Infinity on a Budget

Posted in Reconstructed on March 12, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Today, we're going to work on a deck that can really "go infinite." By the time we're finished, we'll have a deck that can go infinite in multiple different ways. Make unlimited mana? Check. Create creatures of unbounded power? Check. Draw endless numbers of cards? Check. And best of all, this deck does all of these things while also staying on a budget.

How? Well, it's all thanks to the power of one specific card...

Illusionist's Bracers | Art by Svetlin Velinov

Budget weeks are always popular—and this week was no exception. My inbox was full of several great, budget-friendly decks. But one deck definitely caught my eye the most. I just had to instantly load it up in Magic Online and give it a spin, and I knew right away I had found something uniquely fun.

The deck we're going to take a look at this week comes from Michael Tuchler. Let's take a look!

Michael Tuchler's Budget Brilliant Bracers

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Laboratory Maniac | Art by Jason Felix

Budget Rules

Before getting into the actual deck revision, let's quickly recap my rules for working on budget decks to help refresh everyone.

  1. I will not add any new rares or mythic rares to the decklist. I'd rather make the deck extra budget-y and then let you season to taste with delicious rares than cook it so rare you won't eat it at all.
  2. The one exception to the above is mana fixing. I know this will especially be a point of contention considering how sought after the Return toRavnica block dual lands are, but the bottom line is you're going to want to have access to these lands for the next two years of Standard. They're certainly worth trading for.
  3. I try not to make substitutions. Budget doesn't need to mean making a worse version of a current deck—it just means building toward an archetype that has easier-to-obtain cards. Cards like Snapcaster Mage or Geist of Saint Traft simply can't be replaced in decks that need them.
  4. Budget doesn't mean bad. I'm not setting out to make a deck we know will be suboptimal through this process. There have been plenty of highly successful low-rare decks throughout Magic's history, and there are certainly ways to follow in their footsteps.

If you want more explanation on any of those points, check out the beginning of my first budget article.

With that all noted, let's take a look at what exactly this crazy deck is trying to do!

The Battle Plan

This deck is indeed a combo deck—but you might not see the combo at first. Did you manage to find it?

You can probably identify the first half as being based on Illusionist's Bracers. That should be clear. But what are you pairing it with?

The answer isn't necessarily intuitive—but it is very cool. Check this out:

Illusionist's Bracers
Civilized Scholar

If your Civilized Scholar is wearing an Illusionist's Bracers, here's how it breaks down. You can tap the Scholar to draw a card and discard a card, putting another copy of the ability onto the stack. The first one resolves and, presuming you discard a creature card, the Scholar untaps and transforms into his alter ego, Homicidal Brute.

Okay, makes sense so far. But the key comes in the second discard. Even though the card's name is now Homicidal Brute and it no longer has the Civilized Scholar's abilities, the second draw and discard trigger still has all the effects of the first one tied in. If you discard a creature again, the Brute will buck off his murderous tendencies and transform once more, back into Civilized Scholar.

The end result? An untapped Scholar, ready to let you draw two cards yet again.

Now, theoretically you can rip through most of your deck this way and then win with Laboratory Maniac. In practice, however, what I found by playing on Magic Online is that this is nearly impossible to pull off. Eventually, you will undoubtedly hit a clump of lands or Illusionist's Bracers and you'll be forced to wait another turn. If you're looking to find specific cards in your deck this works great, but it's not so consistent at just outright destroying your opponent.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other combinations with the Illusionist's Bracers that this deck can use. I'll get into what I plan to add later, but it's worth noting that, even aside from this deck's primary combo, it has plenty of Bracers targets that just generate a little bit of value. Zameck Guildmage, for example, is fantastic with a Bracers around. He first loads up your creatures with extra counters, then gives you two cards for the price of one.

Curious as to how I'd change up this deck? Well, let's head into the individual card breakdown...

Card Breakdown

Which cards should stay and which cards should go? This is the place to go through each card and determine just that. Let's take a look!

Civilized Scholar
 

This is a cornerstone card of this deck's powerful engine. While it's tough to straight up kill your opponent with the combo right now, in revision, being able to dig to specific cards will become crucial. We will definitely want all four

 

One-mana accelerators are going to be awesome in this sort of deck. Not only do they add speed, but they also mean we can play fewer lands, which, in turn, makes our Civilized Scholar combo more consistent.

Deathrite Shaman

Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf are definite keepers here. Arbor Elf is definitely the better of the two, since it works with Illusionist's Bracers—more on that later. But Deathrite Shaman, on the other hand, bears some discussion.

