'Walkers Old and New

Posted in From the Lab on July 14, 2011

By Noel deCordova

Welcome back to the Lab. Finally, a reprieve of sorts. After the triple whammy that was New Phyrexia, Magic: The Gathering Commander, and Magic 2012, I've finally calmed down some. Summer's supposed to be relaxing anyway.

Around this time last year, I wrote a column called Authority Figures, which dealt with the cool planeswalker referencing cards in Magic 2011. Magic 2012 carries this tradition one year further, although there are already some slight changes. The first big change was the actual 'walker lineup for this summer. I had always privately speculated on which of the original planeswalkers would get rotated out. When I saw the Magic 2012 feature poster (with Gideon Jura dead center, and Sorin Markov lurking in the background), I figured the rest had survived the cuts.

Turns out, I was right and wrong. While Jace, Chandra, and Garruk all returned, they did so with some new gadgets and gizmos. Specifically, new art, converted mana costs, loyalty amounts, and abilities. In short, all five planeswalker cards this summer are new to the core set, which is a nice surprise.

I could do a traditional three-deck column featuring all three new 'walkers, but I tend to shy from building around planeswalkers. They're ridiculous enough on their own. Instead I'll examine a cycle of cards I hinted at a couple paragraphs ago. These cards were designed to match up with their chosen planeswalker in subtle but powerful ways. Luckily enough, they also stand alone as intriguing cards that I'm willing to probe today. Let's dive in.

    The First Avenger

Okay, maybe not the actual first one (there have been fourteen other Avengers in Magic history), but I couldn't resist the reference to an upcoming movie. Superhero movies have let me down this summer, I'll be honest, but I'll see anything with Hugo Weaving in it.

On the surface, Gideon's Avenger instantly clicks with fellow name-bearer Gideon's Lawkeeper, a fine card itself. Tap something with the Lawkeeper, get a counter on the Avenger. Even sillier is an effect that forces your opponent to attack with his or her creatures. You know, like Gideon Jura's +2 ability. The Avenger will swell for each attacker and block the hell out of something. Pretty snazzy.

Another fun trick is to suit up an opponent's creature with Freed from the Real, a simply great common in my eyes. That way, you'll have an engine: ": Put a +1/+1 counter on Gideon's Avenger." Freed from the Real happens to be nice on the Lawkeeper as well, creating ": Tap target creature."

I thought I had a breakthrough with the rediscovery of Palliation Accord, which needs the same board effect that the Avenger does to work properly. And with shield counters now in the mix mucking up the works with red tape (should that be white and blue tape?) I couldn't resist a couple copies of Steady Progress.

But then the real breakthrough came. I wondered if there was truly a way to go infinite with the Avenger. (I know I'm obsessed with infinity, people. Some go cow tipping; I go 8 tipping.) Could I accumulate an infinite amount of +1/+1 counters on the Avenger and swing for the win, with my creature tappers clearing the way?

It took a second or two for my gathering mind to find the solution. Gideon's Avenger has two key phrases in its text box that tipped me off. First off, it triggers whenever a creature your opponent controls becomes tapped. Secondly, the ability doesn't say "may"—meaning the +1/+1 counter sticks automatically.

Clearly, the solution is to exchange control of Gideon's Avenger for a turn. Lots of cards accomplish this once-scarce effect nowadays. I'll go with Puca's Mischief, which warps any deck it's placed into. Once your opponent controls Gideon's Avenger, "your opponent" now refers to you, and the counters will automatically accumulate.

Now I need a way to tap and untap a creature I control over and over. Hello, Aphetto Alchemist! Have the Alchemist untap and tap itself until the Avenger is loaded with counters. Once it's sufficiently huge, steal it back with Homeward Path. Yoink! The Commander land can be found with Tolaria West and has inherent synergy with Puca's Mischief.

Blend it all together and get the following list.

Avenger and Tricks

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We all remember Archivist. At least, those of you who were raised alongside the plucky Wizard do. These days, archiving stretches to new heights. Tapping once to draw one just isn't cool enough anymore. Now we have Jace's Archivist, a.k.a. The Windfall Machine. This guy can get pretty insane.

I'll borrow an idea from above and slap Freed from the Real on Jace's Archivist, an idea that reeks of information overload. Pump blue mana into the resulting tidal wave of cards. To amp up my blue mana, I turned to a New Phyrexia card I hadn't used yet, Caged Sun. Designed partly with the DNA of Gauntlet of Power, the caged blue sun will double your blue mana and tick up your blue power and toughness.

