This week is a long read, but I found it one of the more rewarding articles to write. In addition to announcing the promised FIVE winners of the Break this Card: Coalition Victory contest, I will get the next one started by exploring the freak cards of Planeshift… In haiku format, of course. Will we have another Break This Card nominee by the time this article is over? Stay tuned.
My thanks to all who submitted Coalition decks; this was probably the most creative crowd I’ve ever dealt with for Break This Card. Setting restrictions by disallowing Sliver Queen and Shyft really got some fantastic ideas going! Future Break This Card contests may follow the same model: restrict the most obvious choices, and force the contest into new territory.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR COALITION
Trying to organize all the different ideas into tangible groups that would make for easier reading is almost impossible. But I think I can take the 120+ entries we ended up with (BIG surge off that last challenge to you all!) and give you the following models for building a Coalition Victory deck without the Sliver Queen or Shyft:
1) USE AN EXISTING ARCHETYPE. Kudos to the following players for generating Coalition-based versions of the following popular deck types (sometimes there was more than one, but I congratulate the first one in):
- Jonathan Chabot for Survival-Sliver-Death,
- Matthew Greuel for more traditional Survival-Death (utility creatures instead of slivers),
- Ian McDowell and Ross Jamieson for Replenish–Opalescence, both received at about the same time (and you’ll see a deck a bit like Ian’s in the winner’s circle…),
- Adam Duke for Turbo Land (Horn of Greed and Exploration),
- Jon Blevins for Recycle–Aluren (with a strong dose of Turbo Land),
- Jose Luis Torres Verastegui (very cool name, and I didn’t risk the accents involved due to some character translation problems we sometimes experience) for Prosperity-Bloom,
- Justin Flynn for Necro-Sliver (was there such a thing as Necro-Sliver? Who cares? it was still cool, and yes it still needed Aluren),
- Jerrod Ankenman for Necro-Lace (again, not exactly a legendary staple of Extended; but it was more traditional Necro build, with Shield Spheres and Prismatic Lace to set up the win), and
- Pierre DuPont with a "fake Tinker" deck using North Star and Temporal Aperture to make everything run smoothly and colorlessly.
2) USE INVASION TO ITS FULLEST. Most, but not all, of the following decks were designed for Invasion Block, with maybe one or two cards borrowed for help.
- Saxton Pope, among other creative decks he submitted, provided a pure Invasion Block deck that used a couple of Dragon legends, as well as the 2/2 pro-dudes and Chameleons, to get the right colors. Tangle was used as a stall card.
- Within this block of decks there was a "mini-block" of decks using, of all things, Mana Maze, to assure the victory win condition. Congratulations to Graeme Taylor and Nathan Long for disturbing me tremendously with this line of thinking. Graeme liked Alloy Golems and Voracious Cobras on the ground, followed up by Spirit of Resistance to prevent damage while he waited for Mana Maze and its steadfast companion, the Coalition Victory. Nathan used Dueling Grounds and Collective Restraint, along with Treva and Dream Thrushes in the air, for a similar stall.
- In near-Type II mode, Andrew Wright took a shot at mono-green using Kavu Chameleons, Silverglade Elementals, and Pack Hunt to get the right lands and colored creatures out. While other approaches differed widely, Kavu Chameleons were absolutely the favorite path to a Coalition Victory within the submissions I got.
3) KEEP THE CREATURES MODEST. Two of the most promising entries, by Mason Peatross and Jeff Konz, did very little flashy stuff but set up perhaps an easier path to the Victory than most. Mason put out a series of Invasion 2/2s (which provide him an alternate path to victory, if needed) and employed Recycle as a card-drawing accelerator. Jeff Konz simply picked up four of each of the five solid Stronghold walls (Essence, Tears, Souls, Razors, Blossoms), added Spidersilk Armor to deal with flyers, and limited combat through Dueling Grounds until Victory showed. He also used Smoldering Tar as another path to victory (and emergency creature removal).
