It’s autumn in my part of the world. The new big expansion has been out for a month. The Champs tournaments are behind us. The Limited PTQ season is under way. That can only mean one thing. It’s time for me to write about Aluren. Here’s a list for reference.
PT: New Orleans 2003 – Christophe Haim
3 City of Brass
4 Hickory Woodlot
3 Polluted Delta
1 Underground River
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Cavern Harpy
3 Cloud of Faeries
3 Raven Familiar
3 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wirewood Savage
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Living Wish
2 Vampiric Tutor
1 Academy Rector
1 Cabal Therapy
1 Cavern Harpy
1 Deep Analysis
1 Gilded Drake
1 Maggot Carrier
3 Pernicious Deed
1 Raven Familiar
1 Soul Warden
1 Stern Proctor
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Viridian Shaman
(It’s not a completely typical list. That’s why I chose it.)
Hey, I like Extended. Sue me. C’mon, would you people really want to read a limited strategy article written by me? Have you ever tried to talk about pick orders using nothing but dialogue?
Okay, so what’s on the plate today is new stuff. New cards, new decks in the format (well, one new deck, but it’s an important one), and a new role in the hierarchy (hopefully, short-lived). This isn’t meant to be a huge prognostication. I’m not talking about how Aluren is going to win PT: Columbus.* Also, this isn’t meant to be an overly detailed look at everything pertaining to the environment. That would be a pointless exercise so close to the tour event. Besides, this writing isn’t meant for the PT guy, anyway. This is meant for the PTQ guy. You know the guy. Plays Aluren every winter, likes hamburgers, but not cheeseburgers. I may have that backwards, but you know who I mean.** So, if you’re not the guy, you’re just here eavesdropping. Don’t get miffed at me if I don’t talk about what you want to talk about.
So what follows is a lot of stuff upchucked after thought and preliminary testing. Nothing too heavy. A lot of it is the result of passing conversations I’ve had with people. Most of this has been collecting for some time, and a lot of you may have come to similar conclusions. Or different ones. The point is, I’m vomiting this stuff up now because this is where we are. The format is coming, and we’ve got to try and see some broad strokes in the mucous.
Broad strokes. Nothing finer than broad strokes.
So, there’s this deck we (the Aluren players) didn’t see too much of last year…
Affinity is Coming
Some time last year, the first brave souls signed up for Extended tournaments and brought a Standard deck with them. That deck was Affinity. Keep in mind, this was before Darksteel was released. No Arcbound Ravager, no Skullclamp, just Broodstar and friends. I can still remember discussions about one tournament winner being a “lucksack” and aspersions cast on the quality of his competition. Well, it seems that first victory was just a harbinger of things to come.
The truth of the matter is Affinity can play in Extended. It’s fast, dangerous, and difficult to control. The larger card pool gives the Affinity player a few options he didn’t have in Standard, such as blowing up all the lands on the board or dropping Tangle Wire. The bottom line is Affinity will be at your local PTQs, like it or not.
If you still want to listen to the naysayers, ask yourself this question: What did the naysayers say about U/G Madness in Extended two years ago?
Affinity will come. Since it will come, there will be hate. Some of that hate will hurt Aluren. Strange, but true. Stronghold Taskmaster could be back in The Rock. Annul might show up in Tog. Engineered Plague will be kicking around. Fortunately, Energy Flux does no harm.
Oh, yeah. Since Affinity will come, we’d better be ready. The sideboard is looking ever more crowded. However, let’s save an extended sideboard discussion for another time.
Get it? “Extended” sideboard discussion? These are the jokes people! Don’t forget to tip your waitresses…I mean, buy singles from StarCityGames!
Okay, so Affinity begs the question: how do we adjust our sideboard to account for it and the splash damage from it? There’s our broad stroke.
Hitting the Wrong Button On the Elevator
Aluren is looking pretty good this year. Aluren is tier one. Hey, let’s pay attention to Aluren now. This is bad news people. Bad news. The last thing any dedicated Aluren player wants to hear is people talking about the deck in a positive light. You, yes you, the ones who have been struggling and fiddling with Cavern Harpy and company since before Wirewood Savage saw print (all two of you), you don’t want Aluren to be in the spotlight. The spotlight brings additional disruption. The spotlight causes others to give more thought to sideboard choices beyond “…and a couple of Naturalize in case I play Aluren or Enchantress or something weird”. Worst of all, the spotlight brings the mirror match. Oh, the horror of the Aluren mirror. It has sent more than one good man on the road to binge drinking.
I am not too worried about the hype, though. I reckon the results from Columbus will set everyone straight. Then, we can get back to drawing our decks for free in relative peace.
However, if perceptions don’t change (for whatever reason), we will all need to make a few adjustments. Let us wait until after the tour results for those, though. No need to get ahead of ourselves.
Higher visibility than normal. Mirror match might actually exist. Broad strokes.
