Welcome back to the present! Last week we looked at a possible update for a known deck. This week we're striking out for the unknown, trying to find a new deck in an already crowded metagame. Why? For a couple of reasons. I build decks. It's just something I do. I wanted to show the building process, and how I wandered from one concept to another in a rather organic way. Finally, because there are a lot of cards I feel have a place in the metagame but haven't been showing up as I expected them to. Some of these cards lately are: Lodestone Golem, Luminarch Ascension, and Nissa Revane. Six months ago I would have had Abyssal Persecutor on this list, but looks like players all over have finally realized that a 4-mana 6/6 flier is pretty good.
Since my last article, I set out to find a deck for Lodestone Golem. 4-mana 5/3 isn't spectacular anymore, but the ability seems really relevant. On the play, or with acceleration, you can stall your opponent's 4, 5, and 6 drops while you beat them down. So I started with an aggressive creature strategy:
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Steel Overseer clearly deserves a trial here: if it lives your army gets enormous very quickly. I think Perilous Myr should be great against other small creature decks, and can maybe suicide into Planeswalkers to take them down whether it is blocked or not. I wasn't sure about Etched Champion, as a 3-mana 2/2 most of the time, so only 2 of those. Runed Servitor is the only artifact 2/2 for 2, and at least buys a card on the way out, even if for both players. Interesting story, both Runed Servitor and Prophetic Prism were amazing in an Open the Vaults / Time Sieve deck I built once upon a time. Temple Bell was also spectacular there, really bringing that deck to the pinnacle of power - but only for 3 months while both M11 and M10 were legal. Not sure why that deck didn't see much play while it was available. I wonder if Extended has room for it? Back to the deck we're talking about here: Molten-Tail Masticore, Wurmcoil Engine and All Is Dust are already confirmed to be Standard-worthy.
The lands? I started with colorless so I had no idea what color I would want. I was thinking that I would eventually add a color for a few spells, like Red for Lightning Bolt, Blue for Jace, or White for Tempered Steel.
How'd it do? Not very well, but passable for a starting point. I tried it out against GW Quest, RUG control, Vampires and UB Control. It was fine against Vampires, advantaged most of the time, in fact, because its creatures could get bigger pretty fast, and the occasional Wurmcoil really ends it. Against the other decks... not so much. I did find out that Etched Champion is pretty amazing when it has protection from colors.
So I cut the Palladium Myrs (they were terrible!) for more Etched Champions and added mana myr. I wanted to try them before I went to the better-known Everflowing Chalice because as creatures they can combo better with Seel Overseer and can "play Aggro" once in a while. I also added Origin Spellbomb as it cycles for a 1/1 and can be played on turn 1.
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This was a little better in the Control matchups. Some games the Origin Spellbomb seemed great, and it was awful in others. Against UB Control the opponent had Mimic Vat, and I was like "Duh! Why not in this deck?" So this led me to the next configuration:
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We also have the promised Tempered Steel, and the first appearance of Prototype Portal. I was hoping it would give the deck some great long game against Control... and it was really exciting! Portal on Wurmcoil is totally disgusting, as it also is with Etched Champion. The hard part was getting it going fast enough. The deck played very streaky - get the right combinations and you'd be great, but if not you just rolled over and died. Or perhaps it was that RUG has some weak draws you can capitalize on? UB Control seemed to have trouble unless it could get a turn 3 or 4 Abyssal Persecutor on the table (in which case it almost always won). Against GW Quest, this deck would just roll over and die if it didn't find All Is Dust, but if it did it could stabilize, Prototype Portal just about anything, and go to town.
So this 1.3 build has potential, and perhaps the next step is to take out the weaker cards for more White spells that do good things, like Journey to Nowhere, or possibly Survival Cache? Some way of getting the good cards or disrupting what your opponent is doing. Note that I played all these games unsideboarded as I was just trying to hammer out the overall shape of the deck and find out which cards were good and which were bad.
