Increasing Your Rate Of Return

Posted in Serious Fun on October 25, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Of all the enemy color combinations, black-green is probably my favorite. Part of this is because it's easy for a player like me to get behind the flavor. Green is about life and black is about death. That sounds pretty far apart, but there's a natural cycle most people understand that connects the two: things that live eventually die, and feed the next cycle of life.

In fact, the word "cycle" pretty much says it all. Do such enemy-pair cycles exist that can connect, say, blue and red, or white and black? Eh, maybe we could pop one or two graceful thoughts on the message boards, if we tried. But these would not be as intuitive to most people.

The intuitive link between black and green makes designing decks a bit more rewarding for me, because quite frankly I like to build my decks by just sitting down, closing my eyes, and thinking about them. Sure, at some point I may give in and go to Gatherer to look up "white beasts" or "blue instants with the phrase 'from the game' in the rules text"; but I like imagining the deck first…then building it.

Black-and-green cycles are easy to capture in a game of Magic. They involve a great deal of putting things in one place, and then moving them on to the next place.

Turning The Compost Pile

Let's look at the three black-green cycles most relevant to multiplayer Magic:

1) From hand to play to graveyard to hand. The simplest (though hardly most effective) case of this is a single card: Genesis.


You can play Genesis from your hand, have it work as a 4/4, watch it die, and then bring it back to your hand on the next upkeep. Some people say Genesis is a green card; but if you're going to shift your thinking to "Ravnican" ideals, you have to realize: Genesis is a green-black card, just like Seedborn Muse (as I said two weeks ago) is really a green-white card.

Does this mean you can't use Genesis in a green-white deck, or Muse in a green-black? No. It just means you can take best advantage of the card mechanic and flavor if you take the time to think about it.

This cycle is the most "famous" of the three I'm listing today – everything from Eternal Witness to Woebringer Demon can fit in there, one way or another.

The cycle is strong in multiplayer because (a) there are so many cards that use this path, it's easy to find high-quality cards and (b) lots of people use global sweepers that put things in graveyards – so getting things back from the graveyard is good.

2) From play to graveyard back to play. While white does a bit of this too, green-black just got the hands-down champion of this cycle:


I've known this card exists for several weeks now, and yet every time I read the card again, another little piece of my brain explodes. (That said, I still managed to get Gleancrawler wrong when writing this article, since it actually returns the cards to hand. It's still an amazing card, but you'll want to keep that in mind as you read the rest of this section. - Anthony, post-publish)

Gleancrawler is the latest, most elegant branch on an evolutionary tree that includes Zombify, Necrosavant, Corpse Dance, Compost, and lots of green come-into-play effects like Wall of Blossoms and Spike Feeder.

Like the first cycle, this cycle benefits from the "global sweeper" mentality that often permeates group games. (Hey, if it works, people will use it! And black-green has a whopper of its own in Pernicious Deed.) It often takes great effort to get off a board-clearer – first, because the controller generally has to think it's a good idea, which probably means they've taken some damage and don't see things getting much better; and second, because board-clearers almost never cost less than four mana – and usually cost more like six or seven, and sorcery speed at that.

And then you go and bring all the spirits, goblins, elves, and beasts back with a single Patriarch's Bidding? You awful person, you.

3) From "ready" to "regenerating" to "ready again". The shortest cycle we'll discuss today, the regeneration cycle doesn't involve the shifting of cards from zone to zone as much as it describes a ducking maneuver by your team. You unleash massive damage through a Crypt Rats, meanwhile regenerating your own Spiritmonger. It lies down for a moment to catch its breath – but then it's right back up again, and how's everyone else? What, dead? Huh. Well, nothing to do now but pound away…

The speed of this cycle is what sells it in multiplayer. In addition, you'll often find that the kill cards (like Crypt Rats) and regenerators (like Spiritmongers) have obvious value beyond the abilities we're using here. So you're using efficient cards, and you're not wasting resources getting stuff out of the graveyard – because you don't have to.

