I thought I'd follow up on last week's discussion with two Magic 2015 preview cards that, both separately and in concert with one another, exemplify the principle of synergy:
Darksteel Citadel and Shrapnel Blast obviously have synergy with one another (you can sacrifice Darksteel Citadel to pay for Shrapnel Blast, but ideally, neither should be entirely dependent on the other), but the fun thing about these two cards is how many interesting synergies they have shown with cards in the past. As with many returning cards from historical sets, part of the fun of a contemporary evaluation is not only to reminisce about those good old decks, but to figure out what cool things they can do with the timeshifted context of cards today.
Mary Jacobson's Modern deck from Grand Prix Lincoln back in 2012 nicely showcases the success of these two cards in concert, as well as many other interlocking synergies.
Darksteel Citadel, first and foremost, is an artifact land. Once upon a Mirrodin block there were lots of artifact lands, but the other five are all currently banned in Modern; only Darksteel Citadel remains.
As an artifact land, Darksteel Citadel can stand on its own (the "land" part); very little can stop it, legitimately, for tapping for .
But as an artifact, Darksteel Citadel can give your Cranial Plating a buff or up your artifact count to set up the metalcraft on Galvanic Blast. But it is important to note that—as obvious as it might seem—the card itself has text and does stuff, even without any help or other artifact-specific interactions. For example, your first-turn Darksteel Citadel can produce a Springleaf Drum or Signal Pest.
"I also tap for ." —Darksteel Citadel
But one of the things that Darksteel Citadel has also always provided is indestructibility.
Glimmervoid is obviously powerful—a Mana Confluence that never pings your life total—but it has a disadvantage of its own that prevents it from being played in a wide variety of decks.
If you were, say, to use a Glimmervoid to play the first-turn Springleaf Drum or Signal Pest we mentioned just a moment ago, you might be leaving yourself open to a two-for-one. Let's say the opponent had some sort of Disenchant/Naturalize and immediately destroyed your artifact. As you would then control no artifacts, Glimmervoid would be forced to sacrifice itself at the beginning of the next end step. Which would stink.
That's what makes Darksteel Citadel so great with Glimmervoid! Because it is indestructible, you always fulfill the minimum condition for Glimmervoid and so never lose your non-artifact land to random artifact removal.
For its part, Shrapnel Blast can obviously contribute to an artifact-themed deck. In our example of Mary Jacobson's deck, it even has "blast" redundancy with Galvanic Blast! (Both blasts being overpowered burn cards that are generally only worthwhile in artifact-enabled decks.)
But one of the things that makes Shrapnel Blast interesting is how it can contribute not only to an artifact deck, but just a burn deck. Here is one example from a bit further back:
In this deck, Joshua Ravitz played a variety of artifacts that stood on their own in terms of card utility:
- Blinkmoth Nexus—threat/source of damage
- Solemn Simulacrum—creature/mana acceleration
- Wayfarer's Bauble—colorless Font of Fertility precursor
- Sensei's Divining Top—awesome deck regulating bomb/card selection
There were lots of cool and fun tricks that Josh could accomplish with his deck. For example, he could activate Inkmoth Nexus to block a large flier, and then sacrifice it to bang-bang the opponent for 5 before it died in combat.
Both Solemn Simulacrum and Sensei's Divining Top boasted interactions that, if not card advantage, would help curb the extra cost on Shrapnel Blast. When you sacrificed Solemn Simulacrum, you would of course draw a card. But Sensei's Divining Top took a little more intent.
You could tap Sensei's Divining Top to draw a card, and then in response sacrifice it to Shrapnel Blast. Your Sensei's Divining Top would go to the graveyard instead of the top of your library…but you would still get to draw a card!
While there aren't necessarily any artifacts that have quite Sensei's Divining Top's immediate "draw a card" sacrifice-synergy, Standard's palette of artifacts can blunt the cost on Shrapnel Blast while still gaining the utility of the cards themselves. Here are some examples:
- Prophetic Prism—You still draw a card when Prophetic Prism enters the battlefield; so when you sacrifice it, the card will have already paid for itself.
- Elixir of Immortality—Got four mana? You can use Elixir of Immortality to gain 5 life, and will still have a window to sacrifice it to Shrapnel Blast with the ability still on the stack. You will deal 5 points with the Shrapnel Blast and still get everything shuffled back—including both the Elixir of Immortality and the Shrapnel Blast—when the Elixir's ability finishes resolving.
- Legendary weapons—Draw one too many copies of Hammer of Purphoros? Well now you know what to do with the first one (before, you know, playing the second you just drew)!
- Whatever else Magic 2015 brings—I can't imagine that Darksteel Citadel is the only new setup man that the new set will bring for Shrapnel Blast sacrifices. Tools, and synergies, we will have.
Both Darksteel Citadel and Shrapnel Blast have been close to staple status in Modern since the inception of that format, and both were widespread format-dominators in younger days of the game. The printing—reprinting—of both of these Mirrodin block standouts is all about what can be accomplished in Standard.
If history is any gauge, both will be capable of making contributions.
I'll leave you with some springboard ideas of how to fit them into the format:
- Red-based Devotion decks—Hammer of Purphoros doesn't just spit out 3/3 Golems, it makes "3/3 colorless Golem enchantment artifact creature" tokens. That means that a single Hammer of Purphoros can actually ultimately fuel many Shrapnel Blasts, as many as you have appropriate lands to spare! All while hasting your way through the (increasingly) red zone.
- Burn decks—Burn decks, especially RW decks, have been top performers in Standard since the end of 2013. Something tells me a strategy willing to play everything from Shock to Magma Jet to Warleader's Helix might consider bending its mana base to deal 5 damage for only two mana, helping to find a home for one or both cards.
- Trading Post—Darksteel Citadel can play setup man for Trading Post's "draw a card" ability while, again, reducing casting-cost requirements (there's that "free" again).
- Hellkite Tyrant—To the best of my knowledge, no one has successfully broken the alternative win condition on Hellkite Tyrant, at least not just yet. But if you're going to get yourself to twenty artifacts, you are going to want all the freebies you can get, and there ain't no freer than the zero on Darksteel Citadel! (Okay, maybe this one is a stretch.)
These cards clearly have synergy with one another, but it is important to remember that unlike Darksteel Citadel (which taps for !), Shrapnel Blast has no text whatsoever in isolation. What you want to avoid—especially when tempted by such a clean and cost-less enabler as Darksteel Citadel—is making Shrapnel Blast one half of a two-card combination. These cards—the card Shrapnel Blast in particular—are not so powerful that you can play them just with one another in the hopes of closing out a game.
…but if it's your only one? You're going to have some problems.
If you have cards that only work together, they had best say something like…
"Make a 20/20 flying, indestructible Avatar."
"Attack for infinite."
"Gain infinite life."
Or somehow or other "Win the game."
Up next: More, much more, on two-card combinations.