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Attempting the Absurd

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The letter H!owdy, Johnnies and Johnettes! I have been informed that there is a guy named Ted Knutson editing the site now. Yeah, I'd never heard of him either. He seems to be doing an okay job, despite the fact that he obviously doesn't know the difference between the Castor canadensis, or American beaver, and Procavia capensis, the Cape hyrax from South Africa. Sheesh! Who doesn't know that? I mean, really, where do they find these guys?

*uncomfortable silence*

Oh yeah.

The same place they found me.

There has been no small amount of clamour (in fact, none at all) from the readers about who I am. Well, clamour no more, faithful clamourers! I have prepared a truth-packed, pirate-free biography for the two of you. Here goes:

I'm old enough to be your father (at least if you're, say, eight years old). I've been playing Magic since Revised. I skipped out on Tempest and Urza's Saga just to make sure that my collection had no valuable cards in it. Early on in my Magic career, I may or may not have traded a Mahamoti Djinn for a Hill Giant and a Gray Ogre on the logic that two is greater than one. Rather than admitting to being young and foolish, I now tell people that I was just “filling out my curve.” I lived in Northern Ontario for years, but I went to school in Ottawa. That's where I wrote my MA thesis, Barthes, Bakhtin, Baudrillard, and Spaceballs: Towards a Theory of Parody. To my eternal delight, my graduating class voted it Thesis Most Likely to be Completely Made Up. Last, I am not the midfielder for Morton of the Second Division, although I am willing to randomly mention football if it'll make people happy.

And that's me. Now back to your regularly-scheduled programming.

Some famous guy – I'm going to take a wild guess and say it was Ronald McDonald - said, “In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” Now, while he was talking about solving the Rubik's Cube, his axiom applies equally to the task of the Johnny. Isn't that what we're trying to do here, with the wacky decks and the cards no one else likes? I dare say it is, so let's get kooky, shall we?

If at first you don't succeed, you are probably a Johnny

To begin my latest, peril-free foray into deckbuilding, I followed the lead of R&D bigwig and Friday columnist Aaron Forsythe. In a recent article – the one in which he introduced many of us to the click-tacular Warp World deck, which I like to call WakeMeUpWhenIt'sOver.dec – he explained how the Core Set developers like to “plant” cute little combos in it so that beginners can stumble upon them through experimentation. Teferi's Puzzle Box and Plagiarize was the combo he cited. Another, more tournament-worthy, combo in 9th Edition is Form of the Dragon and Zur's Weirding, which forms the key one-two punch in Enduring Ideal decks.

This got me thinking: what other cute little combos did they stash away in the Core Set? What about Serra Angel and Verduran Enchantress? Hmm … they're definitely cute, but, unfortunately, not much of a combo. I continued looking but nothing really jumped out at me. Until I got to Final Punishment. It's an underused (undergood?) card from Scourge which is making its first appearance in the Core Set.

To figure out good Final Punishment combos, I was going to need to do some hardcore math, so I put on my fire-retardant sweater, grabbed a soothing balm, and consulted the all-knowing, flame-brained dragon wizard, Niv-Mizzet.

Me: What if I combine Final Punishment with Shock?
Niv-Mizzet: Hmm … 2 x 2 = Not 20.

Me: How about Volcanic Hammer?
Niv-Mizzet: Unfortunately, 3 x 2 = Not 20.

Me: An Axe made of Lava?
Niv-Mizzet: 5 x 2 = Closer, but still not 20.

Me: Here's a weird one: Booby Trap?
Niv-Mizzet: 10 x 2 = 20! We have a winner! And I think we've found your flavour text, Chris!
Me: Thanks, Mr. Mizzet! Please come back during tax season!

Booby Trap and Final Punishment.

Think about that for a second, or however long you feel it necessary.

