Peace of Mind: Guildpact Mechanics, Part II

Last article, I examined one of the three Guildpact mechanics: Bloodthirst. While I thought it was an inventive mechanic, I didn’t feel it lived up to its potential. The second mechanic I want to examine is my favorite from Guildpact: Replicate.

Last article, I examined one of the three Guildpact mechanics: Bloodthirst. While I thought it was an inventive mechanic, I didn’t feel it lived up to its potential. A few cards may find some general usage, particularly Scab-Clan Mauler. Before I move to the next mechanic, I wanted to revisit Gruul for a few paragraphs and make some observations based upon playing with the deck for the last week. I have discovered enough to make some slight amendments to my commentary:

1. Scab-Clan Mauler is pretty nice with a Moldervine Cloak on it. The reason Mauler is stronger than it appears, despite the fact it can be a frustrating 1/1, is the magic word: "Trample". When you run smack dab into a defensive deck packing Order of the Stars, or Paladin en-Vec, or Eight-and-A-Half-Tails, you realize that the early Bloodthirst strategy stops cold in the fact of Protection. This means that cards such as the Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and Scab-Clan Mauler take on added importance when facing decks packing what limited Protection abilities are found in today’s Standard. If you think you won’t see any of the cards I just named? You’re wrong. Black/White isn’t naïve. Mauler’s trample can make a difference, whether he’s 1/1, 3/3, 4/4, or 6/6. Kird Ape, Mauler, Cloak are wonderful as your first three drops.

2. Guildpact’s Green creatures possess subtle evasion tools that we may find is necessary to exploit. As we know, aggro decks typically run the danger of creature stall. As such, we try to find creatures that will continue the assault and put pressure on the opponent. Black players may run creatures with Fear. Boros runs creatures that fly. Green isn’t always so obviously evasive, yet with this set we have three cards in particular that enable the Red-Green pairing to punch through early damage despite what your opponent might bring out as a deterrent.

3. The Pit-Skulk works excellently with a Cloak. Presuming he comes down on turn 1, you can potentially have a 4/4 unblockable creature on Turn Three that will get past the vast majority of creatures your opponent can generate by then. Pit-Skulk works slightly less optimally with Umezawa’s Jitte. Since his ability is power-triggered, it’s tempting to use the Jitte’s counters to pump proactively instead of reactively. This detracts somewhat from the poker’s incredible flexibility.

4. An evasive creature that works exceptionally with both the Jitte and Cloak is Silhana Ledgewalker. While it may struggle against some White and Blue flyers, the fact that it comes down early and is safe from every staple removal card except Pyroclasm and Wrath of God makes it a prime target for either of your creature boosters. Yes, people will often just destroy the Jitte, but we’d both be lying if we pretended that people don’t simply kill the creature you’re trying to equip when they don’t have artifact removal in hand. Typically, people dedicate a lot more towards creature removal than Jitte removal. Ledgewalker fits in that blind spot rather snugly. Its only problem is that it is 1/1. Were it 2/1, it’d be getting a lot more press. Is it worth playing if you already run Dryad Sophisticate?

5. The Sophisticate – which I discussed previously – has an excellent landwalking ability in an environment tailor-made for abusing it. It’s the best Green card in Guildpact. While I’m still not enamored of the Pit-Skulk overall, since I find his usefulness is largely determined by whether or not he’s Cloaked, I find the two elves to be highly enticing in a beatdown strategy. Whether or not the Ledgewalker actually fits in the two-slot is another matter. It has some viable competition.

6. Gruul Guildmage is nice. Burning-Tree Shaman is nice. The two have trouble co-existing, particularly in multiples. I somewhat underestimated this. Silhana Ledgewalker and Umezawa’s Jitte may be a better pairing than the Guildmage and Shaman; the added pump/removal/lifegain and evasion might supercede fat in this case. The problem is that by doing so, it kinda makes Gruul look like Boros, and I’m not sure that’s playing to its strengths. We’ll see; obviously, it’s only been a few playtesting rounds with the deck. Still, going around blockers is often a lot easier than trying to go through them.

7. I was attempting to forego the Jitte in favor of the Burning-Tree Shaman. Now, I’m starting to think that’s simply a losing strategy. Jitte, why did I doubt you? I apologize. Let’s go make counters together.

