I think most of you know that I’ve been pretty pleased with the Masques block when it comes to casual play. From impractical, killer beasts like Two-Headed Dragon to fun strategic elements like the Mongers, Wumpi, and Parallax Wave, the block so far reeks of success for casual players. Every time I read another missive from the "Magic is dying" school, and how there are no new good cards and why did they print this, usually written by a disaffected PTQ regular, I smile a little and think of Sizzle (2R, deals three damage to each opponent). A crap common in most duel situations, one that infuriates me when I’m passed it while trying to push red in booster draft, Sizzle shines pretty solidly in multiplayer and…dare I say it?…SIZZLES in team play. (Sorry.) There are a bevy of cards, from Rackling to Brawl to Wishmonger, that have less than spectacular results in most duel situations, but kick in when you’re facing down three to six other opponents.
In the universe that has me at its center, I prefer to believe that both fading and Laccoliths were conceived by Wizards first and foremost as casual (and in the case of Laccoliths, specifically group) play dynamics. Then they made sure they worked in limited, to solidify Masques as a quality limited block, and then they looked at constructed and said, "eh, well, maybe Merfolk decks will get a boost." Will you hear any complaints from this corner that the next Masticore is not in Nemesis? No sir. Bring on Prophecy, I’m getting that warm ‘n fuzzy feeling from Rosewater & Co.! Probably come up with something like a red instant costing R that deals damage based on how many players are sitting at the table. (MR – that idea’s on the house. Please, don’t wait for me to win the World Championships! But you have to let me do the stick figures for the artwork.)
FADE TO BLACK: PROGRESS REPORT
While I’m starting to see a couple of faders (especially Blastoderm and Woodripper) mentioned here in there for constructed tournament reports, in most cases these are too impractical for constructed play "above the rim". That’s why I looked at the challenge of using all those fading cards in a multiplayer format. The green-black recursion deck I came up with did as I thought it might: it struggled in true chaos play, but was far more effective in team situations, where it could apply early pressure, beat down a team’s weak spot, and then redeploy to finish the job if necessary. A quick look again at the deck, as I now have it:
4 Skyshroud Ridgeback
2 Anti-Masticores (Woodripper)
1 Phyrexian Prowler
3 Bone Shredder
2 Spike Feeder
3 Elvish Lyrist
1 Multani, Maro-Sorcerer (holding down the fort until I get in a Skyshroud Behemoth)
2 Stampede Driver
4 Parallax Dementia
2 Haunted Crossroads
R Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Parallax Inhibitor
2 Emerald Charms
1 Predator, Flagship
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
Swamps and Forests in "finely tuned" ratio
Still too many 2x and 1x for certain cards — that’s a sign of one of my decks in the experimental stage. I think I’m going to kick out the Exhume, the Prowler, the Inhibitor (which is a nice thought but even in a fading-heavy deck, doesn’t really give much punch), and a Lyrist in favor of a Weatherseed Treefolk, 2 Reclaims, and a Demonic Tutor. (Don’t know why I didn’t have the Tutor in the first version. Must have been suffering from fever.)
A true machine in emperor play. Playing 3-on-3, each player range of two for targeted spells, this utility-driven deck generally does not care what an emperor does to it, short of land destruction (which would be an odd, but not completely whacked, strategy for an emperor to play). Heck, I could put in a Groundskeeper for that, too. The deck generally slaps down a Ridgeback with Dementia with decent regularity by turn three or four (of course potentially on turn two), and a couple spins with a 5/5 creature puts the opposing general in the danger zone. The ‘derms are almost always creature removal by then — three for the price of one — and if I have a Crossroads, I usually stop topdecking and just recur the cards I have. Reload for the final push against the emperor. In one emperor game, I was backed strongly by Theo, who was playing ANOTHER utility deck with recurring creatures; it was rather sick. Another good complement for an emperor to try would be straightforward burn and creature removal, since this general’s deck can push through for major damage even earlier if it isn’t continually crossing its fingers for a Bone Shredder.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t give this enough gas to make it work in chaos. Maybe it can handle two or three opponents – I haven’t played it in that small a group, yet. But against five or six opponents, fuggedaboudit. Not without Survival of the Fittest, anyway, and mine are in a different deck right now.
