Food For Thought – Geppetto’s Toolbox: Pulling the Strings of Gifts Ungiven

How has Champions of Kamigawa enhanced the possibilities of Cowardice? In the opinions of most tournament players, the new block has not in the least changed the viability of Cowardice-based decks. To these unbelievers, to these ultra-orthodox I’d-rather-draft-Shatter-than-Lightning-Coils-types, Cowardice has always been and will always be a junk rare. This, despite my best efforts. Now, I’d be the first to admit that my previous best efforts just weren’t good enough, but unfortunately, an abundance of forum posters have beaten me to it, and all I can do now is concur: This time last year, Cowardice had no place in a non-Friday Night tournament. But today, the world is different.


This article details a particular case of deck development and redevelopment. Many of the provisional decklists given below are untenable, yet like Sesame Street (Alert: Beginning of Rubber Duckie Sub-Theme! Has no relation with Pinocchio!), they teach important lessons and the end results are entirely practical.

The Heart of the Matter

My loyal readers (Hi, Mom and Dad!) may have been wondering where I’ve been the past few months. The answer? At a house in Marstal, Denmark. Ah, yes, that refined Danish wit again. Anyway, while inside this house, I’ve been taking care of my newborn baby, Sigurd. It’s awful, I know: We Magic writers just keep reproducing. This means that the madness will never end.

Just kidding. The madness is over already. This time around, my deck concept does not have the ability to produce a single bear token. Yep, as you read these words, you are reading a serious strategy article. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.

How has Champions of Kamigawa enhanced the possibilities of Cowardice? (Note: This is not yet another example of refined Danish wit.) In the opinions of most tournament players, the new block has not in the least changed the viability of Cowardice-based decks. To these unbelievers, to these ultra-orthodox I’d-rather-draft- Shatter-than- Lightning-Coils-types, Cowardice has always been and will always be a junk rare. This, despite my best efforts. Now, I’d be the first to admit that my previous best efforts just weren’t good enough, but unfortunately, an abundance of forum posters have beaten me to it, and all I can do now is concur: This time last year, Cowardice had no place in a non-Friday Night tournament. But today (Monday, 7 October, 2004), the world is different.

However, before getting to how the world has changed, it might be helpful to take a moment to review just what Cowardice does. For an enchantment with a single line of rules text, Cowardice’s effect on the game is quite complex:

  • Due to your opponent’s defensive targeting spells, your creatures are unlikely to stay on the board for long.

  • Due to your own defensive targeting spells, your opponent’s creatures will be bouncing like they’ve taken a trip to the inflatable mansion at Uncle Larry’s Fun Palace.

  • Creature-targeting effects like Modular and Equipping no longer work.

Of these, the third is the most overlooked. Assuming you can survive long enough to cast Cowardice, Ravager Affinity’s instant-speed sacrifices and Cranial Plating tricks will be useless. Blinkmoth Nexus should not be a factor (Ravager Affinity needs 20-turn clocks about as much as it needs a pair of dancing circus bears). Cowardice works a lot like Damping Matrix.

Traditionally, Cowardice has been seen as a defensive tool, and combined with the proper targeting spells, it can be effectively used to stop Aggro strategies. One of the limitations of this kind of Cowardice deck, however, is that it tends to quickly run out of gas. Whereas using Dream’s Grip to bounce two Frogmites is, in itself, a good deal, those Frogmites will be coming back on the next turn while Dream’s Grip sulks forlornly in the graveyard. To overcome this problem, deck designers who use Cowardice typically choose to focus either on cantrip targeters or permanents that target. Sadly, Mirrodin Block and Champions of Kamigawa are both short on targeting cantrips, and most targeting permanents are artifacts or creatures, the former of which will succumb to hate in today’s environment and the latter of which tend to lack synergy with Cowardice itself. Even if you do select the artifact route, you’ll find that multiple-use, targeting artifacts are quite rare; those that do exist are often prohibitively expensive (Vedalken Shackles) and/or useless without Cowardice (Scale of Chiss-Goria).