To pull off this combo, all you need to do is name the correct card with Booby Trap, then, once your opponent draws that card, Booby Trap will trigger and deal ten damage to him. Now just follow that up with Final Punishment and it's Game Over, pal, Insert Quarters! I know what you're thinking: “Gee, Chris, it sounds so easy – what's the catch?” The catch is that Final Punishment is a Sorcery, so barring Vedalken Orrery (or Quicken) shenanigans, you will have to play it on your turn. Which means that Booby Trap will have to deal its damage on your turn. Which means that your opponent will have to draw a card on your turn. Which means … uh … I don't know, here's the deck:

A little more bio: I've been obsessed with booby traps ever since I watched Disney's Swiss Family Robinson. While the Magic Booby Trap looks more like the thermal detonator from Return of the Jedi than a hole in the ground with a tiger hiding inside it, or a coconut filled with gun powder, it's just as exciting! The deck has a number of ways to manipulate the top of your opponent's library in order to ensure that the Booby Trap blows up and blows up good. Cards such as Vedalken Dismisser, Time Ebb, Hinder, and Dimir Machinations. Not a shabby bunch, considering that we haven't left Standard. Kami of the Crescent Moon and Drift of Phantasms provide some early defense and help you assemble the combo. As I said, you're going to need to make your opponent draw a card during your turn, so, to that end, I've included four Lore Brokers, three Compulsive Researches, two Mikokoros, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree. (Note: Partridge not included.)

If you find yourself playing against decks without a lot of creatures, go ahead and cut the Dismissers and Time Ebbs for more copies of Dimir Machinations and, possibly, Wizened Snitches or Lurking Informant. When you expand the cardpool and leave Standard, you get access to all kinds of goodies like Memory Lapse, Lantern of Insight, Repel, Metamorphose, and even cards like Painful Memories.

Finally, don't forget that you can attack with your guys! I know this sounds like dumb and obvious advice, but when you're playing a deck like this, where attacking isn't the focus, it can be easy to forget (see: Goblin Welder). If you don't get a few points in, a single Lightning Helix, Faith's Fetters, or Consume Spirit from your opponent will force you to combo off twice. The first time I ever won with this deck, I ended up having to attack with a Lore Broker, because a previous Broker had been hit with a Swallowing Plague.

How Much Is That Zombie In The Window?

Some cards are beloved by all. Cards like Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Umezawa's Jitte and Sensei's Divining Top. There are other cards, however, that you just can't help pitying. They're the cards that promptly get cut from your sealed decks, your pre-constructed deck experiments, and your high-school basketball teams. They are the dog that nobody loves. You know, like Lassie. These cards look up at you with their big, sad, puppy-dog eyes, belch clouds of cotton-candy-coloured mystery-goo, and scare children with rhyming couplets about their cankerous sores. You know, just like Lassie.

I'm talking about Infectious Host and its ilk.

This always-say-die flesh-eater puts the “supper” in “suppurating pustules.” The more he dies, the happier he gets. He is not in the least bit scared to be mashed into a pulp. Or, for that matter, to have his eyes gouged out and his elbows broken. Basically, he wants to be dumped in the graveyard, sent to the bin, and put in the grumper. As often as possible.

To accomplish this, I turned to my friend and yours: Night of Soul's Betrayal. With one of these bad boys in play, Infectious Host becomes like a two-point Blaze, except Black, and with life-loss instead of damage. Other Enchantments that I have anthropomorphized and befriended include Oversold Cemetery and Bloodbond March. All those Hosts whose souls have been betrayed? Bring 'em back from the grave with the, uh, Cemetery. Later in the game, with the help of Buried Alive or just Darkblast-dredging, your graveyard should be full of creatures. When you cast one that you've returned to your hand with Oversold Cemetery, Bloodbond March will be there to put the rest of the Infectious Hosts quick-dyin' clones into play. Once you have all three Enchantments in play, and a graveyard full of Infectious Hosts, you can cause your opponent to lose upwards of eight life a turn! With Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker also in play, you can make them lose eight life on your turn and on their turn! At that point, victory is all but assured. For whom, I'm not sure. I don't want to say that the combo is fragile, but if you tried to mail it, you'd have to put it in a box marked Fragile.

