Continuing The Chromatic: Melek, Izzet Paragon – You Decide

In this Continuing The Chromatic, Sheldon presents you with two versions of Melek, Izzet Paragon that he needs help deciding between. Speak up and be heard!

When it comes to building a deck, sometimes we have a powerfully strong idea and run with it. Other times we take a seed of an idea and then help it grow. Occasionally we have multiple ideas and don’t really know which one to run with. This is one of those times.

As I continue my quest to have at least one deck of each color combination (I’m down to Izzet, Rakdos, five-color, and all the mono-colors, including colorless), I’m on the fence about what direction to take Melek. I’m going to present you with two ideas and let you all choose which one gets built. You can post in the forums; ship me an email, tweet, or Facebook message; or send smoke signals. All opinions will be heard. I’ll link the article in the official forums after it goes up, so we might have some discussion/voting there as well.

What Melek Brings

Melek’s Future Sight-like ability lets you cast instants and sorceries off the top of your library and, if you do, copy them. He’s a pretty straightforward build-around Commander. You want a load of spells to cast and copy. It gets crazier when the top card is itself a copy spell. You’d like to Harmonize? Great! I’ll Twincast that. Twice. Bribery, you say? Don’t mind if I do. Twice. You get the picture.

The downside to Melek is that he’s a little pricey to cast and Izzet colors aren’t exactly the best at getting lots of lands into play. That means reliance on some mana rocks to get the action going, an always-precarious situation when someone is likely to drop Nevinyrral’s Disk or Oblivion Stone or cast Austere Command, Planar Cleansing, or Akroma’s Vengeance. We’re just going to have to put up with that, and if we get blown out in some games, we’ll get over it.

Even though he’s build around, we still have to make sure the deck functions without the commander. That means making the casting off the top and copying not a requirement but a bonus. We’re still going to use the top-of-the-library ability as one of our primary card-draw engines, trying to add some cheaper draw so that we don’t end up with too many cards in hand.

Idea #1: The Bad Neighbor

The Bad Neighbor borrows stuff and doesn’t give it back. He loses it, forgets about it, or somehow it becomes "his." Borrowing things is pretty easy with threaten effects, so we’ll load up on those. They also run on the cheaper side, so we might be able to cast several in a turn with Melek on the field. We might also find a situation where we can just one shot someone with their own stolen creature.

How do we not give stuff back? First, there are plenty of simple steal or copy cards that give us control permanently, like Bribery and Blatant Thievery. For the temporary effects, there are two ways to not give them back: sacrifice outlets and finding another way to keep them.

Because of the mana hungriness of the effects that give us control of creatures, we want to keep the activation cost to sacrifice stuff we’ve stolen very low. Culling Dais provides a nice free activation cost that can eventually refill our hand. Helm of Possession can start a cascading series of stealing and sacrificing things by sacrificing something we’ve already stolen to steal something else and then using a different sacrifice outlet to make it safe to untap the Helm. Spawning Pit lets us turn things we’ve sacrificed into creatures.

There’s the classic outlet of Goblin Bombardment, a personal favorite, that will let us dome people, which is great with Reins of Power. There are three land-based sacrifice outlets—Diamond Valley; High Market; and Miren, the Moaning Well—that in addition to clearing stuff off the board will gain some much-needed life. Finally, the tech of Barrin, Master Wizard gives us the double value of getting rid of someone’s creature while being able to bounce another. Barrin and Perilous Research give us ways to sacrifice noncreature permanents as well. I wish that there was also room for Claws of Gix.

So how do we keep something that has a limited duration effect? Bazaar Trader. When there are multiple control effects on something, the latest time stamp rules. You threaten something, then once you control it activate Bazaar Trader, making yourself the target player. It’s yours for the rest of the game (or until it goes away) since it doesn’t have an ending duration.

Because we have a limited number of slots, our card draw has to be on the cheaper side and also function as land smoothing in the early game. Omen (a hidden gem from Portal) can help in that regard, as can the Scry of Preordain and Serum Visions.

There are additional creatures that help us do the stuff we want to do. Charmbreaker Devils will help us recast any of those things that we cast earlier, and we’re probably not going to be sad whatever it puts in our hand. Dominus of Fealty straight-out borrows anything, including the best-case scenario of a planeswalker that’s about to go ultimate. Djinn Illuminatus, Echo Mage, and Nivix Guildmage as well as Chandra, the Firebrand will let us copy spells additional times. Galvanoth, especially in concert with some top-of-the-library manipulation in Sensei’s Divining Top and Scroll Rack, will let us cast a cool instant or sorcery for free.

There are a few cards in there for a bit of protection: Cyclonic Rift, Cryptic Command, and Evacuation. Sometimes there’s a swarm about to attack you and you need to be able to stop it. I wouldn’t mind a few more things to keep us alive, but there just isn’t room.