Another card I'm using is Quest for Ancient Secrets. This underrated Quest will ensure I don't mill myself as well. I'm running four, so I'll be able to draw into them with the Archivist, and the high discard amount will provide ample quest counters.

I'll need some blue creatures to actually take advantage of this. How about fellow card drawers? Jushi Apprentice seems amazing here. Riptide Chronologist is pretty great as well. Perhaps best of all is Azami, Lady of Scrolls, especially in a deck with Freed from the Real in it. Sage of Fables helps out the Wizard theme as well.

Cards that like huge hand sizes seem fitting. Aeon Chronicler's always great in mono-blue draw decks, and late game you can suspend it for a lot. Meishin, the Mind Cage can fully power down your opponents creatures.

Blue Blast

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    Vengeance Served Warm

In Sorin Markov's case, anyway. His revenge, seen in card form as Sorin's Vengeance, is as warm as the blood of his victims, seen in card form as Sorin's Thirst. (I think.) Either way, they both make the following deck, along with the namesake planeswalker himself. The obvious combo here is with Sorin Markov's second ability, as it entwines very nicely with his Vengeance. If Markov isn't around, a single Wound Reflection should suffice. With that combo, you could take your opponent directly to zero from 20.

Other interesting prospects exist on red's side of the color pie. As a red fan, I'll say that about any deck, but in this particular case I can't help but think of Hidetsugu's Second Rite. Any card that mentions a loss of 10 life will trigger recall of the much-maligned Saviors spell. I've a soft spot for that set (and the entire Kamigawa block, actually). It's not especially useful, but I'll play a copy for fun.

Far more dynamic is Chandra, the Firebrand. Even though she's bleeding into the so-called Sorin deck, I'm happy to sacrifice some slight thematic purity to have the ability to cast Sorin's Vengeance and immediately twin it. In fact, I'm running with this rule breaking theme and blending the Chandra deck fully into this one. Didn't see that coming, huh? Neither did I. I've never really been in charge here.

Existential crises aside, Chandra's Phoenix enters the deck and brings along a bunch of red burn spells. Volt Charge can up loyalty counters on your planeswalkers and is fun to twin with Chandra. Hammer of Bogardan can regrow itself, so the Phoenix always has a way to come back (and it usually will anyway.)

Combined, this deck turned out to be a lethal black-red damage deck. Can't say I'm sad about that.

A Deadly Medley

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    Horde of Boggarts (Not the Card)

Garruk's Horde rounds out this delightful cycle. I'm a big fan of looking at the top card of my library for any reason; some of my favorite cards in the past have made this happen for me (Skill Borrower, any scry card, um, Yet Another Æther Vortex?). The Horde comes with this reveal ability plus a couple of bonuses. First, a meaty 7/7 trampling body that's not to be sneezed at. Second, the delicious ability to cast creature cards from the top of my library. I love the flavor of a large, ever growing horde sprouting from my future.

I decided I wanted to use Garruk's Horde to play as many creatures from the top of my library as possible. Several cards can stack libraries in the fashion I desire, such as Congregation at Dawn and Insidious Dreams. However, neither of those are creatures themselves. Instead I went with Goblin Recruiter, and the deck took off from there.

If I cast Goblin Recruiter and stack a whole bunch of Goblins on top of my deck, I can use Skirk Prospector to channel them into each other. This restricts me to one-mana red Goblins. Cast one off the top, sacrifice it for one red mana, use that to cast another and repeat onward. With each death, Goblin Sharpshooter untaps and Boggart Shenanigans triggers. If you run out of Goblins, turn the clock back with Elixir of Immortality (a seriously busted card, I'm telling y'all) and repeat.

When you cast the Recruiter, you can basically find your Goblin pieces, like the Prospector and the Sharpshooter. It's also wise to Recruit another Recruiter, just in case. Place the second Recruiter at the bottom of the Goblin pile. When you get to it, cast it, and crack the Elixir in response. That way, the cycle can continue.

Which one-mana Goblins should I use? Besides the Prospector, we've got Mogg Fanatic, Frenzied Goblin (which can get the Horde through), and Goblin Chirurgeon (which can regenerate the Horde if necessary.)

Garruk's Goblins

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Until next time!

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