On the Shoulders of Giants

Posted in From the Lab on February 26, 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.

Welcome, laboratorians! It's Tribute Week here on DailyMTG, and this theme proved to be particularly challenging. While brainstorming ideas, I quickly realized that tribute is not the greatest mechanic in the world for Johnnies. Whichever effect you're trying to take advantage of, your opponent can simply choose the other one.

There are certainly some interesting things you can do with the mechanic if you stretch for it, but another idea caught my attention. What if I made this entire article a tribute? The only question left was what it should be a tribute to. I could make it about famous combo decks throughout Magic's history, but I've already built a number of decks based on old combos in this column. Of course, this column was around for a long time before I came along. Why not make a this a tribute to some of the previous mad scientists who ran this place?

Noel deCordova

Five years ago this week, From the Lab was under the command of Noel deCordova. Conflux had just been released, and it was the middle of Cycling Week. Noel's first deck was built around a very creative use of Homing Sliver. Using Artificial Evolution, he changed the word Sliver to Knight, enabling him to cycle Knights from his hand, then cast them from the graveyard using Haakon, Stromgald Scourge.

Homing Sliver
Artificial Evolution

I looked for some other creature types that would be good to cycle for, and came across one that really got me excited: Lizards. Now, Lizards may not seem like a powerhouse tribe, but one Lizard in particular can do some great things with Lizardcycling: Basking Rootwalla.

When you Lizardcycle Basking Rootwalla, you can cast it for its madness cost. You can then search for another Basking Rootwalla and do it again. With Fluctuator to make cycling cheaper, it only costs one mana each time you cycle and cast a Basking Rootwalla.

Basking Rootwalla

At this point, however, this is just a very fancy way of getting four 1/1s onto the battlefield. There are still a few pieces missing. If you could somehow get the Rootwallas back into your library, you could keep cycling them for one another indefinitely. Wheel of Sun and Moon can do this, and with Altar of Dementia to sacrifice the Lizards, you can put your opponent's entire library in his or her graveyard as you repeatedly cast and sacrifice Rootwallas.

There's still the problem of mana, though. As it is, the combo requires one mana for each Lizard. Getting a second copy of Fluctuator on the battlefield will take care of the problem, but it would be nice to have a backup. Earthcraft can certainly do the trick. Since the Rootwallas enter the battlefield untapped, you can use each one to untap a land, paying for the next Lizard in line.

Wheel of Sun and Moon

Impulse and Ponder can help you try to assemble this complicated combo, and Fabricate searches for some of the most important pieces.


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Chris Millar

Eight years ago, From the Lab was known as House of Cards, and Chris Millar was at the reins. Guildpact of the original Ravnica block was the latest set, and Chris built several decks around the idea of using the shortest card names possible. Typing is hard work, so Chris kept the cards to only one-syllable names, aside from basic lands.

I could have chosen to follow the same idea. After all, there must have been at least a few one-syllable card names in the last eight years. However, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to highlight a card that has always been dear to me:

Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental

Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental

Unhinged was a set I enjoyed for a number of reasons, but one of the biggest was that it gave me one of my favorite silly combo decks of all time. You see, Unhinged had an unassuming one-mana Aura in it that was perfect for OMRSTPLRLCNSWMTCTHTALCNEE: Wordmail. I'll save you some time. The answer is twenty-five. For one mana, you can give the Elemental +25/+25. Pretty sweet, right?

Wordmail wasn't the only Unhinged card to care about card names. In fact, it was one of the themes of the set. With Bosom Buddy, for example, casting the Elemental will give you an extra 12-½ life.

Bosom Buddy

Name Dropping allows you to get cards back from the graveyard if your opponent says a word in their names. With a whopping twenty-three words that can bring back the Elemental, including "card," "the," "so," "this," "that," and "to," it shouldn't be hard to catch your opponent with "Gotcha!"

Keldon Mantle allows you to give the Elemental trample, ensuring most of that 27 damage (or more with art rampage) gets through. It can also be used to regenerate the creature, protecting it from many removal spells. Fertile Ground and Chromatic Lantern make sure you have the colors of mana necessary to activate the abilities.

Keldon Mantle
Chromatic Lantern

Idyllic and Enlightened Tutor help find Wordmail, as well as Keldon Mantle, Name Dropping, and a few other cards. Between the two of them, you should almost never be stuck with a tiny 2/2 Elemental.

Of course, this is Unhinged, so I can't pass up including a few cards mostly for comedy value. Emcee and "Ach! Hans, Run!" ask you to announce the name of the card, and although it might take you a few minutes, it will undoubtedly be worth it just for the look on your opponent's face. Demonic Consultation also asks you to name a card, and has the added bonus of helping you get the card in the first place.

