I have always loved Lola… and Form of the Dragon. I liked her artistry, and his art. I liked his top-down deck design, and how she looked from the top… all the way down. I loved her fiery eyes that always had a twinkle of mischief, and the idea that an enchantment turned you into A DRAGON! She made me feel like I was floating on air, and he made me feel like a flyer. She was a 10, and Form of the Dragon made me into a 5/5. She was straight up red-hot. He was straight up cool.
And it was a mistake to touch either of them.
The problems are significant:
1. The cost. Paying 4RRR for Form of the Dragon makes this a card you can only play at the end of a game. If you are paying seven mana late in a game, you should be doing six damage to someone or something. You should be playing something that is going to win the game right now, or at least on your next turn. Form of the Dragon just doesn’t do that.
2. Resetting your life total to five each turn. How many ways can you come up with to do five damage to a player in a single turn? Let’s say you aren’t even playing red, it is just too easy to do five damage in a single turn. The fact that your life total resets to five each turn is not the blessing it appears to be either. The best way to survive this would be to run white lifegain with the Form of the Dragon. This way you could drop to five life, then immediately begin to climb back up. However with the reset, any amount of lifegain is lost. It just sits in your hand, waiting for someone to kill you, and hopefully you can respond by gaining enough life that turn to survive their damage.
3. The five damage is on your upkeep. If the damage could be done at instant speed, this would make the card so much better. It would allow you to defend against at least some of the attacks against you.
In light of all these limitations, my love for Form of the Dragon was left unrequited. I tried to include a token copy of it in some decks, but it was always just a lark, and even on the rare occasion when I could play the card, it was always a liability. I was better off with something else every time. Then the answer to my prayers arrived:
At the end of my opponent’s turn, right before my turn is to start, I would use Soul Conduit! My measly five life is exchanged for an opponent’s 20 plus life, leaving them at five life. On my upkeep, I would do the five damage from Form of the Dragon to them, killing them off with a single blow! This would make the cost worth it! Paying seven mana for Form of the Dragon would make sense now, since it would provide an effect that would kill an opponent on my next upkeep! It was an awesome combo without feeling like a dirty combo! I would turn the limitation of resetting my life total to five into an advantage, since I could run the combo out each round, killing off another opponent each time!
I was in love all over again! My deckbuilding began in earnest:
The danger with the combo is that I’m still at five life. If someone tries to take me out, I can, as an emergency measure, activate the Soul Conduit to pump up my life total. However, these are multiplayer games we are talking about here. At the end of that person’s turn, my life total will be back down to five and the next person could be lining up to take me out. Five life is still an issue.
I considered various ways to get around this but most didn’t work. Having a batch of lifegaining spells is nice, but being forced to leave some mana open to cast them all the time can be difficult. It can also mean that my life total may be above five when it comes time to swap totals with an enemy, and the Form damage on my upkeep won’t kill them. It was about two weeks ago when my son Spencer played the answer in a deck he was using:
This works particularly well with the life reset. If someone hits me for seven damage in a turn, I would take seven damage and go to -2 life. Phyrexian Unlife says that I am still alive. At the end of their turn, my life total is reset to five. The only way I can be killed is to put my life to 0 or less, then hit me again to add on poison counters. With the reset each turn, I make this very difficult.
I also hoped that having Phyrexian Unlife would make attacking me particularly undesirable with Soul Conduit. I mean, if my life is less than 0, and I can swap life totals with anyone on the board, it seems pretty likely I’ll be trading with the person attacking me, don’t you think? That sort of trade doesn’t even require Form of the Dragon.
As added insurance, I decided I would take this little fellow for a ride:
I had never used the card before, but it seemed well-suited for the job. We would see if the WW upkeep cost would be too much.
When I read the FAQ for Soul Conduit, I discovered that using it was the equivalent of gaining and losing life. While my life would reset to five at the end of a turn, during the turn I would gain life from five to equal my opponent’s old life total. How could I take advantage of this lifegain? Cradle of Vitality seemed like a very good plan.*
Adding +1/+1 counters to my creatures seems like a very good Plan B. They can protect me from creature attacks and also fly in on their own.
The combo cards cost six and seven mana. Sitting there with a couple of dudes to protect me is okay for a while, but not too long. I didn’t think I would survive long enough with my group to get the mana into play without some ramp.
I would need to have some way to protect the combo from the Naturalizes that were bound to come my way.
I wanted the dudes. My metagame demands some dudes. I wanted mostly flyers since I expected the cards to have to play defense.
Conquering Manticore – taking someone’s blocker or other important creature so you can smash it against someone else’s walls is a wonderful thing.
Steel Hellkite – this thing can just wipe out whole piles of cards that are dangerous for you. As a 6/6 flyer for 6, it would also prove to be a tempting target for players’ artifact destruction, leaving my Soul Conduit for more important things.
