For those of you expecting the Seedborn Muse and his combination of Johnny-tastic decklists and reviews of past cards, my apologies. Brandon has a trial this week and the time pressures were such that he needed to skip the usual Wednesday article.
However, here at the Muse Vessel, we care so much for our readers that there was no way we were going to leave you without a Wednesday article, so here I am filling in for this week. Since I’m covering forBrandon, I thought I would give you a Johnny-tastic decklist offering one of my strange little concoctions.
Although, before I do that, you need a little background. Climb into the wayback machine with me to a time early in my Magic life. This was one of my earliest decks that actually did something other than cast bigger and bigger creatures. I would provide you with a decklist, but my decklists from that far back are lost to me.[i] Instead I’ll give you a quick summary of what the deck did:
The earlier version was W/G. I relied on bad dual lands (I had no original duals so I was using Ice Age duals, City of Brass and the horrible Homelands lands to provide the white mana for the deck) to run both colors and still have plenty of green mana to recast Rancor again and again. I ran plenty of defensive creatures that would play the deterrence role while a trampling Auratog destroyed my opponents’ defenses. The deck ran tutors for creatures and enchantments, so I could find the Auratog and Rancor pretty consistently. I was running Thaumatog for a while as a weak backup plan if I couldn’t find the Auratog, but I soon discarded that plan, as I rarely needed it. I was using mana ramp spells not to cast some bigger creature, but to recast Rancor more often! The deck was a streamlined, killing machine.
One of the more beautiful things about the deck was that the key cards took up so few deck spots. While people tend to remember a Rancored Auratog trampling at them for 18 damage, they don’t remember a River Boa or other utility creature as part of the deck. It was relatively easy to hide the fact that I was playing the Auratog deck by simply not playing Auratog or Rancor. The other creatures I played out just allowed me to sit quietly and avoid any unwanted attention. I wasn’t the weakest or the strongest player, and it was rarely beneficial to attack me, so more often than not, I wasn’t attacked until we were down to the final 2 players. As someone moves to make the killing blow against someone else, the Auratog would be waiting to come crashing in soon after. In other games I could run him out earlier to kill an opponent who was attacking me. Once he was dead, I would run the Auratog into a lethal blocker so I was once again non-threatening… with another Auratog hidden in my hand.
Still Wayback, But Not Nearly as Wayback as Before
While the deck was a blast to play, I eventually grew bored with it and packed it up in mothballs.[ii] After a year or two, I discovered this:
I remembered the Auratog deck and knew I could do something similar here, but I didn’t want this to be a copy of the last deck with one or two cards changing out, so I decided early on that the Auratog was going to sit on the sidelines. I worked out the deck and played it. And lost. And played it. And lost. And lost, and lost and lost. The thing just sucked. I tried to determine what the problems with the deck were, and I made changes. Rather than continue to keep you in suspense, here is deck with the changes:
“How Many Times?”
1x Auratouched Mage
4x Celestial Ancient
4x Faith Healer
1x Freewind Equenaut
1x Leonin Skyhunter
1x Mesa Enchantress
1x Serra Angel
1x Soltari Monk
1x Thran Golem
1x Voice of All
1x White Shield Crusader
Yes, I too see the Auratog. I’ll get to that in a minute. And yes,[iii] it isn’t very Johnny-tastic at all. What did you expect from a self-confessed simpleton deck builder who focuses more on strategy than unique card interactions? This deck was build in late 2008, so it could likely be much better simply by adding some cards from the last three years to the deck. Rather than trying to update the deck, I wanted to lay out what the deck was supposed to do. The goal of the deck was to get the Faith Healer out fairly early, and target it (or any creature for that matter) with Spirit Loop. You would then use the Faith Healer to sacrifice the Spirit Loop and gain 2 life. The Spirit Loop would go back to your hand and you would repeatedly cast it, and gain life. This extra life would keep you alive long enough to get a Celestial Ancient into play. Recast the Spirit Loop a few more times and the Ancient becomes a huge flying beatstick, and you win the game.
That was the plan.
After being soundly beaten,[iv] I discovered what I believed were problems with the deck and I set about fixing them.
Problem #1: Someone Counters your Enchantment (aka “Other People Messin’ With My Shit!”).
The danger with the Spirit Loop combo is that you are recasting it over and over again. Spirit Loop only comes back to your hand if it goes to the graveyard from the battlefield, so a counterspell just stops everything. Better combos go off at instant speed, allowing you to respond to a counter by just activating the loop in response to the counter. This particular loop doesn’t allow that.
My solutions were threefold. My first solution was to add Brilliant Halo. The Halo itself is a weak card that really doesn’t do anything, but it does come back from the graveyard like the Spirit Loop does. I figured that more auras that bounced out of the graveyard would allow me to respond to counters by simply playing another spell.
I also used Auratouched Mage as a way to find the auras in my library. All told this left me with five auras that could do what I needed and two ways to either find new copies or get old copies back to my hand if needed.
