While I don’t want to drag on any series of articles for too long, the Emperor format series must take a week off so that I can try to get off this Break this Card contest in a timely manner. The series will get back underway next week.
Thanks to all who entered the Break this Card: Graceful Antelope contest! I got in about seventy total decks, and as usual was pleasantly surprised at the range of options you all gave me. Let’s try to break the better ones down into categories:
DREAMY ANTELOPES: The most common category of decks by far used the”Dream Thrush – Graceful Antelope” combination to get the Antelope started. While I would think getting the critical first point of a damage through with the Antelope shouldn’t be that difficult (you can hit anyone, and pick a different player’s land to change), some of you wanted to be really, really sure.
The more powerful decks in this type found a late-game use for the Thrush (and/or Reef Shaman): Global Ruin. Gis Hoogendijk, everyone’s favorite European Level III judge, was easily the first one in with this idea. He also recognized the need to make the Antelope bigger, and used Pianna, Nomad Captain, for that purpose… But a the next category of decks takes this idea even more seriously.
MECHANIZED ANTELOPES: Some contestants looked at the one-power antelope and wished for something juicier. Here were some of the options offered:
- Erinelsa Williams (winner for this contest’s most fabulous name) used Squee’s Embrace to make the prancing mammals 3/7 near-unblockable beasts;
- Jeff Wiles used Blood Lust and Hero’s Resolve, in conjunction with a broader red-white land destruction theme;
- Nathan Long suggested Serra’s Embrace, which for kicks and giggles gives that sucker wings and puts it in the air, and also used Limited Resources to give the Antelopes’ land-changing ability a bit more punch; and
- Steve Gossett had his antelopes hammering harder than anyone, using About Face, Dwarven Thaumaturgist, Scars of the Veteran, Iron Will, and Fling.
BULLETPROOF ANTELOPES: Many decks (too many, by my philosophy!) were perfectly content with a one-power attacker, and sought to make the deer unhuntable. Among them:
- Robby Wetzler used at least five different cards – Brilliant Halo, Wishmonger, Reverent Mantra, Hallowed Healer, and Bubble Matrix – to keep his antelopes alive;
- Tony Canning sent in a Type II deck that put his unfortunate antelopes in the middle of a Powerstone Minefield, but at least had the (doubtless SPCA-driven) decency to supply Crimson Acolytes, as well as Obsidian Acolytes against the most obvious black removal;
- Jon Blevins used the new Odyssey Limited star Shelter in a cross-category deck we’ll see again below;
- Erinelsa Williams (whom I just mentioned above for Squee’s Embrace) also had Meddling Mages to prevent the most predictable removal spells or unfortunate board-sweepers;
- Donald X. Vaccarino came up with a bevy of ways to protect the antelope and its mission, the most humorous of which is Erase to take care of the plainswalker-stopping enchantment Great Wall; and
- Christopher Hearns actually used Soul Sculptors and Sterling Groves to protect the beasts, along with a combination we’ll see more of later on.
Most pump and protection mechanisms, while effective, didn’t necessarily make the Antelope feel like a special girl. I mean, you could have given that dozen roses and Squee’s Embrace to any creature, and it would love you just as much. So while I liked these decks just fine, and in fact some made me laugh the loudest of any entries, I felt I had to pick my winner(s) from decks that didn’t just rely on protection and/or pump.
TRAP-SETTING ANTELOPES: Most of the more inventive decks I received were more interested in the plains-setting than the near-unblockability of the Antelope alone. They then used the plains to their advantage, like Gis did with Global Ruin or Nathan did with Limited Resources:
- Joshua Sharp used Flashfires to sweep through antelope-laced lands, and Iron Maiden as a penalty for those players who then find themselves out of mana;
- Jon Blevins used both antelopes and Vision Charm to set up a horrific Stench of Evil sweep capable of making an entire multiplayer board incredibly ill (and of course, his own mana base features no plains at all);
- Dan May used the old-school enchantment Aysen Highway, which gives all white creatures plainswalk; and then made sure spells like Donate, Rushing River, and Llanowar Knight would be more easily cast with Celestial Dawn; and
- Christopher Hearns also used Aysen Highway, but then looked for a Shifting Sky to turn everyone’s creatures into predators. As with Jon Blevins’s deck, his own mana base includes no plains, so that opponents will seek out each other rather than him.
