Dance Dance Donate Illusions

Something has gone horribly, horribly awry. In many important ways, reality is not matching my expectations of it. This is cramping my style. For instance, why do I not get top billing on this site? It seems to me that my columns are a shining jewel in the crown that we call the internet. Yet…

Something has gone horribly, horribly awry.

In many important ways, reality is not matching my expectations of it. This is cramping my style.

For instance, why do I not get top billing on this site? It seems to me that my columns are a shining jewel in the crown that we call the internet. Yet my beloved employers, Star City, insist on sticking me way at the bottom of the daily features. And in smaller font, too. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.

Could it be that I’m not the superstar I imagine myself to be? Could it be that I do not, in fact, have a cult-like following? No. No, it’s the children who are wrong.


Just so you know, I’m two steps away from forging a letter-writing campaign. I have lots of free time and absolutely no shame. I’m a timebomb, like the man says:

Don’t ever,
Pull my lever,
’cause I might explode!

Feel free to disregard the above if it turns out I’m getting the recognition I richly deserve. Man, it’d be just like them to do whatever it takes to prove me wrong. Lousy beatniks.

So what now? Do I dive right into the heavy-duty analysis? How about a vignette to put things off even further?

Drew: We need to wait a few minutes before going to dinner. I want to scope out Ike’s hot date.

OMC: Scope! Scope! Scope!
Ike: Okay you two, get your minds out of the gutter.
Drew: We just want to scope your date.
Jer: Grope his date?
Ike: Wait a minute!
OMC: Yeah, Ike, just a quick Scope-n-Grope.
Jer: I’ll break out the Grope-o-Scope.

It’s like living in a Marx Brothers movie out here.

Sleep deprivation is making me meander, but today’s discourse is a narrow one, so I don’t have far to stray. Today, the full deconstruction of Dance Dance Donate Illusions.

Why should you care? Are you at all interested in deviant combo-type-decks and how they can be beaten? Do you want to see the best deck in the current Extended environment? Do you like ponies?

Ben: Checking the scoreboard, we see Interrogative Statements: 4, Sense : 0. I tell you, Jimmy, it’s not looking good for the forces of coherent thought.

Jimmy: Right you are, Ben! I daresay that never before in history has the conveyance of ideas been so summarily sidelined. These boys are really going to have to dig down and find something, anything, to turn the tide.

Ben: Here’s the kickoff return …

Here’s the decklist for those of you who missed it last week (and shame on you for missing out!)

Dance Dance Donate Illusions
By Blake Manders

With help from Team Comf

Combo Parts

4 Donate
4 Illusions of Grandeur


4 Necropotence
4 Demonic Consultation

4 Force Of Will
4 Mana Leak
4 Force Spike
3 Duress

Sideboard Placeholders

2 Brainstorm


4 Dark Ritual
2 Mox Diamond


4 Underground Sea
L 4 Underground River
4 City of Brass
4 Bayou
2 Tropical Island
3 Gemstone Mine

Ben: It’s good!

First things first: You can tell how this deck wins. I play Illusions of Grandeur, gain 20 life, then Donate it to you. If it leaves play (and it has Cumulative Upkeep, ensuring that it will), you lose 20 life. This probably means I win. Pretty straghtforward. Things like a turn one Healing Salve make it tricky to win, but by no means impossible.

Let’s do a little thought experiment: Compare (in your mind) this deck to Cocoa-Pebbles, which some people think is quite good. Our deck has two combo parts instead of three. Our deck has twelve counterspells and three Duresses instead of none and four. Does this make our deck better? I like to think so.

The play of the deck is based almost entirely around Necropotence. If you can get Necro into play, you will probably win. HOWEVER, it is not as direct a relationship as it seems. Over- or under-necroing, even if only by a single card, can often spell disaster. Just watch it, that’s all I’m saying.

Here’s a reason this deck wins: you will be given the opportunity to say "I cast Illusions, gain twenty life. I’ll draw, oh, twenty, no, twenty-three cards." That’s fun.

That actually illustrates a common occurance of this deck, which is calculating the maximum number of cards you can draw, guaranteeing victory. The idea being that you want to draw into Donate, 3 Blue Cards, 3 Force Of Will Cards. That’s a good hand for next turn win the game. I find it helpful to count backwards. Start with 1 life for staying alive. Count 1 life for each painland you need to tap. Count 1 for each Force Of Will you will play. Next, total your opponent’s mana. How many turns can they pay the upkeep? Multiply that by the expected damage per attack (adding extra critters if they can afford it), and add that to your total. Now subtract that running total from your current life, and the number you get is how many cards you draw.

Got it? Good. There WILL be a test.

I’m not fooling either. If you play this deck, you’d better get awful quick on the ol’ Mental Calculations. You’ll need to check this in almost every game.

Okay, okay, let’s start at the beginning.

Blake’s rule of thumb for the early game (turns 1-2) is to deny anything offensive your opponent can do. This elementary bit of theory is founded on the idea that anything your opponenet wants to do is probably helping them in some way. Why let that happen?