Problem #2: Running High on the Mana Curve (aka “Just Too Damn Slow”)
Faith Healer was relatively cheap and I could usually get it onto the battlefield without a problem. The problem came with the rest of the combo. Recasting Spirit Loop again and again just cost so much. Gaining six life cost six mana. This was simply ineffective and a waste of mana. The only time this made sense was when the Celestial Ancient was in play. At least that way I was getting a +1/+1 counter for each two mana being spent. Of course, it costs five mana to cast, so on turn five I would play the Ancient and do nothing. Then on turn six, I could recast Spirit Loop three times, making the Ancient a flying 6/6, usually with lifelink, and I’d gained 6 life. It was great once it was started, but by then everyone else had their stuff out and they hadn’t had to jump through the hoops I was jumping through to make it happen.
The first effort to speed things up was the Pearl Medallion. This reduced the cost of the Ancient by one, but that was really irrelevant. The Medallion made the Spirit Loop cost just W. As long as the Pearl Medallion was in play, five white mana meant five +1/+1 counters on the Ancient, and 10 life from the Faith Healer. While the Medallion didn’t really get the combo working sooner, it did make it far more effective and far more deadly when it did get online.
The second change was to add smaller threats. Cards like the Leonin Skyhunter and the White Shield Crusader forced my opponents to think twice about attacking in the early game, and were there to absorb hits from big uglies when my opponents knew what was coming and started attacking me early.[v]
The last change here was the absolute key to the deck: Auratog. I know, I said I wasn’t going to include Auratog. I was very reluctant to put him into the deck. He would compete with the Faith Healer for the sacrifice outlet since I could only sacrifice the auras to one or the other. He attacked on the ground, so a small 1/1 creature could stop him, no matter how many times I sacrificed the enchantments. I knew I wasn’t going to shift the deck into a 2 color deck, so that was something I expected to be a serious problem. The deck was just running too slowly though, so I added him in. Often, I found an opponent who was vulnerable to the Auratog and his sudden growth spurts. In fact, the Auratog shifted the entire focus of the deck away from the Celestial Ancient, since the Auratog was ready to attack so much earlier than the Ancient.
Problem #3: Single Card Strategy (aka “Without that Card My Deck does F#!@& All!)
The guys on Commandercast recently discussed the dangers of a single card strategy. It doesn’t take long before your opponents start to realize that your deck falls apart without a particular card. With my deck, that particular card was Celestial Ancient. While Faith Healer provided the sacrifice outlet needed to recur the Spirit Loop, Celestial Ancient was the card that was doing the damage. Stopping the Spirit Loop was another option for my opponents, but trying to put down an enchantment that can only really be stopped with counterspells is much more difficult than simply killing a creature. My games were fairly frustrating as I tried to get a 5 mana 3/3 flyer to stick on the board long enough to replay Spirit Loop, then attack, all the while trying to keep the Ancient alive to do it again the next turn.
Auratog (and to a lesser extent, Soltari Monk) solved the single card strategy problem. My opponents could no longer target the Ancient as a way to neuter my deck. Killing the Ancient left you to deal with the Auratog. Killing the Auratog left a large Ancient to deal with. Even Wrathing the board wasn’t much of a solution. Not many other players could match the speed at which I’d get the Auratog back up and running after a Wrath.
Lesson For the Day
The changes to the deck definitely improved how the deck played. I was winning some games and it was far more interesting to play than the original Faith Healer version. The problem with the deck wasn’t with the deck itself though, but with the earlier Rancor version. My expectations were still tied up with the Rancor version. I still expected to blow out opponents with huge trampling unstoppable hits, where the newer version demanded a more precision game. While the Faith Healer deck was no precision sniper rifle, it did demand care and thought when deciding who and when to attack. The Rancor version was simply a large stick and the question: “Who do I hit first?”
Remember the purpose of your deck, and how your deck is going to win. Judging your deck using a different metric will only lead to unhappiness.
The End of the Story
And that brings us to the end. I know that neither of the decks I’ve discussed here will set your opponents’ heads spinning in the way Seedborn Muse’s diabolical decklists do, I hope you can take the framework of these straightforward decks and make them work for you. If only there was a card from a little more recently that could take advantage of casting the same enchantment several times in one turn…
[i] They were saved on spreadsheet software that was so old that Excel could not convert it. Now, I can’t even find the old files any longer.
[ii] My euphemism for writing the deck contents down in my spreadsheet of decks, then pulling it all apart. Doesn’t packing it up in mothballs sound so much better?
[iii] You readers are a picky bunch! I’m not sure I like the demands of a Seedborn Muse crowd!
[iv] Eggs, rented mules, junkyard dogs, and redheaded stepchildren all thanked me for the time I spent playing this deck, as they all got a break.
[v] While editing, Graveborn Muse asked if I would consider Wall of Omens if I was building this today. I would likely have Wall of Omens as a defensive card, but at the time I wanted something that stuffs flying creatures, so Wall of Omens would not be a complete replacement.