CASUAL FRIDAYS #78: The Early Adventures Of Super-Hippo And Mirror-Man

Two decks based around veeeery scary creatures. And the last of the Great Haikunien Planeshift Analysis!

With prose-based Planeshift analyses still coming at us full bore, I will continue (and to pure poetry enthusiasts’ great relief, conclude) my haiku journey into the set, this time basing my thoughts on an Invasion-heavy deck I created months ago that looks like it will now split in two.

While Crosis has since developed into my favorite younger dragon legend, when Invasion first came out I was most impressed with Rith. I have a soft spot for Saprolings, although I’ve never felt the emotional pull to generate infinite amounts of them. So the first deck using Invasion cards that I built was built in his colors:

2x Rith the Awakener
4x Skizzik
2x Kavu Titan
4x Seal of Fire
2x Aura Shards

It’s just a smashmouth deck, built to put out annoying creature after annoying creature and just plug away. Interesting note: When I first built it, I actually didn’t have any Fires of Yavimaya. By the time I had them, I had four Skizziks, and I decided that I would just build another group deck around Fires. As a result, I ended up with a deck that had Rith, Armadillo Cloaks, and no Fires in it. My unintentional Kibler-in-Chicago preview was poor, however: No Armageddons, no Tsabo’s Decree, no Ancient Hydrae. My version does okay in group, thankfully, despite these shortcomings.

I’d like to do a paragraph’s worth of homage to Aura Shards. What a fabulous card in multiplayer! Our group has snapped it right up; any deck within spitting distance of white and green plays at least two. Combined with the Saproling-generation power of Rith, you can smash three, four, or more difficult permanents with ease every combat phase. After a while, control players just give up. Meanwhile, competing Aura Shards rarely go after each other; most decks that run the card have common objectives, and rarely seek out like opponents aggressively in the early game. (The philosophy at work here is typically to kill control first, then let the best creature-based deck win.)

Whenever I looked at that deck above, I always felt that it was two decks struggling to work together. There was the green-white deck, which had decent creatures and excellent tricks to control the board; and then there was the green-red deck, which had excellent creatures and decent tricks to control the board…And which really should have Fires of Yavimaya in it.

Now, with Planeshift, I can make those decks.

But they’ll both still be three-color. Let’s watch, in 5-7-5 format!


Planeshift starts off a new green-white deck with two excellent creatures:

FLEETFOOT PANTHER (3/4 gater for 1GW that you can play as an instant)
I once had a cat
Who drooled and sat in her waste.
This one is better.

ANCIENT SPIDER (2/5 first striker for 2GW that can block flyers)
Eight legs grasp black gnats.
Five eyes spot tasty blue flies.
One mouth eats lightning.

Either of these creatures can dominate a mid-game board, each in very different ways. What they have in common, though, is more interesting: they both take terrific advantage of Dueling Ground.

Dueling Ground, the 1GW enchantment from Invasion that limits every combat to one attacker and one blocker, is starting to get a bit more press now, not least because of another Planeshift creature:

QUESTING PHELDAGRIFF (4/4 multitasker for 1GWU…can pump if it gives away a 1/1 token, can protect itself if it gives away life, can fly if it gives away a card)
(This guy is a haiku headache; "hippopotamus" alone is five syllables, and "hippo" is just too obvious. Instead, I offer you all two lines of hastily-wrought iambic pentameter…)

The quest that binds this hippopotamus,
Demands a toll of gifts for all of us.

The three drawbacks need a little discussion. First, giving a life advantage to protect a good creature is practically inconsequential. Folks, you need a happy hippo. And nothing makes a large quasi-aquatic mammal happier than turning every Terminate your opponents hold into a poor man’s Healing Salve.

Second, the tokens can be a nuisance. That’s why Dueling Ground is so very cool; all the baby winged hippos stay in their nest. You can use this drawback to your advantage, as well; but more on that later.

Third, to fly you have to give an opponent an extra draw. This is not such a big deal at all in a five-player game; but if you really care a great deal about it, I can suggest some card advantage of your own: Fleetfoot Panther and Wall of Blossoms.

