Supply and Command

Posted in From the Lab on August 11, 2011

By Noel deCordova

Hello and welcome back to the Lab. It's just another week drifting through the infinity of Magical deck creations. Churning these lists out is, if anything, like an arduous exploration through these fields of cards, searching for the proper fitting piece of cardboard. Depending on my level of inspiration, the deck meshes either perfectly or a tad imperfectly. During these weeks where I'm waiting with bated breath for Innistrad to blow my mind, my focus level ebbs and flows like a schizophrenic river.

Sometimes, like these non-theme weeks, the deckbuilding muse tends to show up fashionably late. It's like I'm taking her out to dinner, but she always stands me up. I'm definitely used to such behavior by now, but I always go and sit alone anyway. This time, though, she invited me to her own little dinner party. Other guests included three legendary creatures from Magic: The Gathering Commander which I haven't made use of yet: Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter; Nin, the Pain Artist; and Kaalia of the Vast.

These three legends gave me a scornful telling-off for ignoring them, each in their own way. Kaalia just yelled in my face for a while. Nin threatened to test her latest pain-measuring instrument on me. It looks like a cross between a pair of pliers and a rusty corkscrew. It scared me. I was about to promise to build around her, but for some reason I professed my love for her instead. A silly slip of the tongue. Then she used the device. On my tongue. Vish Kal seemed numb to my agony, but then again he seemed bored to undeath the whole time.

Finally they all left. I picked up a mutilated section of tongue and set it in the DNA Tank; within an hour it was good as new. Actually reinserting it was tricky. After deliberation, I used my trusty Writing Device. That's gotten me out of plenty of jams.

Shall I shut up and get to the decks? Righto.

    Angels and Demons and Dragons, Oh My!

Let's begin with Kaalia of the Vast. Sixty-card deckbuilding around the flagship legend from the "Heavenly Inferno" list was a delicious mix of straightforward face smashing and carefully selected face smashers. I knew I wanted to accelerate into Kaalia and have her attacking as soon as possible. To that end, I chose Sphere of the Suns as my two-mana rock of choice. In a three-color deck with lots of double color requirements, I'll need as much mana fixing as I can get. Eternal Dragon dovetailed my goals of color fixing and playing with big Dragons.

Picking my team of Angels, Demons, and Dragons was a long and thorough process. One card I was pretty pumped about was Rune-Scarred Demon, as it can find any creature for Kaalia to materialize. Angel of Despair removes threatening permanents, and Bogardan Hellkite does pretty much the same thing, but with fire. There's even a bit of a toolbox: Aegis Angel can protect Kaalia, Steel Hellkite is a colorless threat neutralizer in Dragon form, Oros, the Avenger can sweep the board of lesser creatures (and matches the color scheme), and Dragon Mage can deal you a new hand in case you run out of fodder for her of the Vast.

Lightning Greaves and Seize the Day are the last weapons in your arsenal. The Greaves is obvious: A hasty, shrouded Kaalia beats a summoning sick, vulnerable Kaalia. Seize the Day may be a throwback, but the flashback spell can give Kaalia more attack phases... which hopefully means more Angels, Demons, and Dragons.


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    Painful Pleasure

Next up is Nin, the Pain Artist. I've hinted in previous columns at the amount of deckbuilding potential this sadistic Vedalken Wizard has, and today's the day I actually unveil her Lab blueprint. Nin's got lots of things I admire in a Magic card. Starting from the top, she's blue and red (my favorite color duo (and my personal one too!)). Nin also happens to be a combo piece that doubles as quasi-removal, as you can off your opponent's creatures with her.

Of course, this means your opponent draws lots of cards, something I'm of course prepared for. Kederekt Parasite was the first inspiration. Since Nin is a red permanent, your opponent will also be taking X damage. Having your opponents draw lots of cards is fun for other reasons as well: Snare them in a giant Runeflare Trap! Or enchant them with Psychic Possession. (Yes, there are Auras with "enchant opponent." And I want more.) Or drop Adamaro, First to Desire and beat face with it.

