ello everyone, from the tall to the small, and welcome back to your (hopefully) beloved lab! In case anyone is confused, it's 2009! Hooray! A bright new year lies before all of us. Well, it's actually more like a newly tinted version of last year. Of course, the big draw of any waning December is struggling to come up with so-called "New Year's resolutions." Unfortunately (or perhaps not) in many cases these resolutions follow the lead of the many snowmen that are built in January: come spring, they've long since melted away.
After noticing this pattern (and feverishly studying these resolution-makers both pre- and post-New Year's party) I've decided to give myself what I like to call "one or two month's Magic-related resolutions," the idea being that by March, I won't even remember what happened before St. Patrick's Day, let alone New Year's Day. Also, since I'm here to talk about our favorite card game, you guys don't need to hear about my resolution to shower more than thrice a week... Er, let's just move on.
So here we go! (This official looking statement means that Noel deCordova will not be responsible for the resolving of these resolutions. Anyone who bugs Noel about the incompletion of these resolutions has a silly shaped head. You heard me.)
- Thanks to my generous friend Wes's Christmas gifts, I will lovingly use the Hellkite Overlord I ripped from a Shards of Alara pack in a slightly modified Jund Intro Pack deck. (This will happen immediately.)
- I will resist all temptation to read the Conflux preview cards my editor has shipped to me until the preview weeks begin. (Not counting my preview card, of course!)
- I will value all five of the shards on an equal basis. (Not a chance.)
I had this little idea of kicking off the New Year with a small reader activity, so have at it, Johnnies! Post your Magic related New Year's resolutions in the forums! (Email is also very welcome.) Let's make this a combo / synergy / casual craziness–filled year!
Here's a shocking truth: I consider myself wildly enthusiastic about Magic. The days and weeks before a new set is released to the Magic-playing public are usually some of the most exciting weeks of the year. Even before I was a columnist, I would stay up all night on Sunday to catch the marquee preview of the set first thing Monday morning. Now that I do write about my favorite game, well, not much has changed.
So it should be common knowledge by now that Conflux has me all a-jitter. I'm eager to write about it now, but sadly previews aren't for another two weeks. (Hellooooooo, Resolution Number Two!)
Instead, I'm going to talk about the few Shards of Alara trinkets I haven't discussed yet, and perhaps marry them off to cards from other sets in a process commonly called, "cross-block synergy." Today, the first example of this will be the quiet Soldier theme that has thinly traced the entire Standard cardpool. They bookend the whole of Standard, from the subtly placed Field Marshal in the Tenth Edition core set to the latest invisible Soldier lord, Knight-Captain of Eos. Even when they received the spotlight alongside their fellow "classes" in Morningtide, they and the Wizards were slightly snubbed in favor of the prowling Rogues, the raging Shamans, and the warlike Warriors. Have no fear, Soldiers! I'll give you guys the limelight today.
The main Soldier that jarred me into building the deck was Preeminent Captain. When Morningtide called it into life, I thought it was had a neat ability, but just forgot about it. Now, though, we have some genuine heavy hitters to pop into play obscenely early. Ballynock Trapper is a decent one. Use the Captain's powers of preeminence to have it attack Yore-Tiller style, then postcombat play an Oblivion Ring on something. This will untap the Trapper, who will be ready to tap down something on your opponent's turn (yes, there's a problem here—wait for it). You've effectively neutralized two threats! However, the really amazing play is having a freaking Rockcaster Platoon crash into the red zone on the fourth turn. Forget two threats, the Platoon (which, yes, is a Soldier) can potentially wreck the whole board.
Of course, the above Ballynock Trapper trick only works if you give it haste by some fashion (Preeminent Captain does not suppress summoning sickness, sadly). Enter Thousand-Year Elixir, which can also untap the Trapper for more tapping. Of course, the paradoxical elixir (which finished first in the Multiverse Brew-Off, with Wine of Blood and Iron coming in a distant second) can also make haste with the activated abilities of such Soldiers as Cenn's Tactician and Duergar Mine-Captain. The latter (with an Elixir in play) is awesome to pop into play with a Preeminent Captain, for two reasons. First off, even though you untap it due to its ability, the stretchy dwarf is still attacking. Secondly and more obviously, a +1 power boost to each of your invading troops is great. (Note: Have a lot of troops.)
Switching to more controlling strategies, Knight-Captain of Eos is a gem. Drawing into it should stabilize the board enough for momentum to rush to your side. There are numerous ways to create a soft-lock on your opponent's combat step. One is with Mobilization, which with the Knight-Captain creates repeatable Holy Days for . Another way is with Elspeth, Knight-Errant, which creates Soldier tokens at a slower pace, but can pull Angelic Blessings out of nowhere as well. Kinsbaile Borderguard seems like a decent Soldier to sacrifice, as it makes more tokens for either more beats or more Fogs.
You could certainly tune this into a powerhouse White Weenie deck, but I've tried to build a creative Soldier deck that's more on the Johnny side of things. As Chris Millar noted way back in Kithkin Week, Militia's Pride is one of the Johnnier White Weenie cards printed recently, so adding it was no sweat. Another sparingly used combat-oriented card is Dolmen Gate, which is narrow but quite good.
Here's where I wound up:
There are numerous cards in Extended to add, such as Benalish Commander and Aven Brigadier as good Preeminent Captain targets. Or you could shoehorn in a Soldier token combo sent to me recently by Aaron D. revolving around Stormfront Riders and Cloudstone Curio. Playing consecutive cheap creatures results in a bouncing trigger from the Curio, which results in a creation of a Soldier token, which can bounce the creature you just played, which results in another token. After the trampoline madness ends, you can play a big fat guy (Benalish Commander) who, ironically, will sink both your opponent and the trampoline.
