Hunting Down Inspiration

Posted in From the Lab on February 12, 2014

As a writer, I'm often asked where I get my ideas. After all, this column alone has me coming up with two new decks every week. I must have some secret, right? Some magic formula that makes ideas pop out of thin air?

There's a common misconception that inspiration simply comes to you. In my experience, this is rarely the case. Ideas aren't simply going to run up to you and hop in a cardboard box so you can take them home. Most of the time you have to hunt them down.

Hunting down inspiration isn't always easy. Ideas have great camouflage in their natural environment, and it doesn't help that your mental jungle is populated by hundreds of creatures that simply aren't what you're looking for.

Many people try to find inspiration by sitting in one place, waiting for something to jump out at them. While this might work eventually, there are far more efficient ways of hunting your prey. One method I'm rather fond of is finding breeding grounds for new ideas. These areas are loaded with the mental food necessary for an idea to grow, and digging around will almost always yield results.

Inspiration | Art by Izzy

For Magic, one such breeding ground is Gatherer. In this giant database of cards, there are thousands of ideas waiting to be found. You can start looking in a specific area, like cards that can be cast for zero mana, or creatures that can untap themselves. You can even hit the random button a few times to see some options you might never have considered.

Of course, the great thing about Magic is that new sets are released every few months, bringing with them a plethora of new ideas to work with. Oftentimes a great way to find inspiration is to simply examine some of the new cards and figure out what you can do with them. This is my number one source of inspiration, and is responsible for a large percentage of the decks I create.

New things aren't the only place to find ideas. In fact, ground you've already covered can still yield inspiration years later. Just as Magic is always changing, your brain is undergoing constant change as well, and concepts that you've used before can morph into brand-new ideas with a bit of stimulus. You might be looking at a card from a different angle, or there might be some new card that changes everything.

The Repercussions of Dancing

The first deck I'll be looking at today is a combination of a new card and an old idea. The first thing I thought when I saw Satyr Firedancer was that it's essentially a reverse Repercussion. Okay, the first thing I thought was that it looked really cool and I wanted it, but that was the second thing.

As it happens, the two cards work together pretty nicely as well. Hit your opponent with a Lightning Bolt, and Satyr Firedancer will deal 3 damage to a creature. Then Repercussion will deal 3 more damage to your opponent.

This kind of chain is all well and good, but we can definitely ramp it up further than that. When Avacyn Restored was released, I immediately created a Commander deck with Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. The deck used cards like Earthquake to deal damage to everything, taking advantage of the fact that you and your permanents take half damage while your opponents take double.

Repercussion was an immediate game-ender in this deck due to how it works with Gisela's ability. If you cast Earthquake for 2, each of your opponents' creatures will take 4 damage thanks to Gisela's doubling. Then Repercussion will deal 4 damage to your opponents for each creature they control, which will be doubled again to 8.

With Satyr Firedancer things get even more ridiculous. If you hit your opponent with a Boros Charm, he or she will take 8 damage. Then the Satyr will deal 16 damage to a creature, and Repercussion will deal another 32 damage to your opponent.

Since Gisela costs a lot of mana, I'll also include Furnace of Rath as a cheaper option. Although it does make things dangerous for you, you can usually wait to cast it until you're about to win.

Born of the Gods also gives us another card perfect for this deck. With Plea for Guidance, you can search for both Repercussion and Furnace of Rath, setting up your combo. You can even search for Satyr Firedancer, since it's an enchantment creature.

Incinerate gives you another cheap way to burn your opponent, while Fireblast doesn't require any mana if you're willing to sacrifice a pair of Mountains. That's certainly not too much to ask when you're about it hit your opponent for 40.

I've also added in two copies of Blasphemous Act. They can help you control early onslaughts from creature decks, and can be used to deal an absurd amount of damage with Repercussion, provided your opponent has a few creatures. Speaking of which, Forbidden Orchard will give you something to deal damage to in case your opponent is playing a creatureless deck.

Burnination Multiplication

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A Little Help From My Friends

Another great way to get inspiration is from those around you. Everyone has his or her own unique ideas and thought processes, so other people often think of things you wouldn't have. This is one reason why I'm always asking you for your ideas. Even if I don't use the exact combo you came up with, it can often allow me to discover new cards and lead me down paths I wouldn't have seen without your help.

In fact, my recent solicitation for combos with Born of the Gods cards had this effect. Two readers, Keith Wynn and Norris A. Green III, suggested using inspired with Aura of Dominion, a sweet Aura from Saviors of Kamigawa that was never even on my radar. With the Aura, you can pay one mana and tap the creature in order to untap itself, triggering inspired.

So, what are the best creatures to untap repeatedly with this? Arbiter of the Ideal was one suggestion, but I wasn't thrilled with the fact that if you hit an enchantment, instant, or sorcery, you're stuck until your next draw step. Instead, I looked to a much less high-profile card: Servant of Tymaret.

Although stealing 1 life from your opponent is one of the more tame inspired abilities, it gets pretty out of hand once you can do it for every mana you have available. Not only does it quickly drain your opponent's life total without the need to attack, it bolsters your own at the same time, making it more difficult to kill you while you end the game.

The next option I looked at was somewhat less effective, but even more cruel. With Siren of the Silent Song, you can immediately empty your opponent's hand and continue forcing him or her to discard a card at the end of every draw step, making it impossible to cast anything other than instants.

If your opponent has a good board position already, this isn't the most effective strategy, since milling one card per mana is a much slower way to kill someone that draining 1 life. However, it does make it very difficult for your opponent to disrupt your plans once you've set things in motion.

Another card that was suggested was Felhide Spiritbinder. Although repeatedly copying a creature for 2 ManaRed Mana isn't bad, we can take the idea much further. If the creature you're copying is Priest of Urabrask, you immediately get that three mana back, letting you make another Priest of Urabrask token and so on. Soon you have an arbitrarily large army of 2/1 tokens ready to attack.

As backup for Aura of Dominion, I included Freed from the Real, which does the job for Blue ManaBlue Mana instead of 1 Mana. Half as effective, but still much better than simply relying on your untap step. The addition of Chromatic Lantern ensures that getting the blue mana won't be a problem.

Diabolic Tutor can search for whichever piece you need, and Wake Thrasher can make a ludicrously large attacker or blocker while you abuse inspired, helping accelerate your victory or protect you from your opponent's creatures.

Aura of Inspiration

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The Hunt is On

This week's article is over, and it's time to head back to the hunting grounds to find more inspiration. Join me next week when I'll have a couple fresh pelts to show off. Until then, may you never be afraid to hunt down a great idea. See ya!

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