Hopefully, you are having as much fun going through deck concepts as I am. I’m awash with ideas and notes on what Guildpact has brought us – and, already, fragments of thought regarding what I can look forward to in Dissension. That’s getting ahead of ourselves, though. For now, let’s work with what we have.

The second mechanic I want to examine is my favorite from Guildpact: Replicate.

Replicate (10 cards)
Replicate means, "When you play this spell, copy it for each time you paid its replicate cost. You may choose new targets for the copies."

Replicate is an additional cost when you play a spell. The replicated copies do not count as additional played spells; therefore, for example, you can’t replicate a Gigadrowse once and have it count twice toward the Storm mechanic or your Wee Dragonauts. That being said, each copy is separate, so if one is countered the rest remain upon the stack.

Interestingly, the development team decided somewhere along the line to make the Replicate cost identical to the casting cost of the card. I’m not sure of the virtue of this, aside from simplicity; it seems as if they could have adjusted the power levels of the cards a little better in some cases, and worse in others. For example, Vacuumelt at 2U is directly inferior to Boomerang or Repeal. If it had a lower casting cost, and Replicate remained at 2U, it would be a more attractive card without being overpowered. My feelings on this may be biased due to my initial perception of Replicate as similar to the Flashback mechanic. I’m well aware that all cards aren’t going to be optimal, but I anticipated low opening costs, and high replicate costs. Obviously, this wasn’t how it ended up.

There are nine Blue or Red cards with Replicate. For purposes of this study, we’ll include Djinn Illuminatus, since obviously it’s uniquely keyed towards facilitating the guild mechanic. As such, it bears consideration when discussing Replicate application. Good lord. Try saying that five times fast.

The cards are listed below in order of casting cost and card type. Unlike Bloodthirst, which was entirely creature-based, we have a mixture of instants and sorceries available with Replicate. Since the Replicate costs are identical to the casting cost, they won’t be listed separately.

U – Gigadrowse – Tap target permanent.
1R – Pyromatics – Deal 1 damage to target creature or player.
RU – Leap of Flame – Give creature +1/+0, flying, first strike.
2U – Thunderheads – Put a 3/3 flying Blue defender into play until end of turn.

R – Shattering Spree – Destroy target artifact.
1U – Train of Thought – Draw a card.
1R – Siege of TowersMountain becomes a 3/1 creature. It’s still a land.
2U – Vacuumelt – Return creature to owner’s hand.
3U – Mimeofacture – Grab a copy of target permanent an opponent controls from their library.

5(U/R)(U/R) – Djinn Illuminatus – 3/5, Flying. Each instant/sorcery you play gains replicate equal to its mana cost.

At first, I was dismayed to find only these ten cards, particularly when you consider Convoke has five more. However, these cards cover a wide array of effects – pretty much every useful Blue or Red ability is presented here.

For Blue, we have tapping permanents, the gift of flying, illusory creatures, drawing cards, creature bounce, and a combination of cloning and theft. For Red, we have player/creature damage, first strike, artifact destruction, and Mountains as an offensive resource. The Djinn, as a guild card, is an expensive flying creature that may or may not facilitate brokenness. In other words, they hit the nail on the head here; these are excellent choices for card abilities.

Replicate is analogous to Dredge for me. All of the mechanics thus far have been applied to the color combination’s strengths; even Convoke took the best of what Green and White do, and tried to make it work. However, certain effects are power. Voluntary recursion? That’s some good. Duplication of effect? That’s what we strive for on a deck-wide basis. It’s hard to fairly price cards featuring either ability, because with only a slight miscalculation in mana cost, a card goes from useful to broken in three seconds or less. They were on the money with Dredge – cards were still useful, and many still tournament-caliber, but not outrageously imbalanced on the side of caution. How’d they do with Replicate? Let’s look at the cards.