Nonetheless, as Adrian Sullivan pointed out, Mirrodin Block produced three particular cards that can abuse this ne’er-do-well enchantment. One these is Troll Ascetic, a creature superior to its untargetable predecessors due to the fact that, unlike Multani, Maro Sorcerer and Nimble Mongoose, you can target it yourself to save it from Wrath of God or Flamebreak. This selective targetability is of greater advantage than you might imagine. If a Cowardice deck is to dedicate itself to Control as thoroughly as it ought, it will fill as many decklist slots as possible with Control spells. Assuming tutoring abilities (already almost requisite in Control), a Cowardice player who feels confident of her ability to keep the opponent’s board clear of creatures could get away with running a single copy of Troll Ascetic.

The most noteworthy addition to the Cowardice arsenal is the ever-reliable Eternal Witness. If Cowardice is on the board and you control a no-cost targeting permanent, this creature functions as a reusable three-mana Regrowth. The question is, what sort of spells could you be interested in returning from the graveyard to your hand? Disregarding truly silly options like Dream’s Grip and Unearthly Blizzard, retrieving an instant or sorcery targeted will usually be pointless because the source that initially targeted your Eternal Witness could probably have been used to target your opponent’s creature in the first place, saving you at least four mana. The ideal spell type to retrieve, then, would be either a permanent targeted that somehow ended up in your graveyard or a spell that does not directly interact with Cowardice.

Finally, Mirrodin brought us Viridian Shaman. It will rarely be completely useless, but it suffers from the same strange logic that Eternal Witness does: Returning it to your hand for later use will not usually be as helpful as simply targeting an opponent’s creature instead.

It should be clear that the three primary additions from Mirrodin are, in themselves, insufficient to make any sort of Cowardice deck viable in competitive Standard. If they had been, I would have written about U/G/b Cowardice months ago. The change in environment has come, rather, from Champions of Kamigawa. When first previewed, Gifts Ungiven sparked a massive reaction. For a few hours, players the world over proclaimed the card to be the best thing since sliced duck. This new instant appeared to be a fixed version of just about every broken card drawer in Magic history.

As deck designers soon discovered, however, Gifts Ungiven was generally unwieldy. Even though redundancy has become a primary mantra of modern Magic, only infrequently can Gifts Ungiven be used to tutor for a particular effect: U/W Control now has only a single playable mass destruction spell; Mono-Blue Control could make an opponent choose between Mana Leak, Condescend, Hinder, and Thoughtbind, but this would require that multiple copies of all of these spells be played, despite the fact that Mana Leak and Thoughtbind wouldn’t be particularly effective (remember, this would be well into the mid-game); and Tooth and Nail is already tutoring with Tooth and Nail.

As it is being presented in decklists now, Gifts Ungiven could often be replaced by Thirst for Knowledge or even the sorcery-speed Counsel of the Soratami with little loss. Crystal Witness appears to be well-placed to use the spell, but its Crystal Shard is hardly sturdy, and the deck cannot guarantee Eternal Witness recurrence. Even if it could, continually bouncing Eternal Witness in order to revive Oxidize is not nearly as impressive as it sounds. In order for Gifts Ungiven to be fantastic and not merely decent (or worse), it must exist within a purpose-built deck. Here’s where U/G/b Cowardice comes in. If the Eternal Witness/Cowardice/permanent targeted engine is out and churning, Gifts Ungiven tutors for any four cards of your choice. This board position may sound implausible and slow, yet Gifts Ungiven can set up its own future use: For example, assuming a permanent targeted in play, a player can assure herself of drawing the other two combo (here, the word “combo” is used loosely) pieces by selecting from her library Cowardice, Eternal Witness, Revive, and Raise Dead.

In the above example, Revive and Raise Dead stand out because both cards are generally unplayable, yet U/G/b Cowardice needs only include one copy of each. They may be nearly useless once the combo has been set up, but then, if the combo’s been set up, you’re in pretty good shape anyway. Even though an eternally recurring Eternal Witness could be used to fuel an actual, game-winning combo like Mindslavering every turn, such thirteen-mana horrors should lie beyond a deck’s reach. Cowardice is best used as a Control card, and as any student of tempo will tell you, an eight- or a nine-mana soft-lock is generally preferable to a hard-lock that costs just one or two mana more.

