What's Cooking?

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The letter M!y brain is a busy place. There are lots of unconnected ideas floating around all the time, and distressingly few of them concern vital practical matters like paying bills and getting to work on time. Most of them are about creative pursuits, from my latest RPG character to the book I'm reading to my latest Magic deck.

The practical world always threatens to intervene—most noticeably when I need to do important things like eat, which I enjoy because it keeps me from dying. The actual preparation of food, however, was always an unwelcome chore ... until I learned to cook.

Since then, I've been increasingly engaged in improving my skills and equipment, enjoying myself immensely, and exercising creativity by combining techniques and ingredients in new ways.

... Actually, that sounds a lot like my approach to Magic.

Since venturing out to play with new people, I've been bitten anew by the deck-building bug. I haven't actually had a lot of time, so it's mostly in the ideas stage, but these days I can't seem to look at a card without thinking of a new deck to put it in.

For instance, I picked up some Coldsnap boosters over the break (for two-person Winston drafting, of course) and opened up two Shape of the Wiitigo—my third and fourth.

"Hmmm," I thought. "It makes creatures huge, so maybe I want to put it in a mono-green deck with cards like Cold-Eyed Selkie and Spawnwrithe. Those go well with Tower Above, which is hilarious with Manaplasm ... but maybe that deck doesn't really need Shape of the Wiitigo. So I could go the +1/+1 counter route—Phantom Wurm, maybe Doubling Season or Gilder Bairn if I'm greedy. Ooh, Triskelion would be crazy!" ... And so on.

(Yes, I'm really going to make a Shape of the Wiitigo deck. Wish me luck!)

Similarly, I've been taking a more active interest in cooking. I got a wok, a crepe pan, and a rice maker for Christmas, which have opened up all kinds of new possibilities, from stir fries to omelets to sushi rolls with fried salmon skin. I've also amassed quite a cache of spices, including some high-quality Dutch-process cocoa powder I found at a spice store in Portland.

"Hmmm," I thought. "With a little milk and sugar it'll make killer hot cocoa ... but if I want hot cocoa I think I have a Ghirardelli's mix somewhere. Pure cocoa isn't actually sweet, so I could go the savory route—lamb, hazelnuts, maybe a little cinnamon if I'm greedy. Ooh, ancho pepper would be crazy!" ... And so on.

(Yes, I'm really going to make a cocoa-pepper lamb stir fry. Wish me luck!)

OK, I'll spare you the rest of the food-related cross-chatter buzzing through my head. But in that spirit of free-associating experimentation, let's take a walk through some of the deck ideas currently fizzing over on the Magic side of my brain. If you're interested in the intersection of cooking and Magic, I recommend you check out former Limited Information author Noah Weil's excellent article Season to Taste.

The Shape of 'Tings to Come

That Shape of the Wiitigo deck, which I remain serious about making, is as good a place as any to start. Let's see what we can come up with.

A quick scan of my collection reveals two Gilder Bairns and only one Doubling Season, so let's pass on that route for now—I think I'd need more of a base to anything cool there, and to be honest the idea seems a bit pear-shaped to begin with. Instead, I'll focus on the Spawnwrithe / Cold-Eyed Selkie direction, at least as a starting point.

So ... Shape of the Wiitigo is a 3 ManaGreen ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana Aura that doesn't make your creature any harder to Terror. That suggests a couple of things to me. First off, I'm going to make the deck mono-green to keep the mana simple. There are plenty of fun things you could with the card in other colors—Spikeshot Goblin, say, or Kinsbaile Borderguard—but I'm going to pass for now. Second, I'll want some mana acceleration—but you probably knew I was going to say that. Third, I'm going to want some creatures that are "safe" to put Shape of the Wiitigo on when I think my opponents are going to do something nasty. Oh, and Shape of the Wiitigo doesn't grant trample, so I'll want to look at creatures that already have, or can gain, trample or some other evasion ability.

