House_of_Cards

Navigating the benefits and drawbacks of Maralen of the Mornsong.

Now Morn Ever

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The letter W!elcome to Limbo Week, the only week of the year where lowering the bar is a sign of success! This is one of those weeks between official previews and the actual release of the set where the columnists play party games on a carnival cruise ship as we drift through the first circle of Hell. You'd think after having been through this several times before that I would be used to it, but I'm not. It's still pretty terrifying and, fortunately, not the least bit true.

Since I love being trapped in a lie, the question becomes, "What do I do now that I've painted myself into a corner with this shamelessly stolen mock theme week?" The answer that I've decided on is, "Dip into the old mailbag!" It's been a while (forever), since I've done that, seeing as I don't even have a mailbag. It's old-fashioned and inefficient filing system, if you ask me. As a modern man, hep to all of the latest developments in written communication, all of my mail is safely stored on the Internet somewhere. After shuffling through that undisclosed location and thereby taking the pulse of the lay-Johnny, I've discovered that there is one Morningtide card on readers' minds more than any other: Maralen of the Mornsong.

Of course, it should not be a great surprise that Ms. of the Mornsong is garnering some serious attention from those deckbuilders who like to walk (nay, run!) on the wild side. Heck, I'd even say she (It's a she, right?) is garnering some attention from me, if I really knew what "garnering" meant. I think it has something to do with parsley.

Judging by the picture of the grimly tutored Maralen, she is a cross between an unblinking bighorn and Mola Ram from the Temple of Doom, with the icy stare and intestinal fortitude of the former and the heartwrenching capacity for, um, heart wrenching of the latter. It's all those words underneath her that are the real eye-catchers, though. The reason this particular Elf Wizard is causing so many synapses to fire deep within the Johnny cortex is because she has all the hallmarks of a true Johnny card.

Incredibly powerful effect? Check.

Hideous drawback? Check.

It just so happens that both the desirable effect and the nasty drawback are two edges of the same sword. You know, a double-edged, symmetrical one. What the right hand giveth, the left hand also giveth, but to someone who is trying to kill you with Magic. That old chestnut. Of course, despite the fact that Maralen has the same effect on each player, you do have a 2/3 as well, making her not entirely symmetrical. It's more of triple-edged sword, I guess, with one edge that can be used to fend off grizzly bears.

Playing with Maralen of the Mornsong is risky. It's risky à go-go. That doesn't mean we can't make it work or, at least, volunteer to buff up her résumé.

End of Turn Elf, You...Win?

Maralen of the Mornsong is one of those cards, like Howling Mine and its analogues, whose bountiful fruits are enjoyed first by your opponent. This is just wrong, frankly. If anyone should have first dibs on said fruits, it should be you. Especially since they were purchased with your own hard-earned mana. As a non-flashing creature, however, you have no recourse but to play your main-phase Maralen and take your lumps. It's even possible, pessimists would say "likely," that you will lose out on your chance to tutor for something yourself as your opponent simply fetches a removal spell and offs Maralen. While I don't think that scenario spells Game Over in the way that some others seem to, it's not exactly ideal. I guess there's no hope for this gal after all.

Wait a minute. This is Magic! Anything is possible. If you want Maralen to materialize at your opponent's end of turn, then, by golly, you can. And by "by golly" I mean "in a number of different ways."

The first, and perhaps most obvious, way to get Maralen into play at the most convenient time is to give her flash. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is the only way to actually give her flash, but there are several cards that allow you to play her as though she had flash. In green, you've got combo staple Aluren and dollar-bin staple Vernal Equinox. White gives us Scout's Warning, a card that I think more people should play. Winding Canyons gives you a window to turn your critters into flashers, and Vedalken Orrery lets you play all your spells whenever the heck you want (more or less).

If removing the timing restrictions on Maralen isn't your cup of tea, you can instead opt to put her directly into play. There are many ways to accomplish such a daring feat, including the thematically apt Elvish Piper. Root Elemental is a little pricey if you're only putting a 2/3 into play, but that's just my opinion. Legacy favourite Flash will also do the trick. Blue's other contributions include Metathran Aerostat (huh?) and the unfortunately typo-worthy Shifty Doppelganger. Artifacts are really where it's at, giving us Quicksilver Amulet, Cryptic Gateway, Belbe's Portal, Æther Vial, and Æther Vial's non-union Mercadian equivalent, Mercadian Lift. The one I like the most, though, is probably Skyshroud Poacher, since, you know, I love me an Elf-helper. I'm sure there are others I've missed.

Besides allowing you to get first crack at Maralen's tutoring power by putting her into play at end of turn, these cards allow you to put Maralen into play at an even better time: in response to opposing draw spells.

No Draw and No Drawback?

If your opponent plays Concentrate or Harmonize while you have Maralen in play, they will not be able to draw any cards. That's a waste of mana and a card. Even more devastating, however, is putting Maralen into play in response to cards like Brainstorm or Careful Consideration. In the case of the former, your opponent will not draw three cards, but will put two cards from their hand on top of their library. With the latter, your opponent will not draw four cards, but will discard two or three cards, depending. Ouch.