And what does this wonder of a deck look like? Here is its heart:

U/G/b Cowardice

Heart (12)

4 Cowardice

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Eternal Witness

Selecting Mana Acceleration

Beyond these basics, some mana acceleration can be suggested. Although U/G/b Cowardice’s spells are not particularly difficult to cast, you’ll rarely have as much mana as you’d like. Chrome Mox doesn’t find a place here because the deck needs to jump from two to four or three to five mana, not from zero to two; this artifact’s card disadvantage isn’t worth it considering the strength of our other options. Designers of Green decks tend to instinctually include four copies of Birds of Paradise, usually with good reason. It’s true that Birds of Paradise have no synergy with Cowardice, but at least, you’ll rarely spend more mana recasting them than it took for your opponent to bounce them. Additionally, even though you won’t often be tempted to cast a three-drop on turn 2 (Crystal Shard is an exception), casting a one-mana instant or sorcery (or possibly, another Birds of Paradise) alongside Sakura-Tribe Elder is close to ideal.

Speaking of the Sakura-Tribe Elder… This nifty, little fellow from Champions of Kamigawa is a godsend for all varieties of U/G Control. Since the archetype puts so little pressure on opponents in the early-game, its wonderful to be able to chump block into a higher land-count (and they say blocking is dead in Constructed!). As mentioned above, our deck hungers after mana like Courtney Love does after publicity, yet as opposed to Tooth and Nail and Ponza, U/G/b Control doesn’t require a specific quantity of mana; the more the better, but anything over four with suffice in a fix. The deck can speedily ramp-up into Cranial Extraction and Plow Under recursion, both of which could severely aggravate Control. However, more defensive tactics are called for in the Aggro matchup, and without access to Red or double-Black mana in our casting costs, the most effective candidates for recursion will be spells like Lose Hope and Oxidize. With this in mind, you should be wary of overloading the deck with mana fixers. The perfect turn 3 consisting of two Green, two Blue, and one Black mana will not always be available, but this alone doesn’t make it wise to sacrifice useful spell density for supplementary combo accelerators like Kodama’s Reach. If your metagame is Aggro-heavy, Black mana is particularly important, but in any case, you have no way of guaranteeing a Swamp before turn 4 without Birds of Paradise, and Sakura-Tribe Elder is a real sucker for blocking Myr Enforcer. Thus, the deck’s framework looks to be the following:

U/G/b Cowardice

Heart (12)

4 Cowardice

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Eternal Witness

Mana Acceleration (8)

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Selecting Targeters

As has been shown, Cowardice is, by itself, a less than formidable Control card; it does some things very well, but it will frequently decrease the quality of the targeting cards (like Oxidize and Terror) in your hand. Still, it enables Eternal Witness unlike anything else (this is not a lie), and Eternal Witness is the key to unlocking Gifts Ungiven. And what is Gifts Ungiven?

Gifts Ungiven is a toolbox. I’ve previously written about the power of toolboxes, and although U/G/b Cowardice can’t approach the speed and potency of RecSur, it works in much the same way.

The partial decklist given above leaves us with forty unfilled slots. Because we’re working within the design constraints of both Cowardice and Gifts Ungiven, we need a variety of cheap targeters, at least some of which being multiple-use permanents. Whereas the deck’s heart and its mana acceleration could be selected without much fuss, choice of targeters is more complex and metagame dependent. It must be remembered that the deck eventually hopes to devote a fair number of slots to its toolbox. Also, it is expected that a portion of these toolbox spells will, themselves, be targeters. That said, some choices are listed below:

Crystal Shard:

Recently, Green-based decks have had more three-drops than the landlord’s daughter. Despite our avoidance of Pulse of the Tangle, Kodama’s Reach, and extraneous Troll Ascetics and Viridian Shamans, we’ll still often want to cast Eternal Witness once we get to three mana. That said, there are few noteworthy multiple-use targeters in Standard that cost less than three mana, and Crystal Shard has already proven its usefulness. Unlike Scale of Chiss-Goria, it can be exploited both proactively and reactively without Cowardice on the board.

Scale of Chiss-Goria/Tooth of Chiss-Goria:

These artifacts are pointless when they costs zero mana and horrible when they costs three (which they usually will in U/G/b Cowardice). Nonetheless, they are among the only permanent targeters with no activation cost. If you test the deck, you’ll be surprised how frequently that pesky, single Blue mana gets in the way of tapping Crystal Shard. I would not run them in my build, but they shouldn’t be discounted.

