For those unfamiliar with the SCS MO, my job today will be to take a single card—in this case, Puppet Conjurer—and discuss some of the strategies (and tactics!) that it can be a part of in your future games, hopefully spurring some fun deckbuilding of your own. I guess all that was obvious from the title. Less obviously, the chosen card has traditionally been an interesting uncommon, making a playset more accessible to more players than a rare while still maintaining that build-around-me potential. Selecting a suitable card from Shards was a little tricky, since so many of the exciting uncommons are "French vanilla" creatures like Rhox War Monk, "French vanilla" creatures with a double-shot of espresso like Fire-Field Ogre, or Swiss Army-style utility cards like the Battlemage and Charm cycles. All fine cards, but my strategy advice wouldn't be much more than "Play 'em!" After narrowing the field down to a few finalists, I opted for Puppet Conjurer for one major reason:
Those Homunculus tokens are creepy as [expletive deleted]! Pediophobes, avert your eyes!
Good Godsire, just look at that thing! It's like a cross between a neonatal Uatu the Watcher and a Russian nesting doll. It is a truly unsettling image. What makes it off-the-charts disturbing for me is that, in context, one of the primary tasks of these dapper "little men" is to hurl their fragile little bodies in front of things like barreling Rakeclaw Gargantuans and otherwise unstoppable Spearbreaker Behemoths. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it. It might as well be a sinister-looking child, if you ask me. Homunculi: where ancients tread. If they get gobbled up by something called a Skullmulcher, they can consider themselves lucky. Otherwise, they just get euthanized by their creator a turn later. What a life! Now, we still haven't seen the words "sacrifice a human" on a card, but it seems like we're inching mighty close to that point.
Homunculus, Sweet Homunculus
Besides birthing the creepiest token creatures in Magic history, Puppet Conjurer is a fine card to build around because it has so many "moving parts." Those parts, in turn, have properties that link them to a web of other cards. Together, they form a constellation of interactions; call it Urza Major. Puppet Conjurer itself is black, an artifact, a creature, a Human, and a Wizard, allowing you to play it profitably in decks with cards that care about those things. It also has an ability that, with one activation, allows you to create a token that is a blue permanent, an artifact, a creature, and a Homunculus. During your subsequent upkeep, you get to send a permanent with (probably) those same qualities to the graveyard.
That's a lot to consider, and there are many angles of approach we can take, so why don't we look at these parts and properties (i.e. read the friendly card) a little more closely.
, : Put a 0/1 blue Homunculus artifact creature token into play.
First off, we can see that it has a tap symbol in the activation cost. In Magic, this means two things. One, you can only use the ability once each turn; and two, with help from other cards, you can use the ability many times per turn. While it's probably painfully obvious, that simple fact does open up for consideration a whole class of cards and it doesn't hurt to remind oneself that nothing is at seems in this game, and the rules are made to be broken.
Some of the cards that you might want to include in your Puppet Conjurer deck care specifically about creatures with tap abilities—cards like Magewright's Stone and Thousand-Year Elixir—and allow you to double up on the activations. Others have more general utility, allowing you to untap creatures (the on-theme Puppeteer and Puppet Strings), artifacts (Voltaic Key, Tezzeret the Seeker, and Filigree Sages, among others), artifact creatures (Voltaic Construct), artifacts or creatures (Aphetto Alchemist), or simply permanents of any kind (Tidewater Minion and Fatestitcher). Because Puppet Conjurer's ability is an activated one, another card you might want to consider is Lorwyn's Rings of Brighthearth, which, as it happens, also works nicely with all the aforementioned untappers.