Always, always, always, Force Spike an opponent’s Dark Ritual. I don’t care if you do know that they’re playing Necro and not Hatred. Do you remember Time Walk? Now it only costs U. Never give your opponent more mana to Duress away cards. Don’t do it. Stop them. Say no. No, you do not get to do what you want.

Same goes for turn 2 Mana Leak. Why let them do anything?

In general, it’s better to leave mana to Force Spike than to cast Duress. The reason is that, although Duress gives information, it’s best function is to punch through Force Of Will, especially if you’re about to cast Necropotence, and therefore win the game.

Consult aggressively for Necropotence in the early game. It’s totally worth it. It’s for this reason that I advise against playing only 3 Donates. They are obviously the worst card in the deck, but boy, you feel dumb when all your roads to victory get removed from the game. Why risk making that happen more often?

So, now you’re in the middle game. Your action depends on the game state. Does opponent have a clock on you? If so, hold out as long as possible. Just like Forbidian, your deck gets stronger, the more land you have in play. If they aren’t pressuring you, you get to wait even longer. That is, unless *they’re* playing Forbidian. Then waiting gets less appealing.

The Mox Diamonds deserve a bit of attention. They give your mana that little extra boost that it might need against aggressive decks. It speeds up your kill by half a turn, which is usually cutting it fine enough. They act like extra Dark Rituals if you’re forced into going off third turn. Ritual, Illusions, draw many cards, land, Mox, Donate.

Before I turn to sideboarding, there are those two Brainstorms. Why aren’t they something else? The answer is twofold. One, they protect against discard, which is boffo, and Two, they are virtual nothing cards, that let you get just a little deeper if Necro doesn’t pay off like it should. They are called Sideboard Placeholders, because against anything without discard they are the least effective part of your deck. They will almost always be sided out.


3 Mana Short
3 Annul
3 Chill
3 Elephant Grass
3 Perish

Mana Short to win against counter decks, Annul for anything with valid targets, Elephant Grass to make the impossible Hatred Matchup winnable again.

Never, ever, ever, ever…


Side in more than 3 cards. There just aren’t decks against which you’ll need them. Do not (sing it with me), do NOT sacrifice the deck’s consistency. It’s Olive Loaf to begin with.

Funny story, in playtesting we found that Elvish Lyrist can really put a damper on the party. We didn’t plan on boarding against green, figuring that we’d need more slots against red and Hatred. Saturday night, as we’re falling asleep in Jer’s living room, Tom Gannon calls out to me.

TomG: You know, the board should really just be in threes. I mean, what are you taking out?

OMC: Brainstorms.

TomG: And?

OMC: Depends. Not a Donate. A Duress, maybe?

TomG: Or a Spike, if you’re bringing in Annul. But not much more than that.

OMC: So, what, we have three empty slots?

TomG: Yeah. What do we need to beat?

OMC: Green.

TomG: Three Perish, we just won the tournament.

Unfortunately, I kind of neglegted to make all this clear to Jer in the morning. So his board had zero Perishes. Jer lost to three, count ’em, three green decks.

Am I a bad human being? Undoubtedly.

Turns out, an inferior version of this deck came in top 16 at Grand Prix Seattle. They called it Trix, despite the fact that it has exactly one trick. They might as well have called it Cream of Bad, or perhaps "A Big Healthy Bowl Of Not Very Much". I’m translucent with ire, over here.

Let me defend my name calling. The differences in our decks is that ours has 10 more countermeasure cards, and theirs has Mana Vault, Vampiric Tutor, and Hoodwink. For crying out loud, that says it all!

TrixDude: I’ll try to win …

RandomOpponent: Like everyone else at this tournament, I have Counterspells. I will use one of them, now.

TrixDude: Golly, guess I lose.


OMC: I will win …

RandomOpponent: Like everyone else at this …

OMC: Counter.

RandomOpponent: But I …

OMC: Counter, Counter, Force, Force.

RandomOpponent: Aren’t you supposed to have Hoodwinks instead?

In fairness (who believes that I mean it when I say that? Anyone?), their deck is optimised against non-disruptive decks. The extra speed given by the Mana Vaults, as well as the extra tutoring does make quick wins a reality. The problem is that Oath and Counter-Sliver are obviously Tier-1 decks, and both of them will just go ape on their version.

Ape, I tell you.

Jimmy: I can’t believe it! A cogent retelling of a lot of interesting facts! Sense wins! Sense wins! Sense wins!

Ben: I wouldn’t shine your shoes yet, Jimmy.

No, no, I’m burnt out. That’s all for today. E-mail questions about this deck WILL be answered, but be warned answers will be terse. I haven’t got a heckuvalot of patience these days.

Play this deck at a tournament, but please practise. You won’t reap the benefits, otherwise. You won’t reap much of anything, truth be told.


For absolutely no reason.

Josh Bennett
[email protected]

There simply aren’t ways to cajole you people into writing. I realize that. Unfortunately, I’m no less bitter.