Icy Manipulator:

Cheap to activate, useful without Cowardice, a classic… Four mana to cast. In this slot, Icy Manipulator will often be competing with Gifts Ungiven and Cowardice. It doesn’t stand a chance.

Vedalken Shackles:

Don’t let U/G/b Cowardice’s lack of Islands trick you into thinking Vedalken Shackles is useless. Without Cowardice on the board, it will nearly always be able to steal an opposing Birds of Paradise or Disciple of the Vault. However, the activation cost is a killer.

Lose Hope:

Currently underrated, Lose Hope kills the most dangerous one-drop in Standard (Disciple of the Vault) and is one of those seldom-seen worthwhile, cheap targeters while Cowardice is around.

Echoing Decay:

Not fantastic, but the power decreasing effect could be useful when Big Red and Ravager Affinity are both just working to put you in Shrapnel Blast range.


Great for killing Furnace Dragon and Arc-Slogger. Elsewhere though, it’s unimpressive. Against Ravager Affinity, Terror does nothing, and the targets in Tooth and Nail and Crystal Witness can be better dealt with by Lose Hope and Echoing Decay.

Dark Banishing:

At three mana, it’s too expensive a targeter for this deck.


This is the premier artifact destroyer. If your local metagame isn’t filled with Ravager Affinity, you’re either playing Vintage or some other trading card game.


For the past few weeks, the word on the street has been that Naturalize is poised to overtake Oxidize. However, Champions of Kamigawa has not delivered many game-winning enchantments. Ghostly Prison should do U/G/b Cowardice any harm, and Night of Souls’ Betrayal probably won’t see much play. From 8th Edition, Vernal Bloom would be a blessing, and the Intruder Alarm/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo simply doesn’t work when Cowardice is out. Still, Gifts Ungiven rewards spell variety, so Naturalize will make the maindeck.

Viridian Shaman:

Although Viridian Shaman is not as good as it appears with Cowardice, it can still be bounced to destroy artifact lands and equipment. Also, it will force opponents to expend mana on bouncing Viridian Shaman that could have been used to re-cast a bounced creature.

Recall that I can’t give you any precise list of which targeters to play. For the sake of example, however, let’s say that the your local metagame slants toward Ravager Affinity and general Aggro. If the metagame were heavier in Control, the number of one-off targeters could be somewhat decreased, but as it is, we can assume a revised decklist that looks like this:

Heart (12)

4 Cowardice

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Eternal Witness

Mana Acceleration (8)

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Targeters (12)

3 Crystal Shard

3 Lose Hope

2 Echoing Decay

2 Oxidize

1 Naturalize

1 Viridian Shaman

We have, then, 28 unfilled deck slots. Based on the relatively low casting costs of our targeters, it’s acceptable to assume that we’ll be spending 24 of these slots on land. In reality, then, we have four slots with which to do as we please. Of these, one will be devoted to Troll Ascetic, one to Revive, and one to Raise Dead.

That leaves us with a single slot for our toolbox. One spell does not a toolbox make. It doesn’t even make a lunchbox covered with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stickers. U/G/b Cowardice has been killed by a lack of cheap, multiple-use targeters. Looking at the list of suggested targeters above, you’ll find that the only card you’d really be happy to use on Eternal Witness is Crystal Shard, an artifact that could bounce Eternal Witness without Cowardice’s help. On the other hand, the centrality of Cowardice to the deck requires a broad array of targeting spells, a good number of them Black (despite the fact that the deck would rather not be producing Black mana on Turn One). The decklist, as it stands now, is unworkable.

Even more damning, the deck’s central combo takes far too much time (probably three turns) to set up once you reach four mana. If you cast Gifts Ungiven for Eternal Witness, Revive, Raise Dead, and Cowardice while playing against Aggro, the Aggro player will gladly give you Revive and Raise Dead, making you then spend four mana to retrieve Eternal Witness and then Cowardice from the graveyard, followed by five more mana to cast the enchantment. After that, you’ll need to spend additional mana if you want the enchantment to do you any good. If a Control deck has the opportunity to spend over 14 straight mana while ignoring its opponent, it should be able to win immediately, not just spend the next turn bouncing a Myr Enforcer with Oxidize. Similarly, against other Control decks, your Cowardice is likely to be countered after you’ve plucked it from the graveyard with Eternal Witness.

