Which decks came out on top?

One Final Challenge – The Results

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The letter A!s the Single Card Strategies column winded down to its final few articles, I knew that I would have to revisit the Reader Challenge one last time. The Reader Challenge is one of the most polarizing things about this column, with people mostly completely loving it or completely hating it – but since most of you are in the “love it” camp, it seemed like a necessary thing to do before saying goodbye.

The Reader Challenges all generally work the same way. I ask my Readers to take on a card and make a deck that most thoroughly exploits and abuses that card. Most of the Challenges have had a column before them explaining my own view on the card, but this challenge is a lot like the last challenge (Tortured Existence) in that I didn't explore the card beforehand. Everything here comes from the readers first and foremost. In this Challenge, I didn't explore anything beforehand because the Challenge itself was for each reader to choose a card, any card, and make a deck that depends on that card.

Well, you certainly sent in decks. Hundreds and hundreds of them, in fact. (Relentless Rats and Shared Fate decks were the most popular, with each of those cards getting at least a dozen submissions.) In the end, I had to select a few of those submissions as examples of readers taking a card for the Challenge and showcasing it. It would be too hard in the end to just eyeball it, so I had further criteria:

  • Have that little something that makes it special.
  • A real focus on doing something well.
  • A more unique choice – most of these decks were the only ones submitted for that card.
  • When all else fails, timing is key. The deck that came in first would win at the photo-finish

So, let's see what you all came up with!

Honorable Mention, Backlash

Chris Abbot doesn't show up once today, but twice. I found this first deck so funny, I just wanted to share it with everyone.

Honorable Mention, Backlash

Main Deck

60 cards

17  Forest
Mountain
Swamp

23 lands

Nantuko Mentor
Sakura-Tribe Elder

8 creatures

Backlash
Blanchwood Armor
Ensnaring Bridge
Explosive Vegetation
Feast of the Unicorn
Fog
Kodama's Reach
Might of Oaks

29 other spells


The deck has a ton of ways to make creatures bigger, but it's all devoted to making the opponent's creatures bigger. Obviously this deck is incredibly fragile, but it is fun to imagine using the pumping cards to keep your opponent off of you with the Ensnaring Bridge until you can kill them in one fell swoop with a Backlash. Clearly, you could simply win by attacking with big Elders or Mentors, but I still like imagining pumping up some poor hapless creature, growing it even more with a Mentor, and then Backlash for the win. Thanks, Chris.

Third Place, Myscosynth Lattice

Here is Chris Abbott's other choice, Mycosynth Lattice. He hits upon a card that I've seen a lot of people use, but one of the things that I like about his version is how it pretty much takes all of the positive aspects of the card and uses them. Here is his list:

Third Place, Myscosynth Lattice

So, what are the positives to the Lattice? First of all it makes your opponents have artifacts. Secondly, it makes all of your permanents into artifacts. Thirdly, it makes everything that someone does colorless. That's pretty much the main things to expect.

Now, most people with Lattice run the obvious Lattice/March of the Machines style lockout. Nothing wrong with that approach, but Chris goes about making the opponents' artifacts painful in another way: with Emissary of Despair and straight up Artifact-kill. Wear Away and Oxidize are both Desert Twister once the Lattice is out, but far more cheap and quick. The Emissary of Despair can easily turn into a flying Phage the Untouchable. The other side of this coin, taking value from your own permanents being artifacts, comes in with Shrapnel Blast and Cranial Plating. While not incredibly mindblowing, I do like that Chris touches on that element.

The part that I actually find really interesting is the use of Lattice as a mana-fixer. The Urza-lands can create a load of mana, but the Lattice makes that mana work. Now, the obvious problem with the mana without the Lattice is that it is pretty silly to expect to cast the non-Green, non-Artifact spells without it. Lattice letting you cast Emissary of Despair, well that's nothing to write home about. Lattice letting you activate Door To Nothingness. Well, that is exciting. This deck has some flaws, but since it showed off all the aspects of the card in some way or another, it made the final running. The Door To Nothingness trick made me sit up and smile so much, I knew it was going to be in the Top Three.

Now to the two finalists that beat it out.

Finalist, Coils and Trouble

Williams, PT Chicago '03
Nathan Lee sent in this really cool Lightning Coils deck very late in the submission period. The first time I heard of anyone using Lightning Coils seriously was in Kobe. I was sitting with David Williams and he jokingly mentioned Lightning Coils as a great answer in Affinity for a card like March of the Machines. “It's great! If they cast March of the Machines, you have a ton of your 'creatures' immediately die, and on the next turn, you smack them silly with a ton of 3/1s and the Coils too.” I wasn't sure if he was kidding or not, but he kept a straight face the entire time. Here is Nathan Lee's take on how to use the card:


Finalist, Coils and Trouble

Main Deck

60 cards

Cabal Coffers
21  Swamp

24 lands

Bottle Gnomes
Coretapper
Myr Retriever

12 creatures

Diabolic Tutor
Grave Pact
Innocent Blood
Lightning Coils
Oblivion Stone
Scrabbling Claws
Skeleton Shard
Spawning Pit

24 other spells


He immediately has two of the elements I think are necessary to make a Lightning Coils deck work. First of all, he has a means to build up the Coils more quickly: Coretapper. After that, he has several methods to return the creatures he's losing to feed the coils (Retriever and Skeleton Shard), and he has a few ways to make creatures die (Gnomes are food by themselves, the Spawning Pit can eat creatures, and Innocent Blood is bound to kill something of yours on the table). Here are Nathan's thoughts on the whole process:

First, I'd just like to say that, for me, this isn't so much of a Challenge as a way of life. This is how I build decks: by picking one card and trying to abuse it somehow. This time it's Lightning Coils. It and its devious little pal Coretapper got overshadowed by all the brokenness that was in Mirrodin. I want it to have its moment in the sun.

