Ah’ll Lurn Ya Real Gud – Pale Mage Unleashed!

If you’re reading this, then you either really, really like my stuff or you are fairly interested in Aluren. For your sake, I hope it’s the latter. In any case, I’m going to stop taking dictation from the tape recorder and give it to you straight, like a normal writer. I’ve been reading a lot of forum threads on Extended lately. I’ve also been sitting in on conversations in real life and on the net about the format. One thing I’ve noticed is that nobody seems to know anything about Aluren. At least, nobody who’s talking. This has upset me to the point that I’m prepared to write in paragraphs to try and pass on my vast store of infinite knowledge about the slowest (good) combo deck in Extended.

“Asleep, dude?”

“Leave me alone, Jack.”

“Until when, dude?”


“Errr…when is that, man? Sometime past lunch?”

“Never mind, Jack. I’m up.”

“I just wanted to see if you could come out and play, dude.”

“Sorry. No cash, no play. I’ve got to find a job.”

“No work and no play makes… um… heh… Jack’s friend a dull boy.”

“Officially, I am at play. That’s the problem. It’s that ‘no work’ part that’s killing me.”

“Too bad you can’t come out with me, then. You need cheering up. And sun.”

“Tomorrow, perhaps. Tomorrow, definitely. We’ll go to the record store or something.”

“I don’t believe you, dude. You’ve gone soft. You’re scared to leave the house.”

“Even I won’t fall for ‘you’re chicken’, Jack”

“Remember that time I dared you to climb down the side of the Marriott Marquis?”

“Oh, god. Did that really happen?”

“No way! You don’t remember?”

“Evidently not. It doesn’t sound like one of my better moments, either.”

“Dude, it was funny – Hey, whatcha lookin’ for?”

“My Aluren deck. I left it on the desk.”

“Uh-oh. Casualty to the toddler, I’ll bet.”

“I hope not. I’m supposed to be writing an article on that thing.”

“Dude, why?”

“I don’t know. It isn’t very good right now, but some people are stubborn.”

“People like you?”

“Yeah, people like me. And some really random stuff. I’ve come across some folks not connected with one another who are convinced Aluren is going to be some kind of powerhouse in January. Those people are either delusional or unaware of the entire 2002 Extended season results.”

“Why January?”

“Oh, that’s when the new banned list kicks in.”

“Banned list. I’ve been on a few of those, dude.”

“I’m hungry. Would you like a sandwich, Jack?”

“Yeah, dude. Who wouldn’t want a sandwich this time of morning?”

“What kind of sandwich would you care for, old buddy old pal of mine?”

“Anything with pickles.”

(Sound of needle scratching across a vinyl album.)

Okey-dokey, the wall of dialogue should have scared off everybody I don’t care about by now. If you’re reading this, then you either really, really like my stuff or you are fairly interested in Aluren. For your sake, I hope it’s the latter. In any case, I’m going to stop taking dictation from the tape recorder and give it to you straight, like a normal writer.

(For those of you who feel like you’ve been cheated, let me assure you the conversation between me and Jack went south quickly just after where I’ve broken it off. If you must know, we touched on the recent deaths of Warren Spahn, Elliot Smith, and Warren Zevon before coming to the conclusion that Allison Janney is much hotter than Minnie Driver in spite of the physical evidence. [I think my brain just imploded. – Knut, Earl of Cheesecake] If you’re a regular reader, you should be able to imagine the banter all by yourself. Feel free to sit there and do that. The rest of us are moving on.)

I’ve been reading a lot of forum threads on Extended lately. I’ve also been sitting in on conversations in real life and on the net about the format. One thing I’ve noticed is that nobody seems to know anything about Aluren. At least, nobody who’s talking. This has upset me to the point that I’m prepared to write in paragraphs to try and pass on a small amount of knowledge.

