hh, another theme week. Like Noel deCordova over on From the Lab, I love theme weeks because of the direction they provide. Sometimes I'm not quite sure what to write about, but then I check the schedule and discover that it's Prosthetic Forehead Week or whatever, and I'm set.
Since this week is Mana Fixing Week, I'll be looking at—
—Mana Fixing Week? Well now, that is rather a tough one to have fun with, isn't it? Mana fixing is all about resource management—you know, that boring stuff that happens before you play your spells.
And yet ... there's a reason green is my favorite color, and it's not just the creatures. Green's the best color at playing the best stuff from all the other colors, and it's also the best color at getting ahead of that pesky one-land-per-turn restriction and dropping ridiculous things ridiculously early. That's not fiddly or dull—that's good times.
I went through my collection, drawing on ideas I'd been setting aside for a while, and eventually came up with three decks that in some way revolve around their mana fixing, plus another deck that ... well, we'll get to that one.
With Conflux still minty-fresh, domain was the first thing I thought of when I sat down to brainstorm. I've been wanting to make a domain deck for a while. At first I reached for Conflux cards like Armillary Sphere (which, although I know what an armillary is, I keep wanting to call Armadillo Sphere) and Shard Convergence that put lands into your hand. As Chris Millar showed in his feature article Monday, there's plenty to be done with cards like that.
I quickly realized, however, that a big part of what I like about green's mana fixing is that it's usually also acceleration—it puts lands straight into play, meaning that you get to play expensive spells earlier. Since I doubt Mana Acceleration Week is coming any time soon, I busted out my favorite mana-fixing accelerators.
What are those, you might ask? After some deliberation, I settled on Farseek, Search for Tomorrow, and Exploding Borders, with backup on the fixing front from Shard Convergence and Terramorphic Expanse. Farseek gets Ravnica dual lands, which have two basic land types, which is awesome. Most of my Ravnica duals are tied up in other decks right now, but the two I was able to muster, combined with four copies of Farseek, made for some exciting starts. Search for Tomorrow can't get Ravnica duals, but it makes up for that by putting lands into play untapped and switch-hitting, making a great one-drop early on and fixing on the fly for three-but-really-two later on. Exploding Borders is a card I like probably more than I should.
Quick Wizards insider story: I sort of designed Exploding Borders. Why sort of? Well, when I designed it, it was in Shards of Alara, it cost , and it dealt damage to target player equal to the number of lands you control. Like Mark Rosewater, I submitted the card because it was interesting, with no thought of whether it was fairly costed (hint: not even close). The card went to , then , then . It left the file entirely shortly thereafter when it became clear that there was no cost at which the card could both do its job as a Rampant Growth and be remotely fair compared to other Lava Axe variants from the past.
By that time, though, Conflux's domain theme was taking shape, and several people remarked that Rampant Axe (or Lava Growth or whatever dumb thing I called it) would make a fun, fair domain spell. When Conflux needed a new red-green common spell, it was Alexis Janson who suggested using the domain version of the card to fill the hole. As a bonus, the card got some of my favorite art in the set.
Anyway, back in the present, or at least the much more recent past: with my mana-fixing suite in place and the rest of the 60 rounded out with domain cards, I shuffled up for some "goldfish" games (solitaire practice games to see how the deck does against an opponent who does nothing) to see what I could do.
The answer, for the initial version of the deck, turned out to be ... not much. I'd devoted too much space to finding lands and not enough space to doing things with them. Goldfishing the deck, I hit a couple of turn-three Spore Bursts for five—good stuff—followed by a whole lot of nothing. Twice I was sitting on Progenitus mana by turn six, with nothing to show for it but yet another Farseek off the top.
Part of the problem was the lack of card draw—with 24 lands and another 14 cards that do little or nothing besides search for land, the deck was just running out of gas. Noticing that I always had tons of mana by the time this happened, I put in two Aeon Chroniclers and a Conflux, any of which should recharge me at least some. To fit those in, I took out Drag Down and Aven Trailblazer, which weren't doing enough. That also gave me room for two Ultimatums and, of course, the ultimate spell to cast with Progenitus mana, Progenitus himself.
The deck remains a bit light in the "things to do" category, which means I should probably lose at least some of the Exploding Borders in favor of cards that do more—two more Fusion Elementals, maybe.
While writing this article, I remembered my previous idea of using Utopia Mycon and Spore Burst as the basis for a domain / Saproling deck. In retrospect, that idea was very silly. I still love it. But it'll have to wait for another time.
Tracking back to another idea I touched on briefly, I finally put together a deck centered on Skyward Eye Prophets and Coiling Oracle. The effect those cards share—the Oracle as a "comes into play" ability, the Prophets as a tap ability—just makes me feel good. Like Faerie Mechanist or Gift of the Gargantuan, I'm rapping the top of my deck and hoping for a match. But unlike a lot of other similar spells, even if the result isn't the "ding ding ding!" of a land hitting play, I still get to keep the card.
If I recall correctly from Ravnica block Limited, hitting a "bounceland" on turn two off of a Coiling Oracle was the sickest thing in the history of things. It was like resolving Kodama's Reach on turn two—one extra land into play, one into your hand—so you have four mana available on turn three, usually in three or four different colors. Good times. Bouncelands are also good for more traditional mana fixing, something this three-color deck was going to need. In went the bouncelands.
I'd recently opened up two Giltspire Avengers in rapid succession. It's the right colors for this deck, its exalted goes well with my relatively small collection of competent attackers, and it shares another quality with Skyward Eye Prophets: a tap ability. That part didn't really tug at me until I was randomly flipping through my Lorwyn cards for the previous deck and hit upon my two copies of Thousand-Year Elixir.