Simple, but elegant and creative, in both cases. Both of these guys made me wish I was awarding top ten, instead of top five. There were some VERY difficult cuts to make!
4) BETTER YET, USE KOBOLDS. I kid you not, I had TWO – count ’em, TWO – entries involving Kobolds as a critical piece of the Coalition Victory condition. Tom Booms used an infinite Survival/Hermit/Nightmare/Wall of Blossoms/Granger/Gaea’s Blessing combo to go through your deck, get the right lands, cast the four Kobolds, and Sleight them into the right colors. (Phyrexian Altar gets additional mana.)
Alvaro Ibanez used Kobolds, along with Phyrexian Walkers and other fearsome creatures such as Merfolk Looters, in conjunction with City of Solitude and Thawing Glaciers to set up a less-infinite, but similar, situation. Prismatic Lace was his color-changer of choice.
I want to apologize to both of these men for any subconscious signals I was sending through my contest rules that made them feel compelled to use Kobolds. Tom, Alvaro: I am really, really sorry.
5) GO A LITTLE NUTS. Every one of these rather unique entries scraped right up against the top five. Among the hardest cuts to make:
- Both Aaron Simpson and Matt Green gave me "mono-artifact" decks using Alchor’s Tomb to set the condition right. Aaron gets particular praise for doing what no one has ever done before: actually built a deck that looks close to something Matt Green came up with.
- Nathan Long provided a "Bifurcated Chamelon" deck to increase the chances that there would be enough Chameleons to make the Coalition successful.
- Andrew Wright took a "legends" approach with a twist: All women featured in artwork, including Captain Sisay, Rayne, Academy Chancellor, Reya Dawnbringer, Tsabo Tavoc, and so on.
- Matt Latham’s deck was just fine, but what really caught my eye was the line in the explanation, "It powers off the Varchild’s War Riders/Defense of the Heart synergy." I’m not sure what else to say about it.
FREE TO BE ZVI
Before going on to the winners, I want to give a special nod to an icon of deck design, Zvi Mowshowitz. Here’s my Zvi story. (Don’t we all have a "Zvi story"? Well, dammit, we all should.)
I had met Zvi briefly in Chicago last December; I covered him once or twice for the Sideboard in a feature match. He’s an amiable guy who likes to laugh. I was adept enough to hear someone pronounce his name correctly before saying hello myself (it’s "zveee", not "zveye"…hey, I don’t run into many Zvis, cut me some slack). So I avoided a linguistic disaster, and considered our meeting an overall success.
A few weeks later, I set up this contest, and then went off on holiday vacation. While on vacation, I checked the email remotely and saw that one of the first ten entries was from none other than the master deck designer himself.
All very well and fine, you say, no doubt it was an excellent deck and should probably win. But here’s the problem: It had Shyft in it, because I had forgotten to ban it.
Bad enough to ban a card after starting the contest – but now I was going to end up disqualifying an icon in the Magic community and reigning Grudge Match champion. (Yes, I pay attention to these things. I hope you all do too; there are some interesting Magic plays out there involving only two players at a time!) How was this going to play out? "CASUAL DORK DISQUALIFIES ZVI FROM CRAPPY LITTLE CONTEST." Not exactly Mark Rosewater making an official ruling for the Magic Invitational in Sydney, is it?
So I had to email Zvi back, thank him as I thank everyone for entering the contest…and then explain that he exploited the one flaw in the contest I hadn’t had time to fix.
He understood and replied that he would probably have put more emphasis on Prismatic Lace. (By the way, some entrants – not Zvi – had suggested I ban the Lace as well. I disagree; it requires another permanent and is therefore more fragile.) Be that as it may, Zvi never had time to remake his deck (something about preparing for some Pro Tour on a boat or some such), and so the original one stood.
