Tis the Spike Season

Posted in From the Lab on December 3, 2009

By Noel deCordova

Welcome back to the Lab, fellow Magic players. Greetings and good tidings to you all! My festive nature has certainly begun to increase lately. It's because of both the upcoming holiday celebrations and the first falling of snow, even though winter isn't one of my favorite seasons. (It's the middle fallings of snow I loathe.)

But wherever there is a winter wonderland, there is therefore also a grumpy Grinch, behaving completely oppositely from the collective audience. And this leads me into this week's thematic topic: Spikes.

Don't misunderstand; it's not that all Spikes are grumpy Grinches or sneering Scrooges. In this weekly column where I discuss wacky, unwieldy combos, or build ridiculous theme decks bent around achieving some other goal (read: having fun / not winning), however, it's true that Spikes probably don't react to these ideas the same way that Johnnies or even Timmies do.

So how am I going to fulfill my thematic contribution to this week? Simple (kind of). I'm going to choose three recent cards that, due to their frequent appearances around the Top Decks column and event coverage, definitely qualify as Spikey. From there, I'm going to bend them into creative Johnny-ish ideas, hopefully bridging a gap between the two psychological profiles.

Before I do that, though, I'd like to address today's title a bit more. Not only are the holidays beginning to creep up on us—wait, holidays don't creep—er ... dawn on us (that's better), but last weekend was actually the pinnacle of the Spike season. I speak, of course, about the always-exciting Magic World Championships! I'm usually not a huge follower of event coverage, but I always tune in to the annual end of the year brawl.

This year's World Champ, Andre C., piloted a cool Naya deck amongst an apparent sea of Jund decks. As long as red's getting represented in one shard or another, I'm fine! I'm not going to go into the details on Andre's list (because A, this is From the Lab, and B, that's already been done by someone far better suited to Spikedom than I), but I do want to point out some quirky, almost un-Spike-ish cards in it. The singletons of Scute Mob and Oran-Rief, the Vastwood seem very cool to me as individual cards, and I'm glad they saw play alongside their unquestionably Spikey listmates (Noble Hierarch, Path to Exile, Ranger of Eos, Baneslayer Angel, and so on).

Okay, onto the meat and potatoes of the article. Erm, that sentence alone makes me recall Thanksgiving dinner (which, in case any were confused, was why the website didn't update last Thursday and Friday.) Yum.

    Daunt Less

I still am adamant that in all of Magic, there isn't a cooler race and class typeline on a creature than Rhino Soldier. Come on. It's a Rhino ... that's a Soldier. The only prospective combination I can think of off the top of my head that can compare is (ready?) Oyster Warrior. Now that would be either just as awesome, or beyond weird. This little thought ditty intrigues me: What race / class combination can you think of (using existing creature types only) that rivals Rhino Soldier for sheer badassness? Or, more simply, which race / class combo excites you the most? I'd love to hear responses in the forums or by email!

Back to the Rhino Soldier I'm discussing today, Dauntless Escort. It was previewed in Top Decks, so you know it's Spikey, and what's not to love about keeping your team immune to harm while being a 3/3 for three at the same time? Not much.

My relationship with the keyword "indestructible" has always been a bit weird. Despite my total enthusiasm towards the keyword, I somehow always think of it as a "new" mechanic. So when I see two global indestructible-granters in the same block (Elspeth, Knight-Errant and the Escort), my mind faintly itches.

I can never keep my Elspeth around for long enough to wreak havoc with her Ultimate, so I'll go with the far easier Escort. What havoc is there to be wrecked in one mere turn by the sacrifice of a Dauntless Escort? Plenty.

First, remember that being indestructible doesn't prevent damage, but causes the creature in question to ignore lethal damage. Basically, a Darksteel Gargoyle can still be dealt damage from a Lightning Bolt, and will end up with 3 damage marked on it ... it just won't hit the graveyard.

This prompted me to turn to creatures that liked being dealt damage. Slapping an Indestructibility or a Shield of Kaldra on one of these creatures was either too fragile or too expensive. Dauntless Escort, however, can protect your, oh, let's say Sprouting Phytohydra for a turn free of charge. So if you sacrifice your Seal of Fire to hit the Hydra, it'll remain alive and make a copy of itself. This copy will also be indestructible, because—unlike a similar ability that granted an ability or P/T bonus—Dauntless Escort's ability applies not just to creatures that were on the battlefield when it was sacrificed, but any creatures you happen to control during that turn. So then, when you Pyroclasm to sweep your opponent's board, you'll also be doubling your Hydra count.

Other "dealt damage" creatures fit as well. Broodhatch Nantuko creates tons of Insect tokens if you deal it a ton of damage, and the Escort can help it survive.

Deep-Slumber Titan enchanted with a Power of Fire would normally lead to a frenzy of tapping, untapping, and finally a bucket kicking. Once indestructible, however, the Titan can ping itself infinitely, possibly pumping up a Wake Thrasher for a lethal strike. Along similar lines, Spitemare (once indestructible) can absorb a Lightning Bolt and infinitely deal damage to itself. (I'm not sure there's a way to take advantage of that. It's cool, though.)