This will happen to you, too, if you play these cards while Maralen is on the board. Luckily, due to miracle of Constructed Magic, you don't have to put these kinds of cards in your deck. There are plenty ways to get new cards into your hand without actually drawing them. The one that always comes up when you're looking to draw-without-drawing is Fact or Fiction. You don't draw cards, you simply choose a pile and put it into your hand. I've used this oddball in a deck based around Uba Mask for just this reason. Other cards that fall into this category are cards like Ancestral Memories, Browse, Impulse, Peer Through Depths, and Morningtide's Thieves' Fortune. Tutors (i.e. cards that let you search your library for a certain kind of card or cards) also allow you to get fresh cards without actually drawing. You can do this on a one-for-one basis with something like Diabolic Tutor or Idyllic Tutor, or you can get multiple cards with stuff like Gifts Ungiven, Weird Harvest, or Mystical Teachings.

Reader David M. wrote in to suggest pairing Maralen with ersatz "Draw 7" Colfenor's Plans. Since you skip your draw step with Colfenor's Plans, you won't get to Grim Tutor with Maralen, but you will have seven extra cards to work with while your opponent loses 3 life a turn (provided they can't deal with her or you have a way to prevent them from doing so).

You can even use the fact that players can't draw cards in an offensive, rather than defensive, way. As mentioned, you can use cards like Careful Consideration to force your opponent to discard three cards. Better still, you can use something like Wheel and Deal or Laquatus's Creativity to completely empty your opponent's hand. Red gives you the most options in this area. These consist of Wheel of Fortune and its many variants, some of which affect both players, some do not. Besides the original, there's Wheel of Fate, Dragon Mage, Shocker, Barbed Shocker, Robber Fly, Winds of Change, and Incendiary Command.

Shah of Naar Isle and Indentured DjinnThat's not all! Some cheap fatties (Shah of Naar Isle and Indentured Djinn) have a drawback that allows your opponent to draw cards. Well, with Maralen in play, that drawback disappears. The same thing happens with Arcane Denial, Vex, and Bargain.

As I mentioned before, your opponent can simply search for removal and kill Maralen right away and that (apart from your opponent winning the game on the spot) is probably the most deflating thing that can happen. While I don't think a quasi-Extract for removal with a bonus Lightning Bolt is the worst thing in the world, it's not exactly living the dream. As always, though, there are things you can do. You can protect Maralen with cards like Steely Resolve, Bubble Matrix, Absolute Law or Absolute Grace, or even Veilstone Amulet, depending on what you expect to face. You can also launch a pre-emptive strike on your opponent's removal spells with cards like Extract, Cranial Extraction, Earwig Squad, and Jester's Cap. You could "bait" a removal spell (or two) with your first Maralen (and second) and then use Extirpate to remove the remaining copies of that spell. Your deck still functions as normal, but they have to play the Extirpated version of their deck. You know, the one without the gannet. Other potential preventative measures include cards like Meddling Mage, Null Chamber, Voidstone Gargoyle, Declaration of Naught, Hesitation, or just good old-fashioned counterspells.

Selections from the Great Maralen Mornsongbook

There are still a few tricks up these sleeves, courtesy of the readers who made this mailbag column a reality. The first deck comes from Noel d.C., who is always on the ball when it comes to goofy ideas. He started out looking to fire off a Living End with Howltooth Hollow and when Morningtide was spoiled, he discovered that Maralen of the Mornsong and Sensation Gorger formed an unlikely, hand-emptying alliance. As long as you have a Goblin or Shaman on top (and that can be arranged with Flamekin Harbinger, say), each player will discard his or her entire hand and not draw four cards. Even without Maralen, Sensation Gorger does a fine job of filling up the graveyard for an eventual Living End. Incendiary Command can do the same thing, while providing you with an answer to certain strategies and another win condition. Scrying Sheets and a snow-heavy manabase give you a way to get cards in hand once Maralen is in play. To make Living End less symmetrical, Noel used Withered Wretch to clear out the creatures in his opponent's graveyard. Ideally, you will return four Bogardan Hellkites to play and win immediately. You could also make use of the combat phase if you return a pair of Hellkites and a pair of Inner-Flame Acolytes.

If you're not interested in playing Bogardan Hellkites for whatever reason (tired of Dragonstorm, say), you could try swapping them for Skizzik Surgers and then swapping the Soulbright Flamekins for Thick-Skinned Goblins. Noel himself passed on the Hellkites, using Vengeful Firebrands instead (Nameless Inversion and other changeling cards gave him the Warrior he needed to be in the graveyard). Here's a modified version of Noel's deck:

The next deck comes from Tama C., who writes of Maralen of the Mornsong: "How about this lady with Aven Mindcensor? I like her with Shadow of Doubt (although you don't get to draw either). Put that on an Isochron Scepter and watch the fun disappear. Combine with Isochron Scepter + Orim's Chant for a possible lawsuit." While I agree that Scepter-Chant makes for a less than thrilling game (on top of making Maralen somewhat unnecessary), I would have no regrets about putting Shadow of Doubt on a Scepter. I've done it before.

With Aven Mindcensor in play, your opponent will be limited to searching the top four cards of library. This makes Maralen into an Impulse for you, a Grim Tutor for me. Shadow of Doubt, of course, shuts down Maralen for a whole turn (preferably your opponent's). Here's a tweaked version of Tama's deck, using several of the tricks I've discussed, as well as some new-ish ones (like replaying a Beacon every turn):

I hope that gives you some ideas for Maralen of the Mornsong decks of your own.

Until next time, tutor up something good.

Chris Millar

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