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Synergy

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"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

—Aristotle

Matt plays an Island into first-turn Delver of Secrets.

Brian wrinkles his nose; lays his land; studies his hand to ensure that, no, he really doesn't have an answer to this particular 1/1 on this particular first turn; and says "Go."

Matt looks at the top card of his library, smiles, and says, "Oh well, better lucky than good!"

Matt reveals Mana Leak on the top of his library and flips Delver of Secrets into Insectile Aberration.

The second turn is only his first attack for 3 damage in a short game that, for Brian, feels very, very long.




The letter B!ack in 1994, in the first summer I played Magic, I became convinced I had the secret pass codes to the universe about a month into playing. The card that gave me my first inkling at superior understanding to this game was Kird Ape.


Like Delver of Secrets in our opening anecdote, Kird Ape was a vanilla 1/1 creature for one mana. Except when it wasn't.

If I just played with Forests, Kird Ape would be a 2/3 creature for that same one mana! I don't know if I yet knew that Taiga existed, but I knew enough to realize I should be giving some thought to how my Kird Ape decks should look (you know, other than just playing every Lightning Bolt I owned).

Ideally, Kird Ape has synergy with Forests.

We started this article on synergy with an Aristotle quote. Synergy, the word, comes from a Greek root meaning "working together."

In Magic, synergy is simply the realization and concept that certain cards are more effective when played with certain other cards. The cards, generally speaking, can function all right in and of themselves, but because of this synergy, produce more together than what they could when taken in isolation.

Consider these two different top-performing decks from the Extended portion of the 2006 World Championships:


The undefeated 6–0 Tsapko played a straight RW deck that started on Savannah Lions.

You'll note that even though his deck was only red and white, Tsapko was willing to play Bloodstained Mire (black), Flooded Strand (blue), Windswept Heath (green), and Wooded Foothills (green) in his mana mix. Tsapko's deck didn't make black, blue, or green mana, so these various lands really just served to get one of his two basic Mountains or two basic Plains... or, of course, one of his four copies of Sacred Foundry.

All of these cards are arguably fine, but they become increasingly compelling in a deck with Grim Lavamancer.


If Tsapko played a straight mono-white beatdown deck instead of a red one with Grim Lavamancer, we might not see all of these fancy lands. Maybe he wouldn't have wanted to invest a life point in getting his actual mana-producing lands onto the battlefield. But putting any cards into his graveyard "for free" is highly synergistic with Grim Lavamancer. Grim Lavamancer is a powerful card in general, and historically has proved playable just by getting a little extra oomph out of a spent burn spell. But here, the prospect of getting lands into his graveyard "for free" really put Grim Lavamancer over the top. We can say that these lands had great synergy with Grim Lavamancer.

Plus, this is a deck with both Savannah Lions (white) and Grim Lavamancer (red) for one-drops. A single Flooded Strand can therefore—if at a cost of 3 life points—transform into a first-turn Sacred Foundry that can tap for either card on the first turn.

In sum, though, I just wanted to highlight that a straight RW deck—for all the reasons noted—would be happy to play with these seemingly off-color black-, blue-, and green-finding lands in a deck with no black, blue, or green mana-producing lands. Tsapko's RW deck played ten such finders.


Pro Tour Champion Remie only went 5–1 with his RW version, but his deck did something a little more special than Tsapko's. Can you see the extra synergy that would have made 1994 Mike Flores so happy?

Like Tsapko, Remie played Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills in a RW deck. And like Tsapko, Remie was able to ride the synergy between these cards to put Grim Lavamancer over the top. But unlike Tsapko, Remie shifted his count to eleven, playing four copies of both Wooded Foothills and Windswept Heath—the green-finding ones.

Do you see it yet?




Remie added Kird Ape to the RW creature count!

It's a "red" creature...right?

Right!

Remie didn't play a lot of green cards in his main deck or anything, he just realized that as long as a RW deck is already willing to play Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills (as Tsapko's straight RW was), it might as well get paid off.

So as an additional synergy, he added Stomping Ground and Temple Garden to get an essentially free upgrade to Kird Ape.