Tapping permanents isn’t always perceived as powerful, but Gigadrowse is potentially an important card for a number of reasons. Its power revolves around the fact it is an instant. In the past, people have used such cards as Mana Short and Turnabout to deny their opponents mana. In this case, for each Blue mana you can generate, you can tap a land. Imagine that in a Control matchup – when you’re both staring at each other around eight mana and are trying to punch out a Meloku, the person whose replicated Gigadrowse resolves may be the person who wins. Tap all their lands on their turn, and summon safely on your own turn, unless they have a Disrupting Shoal and a certain degree of luck. At the very least, you’ll pull a critical counterspell out of their hand. With the state of countermagic nowadays, that’s no small feat, particularly if you have mana open to protect your resolved threat thereafter.

Gigadrowse also has application against early aggression. While it’s certainly a less than optimal defense mechanism, it buys time for strategies involving board control (such as Threads of Disloyalty or Mimeofacture) rather than traditional bounce-and-counter. In an aggressive Red/Blue deck, it creates tempo, tapping their defenders or counterattackers, or denying them mana with which to generate a response.

Whether Gigadrowse will wind up being maindeck or sideboard remains to be seen, but it will be a factor at some point, when you least expect it. Before you start dreaming up infinite tap-your-opponent-for-turns-on-end combos, this snippet from the FAQ bears mentioning:

"Copies created with replicate will have replicate abilities themselves. However, since those copies aren’t played, their replicate costs can’t be paid and their replicate abilities won’t trigger."

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to abuse Gigadrowse, but it won’t be by using Eye of the Storm, or by putting it on an Isochron Scepter.

The other Replicate instants are likewise intriguing. It was too much to hope for a replicable Fire/Ice, but at least they gave us both sides of the coin. Pyromatics will certainly find some fans. Whether or not it’s the most optimal burn spell available doesn’t matter – it’s the versatility that will appeal to some people. Personally, I’d rather have Pyroclasm, even if it’s slower. I’ll take Shock over Pyromatics for efficiency and turn 1 response to mana creatures. I’ll take Char for reach and anti-Meloku/Hierarch/Shaman defense. At some point, however, you know those running burn will be sitting on large amounts of mana wishing they could split up the damage of any of those three cards, and Pyromatics will snicker malignantly from your card box.

Pyromatics is a fine example of a card that I think should have started with a different casting cost than its Replicate cost. One point of mana for one damage is a long-accepted staple measurement. If the casting cost was simply R, it would be perfectly fair. 1RR for two points of splittable damage? 2RRR for three points? I see absolutely no problem with that, and it would have made the card a lot more attractive for tournament play. Regardless, I’m sure it will be included in certain strategies in Block play, and its black sheep potential in Standard can’t be ignored. It’s not the best they could have done, but it’s far from the worst.

Leap of Flame is another card that fits into the flavor of both colors very well. While I’m not sure how often I want to pay RRUU to give two creatures flying, first strike, and a small boost, it’s an ability that can work well if you build the deck around tricks rather than pure counters or removal. I’m not sold on a Red/Blue aggro build yet, but it’s possible one will arise in the near future. Presuming you have a Red creature out on turn 2 (let’s say, Hearth Kami), and a Wee Dragonauts on turn 3, a Replicated Leap of Flame means you’re attacking with two first striking flyers with stats of 4/1 and 4/3, respectively. Obviously, that falls into the category of "Things You Won’t Do Every Game", but the power and evasion of that isn’t something easily dismissed, particularly when it can be applied defensively as well. It’s a good day when a Hearth Kami can block a Loxodon Hierarch and live.

The final instant falls squarely into the area of foresight and averted abuse: Thunderheads. Let’s take a look at the text:

"Put a 3/3 Blue Weird creature token with defender and flying into play. Remove it from the game at end of turn."

Ah, Wizards, how you love to give us these end of turn creatures.

By now, I’m sure many of you will have heard of the quasi-famous "Waylay" trick, particularly with Goryo’s Vengeance as a popular card in Standard. I’ll attempt to explain the trick succinctly for those unfamiliar with it. At the beginning of the end step, things saying "at end of turn" trigger. All cards with "at end of turn" effects are then put on the stack for resolution. After these resolve, you can play further instants – such as Goryo’s Vengeance – and it will create a delayed triggered ability when it resolves. This ability will wait until the beginning of the next end of turn step (yours). Thus, you suddenly have a potent offensive force on your side of the board. Your opponent doesn’t have a chance to respond to your sudden threat with creatures of his own, meaning that typically the beatdown shall commence. Waylay, which created three 2/2 tokens, was errata’d, and as far as I know they haven’t made that mistake since.