Listen, if you’re an experienced Aluren player, nothing I have to say is going to be new to you. I’m talking to those guys behind you who have heard about a deck called”Aluren”, but they don’t really know what it is. I’m also talking to that person on your right who knows a little bit more than that, but hasn’t tested the deck and wants to know if it’s worth a look for a PTQ. I’m also talking to that lean and hungry fellow in the shadows trying to be invisible whose only interest in Aluren is how to beat it. He’s going to have to read between the lines a bit, but I’m sure he’s prepared to do that.

There are a couple of things you aren’t going to see in this. You won’t find a decklist. Some people have learned to scan my articles for a decklist, since whatever tiny grain of tech I might have will usually be found just after it. Screw those guys. No handouts today. You also won’t see an in-depth view of match-ups. The goal here is just to clear the air about the deck to the few whom might be interested, not to delve into a comprehensive analysis. If you want that kind of info, check out this or this.

There’s no mystery surrounding Aluren. It’s a simple combo deck that relies on the effect of one enchantment to enable abuse of a few other cards. Aluren is obviously that enchantment. The most pertinent info is the rules text. Here it is:

“Any player may play creature cards with converted mana cost 3 or less without paying their mana cost any time he or she could play an instant.”

Simple enough. If a critter costs three or less, play it for free. Two important things to notice, though. One, you can play those critters anytime you could play an instant. Very important. Second, any player may take advantage of Aluren’s effect. Read that as your opponent can do the same thing. Very important to remember, especially in the mirror match and against some other decks, like Fiends.

Okay, so where does the combo come in? Here’s a big mistake I see a lot of people make when the talk about Aluren. When they talk about the Aluren”combo”, they describe a win condition. That isn’t very helpful to someone who isn’t familiar with the deck. The win condition isn’t the heart of the deck, the card drawing engine is. That is the important combo. So let’s focus on that.

It’s a very simple combo. Take a look at Cavern Harpy. When she comes into play, you must return a blue or black creature you control to its owner’s hand. She also has an activated ability. Pay one life, return her to your hand. Because of these two abilities, Cavern Harpy can be used along with Raven Familiar to file through your deck looking for what you want until you run out of life. (For those of you too lazy to click the link, Raven Familiar has a Comes-Into-Play ability. You look at the top three cards of your library, put one into your hand, and put the other two on the bottom of your library in any order.) When you play the Harpy, target the Familiar with the CIP and then activate her second ability. Repeat until you have what you want or you run out of life. That’s powerful stuff, but wait! There’s more!

Cavern Harpy is a creature type of”Beast”. Look at Wirewood Savage. Notice Wirewood Savage’s triggered ability:”Whenever a Beast comes into play, you may draw a card”. Isn’t that great? You can play Cavern Harpy, make her CIP ability target herself, and draw a card. No paying life to get her back in your hand unless you have to pull her butt out of a bad situation, like if she becomes a Seal of Fire target or something.

That’s the deck, people. Without those interactions, the Aluren deck doesn’t exist. Aluren in play, then Raven Familiar or Wirewood Savage followed by Cavern Harpy. For you math people that’s (Aluren + (Raven Familiar or Wirewood Savage)) + Cavern Harpy. If you get nothing else out of this article, understand that. Everything else is just”the rest of it”.

Okay, I can hear some grumbling.”Why would I ever play Raven Familiar when I can just use Wirewood Savage?” Fair enough. Use whatever you like, but most professional Aluren decks contain both cards. Actually, the pros seem to favor a configuration of three Familiars and one Savage in the main with another Familiar waiting in the board. It’s probably because you can get through your deck faster with the Familiar, or maybe pros just hate elves. I don’t know.

Now We Can Talk About Win Conditions

The original deck used Stroke of Genius to win the game. The necessary mana was generated by playing Cloud of Faeries (CIP ability: if you played it from your hand untap up to two lands) and bouncing it back to your hand using our old friend Cavern Harpy. Soul Warden needed to join the team at this point so that your life total wouldn’t drop below zero. (Soul Warden ability: Whenever a creature comes into play, you may gain one life.)

