsnapian Thermopod, but wound up saving it for today.

While talking about reader mail, I'd like to clear a couple of things up. As much as you're miffed about colored artifacts not being, well, colorless, I can't do much about that. I'm just a humble bringer of wacky deck ideas (Santa Claus is known in France and Spain as Pere Noel for a reason, you know) and not a wacky designer of humble card ideas. Secondly, this isn't a much of an issue and probably is already known by everybody, but I can't respond to every email, as much as I'd like to. Two weeks ago I didn't mention that, so I am now, so we're all on the same page. I love reading mail, though, so by all means keep sending!

    Qasali Quesadillas

One of the first cards to be spoiled from Shards of Alara was Qasali Ambusher, albeit through the Visual Spoiler and not from an article preview. When we were chatting with each other on NayAOL, the Ambusher confessed, "I'm missing U." Of course, we immediately hit it off, and I promised to write about it in this column. It's only now, looking at the name tattooed on my arm, that I realize that statement may have had an alternate meaning.

Like my sudden realization, Qasali Ambusher can similarly leap into play from nowhere and crush a shrimpy attacking creature. As long as you control a Forest and a Plains, you're set to Ambush it at will. What drew me to the Ambusher was how free it was. Its mana cost is essentially "Be attacked by something." Of course, two Cat Warriors are better than one. And that's where Cloudstone Curio comes in.

The Curio's curious (let's hear an "LOL" for that wordplay) "nonartifact" clause, seems pretty random, but it avoided potential craziness with free artifact creatures like Phyrexian Walker and Ornithopter. Now, if you already have a Qasali Ambusher in play along with the Curio, you're set for some shenanigans if a creature were to attack you. What if one did?

  1. Play the second Qasali Ambusher that's in your hand for free.
  2. The Curio will trigger, so choose to bounce the first Ambusher.
  3. Since the creature is still attacking you, you can go back to step 1.
  4. Gain ridiculous amounts of life with Soul Warden, put oodles of charge counters on a Door of Destinies (set to Cat or Warrior), put oodles of +1/+1 counters on a Forgotten Ancient to be distributed next turn, make any one creature obscenely large with Leonin Battlemage (also a Cat!), make a magnitude of mana with Tangleroot, or draw a surplus of cards with Primordial Sage.
  5. ???
  6. Profit!

I didn't want to build what would basically be a slightly modified Cat + Door of Destinies deck that Chris Millar already built, however. One of the two paths ahead of me was straight-up Naya colors, which would mean a redder mana base for fun stuff like Pandemonium, Furious Assault, and Incite War. While I'm all for adding red, as I think I've made abundantly clear I love doing, I'll instead go with black, and a really underused card that's been around since Lorwyn fits perfectly: Faerie Tauntings.

Yes, apparently Qasali Ambusher can appease the whims of the fae. Every time you bounce and replay the Ambushers, Faerie Tauntings will trigger and eventually your opponent will be reduced to 0 life. What makes this wacky for me is that Faerie Tauntings was meant for fluttery blue and black instants / creatures (with Faeries, they're basically the same thing.) Infinite kitty engines? Not so much.

Although they actually cost mana, other creatures with flash can trigger the Tauntings as well. I've always thought of King Cheetah as sort of the poster-guy for flash, and it gets bonus points here for being a Cat. Fleetfoot Panther would fit well as Qasali Ambushers 5-7, if it weren't Legacy-only now. Cats! Whitemane Lion is a perfect replacement though, as it bounces itself without the Cloudstone Curio's help. ": Each opponent loses 1 life"? Since when is that white?

Kitty engines are fun and all, but straightforward instants can keep Taunting your opponent. Since our flash-y guys have a "Surprise!" theme to them, combat tricks should do the trick. One of the best to be printed recently is Snakeform. Being attacked with a fat guy? Sure. Snake it and trade with your Soul Warden.

Of course, if your opponent doesn't even attack you, infinite life loss won't be happening. Walking Desecration can influence your opponent's combat decisions, and Forbidden Orchard can make some creatures to attack you with. Most importantly, try not to giggle as your opponent willfully attacks, sealing his or her fate.


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    Dralnu's Looking Glass

Lich's Mirror is the latest addition to the Lich family. Instead of gobbling up permanents like its relatives, however, Lich's Mirror flat-out prevents you from losing the game as long as it's in play. Any smack in the face from Phage, and it's like you reset the game for yourself.

Having a completely empty board seems like a perfect time to play a Balance-esque effect. Your opponent's board is promptly cleared, while all your stuff is safely in your deck. Restore Balance can, assuming you suspended it on your first turn, do just that a turn after Lich's Mirror hits play. Of course, you need a way to kill yourself, and the Pacts from Future Sight are a perfect way to do that. Play an Intervention Pact, then blatantly don't pay the upkeep cost, killing yourself. Lich's Mirror replaces the loss, and then (if you've stacked correctly) the Restore Balance will crush the other side of the board.

