ello and welcome to the lab! I'm Mike Cannon, the new mad scientist in town. I've been made custodian of this incredible place, with its tables of test tubes, boxes of beakers, and menagerie of magical machinery included. From here I aim to construct creative concoctions of cards that take advantage of some of the innumerable interesting interactions in Magic. I'll be scouring a vast library containing every card past and present, and a few from the future as well, to bring you an endless supply of crazy combos and wild win conditions. But first...
Introductions Are in Order
Introductions are in Order | Art by Nils Hamm
Just a few bits of background information for those of you who appreciate that sort of thing: I've been playing Magic almost constantly for just over a decade and writing about it for the last two years. I'm a casual player at heart, although I do enjoy a few rounds of Standard or Modern now and then. I'm also a Level 1 Judge, working toward Level 2, and a proud member of the Boros guild. As a Boros man, I'm understandably excited to see what Gatecrash has in store. I'm even more excited to get to share a little piece of the set with you today. Feast your eyes on Illusionist's Bracers:
Equipment is one of my favorite things in Magic, and although a far cry from the face-smashing tendencies borne by most members of the subtype, Illusionist's Braces is probably one of the coolest pieces of Equipment ever printed. The power of copying an ability varies wildly based on what you have available to duplicate, but with a bit of setup, it can give you a large effect for a low cost. In fact, with the right set of cards, you can end up with not just a large effect, but an arbitrarily large effect.
When I read this card, my mind immediately jumped to Aphetto Alchemist. Under normal circumstances, the Alchemist can untap itself over and over again, but it won't do much of anything. With Illusionist's Bracers, however, you can untap another artifact or creature as well. This means that any tap ability that doesn't cost mana to activate can be repeated an arbitrarily large number of times. Although there are literally hundreds of suitable cards to choose from, I eventually settled on Blightspeaker, since it's a black card and it costs two mana. Why is this important? Well, I'll give you three good reasons:
This trio of transmute cards can search up Blightspeaker, Aphetto Alchemist, and Illusionist's Braces, giving you an easy way to find any piece of the combo you need, and for only three mana to boot. They provide a huge boost in consistency for the deck, and make sure you manage to assemble your engine at least by turn six in most games.
Since we have three different cards we're looking for, I decided to add in even more ways to help us find them. Ponder and Preordain are solid cards for fixing your draws and letting you dig through your deck to find what you need. So solid, in fact, that they've both been banned in Modern. Here in casual land, however, they're an essential tool for assembling the oft-maligned three-card combo.
Dispel joins Muddle the Mixture as a way to protect your tiny creatures from removal spells or countermagic that might disrupt your evil plans. Although relying on two-mana creatures to win the game may not be the most sturdy proposal, these spells go a long way toward reducing the deck's fragility.
The final piece I wanted to include was a bit of removal in Doom Blade. Since it will often take a few turns to set up your win condition, the ability to kill a creature can buy you the time you need to go in for the kill.
If there's one thing in Magic I like more than Equipment, it's doubling things. And by "things" I mostly mean damage. I can often be found throwing down cards like True Conviction and Gratuitous Violence until I can kill everyone at the table in one swing, and my Earthquakes are known for wiping out every creature and player at the table save for me and my Gisela, Blade of Goldnight. The best thing about doubling is that it gets even better when doubled. Any significant number multiplied by four is going to be a lot, and when you start multiplying by eight, or even sixteen, things get truly ridiculous.
Illusionist's Bracers essentially doubles the equipped creature's abilities, whatever those might be. If that creature has an ability that deals damage, well, now it's dealing twice as much. Unfortunately, most damage-dealing abilities only hit for 1, and an extra 1 damage seems unworthy of a card like this. Kamahl, Pit Fighter and Cinder Elemental are better, but they still don't feel quite extreme enough. If direct damage isn't going to do the trick, what about good old combat damage? Green has a long history of creatures that give themselves a power and toughness boost, and there are a few that work particularly well when doubled.
Chameleon Colossus effectively doubles its own power for the low the price of four mana. While wearing Illusionist's Bracers, however, it will double it, then double it again, leaving you with a 16/16 at the least. Now that's more like it. If you can give the Colossus just 1 more power, it can grow large enough to come crashing in for the full 20 damage all by itself.
There are a couple of other creatures with this ability as well. Yew Spirit serves as a nice backup to Chameleon Colossus. Although slightly smaller and more expensive, the Spirit still has that crucial ability that will make things get out of hand quickly. Nantuko Mentor doesn't give you the initial power of either of the previous creatures, but it can pump up anything on the board for just three mana. In a pinch, you can even target two different creatures to present an attack on multiple vectors.
