Black Magic – The Future Of Proliferate In Standard

Tuesday, April 26 – Sam Black has a slight Johnny streak, and one of his favorite mechanics (perhaps of all time) is proliferate. With New Phyrexia, what decks will take advantage of proliferate the best and will they be good?

I’m not sure what it says about me that proliferate is my favorite mechanic from the last several years, and possibly of all time. I recently put
together a common/uncommon-only cube, and one of the things I’ve been most excited about is using Contagion Clasp with creatures like Plaxcaster
Frogling and Spike Feeder, and I’ve generally been keen to find any random use for proliferate (“Look! I just proliferated on two of my lands!”). I
love how well it plays with mechanics from other blocks, whereas most mechanics don’t take advantage of this opportunity. (Would it really have been
that bad to give any new cards with “Shrine” in the name the subtype “Shrine”?) I assume all of this has something to do with my inner Johnny, but I
just love value, and proliferate is a great place to find value because its impact is entirely contextual—by itself, it does nothing, but on some
boards, it can be momentous.

I’ve been disappointed so far that proliferate has generally been costed for fringe playability in Constructed, but I tried very seriously for a while
to make Throne of Geth work. I’ve really wanted Steady Progress or Fuel for the Cause to be good enough, but they just aren’t.

Clearly, what I’m trying to get at is that Tezzeret’s Gambit may change this. It’s only arguably harder to cast than Steady Progress,
and it comes with an entire extra card. It’s like a colorless Sign in Blood that also happens to proliferate. It’s likely good enough to build around,
and once you can build around proliferate, you might even be able to justify playing cards like Steady Progress as well.

The question is how to take advantage of proliferate to get the most out of this card. There are several mechanics in Standard that use counters:
infect, planeswalkers, Allies, levelers, quests, charge counters, and kicker are the main ones.

Infect is obvious, and proliferating once might kill some creatures that are already weak, but mostly, it’s about doming the opponent for two, which is
good but nothing too special.

Planeswalkers are already very good at adding counters to themselves for the most part, but if you have enough of them, the effect can add up quickly.
It’s also particularly good with Ajani Goldmane.

With Allies, it means putting another +1/+1 counter on each of your guys, which is essentially like casting another Ally, not an insubstantial effect.
Drawing two cards with a deck based on synergies, where every card makes every other card better, is also significant, especially when that card also
enhances the overall synergy of the deck.

I wish proliferating levelers did something exciting, but all the good levelers need a lot of levels to do anything special and add level counters for
only a single mana. I’ve hated this about their design because it made building around cards like Training Grounds and Venerated Teacher in Constructed
impossible, but proliferate is even worse with level up. This seems like a huge missed opportunity for interesting Constructed interactions.

Quests, particularly the Ascension cycle, could also be interesting to proliferate. They’re often easy to get started but not always easy to finish.
For example, Luminarch Ascension can come down before the opponent can stop it from getting the first counter, but at some point, they often find a way
to keep it from getting more. Considering how powerful Quests are when active, proliferating these could be very good.

Artifacts with charge counters are another possibility, but very few of them are good enough for Constructed, and for those that are, like Tumble
Magnet, adding a single counter isn’t usually that big of a deal.

Kicker only really seems to matter on Everflowing Chalice, since none of the multikicker creatures are particularly good in Constructed except for
Joraga Warcaller, which reminds me that proliferate is also good with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood.

Anyway, the first option I want to examine is Allies.

It’s almost impossible to play Allies without white, especially if you’re looking for the Allies that get +1/+1 counters. The best of these are all
white, so this deck is going to start with four Hada Freeblades, four Kazandu Blademasters, four Talus Paladins, and most likely four Kabira Evangels.
Ondu Cleric is an interesting option that works particularly well with Phyrexian mana, since it will always generate more than enough life to offset
whatever you’re paying. (It would be curious to see how well this would work with Phyrexian firebreathers, but I think it’s better to stick to Allies.)

Blue mana isn’t necessary, but it does let us cast Tezzeret’s Gambit without paying life if we want to, and it gives us access to counterspells as a
sideboard option. Also, Jwari Shapeshifter is one of The best allies.

