Hello everybody, how’s it going? You ready for some serious technology? The stuff they keep hidden deep in the confines of the Pro Player lounge? Come on in and see what Cloudstone Curio can do in Standard.
It dawned on me a few weeks ago that Coiling Oracle is the best Green creature since Sakura Tribe-Elder. Its ability to further tempo, replace itself, carry a Jitte and chump block are all really great abilities. To do all of that for two mana… well, stand up and say hello to one of the best creatures ever.
All of this in a format, nay the same block, featuring Karoos. What a world!
When you find a card this good, efficient, and cheap (the three cornerstones of overpowered cards), you think about breaking it.
It clicked. Just like that. 187 creatures spun around in my head.
Cards that are good on their own, with no help, but become immediately unfair when a Curio is in play.
I needed a decklist, and some good ideas. I went to work.
The first thing I do when building a deck is fire up Magic Workstation, deckbuilder of champions, and use its Search function to its fullest. I then looked up all cards with the words “comes into play” on them, and found the most synergistic pieces to stick together. I thought of the biggest decks in the format, and what 187 creatures I could use to destroy them.
There are several different ways you could go with this idea. If you can fit in Orzhov, then Orzhov Pontiff and Blind Hunter alone are just ridiculous. But the deck is built around Coiling Oracle. Nothing can give card advantage like the Oracle.
Then I realized: My deck was about card advantage. Comes into play abilities are about getting more than just the warm body. Activated abilities are fantastic, but they require, by definition, payment. I was getting something for “free.”
The trick was, I had to make sure that the deck was good enough on its own, without Cloudstone Curio in play, to make sure it could work.
While I don’t think I got it right on the first try (the latest decklist is below), I think I did well for its maiden voyage:
Curio-sity version 1.0
3 Cloudstone Curio
2 Viridian Shaman
2 Court Hussar
3 Faith’s Fetters
3 Wood Elves
4 Coiling Oracle
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Wrath of God
2 Congregation at Dawn
4 Yosei, the Morning Star
4 Loxodon Hierarch
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
Let’s get a few things out in the open:
It’s All About Synergy
Synergy is the most powerful concept that any deck can possess. Whether it’s as simple as playing only Sorcery spells in Magnivore decks, Transmute spells with Heartbeat of Spring, or Promise of Bunrei and Nantuko Husk – the way those cards interact with one another is pure synergy. I wanted something good in the abstract, like those decks (Heartbeat notwithstanding); something that would blast off when the synergy arrived – Cloudstone Curio, that is.
Cloudstone Curio Is A ‘May’ Ability
Remember, you don’t have to bounce anything if you don’t want to. If you do, remember you can get all kinds of funky with the stack in terms of what resolves when. Cloudstone Curio does not fire off until the permanent comes into play, not when you play a spell.
Many times I would play Coiling Oracle, Put the comes into play trigger on the stack, look at the top three with Sensei’s Divining Top, and based on those top three I would choose the creature to return (if any).
Bouncing Isn’t Quite As Good As You Think
Seriously. I thought after a few test games I would be bouncing my way straight to victory. This point is disproved to a grandly ironic fault in my first round matchup (foreshadowing, etc). Bouncing a permanent or a small creature with no significant “trade up” in the process can give your deck a “stagnant” and “spinning its wheels” feeling.
Simply, it can be hard to win when you have the “win on the table” sometimes. The “comes into play” abilities you use and abuse are there to further your winning conditions, and that’s it. You must always keep in mind how quickly you are or are not winning. If you’re not drawing a win condition (Loxodon Hierarch, or Yosei, the Morning Star), then you’re just goofing off with 0/1s, 1/1s, and 1/3s.
Protecting Your Most Powerful Creatures Is Paramount
I’m not talking of Loxodon Hierarch and Yosei here. The most powerful creatures in this deck are Coiling Oracle and Birds of Paradise. Both of them represent the cheapest, most efficient, most powerful creatures in the deck.
Birds of Paradise give you the strongest openings (Turn 2 Cloudstone Curio and/or Coiling Oracle) and the cheapest bouncing options in the late game. Coiling Oracle is ridiculous in all forms, but any activation beyond the first is downright criminal.
Loxodon Hierarch is your most important fatty to keep on the table, as he can be used to gain a whole lot of life. Having two in your hand is a dangerous sight indeed.
You’d play that, right?
Round 1 – U/B/G Aggro
Charles is an upbeat and fun Magic player who (enjoys fishing and horseback riding and… er…) brought what looked to be his own creation to the table. It featured Okiba-Gang Shinobi, Sakura Tribe-Elders, and surprises like Giant Solifuge.
Game 1 lured me into the depths of bounce-mania. I was returning Coiling Oracles over and over, getting permanent advantage but not creature advantage. I was spending all of my mana to do things that weren’t affecting his permanents.
He got in a swing with the Okiba-Gang, but I simply pitched my two other Cloudstone Curios while the third sat in play. I knew he had no way to deal with it (he sighed heavily when it entered play and he picked it up to read it), so they were worthless.
