hen I first saw the Scourge set, there was one preview I sort of wanted to do. At first, it was just because it looked flashy and had an obvious nod to the casual game. But as days passed and I kept re-reading the spoiler list, the card began to grow on me. I kept coming up with more and more things that it could do. Before long, I was dying to get it as a preview assignment.
Well I didn't, but that's what open weeks for us writers are for!
As I kept coming up with more deck ideas – some based on the rest of the set – I actually became glad that I didn't get that preview. (Rei was already doing up a backstory article on it, which you can read here.) I'm glad because now that Scourge is an open book, I can use the whole set to share that many more possibilities with all of you. Aaron's being a good sport and letting me dig into the card – I said I'd stomp my foot and pout if he didn't let me.
Virtually unplayable in any known tournament format, but standing (or floating, I suppose) tall for casual players everywhere, we have Karona, False God.
Sometimes a woman can be some work, but you don't ever apologize for loving her. (My wife assures me the reverse is true; but honestly, it sounds a lot more like an insult when she says it.)
We'll get to the deck ideas in a moment. For now, let's look at Karona alone, and what she offers the multiplayer enthusiast.
THE FUNKIEST ANIMAL IN TOWN
Frequent readers might guess at the first question I'll ask upon seeing a card like Karona: What sort of animal is she? Is she part spider, part plankton? Part rattlesnake, part pigeon? Part gorilla, part cockroach?
Well, as it turns out…she's all six.
Anthony spends a lot of time in multiplayer articles referring to "animal elements." Here's a primer for the unfamiliar among you.
Rattlesnake: the element that warns other players away, and/or redirects their attention elsewhere (e.g., Goblin Dynamo).
Gorilla: the element that smashes the board, and/or impacts multiple players, cards, or permanents (e.g., Wrath of God).
Spider: the element that sets a trap to punish stray opponents (e.g., Spinal Embrace)
Pigeon: the element that feeds off of more and more players (e.g., Congregate)
(Zoo)plankton: the element that feeds all players (e.g., Awakening)
Cockroach: the element that persists, and/or multiplies effects (e.g., Masticore)
Remember that Anthony doesn't work on staff, so these do not represent official Wizards filters for designing or developing Magic cards. They're still pretty cool, though. You can read a bit more about them here.
Start with plankton, which may be the most obvious aspect of the card. The whole flavor of the card is bent toward giving each player an opportunity to control (and, one presumes, attack with) Karona.
The spider aspect is shorter-lived, but still printed right on the card: haste. An 8/8 attacker for six on the turn you play her is quite good. And don't discount the chance to completely throw off the game of the poor soul sitting to your right, who just tapped out since he didn't see any other creatures on the board.
The cockroach takes over where the spider leaves off. After the initial surprise, the board can watch Karona reload and go off on the next turn, pumping a new army automatically every time. All of her abilities are automatic, all last for as long as she lasts, and even at 5/5 she's as hardy as any creature out there.
As a gorilla, Karona has decent board impact – every turn, assuming she attacks, anywhere from one to dozens of creatures will get a Giant Growth bonus. That's not enormous; but it's significant.
Pigeons get inherently better with more players on the board. "Better" is subjective, depending on how fast you want Karona back; but since the general idea is passing the card on, the more players who can do that, the more interesting the attack phases will be.
Speaking of which. Rattlesnake cards don't often leave your control, but here's one that does. Karona represents a promise, for as long as she stays on the board: what goes around, comes around. Has any card ever meant this more?
I honestly can't think of another card that ranks so consistently well across all categories like this. Normal cards just don't do this. Even Pernicious Deed, my favorite multiplayer card to date, rates bland on some aspects. (Setting off the Deed isn't exactly about sharing plankton-y joy-food.)
Now, I'm not going to get crazy yet and say Karona's better than Pernicious Deed; but here's what I will say: the decks will be more creative.
Let's get to them.