Red has often been included in Ally decks for the surprisingly explosive power of Akoum Battlesinger, but now I expect red to be dramatically more
valuable than ever for Tuktuk Scrapper, who is unreasonably strong if he can consistently kill more than one artifact per game. The
importance of having the ability to answer problematic artifacts, particularly for aggressive decks, is expected to go up considerably, and this deck
can really punish people for moving in that direction. Red also offers the option to play Volt Charge, but I’m really not sure if that’s good enough.

I imagine a list something like:

The sideboard is obviously in its infancy, since I don’t know what the opponents will look like yet, but those cards seem reasonable. I’m not sure
about eight four-mana creatures main; one or two likely have to be shaved. Preordain is essentially a placeholder. I think it might be right, since
there aren’t a lot of ones in the deck, but Steppe Lynx, Lightning Bolt, or even Stoneforge Mystic might be better.

The deck is designed for intrinsic power level and maximizing a new card that shows potential, but it also might be very well positioned in the future
metagame because of Tuktuk Scrapper. Also, Phyrexian mana generally rewards aggression.

This deck also really takes advantage of opponents who play fewer Day of Judgments, as has been the trend in Caw-Blade, and if Caw-Blade gains more
from New Phyrexia than other good decks, as some early predictions state, then that trend should continue.

The other direction I’m interested in is taking advantage of enchantments. Pyromancer Ascension, the deck, will gain a few additions that are minor
upgrades but will otherwise look a lot like the old version, so I’m not too interested in it. However, I’m curious about B/R Ascension with Pyromancer and Bloodchief Ascension.

Bloodchief Ascension has a very impressive effect and even gains counters when your opponent pays life for Phyrexian mana.

Pyromancer Ascension doesn’t actually have to be a U/R card if you can find another way to consistently trigger it. Proliferating goes a long way to
making that work.

There’s some tension, in that Pyromancer Ascension wants you to see a lot of cards, while Bloodchief Ascension wants you to be aggressive, but I think
there might be a balance somewhere. It might look something like:

The sideboard gives you the option to lean more on the creature plan or the enchantment plan while also offering answers to potential problems.

Ideally, the early game will be spent killing blockers while attacking for two, powering up a Bloodchief Ascension if you have one, and later in the
game, Pyromancer Ascension will have a full enough graveyard to turn on, which turns your burn and card draw into serious reach.

It’s important to note that Pyromancer Ascension triggers when you cast the spell, so it has the counter when the spell resolves. This means that if
you have a Volt Charge or Tezzeret’s Gambit in the graveyard, playing one will fully activate a fresh Pyromancer Ascension. This allows you to fuel
Pyromancer Ascension with much less card draw than the blue deck needs.

The last deck I want to look at will be based on the Venser deck I wrote about last week but will move back down to two colors to make room for the
extra cards I want to play. Tezzeret was included essentially as a finisher that trumps other planeswalkers, and Luminarch Ascension can potentially
fill the same role.


This deck uses proliferate with planeswalkers, charge counters on Tumble Magnet and Everflowing Chalice, poison counters from Inkmoth Nexus, and -1/-1
counters from Contagion Clasp, and Luminarch Ascension. No single one of these things will be that important to enhance with proliferate, but between
them, it’s easy to imagine a board that really gains a lot with Tezzeret’s Gambit.

Compared to the three-color version I wrote about last week,
this deck gained Preordain because it has fewer lands that enter the battlefield tapped, making it easier to find an extra mana for Preordain. Also,
without Tezzeret, the deck doesn’t need the artifact density, so having a spell that just cycles is no longer an issue. This version is a little worse
against decks with stable mana because Inquisition of Kozilek is still a very powerful spell, but it’s much better against greedy decks and Valakut
because of the Tectonic Edges, particularly since the deck has so much card draw to find them.

Unfortunately for all of these decks, I do have to end on an awkward note, which is that Hex Parasite doesn’t just kill Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s
potentially a huge beating for any of these strategies. The Ally deck might be too fast for it because the Parasite is relevantly mana intensive to
use, and the R/B deck can easily kill it, but it will have to recharge its Ascensions afterwards. However, the Venser deck might have a relevant
vulnerability to Hex Parasite if it sees widespread play.

All of these decks are a little raw, and I’d encourage a lot of tuning before playing any of them in a tournament, but it’s important to examine all
the old strategies that can be reinvigorated by new cards. I know that I’m personally really excited to do something, then proliferate, in Constructed.

Thanks for reading,
@samuelhblack on Twitter