ast week, I looked at all that could be accomplished with Locket of Yesterdays
. Wizards has really outdone themselves with Time Spiral
. I know that I've said it before, but I'll say it again, I didn't think that anything that Wizards could do would be able to match what they accomplished with Ravnica
. I was wrong. It's been so exciting going over all of the new cards these last few weeks, but I've been most especially looking forward (and backward) to this week's article on one of my favorite cards of all time, Gaea's Blessing
I remember when I first saw Gaea's Blessing. I was already in a kind of awe over the card. I know that if I had been designing cards, I don't think I would have even thought to go so far as include every little bit of text that was included. Just the recycling element to Gaea's Blessing was exciting to me, but they had to go and include another full line of text at the end! Wow!
As excited as I was, I know that some people felt like the card was tailor-made for me. I got a call from former Chicago area pro Andy Nishioka asking me how much I had bribed R&D to make the card. Bob Maher joked that it would be in a bunch of my decks. Everyone around the greater Midwest PTQ scene knew about me, you see. I was already big into recursion elements, and had included Soldevi Diggers in just about every deck that I could squeeze them into, and most of those decks were green to boot. Maher, in particular, was used to it. He'd played so many games against my favorite extended deck of the time, Baron Harkonnen with Soldevi Digger, he knew how naturally Blessing would fit. If anything, here was a deck hungry for Gaea's Blessing; move over Soldevi Digger, your heir is here.
I look at this list now, and I have to say, “Wow, is this rough.” But, hey, it was 1997, and deckbuilding was still young. This deck did, however, make great use of Gaea's Blessing, and it did serve as kind of a clarion call to rogue deckbuilders out there, eventually leading to the creation of Cabal Rogue. (Note to all of you deck-lovers out there: Cabal Rogue still exists, we just aren't as magically active these days. Thankfully, people like the good ol' BK, Brian Kowal, still have what it take to make decks that even Flores can win tournaments with.)
A Quick Look at Gaea's Blessing
Even a quick look at the card can tell us a little bit about the value of the card. It's cheap, and as a fast-trip, it very importantly replaces itself. The amazing final line of text almost reads like a semi-hoser (for Millstone) but also gives the promise of exploitation. When it was first printed, people played Feldon's Cane fairly regularly, and here was a card that might give you the effect for free if you could trigger it yourself!
While cheap and self-replacing, Gaea's Blessing clearly doesn't just fit into any old deck with green mana. You have to actually want to make use of its, erm, blessings. The time lost in spending a moment to cast it is clearly real. Even other modern cards that replace themselves immediately to some good effect don't automatically get placed in a deck. Take Chromatic Star – here is a card that replaces itself immediately and can serve a useful function in improving the quality of your card draw (by regulating mana as opposed to stuffing your deck full of goodness), but we don't all run out and play 4 of it in every deck even though it is colorless.
For its most obvious and direct use as a recursion devise, we have to remember that this card is not Regrowth or Krosan Reclamation. It is both better and worse than both of these cards, depending on the task at hand. Reclamation can be used aggressively at instant speed, and the flashback gives it resilience against countermeasures like countermagic and discard. Reclamation is most famously used by decks that massively deck themselves to set up a particular draw but still have their deck in the graveyard. Regrowth is the same speed and cost as Blessing (even in card cost – both leave you with the same number of cards in hand), but it can bring you back the specific old card that you used to have. What neither of them are capable of, though, is setting up a stronger recursive element as games go long. Shuffling three cards back into your library does very little initially, but eventually it does a lot.
Think about the recursive effects of regularly recurring with Blessing in a counterspell deck. One of the chief strategies against a lot of counter decks is simply to wear out their counters. Carlos Romao, for example, won a World Championship with Psychatog by recognizing this element in Tog on Tog games; with so few actual hard counters, Romao would let his opponent draw all the cards they wanted, but save up his counters for the threats. Against an opponent with Gaea's Blessing, this is simply not possible. As games go long, recursion repacks again and again whatever element you may want to reuse into your deck. Eventually, your deck can be so thick with whatever you need, you'll be able to draw it constantly.
This can be a huge deal in lock decks. With two Krosan Reclamations, you can kind of keep recurring the same single spell back into a deck of zero cards along with the other Reclamation, but it isn't very dramatic, and it is very easy for something to go wrong and leave you on the bad side of being decked. Blessing, on the other hand, can easily set you up with an infinite number of endgame spells, as you like it. Take this deck from Japanese Champs, by Yuuichi Ishitsuka.
