ello and welcome back to the Lab! My Magical center of gravity has been jumping around lately, but I've officially re-aligned myself on the plane of Mirrodin. Today marks the first day that I get to fully dive into the new set, under this week's chosen theme of Proliferate. Scars of Mirrodin excites me for a bunch of reasons, and proliferate commands a fair bit of those reasons.
For starters, proliferate is pretty awesome, although you could insert any positive adjective of your choice in place of "awesome." Possible contenders include "crazy," "broken," "sexy" (available exclusively to R&D), and "endlessly exploitable." For a mechanic represented by only six cards (Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine, Inexorable Tide, Steady Progress, Throne of Geth, and Thrummingbird) proliferate sure is more than the sum of its parts. This is quite fitting, given that the flavor of proliferate is all about Phyrexian oil slowly taking over the denizens of Mirrodin a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Marvel's Secret Invasion.
I also am enraptured by proliferate because, well, it's a self-explanatory verb. Check out the elegant Contagion Clasp to see what I mean. I love that this kind of diction is becoming common in modern Magic. Devour from Shards of Alara is another example (who didn't smile at Hellkite Hatchling? It's so cute! ... I mean, its text box is so cute!), as is Zendikar's update of kicker.
Now, let's initiate the deck-building mode of this column. As today's title might suggest, I've got more than the usual three decks to share, to put extra emphasis on this great mechanic. Ever since my pen spilled ink on me at the Prerelease (in which I cobbled together a loopy poison/proliferate deck) I just can't stop talking about proliferate. Hmm, that was strange ink ... it's probably nothing.
Step 1: ???? Step 2: Proliferate!
That heading is pretty much the blueprint for all of today's decks. Whatever shenanigans I set up in Step 1 will ultimately lead to Step 2. Of course, after that I just segue into the obligatory "Step 3: ???? Step 4: Profit!" And yes, I did just layer the same joke on itself. Successfully.
It shouldn't be a surprise that I'm going infinite with most of today's decks. Proliferate is just that good, providing the necessary spark for some older combos to go off in new ways.
For example, here's an Inexorable Tide deck. Whenever I'm in blue, and want to cast a spell over and over for some kind of effect, I turn to mainstay Shrieking Drake. Thus, the delicious engine: ": Proliferate." Let that sink in for a minute. Then, when you're ready, add Pentad Prism to the mix to go infinite. As long as you keep at least one charge counter on the Prism in the early game, you'll be set to endlessly generate blue mana for the Drake.
In this way you can generate infinite mana (through Calciform Pools or a second Pentad Prism), infinite damage (through Triskelion), and infinite creatures (Hoofprints of the Stag, via the infinite mana combo.) Jace Beleran and Grindclock offer potentially infinite milling as well, while still acting as suitable control cards before the combo.
Mystic Speculation acts as a Drake-like spell that can repeat itself to a lesser extent while providing some important scry. Enclave Cryptologist is an important card-drawer in the early game that will level up pretty quickly. Finally, I thought this deck would be a perfect home for Archmage Ascension. You'll be able to get an initial quest counter on it via Jace, Lonely Sandbar, Remand, or the Cryptologist. From there, you'll quickly proliferate it to the Ascension of Super-Tutoring, which can come in handy if you want to find a win condition.
Another fallback in the combo world is that amazingly broken Construct, Pentavus. Whenever a quirky Johnny artifact comes out, Pentavus is usually one of the first cards to pop into my mind. I'm going to pair it with Throne of Geth.
This one's easy. Pentad Prism returns to be our mana engine. Pay an initial colorless mana to remove a +1/+1 counter from Pentavus to make a cute little Pentavite. Immediately sacrifice it to the Throne to proliferate. The Prism and Pentavus each get a counter back, Dross Scorpion untaps the Throne of Geth, and you're instantly infinite. Since this time all the pieces are artifacts, I'll go with Golem Foundry as the win condition. With infinite proliferation, the Foundry will produce infinite Golem tokens. Do this at the end of your opponent's turn for an instant Golem army!
