elcome back to the Lab! 2012, that fateful year, is finally upon us. After two weeks of lounging around, accomplishing nothing, I'm glad to stride through the doors of this laboratory once again and shake off the rust. Here's to a stellar year of whimsical deck building and universe pondering.
I hate to start the new year off on a sour note, but I have never found the early weeks of January to be that interesting. In fact, we're smack dab in the middle of what I like to call the Frigid Feelings period. Beginning with Thanksgiving, magnified by the bleak winter, and ending with Valentine's Day, with toxic emotions strewn here and there, this period usually involves my self-image shattering and being hastily reassembled.
Good thing I have this column back (now I can document the process). Unfortunately, I have no theme week to guide me this week, and can only gaze wistfully at Dark Ascension previews, which start next Monday. I guess the only thing I can really do is serve up a classic Lab recipe: three decks, all built around a quirky Innistrad card. As always, these decks in this column are aimed at Johnny sensibilities and purposefully avoid the rigid styles that crop up in tournament lists. I know many of my frequent visitors already understand this, but I think it's important to repeat the mantra for any possible newcomers (if they haven't already been scared off).
Oh, and one more thing before we get started: The submission window for the Theme Deck Contest officially closes today, so if you were intrigued by the contest but put it on the back burner (I get it; I am of the same procrastinating essence), today's the final day to submit. I've received some great entries so far but I'd love to see more floating around in my inbox. Here is a handy recap of the contest rules:
Build a theme or tribute deck. You can choose any film, book, album, game, story, person, or whatever to build around. However, I must stress: These decks ideally work when there's an ironclad resemblance to the source material within the deck's game play. Translate what the deck does and work backwards from there.
Alright, enough babble.
Time for Slime
Gutter Grime | Art by Erica Yang
Let's begin with a certain rare from Innistrad that hasn't yet graced a lab table: Gutter Grime. This enchantment makes me happy for many reasons. First, it creates Ooze tokens, joining Ooze Garden in the Weird Johnny Ooze Card category. Second, it triggers off of creatures dying, a well-worn trait in combo history (although this particular card has the annoying "nontoken" clause). And third, it deals with slime counters. The more slime, the bigger the Oozes, which I suppose should be a general rule of thumb. Any post-Scars of Mirrodin card that deals with counters seems really exciting to me, thanks to proliferate. When scanning the list of proliferate cards, one in particular jumped right into my brainstorming. Plaguemaw Beast not only proliferates Gutter Grime but triggers it as well.
I didn't want to overload the deck with proliferate, so three Plaguemaw Beast and a singleton Contagion Clasp made the deck. While building the rest of it, I wondered how I wanted to effectively use Gutter Grime. If I could somehow sweep a stocked battlefield at the end of my opponent's turn, Gutter Grime would pump out huge Oozes for me to beat with unimpeded. After some searching, I found Rout. That'll work nicely.
I came up with a Wall focus in my early game. Cards like Wall of Blossoms, Wall of Omens, and Wall of Mulch (especially that one) can speed up my incoming card flow while stopping early attacks. With Overgrown Battlement providing mana and Sakura-Tribe Elder fetching lands (and upping slime counters later), I can accelerate into Gutter Grime.
I dipped into a bit of white's specific brand of removal. Oblivion Ring solves many problems, and Martyr's Bond equalizes every sacrifice you make (turning Wall of Mulch into an unwitting machinegun). On the singleton side of things, Masked Admirers can only boost your situation, and it can feed the Beast on a semi-regular basis. And for a wacky but fitting synergy piece, I'll take the one-of Mindbender Spores. It's a weak green Wall that loves proliferate. Yay!
Oozin' Through the Cracks
Galvanic Juggernaut | Art by Lucas Graciano
It's what powers Galvanic Juggernaut. These loping lumps of metal have been stuck in attack mode since the beginning of Magic. On Innistrad, such a Juggernaut seems to run on death-powered galvanic electricity, which untaps it. "Whenever another creature dies, untap Galvanic Juggernaut" seems like a mildly broken ability.
A great effect to attach to things that like to frequently untap is Elemental Mastery. Such a suited Juggernaut could tap to produce five 1/1s with haste, and if a sacrifice outlet were around, the Juggernaut could untap and tap forever for infinite hasty creatures! Consultation of outlets ended with Spawning Pit and Seething Pathblazer. The latter card ushered in the always-comfortable red-blue Elemental cushion. Smokebraider and Mulldrifter are fairly predictable, but some choices were tailored for wielding Elemental Mastery, such as Plumeveil and Rage Nimbus—two strong defenders with high power. Other fun inclusions: Hateflayer (a brutal weapon), Nova Chaser (10 incoming 1/1s?), and Tidewater Minion (20 incoming 1/1s!?).
Seemingly to vamp the eerie vibe of misfortune that sweeps through Innistrad, a smattering of cards in Magic the most legendary of unlucky numbers: thirteen. It shows up in the combat stats of Ludevic's Abomination and Tree of Redemption, as a zombie horde in Army of the Damned, and in pure damage form through Into the Maw of Hell and Blasphemous Act. (In the past, Archive Trap, Shivan Meteor, Death's Shadow, and Krosan Cloudscraper were the lone 13 Club members.)
Of these, Blasphemous Act intrigues me the most. The raw amount of damage this card can deal is staggering. If thirteen creatures are on the battlefield, the Act has the aesthetically pleasing effect of dealing 13 damage to each of them! Weird board sweepers are interesting to build around, because in a pinch, they're still board sweepers. If eight creatures are on the battlefield, Blasphemous Act costs one measly red mana. I've actually witnessed a fully reduced Act, during a four-player free-for-all game using Innistrad Booster Draft decks. In that game, there was a Rage Thrower on the board, which led to a load of damage.
Blasphemous Act | Art by Daarken
However, I wondered if I could pool this large damage amount into some other category, just for fun. And then I thought, "Wow, what if I Hallowed my own Act." With eight creatures on the board, that's 104 life for RW. Although I love infinite combos, there's something equally pleasing about a really, really big finite number. And a Hallowed Act could rocket my life total to skies beyond, in perfect range of winning the game with Test of Endurance (Felidar Sovereign would get toasted by the Act).
I knew I wanted cards that made lots of tokens, to up my creature count and reduce Blasphemous Act's cost. After examining the available options, I decided to go with Soldiers. Timely Reinforcements helps with the life gain and makes three. Mobilization is a surefire and steady way to build an army. Knight-Captain of Eos seemed the perfect card for making Soldier tokens and stalling. With Mobilization, the Knight-Captain will never run out of fodder to erase incoming combat damage. Ever since Commander's release, I've had a strange fascination with casting join forces cards in a two-player game. I find the resulting flavor juncture to be very abstract and unique...okay, mostly I just laugh a lot when I ponder it. Here, Alliance of Arms can boost the creature totals of both sides, making for a cheaper and more widespread Act.
I also included fitting cards that transpose damage increments into something else. Wall of Hope, for example, can gain me 13 life during Acts I want to resolve (usually during overwhelming situations). And the singleton Swans of Bryn Argoll has been an insane card for years. It'll remain alive after an Act and garner thirteen new cards in hand.
Although the deck can technically "win" with Test of Endurance, for me, the real victory comes with the crazily high but finite amount of life that can actually be produced. This is one of the many interesting sideshows of Magic that I feel should be given the spotlight. For just these reasons, I put Fire Servant in the deck. Let's see, 26 times 8 turns out to be 208 damage for . That's just silly. And with a Hallow, of course, that's 208 life. Have fun with gratuitous numbers!
Until next time!