hh, winter. It's “Third Week of January” Week here at magicthegathering.com, so I thought I'd take a moment to talk a little about my least favourite season. In Canada, where I live, winter is a time for men to get together with sticks and bare-knuckle box in a woolen leotard. Breaking necks and chipping teeth. On ice. The sport otherwise known as curling. Or is it hockey? One or the other. Which one has the harpoons again?
Hey, maybe you like winter. Maybe you like frostbite. And hypothermia. And curling.
I don't. If there's anything I like less than chiseling soup-can ice-barnacles out of the wheel-well of my car, it's doing it at midnight in a movie theater parking lot because I can't get the car to start or the wheels to spin due to the cold.
Not that that has ever happened.
Now, when I say that I don't like winter, it's not personal. Winter's just not my type. We don't speak the same language. It's not on my wavelength, my trolley, or hip to my groove. We tried to work through our differences, but it was just too difficult for a calendar-based weather pattern and a human being to reconcile. I don't want to single out Winter, because, really, I hate each season equally. Winter may be too cold, but Summer's too hot. I spend most of Spring recovering from Winter, and spend Fall dreading it. There is one season, however, that I'm grudgingly growing to appreciate.
On the Canadian calendar, it falls somewhere between Winter and Spring.
The card isn't bad either.
Separated at birth?
When Ravnica was released, Doubling Season was a card that had Johnnies worldwide drooling, including Johnny Depp (seriously, check this month's In Touch magazine) and Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon (who, believe it or not, was the artist's model for Dwarven Thaumaturgist). This Johnny-based excitement should come as no surprise to anyone. Throughout Magic's history, there have been cards that double something, whether it's damage (Furnace of Rath), +1/+1 counters (Solarion), my blood pressure (Raging River), or mana (Doubling Cube). Each one of these cards has inspired a plethora of decks in a plethora of formats, not to mention the plethora of “plethoras” in this sentence. That's a lot of plethoras, to be sure. More than most other cards. For example, just look at all those decks out there based around Doubling Cube …
Okay, there aren't any. Well, at least not a plethora of them. Or even half a plethora. I don't know about you guys, but, personally, I'm waiting for Tripling Cube. Now that'd be a card I could get behind! It'd be 50% cooler than Doubling Cube. I measured.
Doubling Season reminds me a lot of Mirari's Wake. They're both five-mana Green enchantments that give you a boost to two different things. Wake pumps up your creatures Glorious Anthem-style and flares your mana, uh, Mana Flare-style. Doubling Season, meanwhile, doubles any counters that would be placed on permanents you control, and it doubles the creature tokens that would be put into play on your side. I got that just from reading the card!
It's a useful comparison to make. When it came to finding a way to make the most of Mirari's Wake, players turned to cards like Firecat Blitz, Elephant Ambush, and Decree of Justice. Not just cards like them, but those exact cards. You'll notice that each of those cards is improved dramatically with both the mass creature-pumping and the mana-doubling effects of Mirari's Wake. All this leads me to believe that Doubling Season should be used in the same way, with cards that care about both counters and tokens.
By now, many of you know about the Doubling Season + Saproling Burst combo. With a Doubling Season on the board, Saproling Burst will come into play with a lucky fourteen Fade counters. For each counter you remove, you put two tokens into play. If you remove, say, four Fade counters, you will get eight Saproling tokens, each of them 10/10 creatures! Yikes! And it gets even crazier (twice as crazy!) if you have double the Doubling Seasons in play.
To me, though, that's boring. Yawn. Double yawn. The problem is that Saproling Burst already forms an instant-win combo with Pandemonium, so I'm going to look elsewhere. There aren't many more of these dual-use, counter/token cards, but luckily for me, many of them are in Standard. Forget Saproling Burst for now, I'm going to build a deck around a combo that is much, much more original: Doubling Season and Twilight Drover! I'm almost certain that I am the only person to ever think of this. I seriously doubt that anyone else has had the same idea and then discussed it in an internet forum. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure I'm breaking new ground here, charting new territory, and blazing a trail. Not necessarily in that order.
(Rumours of my propensity for hyperbole have been greatly exaggerated.)
Spirit of the Season – Standard Legal
Twilight Drover, Sekki, Seasons' Guide, and Baku Altar are three of the, by my count, twelve cards that have counters and also make creature tokens. (The others are the aforementioned Saproling Burst, Tetravus, Pentavus, Thopter Squadron, Lightning Coils, Spawning Pit, Spike Breeder, Orochi Hatchery, and the Guildpact card Mark Rosewater previewed last week, Ulasht, the Hate Seed).