When you aren't causing your opponent pains with Nin, feel free to torture some of your own creatures (and reap the "truths" that come in the package deal.) Stuffy Doll is an obvious choice, as it was a classic damage redirector from its first printing. A similar card that fits well is Spitemare (a red permanent for Kederekt Parasite). Unlike the Doll, it isn't indestructible. After some thought, I decided Darksteel Plate was definitely needed. With the Plate on any creature (even Nin herself), you could basically draw X cards every turn, which sounds pretty great.

From there Drift of Phantasms became a fine addition. Not only is it a cheap defender with a high toughness (a.k.a. ripe Nin bait), Drift can transmute for cards with a converted mana cost of 3. Coalition Relic is an important one (more mana means higher X totals). I wanted to justify my black splash a bit more, so I added some strategic creatures in the three-mana slot. Blood Cultist can tack on points of damage and slowly build up over time (and it's a red permanent). Sedraxis Alchemist is a fun and underused bounce effect on a creature (meaning I could put Darksteel Plate on it if necessary. Can't say the same for Regress!).

The last two singleton slots went to Grixis Charm (fetchable with the Drifts) and Unscythe, Killer of Kings, a card I'm delighted to find a decent home for here. Equip it to Nin or a Blood Cultist, or really anything, for a fun time.

Artistic Pains

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    He Puts the Bite in Arbiter

Vish Kal, my good people. The curious black and white legend has a thirst for blood like any Vampire should. But the speck of white that dots his soul gives him a bit of all-or-nothing symmetry. His final ability requires all the strength he gained from his dark feeding frenzies. Pretty neat flavor there if you ask me.

Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter also happens to be an important innovation on creatures that can sacrifice creatures to make themselves bigger. Most such creatures in the past (Bloodthrone Vampire and Vampire Aristocrat for starters) had only a temporary power boost. Vish Kal's power surge come instead in the form of +1/+1 counters. The other awesome aspect of the Blood Arbiter is that, like Nin, he comes with a built-in form of removal.

Reader Nick H. recently messaged me with an email that contained a sparse four cards and a signature. "Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, Angelic Renewal, Sun Titan, Deathbringer Thoctar." After deciphering the synergy between these cards, I knew I had a budding deck list. The real genius here is Angelic Renewal + Sun Titan. With any sacrifice outlet out (such as Vish Kal) you can bin the Titan and have Angelic Renewal sacrifice itself to bring it back. Then, wonderfully, the Sun Titan brings back the Angelic Renewal and everything is as it was. Except for Vish Kal being an 11/11 now.

Nick seemed to think Deathbringer Thoctar was the final piece, no doubt planning to build up a bunch of +1/+1 counters and unload them for max damage. Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter can finish the game all by himself, though. Run through the Sun Titan + Angelic Renewal combo a couple infinite times, using Vish Kal to take out any potential blockers each time. When the coast is finally clear, swing with your giant lifelinking flyer.

I then filled out a deck list, using cards that linked well with these combo pieces—specifically, creatures with converted mana costs 3 or less that did neat things. Dusk Urchins is pretty major, with high initial power (for Vish Kal) and self-destructive tendencies for a greater good (my favorite kind of tendencies). Lots of creatures with "enters the battlefield" effects made the deck as well. Bone Shredder cruelly wastes opposing creatures (paying the echo cost is just another option). Liliana's Specter and Gwyllion Hedge-Mage are pretty straightforward. Auramancer can get back spent Angelic Renewals and Oblivion Rings.

A couple Dread Statuaries and a singleton Teysa, Orzhov Scion later, and the deck is complete.

Sun O))))))

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It's no secret by now that next week is Feedback Week, so it might put a smile on my face to see some interesting emails this week. And the poll results for the contest will be revealed next week as well (almost as if I timed it perfectly). So with all that said, and all those decks built, until next time!

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