But in any case, those of you who might wonder what a Zvi deck looks like when filtered through the maniacal lens of Casual Fridays can feast your eyes:
3x Coalition Victory
2x Vampiric Tutor
3x Sylvan Library
3x Sterling Grove
3x Alexi’s Cloak
3x Merfolk Looter
3x Spirit of Resistance
1x City of Solitude
3x Mana Flare
3x Prismatic Lace
4x Bad River
4x Flood Plain
2x Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]
1x Volcanic Island
2x Tropical Island
2x Underground Sea
On to the five winners. I don’t want to rank them, so I refer to them as winners A, B, C, D, and E.
WINNER A. There is no best of the five; but there is a funniest. Aaron Forsythe gives us this mono-red deck; he suggests that an earlier version had only mountains (and I think he should have kept it that way for fun!):
4x Wall of Earth
3x Wall of Heat
2x Dancing Scimitar
4x Soldier of Fortune
4x Scroll Rack
4x Mana Flare
4x Final Fortune
4x Thieves’ Auction
4x Coalition Victory
4x Sandstone Needle
4x Rocky Tar Pit
4x Volcanic Island
Yes, you just hope that there are enough players to cast a permanent of each color, and then cast Thieves Auction and Final Fortune if you’re right. If you’re wrong, you… Um…You…Um…Ping people with the Dancing Scimitar.
This, to me, is an absolute riot.
WINNER B. Right alongside Aaron’s mono-red is Jay Strode’s near-mono-blue version splashing just a bit of red for the following:
4x Coalition Victory
1x Sol Ring
2x Ancient Spring
2x Sand Silos
4x Coastal Tower
4x Salt Marsh
3x Shivan Oasis
3x Urborg Volcano
3x Reflection Pool
4x Veiled Birds
4x Volrath’s Laboratory
4x Control Magic
1x Dream Coat
4x Phantasmal Terrain
2x Prismatic Lace
2x Collective Restraint
2x Energy Field
2x Force of Will
1x Kor Haven
WINNER C. So, one red deck and one blue deck so far! On to a "mono-black" deck, from Steve Dickinson:
3x Coalition Victory
4x Light of Day
4x Darkest Hour
4x Sterling Grove
1x Rith, the Awakener
1x Treva, the Renewer
1x Darigaaz, the Igniter
4x Claws of Gix
4x Kavu Chameleon
4x Tidal Visionary
4x Elfhame Sanctuary
4x Utopia Tree
See the fun ruse? First, you set up what looks like a strange pestilence deck with Darkest Hour and Light of Day. (Claws of Gix and Treva both help you play into this even more.) Then you get out the Chameleons or other dragons, make sure the Tidal Visionaries are there to help, let the Darkest Hour slip away, and…Presto! Your Coalition washes all the black muck off and shines in multi-chromatic glory. Pretty clever.
WINNER D. Tobey Tamber does a variant on Replenish–Opalescence that I forgave for its combo-ness and its use of white lifegain because of its great choice of enchantments, and the fact that it, like the "mono-black" above, it revels in "mono-white" flavor until the final blow:
1x City of Solitude
1x Carnival of Souls
1x Angelic Chorus
1x Goblin Bombardment
1x Celestial Dawn
4x Phantasmal Terrain
1x Evil Presence
4x Oath of Druids
4x Frantic Search
4x Mystical Tutor
1x Coalition Victory
1x Verdant Touch
1x Grim Monolith
1x Mox Diamond
4x City of Brass
4x Gemstone Mine
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Ancient Tomb
2x City of Traitors
Look at these enchantments. Carnival of Souls! CARNIVAL OF SOULS! The deck starts off traditionally for this sort, using Oath of Druids to fly through the deck, Reclaim to save one draw step, and then cast Replenish, putting out Opalescence, Carnival of Souls, Celestial Dawn, and Angelic Chorus in such a way that every entering enchantment generates mana and offsets the Carnival’s life loss. THEN with the Dawn out and plenty of white mana (remember, the "B" on the Carnival has been reading "W"), put Coalition Victory on the stack for WWWWW3, sack the Dawn to Goblin Bombardment, and there you go!