Sacrificing an Escort in a green-white Sliver deck seems quite powerful, as green and white offer some globally great Slivers in Sinew, Muscle, and Might Slivers. But imagine having the little-played Fungus Sliver on the battlefield as well! After an Escort sacrifice, you can use something like casting and flashing back a Volcanic Spray to sweep the board of smaller weenies and doubly +1/+1 counter up your Sliver army. If you're willing to add blue, Psionic Sliver gives each of your unkillable Slivers a Shock-powered slingshot.

Let's move onto another popular tribe, Goblins. These buggers love harming themselves, from Mogg Maniac to Goblin Festival. The Goblin that excites me the most alongside Dauntless Escort is Skirk Fire Marshal. Normally, only the Fire Marshal will survive its 10-point bomb (due to its protection), but the Escort can ensure that all your Goblins will survive. If you also have a Wall of Hope in play (a decent early defender), you'll gain back those 10 life points as well.

All these tricks belong in their respective decks. I'm not going to provide full lists, as Escort shenanigans are not limited to these. Any deck skeleton above, however, would benefit from a way to recur the Escort itself. The various Rise from the Grave effects throughout Magic work, as well as Recover, Nature's Spiral, or fellow creature Eternal Witness.

    Lotus Bouncing

Of all the mythic rares from Zendikar, Lotus Cobra is easily the winner of the "Spikiest" award. Sure, Iona, Shield of Emeria has found a home in newfangled Dredge decks, and fellow landfaller Ob Nixilis, the Fallen just loves to be Warp Worlded into play. Lotus Cobra, however, features crazy mana ramping attached to a cheap 2/1 body.

I was trying to come up with a great way to use the Cobra instead of simply getting one land a turn (or two, thanks to the fetch lands.) What if I had some kind of land-flicker card, like a Ghostway for lands? Sadly, I couldn't find one ... wait ... what's that card?

Oh, Realm Razer! This 4/2 Beast from Naya exiles all lands from the battlefield when it's first cast. When it leaves the battlefield, the lands come back (tapped.) This will cause the Cobra (and any other landfaller) to trigger that many times.

Suspend your disbelief for a second. You have Sigil of the New Dawn, as well as a Realm Razer, at least one Lotus Cobra, and a Blasting Station on the battlefield. You also have at least four lands exiled with the Razer.

Sacrifice the Razer to the Blasting Station. It'll hit the graveyard. Subsequently, lots of effects will trigger. Put them on the stack so they happen in the following order: Four lands return to the battlefield. The Lotus Cobra makes four mana, and provided that your lands enter the battlefield untapped, you can tap them for another four. Between your Lotus Cobra(s) and lands, you need a total of . Use to return Realm Razer from your graveyard to your hand with Sigil of the New Dawn, and the remaining six mana to cast the Razer, exiling those four lands and untapping the Blasting Station. You're back where you started, except your opponent has been pinged for 1.

Raze Blaster

Download Arena Decklist

If you have an Emeria Angel in play instead of a second Lotus Cobra, you won't go infinite, but you'll have a ton of Bird tokens to clog up the board and play fodder to the Blasting Station. Dauntless Escort and Sigil of the New Dawn is probably the best Escort I've talked about today. Elvish Visionary smoothes things over in the early game. Chord of Calling finds creatures, as does the multitasking Primal Command. Path to Exile is your best (and most efficient, to be on theme) spot removal.

    Two Cruel For School

If you told a Spike circa mid 2008 that a card costing would at one point become Standard's top card of choice, he or she would probably have laughed. And yet Cruel Ultimatum has played such a role. It acted as both victory condition and brutal card advantage shifter in the popular Five-Color Control decks that ruled Standard before Lorwyn and Shadowmoor rotated. Cruel Ultimatum is easily the Spikiest of it cycle, and I knew I wanted to write about it today.

So I was thrilled when I received an email from Abbott Veldhuizen that began with these sentences: "You know what is a cool thing? Casting four Cruel Ultimatums – or more – at once."

Abbott's method of doing this involves the (in his words) "utterly forgotten and hilarious" Uyo, Silent Prophet. The giant legendary Moonfolk is a bit expensive and has a steep ability cost, which may explain her absence from recent casual lists.

However, Abbott found a card that was perfect for generating two colorless mana repeatedly: Krark-Clan Ironworks, which (theme bell!) has upped its Spike status in recent times in the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry combo deck. If you play lots of artifacts in the early game and drop Uyo on turn six, you can cast Cruel Ultimatum on turn seven and sacrifice all these artifacts to copy it at least three times. Abbott also used Archive Trap as a backup "big spell" to copy.

Here's Abbott's decklist, which I've slightly modified. I added artifact lands and cut two Steel Walls to add a fourth Myr Retriever and a singleton Defense Grid, which the Fabricate can find.

The Cruel, Silent Ironworks

Download Arena Decklist

I think the thrill of landing three Cruel Ultimatums at once nullifies any frustrations in the deck. How cool would that be? Cool enough for both Johnny and Spike to appreciate it, I'd say.

See you next week, when I've got an early holiday present for you all!

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