Most professional players abandoned the Stroke kill last season. Stroke was replaced by Maggot Carrier. Soul Warden is still required, but Cloud of Faeries is not. Cavern Harpy is used to bounce the Maggot Carrier back into hand and Soul Warden prevents you from killing yourself. This was still the preferred kill mechanism at Pro Tour: New Orleans 2003. I say”preferred,” because the recognizable names among the small contingent of Aluren players were using it.

Now, Scourge brought us the wonderful Storm mechanic. This immediately led to the hypothesis that Aluren should use Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Agony as the kill mechanism. Some have even suggested that these are superior to the Maggot Carrier combo. Hogwash. In fact, neither of these spells is superior to Stroke in any way except for the Storm mechanic itself, which creates a built in defense against counterspells. However, both require that additional mana be generated to cast, usually requiring the Cloud of Faeries, so we’ve got another card needed to end the game (though that usually isn’t a problem).

Freeze and Tendrils share what I believe is a weakness with Stroke. All three spells target the opponent. There are too many ways to prevent or even redirect those kind of spells, and with”The Clock” deck in the mix there is a lot of incentive to do so. In any event, Brain Freeze and Tendrils of Agony are perfectly acceptable kill mechanisms, and feel free to use them. One final thought on Brain Freeze, though. You don’t actually win the game until your opponent’s draw step, and if you are facing Angry Hermit, you don’t win then due to Krosan Reclamation. Sucks, don’t ya think?

All right so those are the common kills with competitive Aluren decks. Pick one you like and go with it. All you casual folks can probably think of about twenty more ways to win right off the top of your heads. That’s one thing I love about Aluren. You can build almost any kill you want. Deck ’em, drain their life, deal them damage, whatever. Get creative. You know what you want out of your deck better than I do, so go for it. Not everybody reading this is trying to get an invite to Kobe.

Actually, nobody playing Aluren is trying to get an invite to Kobe. Not seriously, anyway. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now if one was reading this tripe and trying to build a deck at the same time, one would notice that we have a card draw engine and some form of win condition, but no support cards. Like any combo deck, Aluren needs to assemble its pieces before it can do anything exciting. The three commonly used tutors in the deck are Intuition (always in a good list in a quantity of four), Vampiric Tutor (when present, the numbers vary from two to four), and Living Wish (always four) to grab toolbox critters out of the sideboard. We’ll talk a bit more about the sideboard in a minute, but there is normally another tutor in it in the form of Academy Rector.

Now, there are two more needs to be filled: Additional card drawing and defense. Brainstorm is a card that is used for both. You get to go deeper into your deck to find what you need, and/or you get to put valuable combo pieces on top of your library far away from the dark clutches of Duress or Cabal Therapy. Speaking of Cabal Therapy, it is a card that can be found in many builds of Aluren to serve as protection for the combo pieces against hand disruption and counters. This follows the best defense is a good offense theory. It’s an attractive theory to me. It doesn’t hurt that Cabal Therapy works well in conjunction with Intuition, as well as the Academy Rector. Ah, synergy.

For defense on the ground as well as additional card drawing, there is Wall of Blossoms. One final card drawer that isn’t in every list, but that is worth noting is Vodalian Merchant. Dig into your deck, discard Cabal Therapy, maybe even bounce him with Cavern Harpy until you find a Raven Familiar or Wirewood Savage… this guy is a workhorse. He’s an old, wheezy workhorse muttering,”I will work harder” under his breath as you guide him into the glue factory truck, but a workhorse nonetheless.

Other cards have been experimented with as support cards. Eladamri’s Call and Weird Harvest have both seen play. So has Eladamri’s Vineyard, but that just seems like suicide in the current environment. Aiding and abetting the enemy is a hanging offense, isn’t it? (Here, have two mana. It’s Green, but you don’t care since your deck is mostly artifacts…)

Let’s look at the mana base. Believe it or not, Chrome Mox has not been popular in Aluren so far this season. I imagine that will change. Traditionally, the fast mana has come in the form of Hickory Woodlot or Havenwood Battleground (one or the other. You never see a mix in a tested build) and Bird of Paradise. Polluted Delta fetches either one of the three Islands or the sole Swamp (typical numbers). Yavimaya Coast helps fix the mana some more, as does City of Brass (it’s not uncommon to see a single City living in the board for emergencies). The balance is Forest. The deck normally runs twenty-two or twenty-three land.

