Posted in From the Lab on September 15, 2011

By Noel deCordova

There comes a moment in every young mage's life when he or she puts forth a built-up request of emotion to another, gets shot down in flames, becomes embittered, turns to the dark side, and forevermore sees all of his or her spells of flesh and blood become twisted with cursed passion. At least, so I've been told. I hear that progression can diverge, though, splitting off into a much happier, flower-laden path if said mage's feelings are reciprocated. Again, for all I've ever experienced, these are just rumors.

Lucky me, though. I've been given a preview card that's basically a snapshot of that first sentence in Magic form. Therefore, I get to dwell on what looks more and more like my dark, sad future all column! Okay, not really. There are times, though, where my mental state is such that all I want to do is build decks around Heartless Summoning. Hopefully, when you click here and check out this card, you'll see why.

No lengthy FAQs are necessary for this puzzler of an enchantment. Accurately described as a "backwards Blood Funnel" by behind-the-scenes whiz Kelly Digges, Heartless Summoning offers a tremendous reduction of your creature spells... for a twisted price. All your recently cast creatures will bear your internal burden for the world to see. That -1/-1 ability is pretty darn painful.

So how to build around Heartless Summoning? Good question. Let's see if I can answer it.

    Only Shallow

There are a couple things I need to keep in mind about Heartless Summoning before I begin. First, it costs two mana. The ideal mana-curving play, then, would be to cast a five-drop creature of some sort of terrifying nature. It would roll out for only three mana! Of course, it'll be weakened by my heartlessness, so it should have a toughness greater than one.

Heartless Summoning | Art by Anthony Palumbo

That above plan is a good one, but I also must remember something else. In a deck that contains four copies of Heartless Summoning (as today's decks will, by default of the "preview article" tradition) there's a fine chance that I could wind up with the opportunity for multiple Heartless Summonings on the battlefield. The trick to building such decks is to anticipate these situations, and come up with creatures that both want to be reduced by four and could withstand a painful -2/-2.

Back to my five-drop creature conundrum. Another aspect of sculpting these decks that I must remember is to make sure that my five-drop creatures have at least four generic mana in their converted mana costs. This is so that if I ever have the double Summoning condition, I can play these creatures for a mere one mana!

Finally, I should consider what I'm going to be doing with excess mana. It would be nice to have a mana sink for excess savings floating around my mana pool.

What I like about all these logical restrictions is that they naturally lead me to a peculiar set of cards that I might otherwise never think about playing: dangerous creatures that cost or (or any other color) and can withstand one, or ideally two, Heartless Summonings. Some staple deckbuilding tools happily fall into this pile, like the ever-deadly Shriekmaw. But wacky random stuff just quirks my circuits. Fendeep Summoner seems hilarious when active by turn four, for example, and it even solves the excess mana problem in a way!

Another funky one is Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker, which warps into another strategy. If I had a creature with a toughness of 1 out, the stench from the Heartless Summonings takes it out. If that creature also had a power of 2 or less (it's getting -1/-1, remember), then Shirei could loop its soul for eternity. Let's say I cast Perilous Myr. It'll instantly die and deal something 2 damage. Then, at the beginning of the next end step, Shirei will haul it back, upon which it instantly dies again (and deals 2 damage). This trick works with abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield as well, like Ravenous Rats or Farhaven Elf.

That entire concept gives me a broader idea: use the -1/-1 ability as a benefit by intentionally playing creatures that instantly die. Then an effect such as Fecundity (or the deliciously appealing Murder of Crows, from the Innistrad Card Image Gallery) could potentially draw me into more of these creatures, creating an engine of sorts.

Other 1/1s that fit the aims of this deck include Elvish Visionary (a draw-two card with Fecundity out) and Myr Sire (likewise). (By the way, this deck really wants Fecundity out.) Entomber Exarch enters my subconscious as a Gravedigger variant that can dig, either up a corpse or through your opponent's mind, for only . With two Heartless Summoning out, Solemn Simulacrum becomes a free cantripping Rampant Growth!