Since Nantuko Mentor will often have to target smaller creatures, and Chameleon Colossus and Yew Spirit both require a little boost to be able to deal the full 20 damage in one swing, I'll throw in some cheap power-boosting effects to help things along. Although Giant Growth is the standard for this type of effect, a 1/1 like Nantuko Mentor will need an extra 4 power, not 3, if it's going to make it all the way up to a 20/20 after a pair of doubling effects. Therefore, Groundswell and Might of Old Krosa make the cut as pump spells that, although somewhat less reliable, offer a better chance of killing our opponent in one swing.
So, now that we've created a ridiculously large creature, we're done, right? Well, not quite yet. We still need to solve the problem of blockers. What good is a 32/32 Chameleon Colossus if our opponent can throw a 0/1 Plant token in front of it and live? What we need is some trample. The recently reprinted Rancor is an excellent option, giving the chosen creature not only trample, but an extra 2 power as well. After your creature's power has been quadrupled, that means an extra 8 damage to eat up any blockers your opponent might throw in the way. It also doesn't die when the creature does, letting you fight through removal more effectively. Primal Rage is a simple card that does exactly what you need it to do. It gives your massive creature trample, and it doesn't care if that creature gets killed and you have to start over. With a Nantuko Mentor, it can also make your opponent play the guessing game, trying to soak up enough damage to survive without knowing which creature will end up being the big one. Although Primal Rage costs an extra mana over its Aura counterpart, Primal Frenzy, I think the benefits are more than worth it.
Finally, green deck staples Llanowar Elves and Arbor Elf round out the deck, giving you not only the ability to throw down a Nantuko Mentor on turn two, but a creature to pump up with it as well. They also make it easier to do multiple things in one turn, which is essential for this deck to get off the ground quickly.
I'm a big believer in putting science, even mad science, into practice, so I've built an arena down in the lower levels of the lab. Now we can watch as these two competitors slug it out for the title of Best Bracers. Grab a seat and a bag of popcorn, and let's watch the action unfold.
The Green team won the coin toss and started off with an Arbor Elf. The Blue team looked into the future with a Preordain, and its opponent brought in a Nantuko Mentor to teach it a lesson. Aphetto Alchemist hit the board, representing the first of the three combo pieces.
A Chameleon Colossus came crashing down, and a Dimir Infiltrator managed to find a Blightspeaker hidden in the library. The Colossus gained the Might of Old Krosa and charged forward, doubling in size for a massive 16 damage. The Blue team came out with not one, but two Blightspeakers, locking in the second piece of the combo.
Chameleon Colossus came rumbling in again, but a Blightspeaker took one for the team. A Watery Grave took the Blue team to a precarious 2 life, but Illusionist's Bracers came down and attached themselves to Aphetto Alchemist, allowing the Blightspeaker to take the Green team from 20 to 0 on one turn.
The Green team came out strong again with an Arbor Elf, while the Blue team took a moment to Ponder its next move. The Arbor Elf brought out its old pal Llanowar Elves, and the Illusionist's Bracers crashed to the ground beside them. An Aphetto Alchemist was the turn-two play from the Blue team again, getting things rolling along smoothly.
A Nantuko Mentor joined the fray, while the Arbor Elf was enchanted with Rancor and came charging in for 3 damage. A Watery Grave dropped the Blue team to 15, and a Dimir Infiltrator Transmuted into a Blightspeaker. Llanowar Elves brought another of its kind onto the battlefield, and the Arbor Elf helped strap the Illusionist's Bracers onto the Nantuko Mentor.
Another Watery Grave dealt 2 damage to the Blue team, and the other two pieces of the combo hit the battlefield, ensuring the win next turn. The Green team, however, had other plans. The already Rancorous Arbor Elf found the Might of Old Krosa, and the Nantuko Mentor trained it until it was no longer a tiny 1/1, but a 28/26 monstrosity. The Elf attacked, trampling over all opposition on its way to victory.
It was the Blue team's turn to start, and it decided to Ponder its next move before going forward. The Green team was slow to get rolling for once, and the Blue team had the first creature on board with a Blightspeaker.
The Green team psyched up with some Primal Rage, while the Blue team decided not to Muddle the Mixture, and got the Illusionist's Bracers instead. A Nantuko Mentor came to help the Green team, but it had no pupils to teach just yet. The Blue team Pondered again, didn't like what it saw, and summoned an Aphetto Alchemist.
The Green team found an Arbor Elf wandering in the Forest and recruited it to the cause, while the Blue team prepared for the end by presenting the Illusionist's Bracers. The Arbor Elf gained the Might of Old Krosa, and a Groundswell helped it along. However, despite even the teachings of the Nantuko Mentor, it could only reach 18 power. Barely soldiering on at 2 life, the Blue team managed to win the battle with unlimited Blightspeaking.
The End... and the Beginning
I hope you enjoyed this visit to the lab, whether it was your first foray or you've been patiently waiting since October for the doors to open again. Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or wacky deck ideas through the email link at the bottom of this page or by finding me on Twitter under @MTGCannon. Oh, and don't forget to come back again next week, when I'll have another piece of Super Secret Tech to unveil!