Once you've gone through the hassle of activating your Puppet Conjurer's ability, you are rewarded with a new permanent that, as I said, has a whole bunch of relevant attributes. For starters, it's a 0/1 creature. Admittedly, that's not terribly exciting. You won't be giving it trample with your Mosstodon any time soon. Of course, this being Magic, you can change this sad reality to a happier one in any number of ways. Since it has no abilities, you can try Muraganda Petroglyphs. Since it's blue, you can boost its power with any of the blue Lieges from Shadowmoor block (Glen Elendra Liege will even pump Puppet Conjurer itself!) or you can turn to Sunken City, the old friend of Homarids, Homarid Spawning Bed, and Merfolk of the Pearl Trident alike. Since it's an artifact, you can take advantage of Master of Etherium, the new "artifact lord." And finally, since it's a Homunculus, you can... well, here your options are limited. There's Brass Herald, Coat of Arms, and, with a little work, Door of Destinies (cue the Nameless Inversions!). Beyond that, there isn't much. The one sad thing about Puppet Conjurer is that it doesn't work that well in a Homunculus theme deck, what with its penchant for "[scowling] at his imperfect creation, then [crushing] it to scrap." That goes for you, too, Chameleon Colossus.
But wait, there's more! Many, many cards in Magic reward you for putting into play a permanent of a certain quality. Puppet Conjurer allows you to put a permanent with many qualities into play every single turn. It's a blue creature, you say? Why not experiment with Dire Undercurrents? It's an artifact? How about tapping down a permanent with Lumengrid Sentinel, charging up your Serum Tank, or pumping up Glaze Fiend and its predecessor, the mighty Vermiculos? It's a Homunculus? Well, why not petition R&D to print a card that triggers whenever a Homunculus comes into play? Because that's probably your best option at this point.
Atog Bites (Little) Man
Okay, so you're well on your way to making one or more Homunculi each turn. You've got an army of evil, robed doll-people lined up like bowling pins across from a first-striking Gargantuan. What now? Well, your options are many, but most of them involve your little Homunculi having to cancel their retirement plans.
Half of the Atogs and close to a third of all the black creatures in Magic would like nothing more than to dine on puppet-based dishes. While these percentages might not be true now (ever), I've got to consider future readers (and alternate-future readers) in my calculations. And once word gets out, Zombies and Horrors and Golems and even Bird Skeletons will be lining up for some good old fashioned Homunculus-style cooking. As of now, you can feed your tokens to Nantuko Husk to make it stronger; to Sadistic Hypnotist, Tar Fiend, or Nezumi Bone-Reader to make your opponent discard cards; to Skullmulcher to draw cards; to Gutless Ghoul to gain life; to Ertai, the Corrupted to counter spells; to Stronghold Assassin to destroy a nonblack creature; to such insatiable monsters as Yawgmoth Demon, Rust Elemental, Devouring Strossus, Lord of the Pit, Doomgape, or Archdemon of Unx, simply to keep them around and smashing face for another turn. And that's just some of the creatures!
Bone Splinters, Abjure, Shrapnel Blast, Goblin Bombardment, Attrition, Recurring Nightmare, Skull Catapult, and many other cards allow you to trade your 0/1 tokens for an increase in some desirable resource or a decrease in such resources for your opponent. That's one way of putting it. Another would be to simply proclaim them to be "cannon fodder" and, quite literally, launch them out of a cannon. Less literally, you can use Doom Cannon or Fodder Cannon for you Homunculus-launching purposes.
But you'd better do all this stuff pretty quick, because of the second line of game text on Puppet Conjurer:
At the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a Homunculus.
These babies are temporary. The good news is twofold. First of all, you can get around this "drawback" by doing things like skipping your upkeep step entirely (Eon Hub) or by changing all of your creatures into some non-Homunculus creature type (Conspiracy). Better yet, you can turn this mandated man sacrifice into a bonus. A handful of creatures from Jund's dragonscape come with a built-in Sadistic Glee, so the Scavenger Drakes, Rockslide Elementals, and Algae Gharials of that plane will no doubt appreciate the clockwork binning of little men. Hissing Iguanar, Vicious Shadows, and the banhammered Disciple of the Vault punish your opponent whether or not they had anything to do with the timely demise of your Homunculi. Equipping your short-lived tokens with Deathrender also seems pretty exciting to me, especially if you're also playing with some of the big black monsters I mentioned earlier and can drop them into play at a significant discount. As with the sacrifice outlets I discussed, the cards that trigger whenever a creature (or artifact) is put into a graveyard can lead to all sorts of adventures in resource management. And isn't that why we're all here? You know, besides the Elves?
