elcome, all! With Eventide
nearly upon us and Shadowmoor
about to be swept away, I think it's about time that I revisited one of my favourite things that I've ever done on the site. The last House of Commons Blowout Spectacular
generated a lot of mail from people wanting to know if (and hoping that) I would do the same thing again once Shadowmoor
came out. Well, this is it.
In case you missed it last time around, I took four of every Lorwyn common (no more, no less) and used those cards to make thirteen roughly equal decks. Once those four copies were used up, I couldn't put that card in another deck. Sorry, Mulldrifter! The goal was to find a home for every card and to make the most playable decks possible. We're looking for the greatest good for the greatest number here. It's like a cross between doing a Sudoku puzzle and Building on a Budget.
What can you do with the decks? Well, at first I thought it would be fun to just duel or play multiplayer free-for-alls with the decks, but the folks at pdcmagic.com had an even better suggestion: auction them off and then have a tournament! It was a blast, and you can read about it here.
The first time around was very satisfying and very fun, so I had to do it again. I didn't know what I was getting into.
Shadowmoor Money, Shadowmoor Problems
Wow, were things trickier this time around. For starters, as Monty Ashley explained in a recent Ask Wizards, the cards in Shadowmoor have an average converted mana cost that is higher than Lorwyn's. The same is true when you look at just the commons. Off the top of my head, I'll say that the difference is one-tenth of a mana. It doesn't sound like much, but note that you have to pay full price for all of the expensive spells in Shadowmoor. Lorwyn's evoke Elementals had high mana costs but could be played for much less. Cards with affinity, landcyclers, and morph creatures are other ways we've had to mitigate a glut of expensive spells. Shadowmoor has no such luxuries. As a result, I couldn't skimp on land in any of the decks the way I could with Kithkin, Elves, and Merfolk.
The other main issue is that Shadowmoor has a lot of cards that require a lot of assistance to maximize. For instance, the cycle of Initiates want to be in monocoloured decks. The cycle of Duos, "hybrid-aligned" Scarecrows, and "Avatauras" (like Shield of the Oversoul) all want to be in specific two-colour, hybrid-heavy decks. At the same time, the conspire spells need creatures of the relevant colours, and what about all the -1/-1 counter shenanigans? Shadowmoor's mechanical "web" is giving me a headache.
Ultimately, though, I found a solution.
Attack of the 61-Card Decks!
We'll start things off by talking about the monocoloured decks. Of course, "monocoloured" takes on a whole new meaning when we're talking about Shadowmoor. With the high number of spells using hybrid mana in the set, it's easy to build a deck with two or three different colours of spells but only one type of basic land to support them. The next several decks all fit this particular mould.
First off, we've got a mono-black control deck boasting many of the usual weapons used by such decks. It's got some of the best black removal spells available to us (Torture
), the best discard spells (Splitting Headache
and Cinderhaze Wretch
), a pumpable "Shade" (Loch Korrigan
) to act as a finisher and/or chump-block inducer, and a Drain Life-style effect (Rite of Consumption
) which just happens to combo nicely with the "Shade." But, wait, there's more! The deck is packed to the gills with -1/-1 counter tricks, starting, appropriately enough, with Gravelgill Axeshark
. Because it has persist, it won't stay dead the first time it sleeps with the fishes. Combined with Chainbreaker
, it can rise from the grave(l) every single time it gets whacked. Besides doing its usual job of healing your withered creatures and slowly growing itself, Chainbreaker
also combos with Cinderhaze Wretch
to allow you to effectively Mind Rot
your opponent once each turn or Fugue
your opponent once in a while. A full set of Fate Transfer
s, meanwhile, can turn your persistent Axesharks into Cultbrand Cinder
s, transform your Chainbreaker
s into Watchwolves (while offing a hapless X/2 creature in the process), allow you to get a Scar
and bonus discard out of your Cinderhaze Wretch
es, and, perhaps best of all, let you to use Torture
as a sort of "bank of pain." The service charges are a real killer.
The next deck, perhaps the weakest, is basically the home of all the green cards that wouldn't fit anywhere else. It has a somewhat unfortunate 1-2-3-4-5 creature curve that can be interrupted by pump effects (Nurturer Initiate, Viridescent Wisps, and Blight Sickle), some arachnoid fine-dining, and the Gleeful Sabotage of various Scarecrows and "Avatauras." I'm not sure this is the best place for Blight Sickle, because forty percent of the creatures already have wither (perhaps the last deck would be a better fit). Still, it does provide a +1/+0 boost, so even if the wither is redundant, it makes your guys into better attackers. And that's about all they are going to do anyway.