But if you feel that I’ve taken you on an absurd, worthless tour around Wee Willy Winkle Land, there are yet more fun, fun surprises in store for you! The experiment with Cowardice taught us a few things:

The Heart of the Matter 2 and Selecting Mana Acceleration 2 (Now with even more shoot-outs and explosions!)

What, then, should we do? First, we remove Cowardice from the decklist. As an unfortunate side result of this, Troll Ascetic becomes just another efficient creature, not a game-winner. Interestingly, testing showed that Troll Ascetic was usually unnecessary because well-timed bouncing allowed for Eternal Witness to gradually deal lethal damage. Absent Cowardice, Eternal Witness becomes considerably more fragile and can’t be counted on as the primary win condition.

If we’re relying on Crystal Shard to bounce Eternal Witness, the deck is just a modification of Crystal Witness. However, it is still true that traditional Crystal Witness is not now primed to use Gifts Ungiven. Recently, [author name="Peter Jahn"]Peter Jahn[/author] presented a possible U/G Control build that incorporated Champions of Kamigawa spells (it should be noted that he didn’t claim to have optimized the deck):

U/G Reach

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Eternal Witness

2 Viridian Shaman

2 (Big Finisher)

2 Rude Awakening

4 Echoing Truth

4 Condescend

2 Naturalize

3 Hinder

4 Kodama’s Reach

2 Gifts Ungiven

2 Engineered Explosives

2 Bribery

9 Island

12 Forest

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

1 Swamp

Disregarding the two, unfilled “Big Finisher” slots and the absent Crystal Shards, the deck looks much as we might expect it to. Birds of Paradise is absent, possibly because Jahn really wanted to fit in Kodama’s Reach and because they are less synergistic with Rude Awakening. Here, Gifts Ungiven really does seem to be an afterthought. A few months back, Rude Awakening was a crafty win condition; now, the metagame has overreacted to defend against it. This alone doesn’t make Rude Awakening a poor choice, but when it’s fetched by Gifts Ungiven (that is, when your opponent knows how you’re timing your endgame), it loses much of its impact.

The addition of Bribery is interesting and underlines one of the advantages that the Crystal Shard strategy has over Cowardice: This Tooth and Nail-taming sorcery becomes an option. Jahn also includes two copies of Engineered Explosives, another fine choice and one which would have been key to our U/G/b Cowardice deck. But why, one must ask, does Jahn run his heavy hitters in doubles? Why two Rude Awakenings, two instances of Bribery, two Engineered Explosives, and two “Big Finishers”? Because he’s not exploiting Gifts Ungiven.

Let’s see what happens when, like Jahn, we attempt to reconstruct our U/G/b Cowardice deck on a Crystal Witness backbone:

Crystal Giftness

Heart (12)

4 Eternal Witness

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Crystal Shard

Mana Acceleration (8)

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Presumably, Jahn left Crystal Shard out of his decklist because it competed not only with Eternal Witness but also Kodama’s Reach. While the power of Kodama’s Reach is undeniable, the ability to reliably bounce Eternal Witness (thus fetching gravebound Sakura-Tribe Elder) is even less deniable. Crystal Shard is prone to Splash Damage, but let’s assume for a moment that it will usually be cast at least a turn after Eternal Witness (that you will always have mana open on the first turn that it comes into play). The one-for-one trade that will result if your opponent removes Crystal Shard immediately and you respond by bouncing Eternal Witness will have, despite everything, gained you a future card from Eternal Witness.

Selecting Tools

Unlike U/G/b Cowardice, our deck needn’t worry about setting aside too many slots for targeters. You’ll want some extra bounce to supplement Crystal Shard (it will be destroyed), but you won’t be under the necessity of leaving multiple creature-removing instants sided in against Control. The idea here is to make a toolbox out of as much of the deck as possible. The spells we looked at before might still be possibilities even though some have changed in value. Without Cowardice around, we can also make some additions to the list. If much of what I say here is obvious, recall that I’m attempting merely to demonstrate the broad possibilities of a true toolbox deck in today’s Standard:

Lose Hope: Although it’s still the ideal Disciple of the Vault killer, now that we’re not relying on an early Cowardice, we might not be using Sakura-Tribe Elder to fish for a Swamp on turn 2 so often.