Pentavus doesn't need Doubling Season to be completely ridiculous. Baku Altar, on the other hand, can use all the help it can get. While the deck is almost strictly better with four Spawning Pits in place of the Baku Altars (with a Doubling Season and a creature in play to sacrifice, Spawning Pit basically reads: : Put a 2/2 Spawn artifact creature token into play), the Baku Altars fit the Spirit theme better and allow me to keep the deck Standard legal.
I filled the rest of the deck with some early defense (Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Ethereal Haze, and even Spiritual Visit) and a smattering of Legendary Spirits (feel free to adjust these as you see fit), each of which is affected by Doubling Season. In almost every imaginable situation, Kodama of the Center Tree is worse than Scion of the Wild, and, for that matter, almost every other Green creature ever printed. This isn't one of those situations, however, because I didn't imagine it – it's real! If this guy doesn't have a place in a deck designed to create an absurd amount of Spirit tokens, then he doesn't have a place anywhere. Not even Sudbury.
Otherworldly Journey is a neat card with Doubling Season. It does its usual thing if you use it on an opponent's creature, but if you use it to remove one of your own creatures, it'll come back into play with two +1/+1 counters! Incredible! If that's not amazing enough, it also performs its usual functions of saving your guys and removing blockers, and has the added benefit of being able to kickstart the Twilight Drover shenanigans even if there are no token creatures in play (Just remove the Drover with Otherworldly Journey and it'll come back into play with a +1/+1 counter which can be removed to make some tokens!).
With Blessings like that, who needs Curses?
When I got my assignment to build fun decks for Third Week of January Week, I immediately delegated much of the task to my lackeys …er… playtest partners.
Unnamed Playtest Partner #1: Do you think we're being too literal, sir? Me: He told us to comb the spoilers, so we're combing them!
Combing the spoilers proved fruitless, so I decided to read them instead. Wow! What a difference that made! One card in particular caught my eye. Luckily, the eye was quickly released so I could look at the rest of the cards. That's when I saw Conclave's Blessing for the first time and I thought to myself, “You know, Holy Armor was undercosted by about three mana. And it was much too consistent, you know, giving the creature +0/+2 every time it was enchanted. Too good, I say. Needs more 'doesn't-work-half-the-time', I say.”
Conclave's Blessing is my choice for the title of Worst Card in Ravnica. I don't think it's even close. It's late in the fourth quarter, folks, and Conclave's Blessing is running up the score. So of course I'm going to build a deck around it. A four-mana enchantment that might do absolutely nothing? That seems breakable. What could be better than a creature with a really high toughness?
“Winning the lottery?”
“Having a girlfriend?”
No, you imaginary question-answering people: a creature with a really high power!
I started with the power-toughness swapping package of Mannichi, the Fevered Dream and Strange Inversion. This led me to Tallowisp, whose spiritcraft trigger conveniently lets me fetch Conclave's Blessing (as well as some good enchantments). It's the task it was born to perform! Kabuto Moth and Moonlit Strider were natural inclusions after that, since they are Spirits and have high toughness and/or the ability to protect my guys. Boros Swiftblade is the creature whose power and toughness I was most interested in switching. He hates it when I do that, so I do it just to bug him. Really, though, it's the Double Strike that gets me really excited. If you can get him up to a 1/10 and then switch him, all it takes is one hit to knock your opponent from twenty to zero.
I really wanted Kitsune Loreweaver to be good in this deck. Unfortunately, it's just too mana-intensive. I'm sorry, I meant, waaaaaay too mana intensive. And even if you have the mana, you have to have a full hand, too. This situation almost never arose, even when the deck sported a full set of Boros “Mr.” Garrisons and Gift of Estates. It can still be randomly good (I had him up to 2/17 once), but in the end I cut most of them in favour of Veteran Armorers. Promise of Bunrei, meanwhile, helps you recover from mass removal while powering up your Conclave's Blessings. As if they needed it!
The Doublingers – Standard Legal
I skipped out on Kami of Old Stone mostly to be iconoclastic, but at the same time I feel that for four-mana, Moonlit Strider does more for me by protecting creatures from removal, getting Mannichi back via soulshift, or by letting someone sneak past defenders by giving them protection from the relevant colour.
No Holds Bard
When I took this position, as faithful steward of House of Cards, I felt a great pressure to be wacky. After all, isn't that what this column is all about? Magicthegathering.com content manager Scott Johns went so far as to make me do the interview in a propeller-topped beanie, rainbow suspenders, and a pair of floppy red shoes to see if I fit the role. At least, that's what he said they were for.
