House_of_Cards

This week, Chris riffs on kings, cows, bee stings and so much more.

The King and Ice

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The letter G!reetings Johnnies, past, present, and future! Traveling through time is all the rage these days. It used to be that only skateboarding teenagers, naked robots out for blood, and English guys in phone booths made the journey up and down the space-time continuum, falling in love with their own mothers, trying to kill some other guy's mother, or doing battle with rolling garbage cans that have a showerhead for a nose (Sorry, Daleks!). Now, apparently, even little pieces of cardboard are doing it. Special pieces of cardboard depicting bizarre creatures like the Cockatrice, Ostrica Gigante, and Dandân, an ancient fish that, over time, evolved a high power-to-cost ratio and a very rare accent circonflexe. Despite their utter lack of hoverboards, you can tell that these critters have made a trek through the timestream by their special markings. Their wranglers have branded them with little purple hourglasses.

Welcome to Timeshifted Week!

What's that? It's next week? Hmm. I don't know how I could've made that mistake and/or joke. I guess I'll have to come up with something else for this week. No worries. I've always got an abundance of material. I think I'll explore some of the Ravnican Guilds, starting with the Rakdos. Huh? Already done that? What about the Simic? Done that too? The Azorius? We did that months ago?

This is going to be trickier than I thought. Maybe it's time to Break Glass In Case of Emergency. You see, I keep a list of interesting topics in a glass case, beside the fire extinguisher. That way, if my article catches fire, everything I need is one place.

The emergency topic is … (drumroll) … the Colour Pie. When I saw the Time Spiral spoiler, it looked to me as though someone left the Colour Pie on the windowsill unattended. It's just a theory, but I bet that some juvenile delinquent stole it, did odd and old-fashioned things to it, and returned it, because it's pretty apparent that something has gone horribly and/or wonderfully wrong.

Let it Bee

A reader by the name of Travis Chase sent me a deck the other day. I don't know how he got my home address, but it was welcome nonetheless. It was a pretty straightforward Counter-Burn deck, full of counterspells and direct damage spells. The only slightly odd thing about it was that it was mono-Green! I guess that's a really odd thing. Green has always had a little direct damage in its arsenal, usually in the form of Hurricane and its variants. Travis's deck was full of these cards, from Hurricane itself to Canopy Surge to Claws of Wirewood. He also used Avoid Fate to answer land destruction spells, Fogs and Nevinyrral's Disk to keep pesky creatures at bay, and a few life-gain spells to make the Hurricanes much less painful. The rest of the burn suite was made up of Storm Seekers (the Green Sudden Impact from Legends) and some annoying pointy-reared insects, Unyaro Bee Sting and the less-specific Bee Sting from Portal Second Age.

Now, compare those last two to every non-Ember Shot red burn spell ever printed. For four mana, you get two damage. With, say, Volcanic Hammer, you get three damage for two measly mana! It's much more efficient, and besides, it's a hammer made of liquid-hot magma! I don't know about you, but if someone told me that I had a choice between getting whacked with a Magma Mallet or getting stung by a bee (even if it's a bee from a foreign land), I'd take the bee sting every time. I'd recommend that you do the same (unless you're allergic to bee stings, in which case, wear something in a nice cotton/asbestos blend).

I'm going to take Travis's mono-Green burn “concept” and run with it. Don't worry, I won't get far (I'm so out of shape). While everywhere else Time Spirals forward, I'd like to take this opportunity to look back into the past. Deep into the murky depths of time, all the way back to Coldsnap. I know what you're thinking: “Quit living in the past, Gramps! Coldsnap was sooo three months ago!” And you're right. Coldsnap is really old, but I'm going to use it anyway.

So you want to build a Hurricane deck and you want to use Coldsnap. Just play along. A few cards immediately come to mind. The first one is Darien, King of Kjeldor. Darien's rules text looks a little something like this (okay, it looks a lot like this):

Whenever you're dealt damage, you may put that many 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens into play.

Note that it doesn't specify that damage must be combat damage, or that the damage must be from a source your opponent controls. It can be any damage. Whether your opponent sends a Psionic Blast or Unyaro Bee Sting or a Shock at your nugget, or a Wind Drake crashes in for a pair, or if you somehow inflict the damage yourself (Hurricane perhaps?), the result is the same: the King orders an equivalent number of soldiers to get out there and exact some swift revenge. In Kjeldor, you don't get mad, you get even. The Kjeldorans believe that so strongly that they even put it on their license plates.

I don't like to rely on my opponent for anything, so I think I'll be doing the damage to myself. A little self-flagellation never hurt anybody. Er … Besides Hurricane-style spells, there are many ways to damage yourself, not the least of which is to use what the kids are calling The Painlands, which also happens to be the title of a poem I wrote in the tenth grade. With Darien on your side, just itching to take vengeance on somebody, your Brushlands and Battlefield Forges turn into little Soldier factories. That's pretty awesome if you ask me. Nevertheless, I didn't get really excited about the deck until I realized that there was an even better option, the grand-daddy of all painlands, Tarnished Citadel (or as I like to call it, A Large Popcorn with Extra Butter).