Normally I would want to continue to refine the deck, but at this point, I got distracted by the powerful potential of Prototype Portal. This is the kind of card that just HAS to be broken, right? The question is... did R&D push it just out of constructed or did they leave it just barely inside? Or, if we are lucky, they thought it was safe but didn't quite find the ultimate combination that breaks it. To get the combos going faster, I moved into Blue for the top dog in standard, Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
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This is certainly fun, and sometimes pretty effective. Infinite Origin Spellbomb is pretty nice, as are infinte Brittle Effigys. I must admit, however, that it's all a little slow sometimes, as we're sliding into a Control deck, but don't have many real Control cards. The deck continued to be hit and miss, more often miss against the heavily tuned competition.
So I searched all artifacts in Standard to see what I'd really like to make infinite prototypes of and I found (dum dum duuuum) Mindslaver! Of course! With just 10 mana, I can take all the turns, ALL THE TURNS! Surely at least one of you has tried this already, right? I tried to make a Controlish deck that could both get mana on the table and defend itself.
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I tried both See Beyond and Preordain in this deck, thinking that I could send back extra pieces of the combo with See Beyond... but it didn't seem much better than Preordain, in the long run. I'd need more testing or some math homework in order to be sure which is best. Ratchet Bomb really helped against aggro decks, and the one game I put it inside a Prototype Portal (against GW quest) was pretty hilarious. Be careful not to blow one at 4 though - that kills the Portal. The most important thing I learned here is that the combo ends the game immediately. I guess that should be obvious, but the translation of that is that you don't need to consider your position after that. If you untap with 10 mana and the Prototype Portal with Mindslaver inside it, you've won.
So I tried a bunch of other colors and configurations - including pure Green ramping, UB Controlling (which can't get to 10 mana fast enough) and some other random stuff... but they all turned out weaker than the current metagame average.
Several of these builds will still be excellent for surprising your friends in more casual games, and perhaps even at FNM. The list above is close, or you can replace the top end of RUG's curve with the combo, and have a reasonable deck with a hilarious win condition. I also discovered another plan that has a lot of potential:
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When you have a grand plan for vicotry, you need a Grand Architect to help you get it to fall into place. This guy is a great combo with Sea Gate Oracle and Trinket Mage, who are both already Standard staples (or is it role-players?). Don't forget that Trinket Mage can also fetch Everflowing Chalice, which helps you get up to the 10 (or 14 if you want to do it all in one turn) mana needed. The real juice comes from the Grand Architect's mana-production powers. I often found myself almost forgetting to throw down a Chalice after playing this Vedalken. This version was excellent against aggro decks (2/4 Oracles are really hard for weenies to get past). Vampires seemed weak against it (I went 6-2, though I must emphasize this is a small sample size of games). RUG, on the other hand, was much harder to beat, and although I did win some, I'm pretty sure this deck is rather disadvantaged against it. As for Valakut? Those are difficult but sometimes winnable games. It helps that I have maindeck Spreading Seas. Counters never seemed to be useful in this deck; I didn't want to hold up mana, just slow my opponent down long enough to combo out. Sorry there's no sideboard here. I didn't have time to get to it. I predict there should be Ratchet Bombs in it.
I tried out one Sphinx of Lost Truths for three reasons. First, it's a blue creature that can block quite well and sometimes attack Planeswalkers. Second, it helps find combo pieces and sometimes gives pure card advantage. Third, everyone was playing it in the FFL during Zendikar and Worldwake testing. It seemed very strong to me and I was surprised to see that it couldn't find a home in the real world. Perhaps it was a near miss? Maybe there's a sick UG attack deck with Lotus Cobra, Vengevine, and Sphinx of Lost Truths?
Here are some typical games, played against Simon Gortzen's Worlds 2010 version of Valakut:
Me: Play Island, pass.
Val: Draw another Terramorphic, play Forest and Overgrown Battlement.
