House_of_Cards

Where to begin the hunt for Lorwyn combos? With the preview cards, of course....

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The letter W!elcome to the first post-Lorwyn edition of House of Cards! As someone who likes to build decks and write about the game, I'm always happy when a new set comes out. It's like starting over with a clean slate. At least in Standard, you can throw away many of your old tools and pick up some shiny new ones. Some old cards that didn't have a home get to move into a slick new bachelor pad or low-rent bungalow. Best of all, there's almost always some new Elves to play with.

As you can imagine, I was as happy as a Clambassador when I found out that Lorwyn would be packed with more Elves than the Keebler family reunion. I could hardly wait. Not only would I get to play with stuff like Wren's Run Packmaster, but in the past year I'd exhausted all 289 combos that R&D slipped into Ravnica block. There wasn't a single one left, so I appreciate the infusion of some new (and Elvish) blood.

With the set having been revealed in its entirety on the weekend, I was eager to get down to the business of deckbuilding. But where to begin? Rather than get too far ahead of myself, I decided look back at the past few weeks of previews and see what else could be done with them. This would both allow me to milk these cards like a prized cow and give me the opportunity to show off some nifty preview-inspired deck ideas sent to me by enthusiastic readers.

 

Shriekmaw! No Hands

I always like it when readers share their wacky creations with me, so it goes without saying that I was delighted when Johnny on the spot Noel d.C. decided to blow the lid off the greatest combo ever formed between an Elf Warrior and a Rat Shaman.

You start with a card Mark Rosewater previewed a couple weeks ago, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. You might say that he's a marriage between Durkwood Boars, a one-sided Bottomless Pit, a Hivestone hacked to "Warriors" with Artificial Evolution, and a Riptide Replicator with one counter on it, set to "green" and "Elf," and with the ability to be activated for free whenever your opponent discards a card. You might also say that he does his own thing.

That was the first half of the equation. Noel kept me in suspense for a whole sentence before (finally!) revealing the second half. As he wrote, "Nath plus blank equals the engine B: Target opponent discards a card. Play this only at sorcery speed. Blank = Nezumi Bone-Reader."

You'll need another creature or token creature token to kick things off, but after that you're golden. Sacrifice this initial creature to the Bone-Reader to make your opponent discard, which causes Nath to birth an Elf Warrior token, which provides more fuel for your Bone-Reader. Don't laugh. It works. Keep doing it until your opponent runs out of cards or you run out of black mana. If your opponent decides to play card-drawing spell of some kind, or you happen to be playing against multiple opponents, you can do it all again next turn.

As with any discard-heavy strategy, you can run into problems if your opponent does something annoying like play a creature. Luckily, Noel was one step ahead of me. Since you'll be doing a lot of creature-sacrificing, with Nezumi Bone-Reader as well as Sakura-Tribe Elder and Augur of Skulls, there's one card that can solve your creature problems. As Noel says, "Enter Grave Pact and voila! You've annihilated his hand and board."

Nezumi Shortfang is another fine Rat to pair with Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. First, they team up to empty your opponent's hand and make an army of Elves. Once that's been done, Stabwhisker the Odious does a passable impression of The Rack, causing your opponent to lose 3 life per turn. Call him The Rat Rack. Stabby Davis, Jr.? No? All right.

As a fan of the transmute cards from Ravnica (Hey, I didn't say you had to throw away your old tools!), I heartily approve of Noel's small Brainspoil toolbox, even if I changed a few cards in it. Besides fetching Nath himself, you can transmute for Sadistic Hypnotist (a.k.a. Nezumi Bone-Reader number five); Liliana Vess (more discard plus some general late-game bomb-ery); Noel's finisher of choice, Vulturous Zombie; my finisher of choice (and an excuse to make puns), Guiltfeeder; and, last of all, Shriekmaw.

I added the Shriekmaws (and Mournwhelks) for a couple of reasons. First of all, they're evoke-ability is simply dynamite with Grave Pact. Not only will you get the "Terror" or "Mind Rot" effect, but you will also force your opponent to sacrifice a creature. With Shriekmaw, make sure that the "Terror" effect happens before the self-sacrifice effect, otherwise your opponent can just sacrifice the creature you want to "Terror."