Now that I've won the Metaphor of the Year Award, here's the deck:

There used to be more copies of Shirei in the deck, but sadly, Bloodbond March does not get along well with Legendary Creatures that aren't Dragon Spirits from Champions of Kamigawa. Plus, you can fetch him with Buried Alive if need be. Dimir House Guard fetches half of the combo pieces (or Nekrataal) and can also serve as a means to sacrifice Infectious Host and company in the absence of a Night of Soul's Betrayal. As it stands, the deck is pretty inconsistent, but I'm not sure how to make it better while maintaining Infectious Host as the primary or sole kill mechanism. If you have any ideas, please post them in the forums.

If this deck doesn't scare you, you're already dead!

One of the Johnniest cards in Ravnica has got to be Hunted Phantasm. It's a huge, undercosted creature, something you don't usually find in Blue. The only problem is the army of little Red men it gives to your opponent. Most decks that I've seen which use Hunted Phantasm try to get around this drawback by destroying the Goblins with cards like Pyroclasm or Night of Soul's Betrayal. This works well enough, to be sure, but I wondered if there was a way I could use all of those creatures to my advantage.

After countless hours of toil (i.e. very, very slowly typing the word Goblins into Gatherer and clicking Search), I found one: a little-known card from Onslaught called Sparksmith! Er… I mean, Brightstone Ritual! As many bewildered opponents discovered as I Fireballed them for lethal damage, Brightstone Ritual adds one Red mana to your mana pool for each Goblin in play and not just for the Goblins you control.

The deck really needs Hunted Phantasm to work, so I've included the full four, as well as a set of Drift of Phantasms to fetch them, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to copy them. Thunderstaff's damage-prevention ability ensures that any Goblin counter-attack will be fruitless. Echoing Truth can be used to get rid of the Goblin tokens in an emergency, or you can just get greedy and bounce your own Hunted Phantasms to make even more tokens. I threw a Captive Flame into the deck because it's a good place to sink all the Red mana if you have unblockable creatures. Plus, you can Transmute for it with Drift of Phantasms.

One of the funny things about building wacky decks is that sometimes your oddball strategy can be completely hosed by totally random cards. A while ago, one of my friends built a new deck and he wanted to try it out. I was game, so I grabbed one of my 100+ card Singleton decks and we squared off. I didn't know what he was playing until he destroyed my only creature and dropped a Shared Fate onto an empty board. His deck was working like clockwork. The only thing is, by sheer dumb luck I happened to have a Zoologist and Soothsaying in my hand. I could make sure that he wouldn't draw anything relevant, while at the same time putting threats into play directly from my own library with the Zoologist. Game, Set, Match!

I had a similar experience with this deck. My first opponent happened to be playing a deck based around the Crypt Rats + Spirit Link + Strength of Isolation combo. By the time he got all the pieces together, there were about thirty Goblins on the table. Before I could find an answer, he activated his Rats and gained about ninety life. Needless to say, I didn't win that game. The moral of the story is: I kept at it! I persevered! No retreat, no surrender! Basically, what I'm trying to say is, “Don't give up on your crazy ideas too easily!”

Also, stay in school, eat your peas, and don't talk to strangers.

Before I go, there's just one more thing. Some other famous guy – I'm going to go out on a limb and say it was Socrates – said, “An infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters will eventually write the collected works of William Shakespeare.” I don't know about that, but I bet they could produce the script for the next Michael Bay movie. You might not even need too many monkeys for that.

The reason I bring this up is because I think that perfectly-tuned Magic decks are analogous to the collected works of Shakespeare … and we are the monkeys. These decks are supposed to be launching pads for ideas, rather than polished masterpieces with no room for improvement. If you think I've missed something, a certain card or combo, there's a good chance that I have. After all, I am just one monkey. With one typewriter. So make suggestions. Build the deck the way you want to. Have fun. Get creative!

Until next time, get to work infinite monkeys!

Chris Millar

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