To prove that I was a sufficiently nutty whackjob, or wacky nutjob, I would need something possessed by all crazy weirdoes: a legion of diminutive minions. Seriously, just look at history: Santa Claus has his Elves. Willy Wonka has the Oompa Loompas. C-3PO was worshipped as a god by the Ewoks.
What about me, you ask? What have I got? Other than a propensity for using unnecessarily ostentatious vocabulary? I don't know. How about beavers? (Hey, I'm Canadian, what other kind of minions could I possibly have? Curlers?)
Okay, I'm kidding. I don't really have any minions - though I'm taking applications - and I'm certainly not some kind of evil overlord. We'll leave that to others. But if I was evilly lording it over something, it'd definitely be beavers. Just 'cause they're all over the place up here. Swarms of them. Like locusts, except furrier and more aquatic.
That's the problem with Santa Claus. His minions aren't local. Elves aren't indigenous to the North Pole. They're out of their element in the cold and the snow (except, I guess, the Fyndhorns). That so-called jolly old saint wrenched them from their various homelands, the fantastical realms of Dominaria, Otaria, Rath, Mirrodin, Yogiberria, Narnia, Mercadia, Druidia, Ottawa, and Ravnica. Am I forgetting any?
Furthermore, Elves don't make
toys – dolls and X-Box 360s and choo-choo trains - they break
'em! If Mirrodin
Block taught me anything, it's that putting a clamp on your skull is a good
thing (don't try this at home) and that Elves are destructive
! I think they finally got sick of being cooped up in a coop-like workshop, building useless trinkets for bratty kids. If they actually like making
anything, it's trees. Or mana. That free-floating, mystical tree-energy we magicians love so much.
I hope you wanted Santa Claus to put some of that in your stockings. (Remind me to avoid spending Christmas in Otaria.)
Now, what happens when Elves get really cranky?
They beat people.
They beat people with what I like to call The Ugly Stick (also known as Gaze of the Gorgon).
The Ugly Stick - Standard Legal
By now, many of you have no doubt picked up on the synergy between Gaze of the Gorgon and creatures like Elvish Bard. It's like a one-sided Wrath of God!
Only creatures able
to block Shinen of Life's Roar
and Elvish Bard
are forced to do so. A creature that is tapped from an attack (say, Goblin Brigand
), a creature that just tapped to activate an ability (say, Orcish Artillery
), or a creature that just plain can't block (say, Goblin Raider
) won't have to block any of your “Lure-d” guys. It's inconsistent, sure, but in the right situation, it's devastating. Forget sonnets, this
Bard's business is murder … and business is good! The White Weenie body-count alone is staggering. Other victims of a hellacious hornblowing include such Kamigawa
block celebrities as Meloku, Kodama of the North Tree
, Yosei, and Kokusho.
How humiliating! Some big, mean ol' dragons, killed by a short, pointy-eared ugly-guy!
The rest of the deck is full of Elves, because, well, I like them and they make mana. Golgari Guildmage is a card I've come to like, even though his abilities are a little pricey. Sometimes, he is just a bear. Other times, he is a complete house! Still other times, he is a house with central air and a two-car garage. Rarely is he a bachelor apartment. I went through a bunch of cards before deciding on Vulshok Morningstar. I tried Strands of Undeath and then Serpent Skin, but they just didn't do enough and it was too easy to lose two cards to one removal spell. The Morningstar gives you a similar effect - making your guys harder to destroy - but it's more resilient.
I wanted to keep this deck rare-free, but Natural Affinity just solved too many problems. It's a nasty surprise for an opponent with mass removal, it can make a sudden army of attackers who can get through while everyone is blocking Elvish Bard, and it gives you a chance in the late-game against decks with a lot of creature removal. Without it, you're relying on Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. Feel free to change them to something else, if you prefer. Ursapine was the other rare that I tested and it worked pretty well for me, too.
Until next time, double your fun with matches! Er … with Magic!
I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to write to me or make comments in the forums. It's much appreciated. Be assured that I have read, and will continue to read, all the feedback sent my way, although I may not always be able to get back to everyone. Please feel free to share your deck ideas or card combos with me, and if I use one of them in an article I will make sure to credit the source.
If you see me waiting for a game on Magic Online, don't hesitate to sit down and play me. I'll be in the Casual Decks room and my handle is _HouseofCards (that underscore is intentional). See you online!