Of all the Initiates, the blue one is the one that needs the most support, at least if you want to try to win the game by decking. That's a pretty tall order, but at least we've got some help with Memory Sluice, a miniature version of Glimpse the Unthinkable. If you manage to play all four of Sluices with conspire, your opponent will be down 32 cards. Take away the seven cards in your opponent's starting hand, and that leaves 21 cards for you to mill away (assuming a 60-card deck). That's eleven activations of Drowner Initiate, minus one for every two cards your opponent draws. It can be done (especially with multiple Drowner Initiates and Memory Sluices), but it will take time.
To help buy you this time, to slow your opponent down and speed you up, I filled the rest of the deck with able defenders, all the countermagic that was available, and as many cheap blue spells as I could fit. Since there are no common tutors in Shadowmoor (What I wouldn't do for a Dizzy Spell!), those cheap spells are cantrips (Cerulean Wisps) or card-drawers (Ghastly Discovery). They even work well together! The only creature-removal spell that I included was Aethertow, mainly due to its synergy with the mill effects.
The bad news is that your fighting force consists mostly of one-power creatures. The good news is that most of them have wither and that once they become outclassed, you can use them to pay the conspire costs of Giantbaiting and Burn Trail. This seemed like the best place for Bloodshed Fever, which will either force an annoying utility creature to trade with one of your wither guys or enable you to race with some of the more formidable defenders (like Juvenile Gloomwidow or Parapet Watchers). Smash to Smithereens gives the deck some reach if you're playing against Scarecrows or Blight Sickle.
Probably one of the better decks, this one combines nearly all of the blue-white creatures with the awesomeness of Steel of the Godhead. The only blue-white creature that's missing is Silkbind Faerie, but I left it out so as not to concentrate too much power in one deck and because another deck needed it more. Since the deck has so many evasive creatures, or potentially evasive creatures, I used softer, more tempo-based removal spells like Turn to Mist and Inquisitor's Snare instead of, say, Curse of Chains. Despite being packed with "blue" spells, they are all hybrids. This allowed me to use a mana-base consisting entirely of Plains, which further enabled the inclusion of Rune-Cervin Rider.
The next deck is also one of the better ones. The fact that it contains Shield of the Oversoul and twenty green-white creatures could have something to do with that. Once again, this deck kind of built itself, and once again, it features an all-Plains mana base. The only real difference between this deck and the last one is that this one contains the relevant Scarecrow.
Another day, another Duo. This time it's the red-black one. The weakest of the five, Emberstrike Duo needs all the help it can get. That's why almost every spell in this deck is a red-black hybrid. Each one will pump the Duo, and the hybrid creatures all make nice targets for Fists of the Demigod. The only red-black hybrid creature that didn't make it was Sootstoke Kindler. This is simply because its ability wasn't terrible exciting in this particular deck, since the biggest creature (Rattleblaze Scarecrow) has a good chance of being haste-y already. While the creatures in the deck aren't all that intimidating, as with the mono-red deck above, you do have some late-game reach once it becomes suicidal to send your creatures into the red zone. Poison the Well, Rite of Consumption, and Smolder Initiate (all of your non-Scarecrow spells are black) help in this regard, while Traitor's Roar allows you to use your opponents' monsters against them, judo-style.
Did you know that average mana-cost of the red-green hybrid cards is something like eight million? That's why I had to use two-thirds of the available mana-accelerators in a single deck. Unfortunate, but necessary. This deck is for everyone who wants to live the dream and put a Runes of the Deus on a Loamdragger Giant and swing for 18. Removal? Who needs it? Um, every other deck more than this one. Besides, forcing chump-blocks is a kind of removal. Ember Gale will occasionally take out some Drowner Initiates, but more importantly, it allows you to get through with your 9/8 double-striking tramplers. As for the single Manamorphose... Um, no comment.
The last of the "Avataura" decks, this ones tries to take advantage of Helm of the Ghastlord. Unfortunately for Mr. Ghastlord, his headgear won't be working at maximum capacity the way the other auras will. That's because I've already used up two of the blue-black hybrid creatures (Gravelgill Axeshark and Oona's Gatewarden), neither of which is particularly exciting while wearing the ghost helmet. Better to put it on some blue or black creature and make it either a pumped-up Specter or Ophidian. Of course, Gravelgill Duo and Wanderbrine Rootcutter were still available, so they make an appearance in this one, as do the remaining blue-black hybrid spells.
I called this a control deck, but that's mostly because it's slow. Packed with life-gain and creatures with big butts, this deck should prove to be annoying for any deck that wants to attack on the ground. Besides gumming up the field of battle, this deck moonlights as a Presence of Gond "combo" deck. It's got eight creatures with untap abilities (four each of Safehold Sentry and Silkbind Faerie) and another creature that can, at least for a little while, untap at will (Barrenton Medic).