The upgrade wasn't 100% free, however. Remie would have to pay 3 life when Tsapko would only have to pay 1 life in some scenarios, but the ability to run the powerful Kird Ape was compelling. Kird Ape both reinforced the concept of going for a red mana on turn one (as with Grim Lavamancer) and gave Remie redundancy on the concept of 2-power one-drop creatures, adding Kird Ape's 2 power to Savannah Lions's.

Of course, once you have a little green mana (Remie's access to those two nonbasic Forests actually counted thirteen of his actual lands), you might as well run a sideboard card like Unflinching Courage Armadillo Cloak.

I hope you can see that Grim Lavamancer is an outstanding card that gets online much faster when played with Bloodstained Mire/Flooded Strand/Windswept Heath/Wooded Foothills. For example:

Remie: Bloodstained Mire (pay 1) → Mountain, Grim Lavamancer.
Opponent: Forest, Llanowar Elves
Remie:Flooded Strand (pay 1) → (tapped) Sacred Foundry; tap Mountain for Red Mana, exile Bloodstained Mire and Flooded Strand from the game, tap Grim Lavamancer to deal 2 to Llanowar Elves.

All of Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, and Grim Lavamancer are fine cards, but playing them together allows Remie a "free Shock" by turn two, and, in this hypothetical, a clear route to card advantage.


Once one of the most feared cards in the history of Standard, Bitterblossom often felt like the death knell as early as turn two.

Here, it was just a card:

Mike Flores's Blightning Beatdown


Bitterblossom was a contributor to this PTQ Top 8 deck. It was fine in the way that self-contained card-advantage machine for two mana (that could, separately, counter an opposing Bitterblossom) is fine.

But the dominant Bitterblossom deck of the era was Faeries.

Bitterblossom was "fine" in my deck, but in Faeries, Bitterblossom rode a variety of tribal synergies to over-perform. To wit:

Bitterblossom: Good in a black-red deck, but a centerpiece of over-performance in a blue-black one!

We started this article with a familiar scenario for anyone playing Standard two years ago. Delver of Secrets blind-flipping on a turn-two Mana Leak. Mana Leak has been a staple in basically any Standard it has been legal; Delver of Secrets was, surprisingly, not an initially popular card.

It's not obviously dominating. For one, you have to play it in a deck heavy on instants and sorceries. For example, it wouldn't be very good in Mono-Blue Devotion:

Jérémy Dezani Mono-blue Devotion
Standard – Top 8 Pro Tour Theros


Insectile Aberration, the flip side of Delver, would get along great in Mono-Blue Devotion! As a cheap evasion creature, it has a great deal of synergy with Bident of Thassa, and seems redundant to one-drops like Judge's Familiar and Cloudfin Raptor.

But Insectile Aberration would basically never show up. With only two copies of Cyclonic Rift and one copy of Disperse for instants (no sorceries whatsoever), Delver of Secrets just wouldn't have any buddies to help make Insectile Aberration appear! A 1/1 for one that never becomes a 3/2 flier just doesn't have synergy with the rest of Mono-Blue Devotion.

But in a deck that was already happy to play Mana Leak, Dismember, and Vapor Snag—more than one-third instants and sorceries, including the reveal-fixing PonderDelver of Secrets had an irresistible upside.

It is important to differentiate synergy—essentially "playable" cards and tools over-performing when played together—from actual combinations of cards. Delver of Secrets revealing Mana Leak is one thing...but an actual two-card combo is something else entirely.




In about two weeks, we will explore the idea of two-card combinations, which differ from "mere" synergies in at least two vital ways.

But until then, a firestarter.

 

This deck was the first of a run of almost a score of Journey into Nyx deck ideas from master deck designer Tomoharu Saito—that immediately started putting players into Top 8 situations.

Synergy is alive and well in this Standard Enchantment Special.

What are some of the synergies you see in this deck that combine one-drop acceleration and so many enchantments?

Love,

Mike



 
Mike Flores
Mike Flores
@FiveWithFlores
Email Mike

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Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

 
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