When the Stars Align

Posted in Serious Fun on April 29, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

When I first saw the mechanics for Journey into Nyx, constellation was the one that lit up the night sky. I love the idea of cards giving me something extra for doing the things I was already planning to do. I'm going to play Dictate of Kruphix and the constellation cards already in play are going to give me something extra, on top of the extra card I am going to get from Dictate? Bring it on!

Dictate of Kruphix | Art by Daarken

After thinking about constellation for a bit, my thought was, "Heliod just got interesting." With his ability to create an enchantment whenever you want, I figured his usefulness just went up. I had been reluctant to use him, since four mana for a 2/1 Cleric was pricey. Now, Heliod offers an enchantment creature that would also activate every instance of constellation I had in play. Exiling opponents' cards, milling players, emptying opponents' graveyards, and other effects were all things I would now be able to do at instant speed, all while getting a 2/1 Cleric from Heliod, God of the Sun.

When Pharika, God of Affliction appeared, things just seemed to get better and better. A 1/1 token for only two mana was even better, allowing me to activate constellation cards for a small investment. Having to have a creature in the graveyard could be a problem, but in the right deck, it should be fairly straightforward.

While the constellation cards are good, my thoughts went to the cards that were the precursor to these cards: the enchantresses. For those of you who don't know about enchantresses, there are several creatures (and one enchantment) who are enchantresses. They work similarly to constellation, in that they give a benefit whenever you cast an enchantment. Most commonly, an enchantress either gets bigger (+1/+1) or lets you draw a card. I was picturing how easy it would be to activate the enchantress and draw extra cards. Heliod and Pharika could produce so many enchantments! I would draw so many cards!

While constellation appears to be inspired by the enchantresses, it isn't identical. It wasn't until I started to put the deck together that I reread Argothian Enchantress: "...cast an enchantment spell."

I have to cast the spell, not just get an enchantment to enter the battlefield under my control? This would put a dent in the Big Dipper. Heliod and Pharika don't let you cast spells, they put enchantments onto the battlefield. While this would work with constellation cards, the old-school enchantresses had a higher standard.

Rather than try and work out ways for Heliod and Pharika to do their thing using only the new constellation cards (I'm confident many of you can come up with all sorts of disturbing combinations!), I thought of Josh. Josh and I used to play together all the time, and he would torment me with a deck that followed a plan similar to the enchantresses. He ran a deck without any Angels, that could make you hate Angels nonetheless.

The Flickering Throne

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The deck is a treat. Start with an Angelic Wall or Perimeter Captain. They are there as a way to discourage early attacks. They are cheap to cast early and are strong enough to stop most of the creatures that could be coming at you in the first few turns. This gives you time to get Sigil of the Empty Throne on to the battlefield. The Sigil is your quasi-constellation card, giving you a 4/4 Angel token every time you cast an enchantment. This deck offers Flickering Ward as the recastable enchantment. For one white mana you can play an Aura that gives one of your creatures (probably an Angelic Wall or Perimeter Captain, initially) protection from the most dangerous color on the board. For one more mana, you can bounce it back to your hand. Flickering Ward, with the Sigil of the Empty Throne in play, gives you a 4/4 Angel for only two white mana.

You don't even need a creature in play to start the looping Flickering Ward. Greater Auramancy and Aura of Silence each give you a 4/4 Angel token. Now you can play the Flickering Ward on the Angel token and ramp things up that way!

Spirit Loop functions as a way to get an Angel onto the battlefield, gain you some serious life, and end up right back in your hand if someone kills off the creature with the Spirit Loop on it. Spirit Loop also protects one of your creatures if a Winds of Rath is needed to reset the board. The most common way to get rid of Spirit Loop is by killing the creature it is targeting when first cast. This will send it to the graveyard, but because it was not in play, it will not be coming back to the controller's hand.

Greater Auramancy just makes disrupting the entire plan that much more difficult. Acidic Slime, Naturalize, and other targeted creature and/or enchantment removal is made useless with Greater Auramancy in play. When you realize that you need a creature, the Sigil and a way to repeatedly play enchantments to get this deck moving, the additional defense of Great Auramancy is comforting.

Aura of Silence is an enchantment, so you get an Angel when you play it. It is also a way to kill off enchantments and artifacts. This is something that is key in my group, since there are several decks running some seriously annoying enchantments.

The real benefit to Aura of Silence is that it forces your opponents to pay two extra mana for every artifact or enchantment. Since a big part of this deck is simply slowing your opponents down until you are ready to really ramp up your Angel production, Aura of Silence is a better choice over the cheaper Seal of Cleansing.