PASS THE BLUNT INSTRUMENT TO THE TIMMY ON YOUR LEFT
All right, let's start with the worst case scenario – you play 4 Karona and 56 non-descript cards that do nothing to advance her cause. (I don't know what, exactly. Ornithopter, I suppose.) What happens? You play her, you don't attack (remember, worst case scenario), and then you close your turn. First opponent takes Karona and smacks you for eight. Second opponent takes Karona and…smacks you for eight again. Third opponent takes Karona, and, now to no one's surprise, smacks you for eight. You're out.
Come on. That's still pretty funny. And we only go up from there!
Here are ten different approaches to the card, all of which have a shot at working in casual group play. I'm only glancing over broad themes here. Afterward, what the heck: we'll build a specific deck that uses all ten options. (I'm making this promise before I actually design the deck. Or before I'm sure I have ten different approaches, for that matter. These articles become fun for me when I have no idea how they'll end...)
Option #1: Karona just attacks. Big surprise, right? Well, with Seize the Day, it might be. With Aggravated Assault or Angel's Trumpet, you're being a bit more obvious. For some of these, you may also want to use vigilant creatures such as Archangel or Akroma, Angel of Wrath.
Option #2: Karona leaves play. If you are the only one who controls her, you are the only one who can attack with her, right? There's a couple of ways to do this: (1) sacrifice with reanimation (e.g., Altar of Dementia and Dawn of the Dead) and (2) bounce (Flooded Shoreline and Exploration). There's probably a trick or two with Astral Slide as well.
Option #3: Your Karona hits harder than their Karona. My first thought here is Gratuitous Violence. Man, this is risky. You should be sure you can trample, and take away anyone else's trample – so I'd also think about Blind Fury. And Walls. Speaking of which.
Option #4: Karona can't penetrate your defenses.
Cho-Manno, Revolutionary or Fog Bank are good places to start. You can also think about all those +3/+3 attackers coming your way, and be ready with a Wall of Glare (or, for surprise value, Ironfist Crusher).
Option #5: Karona can penetrate your defenses all day, but it makes no difference.
Story Circle is most flexible, but you could probably get away with any of the Circles or Runes of Protection, since she's a five-color kinda gal. You'll still need a solution for the extra creatures that might come your way. Dueling Grounds, anyone?
Option #6: Karona stays in her tribe. Pure Legends that don't have a "Cleric" or "Minion" or "Penguin" attached now are fairly rare – so why not use this card to harken back to the original Legends set, and make that the focus of your deck? This way, you can make Karona an 8/8 guilt-free, knowing the rest of your army will be okay with that choice. Go ahead and throw in that Sword of the Chosen, and anything else you think'll help.
Option #7: Karona joins a new tribe. Any tribal deck that manages five colors fairly easily is a good candidate for Karona. Hmm…let's see…can we think of any creature type that uses all five colors, has cards in recent sets, generates multiples of itself easily, and benefits from abilities that don't target?
No, I can't either. Let's go onto the next idea.
Option #8: Karona goes ballistic. One way to drop a bunch of Legends that cost and is to use something like Sneak Attack, and bring them all out at once. Ever since I saw this set, I've been thinking that the best card for use with Scourge is Sneak Attack. (And the best card to use with it is Dragon Mage, given a Sneak Attack deck's tendency to run out of cards after a few deployments.)
Option #9: Karona goes to the bottom of your library. Or the top, I suppose; but in any case we'd start with Kaboom! and Erratic Explosion. Karona works fine with Scourge's "dragon enchantments" (e.g., Dragon Wings) and even gets your Scornful Egotist up to a 4/4 on attack. (That's not so bad for eight mana, right?) Do you actually cast Karona in a deck like this? Not normally, but since we're cramming nine other ideas into this deck, I suppose we'll have to. (Note to self: figure out what this deck is going to look like before you finish option #10.)
Option #10: Karona finds employment as a gasoline attendant. That is to say, she pumps. Why? I dunno. Maybe to activate your Hidden Predators. Or to give your Radiant's Judgment more meaning. Or to set up your Intrepid Hero. And so on.
