No Contest

Posted in From the Lab on December 22, 2011

By Noel deCordova

As soon as I read Contested War Zone, I felt like a symphony of silly had erupted within my synapses. The deck flew together in a rush, and its premise was enough to spur me to log on to Magic Online and see if I could actualize its combos. The resulting mess of screenshots and insane plays led me to craft this column in a different fashion than the usual idea smorgasbord. In short, when it came to choosing my "Johnny highlight" of the year, it was, well...

Hi all, and welcome back to the Lab! Mirrodin Besieged has had some time to settle into our subconscious by this point. This window of time between now and the final set in the block is really starting to feel like the Mirran-Phyrexian war is surging as we speak. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is. Yes, people. The multiverse really exists. Somewhere, in a distant corner of our universe, the battle rages. I like to mentally conjure up the artwork for Contested War Zone at times, to remind myself of this.

Contested War Zone itself has had a stranglehold on my soul ever since its release. This quirky card happens to hit a lot of my pleasure points. First, it's a weird nonbasic land. I have an affinity for such cards (modern examples include Reliquary Tower and Exotic Orchard), and using them in productive and unusual ways is fun. Secondly (and importantly) it is a classic example of a "chaotic" card, which is my nickname for cards that switch loyalties (or switch the loyalties of other cards.) Other cards from Magic's past that do similar things include Spawnbroker, Bazaar Trader, and the head-scratching wonder Confusion in the Ranks. I call this effect "chaotic" because it is simply bizarre to see your opponent controlling things you own, or vice versa. This effect is best pulled off in real tabletop play (the reactions from the table are usually quite humorous).

Contested War Zone is the latest of these cards. Somehow, it has already garnered a strange reputation as "awful" from some casual players I've talked to. It seems to already be settled into the reject rare mold, at least unless and until its potential power in competitive Constructed is unleashed. In the meantime, it has a home here at the Lab.

To me, there are two strategies that Contested War Zone slides perfectly into. One is straightforward aggro beatdown. In fact, I think I saw a random Goblin deck list in Standard that used 4 War Zones, the sight of which delighted me. The other is on the totally other side of the spectrum. It's the idea I'll be talking about today—but! It's buried in the midst of a crazy, super synergistic deck! With other inter-locking super synergistic combinations!

Lots of decks try to win by depleting the opponent's life. My favorite decks are the ones that deplete my opponent's sanity. When I first discovered this particular Contested War Zone combo, I felt really good about the style points it contained. In building the deck, however, I suddenly found room for more interesting combos. By the time I'd finished the deck, I was extremely excited (read: more than I'd usually be about a deck) and decided I'd try something different this week. Instead of a deck description at first, I'm going to reveal it now and describe it as the column goes on. How? With some, um, visual aids.

Natural War Zone

Download Arena Decklist

This deck has a ton of game plans. Since I've buttered up the big one long enough, its coming quite soon.

Here we see one of the combos at work. One of the most important duos in the deck is Nature's Revolt + Linvala, Keeper of Silence. Ouch.Silence, all mana-makers! In this board I've locked down my opponent's lands and we're seemingly at a stalemate. I do have a Looter il-Kor, however....

Do you see it?

Do you see the insanity?

By attacking with my Looter il-Kor (a perfect card-drawer for this deck), I gave myself a window to Mirrorweave ... everything ... into ... a Contested War Zone. Which means ...

I think I laughed for a good 51 seconds. Here's another example of the craziness.

Here we see the exact reason why Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile is in the deck. Nature's Revolt is a tricky card to play with, as you have to account for your opponent's lands as creatures too. Brigid is the perfect defense, as you can actually tap out for the Revolt (usually a no-no) and have the Kithkin Archer watch your back. And (as shown) the duality of Brigid and Linvala on the board is dominatingly awesome.

We can see Time of Need in this hand. It was perfect as an extra two copies of either of my white legendary creatures. In my graveyard we see Leyline of Anticipation. As I've said before on numerous occasions, it's one of my favorite effects. It's another perfect way to avoid tapping out for Nature's Revolt. Just cast it at the end of your opponent's turn!

In the above screenshot, I decided to attack with a lonely Island. Actually, make that The Lonely Island. Yep, I just attacked with Andy Sandberg and those two other guys. I wanted to type "wind whippin' out my coat," but didn't ... I'm glad I didn't.

Anyway, my opponent let it through, and I sprung with Mirrorweave.

Apparently that was eleven triggers too many for my opponent. If you can't laugh at the hilarity of this ... go watch some Bill Murray comedies and try again. (What About Bob? is a classic.)

Mirrorweave's optimal role in the deck is obviously the super combo, but it's pretty super itself. I'd call it one of my favorite cards of all time. It's just capable of anything. I'll show you a fun board I snapped before my opponent subjected me to what's known as a "rage-quit." But first, some backstory: I had to mulligan to five, and kept a poor hand just for the Looter il-Kor. My opponent came strong out of the gate, casting Buried Alive on turn three and following it up with a Necromancy, dragging the monstrosity known as Mindleech Mass onto the battlefield.

But then I ripped Mirrorweave, and ...

The shadowy Looter scurried past the undead Mass and then got Mirrorwoven into a Mass itself! And what fatty to possibly grab in this situation but Sphinx of Magosi? Of course, this was too much for my opponent. I probably laughed for a good 117 seconds.

Another fun play is Phyrexian Rebirth. It's a great sweeper with a cool aftereffect, but it's even more epic at instant speed (via Leyline of Anticipation). And with Nature's Revolt on the battlefield?

This was an interesting game, in which I'd only managed a Nature's Revolt in the face of my opponent's constant thievery (including a nasty Vesuvan Shapeshifter that threatened my legendaries.) But everything changes once a drop of oil hits the field ....

That's a 17/17 Horror token. It and a talking Tolaria West finished that game.

Finally, I was really hoping to get some good pictures of Venser, the Sojourner in action, but as the deck's singleton he didn't show as often. Let me explain his inclusion. He's great with the "enters the battlefield" abilities that some of my permanents have (Kitchen Finks, Farhaven Elf, and even Halimar Depths can be blinked). His second ability is very relevant in the face of a Nature's Revolt standoff. And we all know his ultimate is zany.

The rest of the deck that I didn't discuss is the all-important mana fixing. Most of my early game was casting Rampant Growths and Farhaven Elves. With double colored requirements on all three colors, color screwage can occur. I find color screwage a tad more amusing than straight-up mana screwage, so that's another fun thing this deck does for me.

Well, that's the end of this column. I'd love some feedback on this style of structuring the column, and especially the screenshots (and the deck itself!). I banked it all on one deck today, and I hope it delivered. I find it quite satisfying and synergistic to play, and wanted to share the feeling with you all.

Come next week, I'll be back to slinging three decks sans screenshots as usual, but if I get enough positive response, maybe I'll do something like this again. The deck has to be worth it, though, as I believe Natural War Zones was. Until next time!

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