Note that this is different from the duration effect "until end of turn.” That lasts until the cleanup step, which is the last possible step of the turn. Effects that last "until end of turn", therefore, will never be carried over to the next turn like "at end of turn" triggers are.

Thankfully, Wizards thought ahead when they made Thunderheads, and put "Defender" on it, so we won’t be having hordes of attacking 3/3 flyers anytime soon. I must admit that it’s amusing to consider what would have happened had they not, but the card is a fine example of hindsight and how generally, despite our occasional disagreement on cards, I feel the Wizards development team has done a fine job of learning from past mistakes.

So, how useful is a 3/3 flyer? If you look at it as a creature, it may not seem so useful. Why not use an actual creature that will stick around for multiple turns, even at a lower power or toughness? If you want defense, a Drift of Phantasms offers more toughness and the ability to tutor for countermagic late in the game. If you want to be able to turn around and go on the offensive, use a Fleeting Image.

Thunderheads are go!

However, what if you look at Thunderheads as direct damage? Pretend it says this:

2U: Thunderheads deals 3 damage to target creature.


4UU: Thunderheads deals 6 damage to target creature.

Well, that makes things a bit more interesting, doesn’t it? It’s a way for Blue-Red to kill a vanilla Paladin en-Vec, rather than just bounce or counter it. It’s a way to kill those two cheap flyers that managed to sneak through your countermagic. In short, it’s a Blue creature destruction mechanism that is cost efficient, instant-speed, and scaleable. I don’t anticipate every deck to utilize it, but I’m certain that it has a spot, even if it’s just in the sideboard.

I was a big fan of the instants – how about sorceries? I admit to a bias; I hate sorceries. They’re the necessary evil that makes me scowl every time they corrupt some card I wish I could cast whenever I wished. Yes, yes, I said "necessary", so please, no hurried comments about how I’m stating everything should be instants and we should all have ridiculous amounts of card power that will destroy the game forever. I hate traffic lights, too, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. Indeed, sorceries are one of the most effective measures at reigning in a card’s power. It’s the red light that says, "Hold on a second, bub. Let the others go, too."

I’m absolutely in love with two of the sorceries. Shattering Spree is the best pure artifact removal available at the moment. It will be useful in Standard against Eminent Domain, which has remained resilient since its appearance in the metagame. It gains good advantage from destroying Signets and Jittes, and will likely worm its ways into other formats. Hi, Affinity, remember when everyone didn’t utterly hate you? Wait, you’ve always been hated. Oh well, sorry – let’s add some more fuel to the fire. Go away.

The second sorcery I’m enamored with? Mimeofacture. Now, this is creativity that befits Blue. It’s a Control Magic with a twist; in today’s era of Legendary creatures, it’s strong removal. Facing a Yosei that snuck through? Make one of your own and kill them both with this mini-Cranial Extraction. This card can turn a game around. I suspect that while all of its immediate applications won’t be discovered, when we reach Dissension’s White-Blue Azorius Senate – presumably involving stalls and delaying tactics – this card will be a house.

Mimeofacture’s strength is its versatility. To an extent, it covers for gaps in countermagic, and allows Blue mages to selectively choose alternate win conditions from what their opponent plays. Hey, that’s a nice card you have there, Mr. Opponent! I’ll take one as well. I don’t think every Blue player wants to be paying eight mana for it consistently, but some decks *can* generate eight mana reliably. Eminent Domain, for example, could easily be modified to include Mimeofacture.

With the majority of decks playing three to four of each critical creature, it will be rare that Mimeofacture can’t find a target. Even if the card becomes widely used, it’s safe to say that chances are people will simply prefer to deal with Mimeofacture than change their entire deckbuilding strategy to combat it.

One thing not to do is attempt to grab two copies of their Legendary creature with your two copies of Mimeofacture; it won’t quite work like that. Let’s say you replicate a Mimeo, and you target their Yosei with both. As the spells resolve one at a time, when the copy resolves you’ll put Yosei in play and both will be destroyed due to state-based effects. The second Mimeofacture on the stack will now have no legal target, which means it gets countered.

