would say that the single thing that really pushed me over the edge and got me hooked on Magic was The Duelist magazine, way back when the game was young, and I wasn't much older. Before picking up The Duelist, I had bought some cards and played a little, but I suppose it would be fair to say that I didn't quite "get" it. The tipping point for me was turning to a page (somewhere near the front as I recall) and finding a whole host of two-card combos it laid out before me.
Cards working in combination is the reason that to this day, I find pieces of paper strewn around my life with partly written deck lists on them. When I look at a card and think it's cool, chances are good that the reason I feel that way is because I want to play it with a whole mess of other cards, and watch the look on my opponent's face when they realise that each card was part of a bigger diabolical scheme.
Not all cards in combination need to be game-winning. For every Time Vault + Voltaic Key, or Grindstone + Painter's Servant, there is Ruin Ghost + Sejiri Steppe. All these combinations make me happy, and in many respects, the last one makes me happiest, as ending the game really fast isn't necessarily quite as fun.
These days we talk of cards that incidentally work together as being synergistic—multiple cards working well together towards achieving the same goal. Back in the day, everything was a combo, and I loved it.
One of the early articles in The Duelist that struck a real chord with me was "Cluster Decks," by Beth Moursund, which is available online on this very web site.
This was an article all about synergy, and a deck building process where decks evolve from taking an idea and adding more and more cards that make little combos towards the same ultimate end, until there is a deck in front of you. It is still how I like to build decks from time to time, and for this Worldwake edition of Going Rogue we are going to go from 0 to 60 in that fashion.
Now, up to a point, finding synergy is slightly easier these days than it was in 1995. With sets having their own themes and mechanics, there is a certain amount of synergy built into design now that wasn't necessarily present in the first expansions. Nonetheless, there are still rewards for those looking extra hard for neat little combinations.
The first deck today is one that I have been brewing since the announcement of landfall as a mechanic, some time before Zendikar was released. I like having lands on the battlefield, and discovering that I could be doubly rewarded for this got me very interested. It has taken a little bit of time for all the pieces to fall into place, but with Worldwake in the mix, I feel like the deck is now where I want it to be.
This deck began with Lotus Cobra. As so many players did, I found my mind wandering to the most explosively amazing plays that I could make with the little Snake. Between Harrow and fetch lands, it seemed like a no-brainer for Lotus Cobra to set up big turns, with quick Ultimatums not seeming at all unreasonable. While a lot of players were looking at fast Violent Ultimatum, I wanted to go bigger. If I was going to be hitting landfall triggers for fun and profit anyway, I wanted to be casting Clarion Ultimatum.
Clarion Ultimatum is a fun card that never quite did anything in Shards of Alara block. Fetching extra lands when you had seven mana wasn't particularly exciting. Likewise, fetching additional copies of cards seemed a touch over the top if the cards that you had already were OK. With landfall in the mix, suddenly there was the potential for more serious Ultimatums.
The idea began with Lotus Cobra + Clarion Ultimatum. This could fetch another Cobra and four lands. All those landfall triggers would give me eight mana in any combination of colours, and I'd have an extra Lotus Cobra ready to enable more big plays. This seemed exciting enough a starting point for me to delve a little further. I think that at some point I've considered every single card with landfall for this deck. Hedron Crab was in there for a good while, but it seems that every deck that I build these days is looking at decking people, so I have gone a slightly different route with this one. Here are some of the combos that have made the cut.
First up: Admonition Angel. I had to start with a card from Worldwake, not just because of the title of this article, but because it's involved in one of the most awesome (and complicated) combos in the deck as far as I'm concerned. Remember when there was all that talk of casting Violent Ultimatum fast with Lotus Cobra? Admonition Angel can do something eerily similar with the help of Clarion Ultimatum. Generally putting this angel into a deck with lots of ways of getting lands into play is going to be fun, but with Clarion Ultimatum there is a special trick you can play.
Imagine having one Admonition Angel on the battlefield and casting Clarion Ultimatum. You fetch out four lands and another Admonition Angel. All of a sudden a lot of triggers happen all at the same time. Those eight Admonition Angel triggers can be used to artfully make life very hard for your opponent. The first three triggers from each Angel can be used to off whichever nonland permanents you like the least. The final triggers should be used with each Angel targeting the other one, which is legal, because the "other than Admonition Angel" clause refers only to the Angel it's on. When each Angel exiles the other, that clause on Admonition Angel will try to return all cards removed by Admonition Angel to the battlefield—only all those other triggers won't have resolved yet! Those six nonland permanents you targeted with the Angels will get removed from the game never to return, and while one of your Angels will also be removed (bringing the other one back to stay), you'll be left with a fairly sizeable improvement in your relative board position.