Idea #2: Molten Mind Grind

This is as close to a combo deck as I’ll probably ever get. The idea is to mill everyone out by making them draw their decks. Having other players draw cards is pretty dangerous, and that’s precisely why I like the idea. If there were no element of danger, it wouldn’t be all that exciting. Obviously, Eldrazi are a major problem when it comes to making people draw and discard, which is why some graveyard hate is included, especially the kind that can be used with the Eldrazi trigger on the stack. Relic of Progenitus, Phyrexian Furnace, and Scrabbling Claws will all help in this situation.

There’s a small amount of personal card draw, but most of the idea is getting everyone else to draw and pitch their hands before they can get too well set up. The game should revolve around players not knowing what’s going to be in their hands next turn, which creates its own kind of tension. Clearly this benefits the Karador / graveyard player, who likes to have his or her yard full, but since they’re also dumping stuff into their own graveyard, we might be able to mill them out (I guess Stroke them out is more applicable) faster.

The purpose of Hive Mind is to completely turbocharge the process. Obviously there will be openings between each player’s copies of things resolving for them to be able to use what’s in their hand, but it doesn’t take that many copies of Windfall to mill out everyone, especially if someone has a Reliquary Tower-charged hand.

The clear idea here is to have Melek on the battlefield before starting any of the dump / draw shenanigans, but that’s just speeding up the clock. I’d like the deck to be able to live without him if possible. Top-of-the-library control with Scroll Rack and Sensei’s Divining Top should be able to set things up reasonably well, especially when a miracle like Bonfire of the Damned is possible. I thought briefly about Devastation Tide, but the deck’s overreliance on mana rocks and artifacts in general made that untenable.

There are a few damage-dealing alternate win conditions that get closer to possible with Melek out. Acidic Soil and Price of Progress are the low-mana ones, but Fault Line and Bonfire of the Damned are X-spell versions. There’s the possibility of getting to Inferno out someone at a low life total and Molten Psyche in the likely eventuality of having metalcraft. Once again, Hive Mind can easily quadruple or quintuple (depending on how many players are in the game) damage, making even a six- or seven-point Fault Line potentially lethal. Don’t even get me started on how absurd Psychosis Crawler might be. If you’re playing against this deck, kill it fast.

Key to most of the elements in the deck is the aforementioned library control of Rack and Top. Obviously used early to make sure you hit all your land drops and used later on to put exactly what you want on top so that you can cast it with Melek. In this color combination, mana is always going to be tricky, so hitting a land each of the first ten or so turns (or at least eight or nine of them) is going to be important. Hopefully the Sapphire and Ruby Medallions will help. They’re better than mana rocks if you’re going to be casting more than one spell of the color in the turn cycle.

Since we’re playing with the madness of having everyone draw their decks here, is it too much of a stretch to want to play Mana Flare? Caged Sun is really expensive, although I guess Gauntlet of Might not be a bad choice since not that many folks are playing Mountains. What’s nice about Mana Flare is that you can get mileage out of it right away, whereas for Caged Sun and Gauntlet you’re probably tapping out to cast them and hoping they’re still around when the turn gets back to you.

Speaking of wanting things, I might also think about adding one cheaper extra-turn card, like Time Warp, to the mix. I’d consider just playing it on turn 5 to get the extra land drop. Later it’s obviously better with Melek. That plan becomes less desirable, however, when Hive Mind is in play. Hive Mind is a little more important to the bigger plan than taking an extra turn is, so in the case where I’d play only one or the other, Hive Mind is the clear winner.

This version is clearly jankier, less stable, and more subject to disruption than the other. That doesn’t it make it any less interesting. It has a radically different win condition than we’re used to seeing: milling generally involves, well, milling. The "not normal" nature in and of itself makes it worth considering.

Which of these two directions would you like to see me take? Speak up and be heard!

Worlds Week

Before I go, I want to take a moment to talk about Worlds Week. It was the most ambitious, brilliant idea in Magic event history, and I think we pulled it off quite nicely. Doing coverage for it was both an absolute pleasure and a grueling challenge physically and emotionally. It was made easier by a host of talented professionals that I worked with on the video side: Brian David-Marshall, Rich Hagon, Marshall Sutcliffe, Rashad Miller, Zac Hill, and the team’s latest addition, the one-and-only Louis Scott-Vargas. I can’t say enough about how awesome all of them are. Add to that the amazing text team led by Patrick Jarrett and the guy who puts it all together, Greg Collins (happy 40th birthday by the way), and it made for an unbelievable experience.

Coverage team drafts are quite something (not to mention really difficult—I’m perfectly aware that I’m the fish at this table), and if you ever happen to get invited to the last seat or even to railbird, jump at the chance. The only downside to the week was that I didn’t get to see as much of the wonderful city of Amsterdam as I would have liked.

I also want to shout out to Luis and his two fellow Hall of Fame nominees William Jensen and Ben Stark (along with my disappointment that Chris Pikula didn’t get in). All three of them are remarkable Magic players and fine human beings. It’s great to know that they’re all on the lifetime train because I think they’re exactly the types of players you want playing Magic and representing the game in perpetuity.

Embracing the Chaos,


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