Oh, now this is getting exciting. Add in the single Knight of the Reliquary I finally opened, and it's really starting to hum.
Realizing that this deck was potentially going to ramp up to ridiculous amounts of mana, I put in two copies of Martial Coup. It's sort of a shame to imagine losing my accelerator to my Wrath effect ... but that's why I'd already set aside Shield of the Oversoul. The Shield turns Skyward Eye Prophets into a much better attacker that also survives Martial Coup, and it can do the same for Giltspire Avenger, Rhox War Monk, or Knight of the Reliquary. I also threw in Steel of the Godhead to make the Prophets a different kind of awesome attacker.
The resulting deck is pretty fragile—built as it is around a rickety mana base and a six-mana 3/3—but you'd be surprised how much of a difference Thousand-Year Elixir makes. With the Lorwyn artifact in play, I always get at least one activation of the Prophets, Giltspire Avenger goes to work right away, and Noble Hierarch immediately provides as much mana as it costs. I don't know that the deck needs four Elixirs, but I'm certainly going to track down a third one. Above all, the deck is just fun, with some great explosive starts. This is one I'll tweak and tune until it's right, because I love the concept.
Five on Three
Speaking of "concept," this next deck is a little bit loose, and it's definitely not a multiplayer deck. The idea is to get up to as quickly as possible, slam down something ridiculous, and cross your fingers. Because the mana fixing is all one-shot, you're really banking on one or two big dumb things to win the game for you.
This deck is rather like the "All-In Red" deck that's lurked around the fringes of tournament Extended recently, which uses Rite of Flame and other temporary mana sources to throw down Demigod of Revenge or similar before most decks can deal with it.
The result is not for the faint of heart.
The Firespouts are a concession to some kind of back-up plan, with the added bonus that all of the beaters in this deck either survive a Firespout or come back after one. Etched Oracle is the deck's only meaningful way to reload, so I wouldn't ever want to get greedy and play it for less than four colors—I need those cards.
I say this isn't a multiplayer deck because it does pretty much the exact opposite of what you want a multiplayer deck to do. Charging out of the gate is liable to get you killed at the multiplayer table, where you can't possibly kill all your opponents before they kill you. And ideally, your multiplayer deck has a plan for the endgame and some sort of staying power.
Don't let me stop you from going out in a blaze of glory, though. This would be a fun one to pull out for Respawn Magic.
While we're on the subject of blazes of glory, we might as well discuss this fourth deck I built. It's hybridized from two concepts for artifact aggro decks. The first is one I've discussed before, as an idle curiosity—the combination of Salvage Titan and cheap artifacts that replace themselves to get a really fast 6/4 on the table without using up a lot of cards. In that, it's similar to the previous deck. The second concept, though, takes a bit of the long game into account, with Esperzoa recurring cheap (or free) artifacts while doing its swing-for-4-in-the-air thing.
This deck is not quite as single-minded as the last one, and it plays differently than any other deck I've experienced.
Notice the full four-packs of four different artifact mana fixers. They do a lot of work here, fixing mana in the traditional way to make up for the deck's atrocious land base and providing sacrificial fodder to "fix" Salvage Titan's mana cost but good.
That land base took some tinkering. I did decide to include what artifact lands I had in the appropriate colors. Initially I also included Darksteel Citadel, but I had way too much trouble assembling my colors. Hence the basic lands, which would of course be happily augmented by some kind of dual lands (preferably ones that don't come into play tapped). Even so, the deck doesn't reliably cough up the right mix of lands—the artifact mana fixers have to make up the difference.
I ended up having mixed feelings about Salvage Titan when all was said and done. It seems to exist at odds with most of the rest of the deck; Myr Enforcer, Master of Etherium, and Esperzoa all want those artifacts to be in play, not in the graveyard. Still, when you do land that 6/4 on turn three (or, if you're really willing to sacrifice, two), it's pretty impressive. Once again, this is maybe not the best plan in multiplayer.
The surprise all-star of the deck is Glaze Fiend. Drop one of those early, and you can generally attack for 4–6 damage a turn for quite some time before you run out of gas. Etherium Sculptor can help you crank out an absurd number of artifacts in one turn, especially in multiples—when all of your cantrip artifacts are free, you can have some crazy turns. The other beneficiary there is Sludge Strider, standing in for the cheaper, sicker Disciple of the Vault, which I didn't use because it's banned in Extended and seemed like kind of a dirty pull. Still, Sludge Strider does good work here, especially given that all of your cheap artifacts have sacrifice abilities that don't cost net mana. Esperzoa triggers the Strider both ways, and also turns Kaleidostone and Elsewhere Flask into card-draw engines.
I've opened a lot of Conflux recently, and along with building these decks, I've been able to beef up my Spiteful Visions deck with another Kederekt Parasite and two more Font of Mythos, as well as rounding out the full four Sigil of the Empty Throne for my enchantment deck.
What I don't have at the moment is anybody to play with—my entire Magic-playing social circle, myself included, has just been busy lately. As a result, I've been doing lots of test draws and goldfishing. When you face the goldfish, in theory you're supposed to see how fast your deck can take it down. In practice, I goldfish mainly to see how a deck plays over the first few turns. I can usually get a good feel for how the deck works and whether something's wrong with, say, the mana-fixing suite.
I don't personally find that race to 20 very satisfying, since the outcome is more or less known (although I did once hear a tale of a deck that faced a goldfish and lost). But I do like to try decks out before their big debut.
I'm curious if any of you have any more enjoyable and/or more involved solitaire methods of testing a deck. If you do, let me know, because I'm all decked out with nowhere to go.