The basic mechanism is pretty straightforward. Get a Coretapper, a Coils, and a Skeleton Shard, and then win. Grave Pact and Innocent Blood are positively godlike here, and the tutors can pull up the O-Stone for an emergency, the Scrabbling Claws for an annoying recursive critter, or just the missing link of the combo.

The nice part about this deck is its durability. Every creature is able to be recurred with a Skeleton Shard and the Shard is able to be recurred by a creature (Myr Retriever), so it's hard to stop you permanently. The Spawning Pits are primarily there to catch extra Elemental tokens before they get wiped out, or to serve as a way to use Myr Retriever proactively.

For my part, I really think he hit the card pretty well, but for a Lightning Coils deck, it does seem a bit creature light. Something recursive feels like it could be really good to me. I could see an Akuta, Born of Ash having a decent place in this deck, especially with all of the ways that the deck can pump up its hand size. Arcbound Reclaimer was seeing some amount of play in various Blue Urzatron decks in Standard, and I think having a single Reclaimer could do this deck a decent amount of good. Finally, Myr Servitor seems like a card that could easily be fit into the deck. Myr Servitor combined with even the Spawning Pit is pretty fantastic even if a Lightning Coils isn't around.

He mentions Coretapper, but of course there are other ways to feed the Coils. Dismantling a card like Sun Droplet is one of my favorites, but there are simple methods too. Energy Chamber can easily do the trick, even if it is slow.

Quibbles aside, the big keys are already hit by Nathan: have that means to continuously feed into the Coils, have a way to speed up the process, and have something useful to do with the 3/1s after all is said and done. His use of Retriever/Shard also has the benefit of letting him reuse a singleton like Oblivion Stone as many times as is required in a long game. Good work, Nathan.

The Winner, Possessed Portal

Jonathan Needleman sent in a submission that made me smile. Of all of the cards that I've had requests for, Possessed Portal is second in popularity only to One with Nothing (I still get a handful of requests to cover this card every week). Possessed Portal is a tough nut to crack, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to have it fit a full column. Jonathan showed me the ropes quite a bit on this card. Here's his deck:

Clearly once a Possessed Portal is in play, you're going to wreck your opponent. The problem is that a Possessed Portal doesn't discriminate; it's going to wreck you too. The only thing you can have is preparation. Jonathan does just that with several cards: Crucible of Worlds, Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar, Chronatog, and Fact or Fiction. A Fact or Fiction won't last, but it will provide a bit of fuel to keep something worthwhile in your hand after the Portal locks everything down. The other two are a bit special, however.

The Crucible is fantastic. Since you can sacrifice a permanent or discard a card at the end of every turn, Crucible can give you a virtual out with your graveyard. Yes, in theory, you'll have to discard eventually, but it will take twice as long with a Crucible in play. This is especially cute with the single Gods' Eye, Gate to the Reikai. Here you have the option to either build up an army of little attackers, or use the 1/1s as more fuel for the Portal so that you'll never end up having to discard anything. If anything, this is so good, Jonathan maybe should have included more!

Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar is another inspired choice. Both Tomorrow and the Portal replace the draw. The Portal doesn't do anything like force the draw phase to be skipped, rather instead of that you don't draw. Tomorrow replaces the draw with placing your favorite of the top three cards of your library into your hand. When you have both out, you can choose which of the two you'd rather have occur to replace your draw. Any question which you'd prefer?

The Chronatog dodges half the question of the Portal, and also provides a potential kill other than Azami and God's Eye 1/1s. Not nearly as powerful as the other ways out from the Portal, the Chronatog still does offer a potential threat. If there were any card to be cut, though, in my mind this would be it. It doesn't give enough of a dodge from the Portal, and it is only really a reliable threat when you know your opponent doesn't have anything to mess with it.

The deck packs a powerful amount of hand disruption. One thing to notice is the effect a Cephalid Coliseum is going to have on an opponent once the portal is out: it is just going to make them lose 3 cards, quickly hastening them to playing with only the board. Sink into Takenuma is quite interesting here, as well, being a very strong way to attack the bulk of the hand, though discard a Swamp from your hand or sacrificing one in play makes Sink not exactly a dodge of the drawback of a Portal.

If there were any card that I would love to see added to this deck, it would have to be Recoil. The deck is already Black/Blue, and quite heavy on the discard. In addition to being able to handle any permanent out there, it could easily be a card that could simply buy you time. In addition, there are bound to be times when you are going to really want to get rid of your own Portal simply because living under the portal didn't end up being as great as you hoped (maybe they killed your only Azami in response). I wouldn't be surprised if Recoil was just a cheap, instant Desert Twister in this deck.

Here are a couple of strategy tips from Jonathan on his deck:

Try not to play your blue cards until after the Portal has hit (especially the Tog). Also do not play portal if you do not have a win condition, Azami, or multiple Fact or Fictions in hand. Don't forget to keep two blue open at times to fake the counterspells that you are not running.

Good work, Jonathan. I thought the deck was fantastic, and I hope that everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks to everyone that submitted decks, especially those of you who took the time to submit several decks. It was hard to cut it down to these few ones that I selected, but I had to keep this article from being a thirty-parter. If you had a submission that you wanted to show people, the forums are a great place to show them to everyone.

Overall, I've had a lot of fun doing these Challenges. I look forward to the last few upcoming weeks. Have a great rest of this week!

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