Here’s to Wall of Blossoms NOT being in Seventh Edition, because if it becomes Type II legal again the cost of each one may rise above the already lofty $2-$3 price range the card currently commands. (This costs more than most "junk" rares, like the Masters from Invasion.)

In any case, I have four to throw in there and with gating creatures flying in and out, I figure I’ll be drawing enough cards to keep me busy.

So here’s what we’re starting with:
4x Wall of Blossoms
4x Fleetfoot Panther
2x Ancient Spider
2x Questing Pheldagriff
2x Dueling Grounds

I might throw in another Dueling Grounds, depending on what kind of control the deck needs.

The new hippo is pretty good, but additional heavies in the upper part of the mana curve wouldn’t hurt. Yes, I could put the old Pheldagriff alongside the new one; but I’m really afraid of getting beaten by some amazing unintentional anti-hippo tech that someone in my group will randomly play when I test this thing. Given the colors we’re running, I’ll give Treva, the Renewer a try, breaking my long-time angry silence with her. Everyone’s gotta make up, eventually…in this case, the lure of building life off of everyone else’s baby hippos is sufficient grounds for temporary reconciliation. Then, also in the high slots, two copies of a new legend:

NEMATA, GROVE GUARDIAN (4/6 Saproling generator and pumper for 4GG)
Enter large treefolk.
But Saprolings cry for help
Early in the day.

I do want to see some cheap, early, non-symmetrical Saproling generators (hint: Thallids and enchantments won’t cut it) to make the little bark-biters a viable full-deck strategy in tournaments. Would it kill Wizards to make a GG, 2/1 Mature Saproling (creature type Saproling, NOT thallid or beast or whatever) with an ability like "2, tap Mature Saproling and another green creature: put a 1/1 green Saproling token into play under your control"?

In any case, I think the sack-a-Saproling-to-pump-the-rest ability of Nemata is terrific. In a slow, careful game, you should get at least three or four tokens out of Nemata in this deck. (In other decks, she – the artwork suggests a "she" to me, and I have no clue why (Heck, she knows somethin’ about birthin’ babies – makes her a "she" in my mind – The Ferrett) – should have the ability to create and pump far more than that.) This will make Treva’s life gain more potent, and also provide fodder for additional Fleetfoot Panthers.

We have only two more needs for this deck: Providing additional early creatures for the Panther’s gating, and making the creatures more durable. I start with four Llanowar Knights and two Charging Trolls…these serve both functions. I also like Quirion Elves to help with blue mana (we’re going to keep the lands almost entirely green-white). I still have nothing for the one-slot, so I call Theo, and the conversation goes something like this:

ANTHONY: I need your help with a deck.
THEO: What, again? You are so pathetic.
ANTHONY: It’s a white deck.
THEO: I see. Well, for once I’m in the same boat as you; I hate white too.
ANTHONY: Agreed. Now, what I need is a one-drop for white that has a nice "comes into play" ability that I can use if I cast it over and over. No disenchant garbage. The databases I check come up with nothing, and…
THEO: How about Icatian Javelineer?
ANTHONY: [pauses.] Hey, that’s really good. Since when can you come up with good ideas like that?
THEO: [sighs, hangs up.]

I had missed the Javelineers because the database at yavapaiopen.com is very (and rightly) exact: You have to put "comes into play" in the errata field to get most older cards like that, since they used language like "is brought into play" or other unpredictable variations on the actual card. Good hint for those of us that use these tools!

In any case for those of you who are not familiar with the ground-breaking expansion known as Fallen Empires, let me fill you in: Icatian Javelineers is a white one-drop 1/1 creature that comes into play with a "javelin" counter on it. When you tap this little nobody, he obediently throws his javelin at anything you care to target. Then he sits there, wishing he had thought to bring more than one javelin to a war that has astonished us all by lasting more than two turns. I mean, he IS a JAVELINEER; you would expect someone like that to be prepared.

Be that as it may, the little kitty cats in our deck will send the javelineer racing home to momma, where she will scold him for not wearing a scarf and packing an extra javelin for those extra-long trips. He will then promptly forget her advice and bring only one javelin again; but he sucks a little bit less every time he visits momma.