That’s ok; it’s still powerful. Dilution and destruction are important tenets in Magic. Mimeofacture may be the mirror match’s best anti-Meloku card yet – even moreso than countermagic. In battles of card advantage, Mimeofacture will frequently be a two-for-one.

The first Replicate sorcery I dislike is Train of Thought. Now, we should have known that the card-drawer wouldn’t be powerful. Remember that learning-from-their-mistakes bit? Yeah. There’s no danger of that here. Train of Thought replaces itself, but like Pyromatics seems to have an initial casting cost that is too high. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable paying 2UU to draw two cards over Counsel of the Soratami, and I don’t even like paying for Counsel of the Soratami. I certainly am uncomfortable paying 3UUU for three cards, when Tidings gives me four cards for one colored mana less. Even Flow of Ideas is almost certain to bless you with more than three cards. Thus, I ask, what’s the point? There are better options early, better options late, and better cards in between with cantrip effects. This seems unplayable, except in Draft or Sealed.

Likewise, I’m not too enamored of Vacuumelt. Much like Train of Thought, it should have started cheaper. 2U to bounce one creature? Maybe. If I’m trying to bounce two creatures for 4UU, I really need to examine what my deck is doing, why paying that much to bounce two creatures is important, why I’m not using Evacuation or more versatile/cheap bounce instead. I’d rather use Boomerang or Consuming Vortex; hell, I could use Peel From Reality if I wanted my critter to be the second one for reasons of trickery. All of the spells I mention, by the way? Instants. That gives them a heck of a nod in terms of playability. I simply can’t find a reason for this card to exist except that it fits the block requirement of a bounce spe… er, wait a second, don’t we have Repeal? Yeah, we do. Seeya, Vacuumelt. Go peddle your wares elsewhere.

Siege of Towers, surprisingly, isn’t quite as bad as it looks at first glance. It does have some application if you’re playing an aggressive deck that runs out of steam – since typically those decks have low mana curves and don’t need tons of mana, it turns your extra land into something useful. As such, in a stalled game where the Red mage has eight mana available and can run effectively on five, why not create a trio of 3/1 creatures? We’ve sacrificed Mountains for effects before, and this isn’t much different, even if one of them just runs headlong into a Carven Caryatid while the other gets through. Is it good? Not really. I wouldn’t want to risk losing my lands for no gain because someone has a Pyro in hand, of either the -matics or the -clasm variety. However, does it at least have some potential application? Sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, a casual deck is born with Siege of Towers and Life from the Loam. I’m not going to use it, and I don’t advocate using it in Standard decks, but at least it’s not Vacuumelt.

Finally, we come to the unique creature, Djinn Illuminatus. Mr. Rosewater informs us that originally during the Ravnica design process there were cards that granted all of your spells the mechanics from that expansion. They were ditched for power reasons, yet the Djinn has snuck through. Is this a good decision? I’m not sure yet. The potential for abuse is there, particularly as the creature uses guild mana.

His casting cost being what it is instead of 5RU makes a large difference. This card can be splashed into any two-color build involving Red or Blue with absolutely no penalty. This isn’t like a Guildmage, whose off-color ability you can’t use. Djinn’s ability requires no activate cost. No, this is potential power because it changes the dimension of every instant and sorcery spell in your deck.

The only problem is that this potential power costs seven mana. Now, that’s not ridiculous, but it is slightly prohibitive. The possibilities, however, are endless, once you get him in play.

Djinn and Tonic

Hello, Blue-Red UrzaTron deck. You don’t really care about the mana cost, do you?

Hola, Glimpse the Unthinkable. Yes, Jushi Mill still performs well, and yeah, it’s pretty nice to just tap UUUBBB to mill 30 cards and not suffer the diminishing returns of Traumatize.

Hi, Shock, Lightning Helix, Cerebral Vortex, Char, Flames of the Blood Hand, Lava Spike, Pyroclasm, Desperate Ritual and Seething Song! I have the feeling that we can generate a lot of damage in a short time frame. What do you think, Red/White?

