The Rarely Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Posted in Feature on November 29, 2007

By Chris Millar

Welcome back to House of Cards! It's been a while, dear Johnnies, so I'm sure you're ready to build some casual decks with strange cards. Heck, you're probably champing, chomping, possibly even chimping, at the bit, so let's cut the chit-chat, scrap the preamble (and the postamble too, while we're at it), and get down to business.

Lorwyn has been out for several weeks now, which is plenty of time to decide whether or not some of our friends with gold expansion symbols deserve the self-esteem-crushing label "reject rare." The cards I'm going to talk about aren't "rejects" as much as simply "under the radar." But "under-the-radar rare" just doesn't crush the self-esteem in quite the same way. No one said I was "under the radar" in high school, for example.

Incendiary of a Madman


Incendiary Command

I'll say right off the bat that this deck is focused more on Thundercloud Shaman than the "lowly" Incendiary Command. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Incendiary Command might not be a good fit for this deck at all. Still, it's in there because, I don't know, I enjoyed playing it. It's like a Lava Axe, a Lava Storm, a Lava Blister, and a [insert name of future red card-drawer with the word Lava in the title]—all in one! It provides some pyroclasmic redundancy, is rarely useless, and is perhaps the only red card in this paragraph that can destroy a Plains (think Savannah or Temple Garden), a plainswalker, and a planeswalker.

Plus, Lorwyn top dog Aaron Forsythe recently called it the worst of the Command cycle, and I just can't resist supporting the worst of things. It's the reason I have been a Toronto Raptors fan for many years (admittedly, they are now on the upswing) and it explains why I write all of my articles on a CoCo 3 (although I'm still getting used to its brand-new "lowercase" feature).

The inspiration for the deck was an old favourite of mine from Onslaught, the last major tribal block. Dubbed Zombie Bidding by a graduate of the School of Sensible Deck Names, it combined the awesome power of Patriarch's Bidding with the slightly-less-awesome power of Noxious Ghoul. Not only does Noxious Ghoul make for a great insult if you happen to live in Elizabethan England (in my mind, it's second only to Filthy Cur in this respect), but it's practically guaranteed to wipe out your opponent's side of the board when you resolve a Bidding and put it and all of your other dead Zombies into play.

Thundercloud Shaman is Noxious Ghoul-esque, generally better when it comes into play, but generally worse once it's in play. The Ghoul has a couple of other advantages: Zombies are cheap and plentiful, and its -1/-1 can still eliminate creatures with protection. On the other hand, Thundercloud Shaman has cooler art.

In the role of Patriarch's Bidding is some combination of Living End and Liliana Vess. Neither card is an ideal substitute (they're both very slow), but if you want to stick to Standard (and I do), they're all you've got.

The deck went through a number of permutations before arriving at the list below. I tried a number of discard mechanisms, including Oona's Prowler, Goblin Lore, and Mindless Automaton, before settling on Incendiary Command. At one point, I even tried to build Turbo-Living End (a contradiction in terms), with the Prowler, Goblin Lore, a bunch of Giants, and Inner-Flame Acolytes (which would give my biggest guy(s) haste, Hamletback Goliath in particular). Unfortunately, the Faerie just died to all of my removal (at the time, the Terrors were Pyroclasms) and Goblin Lore ended up being "Draw four cards, discard three non-Giants at random" every time I played it. Mindless Automaton was actually fine most of the time and could find its way back into the deck at some point. Much of the time, I was just hard-casting my Giants anyway. Incendiary Command gives you the chance to discard your hand if you need to, but can do other things in the meantime. Here's where I ended up, although I could definitely keep tinkering with it:

Dear Incendiary

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My Prerogative: Part 1


Ashling's Prerogative

Despite what can only be termed a complete and utter lack of tournament success (I am 0-fer lifetime vs. all opponents), I am completely and utterly excited to see what kinds of cards and decks show up at Constructed events. In this second area, I am basically batting 1.000. If someone offered a course in Decklist Appreciation (perhaps the School of Sensible Deck Names), I would take it and get, at minimum, an A+. If there was a section devoted to Kangee, Aerie Keeper and Soraya the Falconer decks, you could bump that up to A++ (as a film major, I am practically an expert when it comes to Bird courses).

When I wade through a massive collection of decklists (like the States / Champs results I'm always on the lookout for oddball strategies, people playing my pet cards, or both at the same time. Basically, I hope to see some players / deckbuilders with great intestinal fortitude and/or loose screws. Either way, I end up with some cool deck ideas.

One card that I definitely had my eye on was Ashling's Prerogative. Giving all of your creatures haste is a very powerful ability, but cards that do so are either tournament staples (Fires of Yavimaya, Anger, and Goblin Warchief) or pretty much unplayable (Mass Hysteria, Emblem of the Warmind, and Steamflogger Boss). Ashling's Prerogative falls somewhere in between (like Akroma's Memorial). Depending on the matchup, it can be either a cheaper Fervor or a more expensive Mass Hysteria. It's definitely tricky, requiring you to warp your entire deck around it or risk having it backfire repeatedly. While it's certainly no tournament staple, it did show up in at least one States deck:

Ritsu Shimono

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I was perusing the decklist and as soon as saw the Ravaging Riftwurms I thought, "OMG, LOL! I bet there are Ashling's Prerogatives in this deck!" One column over, there they were. Sure, there are only two of them, but that's still exciting to me. Clearly, the pilot of the deck is going to choose "odd" the majority of the time, since nearly all of the cheap fatties cost three or five. The exceptions are the ten-mana Greater Gargadon and the Elephant tokens produced by Call of the Herd (As tokens, they have a converted mana cost of zero, which is considered "even" by Ashling's Prerogative).