A brief note for all you would-be brown-nosers at home: Christopher actually had the good sense to define his deck as a”rattlesnake-plankton deck,” a nod to the new card aspect categories I use in my Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame. I am incredibly susceptible to this sort of flattery – obvious enough to penetrate my thick head, while subtle enough to avoid insulting it – and am perfectly willing to trade air time on Casual Fridays for the right brand of ego-food.
TAXONOMIC ANTELOPES: There were at least five entries that strove to gain favor, at least partly, through thematic means. Those decks were submitted by:
- Stephen Cutcliffe , who supplemented Graceful Antelopes with three different kinds of unicorn (also horned), Caribou Range (perhaps inevitable), and Wall of Swords (your guess is as good as mine);
- Job van der Zwan , who gave me an entire serengeti’s worth of mammalian notables such as Emperor Crocodile, Stampeding Wildebeests, Gibbering Hyenas, and M’tenda Lions, as well as the Zoologist to find them;
- Mr. van der Zwan again, this time presenting an amazing deck with Clone, Vesuvan Doppleganger, and Dual Nature (alone with Overrun) that gives a theoretical maximum of sixty antelopes trampling at your opponents;
- Chris Straghalis , who not only put into his deck solid elements in other categories (e.g., Spellbane Centaur, Devoted Caretaker, Armadillo Cloak, and Sylvan Might), but also had enough time to point out that every creature in his deck (including Birds of Paradise, Diligent Farmhand, and the antelopes themselves) all went to seventeen characters, if you included the spaces; and
- Jay Strode, with a contextual joke,”Anthony Alongi Is Going to Love Me [Antelopes]”, which consisted of 32x Graceful Antelope, 8x I Read Anthony’s Instructions, and 20x Plains. This one fairly sent me over the back of my chair.
This take-off on Gary Wise Auction of the People deck (for this past Invitational, if you need more context) reminded me that I never really did say anything much about the results of that format. A couple people had asked, and I forgot to speak up. I’ll do so now, briefly:
I received many emails from people seeking advice on how to make their thematic deck better before they entered it. I fear this trust was misplaced – my own”Spike Lee(ches) Fans” deck (spikes, leeches, 4x Giant Fan, and 1x about a million different creatures, enchantments, artifacts, and lands worth fanning) failed to pass muster. A similar deck (thallid) was chosen, so that was cool. But I feel badly for those entries that may have been more viable than mine, yet could not succeed in a selection process that gave up one slot to an inside joke.
Inside jokes are great, but feel less appropriate in a format designated to please outsiders. I was heartened to read Gary’s surprise and slight embarrassment at being selected. It’s not a high crime, folks; just some fun back and forth that has, as we say,”played out.” Accept and move on.
I hope Mark Rosewater & Co. does this format again. It’s a killer idea, and the implementation was solid, especially since they got caught off-guard with the volume of entries this first year. After all, I would have no idea what to do with 3,000 entries in Break this Card.
Speaking of which….
VICTORIOUS ANTELOPES: Even though we didn’t hit my triple-prize threshold of eighty entries, I will still give out three slots – partly because I misinformed my readers on the deadline a week or so ago, and partly because I had already made two very painful cuts (Steve Gossett’s and Joshua Sharp’s offerings), and couldn’t stand to pull another one out of the circle.
Nathan Long breaks into the prize-winner’s circle at third place, with a deck that I like because it is both simple and yet also includes so many of the themes I dug into above. And it does this using strong, impressive cards backed up by reasonable effects.
4x Graceful Antelope
4x Mother of Runes
2x Blinding Angel
2x Stone-Tongue Basilisk
4x Birds of Paradise
2x Magnigoth Treefolk
2x Quirion Elves
2x Gaea’s Embrace
2x Broken Fall
3x Swords to Plowshares
2x Blinding Light
Under mana strategies, we find Cataclysm. Under protective strategies, we find Mother of Runes, Gaea’s Embrace, and Broken Fall. Under pumping strategies, we find Gaea’s Embrace. Under combat manipulators, we find Stone-Tongue Basilisk, Magnigoth Treefolk, and Blinding Light. Awakening provides a simple, non-combo-oriented defense against counterstrikes, and Swords and Disenchant provide basic utility.
My two favorite cards in the deck are Blinding Angel, which should help give your Antelopes more time to strike, and Bifurcate, which ensures additional supplies of antelopes for your raging campaign.
