reetings, and welcome back to this column of all things combo-tacular! Today happens to fall directly in the middle of a theme week, which might or might not (this one) be a coincidence. As frequent readers will know by heart by now, I'm a fan of theme weeks, as they give me an opportunity to channel my potentially cool and bizarre ideas onto one aspect of the game of Magic.
This theme week happens to be Top-Down Week, and initially I was puzzled as to how to script some neat lists. First I had to remind myself on the definition of top-down design, which (in my bumbling and primitive terminology) loosely means designing from a flavor-first perspective, or the opposite of mechanical design. I believe the flagship top-down card is Form of the Dragon, and if it's not, it darn well should be! As a determined red mage, I love the idea of transforming myself into a fire-breathing winged beast, and the new art for the card (seen in From the Vault: Dragons) really tugs at my fiery heartstrings.
Here's some neat trivia: Top-Down Week has actually run once before on magicthegathering.com, making it the second repeat week (after Cycling Week, although surely a convertible would straight-up outrace a bicycle, right?) to occur. And since Top-Down Week I (written by Mark Gottlieb) was a success, Top-Down Week II can be too, right? Well, unlike me, Gottlieb helps design actual cards, so he had a bit of a head start in terms of recognizing which Johnny cards were top-down. I'll do my best, though.
Initially one deck today was going to be built around Quenchable Fire, perhaps the flagship top-down card of 2009. The concept is simple: set your opponent on fire, and unless he or she puts it out with water, it'll hurt more. Unfortunately, the Conflux common is a bit narrow for deck-building purposes, as it's more of a support card. Since Quenchable Fire's additional Lava Spike occurs at your next upkeep, you could always try pairing it with take-another-turn effects (Savor the Moment is in Standard). If your opponent is already packing a source of blue mana (most likely given the insane amount of dual lands these days) some land destruction might be necessary.
All right, let's get to the real stuff. Remember, focus on the ideas, and get into a creative mindset for these top-downers!
First stop on the flavor express: Morbid Bloom. The concept of this card is pretty easy to grasp: a corpse gets eaten by insects, which, depending on how much rotting flesh they eat, spawn more of themselves. On a card-to-card basis, this Alara Reborn uncommon reminds me a lot of Death Mutation. Both are expensive green and black sorceries that deal with death and make lots of Saprolings. Unlike the bloated Apocalypse card, Morbid Bloom sits on a more comfortable six mana cost, and only requires a creature card to be in a graveyard, rather than in play.
The first brainstorming I did led me to check on the highest toughness levels of creatures. The grand burrito in the basket, of course, was Autochthon Wurm. Not only does the Selesynan wurm have the highest toughness in the game, but it also has convoke, a welcome ability when you have close to 14 Saprolings in play. Another well-suited creature to run is Doomgape, which packs 10 toughness. With all the tokens on the board, this terrifying creature will no longer be doomed (heh) to eat itself. Of a similar nature is Devouring Strossus, who makes nine tokens and will rarely run out of fodder when in play.
Not all high-toughness creatures have to cost a billion mana. Nyxathid is an instant problem for your opponent and, for three mana, has 7 toughness. Indomitable Ancients is a formidable wall and has 10 toughness for four mana.
How do I get these other fatties into my graveyard for Blooming? (And before you lazily ask, "Why not just reanimate them?" think about the style points Morbid Bloom will get you. Plus, the tokens are synergistic with the deck.) Greenseeker and Dawnstrider help you get your fatties where they need to be while land-searching and stalling. Ghost Tactician is perfect, providing 5 toughness, a discard outlet, and the ability to double the power of your waves of tokens. Hidden Horror is another early threat that gets rid of an otherwise useless Devouring Strossus in your hand.
Pale Recluses and Krosan Tuskers round out the land-searching department, bringing more high toughness with them. And for extra shenanigans, Pull from Eternity can bring back a Bloomed creature for another go-around. Here's the deck.
The plan is to win through token beatdown, supplanted by beefy fatties in the late game. The deck definitely revolves around casting Morbid Bloom, so I guess I succeeded here. I suppose Doran, the Siege Tower would be a good addition, as he fits the color scheme and likes high toughness.
After delving into the delightfully squishy murk of white-green-black synergistic decks (I wonder what that pseudo-shard would be?), I felt like tackling a truly shard-aligned card from Bant. It was tough to decide between Wargate and Flurry of Wings, as they're both interesting and have awesome names, but in the end I felt Flurry of Wings was more flavorful. Here's the card's concept as I see it: Opposing forces believe they're marching uninhibited, when out of nowhere an appropriately numbered ambush party of Bantian birds attack. Alternatively, since Flurry of Wings can be cast on your turn as well, it can be seen as perfectly timed reinforcements. It's this aspect of Flurry of Wings that makes me like it. Versatility is something I look for when I scour the spoilers for the first time, and Flurry of Wings jumped out at me for that reason.