OK, my brain is still aching on working out the right order of triggers for that one. Conveniently, many of the other synergies in the deck are a lot more straightforward. Emeria Angel loves landfall triggers, and Archon of Redemption loves all the flyers that Emeria Angel creates. Between the two of them, we are talking about truly epic life-gain potential. Suffice to say, Grazing Gladehart got kicked to the curb once the Archon reared its head.
Avenger of Zendikar is a splashy Elemental that, I must be honest, I couldn't resist adding. This deck is greedy anyway, and it was likely more childlike glee than anything else that allowed this monster to make the cut. I just wish I could have found space for more than one.
A more traditionally powerful addition is Knight of the Reliquary. Setting up all these landfall triggers is important, and the Knight gets to do it while simultaneously getting bigger and scarier. It also allows for a nice little toolbox of clever lands that can do nifty things when required.
One addition that adds a little finesse to proceedings is Amulet of Vigor. This little artifact plays very nice with Clarion Ultimatum, that would normally put permanents it fetches onto the battlefield tapped. It is also worded such that having multiples allows for multiple triggers to happen when something enters the battlefield tapped. We already looked at what happens when you cast an Ultimatum with Lotus Cobra on the battlefield. Fetching four lands and another Amulet does a similar trick. Those four lands enter the battlefield tapped, but there are two sets of Amulet of Vigor triggers that allow you to tap them for mana twice. Free Ultimatums for all!
The Ultimatums are all well and good, but for the piece de resistance, I've picked another big spell. Rite of Replication works with the large amounts of mana, and with the notion of getting multiples of the same creatures in play for fun and profit.
The less exciting side of this deck is the monotonous business of ensuring that lots of lands make it onto the battlefield. In traditional terms, this is a "big mana" deck. Noble Hierarch is a natural fit to accelerate into big spells, and with a timely Harrow, we can both increase the numbers of lands on the battlefield, and trigger plenty of juicy landfall action. As with any good cluster deck, even the incidental spells gradually form part of a bigger picture.
For those of you that have been following along, here's the decklist.
This is just one way that a landfall deck could go. I've toyed with other builds using Ranger of Eos to fetch Hedron Crab, and builds that are building a bigger Ob Nixilis.
My next deck is one that doesn't get quite so hung up on filling the board with permanents. The one permanent it does get out though .... It's a doozy.
This deck got a real boost from some nice card drawing / board control spells in Worldwake. It gets to play quite a controlling game right up until it can get a Pyromancer Ascension going. At that point, things get very silly very fast. Trapmaker's Snare is absolutely crazy with a "completed" Pyromancer Ascension out, fetching two Traps which can then in turn be doubled up. Against Jund, a duplicated Lavaball Trap is game over, while in control matchups one doubled up Runeflare Trap can be a terrifying burn spell, making the most of cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor having stepped into the format.
Out of the sideboard, there is even the potential for a devastating win from nowhere. If your opponent has cracked a fetch land or similar, then a doubled up Trapmaker's Snare can fetch two Archive Traps, which in turn get doubled up to mill pretty much any deck in one fell swoop.
Bits and Bobs
Finding synergies is more or less my favourite part of my favourite hobby, and Worldwake has given me plenty to think about. Here are some of the other kernels of ideas that I just can't put down.
Did you know that Quest for Ula's Temple can let you put Nemesis of Reason onto the battlefield, as well as Wrexial, the Risen Deep? These are some monsters I can really get behind—massive ones who work on milling and killing.
Amulet of Vigor plays very nice with the Borderpost cycle from Alara Reborn. In my last Going Rogue article I was beating down with Esper. Now I get to do so with more acceleration, and Lodestone Golem to slow down my opponents even more than Ethersworn Canonist already does. Esper has a whole new twinkle.
The White Stuff
Finally, let me provide a deck list that isn't heavy on the Worldwake, but that is definitely a rogue option that has gotten me pretty excited in the last week or so as I prepare for the Extended PTQ season. Inspired by Richard Moore's English Nationals winning deck of 2005, this little fighter has proven very respectable for me in testing for post Worldwake Extended. Check out the cheeky Perimeter Captains in the sideboard!
This deck looks like a collection of some of the weakest beaters you could ever lay eyes on, but it has actually been giving a few people surprises thus far in testing. Better placed than most to play main-deck Damping Matrix, this white weenie build has a real clock while disrupting opponents, and makes the most of the fact that most beatdown decks have weak defence against flyers at the moment. Between Worship and Damping Matrix, the deck can score a surprising amount of free wins, and I'm hoping that by the time that you read this it will have won me a blue envelope.
Let's Go Exploring
I somehow made it through the entire edition of Going Rogue without a single pun on the set name! I think that's a record that I'll celebrate with a bit of Magic Online. Whether you are playing in big tournaments, at your local Friday Night Magic, or around your kitchen table, I wish you happy brewing!