Aluren uses a toolbox-type sideboard. At least half (and often all) of the sideboard slots are occupied by critters waiting to be Living Wished into your hand. Obviously, some of those slots are taken up by combo pieces (Harpy, Familiar, or Savage). In fact, it isn’t uncommon for either Maggot Carrier or Soul Warden to be found in the sideboard and not present in the main deck at all, thereby freeing up a slot in the sixty. Other slots are taken up by critters that cost three or less and solve problems. Uktabi Orangutan or Viridian Shaman for artifacts, Monk Realist for enchantments, Urborg Emissary for any permanent standing between you and victory. Just pay the kicker cost and be done with it. If you check out lists from PT: NO ’03, you’ll see other critters in the board ranging from Gilded Drake to Barrin, Master Wizard. It’s a crazy world, the Aluren sideboard.

Many folks prefer to take up some slots in the sideboard with actual sideboard cards that can’t be wished for game one. That’s right, you must wait to add them into the main between games. Scandalous. PTQ players that follow this practice are probably going to be running very different sideboards in January than they will in December due to the effect the bannings will have on the top tier. In any case, those slots are very, very metagame sensitive slots. My only example of this will be from my own sideboard, where I have chosen to run more hand disruption (Duress) in an effort to slow down the other combo decks I expect to face. (Note: I’m not suggesting this. Testing has yet to take place. If you’re curious how this works out, catch me after round two on December 13th.)

The last sideboard topic is Academy Rector. Rector is a standout in the deck for a few reasons. He’s the only critter in the deck that can’t take advantage of Aluren’s effect. Obviously that’s not an issue. His purpose is to act as tutor for Aluren by giving his life for the cause. Let’s look at the rules text:

“When Academy Rector is put into a graveyard from play, you may remove Academy Rector from the game. If you do, search your library for an enchantment card and put that card into play. Then shuffle your library.”

Lovely. That’ll put a glide in your stride. If it doesn’t, find another deck. It’s almost like casting Living Wish to fetch Aluren itself. Notice how well Rector is complemented by a Cabal Therapy in your graveyard. Notice how completely useless he would be without some way of dispatching him to the hereafter. Believe it or not, that fact has been lost on at least one person I have encountered in a thread.

Funny story. This fellow posted his entire decklist including sideboard. Rector was in the board, but there were no Cabal Therapies in the deck, nor any other way to sacrifice it and thereby trigger its ability.

This is exactly the kind of thing that has been driving me crazy.

At this point, you should have some idea of what you might see in an Aluren deck and have a basic understanding of how it works. If you don’t, go back to the StarCityGames.com home page and use the”search our store” feature for Black Lotus. Buy two of them and it will all become clear to you. If you do, then nothing else I can write will help you more than playtesting the deck yourself.

Okay, maybe one thing.

Timing. The secret of good comedy. Once you have Aluren in play, everything becomes timing from there on. Knowing the timing rules is essential. There are going to be moments when you are still vulnerable to your opponent. Those moments are when your creatures are on the stack. Remember, Aluren’s effect is”play without paying mana cost” not”put into play from your hand”.

If you play Cavern Harpy, and your opponent plays Naturalize on your Aluren, guess what. You can’t get that Harpy back until she comes off the stack, so unless you have another Harpy, your Aluren is going to the graveyard along with your chances for victory. The good news is that creatures that can benefit from Aluren’s effect are all instants as far as we’re concerned. You can respond to anything and win the game before it resolves. The other good news is your opponent may not realize that if he isn’t familiar with Aluren. The bad news is I just told your opponent that little fact.