Want removal? I give you Cruel Edict, Darkblast, and Last Gasp.
Want discard or graveyard hate? Try Blackmail, Cry of Contrition, or Shred Memory.

You can even get wacky with Crack the Earth, or Schismotivate. That’s a fun word, let’s say it again. Schismotivate. Oooh, I got shivers.

Heck, it’s even nice to see Boomerang and Consuming Vortex. No, Vacuumelt, you can’t play with us. Go home.

So yes, it’s safe to say that the potential is there for some very powerful cards in conjunction with Djinn Illuminatus. At this point, however, it’s nothing but potential, and it may not become overly abusive until it’s able to combine its effects with more guild mechanics. What we have so far is:

Red-White Radiance
Red-Green Bloodthirst
Blue-Black Transmute

None of these lend themselves well to combined mechanics. You can’t replicate Bloodthirst, Radiance would have little benefit, and as we know, Transmute is mostly utilitarian; it’s an “enpowerer,” not a “powerer.”

Once Dissension comes out, however, we’ll have Red-Black, Blue-White, and Blue-Green. Rakdos, Azorius, and Simic. The latter could be particularly dangerous; combining the explosive Green mana base with replicate and whatever their mechanic is? That high casting cost of the Djinn will seem a lot less restrictive.

I’m certain people will be attempting to break the Djinn. I’m not sure he can be until the block is complete (or perhaps even until Kamigawa is gone), but I look forward to seeing people’s attempts. He could wind up being the most abusive Replicate card. He could also wind up being the most disappointing, but not for lack of trying. I’ll still consider him a hit, however, because even if a card can’t be broken, the fact that he makes you want to break him means it was worth printing. It’s good to have challenges presented to us and inspiring our creativity, even if nothing comes of it.

Thus, my Replicate card rankings are as follows:

Not bad at all (3)
Shattering Spree – R – Destroy target artifact.
Gigadrowse – U – Tap target permanent.
Mimeofacture – 3U – Grab a copy of target permanent an opponent controls.

Has a niche somewhere (4)
Djinn Illuminatus – 5(U/R)(U/R) — 3/5, Flying. Each instant/sorcery you play gains replicate.
Leap of Flame – RU – Give creature +1/+0, flying, first strike.
Pyromatics – 1R – Deal 1 damage to target creature or player.
Thunderheads – 2U – Put a 3/3 flying blue defender into play until end of turn.

Put me in a box and label it "No" (2)
Train of Thought – 1U – Draw a card.
Siege of Towers – 1R – Mountain becomes a 3/1 creature. It’s still a land.

I’m crying IRL (1)
Vacuumelt – 2U – Return creature to owner’s hand.

Seven out of ten cards is a pretty good success rate. We have a variety of effects, and some very creative choices that fit into multiple deck styles. As always, these ratings are arbitrary, but I thought carefully about each. The only one I’m uncertain about is Pyromatics. It’s sub-par, but it’s not unplayable or immediately banished to the shoebox, and it’s certainly not as questionable as Train of Thought or Siege of Towers.

Just like last week, I’m going to take a gander at a base build for an Izzet deck. I’ve always been an avid fan of Counter-Burn strategies, and as such wanted to see what I could come up with. The challenge for Counter-Burn is to be able to withstand early creature threats. You want to be able to draw into damage-producing spells without leaving yourself wide open to a counterattack. Therefore, instants and cantrips are a priority.

Rather than be straightforward like last week’s Gruul build, this one’s going to be a bit more gimmicky. Hear that? A bit gimmicky. You’ve been warned. Specifically, I’m eager to take advantage of the synergy between Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Jushi Apprentice. Obviously, once Jushi flips with Niv-Mizzet on the board, you have a potent weapon.

One thing that interests me about Guildpact is that the legends are easier to cast – and more durable, to a degree.

Guildpact has:
Izzet: Tibor and Lumia (4), Niv-Mizzet (6)
Orzhov: Teysa (3), Ghost Council of Orzhova (4)
Gruul: Ulasht (4), Borborygmos (7)

Compare this to Ravnica.