While I'm not advocating the inclusion of Gaea's Blessing into this deck, it does do something quite interesting. All of the other recursion effects in the deck need to have a single card in the graveyard, so you wouldn't want to sweep all of the cards you want to recur (Walk and Exhaustion) into your deck, but you could shuffle all but one of each copy. This adds a degree of inevitability to the deck that isn't there in this deck. If the game goes to a near-infinite turn, this deck might get worn out of the effects that it needs, but in a deck with Blessing, that would never happen, and a lock would be inescapable. As it stands now, the cost of a couple of slots of cards might be too many for the deck to handle losing… or a couple of Blessings might just give this deck that added bit of resiliency that maybe it lacks.
The first time that I ever triggered Gaea's Blessing
's famous “deck to graveyard” clause, I was playing Baron Harkonnen in an Extended tournament. It was what might have been termed a “terrible matchup” for me – classically, U/W Millstone
is one of the superior blue control on blue control decks, mostly because the Millstone
s are cheap to cast, and Wrath of God
never actually does anything to hurt your deck. This means that you have more room for powerful counters, and eventually the Millstone
will get you. I fought the occasional token counterspell war here and there, but he had more card draw than me and he had more counters. I just took my time, though, bleeding him out of a few good spells. Gaea's Blessing
hadn't been out for more than a very short while, and he didn't know what hit him. Once it triggered the first time when he knocked it into the grave with his Millstone
, he thought long and hard. A few turns later, he packed it in to go to the next game, but I just saved all of my counters for Jester's Cap
s and the occasional big creature, and it was all she wrote.
Of the strategies at the time, I think that the Millstone strategy was one that was very disliked, and maybe R&D made Gaea's Blessing to be a hoser to Milling, and then tacked on the other abilities afterwards. I don't know, but whatever the intention, they did a good job at hosing the strategy. This makes Gaea's Blessing also a potentially excellent sideboard card. Millstone hasn't seen much play, but Brain Freeze sees a lot of play in Extended, and a reasonable amount of play in Vintage and Legacy. Even a singleGaea's Blessing in your deck or sideboard can wreak havoc on anyone planning on using Brain Freeze to knock you out. It is such a simple way to stop them, too. You don't even have to have the right color mana! Have a deck that simply can't stop a Brain Freeze deck? Make them work extra hard with access to just a few Blessings!
You don't have to hose just Millstone, though. You also get to poke a little bit of annoyance at dedicated graveyard decks. A while back, when I wrote about Heartbeat of Spring, I talked about a deck called “Jungle Book.” I still remember the first round of a $1000 Standard tourney I played in a long time ago. On his third turn, he played a Buried Alive, throwing three Ashen Ghouls into the yard. This was a pretty standard set up to a powerful deck of the time. On my next turn, I cast an Orcish Settlers with two of my mana, and Gaea's Blessing with the other two, shuffling all three of the Ghouls right back into his library! Oh, yeah, and I drew a card!
Clearly, you can't fight a massive graveyard filling with Gaea's Blessing, but you can use it to fight minor elements. If an opponent has a Mindslaver in their yard and plans on recurring it next turn with their tapped Academy Ruins, you can shuffle it right back into their deck before they have a chance. Clear out a pesky Dredge or Flashback spell, or get rid of that Anger or Firemane Angel. The more access to Blessings you have, the more aggressive you can be with this strategy. Simply use a later Blessing to shuffle back in your Blessings to refill!
The Intentional Trigger
Here, we get to the part of Gaea's Blessing that is really exciting. We know that we can use Gaea's Blessing as a slow recursive element to a deck to stuff it full of goodies, and we know that Blessing's trigger works actively against Millstone, but one neat thing is that you can intentionally set it off with the right cards. Any card that moves a Blessing into your graveyard from the library will set it off, even if you control that effect.
The classic example of this is Fact or Fiction.
Fact or Fiction reveals the top cards of your library, and if you don't choose to take the pile of cards that has the Gaea's Blessing in it, the Gaea's Blessing will have fulfilled its requirement of going “from deck to graveyard,” and it will trigger. This means that afterwards, your entire graveyard, including that Fact or Fiction, will be shuffled back into your library. Pro Tour – New Orleans finalist Tomi Walamies' deck “Dumbo Drop” shows this power off nicely.