Deathrite Shaman works pretty well with Illusionist's Bracers. Its abilities all get copied—yes, even the first, mana-producing ability. No, I know that doesn't make any sense. Yes, the Magic rules are weird.

How can this be possible? Basically, since the ability has to target, it's no longer considered a mana ability. That means you get to double up and get two mana off of one exiled land.

That sounds great—except that this deck doesn't have a ton of great ways to pour cards into its graveyard. Most of the time, the Shaman is going to end up a one-mana 1/2. It's too much of a do-nothing to make the cut here. Goodbye, Deathrite Shaman!

On the plus side, that change helps make this deck even more budget friendly.

Slitherhead
 

The idea behind Slitherhead in this deck is that you're going to be discarding creatures, so you might as well make some of them free scavenge creatures so you can get some delectable +1/+1 counters. While this all sounds nice, if you start going crazy with Civilized Scholar, a single +1/+1 counter isn't going to be what you're looking for. If you are just trying to play a normal game, Slitherhead isn't that strong, either. I'd rather have a card that helps out the combo or is good on its own than this creature.

Alchemist's Apprentice
Elvish Visionary
 

To try and dig to the combo cards quicker, Michael included these two cards. They both cycle away for two mana. Elvish Visionary gives you a body permanently, while Alchemist's Apprentice requires you to sacrifice it but has the potential to net you an extra card if you have the time to put Illusionist's Bracers on it.

While I'm all for digging closer to the combo and for this deck to thin its land count, these cards are so low-impact that too many of them starts impacting space for all the action this deck needs. Out of the two, I'd rather have the Visionary. The body to block and buy time is nice, and putting Illusionist's Bracers on an Alchemist's Apprentice to draw two cards comes up so seldom that it's not worth playing that over Elvish Visionary.

Zameck Guildmage
 

Zameck Guildmage is an awesome card for this deck.

First of all, it allows this deck to dig deeper by drawing cards. Second, with Illusionist's Bracers on him, both abilities start to become pretty crazy. Even if you don't find a Civilized Scholar, you can start functioning as a legitimate midrange deck if you get Bracers on this Guildmage and start throwing out juiced-up creatures. And if those aren't doing it, you can always cash in the counters for tons of cards. Something I always look for is the ability to function as a midrange deck if your combo isn't together yet and this Guildmage helps threaten exactly that.

Finally, this Guildmage is extremely integral to the revised version of the deck. But more on that shortly...

Laboratory Maniac
 

The Laboratory Maniac is your win condition when you're speeding through your deck. Provided you can cast him, he just lets you immediately win without having to pass the turn or anything. With two, you can make sure to find one even if you're forced to discard one to a Civilized Scholar at some point. That's the right number to me.

Illusionist's Bracers
 

You definitely want to play all of these. Most of the creatures in your deck work favorably with it, and you need to draw one. Multiples aren't even that bad. With a Civilized Scholar and two , it means you're drawing three cards but only need to discard two creatures, which gives you a much more realistic possibility of actually going through your entire deck. And Zameck Guildmage with multiple Illusionist's Bracers is even more formidable!

Simic Charm
 

While Simic Charm is a nice protective agent with its hexproof effect and it can buy you a little time, this deck is crunched for space when it comes to noncreature cards—it can't really afford to run any it doesn't need to. Simic Charm isn't crucial enough to eat up some of those dedicated noncreature slots.

Evolving the Combo

So, now that we've highlighted what doesn't belong, what should come in for those cards? And what is this new combo I keep mentioning about adding in? Well, it's time to finally solve that mystery...

Galvanic Alchemist
 

Wait, what? Why would I play with this cards?

Let me explain...

What this deck is really missing are some pieces Civilized Scholar could dig to so the deck could truly go infinite. Additionally, extra pieces give the deck added redundancy when trying to find the combo elements. This card does that.

It might not look instantly obvious, so let me walk you through the steps of the combo. The key card to this combos? Surprisingly, the innocuous pair of Arbor Elf and Breeding Pool!

Arbor Elf
Breeding Pool

Imagine you have an Arbor Elf on the battlefield with Illusionist's Bracers on it and a Breeding Pool in play. You cast Galvanic Alchemist and pair it with your Arbor Elf.

What next? Okay, this is where it gets complicated. You tap your Breeding Pool for a blue mana, then tap Arbor Elf to untap the pool. This gives you a second Arbor Elf trigger, which also targets the Pool. The Breeding Pool untaps from the first Arbor Elf ability, then be sure to tap the Pool again before the second ability resolves. Once the original Arbor Elf ability resolves, tap the pool for a third mana.

Now what?