The other bad news is the mirror match. Judo at its finest.

So know the timing rules inside and out. Understand priority change as well as any judge in the room. Don’t be sloppy about keeping track of what is on the stack and when it goes there. Use post-it notes if you must. The stack can get very, very big. Especially in the mirror match.

Last thing about the mirror match. It’s a myth. Never happens.

Okay, I just thought of something else I could write that might be helpful before playtesting. The common problem areas for Aluren. Obviously, hand disruption is a huge pain in the bottom. Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Unmask are unwelcome faces across the table. But they will be there in December, and they will be there in January. Counters are obviously the other combo killer. You have to knock them out of the foe’s hand before you can do anything righteous. Or draw them out. Whatever. The thing is, the guy across the table holding the counters knows at the end of the day he only has to stop one spell from hitting the table (Aluren). Well, maybe he didn’t know that, but he does now ’cause I just told him. Oops.

There are some specific problem cards for Aluren. Some are new, some are old, and you can expect to see them in December and January. The big newcomer to the”I hate it when he plays that card” list for Aluren is Chalice of the Void, which can be found in CMU’s build of Tinker (which will be net decked all to hell and back). Interesting thing about that card, though, is that it doesn’t say”you can’t play a spell that costs x” it just triggers the card to counter it.

(Hmmm. Stifle in the sideboard? If anyone asks, I didn’t suggest it, but play four if you bring any at all. Take out two Walls, a Brainstorm, and a Therapy. Again, I’m not recommending this. It’s foolishness. Chalice for four means you only Stifle to get Aluren in play, Chalice for three means you Stifle to Intuition or to force Uktabi Orangutan/Viridian Shaman through, Chalice for two and you force Living Wish to get the Uktabi/Shaman, and Chalice for one you ignore until you are ready to kill it. But none of this has been thought out at all. I’m just saying it isn’t hopeless.)

Chalice reminds me of a card that isn’t likely to be a problem again until January, and that card is Meddling Mage. Urborg Emissary is a good answer to this. So is Cabal Therapy before it is played. Of course, the real trouble is that the Fiends player (the guy with Meddling Mage in his deck) can play him using Aluren’s effect. Remember your timing rules because they will become relevant here. Meddling Mage’s ability is not a CIP. It takes effect as soon as he hits the table; it isn’t something that uses the stack. Once you bounce him, you must win before he hits the table again.

Have I complained about Stronghold Taskmaster yet? God, I hate that card. Come January, I’m going to be bouncing Silver Drake several hundred times and casting Brain Freeze against The Rock because of that stupid card. It makes me want to break things just thinking about it.

So I guess I knew two things.

Right, now for the few of you who have made it this far, I want to dispel a myth that seems to be becoming popular. There is going to be a lot of conversation until January about the changes the bannings will bring. Phrases you should be wary of:”Aluren will be tier one.””Aluren will be insane.””Aluren will take its place at the top again.”

Please, stop laughing. People are saying these things. It wouldn’t bother me, except that people not familiar with Aluren might believe it. Do not, do not, do not believe it. Aluren never was tier one. I am prepared to say that Aluren never will be tier one. Even if it does evolve into a top deck, it will be its first time at that level. Don’t get me wrong, I love this deck. It’s my pet deck. But it will never rise to the level of a Psychatog or a Tinker. There has always been something better against the field. There has always been a stronger choice than Aluren.

I mean, right now for a PTQ you would have to really love this deck to play it in. All the best decks are combo decks, and Aluren is the slow one. On the average, Twiddle Desire, CMU Tinker, George W Bosh, Mana Belcher, and Angry Hermit are all going off a turn faster (at least) than Aluren. Add to the mix the usual suspects Suicide Black with all of its hand disruption, Rock with disruption and Stronghold Taskmaster, and Psychatog teched out to beat a field of combo decks, and you have your own personal Hamburger Hill to climb. I didn’t even mention Gobvantage.