Tarnished_CitadelThere is no better feeling than discovering that the perfect card for your deck is one of the worst cards of all time. Okay, Tarnished Citadel isn't that bad, it was in a Pro Tour winning deck, blahblahblah. I just feel that it came into its own with the printing of his majesty from Kjeldor. Instead of being the worst City of Brass of all time, it becomes the best Kjeldoran Outpost of all time. Instead of giving you one mana of the colour of your choice and a Lightning Bolt to the dome for your trouble, you get three 1/1 White Soldier tokens out of the deal. Of course, the Citadel still deals damage to you and three a turn will start to add up. Luckily, there are a few ways to negate the damage. The first is by using Soul Warden. Tarnished Citadel will deal three damage to you, Darien will trade that damage in for three Soldiers, and the Soul Warden will, in turn, give you that three life back. It's the circle of life. Or not.

The second Coldsnap card that is a natural fit with Hurricane effects and painlands is Tamanoa. Brian David-Marshall came up with a nifty Tamanoa a little while ago, which combined the three-colour Spirit with Searing Meditation and various burn spells. Check it out. Tamanoa is perhaps best with damage-dealing board-sweepers like Pyroclasm, Savage Twister and Earthquake, but Hurricane isn't too shabby either. In a few games, I played Tamanoa, Hunted Troll, and Hurricane for six on consecutive turns, sending my life-total rocketing up into the fifties and knocking my opponent to four with the subsequent attack.

The rest of the deck is made up of ways to get the right cards at the right time (Fierce Empath, Living Wish) and make sure that I can actually cast them (Sakura-Tribe Elder). Faith's Fetters is a bit of a catch-all solution to problems you'll face, and the life-gain is particularly relevant here since you'll be damaging yourself repeatedly. Darien is pretty much on his own when it comes to facing down opposing removal, but Eiganjo Castle and Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers give him some measure of protection.

If you don't have a set of Living Wishes, don't worry too much. The card is really good, for sure. Somehow I'd completely overlooked it, but the deck performed quite well substituting them with some combination of Sylvan Scrying and Congregation at Dawn. Combined with Fierce Empath, I could usually find what I needed. Darien is currently the only creature that the Empath can tutor for, but it wasn't always that way. I used to have a Force of Nature in there too, for the Darien-Force of Nature-Soul Warden combo, but I was just being way too greedy and the mana-base couldn't really support quadruple Green.

Since Magic is full of cards that deal damage to you as a drawback, I thought I'd investigate some other possible Darien, King of Kjeldor deck ideas. Red is best known for dealing direct damage, and I set about building a R/W variant using Goblins. Sparksmith was pretty obvious, and Zo-Zu the Punisher seemed like he'd make a great teammate for the Kjeldoran King. Every time you played a land, you get a free Raise the Alarm as a parting gift. Orcish Artillery is another good one, allowing you to ping off opposing creatures while recruiting three new Soldiers to join the fight. Here's where I ended up:

Since many of the cards I wanted to use were Standard legal, I decided to make a R/W version for that format as well. Behold, the awesome power of Shinka Gatekeeper! Unfortunately, the R/W versions didn't perform quite as well, since you don't get the same library manipulation and mana-acceleration you get when you play Green. In probably half of games with the R/W decks, I didn't draw a single Darien which made it tough to enjoy playing a Darien deck. Of course, I could've just been doing it wrong, so maybe some of you out there in internet-land can come up with a better version.

Finkel, Rimehorn, Rimehorn, Finkel

Rimehorn_AurochsI'd like to a bit of a 180º here and leave the Coldsnap royalty behind for a minute. Perhaps forever. You see, there's another series of cards from the set that needs a little love. They're big and have a shaggy mop up top and they work very well as a team. No, not the Beatles. I'm talking about the Aurochs. There's the diminutive Bull Aurochs, the Aurochs with Rime on their Horns, and, of course, the captain of the team, Aurochs Herd.

Occasionally, I get deckbuilding requests. A reader who goes by the name Flavio asked me to build an Auroch deck. Usually, I don't play requests but in this case, I was already working on such a deck. How can you build an Auroch deck (online) with only three Aurochs? That doesn't sound like much of a stampede to me. Well, you seem to be forgetting something. That little asterisk there. The one beside the oft-forgotten Mistform Ultimus, the black Sheep (literally) of the Auroch family.

Why stop there? The other Mistforms, like Mistform Dreamer, are quite happy to turn into long-haired buffalo-esque creatures for the day. Or at least for an attack phase. Mistform Wakecaster has the unfortunate tendency to turn all of your creatures (Elves, Snakes, Saprolings, and Illusions alike) into stampeding snow-cows. Unnatural Selection will allow to do the same thing. To clear out any stampede-stoppers, I decided that Aether Mutation was the way to go. Not only can you bounce annoying blockers, but you can turn around and make them into stampeders the following turn. It's the circle of life. Or not.

Until next time, stay here and make sure the King doesn't leave the building.

Chris Millar

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