WINNER E. Well, we have a mono-red, a mono-blue, and a "mono-black" and "mono-white." So what’s left? Nope, not mono-green; green gets screwed. Well, green IS in this deck by A.J. Newhausen, but that’s not why I chose it:
4x Wall of Blossoms
4x Wall of Glare
4x Glacial Wall
4x Shivan Zombie
3x Treva, the Renewer
3x Coalition Victory
4x Dense Foliage
4x Illusionary Mask
3x Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]
4x Tropical Island
1x Underground Sea
Here, the key card is Illusionary Mask, banned in Extended but available in Type I. Illusionary Mask lets you play creatures for colorless mana and HIDE their identity from opponents unless they take/give damage or become tapped. Thus, Inviolability and Dense Foliage. Note that targeting a Masked creature will allow the assailant to make a sneak peek at it to assure targetability.
Once you have the Victory ready, you can cast it and surprise everyone!
There’s something true of all of these decks, and in fact virtually every submission made: the Victory path works once reliably, and then is tremendously difficult to achieve every game thereafter. Coalition Victory is, after all, a combo card. The fact that it is designed to combo primarily with ten other permanents just makes it that much more fragile.
I posted so many decks this time around for two reasons: first, because there were lots of creative ideas out there, like I said. But second, I truly believe that after you play one of these decks once or twice, you will HAVE to switch to another one of them to avoid getting skunked! Your Coalition Victory deck should continually change, month after month, plaguing your group with unpredictability and flexibility.
If you don’t have the time for that, of course, I’ll understand.
Aaron Forsythe, Jay Strode, Steve Dickinson, A.J. Newhausen, and Tobey Tamber: please email me with your snail-mail addresses. I will send scribbled Coalition Victories to each of you.
AND THE NEXT NOMINEE IS…
With every expansion, I try to limit most of my analysis to those cards that look like they’re going to be either particularly useful in multiplayer…or particularly questionable. Over time, I have tried to worry less about what’s bad (which is often self-evident) and more on what, with a little work and patience, may be the next source of laughs in your group.
Todd Petit, Dave Hanson, and I have already explored Goblin Game pretty thoroughly. (See our game theory analysis here.) All I will say here, to both remind those who have seen it and summarize for those that have not, is that most unfavorable opinions about Goblin Game are either (a) purely focused on tournament play, which is narrow-sighted but leads to a conclusion I’d agree with, or (b) born from the assumption that Goblin Game is something stupid that R&D did without thinking, which is far from the truth. Goblin Game would be interesting for a Break this Card contest, but I’ve talked about it enough. It will have to settle for a haiku:
Four is the number
When the Game kills goblins, but
Most can’t count that high.
Let’s also just skip ALL of the Planeswalker’s Whatever cards – they’re a bit too random for my tastes, without any of the self-torturing strategy of Goblin Game. They’re not as bad as many have suggested, since they provide a repeatable benefit out of a single card, but they don’t really inspire our creative natures, do they?
I’ve scoured the spoiler and come up with one additional rare, in each color, that may make you sigh when you open your pack. These are the lovingly mediocre, the untapped potential, the…Well, the sometimes downright depressing and there’s no getting around it. But the next Break this Card nominee will come from this pool:
WHITE: MARCH OF SOULS (4U sorcery that hits everything with an Afterlife)
Everything will die.
Well, not really: now you face
The lamest Air Force.
BLUE: PLANAR OVERLAY (2U sorcery that hoses multicolors by bouncing one of each basic land)
How many Thrushes
Will you need to make this work?
More than you can Dream.
BLACK: LORD OF THE DEAD (Zombie Lord that pumps and recurs, well, zombies)
Ha ha, I fooled you!
It’s really Dark Suspicions.
Had you going, right?