So, let’s talk about the new cards. By new cards, I mean stuff released after Mirrodin. What we are looking at here are candidates for inclusion. Some choices are more obvious than others, but bear with me. I’ll do the Darksteel stuff very quickly.
See? That was painless. On to Fifth Dawn!
Let us consider the proposed Soul Warden replacement.
Two things bother me about using this card in Aluren. The first is the new card frame. I’m not mindlessly bitching about the (not so) new layout, I don’t really have much against it at this point. I just find it a little jarring when I’m holding a grip full of older cards and then this one new-fangled thingy. The second is the art. This girl is a hussy, a strumpet, and dare I say it, a trollop. Now, I like a good trollop as much as the next guy, but I like a little variety, too. It’s not hard to find a youngish hardbody wearing revealing strips of cloth and/or leather in fantasy art. It is more difficult to find a different archetype. The image of Soul Warden is of a holy woman, a wise entity of high status despite her apparent age. She commands mysteries far beyond our reach, perhaps beyond the reach of any male cleric. A powerful figure, to be sure. She has our respect. She has our awe. We stand up when she passes. Auriok Champion has a belly button.
All that said, Auriok Champion is pro-red and pro-black, which might come in handy. For example, we only require one Cavern Harpy to drop an early Aluren and go for the arbitrarily large life total concession against The Red Deck while Seal of Removal is on the board. Soul Warden, you’re fired.
We all love this guy, don’t we? Anyone who enjoys playing Green (don’t be shy, we don’t judge anybody here) did a backflip upon first seeing this card. He’s just awesome. So we need to shove four of this guy into Aluren as quickly as humanly possible.
Why? That made sense when Skullclamp wasn’t banned, but does it now?
There is a place for this card in Aluren. That much is certain. Grabbing combo pieces out of the bin for free is great, and grabbing them for three is not as bad as it could be. Intuition for a couple of pieces (maybe identical pieces, maybe not) and this guy is bound to give our foe pause. However, I’m seeing far too many decklists with four echs Eternal Witness. A four-of is something I want to see in my opening hand every time, or draw into as soon as possible. Honestly, I can go the entire game without seeing Eternal Witness and be happy as a lark. A rich lark married to a loyal supermodel. Yes, she gives us stronger legs against disruption and some endurance for longer games. Yet, it is important for us to ask ourselves if four is the right number. I say no. I also say let’s get some more coffee.
Bottom line: She’s good, she belongs. We need to find how many we want.
With that block out of the way, I will turn my lazy eye to the really new cards. Champions of Kamigawa!
Glimpse of Nature
If I had a nickel for the number of times Glimpse was suggested to me for Aluren a month or so ago, I would have a lot of nickels. Here’s the thing: my first nickel would have come from InQuest Magazine, a sure sign that the combo might not be what we want to take to the next PTQ.
Indulge me as I make the obvious points and then move on. Glimpse doesn’t allow us to do anything we aren’t already doing cheaper (read as: for free). Wirewood Savage and Cavern Harpy have been reliably drawing the deck for nothing once Aluren is out for a couple of years. To cast Glimpse in the same turn as Aluren, we will need one more mana than we are used to generating. Preposterous. Why change?
The other obvious point is that Glimpse’s draw trigger has no “may” clause. We must draw a card when we put a critter on the stack. This is a terrible, terrible thing for us. By running Glimpse of Nature, we find ourselves hamstrung as to what win conditions will be reliable for us. We cannot bounce and recast Maggot Carrier repeatedly without decking ourselves. We cannot count on generating arbitrarily large amounts of mana for Stroke of Genius without decking ourselves. (Well, we could run Obstinate Familiar, but would we respect ourselves in the morning? I think not.) In fact, even generating enough mana for Tendrils of Agony might lead to a game loss here and there. That leaves us with Brain Freeze, which will work, but it gives our hated enemies another untap. Boo. Hiss.
If we take those two points to heart, we are left with the conclusion that Glimpse of Nature does not belong in Aluren as we know it. So, if someone out there insisted on using it in Aluren, he would need to rely on something to offset the additional cost of Glimpse and run Brain Freeze or Obstinate Familiar. Just for laughs, he might come up with something like this:
Worst Aluren Deck Ever (warning: possible carcinogen)
4 Glimpse of Nature
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Vampiric Tutor
4 Silver Drake
4 Raven Familiar
4 Cavern Harpy
1 Brain Freeze
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Hickory Woodlot
4 Polluted Delta
3 City of Brass
2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Yavimaya Coast
Man, that sucks. But it does run Glimpse of Nature. It also doesn’t lose to Stronghold Taskmaster. It does lose to Naturalize, Disenchant, Pernicious Deed, and the pseudo-mirror with a real Aluren deck. Still, a lot of Cabal Therapy guesses are going to miss. Who calls Silver Drake or Cloud of Faeries?