While the most typical black destruction effects don't allow for regeneration, there are plenty that do – turn to Pestilence-style damage effects, for example.

Recycled Questions

During Selesnya week, I promised I'd ask three questions when discussing color combinations like this. This is my substitute for the Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame this year; and I'm enjoying it more than rehashing the same list of cards yet again. (The Hall will return next year, when there are six expansions' worth of new cards to go in!)

Since I've already spent quite a bit of time discussing Golgari mechanics, I'll keep the lists even shorter this week than I did last time. That means there are sure to be readers out there who cannot believe I forgot their favorite card! And I am equally sure not to believe that readers exist who need me to mention their favorite card.

Put it up on the message boards, if your only other alternative is to burst with stupefied outrage. We don't want things to get messy! But stay polite – I don't claim these as exhaustive lists.

What Green-Black Multiplayer Bombs Are In The New Set?

Vulturous Zombie
I recently finished an article for another media on my "top ten" choices for Ravnica's multiplayer cards. Not two days later, I saw Vulturous Zombie as an actual card, instead of a spoiler entry on an eye-straining spreadsheet.

Wait, I told myself. From anywhere? ANYWHERE? ANY OPPONENT?!? ANYWHERE?!?!

Anyway, it was too late to change the article. (Stupid deadlines.) But the ten cards you'll read about elsewhere are still lovely cards – think of it as a top eleven list, with the Vulturous Zombie as an honorary, too-good-for-this-list entry.

Since I've already done a preview for Plague Boiler and mentioned Gleancrawler above, Vulturous Zombie is the only other card I want to focus on today for Golgari's multiplayer bomb list. This thing is Forgotten Ancient gone twisted. (Speaking of which, no reason not to put the Ancient in your Vulturous Zombie deck.)

The fact that you can play this on turn five (assuming no acceleration) and then slap down Pernicious Deed and activate it for three the following turn…and then swing for something like 12 or 20, depending on how much stuff you just roasted…well, we're entering a surreal sort of world here.

What Green-Black Multiplayer Bombs Might We Have Forgotten?

Scan some of the cards I've mentioned above for some possibilities; but I'd like you to consider two others as well, both technically mono-colored:

Reincarnation. I had a really fun green-black Reincarnation deck that used Wild Mongrels to dump Penumbra Wurms and Symbiotic Wurms into my graveyard. Then I'd throw out a Bottle Gnomes, play Reincarnation on it, sack it, and – wheeee! For additional fun, you can play Reincarnation on those Wurms well before they die on a given turn, so they rejoin their token brethren back on the battlefield.

Call to the Grave. Yeah, I know, it's a zombie card. Have you noticed lately how many green zombies there are, especially with Ravnica out now? And Apocalypse even has a green instant that helps zombies.

Even if the green half of your deck is just pumping out saprolings with something like Verdant Force or Golgari Germination, how do you not keep up with the Call?

Yes, yes, tons more cards are possible on this list. We could name ten dozen. Let's move on.

What Cheap, Effective Cards Can Round Out A Green-Black Deck?

To kill. Putrefy is, of course, the latest addition to the "cheap utility" list. Wow, what a great card. As for the rest – they're all variations on one half of Putrefy. Use whatever you like; they all get the job done.

To recur. I've said this before and I'll say it every time I discuss recursion strategies in-depth: Bone Harvest and Haunted Crossroads are just ridiculously good cards for their price. Neither is rare, which slays me. If you just want the darn thing in play and not in your hand/library, Zombify is plenty good.

To attack. Wild Mongrel is honestly black about half the time it's on the board anyway, so you knew that had to be in this article. With the possible exception of Sakura-Tribe Elder, it's very hard to find a card you'd rather play on turn two in about 90 percent of green-black multiplayer decks.

To block. See here for some thoughts on good green blockers that work off the comes-into-play mechanic.

Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.

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