Me: Draw Island, Play it, Play Sea Gate Oracle, send one Island to the bottom, put one into my hand.
Val: Draw Mountain, play it, Cultivate for two Mountains, playing the one that goes to hand.
Me: Draw Brittle Effigy, play Island. Now this is where the deck gets cute. I play the Grand Architect, use it and the Sea Gate Oracle to make an Everflowing Chalice with 2 counters, and then I use that to cast a Spreading Seas on a Mountain. I'm not sure if the Forest is the better choice here, but I would think my opponent is smart enough to get a second Forest if they thought I might be able to Jace their Battlement this turn. Also every Mountain less they have slows down the Valakut death. I draw a Jace, the Mind Sculptor off the Seas. Hmm, should I cast the Brittle Effigy? The mana can be pretty tight in this deck. Let's see... next turn if I cast Jace, find a land, play it... I can cast my second Grand Architect and have 3 blue dudes... that's 6 mana, which is plenty to cast and use my Effigy... but if one of my Blue guys dies (the Architect is a pretty clear target) I'll only have 4... not enough to cast and use it... but enough to imprint it on Prototype Portal if I were to draw it... it's a tough choice but I think I'll try and mess with my opponent and cast it now. That, and the fact the opponent Lightning Bolted the Grand Architect in response to the Spreading Seas on his untapped Mountain.
Me: Draw Prototype Portal (of course!), Play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, sculpt my mind into another Jace, Island, Trinket Mage. Keep the Island, bury Jace under Trinket Mage. Play Island, Grand Architect, and exite Primeval Titan with my Brittle Effigy.
Val: Draw Mountain, play it and the second Overgrown Battlement, but has no action.
Me: Draw and cast Trinket Mage... now do I get a chalice or the Elixir of Immortality? Math time! My opponent has 4 mountains in play. If they get a Primeval Titan next turn, and have a Mountain in hand... they can get a second Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle (I will certainly Spreading Seas one of the two they have now) and have 6 damage ready. If they also have some land fetching (though they didn't do anything last turn) it could be 12 damage? Not fatal... I'll get the Chalice and try to set up the win. After that, Jace, the Mind Sculptor shows me Halimar Depths, Tectonic Edge, and Sea Gate Oracle. I bury the Depths under the Spreading Seas, and play the Tectonic Edge. Next I play Sea Gate Oracle, keeping the Spreading Seas and sending the Depths deep under my library. I tap my team to play a Chalice with 4 counters, and use that and my Island to Spreading Seas a Valakut, drawing a Preordain. Finally, I use my remaining mana to activate Tectonic Edge on the last Valakut. Sick!
Val: Draw Summoning Trap, cast it. Find Oracle of Mul Daya. This is why Traps aren't as good in this deck as in some others: not enough targets, and certainly not enough 15/15s. The very next card (as revealed by the Oracle) is a Primeval Titan, and Val plays but does not use a Terramorphic Expanse.
Me: Draw Prototype Portal. Now... I could Brainstorm and then Preordain away the cards I don't like... but that doesn't dig very deep. All I need at this moment is a Mindslaver to win. Also... I might want to Jace away that Primeval Titan. So I Preordain and see Spreading Seas and Trinket Mage. I keep both on top and draw the Spreading Seas, flooding another Mountain into an Island and getting the Trinket Mage, which gets the Elixir of Immortality. I tap two guys to Prototype the Elixir. Now I can gain 5 life... a lot! Jace, the Mind Sculptor bottoms that pesky Primeval Titan, revealing a Mountain. During my end step the opponent fetches a Mountain, but they reveal a Cultivate on top.
Val: Draw that Cultivate, play it to get a Mountain and a Forest and change the top card. It's an Overgrown Battlement.
Me: 2 Island, 2 Preordain, Everflowing Chalice, Sphinx of Lost Truths, Prototype Portal. Draw Island, play it. According to the new pro philosophy I'll hold back on the Preordaining, even though I have 2 of them.