My first instinct was to build an Ashling's Prerogative deck aiming to choose "even." A deck full of two-drops and four-drops would seem to lead inevitably to a very awkward mana curve, but Call of the Herd is a prime example of a card that can make this deck work. It costs an "odd" amount of mana but produces creatures with an "even" converted mana cost. Other cards that fall into this category are morph creatures like Thelonite Hermit and Gathan Raiders. Played face down for three mana, they are considered by the game to have a converted mana cost of zero. You could also use your three-drop for cards like Gaea's Anthem or creatures that perform a similar function (like Imperious Perfect). The Perfect has the added advantage of pumping out hasty 2/2s if you have Ashling's Prerogative in play. Assault is another nice curve-smoother, either a four-mana Elephant or a one-mana burn spell.

It's been a while since I've built an Elf deck (at least three weeks), so I figured I'd take the opportunity to do so now. It just so happens that many of my favourite Elves in Standard cost two or four (Wren's Run Vanquisher, Leaf Gilder, Masked Admirers, and Wren's Run Packmaster) or produce token creatures (Imperious Perfect, Thelonite Hermit, the Packmaster again). Sheltering Ancient and Stampeding Wildebeests are undercosted fatties that have some synergy with each other. The Wildebeests work well with the Hermits (more tokens!) and the Admirers (more cards!), plus they are great with hasty Briarhorns and Cloudthreshers.

Feel free to add Garruk Wildspeaker.

Ashling's Leprechaun

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Party Like It's 999


Thousand-Year Elixir
Granting haste to your guys is cool, but granting them "skillhaste" is probably cooler. That goes double if no one knows what you're talking about (That's always cool, right?). Back in the future, in a segment on the relative futuristic-ness of Bonded Fetch, Aaron Forsythe wrote:

It was Matt Cavotta, I believe, that came up with the ability named "skillhaste" that would have meant "This creature can use tap abilities the turn it comes into play" but not allow the creature to attack." I thought there was some interesting space there—a card like Viashino Fangtail with skillhaste would be able to ping the turn you played it, but not attack for 3. Pretty neat. But the word didn't pick up enough supporters to warrant an increase in the number of keywords in the set, which is already at an all-time high.

While "skillhaste" didn't end up being a keyword, its legacy lives on with Lorwyn's Thousand-Year Elixir. It powers up creatures with tap abilities in two ways: it effectively gives them "skillhaste," and it allows you to untap a creature. In conjunction, these abilities let you get two quick uses out of your, say, Prodigal Pyromancer before your opponent can even blink.

Speaking of blinking, if you want to make a competitive Thousand-Year Elixir deck, it probably doesn't get better than Conley Woods's Momentary Blink hybrid from Colorado States. It's got arguably the two best creatures to pair with the Elixir in Merieke Ri Berit and Mangara of Corondor, as well as the Heaviest Ballista, Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile, in the sideboard.

Conley Woods

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It's been a while since I've built an Elf deck (at least three paragraphs), so I figured that now was a good time for another one. It doesn't hurt that of all the creatures in Lorwyn, Elves have the most tap abilities, with Imperious Perfect, Lys Alana Scarblade, Elvish Branchbender, Jagged-Scar Archers, Immaculate Magistrate, and Hunter of Eyeblights all making the final cut. Since so many of these creatures need a bunch of Elves in play to function properly, I added a full set of Gilt-Leaf Ambushes as well as the standard eight mana Elves.

The Elves that kill creatures aren't entirely reliable (Elves make mana, not war), so I added an Avatar of Woe to pick up the slack. Gaea's Liege is another creature with a powerful tap ability, and if the deck was mono-green I would've included more copies (as well as some Elvish Champions to take advantage of the opposing Forests). Note that you can use Gaea's Liege along with Elvish Branchbender and Lys Alana Scarblade to pick off your opponent's lands, one by one. It ain't pretty, but it works. Being able to tap your Dryad Arbors for mana the turn they come into play is another thing Thousand-Year Elixir permits. Last of all, I always like to include some fatties with my Elves (I guess it's my Christmas spirit). This time I went with Spectral Force, whose drawback can be negated by Thousand-Year Elixir's untap ability.

Aged to Perfection

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Magus of the Coffers
Thousand-Year Elixir allows you to do another useful thing. Once your creature's summoning sickness has worn off, you can use its tap ability, untap it, and attack in the same turn. There are some big-boned creatures with tap abilities out there, creatures you'd rather push into the red zone than keep at home. Every turn you (god forbid) use your Lotus Guardian to ramp up your mana is a turn that you aren't attacking with your evasive 4/4. Another such creature is Magus of the Coffers. Once you hit seven Swamps, you can play and activate the Magus in the same turn, giving you eleven mana (if you untap it and use it again) and a 4/4. If you have more Magi, more Elixirs, and more Swamps on the board, you can really go nuts, finishing with a Profane Command or Consume Spirit.

Rathi Trapper and Royal Assassin do a fine Jules and Vincent impression, and Undertaker allows you to recycle your evoked Shriekmaws and Mournwhelks, your grandeured Korlashes, and your sacrificed Disciples of Tevesh Szat.



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Until next time, have fun under the radar.

Chris Millar

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