Now you activate Arbor Elf's Galvanic Alchemist–granted ability. This puts a pair of untap triggers on the stack. The first one resolves. Then tap Arbor Elf to get two triggers, and therefore two mana. Then let the second untap ability resolve. Tap the elf once more for two abilities and two more mana.

The end result of all this madness? You're right back where you started—except now you have one extra blue or green mana in your mana pool. Repeat as many times as desired.

What do you do once you have unlimited mana? Well, you could, for example, activate Zameck Guildmage's first ability sixty billion times and then cast all of the creatures in your hand and put sixty billion +1/+1 counters on them. But don't let your opponent quake for too long, because you don't even need the added power. Surely you'd much rather draw your entire deck, cast a pair of Laboratory Maniacs, and then draw one last card to send you over the brink of insanity—and straight to victory.

Zameck Guildmage
Laboratory Maniac

Don't have a Zameck Guildmage but have a Civilized Scholar? You can transfer the Illusionist's Bracers over to him and start going off with the Bracers/Scholar combo. End up with too many noncreatures in your hand? No problem! As long as you find another Galvanic Alchemist, eventually you can cast it, bond it with the Scholar, and then use your endless mana to untap the Civilized Scholar endless times, tossing away all of your noncreatures to be sure he doesn't transform. Eventually, you can kill with Laboratory Maniac.

I think the only way this could probably be more complicated is if this card was called The Prestige Alchemist, in which case I would have confused it with The Illusionist Bracers. (I can never seem to keep those straight.) The interactions to get there are crazy—but ways to get unbounded mana, cards, and power usually require jumping through some rules hoops.

Boneyard Wurm
 

Earlier, I mentioned that I like it when decks like this can function as a midrange deck (albeit a clunky one) in addition to just pure combo. Boneyard Wurm gives that aspect of this deck some added ammo. Additionally, if you just have Illusionist's Bracers and Civilized Scholar, it's certainly realistic that you could discard enough creatures to go lethal with the Boneyard Wurm in one attack—especially when you consider the 5 points of damage Homicidal Brute can deal that turn as well!

Tracker's Instincts
 

While this deck doesn't have much space for noncreatures, Tracker's Instincts is one of the few that's worth it. It digs you to your non-Bracers combo pieces, fills up your graveyard for Boneyard Wurm, and even flashes back. It almost made me want to keep Deathrite Shaman, but with only four copies of Tracker's Instincts it's not going to work together with Shaman quite often enough for my liking. I'm happy playing the full four.

What does that make the finished product of this deck look like? Well, take a look at this:

Gavin Verhey's Reverse the Infinity of the Galvanic Flow

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The end result of this crazy experiment? Something that is a lot of fun to play and takes full advantage of Illusionist's Bracers in a unique and cool way. Is it going to take down the next Standard Grand Prix? Well, probably not—but it could definitely be a lot of fun at your local FNM! That's a good place for a budget deck to be.

If I was looking to de-budgetize this deck, there are many paths I might take.

One route would be to consider cards like Splinterfright, Mulch, Armored Skaab, Ghoultree, Skaab Ruinator, and Kessig Cagebreakers, taking more of a graveyard-centric route. You could even go totally crazy with a single Mirror-Mad Phantasm—in conjunction with Bracers, that will mill away your entire library! In a version like that, I would definitely look at Deathrite Shaman again.

Splinterfright
Ghoultree

You can also potentially move further in on the original combo. One card I had thought about was Creeping Renaissance. If you play two, then once you start fizzling out with your Civilized Scholar you will likely have found one. At that point, you could Creeping Renaissance for creatures, bring them all back, and have no problem finishing the combo chain from there.

There are definitely some different avenues you could take this deck depending on your collection. Have fun, and don't be afraid to go a little crazy!

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the other awesome budget decks from this week? I'm glad you asked, because there were several great ones! Let's take a look.

Silas Waltzer's Gate Expectations

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Adam Karbowski's Budget Azorius Auras

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Bateleur's Budget GW Humans

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Stuart Barker's Budget Nivmagus

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Van Yusoph Mamokhan's Cipher Midrange

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Kyle Kreiger's Dimir's Mill Combo Machine

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Ryan Kennedy's Tribal Wolves

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Dallis Conn's Sphere of Safety

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Dan Herrick's Budget Immortal Servitude

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Lewis Bolland's Budget Beatdown

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David Wills's Pauper Izzet Deck Wins

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Chris Mitchell's Griffinferno

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Wilhelm Ericsson's RUGed Ramp

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David McGillicuddy's Budget Esper Humanimator

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Andrew Tuttle's Tribal Primordial

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