18,000 Words: Where Did Fluctuator Go?

Several teams tried breaking the card, but none could build a consistent enough deck to go along with the artifact. Other players asked, on the day of Pro Tour Houston,”isn’t that card banned?” (It isn’t.) So why, at a time when Astroglide decks were burning up States, did not one cycling-centered deck appear at Houston?

Word-O-Meter: 1300/11900 words (11% complete)

There were many decks conspicuously absent from Pro Tour Houston. I’m not saying that any of the following decks would have been good metagme choices (they probably aren’t). With over three hundred and fifty competitors, though, you’d expect to see at least one person try playing Stompy (none), Miracle-Gro (none), Draw-Go (none), or Flagpole (none). I mean, Ped Bun played”Life” – the deck that relies on the combination of Task Force/Warrior en-Kor/Worthy Cause to gain (arbitrarily) infinite life, so surely someone could have brought a Pouncing Jaguar or Tradewind Rider to the table. There was one card that could have been the centerpiece of a new deck, but a grand total of zero people decided to go with it after testing:


From what I understand, several teams tried breaking the card, but none could build a consistent enough deck to go along with the artifact. Other players asked, on the day of Pro Tour Houston,”isn’t that card banned?” (It isn’t.) But with the Astral Slide/Lightning Rift deck rising to prevalence only a week before at States, many players didn’t really have time to start in-depth testing of a cycling deck for Pro Tour: Houston based on the Standard design.

And would such a deck even be good? I’m not going to advocate playing any of the decks I list below. *SPOILER* The decks below are entirely conceptual. They are untested, and are ideas that may or may not even be good to begin with. *SPOILER* However, I believe there’s value in getting ideas out there, because maybe – just maybe – there’s a good deck lurking in a pile of cards. Someone might see the diamond in the rough, and make something of it.

Ben Ronaldson’s T2 Astral Rift deck, circa 11/6/02

4 Lightning Rift

4 Astral Slide

4 Akroma’s Blessing

4 Renewed Faith

1 Sunfire Balm

3 Solar Blast

3 Slice and Dice

1 Starstorm

3 Wrath of God

3 Burning Wish

4 Exalted Angel

4 Secluded Steppe

4 Forgotten Cave

8 Mountain

10 Plains


1 Disenchant

1 Ray of Distortion

1 Circle of Protection: Black

4 Boil

1 Pillage

1 Cleansing Meditation

1 Wrath of God

1 Slice and Dice

1 Gerrard’s Wisdom

1 Firecat Blitz

1 Pyroclasm

1 Morningtide

There are quite a few builds you could make around Fluctuator/cycling in Extended. Let’s take a look at one that relies on comes-into-play creatures first.

Theoretical Astral Rift Deck, Extended

4 Astral Slide

4 Lighting Rift

4 Fluctuator

4 Enlightened Tutor

1 Slice and Dice

1 Avalanche Riders

1 Flametongue Kavu

1 Ghitu Slinger

1 Monk Idealist

1 Teroh’s Faithful

1 Pardic Arsonist

1 Seal of Cleansing

1 Radiant’s Judgment

1 “Rune of Protection: Red

1 “Rune of Protection: Green

1 Rune of Protection: Black

4 Mountain

4 Plains

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4 Blasted Landscape

4 Drifting Meadow

4 Forgotten Cave

4 Secluded Steppe

4 Smoldering Crater


1 Clear

1 Radiant’s Judgment

1 Akroma’s Vengeance

1 Orim’s Thunder

1 Light of Day

1 Ancient Hydra

1 Defender en-Vec

1 Honorable Scout

1 Monk Realist

1 Keldon Vandals

1 Rune of Protection: Red

1 Auramancer

1 Teroh’s Faithful

1 “Flametongue Kavu

1 Exalted Angel

The thirty-two lands in the above deck might seem extreme, but twenty of them cycle. Sixteen come into play untapped (the Plains, Mountains, Forge, and Landscapes). The comes-into-play creatures include life gain, creature kill, direct damage, land destruction, and enchantment recursion. Other cycling cards include three Runes of Protection (recurrable with Auramancer/Monk Idealist), Radiant’s Judgment (against Reanimator), and Slice and Dice. This brings the cycling total to twenty-five cards (20 lands, 5 others).

Fading and comes into play creatures both work well with Astral Slide. You could build this deck to use the more traditional Exalted Angel for the win, but the extended version contains a lot more versatile creatures. White and red are seriously limited in their comes-in-play options in Type 2, but have no such problems with this larger card pool.

How about a Living Death/Fluctuator deck?