Our second-place deck is a variant on an old Extended archetype,”Hand-Land.” Submitted by Andrew Wright:
4x Gerrard’s Verdict
4x Sphere of Resistance
4x Rain of Tears
4x Graceful Antelopes
2x Desolation Angel
4x Snuff Out
2x Death’s Grasp
4x Caves of Koilos
4x Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author]
Here, the antelope-prancing is used to set up Desolation in a big way. While much of the deck is duel-focused, I feel that cards like Sphere of Resistance, Desolation Angel, Death Grasp, and Vindicate give this deck enough flexibility and staying power to be successful in casual groups as well. The Sphere makes the land-squeezing even more powerful, and of course the other discard serves as useful utility.
If I wanted to be doubly sure this deck would have enough gas in group (and that obviously wasn’t Andrew’s intent), I might put in a couple of defensive/regenerating creatures in place of the discard, and Cho-Manno’s Blessing (to protect the antelopes) in place of Rain of Tears.
A not-so-brief word on our first-place winner.
Job van der Zwan, who is already credited with two strong deck entries above, took the Overrun approach to this Break this Card contest. I received no fewer than twelve emails from the prolific Dutchman, all concentrated on one or more of his three deck entries. Apparently, Mr. van der Zwan would come up with a deck idea, send me an email, go out and test the deck, come back, reflect a bit, tweak the deck, and immediately send me an update… And then would repeat the process, multiple times, until the contest deadline failed to indulge him.
I certainly did not mind this, and in fact encouraged it (and still do), not least because his entries were solid, and his tweaks seemed born of genuine research and reflection, which just tickles me colorless. He was literally sending me updates daily for like a five-day stretch in there.
So fast-forward to the writing of this column. I’ve sent a draft of this column, as well as some of the original email entries, to work so I can clean it up there during lunchtime and send it along to The Ferrett. As I bust open the forwarded email, I see that some of them are opening blank, including those sent by Mr. van der Zwan. Some technical glitch, I figure – whatever. All I have to do is email the guy…I mean, he must live in his computer, right?… And I’ll get him to send me a fresh list.
I send him an email… And wait. And wait and wait and wait. I’m thinking he must have read my request by now and is speeding along the email… Perhaps to my home address? I check it remotely, got nothing from him.
A day passes. This may not sound like much, but look at it from my perspective: I read one missive after another from him, on the hour, for like three weeks straight. Then, when I need him to send me an email… Really, really need it… He turns into that damn singing cartoon frog and clams up! The humanity of it all!
So here I am, typing up the final draft from my home computer again, pressing up against deadline (this is not unusual, but at least it’s not my fault this time)… And if I’ve made any mistakes in my rush to get this out the door, you can all thank our fine allies in the Netherlands for it. (That’s right, I’m holding the entire country responsible. Some of you people over there must know him – can’t you do anything about him?!?! I mean, I’ll take my fair share of the blame for Jesse Ventura; can’t you step up to the plate here, too?)
Here’s the damn deck.
4x Graceful Antelope
4x Limited Resources
4x Quarum Trench Gnomes
4x Nature’s Lore
4x Skyshroud Elf
2x Ghitu War Cry
4x Howling Mine
2x Teferi’s Puzzle Box
2x Eladamri’s Call
2x Gaea’s Blessing
2x Hull Breach
2x Heavy Ballista
This wasn’t the only deck to suggest Quarum Trench Gnomes, but it certainly seemed to mean it the most. The lock with the Gnomes, Antelopes, and Limited Resources is impressive, not least because you can be missing a piece and still be at least partially effective. The mana fixers (Lore, Harrow, Elf) are slick, the antelope-mechanizer (War Cry) is efficient, and the other good stuff (Mine, Box, etc.) all helps you get what you need faster, while still influencing the board in strange ways.
It wins because it meets all of the criteria I posted, and because it actually looks ready to roll through a multiplayer game. Nice work, Job.
Our three winners will need to email me at [email protected] with their mailing address, so I can send them prizes. Nathan will get a scribbled Graceful Antelope. Andrew and Job will get that, and one scribbled copy of the Odyssey rare of their choice. (I’ll get you anything, guys, but the more oft-demanded cards may take some extra time on my part. Just let me know.) Job will also get a scribbled Odyssey foil rare of my choice – and no, I don’t know what that will be. Yet. Perhaps Cephalid Shrine, since he must have been in one when I was looking for him…
Thanks again to all who entered! I may start up another Break this Card in December or January, before Torment comes out. Heaven knows there’s enough fodder for it.
COMING SOON: The Emperor series resumes. After that’s done, a grand opening of sorts…