Wheel through your deck until you get one of your unique win conditions. Psychosis Crawler can be pretty big for a lower cost in this deck, plus it docks your opponent 1 life for each card you draw. That seems useful. Butcher of Malakir combines with the rest of the deck to maul your opponent's creature forces, equalizing the battlefield for every spent 1/1. The aforementioned Shirei does its thing. Finally, Gristle Grinner steps up to the plate as a potential win condition that can be Summoned out for a great advantage.

There's lots of rotating ideas in this one. As always, be sure to pick your own rotisserie items.


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    Mono Mania

This fully black concoction jumbles together lots of the cool or cards. Magus of the Coffers seems fun; Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief seems extra fun... with extra mana! The deck really found its direction when I reread Reaper of Sheoldred. The Reaper never really impressed me during its debut some four or five months ago. Due to the amount of quality black infect creatures to reduce with Heartless Summoning, however (I'm thinking full doses of Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon and Hand of the Praetors), I decided to go Phyrexian.

There are some fun artifact creatures with infect as well. Core Prowler is nice, and if you have double Summonings, it acts as a free proliferate. Necropede is a dependable two-drop that can be a free -1/-1 counter on something post-Heartlessness. But the best is, as always, Corpse Cur. Great freaking card. With two Summonings on the pitch, you can cast one, return one in your graveyard, and repeat ad infinitum. Hand of the Praetors turns your infinite heartlessness into cruel toxic victory.


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    Snow Heart

When looking at five-drop creatures that were ridiculous when active by turn four, one card wouldn't stop looking back at me. The insane look on the face of Heidar, Rimewind Master compelled me to build with him. Actually, it was his ability that sold me. If all your lands are snow-covered (natch) and you hit every land drop (double natch), then a turn three Heidar would start bouncing things like crazy (triple natch). Sounds kooky to me.

I decided to fill the rest of this blue and black build with other annoying blue creatures that embrace being Heartless. Rimewind Taskmage slides into any blue-focused snow deck, and it survives the Summoning! Riftwing Cloudskate, Man-o'-War, and Venser, Shaper Savant form a triad of imposing bouncers (I've got a sick club bumping up in the Mouth of Ronom). Venser evens goes after spells!

I also loaded the deck with card draw out the wazoo. Mulldrifter was a solid addition, because I'm building a blue deck. Bonded Fetch also seems like a fun draw and discard outlet for a mere . Since this deck does not want double Heartless Summoning, the Fetch can bin any excessive copies. Finally, the bombastic Sphinx of Lost Truths and Magus of the Jar make the deck. The Sphinx is very solid and has some interesting variance; it seemed like a fine card to add. The Magus is a monster, however. An homage to the absolutely-busted-in-half-forever-and-ever Memory Jar (added to the Relic ranks last year), the Magus can come out for only and reset everyone's hands for a turn.

Finally, I wanted the potential to fill my opponent with dread on turn four. An incoming Frost Titan for should instill straight terror. Cold, icy terror. And it still beats for the win in four turns. And in a deck with all this other annoying stuff? Hey, I said from the beginning that I'm feeling Heartless.

To Here Knows When

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    Gray Market

Finally, I wanted to find a creature that not only hit the board earlier due to Heartless Summoning but offered a global pump ability of its own, to offset the enchantment's drawback. Gatherer spit out Deathbringer Liege, and I took it from there. Turns out there's lots of giant white and black creatures to cast for two less mana. Angel of Despair is the lottery pick, but there are tons of other options, like Voracious Hatchling (who gets huge quick), Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter (who has carefully snuck into my decks thrice now), and Evershrike.

I liked the Evershrike inclusion and tried to give the deck an enchantment subtheme. Edge of the Divinity is pretty excellent on any creature in the deck, and Vow of Duty (from the Magic: The Gathering Commander cycle of Vows) is flexible as either a power boost or threat negation. A couple Auramancers made the deck too (they can get back Heartless Summonings as well if need be!).

Otherwise it's just straightforward white and black beats. Tidehollow Sculler and Nightsky Mimic are two frustrating two-drops to handle. On the subject of the Mimic, I'm aware that it'll die to Heartless Summoning. I'm also aware that it rocks in these types of decks, and I wound up giving it three slots. But as always, I'm trying to jumpstart ideas behind your eyes... so yeah.

What You Want

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That's it for this week. I've had inquiries by email on the Pick a Word deckbuilding contest, and those results are approaching. A fortnight, I'll say. Until next time.

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