X Appeal

Posted in Feature on July 25, 2007

By Chris Millar

Tenth Edition craziness, your chance to build a deck for the Magic Invitational, and a deck title you won't want to miss.

Howdy, folks, and welcome to X Week! As my fellow columnists have no doubt discussed, the letter X has a number of important uses. It's great for describing groups of mutant superheroes, for example. Everyone's heard of the X-Men. The B-Men? Not so much. The letter X also comes in handy when you are short on time and you need to summarize your movie collection. If you need to mark a spot for some reason, you wouldn't consider using any other letter. X also happens to be the Roman numeral for ten. Coincidentally, the Tenth Edition of Magic's Core Set was recently released, so this is the wacky angle I'm going to pursue for my column this week.

In his feature article on Monday, Aaron Forsythe talked about how one of the main goals of the Tenth Edition design squad was "to bring back cool, unexpected cards for people to get excited about." Since these "Wow!" and/or "What the heck?" cards are my favourite part of every Core Set, I'm going to take this opportunity to build a few decks around them. To restrict myself even further, because that is the thing to do these days, I'm only going to use three cards that aren't in Tenth Edition.

I Have the High Ground!

Loyal Sentry

One of the new additions to the Core Set that caught my attention was Loyal Sentry, who last appeared in 1999's Starter set. Despite his small stature, this guy is an excellent defender. When he blocks, he gladly gives up his own life so that he can take down an incoming Avatar of Might, Denizen of the Deep, or Phage the Untouchable. Some might say that he takes his loyalty to the cause a little too far, because he also martyrs himself instantly if he blocks a Little Girl. No matter how big or small the attacking creature, Loyal Sentry can destroy it, even if he kicks the bucket, shuffles off his mortal coil, and makes himself an ex-Sentry in the process. Unlike the similar card, Defiant Vanguard, Loyal Sentry destroys itself and the creature it blocks when its triggered ability resolves and not at the end of combat. This is particularly good against creatures with trample.

There are a few cards in Standard that combine particularly well with Loyal Sentry. The first is Regeneration. Plunk this down on your Sentry and he can practice his own special brand of excessive defense every single turn. Of course, this only lets you keep one creature at bay per turn. It seems kind of odd to me that a sentry so loyal would sacrifice his life defending you from one Little Girl, while letting the rest stroll casually by. Luckily, we can help him out by using one of the other new additions to 10th: High Ground. If it worked for Obi-Wan Kenobi, it can work for us.

Now, High Ground is a classic example of a card that "does nothing on its own." I'm not a huge fan of this expression as a tool for dismissing cards outright, since there are plenty of good cards that fit that description like, say, Umezawa's Jitte, Skullclamp, Glare of Subdual, and every reactive spell ever printed. It's just that it doesn't take as much for those cards to "do something." High Ground, on the other hand, needs all the help it can get. To make the most of the ability to block an additional creature, it seems wise to use creatures that make good blockers. That's pretty obvious. Besides the aforementioned duo, Loyal Sentry and Defiant Vanguard, I want to use another pair of excellent defenders which can both be found in 10th: Cho-Manno, Revolutionary (which can be fetched with Defiant Vanguard due to his rebel-ness) and Voice of All. Yavimaya Enchantress, meanwhile, takes advantage of High Ground's mere presence on the board, allowing you to get some offensive value out of what is otherwise a purely defensive card.

Since we're using Cho-Manno, Voice of All, and the Enchantress, I wanted to include a set of Pariahs. The Cho-Manno + Pariah combo is an oldie but a goodie, which also happens to be featured in the white theme deck for Tenth Edition. Serra's Embrace is another fine enchantment, perfect for following up a turn three Enchantress or Defiant Vanguard.

Cho-Manno, Revolutionary

The last Loyal Sentry-helper I want to use, and in fact my main inspiration for this deck, is Scout's Warning. The problem with creatures with purely defensive abilities like those of Loyal Sentry and Defiant Vanguard, is that your opponent can see them sitting there across the table and act accordingly. They can either attack when it's convenient for them, wait for a removal spell, or just wait until they can swarm you. Basically, your opponent is in control. Everything changes when you can flash out one of your super-blockers in the middle of combat. This is especially true if you have one or more High Grounds in play. That's not all Scout's Warning can do, however. Another cute trick you can pull is to flash out a True Believer in response to a direct-damage spell aimed at your noggin. "Sorry, fella. Me have shroud," you might say.

20th Sentry BloX

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Might May be Right, but Power is, uh, Dour

Hail of Arrows

Stupid rhyming dictionary.

On Monday, Mark Rosewater tallied up all the X-spells ever printed and found that, of the five colours, white had the fewest by far. One of those spells, Saviors of Kamigawa's Hail of Arrows, was reprinted in 10th. Now, X-spells are generally at their best when you can make a big X. To make a big X requires big mana. To make big mana requires, oh, I don't know, something like Gauntlet of Power.

If you're going to use the G.O.P., you might as well make the most of it. Luckily, 10th is full of white cards that get better the more mana you can pump into them. Mobilization is the first and most obvious choice, since you get to take advantage of both the Gauntlet's mana-doubling and its creature-pumping. Players have been using Sacred Mesa for much the same purpose since Time Spiral came out. The other cards are a little less obvious and include a pair of other reprints: Fallen Empires' Icatian Priest (What the heck?) and Scourge's Starlight Invoker. Loxodon Warhammer doesn't need a lot of assistance to be good, but having tons of mana lets you use it on offense and defense more easily.

