Thanks to all who entered Break this Card: Mana Cache for your submissions, and your patience. I’ve tried to give much more detail on this one, to reward everyone’s understanding.
Before jumping into the official submissions, I do want to highlight a wonderful idea, based on Masques Block format, that was suggested by Rui Oliveira and his colleague, Bruno Ferreira. (See the original article at Mindripper, or through the strategy section of Meridian Magic.) They didn’t submit this for the Break this Card contest, and I don’t believe it would work nearly as well in multiplayer anyway, but this is such a terrific example of being both creative and competitive, I had to point it out. I am sorely tempted to bring this deck, or a close variant, to the Masques Block qualifier:
Beauteous! Rui promised more details on how this playtests in the future; I’m looking forward to them.
The problem with this Mana Cache strategy in multiplayer, of course, is that there are multiple points (instead of just one) where someone can steal all of the precious mana on the enchantment before you get to use it. And in an environment where X spells like Fireball, Prosperity, and Hurricane are flinging around, it’s very easy for someone to just tap one colored land (leaving the others untapped, so that your Brawlers can’t attack) and use what’s on the cache to cast their spell.
But Bruno and Rui weren’t thinking about group play, naturally, and this deck stands on its own merits as a fun duel deck, whether it qualifies anyone or not.
Let’s get to a few of the actual entries…
Most folks paired Mana Cache with Mana Barbs, to create a "damned if you do, damned if you don’t" situation. Of course Mana Cache is a lot like Power Surge (and Citadel of Pain) in that it penalizes inaction; so this option was very popular.
The ubiquitous Matt Green gets us started this week, with an entry that overcomes the basic disadvantage of Mana Cache. How irritating, after all, that other people get turns to use the Cache’s counters. Why not feature a red/blue deck with Time Warps, Second Chances, and Magistrate’s Scepter, and then add Mana Flares to power a series of Rolling Thunders and Fireballs? Why not, indeed.
Paul Zetler started with Mana Cache, moved to Stasis, then Temporal Adept, and finally evolved into a Replenish strategy. The idea behind his deck was to deny others the full opportunity to exploit the Cache mana. Finishers included Opalescence and Fireball. Tommy Ashton also used Replenish, but included a very intricate sequence of Oath of Druids, Impulse, Animate Land, Worship, Replenish, and Furnace of Rath.
Our runner-up and winner built two very similar red-blue decks. First, Matt Latham scored runner-up offers for having probably the most creative entry, using Pyromancy as a "strong" complement to Mana Cache:
Matt pointed out the deck would have been better if I had allowed Prophecy cards like Latulla and Searing Wind-and of course he’s right. But he’s got a fun idea here: use Turnabout in response to declaration of opponent’s end step, so that counters pile up on Mana Cache. (Of course, to do this you have to leave at least six counters on it yourself; but I’m forgiving the drawback for now.) Use Arcane Laboratory to limit the amount of Cache counters used. Then use Pyromancy ability to do much damage for three mana a pop: Brainstorm and Raven Familiar help you get the lands out of the way.
The winner this time around, after much time spent as a "bridesmaid, never a bride", is Stephen Cutcliffe, who used the same colors, and some of the same cards, but hung it together a bit differently:
This deck gives multiple paths to victory, all through the Mana Cache–Fireball, Stroke, Chimeric Staff, even Capsize-and instead of the Pyromancy route, which is a bit more precarious, simply focuses resources on draining other players’ mana so that the Cache is that much more effective. It’s likely to withstand considerable assault from multiple sides, though like Matt’s, its creature-low status will mark it for early damage.
But it pushes the capability of Cache, finds multiple creative ways to use it, and hangs together well enough. Stephen, congratulations! Send me your snail mail address and I’ll send a scribbled copy of Mana Cache off to you.
I subscribe here to the theory that after the first time you play a Mana Cache deck, you’ll need to stop people from casting every spell they possibly can (and then coming after you) just to prevent you from using a killer spell like a Two-headed Dragon. There are three ways to avoid this:
First, warn them off the Cache. The Seals and Songs are the primary strategy here, though your fast offense in Brawlers and Idols might also help. You don’t need the Cache to play these spells, and even after some successful games, your opponents will be wary about being the first to take you on with your own Cache mana.
Second, teach them not to overcommit. That’s what Mageta and, if necessary, Catastrophe is for. (If you wanted to go mono-red, Jokulhaups would also work real slick.) It’s a scorched-earth policy that serves as your release valve if everyone starts coming after you. Creatures or lands, your choice. Of course, your Seals and Songs (and the Cache) remain on the board, as will your Idols.
Third, you could use three Blinking Spirits rather than the Dragon/Overseer/Hellkite trifecta. Catastrophe, Mageta, Spirits, and Cave-ins (at actual casting cost) are still sufficient bombs to make the Cache worthwhile. (Note a Gorge can always make use of two colorless mana, too!)
It doesn’t matter if the Cache is "broken" as a card in such a deck — it’s enough that it rather breaks the game in the direction you want it to go. Remember, as a red mage, you are simply trying to get the game moving along. Watch people use the Cache, or not, whatever they do is fine. If they use it, you have an opening for your Brawlers. If they don’t, you can suck the mana up easily by playing out your spells and abilities.
A less rare-heavy version that revisits the Urza’s Saga opal theme:
Here, you have to embrace the fact that everyone will spend Cache mana to activate the Warmonger during their turn, even if it’s for a useless one point all around. Smart players will see that if they keep the Warmonger around for the next player, the Cache will remain relatively empty. For once, I can see a Warmonger lasting longer than a turn! That’ll give you a 3/3 beating stick that you can either attack with or sweep with, if necessary. As the late game progresses, opponents will be very wary about using the monger ability when they see three Seals of Fire and two Torch Songs on the board. If they do go monger-happy, you can use the Acrolyths and Idols to maintain a decent offense, and the Walls for a pretty rigorous defense. Good (read: pro-red) flyers will still tear you apart, so you may want to replace Pyroclasms with Swords to Plowshares.
The Opals also serve as a way to possibly discourage creature rushing, and to take advantage of the fact that once people see the red damage, they may hold some creatures back in their hand to play later. (Good players will always do this, anyway.) Yes, Opals are susceptible to disenchanting – but you have plenty of other targets in this deck for the white mage.
Again, the Cache is less important for casting any big nasty spells, and more important for pushing the game where you want it to go — green mages holding off on early creatures and scrambling for a fattie (any of which you can handle, even Blastoderm), white and blue mages forced to play out spells with Cache mana lest someone else get out too big a threat too early, and black and other red mages fighting for the chance to be your friend lest your unstoppable Seals and Torches look their way.
Phew. So much talk about such a half-baked card. But it does have its place, and certainly shouldn’t be considered a bust by any means. Thanks again to the brave souls who entered the contest!
COMING SOON: Next week is #50. I have no idea if/how I will celebrate this. I’ll entertain notions if you get them to me by Tuesday (and this article’s getting in late so I think that gives you 24 hours…hey, are you committed to quality, here, or what?). Aside from that, we’ve still got a bunch of stuff I’ve been promising to cover: a new format or two, a few vignettes, and a new creation of mine that teaches about the Birds and the Bees…