Theoretical Living Death/Fluctuator Extended Deck

4 Barkhide Mauler

1 Disciple of Grace

2 Disciple of Law

1 Disciple of Malice

4 Sandbar Serpent

4 Pendrell Drake

1 Undead Gladiator

4 Vampiric Tutor

2 Living Death

2 Cabal Ritual

4 Cabal Therapy

4 Mox Diamond

4 Fluctuator

4 Caves of Koilos

4 City of Brass

4 Drifting Meadow

4 Blasted Landscape

4 Polluted Mire

3 Swamp

Optimally, this build goes first turn Mox Diamond, Fluctuator. It then cycles a bunch of cards, gets threshold, and casts a second turn Cabal Ritual/Living Death to bring all the cycled creatures back into play.

Green might be the better second color in this deck (instead of white) so you could add Krosan Tusker – though you wouldn’t be able to grab a land with it reliably. The problems with this deck are A) making sure you draw Fluctuator, since it’s an all or nothing proposition, B) Balancing the number of cycling cards with non-cycling cards so you never end up with a ‘dead’ hand while cycling, and C) Having a”B” plan in case your Living Deaths are thwarted. The explosive potential for this deck seems to be there, but probably not consistency.

Stompy-Fluctuator, a theoretical Extended deck.

2 Elvish Lyrist

4 Wild Dogs

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Pouncing Jaguar

4 River Boa

2 Krosan Tusker

2 Darkwatch Elves

2 Bloated Toad

4 Rancor

4 Fluctuator

4 Invigorating Boon

4 Blasted Landscape

4 Tranquil Thicket

4 Slippery Karst

8 Forest

4 Wooded Foothills

The above deck doesn’t seem very good to me at all. Sure, you have the potential to cycle a creature up to +16/+16 on turn three – but that’d involve a God draw. I’d feel neglectful if I didn’t include Invigorating Boon at all in this article, since there has to be some deck (however bad/mediocre) that can take advantage of giving a creature +20/+20 immediately through cycling.

I really expected some form of a Fluctuator deck to hit it big in Houston. The artifact allows you to essentially Compulsion through your deck at no mana cost, and combines with a few powerful enchantments released in Odyssey. Picks like the five Runes, Akroma’s Vengeance, Akroma’s Blessing, and Clear all were conjecture that people would be playing Fluctuator in Houston – but nobody did.

Likewise, creatures which combine with Astral Slide saw zero play at Houston – including Angel of Mercy, Defender en-Vec, Exalted Angel, and Staunch Defenders. No, I didn’t really think anyone in their right mind would play Angel of Mercy – but as I mentioned last week, I included decks from Block Constructed (including Twilight’s Call decks from IPA, which did use Angel of Mercy).

Pursuit of Knowledge was more of a tricky card. With all the cycling going on, how hard would it be to slip a four casting-cost enchantment into play which allows you to draw seven cards? With Fluctuator in play, PoK virtually reads,”4: sacrifice this, draw seven cards”.

Taking only the Astral Rift and Living Death versions seriously, how would these decks fare against the popular decks of the format? Both decks are heavily vulnerable to discard, with Living Death taking the heavier hit due to it’s more combo-ish nature. Pernicious Deed wrecks W/R Fluctuator, which I believe really put the deck into the”rejected” pile for most testers. W/R can hold its ground for a long time, but really can’t withstand a total clearing of its entire board. Living Death really holds up a lot better, since most of its creatures are too large to be Deeded away before they swing in for the kill on turn 3 or 4.

Against Reanimator, both decks seem fairly strong. Of all the standard reanimation creatures, only Petradon really seems like it would put a big crimp in W/R – otherwise Astral Slide can indefinitely keep an arbitrarily large creature at bay, either by removing it from the game, or blocking and removing the blocking creature. In addition, several Radiant’s Judgments can be played (between main deck and sideboard) filling the role of Topple in non-cycling decks. The B/W Living Death deck seems almost favorable against Reanimator, because you can outrace their creatures with creatures of your own, plus put their big guys away with Living Death.

What about against Weenie decks? Fiends seems like it would have a field day with W/R Fluctuator, since it can sideboard in so much enchantment and artifact hate that nothing would ever stay on the board. Conversely, it doesn’t seem equipped to handle B/W Living Death.

Suicide Black doesn’t seem like it would have a chance against either version of the deck; the interesting match would be Sligh. Could you build either deck with enough sideboard hate to give a winning percentage over 50%? I could see packing in Absolute Laws, Disciples of Law, and Rune of Protection: Red in multiples (more than I have listed above) – but would any of those be effective against Sligh? I think that of all these, Disciple of Law might be the best answer – Sligh can’t burn it away at all.

Join me next week as I take a look at Rebels, Fiends, and other assorted Weenie decks.

Cards covered this week:

1) Akroma’s Blessing

2) Akroma’s Vengeance

3) Angel of Mercy

4) Clear

5) Defender en-Vec

6) Exalted Angel

7) Opalescence

8) Pursuit of Knowledge

9) Rune of Protection: Black

10) Rune of Protection: Blue

11) Rune of Protection: Green

12) Rune of Protection: Red

13) Rune of Protection: White

14) Staunch Defenders

Word-O-Meter: 1300/11900 words (11% complete)