Shattered Angel – more life just seemed to make sense. Players often play their land right away without thinking about it. Even if they did think about it, there was a good chance they would wait until the end of their turn to play their land, limiting the cards they could play in their hand.
Emeria Angel – The 1/1 flyers that this card would make would be great as chump blockers in the air.
Deathless Angel – making creatures indestructible, not necessarily my own creatures either, is an ability to be feared.
Witch Hunter – bouncing creatures is completely unexpected from white and red. Besides that, my Witch Hunter had not seen a deck in quite a long time.
Basandra – I’m not really sure why I put this card into the deck, other than to see how my group would respond to it.
I had intended to add Wall of Shards and Windborn Muse, but I could find neither of them in my collection. I know I have the Windborn Muse (I mean, I AM the Windborn Muse!), but I could not find it while the actual deckbuilding was happening.
Other cards included:
Enlightened Tutor – when your deck revolves around an artifact and an enchantment, why wouldn’t you use Enlightened Tutor?
Disenchant – There are just too many artifacts and enchantments that absolutely must die. I used to rely on others to get rid of them for me, opening up spaces in my decks for other cards I wanted to play. My metagame has shifted and not all the players in my group have realized they need to be packing removal. Once everyone else is carrying, I can open up these spots. Until then…
Orim’s Thunder – Why wouldn’t you play this if you are playing red and white and looking to add Disenchant to your deck?
Now that I’ve gone through the various cards in the deck, I am supposed to give you a full decklist showing how many of each card I used in the deck. Rather than do that let’s jump right to what happened with the deck last week. I think my reasons for not giving you the full decklist will become readily apparent.
The first game I had the chance to use the deck was an Emperor game. We rolled dice for positions and I ended up in an Emperor’s seat. I figured that if there was ever a game where I would get the time I needed to get the land together to make the combo work, it would be an Emperor game. I had an opening hand that included the Phyrexian Unlife and a Soul Conduit, along with plenty of land so I kept and started dropping land. Before I even got to 6 mana, the game was over. One of my generals, Eric, went gangbusters and took out the opposing general and Emperor that quickly. Sometimes a huge firebreathing dragon just gets the job done. Unfortunately it told me nothing about how my deck would perform.
I played it again in a 3-way, 2-Headed Giant game.** In that game, my partner Jesse and I got off to a bit of a slow start. We did manage to get some weak defense in place, but nothing special. Jesse was playing a counter deck that ran a bizarre mix of various counters. He had a variety of win conditions, but he was vulnerable to early beats and any kind of mass artifact removal or mass bounce effects. Both are pretty rare in our group’s metagame right now, so the deck seems to do all right.
I started out with Form of the Dragon and Phyrexian Unlife in my hand to start the game, so things went fairly well. I put the Unlife in play early, but no one said anything. At six mana things started to get difficult for us. We started facing some serious pressure that demanded we get better defenses so the next few turns were spent getting other creatures on the board. Once I had the mana to play Form of the Dragon, I had also drawn Soul Conduit, so I was ready to start setting up the combo. Our problem was whether we were willing to give up our strong life total. Two-Headed Giant games start with 30 life, and we were still well over ten. Did we want to give up that much life for Form of the Dragon? Dan was playing burn, so there was a genuine risk, and the “only flyers can attack you” clause was not going to be overly helpful at this point. We decided to go for it and play it out. Admittedly, the deciding factor to playing it out was just coolness. We both believed that it probably wasn’t the optimal play, but with Phyrexian Unlife, hopefully it wouldn’t be too bad.
Unfortunately, Dan managed to bring us below zero with burn, then burned for another 10 points of damage to take us out before the Form could deal its first five points of damage.
That game brought forward the inherent problem with the combo: it takes three turns for it to really do anything once it is on the table. You need a turn to play the Conduit, a turn to play the Form of the Dragon, and a turn to activate the Conduit. None of this can even happen until you get to at least six mana and have the seventh in your hand. It just takes far too long.
I am not ready to give up on my love just yet though. The pieces are all there, but the deck still needs something more. Jesse suggested I shift the manabase to RWG, with green mostly for mana fixing. I’m thinking my Seedborn Muse deck might just be the way to go. Untapping my land and Soul Conduit every turn is probably a good thing. I’ll be sure to keep you updated with the ongoing saga. Will my hopes and dreams be snatched away from me again by “Lola” or will I finally realize my dreams?
* To give credit where credit is due, I proposed this deck idea to the Muses. Seedborn suggested Cradle of Vitality; my thanks to both for all your suggestions. If I didn’t take your suggestion, it was only because I didn’t own the card.
** In case you were wondering, my group normally plays straight chaos games. That night though, there were six of us and our first chaos game went very long. In an effort to get in more games, we opted for several team games that night. Thus, Emperor and Two-Headed Giant games.