Boros: Agrus Kos (5), Razia (8)
Golgari: Savra (4), Sisters of Stone Death (8)
Dimir: Circu (4), Szadek (7)
Selesnya: Tolsimir Wolfblood (6), Chorus of the Conclave (8)

Niv-Mizzet’s ability intrigued me from the get-go. When I saw he was only six mana, however, I realized he’s a very viable centerpiece for a deck. That’s only one more than Meloku – and unchecked, he negates two Meloku tokens a turn (your normal draw, plus his activated effect), as well as turning all of your other cantrips and draw effects into a spray of bullets. Honestly, I think the card is one of the best designed in the Block so far. At 4/4, he’s durable enough to be useful as an attacker or blocker, but still within reasonable range. His casting cost enables him to be cast, but not merely splashed. His static ability is useful, and his activated ability is useful, and both are in flavor for the Izzet guild. Once again, when you compare some of the more convoluted Ravnica abilities, his simplicity is notable – and commendable.

Jushi, of course, needs no introduction. He draws, and he can draw in bunches. I’ve used him to mill my opponents; now, let’s use him to riddle our opponent while simultaneously stacking our hand full of goodness.

What’s key to remember about Counter-Burn variants is that they inevitably need to withstand the initial turns of a beatdown deck. This means they need removal and bounce to enable them to respond to threats while still maintaining countermagic ability. You cannot simply overload on burn spells and assume you’re going to be able to kill everything that hits the board; approaching a Counter-Burn build needs to be done with common sense rather than gung-ho zeal. Shock and Pyroclasm provide an excellent early defense. At this point, there aren’t quite enough 3/3’s being dropped on Turn Two to warrant something larger. However, there are ample 2/2’s and 2/1’s being thrown out. Shock and Pyroclasm maintain the status quo while you’re building up land and setting up to drop your partners-in-crime.

Electrolyze and Cerebral Vortex are additional damage. Vortex obviously works well with Jushi if you have a lot of mana late in the game; with eight mana and enough cards left in your deck, you can burn out your opponents even sans Niv-Mizzet. I won a game shortly before writing this where I drew seven at the end of my opponent’s turn, untapped, drew my normal card, and Jushi’d my opponent for fifteen – they were confused until I Vortex’d them out with the remaining three mana. Hello, seventeen damage to the dome. They had no response.

Now, that’s a driveby.

Vortex is almost always three damage for three mana, and depending on what deck you face, could be more. In a pinch, you can use it yourself. However, it’s not the most optimal card to have stuck in your hand. As such, I believe you don’t need more than a couple in the deck. You have enough drawing power that you will get them.

Electrolyze is versatile, and keeps the deck generating cards. I had to chuckle when I saw it; a three mana cost Red/Blue spell that includes two damage to creature or player, and drawing a card? Hmm, why is that familiar? It kinda sounds like the type of card I preach about. Obviously, I’m all about putting this card to use and seeing if it works out. Whether Electrolyze will maintain a spot in the deck over other comparable spells such as Char, I’m not sure. This deck may simply have too many cards doing two damage, and not enough cards doing more. Again, as always, we will see.

The counterbase is the same base everyone uses, because we sorta have to. Guildpact brought us Frazzle and Runeboggle. Neither warrants inclusion in a standard Control build. Frazzle might have a spot in the sideboard against certain decks, and that’s a very dubious "might". Its casting cost is about one too high for my liking. Runeboggle just depresses me. As I’ve said, I know bad cards have to exist. I just hate when they’re counterspells.

Ergo, Remand, Hinder, and Mana Leak it is. Rewind is next on our list for inclusion, but it’s a bit expensive for a deck that’s typically doing things with its mana. Remand might be one of the more debated counterspells that I’ve seen, but the results speak for themselves. The card routinely does an excellent job in the early game and can be surprisingly effective late when your opponent is tapping large amounts of mana. It’s not Counterspell, but it doesn’t need to be. It just needs to stop something from landing on the table. After all, your deck needs to be able to handle consecutive turns of threat. There’s no legendary rule in their hand. People dislike Remand because it doesn’t get rid of the card; I say it doesn’t matter as much as you think, because of the principles behind countermagic. If they summon a Yosei, and you Counterspell it, and the next turn they summon a second Yosei to which you have no counter, you need to have an answer. You will always need to have an answer, and no matter what counter you used initially, you were going to have to need that answer.