How to Succeed in Brilliance
As the cycle of Ultimatums that premiered in Shards of Alara spoke volumes to the Timmy aspect of many players (including me), it's no wonder I've written up a couple decks using them. Already I've shared Christian M-H.'s innovative riff on Titanic Ultimatum, and the brilliant (heh) 20 Ultimatum + Kobolds list sent to me by Bohromir.
However, looking through the static of the cycle itself, one particular Ultimatum seems to be brimming with build-around-me ability, and that's Brilliant Ultimatum. In a nutshell, this spell is what results when Tezzeret the Seeker tries to cast Fact or Fiction. Instead of putting the chosen card pile in your hand, ole Tezzy figures, "Why wait? Let's play ‘em all now! I did pay three more mana for this thing, anyway." With Brilliant Ultimatum, your opponent can pick his or her poison and have it too.
Before we get into the game-winning stuff, let's add some more cards that test your opponent's skill, like Covenant of Minds. Despite its having that Grixis tinge, I never got around to discussing it during the appropriate theme week. Here, though, it's just another decision for your opponent to make. Three cards or five? Either way, you're digging through your deck. Revealing it with a Brilliant Ultimatum is no sour apples either.
Another difference between Brilliant Ultimatum and its famous kin is where the more unfortunate pile's destiny lies. With FoF, the unchosen pile wound up in the graveyard. Brilliant Ultimatum removes it from the game. To rectify this, I went with a couple of copies of Pull from Eternity. The seemingly boring suspend hoser has proven to have a decent spread of uses. Of course, the Pull can place any unchosen card into your graveyard, ready for flashbacking. Ready to introduce the win condition? I figured Ancestral Tribute served a dual purpose. It's a sweet card to play for free under a Brilliant Ultimatum, and with cards like Covenant of Minds and Careful Consideration in the deck, the graveyard should be stuffed.
In decks where you want to manipulate the top of your library, Sensei's Divining Top is usually an automatic addition. However, I'm going with the quirkier Scroll Rack to set things up. If I get stuck with some big spells in my hand, Scroll Rack can basically trade them for the cards on top of your library. Since I didn't want to totally hinge on Pull from Eternity, I went with some classic game winning spells as well. Debtor's Knell and Darksteel Colossus work just fine, although not together, as the Iron Giant can't be in the graveyard. If the Colossus gets removed from the game somehow, a Pull from Eternity becomes a mini Riftsweeper on it.
Although I'm listing a ton of late-game spells, the early game gets some love too. The Scourge landcyclers are a perfect fit here, cycling early and beating late. Think Twice is early flashbackable card draw. And if left to itself, Hoofprints of the Stag can churn out round 4/4 guys at incredible rates. Imagine playing a Careful Consideration on your opponent's turn, putting four hoofprint counters on the enchantment, and immediately activating it. Most of all though, just resolving Brilliant Ultimatum is half the fun. Will I get an Eternal Dragon? A Debtors' Knell? Or bizarrely, another Ultimatum? Have fun with it.
Having options is always nice, and therefore I considered adding Esper Charm to the deck, as well as Austere Command, as both spells are whatever you need them to be at different times. In a nutshell, they're ideal to flip over during a Brilliant Ultimatum.
What oddities and fascinating lies do I have to spew about Realm Razer? To tell you the truth, I've tried to come up with some (Razer rhymes with a lot of things), but the best I could do was the above headline. In many ways, Realm Razer is a subtle card. On the outermost surface, sure, it's an Armageddon with legs. But with triggers upon both coming into and leaving play, it's a quietly nominated Johnny card.
Stop me if you've heard the Faceless Butcher trick before. If you haven't, stop the people trying to stop me. Done? Okay, with Faceless Butcher, a neat trick that was uncovered at that time was to sacrifice it to an effect while its come into play trigger was on the stack. That meant that the “comes into play” trigger (Unmake a creature) would resolve after the “leaves play” trigger (make the creature?), and the creature would be gone forever. The same principle applies here, if all you want is an Armageddon. Sacrifice the Razer to a Nantuko Husk with the "comes into play" trigger on the stack, and you've removed all lands from the game. The usual suspects fall into place after that: non-land mana sources and manaless effects to clear the board and win the game.
Come one, I'm not that predictable, am I? I'm going for the unusual suspects on this one. For one, imagine this scenario. Turns one and two, do whatever. On turn three, play Nantuko Husk. Later, on turn five, play Mystery Card. Turn six, Realm Razer. Let the trigger resolve! All lands are removed from the game. Then sacrifice the Realm Razer. When you do, the lands come into play again. This matters because the Mystery Card is none other than Polluted Bonds.
Ouch! Assuming your opponent had five lands in play, you drain them of 10 life. But then the fun commences. Play Footsteps of the Goryo on the Realm Razer for 10 more. Play the combo alongside Zo-Zu the Punisher, and you don't even need the Footsteps. Have one of your early drops be Vinelasher Kudzu, and watch it swell after the land Ghostway. Stack numerous Stone-Seeder Hierophant triggers to untap all your tapped lands to play stuff. And (an exciting one) use Seed the Land to make lots of Snakes for both players, then sacrifice all of yours to make a giant Nantuko Husk. Sure, you have to get through the numerous Snake chump blockers, but that's what Ashling the Pilgrim's sweeping ability is for. (Volcanic Spray is also acceptable.) Since we've got Llanowar Reborns that can be, well, reborn with a new +1/+1 counter, I decided to go whole hog and add grafters. Realm Razer is pretty fragile anyway.
Here's the resulting mix:
That's it for this week! To everyone, Happy New Year!