The other reason I wanted to use the evokers is that they are creatures that act like spells. To keep his opponent with a hand full of cards, Noel used Howling Mine. Just to be different, I thought, "What about Weird Harvest?" For one, it fetches all the pieces of the combo in one fell swoop. For two, if you already have the combo online, you can force your opponent to discard all the creatures you just let him harvest (if he harvested any at all). For three, it can fetch some very efficient removal in Shriekmaw. Here's the final deck list:

Hamletback, Hamletback, Hamletback Ribs Goliath

The second Johnny on the spot was David H. Two Tuesdays ago, he had this to say about Hamletback Goliath:

"The Ferrett's preview card. Holy crap, my brain exploded. With combos!"

Luckily, David survived this impromptu combotomy. After a short stint in the emergency room, he wrote down some of those combos and sent them to yours truly. There were many good ones, but two stood out for me. The first involved Primal Forcemage. Both the Forcemage and Hampsterdance Goliath have an ability that triggers whenever a creature comes into play. You can tell because it says so right on the cards. What this means is that if you have both cards in play and you put a creature in play, each of them will trigger. The cool thing is that you get to choose which ability will resolve first. If the Forcemage gives the creature +3/+3 first, the creature will be that much bigger when it's time to decide how many counters you're going to put on your Goliath.

The second card that David wanted to pair with Hamletback Goliath was Saproling Burst. How does +21/+21 grab you? Or +39/+39 with a Primal Forcemage in play? While I didn't end up using Saproling Burst in the final deck (I kept it Extended legal), I did end up using other mass-token producers that accomplish much the same thing, albeit less spectacularly.

Another way to boost Hamletback Goliath for little cost is to use the evoke creatures. As I mentioned above, these guys do two useful things when you evoke them: they come into play and then they are put into your graveyard from play. I'll start with the first part. For a measly red mana, you can evoke an Inner-Flame Acolyte, have it give itself +2/+0 when it comes into play but before you sacrifice it, and, as a result, give your Goliath a permanent +4/+4. For two mana, an evoked Glarewielder can give your Goliath +3/+3 while making it much harder to block, and an evoked Briarhorn can pump your Goliath +6/+6. At four mana, you can evoke the Faerie-hating Cloudthresher and burden your Giant with seven more counters. With such a large hamlet on his back, he'll make Atlas look like... Well, like someone holding a much smaller planet.

The fact that an evoked creature is later put into your graveyard from play is particularly useful when you're trying to charge your Lightning Coils. It has long ago been proven by science that Primal Forcemage loves creatures with haste, especially great masses hasty tokens. Besides the ones that I've mentioned, I'm also going to use Nova Chaser and a bunch of cards that make hasty Elemental tokens, including Sparkspitter, Firecat Blitz and Feral Lightning. Here's where I ended up:

Anything Flamekin Do, Kithkin Do Better

What now? Well, it was tough to decide which of the remaining preview cards I should build around. On the one hand, you've got the über-wacky Gilt-Leaf Palace. On the other, you've got stick-in-the-mud Gaddock Teeg. On still a third hand, you've got an array of Mer-, Tree-, Goblin-, Elf-, and Faeriefolk, as well as Cryptic Command. It's a bigger hand than I was expecting. That leaves us with just Thoughtweft Trio and Dread, huge beatsticks that are simultaneously formidable defenders. Hmm. Maybe I can do something with that.

If you can be pretty certain that you will win every combat, you might as well encourage it. Maddening Imp, I'm looking at you. You are also in my line of sight, Instigator. Both of these creatures have abilities that force your opponent's whole team into the red zone, which is not a zone you want to share with Thoughtweft Trio or Dread. Either you will be squashed in combat, or sneak through and die anyway. To make matters worse, Lorwyn brought with it another master of the red zone, Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile, who I have taken to calling Brigid, the Really Heavy Ballista for obvious reasons.

To accommodate Thoughtweft Trio, we're going to need some Kithkin. Goldmeadow Harrier (in card and token form) is a fine weenie and combos with Maddening Imp to kill creatures. Knight of Meadowgrain, Changeling Hero, and potentially Cairn Wanderer can gain you life to offset the damage you'll take if you decide to race with Dread. Kithkin Harbinger can tutor for two-thirds of your defense team.

Last of all, Bullwhip does the same job as your Imps, on a smaller scale, while Loxodon Warhammer serves the same purpose as your lifelink creatures. I know that a certain segment of the Magic-playing population groans whenever they see Loxodon Warhammer in a deck list. It's a Timmy's dream, and, well, I'm half Timmy. I get it from my mom's side of the family. Even if you're not a power gamer, doesn't the idea of equipping the 'hammer to Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile make you smile just a little bit? What if you imagine this great archer with a quiver full of hammers? No? All right. Here's the deck:

Until next time, show me what you got.

Chris Millar

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