When I listed off the top mass removal cards, I included Winds of Rath because of this deck. The card probably shouldn't have been among the top removal cards, but when you are on the wrong end of a Winds of Rath as many times as I've been, you tend to move things up the list. So many times I've seen a battlefield get emptied of all creatures except three Angels, who either have protection from half the spells in my deck, or will be gaining 8 life in just moments. This is the best Wrath effect for this deck and is just miserable every time.

Mine Excavation, like Greater Auramancy, is a way to hold up the delicate combination of cards needed to crush with Angels. If someone does manage to destroy an enchantment, the Excavation is here to retrieve it and reload. While it may seem like a mistake, it is often best to use Mine Excavation on a lost Spirit Loop. As an opponent who has jumped through hoops to get rid of Spirit Loop, there is little more disheartening than watching it come back to the controller's hand, then back into play again. Mine Excavation gives your opponents the sense of inevitability, and leaves them either giving up or trying to make the perfect play, when another play would also work.

Finally, Idyllic Tutor. While I tend to be against tutors in casual decks, a deck like this one often needs it. When you need several specific cards, you are often thrilled that Idyllic Tutor is there to act as a de facto fifth or sixth copy of a card that just refuses to come to the top of your library.

Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and other constellation Bears

So while Heliod and Pharika won't work to get the Sigil of the Empty Throne churning out Angels, Flickering Ward certainly works to get other constellation cards offering up their goodies. I decided to try and see if constellation offered anything to this already potent deck.

Harvestguard Alseids: While I like this card, I don't think it works all that well in this deck. Flickering Ward can prevent most of the combat damage the creatures would face simply by offering protection from the color in question. I like that it is in color, but if the constellation effect doesn't really help, what's the point?

Skybind: This is the far more interesting white card. You could use this as a way to blink your own creatures to get repeated enter-the-battlefield abilities. In this particular deck, it would be a way to clear a path for your Angels. I like it, and it is a card to consider, but with Flickering Ward already in the deck, blocking creatures are not really a concern.

Eidolon of Blossoms: In this deck, Eidolon of Blossoms will draw so many cards. It may be able to just outright replace the Idyllic Tutors in the deck, since you'll likely draw so deeply into your library almost every game. The downside is the double green in the cost. The deck could certainly handle a second color, but waiting for a second green mana in a deck that really wants a LOT of white mana is not ideal. While it is a consideration, for now, I'll stick with Idyllic Tutors finding all the cards I need.

Agent of Erebos: This is a card that I really like and can get behind. So many decks in multiplayer games rely on the ability to use and reuse cards from the graveyard to churn virtual card advantage in the long grindy games often seen at kitchen tables. Having the ability to repeatedly wipe out an opponent's graveyard every time you cast an enchantment is impressive. The card may not help your deck win, but it certainly puts a kink in your opponents' plans and is an option for this deck.

Doomwake Giant: In a deck like this, where there is a real likelihood of casting three or four enchantments in one turn, Doomwake Giant turns into mass removal. The downside to Doomwake Giant is delay. You will likely not be able to wipe out the table the turn you play it, since you'll not likely have the mana needed to cast that many enchantments. The other concern is the larger creatures. If your opponent is running an 8/8, you'll need a ton of mana to make the Giant work better than Winds of Rath.

Underworld Coinsmith: This card takes the lifegain subtheme that was already part of the deck and ups the ante. The deck does demand most of your land produce white to play and replay Flickering Ward, but we should be able to get enough black mana available to cost everyone a few life every round. This isn't going to win the game alone, but it will certainly help things along. It is also an enchantment creature, so it can get you an Angel, and gains a life just by coming onto the battlefield.

Grim Guardian: The Guardian requires only the black mana in its cost to get into play, so this makes the Guardian easier to add to the deck. With every activation of Flickering Ward, your opponents get that much closer to death. I don't think you should remove the Sigil of the Empty Throne to make room for the Grim Guardian, but as a supplement, things can happen in a hurry.

So, perhaps a Wb deck?

The Price of the Empty Throne

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The Grim Guardian and Underworld Coinsmith offer some bizarre version of ramp for the deck, likely speeding up the deck's ability to win by a turn—or even two. This version of the deck doesn't offer near as much early protection of the early version, but should allow for more damage even more quickly than the previous deck. The deck still relies heavily on the Sigil of the Empty Throne and Flickering Ward, but with the additions, every time the Ward is cast, your opponents should be just that much more miserable.

Next week, we'll be looking at Journey into Nyx for cards with extra multiplayer goodness. See you then!

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