LACCOLICIOUS: PETE REVISITS HIS RED ROOTS
Pete, a very red mage, just came up with his latest mono-red creation. He fell in love with Laccoliths as soon as he saw them, and put together a deck within 24 hours of opening and drafting our boxes.
Laccoliths are one of those mechanics, again, that I believe Wizards felt would resonate more soundly among those who are just mucking around in groups. It makes for a decent limited mechanic as well, to be sure; but no one’s going to be packing these babies in an Extended PTQ. (Can you imagine these things going against an Oath or Necro-Donate deck? Ugh.) Laccoliths are, in essence, inefficient Masticores. But the more players you have at the table, and by extension more diverse creatures and potential blockers, the more efficient the Laccoliths become – while paradoxically, a Masticore may actually become less efficient as it gives up increasingly intolerable card advantage to multiple players.
I haven’t looked at all of the preconstructed Nemesis decks that Wizards put together, but I did buy the red-white one (using Laccoliths and tricks like Trap Runner) right away. Far and away the best of the bunch, based on my admittedly cursory examination. (Probably has the best rares of the four decks, too, in the Overseer and Attendants.)
I’ll give a suggested monored decklist below, but for now it’s good enough to know that Pete’s deck has four Whelps, four Grunts, four Warriors, and two Titans. He’s currently using Giant Strengths and Downhill Charge to pump up the power of the redirected damage, but he’s likely to shift from Strengths to Crown of Flames. The Downhill Charges are his favorite part. While they can be used to finish off an opponent, more often than not Pete’s just out to kill as many creatures as he possibly can, and damn the goal of the game:
PETE: Anthony, I’ll attack you with the Titan.
ANTHONY: What? Why? I’m dying here, and I only have one blocker left. Why not attack Gary with the Vigilant Drake, or Carl with nothing at all? Cripes, Carl’s only at five life, you could take him out.
PETE (patiently, but firmly): Anthony. I will attack with the LACCOLITH Titan.
ANTHONY sits and thinks for a moment: Oh. Okay, I’ll block with my Vine Trellis.
PETE: Ugh, whaddya know, the Titan was blocked! Redirect damage to Gary’s Drake.
He so badly wants to knock off creatures with these things, more often than not the Downhill Charges are an implicit threat:
PETE: Anthony, I’ll attack you with the Titan again.
ANTHONY: Hmmm…well, I don’t want to risk my very valuable Trellis again, so I think I’ll just let it through. (NOTE: This is fiction.)
PETE: Boooooooo! Here, I’ll play Downhill Charge. I’ve got ten mountains. Take sixteen.
PETE: Okay, who ELSE doesn’t wanna block, now?!?!
I can’t recall every detail of his deck, but he mixed in basic burn as well. Here’s my best recollection of his deck, mixed in with a new touch I’d probably give it:
4 Laccolith Whelps
4 Laccolith Grunts
4 Laccolith Warriors
2 Laccolith Titans
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Downhill Charge
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Seal of Fire
2 Repercussion (this is my own touch)
20 Mountains – keep ’em all basic for the Charges.
Mana cost check:
TURN ONE: 20 (just about everything)
TURN TWO: 4 (but really, you’re playing two one-cost spells here instead, or holding back for burn)
TURN THREE: 8 (Grunts and Charge)
TURN FOUR: 6 (Warriors and Repercussion)
TURN FIVE PLUS: 2 (Titans)
If you play in a white-heavy group sporting many Paladins en-Vec and/or Pariah, you might want to replace a couple of the Incinerates with Distorting or Thran Lenses. (Note that the Seals of Fire are permanents that can be made colorless, as well.)
Yes, it has a good deal of "stupid burn" in it, but that is more of a retaliatory strategy for anyone trying to gun you down early. (If it were true stupid burn, you’d be packing four Fireblasts and Ball Lightnings in there, too.) The real path to victory is the Laccolith base, since they should keep the field clear, make you friends, and serve notice to your enemies.
Beyond basic color hosers, countermeasures to this kind of deck include Inviolobility, Diplomatic Immunity, and Bubble Matrix. I figure I’ll see a mixture of all three in my group before too long.
The major multiplayer drawback to Laccoliths is the fact that they have to tap (that is, attack) to use their ability. That leaves you defenseless…unless you’ve got three Seals of Fire on the table…or maybe a Relentless Assault, to whip the creatures you couldn’t get to the first time around.
The possibilities are endless. And we haven’t even splashed green yet!