Echoing Decay: The deck’s best creature removal. Since Cowardice is no longer in the picture, it might even deal with multiple creatures at once.

Terror: Still bad.

Dark Banishing: Without Cowardice around to make this an overpriced bounce spell, a single copy of Dark Banishing could be helpful against Big Red and decent against Ravager Affinity.

Oxidize: No change here.

Naturalize: Cowardice’s disappearance makes Intruder Alarm more dangerous.

Viridian Shaman: Value decreases slightly.

Echoing Truth: Top of the line bounce that loses value against Crystal Witness and Tooth and Nail because of opposing Eternal Witnesses. Still, it makes it more difficult to die from Darksteel Colossus.

Boomerang: The double-Blue in the casting cost hurts, and you won’t need to bounce lands all that often.

Unsummon: Limited use, but effective defense against Aggro and an extra option for Gifts Ungiven.

Aether Spellbomb: When used simply as a bouncer, the spellbomb straggles leagues behind the puny Unsummon. Eternal Witness/Crystal Shard/Æther Spellbomb is not Auriok Salvagers/Æther Spellbomb; if you really want to be drawing an extra card each turn, use Serum Visions.

Evacuation: One of Cowardice’s problems was that, come turns 4 or 5, you wanted to clear the board, not set up for future board clearing. Evacuation isn’t exactly Wrath of God, but it will often serve multiple purposes at once. Some funny (and extremely expensive) things could happen if you have two Eternal Witnesses on the board and are holding Evacuation and Plow Under.

Hibernation: If your opponent is also playing Green, Hibernation can be monstrous. This and Evacuation could be some of the deck’s only ways of dealing with Troll Ascetic. Best if you’re also loading up on Viridian Shamans.

Condescend: This is, without a doubt, a lovely counterspell, but it isn’t all that useful in a deck that devours its mana in the main phase.

Hinder: I’m not sold on Hinder yet. Maybe, this is just the reaction of someone who’s building a deck with tutors, but considering the double-Blue mana requirement, I don’t believe the spell has a place here.

Mana Leak: O! Infamous day! Mana Leak is, for our purposes, the best counterspell in Standard!

Thoughtbind: I can’t help but wonder why this counterspell has been ignored. Outside of Tooth and Nail, most important spells cost four mana or less and are unlikely to be plucked out of the graveyard for future use.

Annul: Helpful against Affinity, but against Affinity you won’t have time to tutor for it.

Time Stop: This won’t absolutely win the game the way Mindslaver will, but when recurred (ten mana a turn) it’ll end the game for Aggro (assuming you’ve already used Cranial Extraction on their Shrapnel Blast). But then, at so much mana and with access to three colors, we ought to be able to find something better.

Thirst for Knowledge: You might not have many artifacts to discard to it, but so long as you have an Eternal Witness and some bounce, the three cards are as good as in your hand.

Serum Visions: A way of occupying yourself on turn One when you don’t have Birds of Paradise.

Jushi Apprentice: Our deck can make it happen, but when it looks like a “win more” card, walks like a “win more” card, and quacks like a “win more” card, it’s probably a duck. Also, before those ten cards are drawn, you’ll have expended ten mana.

March of the Machines: March of the Machines ceased to be “tech” some time ago, and it may no longer wallop Ravager Affinity outright, but it’s still what you’d most like to tutor for when you see that first Welding Jar come down.

Bribery: The existence of Cranial Extraction makes Bribery less valuable because Control players will diversify their threats, and you’ll be less likely to snag a deck’s only win condition. On the other hand, our deck might lack win conditions of its own. Incidentally, this shows how Cranial Extraction’s inclusion in Champions of Kamigawa was a nip of genius: How else could players be convinced to play with single copies of legends?

Plow Under: Plow Under will rarely be useless and is one of the best recursion targets for Eternal Witness in the late-game. It also has some synergy with Crystal Shard.