I've always viewed this deck as a kind of Baron Harkonnen update, but maybe it is more of a Five-Color Donais update (a la Mike Donais), but without the Five Colors. Regardless, Tomi not only has the Fact or Fiction to trigger the Blessings, but he also has Intuition. So long as he has two Blessings in his deck, he can guarantee a Feldon's Cane effect at any time with an Intuition for two Blessings. Similarly, casting Gifts Ungiven including a Blessing will pull off the trigger.
One of the easiest ways to trigger Blessing is in a deck with dredge. The act of replacing the draw moves cards directly from your deck into your grave, but for most decks, this is a mixed bag. Usually, a deck with dredge wants its graveyard to be jampacked with goodness, not to have it all shuffled back in.
If you're not sure whether or not an effect will trigger the Blessing, one key word to look for is “discard.” Any effect which causes you to discard the Blessing will not
trigger it. Compulsive Research
or Careful Consideration
cause you to draw cards and then discard them, so you are not putting a card from your library into the grave, but rather you are putting it there from your hand. In Standard, there are incredibly few non-dredge spells that actually do this, and none of them are particularly good. Vigean Intuition
and Moonlight Bargain
will do the trick if you really want to play those cards, as will Candles of Leng
. After that, though, you have to get pretty convoluted, or resort to xredge. Have fun putting your Life from the Loam
and lands all back into your deck, though…
There are a few other fun cards to take note of. Whetstone can be a fantastic Millstone variant in the right deck, and if you have Gaea's Blessing in your deck, you'll be able to ignore the fear of being decked. Cephalid Vandal could be used in a deck with Blessings and with a bunch of other graveyard effects. Without a fear of ever being decked, there is no need to have to let the Vandal go as its shredding of your library gets more and more profound. Of course, the grand daddy of all of these Blessing effects has probably got to be Oath of Druids. As you reveal each of your library's cards to find a creature, they go straight from your library to the grave. Once you've finished finding a creature, the rest of your library can pop right back into your deck!
A Final Note
If you think you should put some Blessings into your deck, you might wonder how many. The rule on how many Blessings you choose to run is pretty simple.
4: You have a dedicated recursion deck, you are expecting to have to use your Blessings against your opponent, and you expect people to play graveyard attack to remove your Blessings in a large percentage of your games. This situation is incredibly rare, but it might happen in a home game.
3: You have a dedicated recursion deck, you are expecting to have to use your Blessings against your opponent, and people might attack your graveyard. This situation is still pretty uncommon, though, and you're likely better served by only running two Blessings. Still, if you really need the recursion and you think it might get attacked, run the three. Three is probably most useful if you have no way to self-trigger the Blessing clause.
2: You want a solid ability to recur, but you don't really have to do it immediately, or you want to have a solid ability to hose a Millstone opponent. You don't expect regular graveyard attack, and you will only occasionally attack your opponent with it, and you do have a way to self-trigger it.
1: You are just looking for a hail mary way to stop Millstone effects, or you have other recursion cards that will let you recur the Blessing.
Wow. You've made it to the end of the article. If you can't already tell, I'm pretty much in love with this card. Time Spiral gave me just enough other goodies with Gaea's Blessing for me to remake a deck of mine that is an oldie but a goodie. Here it is, as a special bonus to all of you who made it here, the New Baron Harkonnen.
The New Baron Harkonnen – Extended
Here is a current deck that can showcase the power of Gaea's Blessing in a deck. Not only is the deck able to trigger that lovely last sentence on Blessing, but the regular recursion elements to the deck are very relevant as well. This deck is actually built to take great advantage of the recursive power of Blessing by not really spending any time deciding how it is going to win. Instead, it can just keep refilling with answers and card draw, and eventually drop a Twisted Abomination if it doesn't need to find another swamp, or kill you with Shackles or the Factory. There are a bunch of metagame tweaks that could be made to the deck, but overall, this deck is incredibly powerful. Hey, all you Worlds competitors, take note. This could take you all the way to the top.
One final note: As this is going up, I'll be turning 30. In a few years, I'll have been playing Magic for half of my life. Almost scary, in a way. Writing about Gaea's Blessing has been a really nice chance to reflect about the past 13 years of gaming. I cut or skipped a number of anecdotes (sorry Jamie!) just to not amble over all of the decks I've made with Gaea's Blessing in it. It did bring back a lot of memories (Joe Blue!). Making those decks with friends, going to tournaments, and just traveling has filled me with those memories. It is kind of funny to think of how a single card could bring up all of these memories, but it did, nonetheless. Thank you to everyone I've met along the way. I'll probably be chugging away at this game for some time to come, so I'm sure you'll see me somewhere, someday, casting spells and laughing with friends.
Until next time,