Sun Droplet is a useful stalling card in the early game, and with proliferate it can grow into a monster. I thought about using Fabricate to find my combo pieces, but I instead decided on Sphinx Summoner, 'cause I haven't used it in a while and it's an artifact for the Foundry. Etherium Sculptor and Thirst for Knowledge round out the deck.
Next, I'll turn to two different proliferate decks sent to me by one Abbott Veldhuizen, whom I'm always happy to receive a nice, Johnny-tastic email from. Here's his first one, which makes great use of Contagion Engine:
"This deck offers its player infinite turns with Magistrate's Scepter, Contagion Engine, and either Voltaic Key or Tezzeret the Seeker. Tezzeret tutors for Magistrate's Scepter (and a toolbox of cheap artifacts) which saves an amicable quantity of deck space. The strategy is to play blue-based control until your combo can go off, at which point the deck takes a few turns, then fires off Tezzeret's ultimate for the win. Awesome!"
Super cool. For anyone who's confused, the combo works as follows. Have the Scepter, the Engine, Tezzeret (or Voltaic Key, but preferably Tezzeret), and a lot of mana. Pay to give the Scepter a counter. Pay four more to activate the Engine and proliferate twice. This will give the Scepter two more counters (and two more loyalty counters to Tezzeret as well.) Use The Seeker to untap your two artifacts, and then tap the Scepter to take a turn. Repeat until infinite! You win the game with infinite Tezzeret ultimates, which might mark the first time that's ever happened.
Abbott's other creation was a retro-style Prison deck, souped up with the proliferators and a certain game breaking level up creature. Funnily enough, his brainstorming began with a more aggressive fading deck, featuring Blastoderm and Calciderm. I'll let Abbott take over from here:
"This deck, while perfectly competent, simply wasn't 'getting there'—it was neither incredibly fun to play nor notably consistent, and I abandoned it after a few revisions. But the fading idea stuck. A spin through Gatherer informed me that fading had been printed on a lot of ostensibly vicious cards that had all been hampered by their turn limit. Proliferate, especially in large quantities, does away with this foolish limit—and after isolating from the bunch Parallax Wave, Parallax Tide, and Tangle Wire, I knew I had a powerful prison deck in the works.
Of course, the deck couldn't 'just' be a prison deck—that would get old fast. I wanted to include a few eccentricities that would further my game plan while intuitively appearing clever; thus, Pentad Prism and Calciform Pools amass mana even amidst a Tangle Wire lockdown, Lighthouse Chronologist collects extra turns, and Vexing Sphinx draws an (occasionally overwhelming) pile of cards!"
As you can see, the goal is to lock down your opponent with a Tangle Wire or one of the Parallax enchantments, using quick Thrummingbird beats to keep the fade counters coming. The Chronologist is key here, as your opponent will probably be too disrupted to take him out before you hit the magic level count. Venser (in both forms) is helpful, particularly his planeswalker self. He can blink your fading permanents if they are getting low, and can make your Thrummingbird unblockable. With enough proliferation, you'll get to activate his ultimate, which I call the Exciting Exiling Emblem. I suspect it'll be fun to use Venser to blink his Shaper Savant self as well.
Kay, one final deck for today. While the quartet of decks above is pretty focused in terms of getting their respective combo off, this one is pretty relaxed in comparison. The concept for this one was simple. I thought, "You know what subset of cards would love proliferate? Thallids."
It's as simple (and fun) as that. I've always found Thallids a ton of fun, and proliferate is generally quite fun, so meshing them together was a no brainer. No fancy explanations here. Just play a ton of Thallids, proliferate a bunch, make a swath of Saprolings, and run over your opponent. Hmm, a card that cares about counters and tons of tokens: Beastmaster Ascension, you're up! Meanwhile, proliferating a freaking Mycoloth is my favorite new hobby. That's a lot of Saprolings.
I'm debating whether to announce the contest results next week, or save them for the next non-theme week (in three weeks). As of now, I'm going through the last of the submissions, so tentatively I'm going with the results, but things could change. Regardless, I'll see you all next time!