Hmmm. A deck that uses all ten, eh? There's that convenient 5-color format that uses 250 cards, but that feels like cheating now that we're at the moment of truth. Of course, I will be using all five colors, within my normal 60-card deck parameters. The tendency toward four copies of cards, however, I throw out the window:
Nothing like a five-color deck with green as the "least" color, am I right? The aggressive nature of the deck, combined with the major tricks (Sneak Attack/Corpse Dance, as well as Intrepid Hero), requires red-black-white. This makes Fervent Charge a better choice, perhaps, than Gratuitous Violence. (Tough call. You can get an honest 10/10 with the former for lower converted cost, or a virtual 16/8 with the latter with a higher but easier mana cost. Since the Charge pumps all your creatures no matter what you call, I'm sticking with that one.)
Normally you expect to retain Karona, and just stack Sneak Attack's effect so that it resolves before Corpse Dance's. But you could conceivably lose her. That's fine. The Intrepid Heroes are there to back you up. In addition, Radiant's Judgment and Astral Slide integrate pretty well, and this leads me to force in some cycling lands. (This is probably a good aspect of Karona to explore in a single deck, without distractions. You can also use Aura Extraction to save your slides; and wouldn't you also use Parallax Wave?)
Tribally speaking, I emphasize Slivers, although the Mistform Walls are there to emulate Zombies, Barbarians, Angels, Dragons, or whatever comes whipping your way. The choice of Shivan Zombie is not just color-based – Zombie decks based in reanimation would be fairly troublesome for this deck, so providing a few of your own makes your life easier. Also note that with a Sneak Attack and Sliver Overlord out, you can find a Sliver-based solution, mid-combat, to many problems. Mistform Sliver is actually a consideration in this deck!
Don't let Karona's five-color cost deter you...
Kaboom! and Archangel are, I'll admit, a bit randomly thrown in; but I think eight different options woven together well with a couple of loose stitches is fine, for a first take.
Obviously, this deck wants to be broken down into fewer elements. There's definitely a red-black deck (more Sneak Attack, more Corpse Dance) and a white-X deck (Radiant's Judgment, Astral Slide). There's also a more pure Sliver deck waiting for the right enthusiast (probably including Unnatural Selection or Artificial Evolution, to change Karona into a Sliver), as well as a much more pronounced Kaboom! deck…the idea of a more pronounced Kaboom! deck really rather makes my day…
The point of all this is, Karona has a great deal to offer. You can't let her casting cost scare you off. It's not that much to pay in casual play, and what you get in return can be amazing.
GODS AND MONSTER REMOVAL
Some conversations upon the release of a new set are a little predicable. Since any Magic set will have at least a few cards that are hard to cast, large, and/or complex in how they work, there will inevitably be a skeptic or two who will come out and say, "Yeah, I'll just Terminate her. Then I'll pound on you for playing a threatening card."
All right. Rewind. Separate out the issues.
First, she dies to Terminate. Does that make Karona a bad card? I don't know. Does it make, say, Masticore a bad card? Or Mahomati Djinn? Silvos, Rogue Elemental? Avatar of Fury? All are easier to play than Karona, and have better staying power. All die to Terminate, if you don't protect them with some other spell or strategy. Does your group avoid such creatures, then? I'm thinking not. I'm thinking they play with cards like this, and then use stuff like Willbender, Broken Fall, Shelter, Zombify, or whatever else it takes to protect/recur them.
But even if your group eschews good creatures in favor of, say, Sage Owl (no no no…defend the owl's honor later!), we move on to the second issue: threatening cards. A card like Karona challenges players in group environments – it challenges the group to a fight, and therefore it challenges the owner to think hard about how to win that fight. The temptation to pass on her and concentrate on a less offensive strategy is strong. I hear from far too many players (and Internet columnists, who should know better!) that the only way to win in group is to stay really, really quiet, wait in the bushes for your unsuspecting prey to wander by, and then SPROING! "You git 'em, Cleavis!"