I use a single Gaea’s Blessing and two Miraculous Recovery for creature recursion; this deck is still a little fragile in the face of the multiple Terminates that are likely to infest our group, now. (I may end up replacing the elves with Acolytes.) The Recoveries can often serve as surprise creature removal; it’s a rare moment when I’m as fond of a white card as I am of this one.

We’re getting pretty full now, and I wouldn’t mind another cheap creature with some come-into-play effects…how about a Battlemage?

SUNSCAPE BATTLEMAGE (2/2 creature for 2W with kicker options to wax a flyer or draw two cards)
Galloping fiercely,
She hurls sword into dark sky.
Down comes the dragon.

I love the green kicker on this gal. (The blue kicker is pretty fantastic, too; but we may not get to use it as often.) Every group game has its plucky flyer that dominates the board – a dragon legend, a Blinding Angel, a Hypnotic Specter. This Battlemage ends that party. Regeneration is possible; but not many flyers regenerate (and those that do, you can typically block with a Spider). Hey, it’s removal for white-green: don’t knock it. It might work even better if we could force a creature to fly – say, with Predator, Flagship. But I don’t have room for that here….Hmmm…well, we’ll see.

We’re at 35 cards without the Flagship, good enough for now. I’m skipping some of the old staples for the sake of creativity: Swords to Plowshares, Hurricane, and so on. We’ll see how that works out.

Oh, land mix: I’d recommend four Coastal Tower and a Treva’s Ruins (your only blue, beyond the elves), four Elfhame Palace, and a split of 8/8 for Forests/Plains.

So that’s the first deck. What of the green-red?


This deck is the lucky recipient of Rith, the hero of the original deck. Because of his presence, the base will be red-green, and the third splash color will be white.

I started this deck on the high end, and then worked my way down to the earlier spells. Because of that, it feels a bit top heavy; but I think in the end our mana curve works out.

With Rith creating Saprolings, I felt Saproling help was due here. My creature of choice was Verdeloth. I could easily have went with Verdant Force; but there’s something about the possibility of losing ten creatures to a Tremor that just makes me shudder. (Nemata may also help; and she’s on the 6cc bench, ready to go in if necessary.)

Down in the five-slot, we have one of the potential "chase rares" of Planeshift:

SHIVAN WURM (7/7 gating trampler for 3GR)
He hunts the Phoenix,
Challenges the Dragon, and
Laughs at the Hellkite.

We’ll use two. I also will keep a slot open for a good-sized sorcery or instant here; for now, it’s a secret.

Four casting-cost creatures for this deck should be plentiful; I’m already anticipating using Fires of Yavimaya in the three-slot and whatever resides here will move quickly. Blastoderms are a no-brainer, and since I resisted using them in the original Rith deck I’ll indulge three of them here.

Then, three different Planeshift uncommons:

SPARKCASTER (5/3 gater for 2RG, pings a player for one when it shows up)
Timmy the Kavu
Can smash with five times the force
If you let him stay.

THORNSCAPE BATTLEMAGE (2/2 creature for 2G with one-mana kicker options to Shock or Shatter…for all intents and purposes, a 4cc creature!)
No horse for this one.
To smash toys and heads, you need
Big yaks with bad breath.

MIRRORWOOD TREEFOLK (2/4 creature for 3G with activated ability to redirect damage)
A must-Terminate,
It almost begs for a Lure.
Maybe the next deck.

I’ll run two Sparkcasters, three Battlemages, and two Treefolk. (Let’s also remember that Verdeloth pumps those Treefolk. Boo-yah!)

So our current decklist:
2x Rith the Awakener
2x Verdeloth the Ancient
2x Shivan Wurm
1x Reflect Damage
3x Blastoderm
3x Thornscape Battlemage
2x Sparkcaster
2x Mirrorwood Treefolk.

You’ll notice that I’ve landed one Reflect Damage for that 5cc instant slot. A single copy will do; only one player in a given group is likely to be playing Earthquake, Thrashing Wumpus, or something else global that could wreck your creature party. If you’re certain you need two, you could probably ease back on one Battlemage.

So we know two things about our early cards: they have to boost mana, and they have to do what they can to help our creatures live and thrive. (Blastoderm aside, our creatures in this deck are more susceptible to black removal than those in the first deck – that’s why there are going to be about twenty-four of them by the time we’re done.)