Likewise, if they cast Yosei, and you Remand it, on the next turn? You need to have that answer. People aren’t dumb; instinctively, they know that one strategy for beating countermagic is to hoard, say, seven nice cards and then just start casting them, one by one, in an attempt to exhaust the counterspells. You’re going to get into that situation regardless of what counters you play. With Remand, they only need to hoard six cards, but you get one in return. C’est la vie. In this deck, it’s an important card drawer. It pings for a point off Niv-Mizzet, and helps draw you towards your win condition while generating a useful effect. It’s a winner.

Repeal was originally Boomerang, but I became enamored of the cantrip effect and made the substitution. So far, I haven’t noticed any negative effects. At the most, Repeal seems to end up at four or five mana for a end-of-turn bounce effect and a card. I’m quite pleased with it.

Overall, you have twenty cards that generate more cards. That’s a healthy percentage of the deck. Likewise, you have seventeen cards that cause damage, though only twelve of them can affect creatures. That’s solid, since you don’t mind killing the small critters and countering the large ones.

Cards that I considered, but didn’t wind up including:

Tibor and Lumia:When you’re playing cards like Electrolyze, they do very well. When you’re playing cards like Pyroclasm, they don’t. Tibor and Lumia are allergic to Pyroclasm. I like them in principle, and think they might have a role at the top end of an aggressive Red-Blue build. If you’re four mana, you need to be helping me win the game. They require a bit of planning to use properly, and this simply isn’t the deck that wants to cater to their whims.

Char: I had Char in here for a long, long time. Eventually it came down to Char or Pyroclasm. This deck will take some damage, and it doesn’t have lifegain aside from Miren, the Moaning Well. Sitting on four Chars is like starting the game at 12 life, and this deck can’t quite afford that. As a result, I went for the broader sweep effect rather than the pinpoint 4 damage. If this proves unwise, it can be sideboarded in. This is why we test.

Mimeofacture: I played against an Orzhov deck that contained a lot of discard. It put a bit of threat on my ability to sit back and wait. Mimeofacture took the place of Shock post-sideboarding, and wound up killing two Legendary creatures that I let slip through, as well as giving me a fine view of my opponent’s deck in order to measure their removal capabilities for Niv-Mizzet. After the game, I just looked at it, and wondered where in the heck I could fit it in. Mimeofacture wants to find a place in the maindeck, but I simply can’t find one. I may just be better off dropping the Cerebral Vortex trick and putting Mimeofacture in its place. Right now, I’m sold on the gimmick.

Despite the trickery, the deck is fairly straightforward. Niv-Mizzet warrants examination, and I’m surprised he’s been somewhat low-key so far. I have one major problem that I can’t figure out how to handle:

Kodama of the North Tree.

Seriously, a 6/4 untargetable creature defeats me. It’s too easy to say, "Just gotta make sure he doesn’t resolve." Life isn’t that easy for blue mages any more. Stuff will get through, but I sure can’t Mimeofacture the Kodama. One solution I considered was Ryusei, the Falling Star; however, he and Jushi don’t mix. Another solution was Thunderheads – remember that? If he throws down a 6/4 for 2GGG, I should be at the point where I can throw down 4UU to block with a pair of 3/3 creatures. I suppose Jiwari, the Earth Aflame is an option if I have seven mana available. Hell, maybe I should put him in the Pyroclasm slot and pray.

Yeah, that was tongue-in-cheek, but who knows. I have nightmares of losing to Silhana Ledgewalker and Kodama of the North Tree beatdown. It gives you issues, man. A lot.


Aside from Niv-Mizzet, the mana curve is efficient. With the numerous draw effects, you should have consistent land drops and quality draws.

1cc: 7
2cc: 16
3cc: 10
6cc: 3

The only question is what sort of creatures you’re facing, and whether your burn can match up. So, start from the base build, and progress from there. See what your local metagame is, and adjust appropriately. I find the deck fun to play and easily customizable. If you give it a shot, I hope you get the same thrill out of the Jushi Gun, particularly if you’re riddling your opponent’s Meloku and Friends.

Next week, I’ll examine the Orzhov mechanic, Haunt. Until then, take care, and ping ’em once for me.

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