RED: MOGG SENTRY (1/1 goblin that gets +2/+2 whenever an opponent plays a spell)
Not exactly cool
When you’re trying to beat down
GREEN: QUIRION DRYAD (1/1 elf that gets bigger the less green you play)
A 2/2 creature
By turn three! Truly stunning.
Wait, I’m mana-screwed…
GOLD: KELDON TWILIGHT(1BR enchantment, if a player doesn’t attack s/he loses a creature)
And in five-player chaos,
Hey, wait, I LIKE cards like that! Hmmm…Conditional, aggressive, penalizing. Not necessarily first-rate, of course; but that’s the fun of it, isn’t it?
The exact statistics are as follows: KELDON TWILIGHT, 1BR Enchantment, At the end of each player’s turn, if no creatures attacked that turn, that player sacrifices a creature he or she controlled since the beginning of the turn.
There are no official rulings on this card, yet; but please bear in mind:
- The idea is that a player doesn’t get penalized on creatures with summoning sickness;
- The penalty is only paid by the active player; and
- You can’t sack something for two different effects, e.g. you cannot choose your Morgue Toad as the creature to sacrifice to Keldon Twilight, and then sack it for RU.
Okay? In the interest of encouraging a strong response, I thought I might pose some questions for those of you who have "Never won and don’t know why." Ask yourself the following questions, and come up with the most creative answers you can:
- Can you make attacking difficult, or painful? Why would you do that?
- Can you make attacking easy, or rewarding? Why would you do that?
- This card is different from Wrath of God. How, exactly? Can you take advantage of the differences?
- Is it better to have creatures, or not? (Either answer is correct, depending on what you are trying to do. The important thing here is to know why you think so.)
- Why didn’t Anthony ban Peacekeeper (1/1 upkeep 1W, creatures cannot attack)? Think about it, please, before you blindly build a kamikaze Peacekeeper deck. I’m not saying kamikaze Peacekeeper is impossible; I’m just saying I’m not worried enough to ban that card.
AND WHAT DO WE HAVE FOR OUR CONTESTANTS, FRANK?
It’s time to up the ante on prizes. If there are less than 100 entries, I’ll just do a typical first prize of a Keldon Twilight with my scribble on it.
If there are at least 100 entries, there will be at least a FIRST AND SECOND prize awarded. Second prize will be a Keldon Twilight with my scribble on it. First prize will be a Keldon Twilight with my scribble on it, AND a Phyrexian Scooter with my personalized grammatical correction on it.
If there are at least 150 entries, there will be at least a FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD prize awarded. Third prize will be the scribbled Twilight. Second prize will be the Twilight and Scooter. First prize will be the Twilight, the Scooter, and a Doomsday Specter saying something brash, or witty, or some other adjective we’ll worry about when we get there.
Are we motivated yet? Here are the rules.
If you want your entry to pass the first screen and get an acknowledgement, it must contain the following:
* Your real name;
* A working email address;
* "Break this Card" in the subject line;
* A constructed deck legal in one or more DCI-sanctioned formats (Type I, Extended, Type II, Invasion Block); and
* A short (fifty or so words usually is enough) description of your path to victory
I must receive such entries by MIDNIGHT C.S.T. THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 2001.
If you want your entry to have a legitimate shot at getting mentioned in the recap article (or, of course, at winning), I recommend the following:
- Stay close to the 60-card minimum;
- Tie Keldon Twilight as closely and directly as possible to your path to victory… It doesn’t have to be just creature control;
- Avoid infinite loops; and
Do not expect use of Power Nine cards to impress me…I don’t penalize decks that use them, but I do often wish the slots went to more creative cards.
Multiple submissions, within the same email or separately, are fine. In fact, they’re terrific. Keep on thinking and trying, no doubt you will eventually permeate my subconscious and I’ll give you the winning nod. I also count multiple submissions from the same person separately, which is good news for those of us who want to reach 100 or 150 entries.
Remember, March 8 deadline. Now go make your decks!