This trick barely works on rabbits. Given a second chance, the rabbit might know better. Assuming your friends are smarter than rabbits (and I'll stipulate that we all do know some fairly clever rabbits), I would try to depend upon strategies that work the second and third time you play a given deck.
This philosophy probably deserves a whole article, but here's the bottom line. Once we all admit that equally smart players in a given multiplayer game are all looking to reach their goal as quickly as possible, rather than waste time hiding under the table, we come to a decision:
Do we want the 8/8 pounder with haste and lots of fancy tricks, or don't we?
You do? Then play her, and protect her.
But don't apologize for her. False gods may make poor friends, but they don't make excuses.
BONUS FEATURE: PALM TREE TAG FOLLOW-UP
In my Mirage Week article, I had the message boards jumping with ideas off of 15 different Mirage cards. Today, we'll cover one of the questions I asked, and the answers that showed up on those boards. (The deadline for this contest has passed.)
Only slight edits for syntax on these.
This actually started with a complicated question on Bone Harvest, but heck with that. The extra bit on the Kobold tokens (how did each player get exactly two 3/3 Kobold token creatures?) generated the most interesting answers.
One player has Midsummer Revel, with at least five counters on it. Artificial Evolution changes "beast" to "kobold". Midsummer Revel activates, creating a load of 3/3 kobold tokens. At least four Illicit Auctions get cast on kobold tokens, so that each player has at least one. Finally, a player with only ten lands and the kobold token casts Balance, followed by Parallel Evolution.
Naturally, the numbers change if you have more than a few players; but the basic idea is certainly there. Here's one from Mirrormn (pulled a bit out of context, where he was answering the wider Bone Harvest question, so you'll see Riptide Replicators biting it when it's not completely necessary):
One player played Riptide Replicator with X=2, chose "kobold" to interact with their other kobolds, and chose white because they had a Crusade in play. Another player, amused with this, played the exact same thing (hey, it's a friendly game). Both players got out two 3/3 white kobolds before both were stolen with Steal Artifacts. Each of the new controllers got one kobold. Then the original owner of the first Replicator destroyed it with a Shattering Pulse [with buyback, ready to fire again]. The second Replicator produced a second white kobold. Then the player described in the actual scenario (you) grabbed the remaining Replicator with a Confiscate. He/you got rid of the Shattering Pulse with Daze, and eventually got 3 white kobolds. The Replicator was destoyed by Mogg Salvage, which was played for free. The player with only one kobold Dominated one of yours, putting everyone at 2 kobolds each.
Honestly, I can't figure out if that actually gets everyone two kobold tokens, or just one; but in any case, the idea is there, and a lot's happening, and the kobolds show up, and that's kinda all I care about! Next one's from Squee's Main Squeeze:
1) Everyone had two creatures to start with, and someone played March of Souls.
2) In response, someone played Artificial Evolution and changed the word "spirit" to "kobold".
3) Someone played Elven Rite, targeting one of their kobolds for both counters.
4) In response, someone else played Radiate.
Voila! Everyone has two 3/3 kobold tokens. You never said they didn't have flying kobold tokens!
A board poster or two got miffed at the "flying" part, but I think it's lovely. That one was probably my favorite. Tokens with counters! Who can resist?
Besides, the poster had a non-flying version:
1) Everyone had two untapped forests, and someone played Waiting in the Weeds. The caster probably used Gaea's Touch or something like that to cast it.
2) In response, someone played Artificial Evolution and changed the word "cat" to "kobold".
3) Someone played Elven Rite, targeting one of their kobolds for both counters.
4) In response, someone else played Radiate.
Good fun! I think kobolds is enough for this week. I'll do a few more over the next couple of weeks – some answers to the Flash and Forbidden Crypt questions, and maybe a few other topics, merit more exposure.
Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.