The best white creature to pump up has got to be Skyhunter Skirmisher, the first ever creature with double strike to appear in a Core Set. It makes Icatian Priest's pricey pump doubly effective and is absolutely nutty with the Warhammer. Serra Angel makes another pump target. Add it all up, and you've got a pretty straightforward white control deck with an excruciating pun for a name.

Waiting to X-Hail

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Get the Wicked Some Energy Drinks, Stat!

No Rest For The Wicked

One of the more unexpected cards to make it into 10th also happens to have one of the coolest names in the set: No Rest for the Wicked. Sure, it's no Blizzard of Ozz or even Bark at the Moon, but let's see what we can do with it anyway. The card acts as a sort of Seal of Raise Dead, except it lets you return multiple creatures, they have to have been put into your graveyard from play, and they had to have been put there the turn you sacrifice No Rest for the Wicked. Okay, so it doesn't really have much in common with Raise Dead beyond the fact that it returns creatures from your graveyard to your hand. The main difference between the two, though, is that No Rest for the Wicked can do some pretty exciting things.

One way to take advantage of No Rest for the Wicked, perhaps the best way, is to use lots of creatures that can sacrifice themselves and others for some effect. There is no shortage of such creatures in 10th. You've got a pair of excellent goblins in Mogg Fanatic and the frustratingly-hyphenated Siege-Gang Commander. In black, you've got Nantuko Husk (which will quite happily eat goblin tokens), the reanima-tastic Doomed Necromancer (which some pundits prone to exaggerate are calling "reanima-tacular"), and the original Big Bad, Lord of the Pit (which is also quite happy eating goblin tokens). Festering Goblin is a great critter to sacrifice to Siege-Gang Commander, Nantuko Husk, or Lord of the Pit. With all the creatures hitting your bin, Grave Pact becomes a no-brainer.

Rage Weaver's haste-granting ability is a perfect fit for Doomed Necromancer, allowing you to play and activate the latter in the same turn. You can also give haste to the creature you reanimate. Lord of the Pit is your biggest reanimation target and giving it haste lets you get in one hit before you have to start sacrificing creatures during your upkeep to keep big lug around.

I added a few one-ofs, because I like doing that for some reason. Beacon of Unrest is extra reanimation, Shivan Hellkite is an extra reanimation target, and Thrull Surgeon is, well, a Thrull Surgeon. I don't even want to know what kind of diplomas are on the walls in his office. Here's the final list:

X-hausted Evil

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X is for Xiahou Dun, the One-Eyed

The Auction of the People deckbuilding challenge is well underway. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, this is a contest that allows you (provided you are a person) to build one of the seventeen decks that will be bid on and played at the 2007 Invitational, the all-star game of Magic. Each year, people like you are asked to build a deck with some weird restriction. This year's deckbuilding constraint is the alphabet. You have to use all of it, not just the good letters. Here is a recap of the rules (for more information, check out my article from last week):

1. The deck must be legal in Legacy.

2. The deck must have exactly 60 cards and a minimum of 24 lands. There will be no sideboards, not even for the Wishes or Ring of Ma'ruf.

3. The deck will have 1-4 copies of 26 unique cards (not counting basic lands). Each card's English name must begin with a different letter of the alphabet. So you will have to include one card beginning with A, one with B, one with C, and so on until Z. Put another way, if you remove all the basic lands from your deck, you should be left with 1-4 copies of 26 unique cards. Since there are always exceptions, especially in Magic, here are a few extra rules based on questions that have come up:

a. Relentless Rats breaks the "four-copy rule" so if you choose it as your "R" card, you can use as many of them as you can fit.
b. Cards that begin with the word "The" (like The Hive and The Fallen) will be considered "T" cards.
c. You can use either name on a split card. For example, Fire can be used as your "F" or your "I."
d. Snow-Covered Island, Forest, Plains, Mountain, and Swamp are considered basic lands.
e. Cards that begin with Æ like Aether Burst and Aether Web, begin with "A."
f. Treat the Kamigawa flip cards as though they just have the name they have when they aren't flipped. For example, Jushi Apprentice can only be used as your "J."

4. Only one deck may be submitted per person. Send your deck to me by clicking on the "Respond via email" link at the bottom of the page.

5. The decks will be selected based on a combination of creativity, entertainment and play value. We are not looking for the most powerful deck. As I said in the forums last week, the deck can be powerful, it just doesn't have to be, because we are going to be taking other things into consideration. Basically, I won't be narrowing the field down to the 30 most powerful decks. Take a look at previous auction finalists to see what kinds of decks have been chosen. You can find those here, here, here, and here.
6. The deadline for submissions is August 8th, 2007. That's two weeks from today.

So far, I've received about 200 deck submissions and a similar amount of over-the-top, entirely-solicited flattery. The field is still wide open, so if you haven't yet sent me a deck, hop to it and good luck!

Until next time, have XXX with XXXX, my little XXXXXXXs!

Chris Millar

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