I’m not going to tell you it’s going to get better for you in January. No, siree. Fiends will be back with Pikula’s ugly mug on that damn multi-colored heartbreaker. The Rock will be more popular than ever. Psychatog just never goes away. The good news is you have more U/G and Red Deck Wins in this environment (Them: I’ll swing for twelve. Go. You: I’ll play Aluren. I’ll play Soul Warden. I’ll play Cavern Harpy, target Cavern Harpy with CIP. I gain one life. I’ll do that one million more times. Go.) The bad news is there will probably be another deck angling for the”top control deck of the format” title with Psychatog, and more thought will get put into a better Mind’s Desire.

That feeling in your gut is why I don’t have a career as a motivational speaker.

Don’t be discouraged. Most of those match ups are winnable, but Aluren doesn’t own any of them. It just takes some work. I just want you to be realistic. I don’t want you to play Aluren for all of the wrong reasons. I don’t want you to get stars in your eyes about”going off on turn 2,” which never really happens. I don’t want you to fall for some jackass braying”Hey, this Aluren deck is great! Play it!” and get smashed by Tog when he told you it was a favorable matchup (it isn’t, but it is winnable). So let me tell you how to avoid that, if you’re still interested.

Learn the deck. Learn everything about it. Learn the timing, the cards to watch out for, and playtest to learn the match-ups. If you put no more thought into the construction of your Aluren deck than copying and pasting from one of the reputable players from GP: Reims ’02, GP: New Orleans ’02, PT: Houston ’02, or PT: New Orleans ’03, you can still win a few matches at your local tourney because of the Super Secret Aluren Tech.

Heh. Didn’t know I was going to bust out the Super Secret Aluren Tech, did you? Well, I am.

Nobody knows anything about Aluren. Everything you know about Aluren is probably one thing more you know than your opponent. Even if you only goldfish it a few hundred times, you will probably win two matches just because your opponent doesn’t know the weaknesses of your deck. Heck, he probably thinks Aluren is”that deck that wins with Brain Freeze”. That won’t get you into the top 8. It won’t get you anywhere near it, actually. But it might make some guy who spent all morning trading and borrowing cards to finish building George W Bosh cry when he signs the slip 2-0 in your favor.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Good luck, and remember to keep track of how many spells are played each turn just to mess with people. And don’t listen to anything Jack and I discuss from here forward, we’re just covering this article for the skimmers.

“Look, dude. I’m just saying if the deck is having trouble why not change it?”

“I don’t follow you, Jack.”

“Dude! Why be a combo deck if all the other combo decks are faster? Why not be a control deck?”

“You’re serious.”

“Hell, yes. Throw in the shiny Mox thing and more disruption or whatever and stop trying to go off turn three. Go off turn twelve after reducing your opponent to a pile of frustration. What’s wrong with that idea?”

“Hmm. I don’t know. It just seems like somebody would have come up with it by now.”

“No way, dude. Not while that little Psychatog guy is around. He’s just simpler to use.”

“That’s very true. Still, maybe you’re on to something. The double Green in Aluren’s cost isn’t that big of a deal if we aren’t trying to win in the first few rounds. Instead of a Blue-Green deck that splashes Black, it could be a Black-Blue deck that splashes for Green.”

“Throw it full of those disruption cards.”

“You mean Duress, Cabal Therapy, and Unmask?”

“Yeah, dude. And get some different card drawers. Something different.”

“Accumulated Knowledge? But keep the Intuitions, I guess. Maybe Phyrexian Arena.”

“It’s radical, dude. It’s very radical.”

“It’s insanity.”

“It’s interesting.”

“It’s weird, Jack.”

“It’s like it was meant for you. It’s your destiny to make this deck.”

“If that’s true I’m really getting the shaft from fate, here.”

“I can see it now…Dark Aluren! The answer to the post-banning Extended environment!”

“Pre-banning, Jack.”

“Whatever, dude. Like you’re awake enough to discriminate.”

“Good point.”

Pale Mage.