My card search method for this one was the simplest possible; I just scanned through my collection looking for green cards that fit. Unusually for a green deck, I actually wanted to avoid creatures that are already huge—I want creatures that can already be in play when I play Shape of the Wiitigo. Instead, I had my eye out for cards that care about +1/+1 counters, having high power, or similar.

I didn't end up including any of the bloodthirst or graft creatures from Ravnica block, although Skarrgan Pit-Skulk would be pretty cute to put Shape of the Wiitigo on. I did pull out some Gristlebacks for life gain, but later cut them because I had too many other three-drops. If I end up deciding I want life gain, Gristleback might make the cut.

For durability, I immediately settled on the asymmetrical "shroud" of creatures like Troll Ascetic. I don't have Troll Ascetic itself, so my first thoughts flew to the humble Slippery Bogle. As I scanned Guildpact for bloodthirst creatures, however, I stumbled upon an old favorite: Silhana Ledgewalker. With both an evasion ability and one-sided shroud, the crafty Elf Rogue let me check off two things I wanted.

I immediately settled on Devoted Druid for mana acceleration because of its ability to skip forward two turns for some explosive starts. I could also, in theory, put Shape of the Wiitigo on it so it can use its untap ability many times and make lots of mana. That doesn't sound especially useful, but hey, it's good to keep in mind. After I looked at my mana curve—which consisted almost entirely of threes and fives—I decided to add Llanowar Elves for second-turn three-drops.

The lure of third-turn Deus of Calamity led me to throw that in, and Aerie Ouphes let me at least pretend I'm worrying about flyers. And finally, Triskelion and Mycoloth are both there for big dreams with Shape of the Wiitigo (and Doubling Season). Triskelion becomes a machine gun that reloads a counter every turn if I keep attacking, and Mycoloth is too hilarious to pass up. Sure, a lot has to go right for that to work out, but ... man, when it does, it's going to be nuts!

There are some neat tricks buried in there I'm hoping to pull off. Llanowar Reborn can help a Manaplasm get trample from Bramblewood Paragon or recharge an Aerie Ouphes by canceling out the -1/-1 counter. Aerie Ouphes is fun with Shape of the Wiitigo, which can take off the -1/-1 counter and/or jump up the Ouphes' power to deal with a big flyer. If I have a lot of mana, putting Shape of the Wiitigo on Treetop Village is actually pretty cool; it already has trample, and while the enchantment falls off when it stops being a creature, the counters stick around. That means it won't lose counters for not attacking, and the counters stay tucked away through Wrath of God and whatever else, ready to turn the Village into a 9/9 when it's a creature again. Plus, now you've got a wiitigo-shaped village, which should throw some urban planners for a loop.

This deck was really easy to put together, and it's easy to customize for your collection. The numbers are based entirely on what I happen to have, so go with what you have. There are lots of cards I haven't mentioned that would fit perfectly well. Not even the card I based the deck around is sacrosanct; Epic Proportions or Mythic Proportions can substitute for Shape of the Wiitigo for a slightly different deck—one that would forgo the +1/+1 counter shenanigans in favor of power-based tricks.

What a Dragon

I mentioned some time ago that I'd proven very good at opening Crucible of Fire. That trend has continued, and I'm now blessed with four copies of the Dragon-boosting enchantment. Now, ideally, I'd like to make a deck that uses it to pump up real Dragons, but I've got to admit, the first thing that springs to mind involves changelings—lots of changelings. They're the cheapest Dragons, after all. One of them even breathes fire!

I know I'm playing red, so I started with those changelings: a mix of Fire-Belly Changelings, War-Spike Changelings, Changeling Berserkers, and Taurean Maulers, the last of those borrowed from my friend Laura's Changeling Lord deck and its Elder Dragon Highlander counterpart. She was also nice enough to loan me two Chameleon Colossuses and a suite of Lorwyn dual lands from those decks. The result is a tough little aggro deck stitched together by a slightly saner version of the wonky mana base that powers Changeling Lord.