It's Time to Play the Music!
To give you a better idea of the kinds of decks that make puppet conjury worthwhile, I've put together a couple of simple ones that use mostly recent commons and uncommons. The first one uses Puppet Conjurer to hold down the fort while your flying creatures whittle away at your opponent's life total, or, in the case of Tower Gargoyle, chops away at it like a lumberjack. Due to the inclusion of Glaze Fiend, I made sure that almost all of the other creatures were artifacts, and without much of a stretch, did the same with the spells.
This is a pretty straightforward blue-black deck, with a small white splash for Tower Gargoyle and for cycling Resounding Wave (which happens much more often than I would have thought). Etherium Astrolabe, as Mark Rosewater mentioned recently, is pretty awesome with Puppet Conjurer. I'm not sure you would ever want more than two in a deck because its value depends so heavily on the presence of Puppet Conjurer, but one seems like a must, especially considering it's basically a combat trick if you have a Glaze Fiend in play. You can tweak and tune this many different ways, but here's where I ended up:
It's Time to Light the Lights!
The next deck shifts the focus from artifacts and moves it to creatures. With Puppet Conjurer Edict-ing your Homunculi each turn and sacrifice outlets like Nantuko Husk and Phyrexian Vault eating all of your cheap "comes into play" creatures like Ravenous Rats, Blister Beetle, and Lorwyn's blue and black evoke creatures, your Scavenger Drakes will become monsters in no time. There are so many creatures in the deck not long for this world that it seemed wise to splurge on a pair of Dire Undercurrents and a pair of Grave Pacts. Once both enchantments are in play, a single activation of Puppet Conjurer will result in one drawn card for you and one sacrificed creature for your opponent. As of now, the deck has no use for the red mana provided by the set of Crumbling Necropolises, but the version I've been fooling around with online made room for two copies of Sedris, the Traitor King, the Grixis necromancer who allows you to reuse all of your creatures' "comes into play" abilities. Again, this deck is ripe for customization.
It's Time to Meet the Puppets!
Finally, here's an example of the kind of combo deck you can build using Puppet Conjurer. For long-time combo enthusiasts, any new creature that taps to put another creature into play should set off warning bells. Bells that sound like, oh, an Intruder Alarm. Most Intruder Alarm decks that I've seen have had to use green, either for Imperious Perfect or some land animation spell like, uh, Animate Land. Not anymore, now that Puppet Conjurer is on the scene. Because Intruder Alarm untaps all creatures whenever a creature comes into play, all you need is a creature like Puppet Conjurer and a creature that produces enough mana to activate the creature-making ability, and you can make infinite creatures. In this case, either Silver Myr or Scuttlemutt will cover the one blue mana needed to make your arbitrarily large amount of Homunculi.
Once you've got those three cards in play, you can do pretty much whatever you like. Sage of Lat-Nam will allow you to draw your deck. Arcum Dagsson can pull every noncreature artifact out of your library and put all of them directly into play. From there, you can win by milling your opponent with Grinding Station, or you can cause a death of a thousand pings with Blasting Station, or you can simply play Coat of Arms and earn an arbitrarily large number of style points for dealing lethal damage with Homunculus tokens. You can adapt this deck, too, even by cutting the Intruder Alarms entirely, since Puppet Conjurer forms a perfectly serviceable combo with Sage of Lat-Nam and Arcum Dagsson even if you don't drag infinity into it.
I hope that gave you some ideas about how to use Puppet Conjurer. Feel free to share your own combos, decks, and even deck fragments in the forums.
Until next time, have fun conjuring puppets!