Commune with Nature
Well, this one let’s us dig pretty deep looking for some of our stuff. That’s good. However, it’s a sorcery. That’s bad. If we are going to use a sorcery, it needs to get us exactly what we want no questions asked. That’s one of the main reasons we run Living Wish in spite of its poor speed. Also, for the same cost as Commune, we could be casting Worldly Tutor at the end of our opponent’s turn and get the exact critter we want on our draw step, and even that isn’t good enough for us in a world where we have access to Vampiric Tutor.
There is only one reason for anyone to run Commune with Nature in Aluren: One doesn’t have access to better cards to do the job. If that’s the case, one should not be ashamed to throw it in the deck. In a perfect world, it stays at home with Glimpse of Nature and watches college football.
This is so cool. I’m dissing new cards because there are better ones that already exist. I feel like Oscar Tan without the education. [Or the good looks. – Knut, glad Pale is back]
Dosan the Falling Leaf
Hey, a legend. What’s that doing here? Well, friends and neighbors, remember all of those Disenchants, Naturalizes, various and sundry burn spells, and counters of all sizes that have threatened to prevent you from keeping your sacred duty to win at instant speed? Meet Dosan, your ticket to easier stack management and greater market share of wins. Okay, he’s not that great, but he does serve a purpose. Granted it’s a purpose Orim’s Chant could serve, but have you noticed how much Orim’s Chant has gone up since Type I became popular? Budgetary contraints could easily force one to grab the monk.
Oh, remember that myth people call the mirror match? It might actually be relevant this year. Dosan should be the first thing on the stack once your Aluren resolves and the real game begins. I recommend shouting “It’s autumn, baby” as you windmill slam him. I also recommend driving north in the southbound lanes to save time if traffic is congested.
A quick note: Remember that Cabal Therapy is sometimes very shy and it can be very difficult to strip everything out of your mirror-foe’s hand that would allow you to win without effort. We are not in denial about how to win the mirror. We like to have to have screwdrivers as well as hammers in our toolbox. Also, I need an excuse to buy this card.
Aluren doesn’t run many basic lands. On the other hand, Aluren doesn’t need much land in play to win. Speaking for myself, The Red Deck has long been the bane of my Extended experiences. Having a blocker that can go fetch something Wasteland can’t kill just makes me a little more comfortable. Not much more comfortable, but enough to warrant testing. What this card needs is another ability that says, “When you play this card, a card named Tangle Wire may not be played by any player for the rest of the game”. That would rock.
Okay, so that was Auriok Champion in, Eternal Witness how many, Glimpse of Nature you’ve got to be kidding me, Commune with Nature not on my watch, Dosan the Falling Leaf possible, and Sakura-Tribe Elder pending testing. Broad strokes, people. Nothing too refined.
Other Things Worth Mentioning As Long As I Am Typing (Hate Cards, Mostly)
Cranial Extraction exists. The card is actually being printed, and people are purchasing it on the secondary market. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya. Promise me you won’t be surprised when you are targeted with this foulness. It’s going to happen. Win faster to prevent it from happening again.
True Believer is not the answer to your problems. Just throwin’ that one out there.
Night of Soul’s Betrayal exists, too. This might not ever see play, but it’s worth noting. After all, it does keep morphs from becoming full-blown Blistering Firecats, which is something Stronghold Taskmaster doesn’t do. Someone might like that.
Death Wish is not the answer to your problems, either. Make better use of your Cabal Therapy. Win faster.
Damping Matrix exists, but it’s just Cursed Totem all over again as far as we are concerned.
May I exercise my random thoughts option? Thanks.
Some Odd Stuff
Akki Rockspeaker looks interesting enough for the truly casual Aluren players. I sort of like the idea of a huge Ghitu Fire or something as a finisher. Lava Zombie can bounce him, and then Cavern Harpy can bounce the Zombie. (Casual, people. Calm down.) Maybe even a massive Fireball in a multiplayer game or something. Moving on…
Sensei’s Divining Top looks promising, yet isn’t. We have better tools, etcetera. Just throwin’ that out there. I mean, I’m probably the only idiot that actually decided to throw it in the deck and goldfish for awhile, but that’s why I exist people. I exist to make bad choices.
I just called testing at its most rudimentary from a bad choice. This explains a lot.
Forbidden Orchard is tempting me. I must resist its call. I know in my heart City of Brass is just fine, but I keep clouding my thoughts with game states where Forbidden Orchard would be better. Obviously, this is the siren’s call of poor deckbuilding. This is why I always recommend playtesting. I want you to be smarter than I am. Believe me, that isn’t asking much.
Okay, so what we do now is we wait for Columbus to finish up and see what the new hype is. In the meantime, we try and figure out if we like Sakura-Tribe Elder in the deck or not. We also try to divine the proper number of Eternal Witnesses.
Eternal Witness. It sounds like that Harrison Ford/Kelly McGillis flick on a loop. I’m not sure I can take that much Amish.
I’ll see y’all at Paris Hilton’s new club.
**Come to think of it, the guy might be a vegetarian. He might even be a gal. Anyway, he likes Aluren, so it’s all good.