Val: Draw Mountain, plays Forest and Overgrown Battlement.
Me: Draw Island and play it and Preordain, seeing Sea Gate Oracle and Spreading Seas. I ship the Sea Gate Oracle and draw and play the Spreading Seas on the only Forest I see. Maybe this will slow down the fatties. I draw Halimar Depths.
Val: Draw the Explore, revealing Overgrown Battlement. Cultivate for Forest x2. Now showing Oracle of Mul Daya on top of their library. Play a Forest and cast Explore. There is a Forest on top of his library. Use Oracle to play that Forest, then find a Growth Spasm on top.
Me: Draw Everflowing Chalice. Play Island, cast Chalices for 2 counters and 1 counter.
Me: Draw Island. Play, unkicked, Sphinx of Lost Truths and drawing Jace, Island, and Mindslaver. Probably dead before I can get my combo off. Discard Island, Island, Jace, then play Halimar Depths. Stack Trinket Mage on top of Mystifying Maze on top of Island.
Val: Draw Explore, revealing Summoning Trap. play Growth Spasm, revealing Mountain. play that too, revealing Lightning Bolt. (3/4s!) Explore again revealing Growth Spasm. Attack with everybody. I take 23 damage before getting Bolted twice for good measure. (I blocked the Avenger.)
Val: Draw Forest, play Mountain and Overgrown Battlement.
Val: Draw the Battlement, revealing Mountain. Play the Mountain. Top card is Cultivate. Play Primeval Titan, getting double Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Top card is now a Summoning Trap. Play Mountain from hand as an extra land. Attack with Oracle (my dudes are tapped). I take 2 (18 life). I make a token Brittle Effigy.
Val: Draw the Trap, another Trap is on top. Declare attack step. I tap Grand Architect and 2 lands to use my token Brittle Effigy on Primeval Titan. Oracle of Mul Daya stays home. During his second main phase, Val plays Growth Spasm for the 5th Mountain. Avenger of Zendikar is now on top. Sacrifice the spawn token to cast a Summoning Trap. Avenger enters the battlefield with 8 friends. Mountain on top makes them all 1/2s. Growth Spasm is on top. During the end step I use my Trinket Mage for mana to make a token Brittle Effigy.
Val: Draw Growth Spasm, play Terramorphic Expanse off the top, then Forest, and Explore glares at them from their deck. They play an Overgrown Battlement and attack with eight 1/2s. I block and kill one with a Trinket Mage, and tap it to activate the Elixir of Immportality. I go down to 16. Then Val casts Cultivate to put a Forest into play and a Mountain into hand. Explore shows up on top again. I use my last Island to make another Effigy token at the end of Val's turn.
Val: Draw the Explore, revealing another! What a bad shuffler. Plays one, drawing the other, revealing Forest, plays that to find a Primeval Titan. Explore to get it. Mountain on top. Play the Titan (leave the Mountain in the deck, to get later for Valakut damage) getting two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles. Play Mountain from the top of the deck. I blow up one Valakut, but not before it deals 3 to my Grand Architect and 3 to my Jace. I also tap my team to use my token Effigy to take out the Oracle of Mul Daya. Mountain from hand takes out the untapped Trinket Mage. The plants kill Jace and deal 5 to me, taking me to 11.
Me: I draw another Everflowing Chalice, but need to use all my mana to deal with the Titan.
Phew! I can see why people can be reluctant to describe games. It takes a lot of work to get all that into an article.
So this week we got a good lead on two possible new decks for Standard: one full of artifact creatures and one that tries to win with the hilarious infinite Mindslaver combo. Hope you enjoyed it!
Author's Note: After writing this article, I was discussing the Mindslaver combo with a friend, and he pointed me to this article. Oh noes! I've been scooped! I totally love how Kyle Bailey talks about "some future pro" ripping him off when they later discover the combo. Sorry dude!