So, on to deck building. One interaction to go for with Flurry of Wings is with cards like Scion of the Wild. Say you attack with a couple guys, including the Scion. A mid-combat Flurry will effectively double the Scion's power, making it a pretty neat combat trick. Sigil of the Nayan Gods can make any creature act like Scion of the Wild, and it cycles in a pinch.
A similar card to Scion of the Wild is Benalish Commander, which is buffed by the amount of Soldiers in play. If you check Flurry of Wings, you'll find that it makes Bird Soldiers. Hmm .... That seems good. The Commander can also be suspended to create lots of tokens by itself.
Sigil Captain, who I covered a while ago, makes your Flurry thrice as powerful, and is a Soldier itself. Sunstrike Legionnaire (another Soldier) also makes Flurry of Wings a scary trick. Declare attackers, then, while still in the declare attackers step, play a Flurry. Depending on how big your force is, the Legionnaire's second ability will be put onto the stack that many times. Tap it in between each one to subsequently tap down your opponent's potential blockers. By the time the declare blockers step rolls around, your opponent will be close to defenseless.
To make this trick work effectively, I added some specialized removal. Crib Swap turns anything into a token that can be Sunstricken. So does Afterlife. Catapult Master capitalizes on the boost of Soldier tokens that Flurry provides.
I then added some other synergistic Soldiers to the deck. Icatian Javelineers is a solid 1/1 for Sigil Captain, as is Cenn's Tactician. A great play is to have the Captain and the Tactician in play while you are being attacked. A Flurry of Wings at that point will result in numerous 1/1 tokens with two +1/+1 counters each. Cenn's Tactician will see the counters and let your tokens double up on blocking, swinging combat in your favor.
Leech Bonder's -1/-1 counters can either be distributed to opposing creatures or canceled out by the Captain. Plus, the Bonder—a Soldier—doesn't mind being tapped with Catapult Master, and neither does Patrol Signaler. Plus plus, it has a very top-down concept: It's burdened with leeches, so it gives them to enemies. I think.
Here's a weird thing I noticed from this list: The Soldier hierarchy is confusingly jumbled. In this deck alone, we've got Brigadiers, Commanders, Captains, Tacticians, Masters, and Legionnaires. I know Bant likes to divide its citizens into groups, but this is ridiculous.
Master and Commander (and Everything Else)
Dragon Broodmother's concept flows right from its art. This is a dragon that produces many ferocious little dragons. Looking at the text box and seeing gems such as "each upkeep" and "token with flying and devour 2" only makes me want to write about it more.
This section has been long overdue, but I figured I had to stall and slowly distance it from Kelly Digges's preview article on Dragon Broodmother so that, when I stole every idea from it, not too many would notice.
Okay, so I'm not going to steal every idea. There are some, though, that I want to use as a starting point. Using Ulasht, the Hate Seed alongside the Broodmother is a fine idea. The legendary Hellion Hydra will enter play with lots of counters post-Broodmother, and then make more devour fodder. Parallel Evolution is definitely great here, but I went with its latest incarnation, Rhys the Redeemed, who makes Elf tokens in his spare time.
My favorite idea that Kelly came up with was having Dragon Broodmother doing her thing at the same time that Twilight Drover was doing his. Because Dragon tokens are eating each other every upkeep, the Drover will load up with +1/+1 counters to make even more fodder. But I'm going whole hog and including Seedborn Muse. Now, every upkeep, you can respond to the Broodmother's token making by unloading all the Drover counters for tons of tokens that are soon to be fed to a monster dragon token.
Sigil Captain (fast becoming one of my pet cards) is a very versatile card from Alara Reborn (fast becoming one of my pet sets.) I've already mentioned the Drover + Captain combo, and for good reason. It's fun to give medals to bloodthirsty young Dragons!
The deck fell together quickly, but I wanted Ulasht to be effective, so I included some Painter's Servants. These Scarecrows make each creature red, which can be abused with fellow creeper Jawbone Skulkin. Make lots of tokens on your opponent's upkeep, eat 'em all on yours for a big token, and give it haste. Happy 'Mother's Day!
Home Brood Squabbling Tokens
Sprout Swarm is a repeatable token source, as is Icatian Crier, who can ditch excess Scarecrows or Sigil Captains (as ridiculous as two in play are.) Finally, Ashling the Pilgrim is your blow-up-the-world button.
Today is the last day you can send me Birthday Contest Submissions, just as a reminder. I will sadly have to stop reading them by tomorrow, so please don't send any after tonight. I've received just fewer than 200 so far, so my results column (which may have two parts) won't be next week—I've got to review all those decks.
Until next time!