This deck is basically the dumping grounds for all of the red and black cards that I haven't used yet. That doesn't mean that there's no method to the madness. As I mentioned before, Sootstoke Kindler was saved for this deck because it features creatures that can benefit more from the haste (Hello, Ashenmoor Cohort!). Later in the game, Blistering Dieflyn will also love attacking the turn it came into play. In a similar vein, this deck is the home of the fear-granting Aphotic Wisps, which can allow your Blistering Dieflyn to scoot by a Rune-Cervin Rider while pumping your Ashenmoor Cohort at the same time. That's a double-whammy. More importantly, the deck takes advantage of Disturbing Plot by using the persist-thwarting Faerie Macabre and the Scarecrow-burning Boggart Arsonists, two of the three creatures available to us that can put themselves in the graveyard for some useful effect.
As for the Elsewhere Flask: Never go anywhere without your Flask, that's what I've never said before.
Finally we get to the first ever House of Commons Blowout Spectacular!!! combo deck. It's not a fresh new combo by any means, but it gets the job done. The three key cards are Morselhoarder, Sinking Feeling, and Power of Fire. With both Auras on the Morselhoarder, you can tap it to deal one damage to a creature or player because of Power of Fire, pay 1 to untap it with Sinking Feeling (which also puts a -1/-1 counter on it), and use Morselhoarder's ability to remove the counter and add one mana to your mana pool. End result: You've dealt 1 damage, and you're all set to repeat the process as much as you like. That's only part of the deck, though. If you don't get the whole combo going, you can put Power of Fire on Pili-Pala or Merrow Wavebreakers and use their untap abilities in conjunction with the Tim ability to mow down your opponent's creatures.
Sinking Feeling can also act as a clunky removal spell for tapped X/1 creatures. Once your opponent's creatures have been successfully mown, you can use the other pocket of synergy to get in for damage. Whimwader is a cheap Craw Wurm that can only attack if your opponent controls a blue permanent. Both Prismwake Merrow and Scuttlemutt can ensure that your opponent controls such a permanent, while at the same time monkeying with enemy Auras and Cohorts or accelerating your mana. Crimson Wisps and Manamorphose don't serve any critical purpose, but they do help you dig for combo pieces.
Of all the decks, this one is probably the biggest dud. I did what I could, but these cards had to go somewhere and this is there. The good news is there is some synergy among these spells. It's basically a Mine Excavation
deck. To make the most of that sorcery, I needed white creatures and artifacts. The artifacts were easy enough to figure out. All the remaining Scarecrows and the leftover Elsewhere Flask
s (Draw engine!) made it in. Watchwing Scarecrow
was the most obvious of the "hybrid-aligned" Scarecrows to include, since the deck actually contains white creatures. Wingrattle and Blazethorn Scarecrow
need a little assistance to do their thing, but, luckily, both Scuttlemutt
can ensure that you control a creature of all the relevant colours.
As for the white creatures, neither Goldenglow Moth nor Kithkin Shielddare are particularly exciting, but they were even less exciting in the other decks and they do have some synergy with each other. Woeleecher is kind of an oddball, since the only way you can use it actively is to remove a -1/-1 from a persistent Wingrattle Scarecrow. I don't know how often that will come up. Of course, everything changes if your opponent is playing creatures with wither. Then you simply leech those woes away.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that little experiment. It was a lot of fun for me, despite the increased degree of difficulty and the somewhat less thrilling result. Still, I am glad that every card found a suitable home, even if it was a janky home.
House of Cards at U.S. Nationals
In case you missed the announcement in the latest issue of The Gazetteer (301KB PDF download), I will be in Chicago attending U.S. Nationals from August 1st to 3rd. Mostly I will spend my days gunslinging. What this means is that you can come up and play me (for free!) with a chance to win some exciting prizes. The roster of gunslingers is pretty awesome. R&D members Matt Place, Erik Lauer, and Kenneth Nagle will be taking part, as will Pro Tour Hall of Famer Alan Comer and future Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kenji Tsumura. The last gunslinger is a guy named Richard Garfield, the creator of RoboRally and The Great Dalmuti. I'm sure he's done some other things as well.
There are tons of other fun public events taking place that weekend, including league play, multiplayer free-for-alls, and, most importantly, Elder Dragon Highlander. I will have a bunch of EDH decks with me, so if you're looking to have your dreams crushed by Hanna, Ship's Navigator (or crush my dreams), feel free to join in.
I'm not sure what decks I will be playing at the gunslinging tables, so I thought I'd let you have a say. I've selected five fun-looking, borderline tournament-playable cards for you to choose from. I will be writing a report of some kind when I return, so even if you can't make it to Chicago, your vote will still help determine what you get to read about in future articles. Feel free to post ideas in the forums or drop me a line via the email link at the bottom of the page.
Which card would you like me to build around?
Until next time, live like common people.