Fires of Yavimaya is our first port of call. We’ll be sure to get the most out of each creature if we pack at least three. I might reduce the numbers of Rith’s Charms from two to one (so I can have four Fires); but I want to see how the Charms play out.

No 3cc creatures; on turn three we’re going to either drop Fires or try to have you at four mana so you can get a beast out.

Wall of Blossoms would be lovely, of course; but I want to try something else here…Wall of Roots, which will help us with mana acceleration and in fact with gating will provide us with an eternal extra land, unless someone wastes a removal spell on it.

(This is as good a time as any to warn you crazy kids that you want to have at least two of a gate-ready creature available before trying to bring out anything like oh, say, a Shivan Wurm. This deck should be able to set you up well for that; but don’t be afraid to extend just a leeeetle bit more than you normally would.)

Also in the two-slot: a pair of creatures that just barely edged out Kavu Titans:

HORNED KAVU (3/4 gater for RG)
An early beast, and
The Thornscape Battlemage’s
Easiest trick play.

Later on in the game, when you have six mana available and a Thornscape Battlemage on the board, cast the Horned Kavu, gating back the Battlemage, and then drop the yak-mistress back down with your kicker of choice.

The Horned Kavu gains even more stock when we decide upon our one-drop creature: the Skyshroud Ridgeback. Also in the one-slot: Eladamri’s Vineyard. A couple of copies of this enchantment (every player gets GG to start their first main phase) will give you the following acceleration opportunities:

One ideal progression:

TURN ONE: Lay a Forest, drop a Ridgeback.
TURN TWO: Remove a fading counter, swing with Ridgeback, lay a Mountain, drop a Horned Kavu (gate Ridgeback).
TURN THREE: Lay a Plains, drop Fires of Yavimaya, threat of which should push the swinging Kavu through any defense up by now (or you can hold back and own the ground).
TURN FOUR: Lay a Forest, drop Blastoderm, swing with both ‘Derm and Kavu.
TURN FIVE: Remove a fading counter, drop Shivan Wurm (gate Kavu), swing with both.

Alternately, with the Vineyard:

TURN ONE: Lay a Forest, drop the Vineyard.
TURN TWO: Lay a Mountain, drop Fires of Yavimaya and a Skyshroud Ridgeback.
TURN THREE: Remove a fading counter, lay a Plains, drop a Shivan Wurm (gate the Ridgeback) and swing with it.
TURN FOUR: Lay a Forest, drop Rith, and swing with dragon and wurm.

It’s not tight like a BoP-based Fires. But we can have more fun since we’re not limited to Type II cards.

I hate that I have no room for Seals of Fire any more. I’m hoping the Battlemages are an acceptable substitute. If I find myself with too many creatures constantly, I might take out the less effective performances and put the Seals back in.

You can also – and probably should – take it much more slowly. This deck has multiple opportunities for tricks, and often leaving your mana open for Rith’s Charm, the Mirrorwood Treefolk’s ability, or Reflect Damage. Put out about three decent threats – not at all difficult in this deck – and then wait for people to be able to handle them. The only reason to play Rith as early as turn five is to combat a strong batch of flyers that you can’t keep on the defensive with your ground game.

Incidentally, if another deck gets Rith out, you are in serious trouble. So if you’re facing Kibler in an Emperor game, side in your Swords to Plowshares.

I’ll occasionally update everyone on the progress of these decks, "Super-Hippo" and "Mirror-Man." They’ll be workhorses for me: not my flashiest entries into a group offering, but pushy and tempo-forcing offerings with plenty of opportunities to evolve.

COMING SOON: I think I’ve done haiku for all the cards I care to do in this set. No more until Apocalypse…or maybe Seventh Edition! Next week, I was GOING to talk about a really cool idea I had for a Phyrexian Tyranny card-drawing deck…but other Star City authors have beaten me to the punch on this. (Damn free market of ideas.) Instead, I’ll take stock of casual play in Magic, and suggest some new (and not-so-new) directions R&D and the Magic community might want to explore over the next couple of years.

Anthony Alongi