You've Got Wordmail

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Mark Gottlieb

It's ten years ago now, and Darksteel, the second set of Mirrodin block, has just been released. Mark Gottlieb is at the top of the House of Cards and seems about ready to fall off his rocker. His first deck uses the modular mechanic, which lets artifact creatures transfer their power when they die.

The variety of two-mana creatures with modular seems to me like the perfect opportunity for a daisy-chain deck. Elves is the most famous version of this archetype, using cards like Glimpse of Nature and Heritage Druid to draw cards, make mana, and keep casting creatures one after another.

Glimpse of Nature
Heritage Druid

So, how do two-mana modular creatures factor into this? Well, Ashnod's Altar and Krark-Clan Ironworks both allow you to sacrifice these artifact creatures for two mana, just what you need to cast another one. Thanks to modular, each creature will transfer its +1/+1 counter to another. This lets you quickly grow one creature as you chain sacrifices together.

Arcbound Worker is the best creature of the bunch, actually netting you one extra mana when you sacrifice it. After that, Arcbound Stinger, Arcbound Slith, and the famous Arcbound Ravager each cost two mana, making them essentially free.

Krark-Clan Ironworks
Arcbound Worker

Now we run into a little problem. These four are the only modular creatures that cost one or two mana. With a total of sixteen creatures, all 1/1s, the best you can get is a 16/16, even after going through your entire deck.

Myr Retriever helps solve this problem. Although it doesn't give away any +1/+1 counters itself, it's still free after sacrificing it to Ashnod's Altar, and when it dies it will get back one of your modular creatures from your graveyard. Junk Diver will also work. Although it does require one extra mana, you can get that mana back by returning Arcbound Worker to your hand.

Myr Retriever
Junk Diver

So, we have the mana, what about the card draw? Glimpse of Nature is the obvious choice, but this particular deck gives you even more options. Fecundity triggers whenever you sacrifice a creature, and Vedalken Archmage gives you a card when you cast an artifact spell. Since this deck runs by casting and sacrificing artifact creatures, all of these will trigger on each iteration, hopefully giving you two or three cards all together to ensure you don't run out of gas.

Finally, Vorrac Battlehorns ensures that your opponent can't foil your plans with a simple blocker. If you get through your whole deck you can expect your creature to have about 24 power, and the Battlehorns ensure that unless your opponent has a single creature with 5 or more toughness, your attack will trample over for lethal damage.

Arcbound Infinity

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Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Twelve years ago, Torment was the new set on the shelves, and Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar was at the helm of this column. This was a particularly interesting trip back in time for me, since at this point I hadn't even started playing Magic, much less reading House of Cards. In this article, Jay talks about his affinity for bad cards, a sentiment I definitely share. He builds several decks to take advantage of Nantuko Shrine, a symmetrical enchantment considered by most players to be useless.

Nantuko Shrine

Since then, there have been a few new tools added to help abuse this card. The one that seemed to have the most potential was retrace. This mechanic lets you cast the spell from your graveyard by discarding a land in addition to paying its mana cost. With all four copies of a cheap retrace spell like Raven's Crime in your graveyard, you can make three Squirrels for one mana, and turn every land you draw into another trio of tokens.

There's no need to wait to draw lands, however. Life from the Loam will return them straight from your graveyard. Life from the Loam can also return itself from the graveyard with dredge, making sure you have nearly unlimited ammunition for your Squirrel-making machine.

Raven's Crime
Life from the Loam

1/1 Squirrel tokens aren't exactly the fastest way to win the game, but with a Coat of Arms on the battlefield, those Squirrels can look mighty threatening. With the massive pumping power of this artifact, you can be attacking for as much as 64 damage on turn five.

Intuition is a great way to get multiple copies of Raven's Crime in the graveyard. Mystical Tutor and Entomb can also do the job, although only one copy at a time. Gifts Ungiven can get Raven's Crime, Life from the Loam, and two lands, setting up the combo quite nicely no matter what your opponent chooses.

Coat of Arms
Gifts Ungiven

Finally, Idyllic Tutor can search for Nantuko Shrine, and Enlightened Tutor can find either the Shrine or Coat of Arms. In addition, Mystical Tutor can find either of these if necessary.

Nantuko Crime

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Back to the Present

I hope you enjoyed this little tribute to the history of this column. Back here in the present, Game Day is quickly approaching, and I'm already gearing up for the event with a fun graveyard deck using Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Nighthowler. I'll be hoping to take home the sweet minotaur playmat, but it should be loads of fun either way. Until next time, may you always remember those who came before you. See ya!

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