Being mostly a casual player, I don't really pay much attention to the Vintage format, but a reader by the name of Cameron McGraw made me aware of the Channel interaction. Somehow accelerate into Channel on your first turn (probably not hard in Vintage with Elvish Spirit Guides and Moxes and such), then play it. Pay 5 life to play Lich's Mirror, then mana-generate yourself to death, making 15 mana. Lich's Mirror will give you 20 more life to burn away for mana, which you can use on any -mana burn spell (or Ivy Elemental for style points) that's in your hand.

A card that has screamed "Use me!" since its creation back in Mirage is Final Fortune. Now that losing isn't actually losing, feel free to Time Walk in red as you will.

Suspend spells and champion creatures from Time Spiral and Lorwyn will cheat creatures into play post-Mirror. Oblivion Ring one Mirror away with another in play for... awesomeness. Greater Gargadon can eat up all the lands you'll be shuffling into your deck anyway, but make sure to leave it at one time counter, else the Mirror will scoop it up too.

Now, all the strategies I've talked about can be reasonably built around, and the brief outlines above can help if you prefer a certain one of those ideas. However, I'm drawn to the wacky, the arcane, the surreal, and the "that's so weird it's dang cool."

I want to use Puca's Mischief to give Lich's Mirror to my opponent, kill him somehow, and watch him gain 20 and draw seven cards. Since my opponent doesn't own Lich's Mirror, it stays in play. The key card I have in play, however, is Rain of Gore. Instead of gaining enough life to get to 20, my opponent will lose that much life. Thus, he or she loses the game again—or would, if Lich's Mirror weren't still in play. Instead, he or she shuffles up again, tries to gain enough life to get to 20 again, and loses even more life this time.

Yes, that's right. I want to kill my opponent an infinite number of times. Ultimate defeat!

Lich's Losses

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You can Mischief away the Mirror early on if you want. Use your draw spells to find the Vortex and the Fury Charm. Lich's Mirror and Illusions of Grandeur help you survive the game. The famous Donate / Illusions of Grandeur combo (updated for the sake of Pucas everywhere) can help you win the first time, and the aforementioned Rain of Gore will make your opponent lose the game an arbitrarily large number of times (sure, it's technically a draw, but you’re not the one who ends the game with infinitely negative life).

The rest of the deck is dedicated to helping you survive until the infinite kill. You can even aim it at yourself to use the Mirror if needed, and painlands help the kill-yourself aspect of the deck. The suspend-y Lotus Bloom can provide mana post-Mirror, and the Gargadon beats down as Plan C. Puca's Mischief can swap for anything tasty on the opponent's side, and Howling Mine doesn't care who controls it.

If you don't get the point of this deck, it's simple. Infinite wins in one game are better than one win in one game. Also, it's wacky. Play at your own risk.

    Don't Tread on Me

Since I'm practically inhaling headache medicine after that last deck, I'm going to take an easier method to this next deck, which if you haven't guessed, is based around Where Ancients Tread. By "easier method," I mean shamelessly using nearly all the ideas pumped out by Kelly Digges in his preview of it in one deck, with a resounding one original contribution from me. Consider it treading on his ideas. But anciently.

Where Ancients Tread (WATty for short) reminds me of a better Æther Charge, since it can hit creatures and for 1 more point of damage. Sure, most 5 power and over creatures aren't cheap, but some of them are. Like Spitebellows, who doubles as crazy removal with WATty (WAT-E for movie reference) in play. Force of Savagery is even cheaper (and more suicidal). Fortunately, these two are both Elementals, so Incandescent Soulstoke should fit here. Plus, Force of Savagery actually survives with the stoker of souls in play.

Since Incandescent Soulstoke acts as a Glorious Anthem for Elementals, 4-power Elementals will trigger WAT-E. Barishi curves out right after the Soulstoke and can trigger WAT-E, never minding its graveyard ability. Walker of the Grove can get into the dumpster through evoking, and its 'Stoked token anciently treads as well. The recently printed but rarely played (at least in my experience) Thunderblust triggers WAT-E before and after persist. My favorite interaction with WAT-E that Kelly mentioned was Sparkcaster, though. A cheap WAT-E trigger and bouncing ability make the red and green Kavu a good choice.

Speaking of Kavu, it's time to introduce my contribution: Kavu Lair. This ancestor of WAT-E can keep the fatties flowing. Plus, even if a Soulstoke isn't in play, it still works with the 4-power guys.

‘Mental Damage

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Until next time, have fun exploring Alara!

Shards of Alara Launch Parties are this weekend, October 3-5, at stores worldwide, and you won’t want to miss them. Get your chance to buy Shards of Alara cards as soon as they go on sale, play the new set with your friends, and get a foil, alternate-art Ajani Vengeant promo card!

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