Obs & Ends

Posted in From the Lab on July 30, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

What's up labbies? Despite having already written several articles focused on Magic 2015, I haven't nearly exhausted all the Johnny potential in this set. Two weeks ago, I constructed three decks built around white cards from the set, and now I'll be taking a look at some of the other colors.

When One Morph Isn't Enough

Jalira, Master Polymorphist is a throwback to Polymorph, a classic Johnny cards that has been used for years to cheat giant creatures onto the battlefield. Traditionally, you make some sort of token using a spell, then cast Polymorph to get the only creature in the deck. Jalira is a bit different, however. Since she herself is a creature, she only puts nonlegendary creatures on the battlefield, ensuring a sacrificed creature won't just hit another copy of Jalira.

This opens up a whole new avenue for deck construction, allowing creatures so long as they're legendary. However, it also eliminates some of the biggest and baddest creature you could be putting onto the battlefield. Emrakul, the Æons Torn isn't an option here. However, Blightsteel Colossus is a suitable replacement that is nearly as hard to kill and just as lethal.

As for the creatures to sacrifice, the best option I came up with was Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Kira protects all your creatures from removal, making it far more difficult to deal with Jalira before you put a Blightsteel Colossus on the battlefield. If you have another creature to sacrifice, Kira can protect Blightsteel Colossus from most of the spells that would kill it as well.

The deck definitely seemed like a good fit for a more controlling shell, so rather than aggressive legends like Isamaru, Hound of Konda, I decided to use Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer. Gwafa can make your opponent's creatures ineffective for just two mana, and giving your opponent extra cards isn't as big a drawback in a deck that can end the game as quickly as this one can. Often, Gwafa can shut down whatever creature your opponent plays every turn, giving you plenty of time to put a Blightsteel Colossus on the battlefield.

I generally like to include either tutors or redundancy to increase the consistency of my decks, and in this case redundancy seemed like the best option. Although Polymorph won't work due to having creatures other than Blightsteel Colossus in the deck, Shape Anew will. Master's Call creates artifact creature tokens that can be sacrificed to either Jalira or Shape Anew, getting Blightsteel Colossus no matter which one you use.

Phyrexian Rebirth also creates an artifact creature token, and a board sweeper doesn't seem out of place in a controlling deck. You do have to plan ahead, however, as you don't want Jalira already on the battlefield when you cast it. Alternately, Gild can exile a creature and create a token for Shape Anew, although since the Gold isn't a creature, it can't be sacrificed to Jalira.

I've said that this deck would be slotted into a control shell, but I haven't really expounded upon that aspect yet. Mana Leak is an obvious choice for an early-game counterspell, and I've also included its lesser-known cousin, Rune Snag. To deal with threats already on the battlefield, Path to Exile is an extremely effective option. Swords to Plowshares would be even better since the deck plans on winning with poison, but since the rest of the deck happens to be legal in Modern, I decided to stick with that.


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Searching for the Win

Moving on to black, there's one card in particular I've been dying to try out. Ob Nixilis, Unshackled can make your opponent lose 10 life all at once, and that's an ability I can get behind. In a normal game, the ability is mostly a deterrent, preventing your opponent from using any cards that would allow him or her to search for something. However, I was sure I could dig up a few cards that force your opponent to search his or her library, thereby losing 10 life.

Collective Voyage was the first card I came across that would do the job. Although the first thing that came to mind was actually New Frontiers, that card has the word "may" in it, which negates its usefulness. Collective Voyage doesn't have that handicap, however. You can cast it without paying any extra mana and your opponent will be forced to search his or her library for nothing, losing 10 life in the process.

Pursuing similar cards, I found out that Fertilid can actually target any player. While I've used the card many times, until now I had never noticed that it included the option to give your opponent the land instead. It's particularly valuable with Ob Nixilis, since it comes with two counters to remove. That means you can make your opponent lose the full 20 life with just one card.

Maralen of the Mornsong effectively makes your opponent lose 13 life every draw step. Unfortunately it also hands out a free Diabolic Tutor, which your opponent could use to grab a removal spell. Fortunately it should work at least the one time, and your opponent will be forced to kill Maralen rather than Ob Nixilis, lest you simply search up another copy.

Time of Need is an easy way to find Ob Nixilis that fits within the deck's colors, and it can grab Maralen as well for the other half of the combo. To help you build up the six mana you need to cast the Demon more quickly, I've also included a number of mana-accelerating enchantments. Wild Growth and Utopia Sprawl can go to work as soon as turn two, and Fertile Ground doesn't fall far behind, effectively costing just one mana when cast on an untapped land. Finally, Hero's Downfall can be used to get rid of any problematic creatures or Planeswalkers your opponent tries to kill you with.


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You Wouldn't Like Me When I'm Angry

Burning Anger is not a card that seems like it belongs in a combo engine, but that won't stop me from putting it in one. My original idea involved using it on Deep-Slumber Titan. If made indestructible, the Titan could deal damage to itself over and over again, untapping each time. Add in something like Rite of Passage and you can build up an arbitrarily large number of counters before aiming the final strike at your opponent.

The thing that turned me off this route was the fact that Deep-Slumber Titan enters the battlefield tapped. That means you'd have to find another way to deal damage to if before you do anything else, adding a fourth card to the combo. While I'm not one to ignore overly complex infinite combos, it seemed like there had to be a better way.

Phytohydra was my next thought, due to its innate ability to turn damage into power. Finding a way to untap it each time proved problematic, so I decided to tackle the problem from the opposite side. Cinderhaze Wretch can already untap itself at the cost of adding a -1/-1 counter. Add in Vigor and you have an infinite damage machine.

Simply enchant Cinderhaze Wretch with Burning Anger, then tap it to deal 3 damage to itself. Vigor will prevent the damage and give Cinderhaze Wretch three +1/+1 counters instead. Add a -1/-1 counter to untap the Wretch, and it will cancel out with a +1/+1 counter, leaving you with a 5/4. Repeat the process for a net gain of two counters each time. After building up a few million power, tap it one last time to kill your opponent. If you're playing against multiple people, you can also untap the Wretch as many times as you want with its ability.

Since all the combo pieces cost five and six mana, a number of acceleration spells will help get things moving along before your opponent overwhelms you. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Farseek, and Nature's Lore can all get any color of mana you need thanks to the Ravnica dual lands and normal basics.

Go for the Throat can cheaply kill nearly any creature, and Damnation can kill all of them, clearing the board the turn before you can cast the five-mana Cinderhaze Wretch. That should buy you plenty of time to cast the other combo pieces. Speaking of combo pieces, Diabolic Tutor will make sure you actually have them in your hand. Since this is a three-part combo, getting everything to come together without a way to search your library can be tricky.

Burning Vigor

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Blazing a Dangerous Trail

Although M15 certainly has a lot of great new cards to build decks around, I'll be taking a wider view next week as I set off into the jungle to see what combos might be hidden there. Should you choose to join me, beware. The jungle has many predators, and some of them wield more than just teeth and claws.

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