I wanted a little burn, so I added Tarfire as an additional way to get Auntie's Hovel into play untapped. Elvish Handservant is my cutesy solution to the problem that there are no changeling one-drops, and Greatbow Doyen and Sunrise Sovereign are there to do an Overrun impression and finish off the game.

Jacob Van Lunen took a different look at Crucible of Fire in a Building on a Budget article. His final version had a lot more burn than mine does; your mileage may vary!

The Drawing Board

Sometimes I have deck ideas—like the above—based on the cards I have and what I can do with them. That means I can build the deck right away and take it for a spin. Other times, though, I have deck ideas that are more conceptual, based on some interaction or theme that I've noticed regardless of whether I have the cards. These deck ideas exist on scraps of paper and brief text files, to be realized when and if I have the cards and the inclination to do so.

Case in point: While sorting cards recently, I happened to see Chromatic Star and Terrarion in quick succession. These two cards share a quirky trait: they are both Chromatic Sphere–style mana filters with a cantrip, but they both give you the card draw any time they go to the graveyard, not just when you use their mana-filter ability. That got me thinking about Salvage Titan ... and never you mind that I only have one Salvage Titan at present.

I don't have a finished deck lists for this one, just a skeleton. Beyond Chromatic Star, Terrarion, and Salvage Titan, Master of Etherium tops the list of cards to include. A lot of it depends on what sort of card pool you're working with and what your play group would consider OK. I can imagine a version of the deck that tosses in the artifact lands, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Thoughtcast, etc. for a no-doubt blisteringly fast Affinity take on the deck (Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault optional). I can also imagine play groups where that might be frowned upon, Ravagers or no. Alternately, you could stick with mostly Shards of Alara, with Glaze Fiend as an additional beater, Courier's Capsule for card draw, and Executioner's Capsule as creature kill and back-up Titan sacrifice. When I get my hands on more Salvage Titans, I'll build the version with artifact lands and such to see how it plays. Including artifact lands and some 0-cost artifacts like Ornithopter raises the possibility of a turn-one Salvage Titan, which I have to admit I find pretty exciting.

There's another deck that's been kicking around my head lately that may only ever exist on paper, because I'm not sure I want to unleash it on the world. It's not that I think it'll be insanely good; it'll just be really annoying. It's an Elder Dragon Highlander deck with Hokori, Dust Drinker as its general. Embracing the theme, I'd go with more mana denial—Armageddon and Ravages of War, Kismet and Loxodon Gatekeeper, etc.—plus cards like Land Tax and Weathered Wayfarer that help me keep playing lands. Doesn't that sound fun?

I'll field that one. No. It doesn't. It sounds terrible. And yet ... and yet, and yet, and yet ... Elder Dragon Highlander is a high-power format, and I don't think the deck's a winner, even if it does hamper everyone for a while. I mean, what's the win condition? Razor Golem? OK, that's pretty clever, actually, but it's not going to get the job done on its own.

I have no idea whether I'll eventually build this deck. So far I've built a few silly decks for EDH and one, my Sharuum the Hegemon deck, that feels like it hits the right spot. Actually playing a deck like this sounds like rather a chore, but I'll admit I'm quite curious to see what would happen.


So that's at least some of what I've been up to. There are plenty of other proto-decks sitting in piles on my Magic shelves or just half-formed in my head. Hopefully I'll get to them soon—I've only got so much bandwidth in here, not to mention shelf space.

I'm not the only one who does this, am I? If you've ever sat in class scratching out deck lists in your notes or stayed up late goldfishing your latest creation, you are not alone. The true test of a deck comes on the battlefield, but its birth is almost always in a notebook or a text file or an unconnected thought. It's not a deck yet—but it will be.

My rice cooker is singing the happy "rice is done" song, so I'd better be off. (Yes, there's a song. No, I don't know why.) I'll see you next time with the first week of Conflux previews. Don't miss it!

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