Revive: We wouldn’t be bothering with Revive if not for Eternal Witness/Gifts Ungiven, but this spell will almost always dredge up something: Plow Under, Oxidize, Sakura-Tribe Elder

Troll Ascetic: Troll Ascetic is still a possible kill card, but without Cowardice around you’ll be aiming more at locking down your opponent or stripping her with Cranial Extraction than at gradually eating her life total.

Kodama of the North Tree: Like Troll Ascetic, only it hits harder and is more difficult to save from Wrath of God. Its legendary status won’t be an issue.

Cranial Extraction: Brilliant. You won’t always be casting this as early as you’d like, but the deck’s bounce helps on this count.

Mind Rot/Waking Nightmare: You’d usually rather cast Cranial Extraction, but these do provide card advantage for one mana less. The deck’s only method of removing land permanently would be Boomerang followed by Mind Rot or Waking Nightmare.

Raise Dead: If Revive is the deck’s Pinocchio (a poor, dumb thing that only dances when you pull the strings), Raise Dead is its Geppetto (so hapless that, in times of danger, he turns to Pinocchio for help). Or something.

Gravedigger: While Gravedigger‘s uses are less limited than Raise Dead’s, the zombie costs three mana more to cast. On the other hand, it can be bounced by Crystal Shard.

Engineered Explosives: These are less important in a Cowardice-free world.

Isochron Scepter: Isochron Scepter, one of the best cards to come out of Mirrodin Block, was confounded by anti-Affinity hate. Here, the threat of a single copy suffices. Let’s say you cast Gifts Ungiven for Isochron Scepter, Echoing Decay, Naturalize, and Oxidize against Ravager Affinity. Unless your opponent is holding multiple artifact removal spells, you can bet that she’ll be letting you keep Echoing Decay and Naturalize. Simply, if you appear smart enough to avoid getting two-for-oned and look like you might have an Eternal Witness in hand, letting you take Isochron Scepter is too dangerous. Additionally, most players will normally realize that it’s unwise to side-in extra artifact hate in Game Two because your only relevant artifacts will appear to be four copies of Crystal Shard which, though powerful, is not so powerful that it’s worth overdosing on Shatters for. If you show your opponent Isochron Scepter, however, she is practically forced to side-in that supplementary hate. This may mean that your Crystal Shards won’t stay on the board for long, but it will also mean that your opponent will have over-diluted her deck.

Imi Statue: There may be something to the hype, but when you already have access to Green and Blue, Imi Statue isn’t the answer to Ravager Affinity.

Relic Barrier: Doesn’t do a thing to combat Arcbound Ravager or Cranial Plating. There are better options in our colors.

Culling Scales: If you’re expecting a lot of White Weenie…

Assuming, again, a metagame that slants toward Ravager Affinity and general Aggro, a sample decklist is provided below:

Crystal Giftness

Heart (12)

4 Eternal Witness

4 Gifts Ungiven

4 Crystal Shard

Mana Acceleration (8)

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Other (16)

1 Unsummon

1 Lose Hope

1 Raise Dead

2 Oxidize

2 Echoing Truth

1 Echoing Decay

1 Naturalize

1 Revive

1 Dark Banishing

1 Viridian Shaman

1 Cranial Extraction

2 Evacuation

1 Bribery

1 Plow Under

Land (23)

12 Forest

10 Island

1 Swamp

To reiterate, this is nothing more than a sample decklist, and I’ve specifically made it so that it isn’t geared to beat any deck in particular but, rather, to compete against a wide field. Clearly, the sideboard holds large possibilities: For instance, even if there were already copies in the maindeck, we’d probably want additional March of the Machines and Viridian Shamans to combat Ravager Affinity.

Why can’t I get just one duck?

Because Eternal Witness/Gifts Ungiven builds will differ so much depending on local metagames (note the complete lack of counterspells in the above sample), I can’t offer you detailed matchup analyses like I would with other decks. In truth, I’ve tested so many variations of this same Crystal Giftness theme, that it would be false for me to claim expertise with any particular build. The purpose of this article is to direct designers toward this general deck concept, not to provide a kid-tested, mother-approved decklist. That’s your job, and it has nothing to do with luck.

But good luck anyway, and come again soon.


Adam Grydehøj

[email protected]