Those Yoseis were sitting in my hand for two turns. I needed to focus…
Game 2 I made a critical mistake and learned the important lesson I noted above: protect your most powerful creatures. In the first few turns we were both light on action. I had a Cloudstone Curio and a Coiling Oracle, but no other creatures and light mana. He had a Sakura Tribe-Elder in play and decided to swing with it.
I blocked the Elder with my Coiling Oracle. The only Oracle I would see the entire game. Stupid. I knew right then and there I had thrown the game away. It only took him about two turns to find something that would actually kill me.
Down came Okiba-Gang Shinobi. After pitching a total of seven cards, we were on to Game 3.
Needless to say, something had to be done. I finally drew a Loxodon Hierarch and blocked that Giant Solifuge with no shame. I then ripped a Wrath of God, Fettered the Okiba-Gang, and played another Loxodon Hierarch. I then followed that up with Cloudstone Curio and Birds of Paradise. My life total was finally stable! Yay!
I then fell in the trap again. Instead of making him give me bad combat trades, I wanted to overwhelm him. I was, frankly, showing off. It was the first time I had seen the deck in cardboard, and it was fun! It was working.
It was taking forever.
The turn before time is called he swings in with an Okiba-Gang Shinobi featuring a Moldervine Cloak (rogue, baby!), a scary image if nothing else, and I chump block with a token instead of Carven Caryatid. That block ended up costing me the game.
The judge yelled “TIME!” and suddenly I was stumbling to play Hierarchs I had been bouncing for no good reason, and my opponent at 15 life. I struggled to form an offense from my overflowing hand stuffed with 187 creatures. Since I took so long, he had chump blockers and so did I. But I was racing to punch through any damage at all, and he was looking at a draw.
On my fifth and final turn he was at seven and I could only get in six. Had I blocked with the Caryatid instead of the token, that additional man would’ve been enough.
Win fast. Lesson? Learned.
Round 2 – Cutpurse Control (U/B)
Quite possibly, if I had just sat around and designed this deck and then designed its antithesis – Lex to Supes – I would’ve created this deck. It had nasty stuff like twelve to fourteen counters, and Dimir Cutpurse instead of Jushi Apprentice.
He didn’t need to.
I could recount the games but it went something like this to your DC Comics fans:
Luthor stood over Supes with a big Kryptonic gun.
He cocks the gun once.
Blam! Game 1 in the chest.
He cocks the gun again.
Blam! Game 2 in the face.
Think of a bunch of permission, a ton of removal, and a card that says “You discard gas and I draw counters and we see who wins.”
Man, that was bad.
Round 3 – Kitchen Table Samurai
Mr. Lucas was a real cool kid, and he was playing in his first ever tournament. He was sleeveless and I loved it. He reminded me of when I first started. He told me he had been playing for a year and wanted to check out the scene. I explained that my manabase alone was worth more than it had any right to be, and that to win prizes, he’d need friends with collections or some luck in the allowance department.
Meanwhile my deck began to do unfair things such as gain life and drop Dragons early. I won in short fashion.
When he told me he didn’t have a sideboard, I almost shed a tear. The memories, I tell you!
I nodded and sideboarded anyway. Does that make me a bad person?
With an additional Wrath of God and some Jittes, game 2 ended shortly after.
I tried to trade with him afterwards. His collection was such: Umezawa’s Jitte and worn cardboard.
He wouldn’t trade the Jitte.
Round 4 – Hana Kami Combo
Ah yes, Mr. Mat Monsoor. Cool guy, interesting deckbuilder. He claims ownership of this one, and I’ll give it to him. Check out this combo:
Gifts Ungiven for:
Macabre Waltz, folks. He was there, he was playing it, and he was beating me with it. Matter of fact, if the deck wasn’t so damn unforgiving, there is no way I should’ve won this match at all. This deck needs more precision than you think.
The combo is this: With the Gifts Ungiven above, you will definitely get Hana Kami in play, Footsteps of the Goryo in hand/graveyard, and Protean Hulk in the graveyard, no matter what split they give you.
You Footsteps of the Goryo targeting Protean Hulk, and get Yosei the Morning Star when it dies. Then you sacrifice Hana Kami to get Footsteps of the Goryo for Protean Hulk, and when it dies get Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker and another Hana Kami. Or you get Plagued Rusalka for a sacrifice outlet and Shirei, and hope you have another Hana Kami in hand.
See how it gets complicated? It’s like Greater Good without the Good, but with this riding-on-the-edge win condition it is definitely more explosive. He can go off on turn 6 consistently, he tells me.
Awesome lock, fun deck, but a hard deck to play with any sort of disruption. Without a few key pieces, the deck can fall apart. A misplay can mean certain doom.
Game 1 I find out just what I’m up against when I see a Gifts Ungiven similar to that detailed above, and can’t win.
Game 2 I sideboard in the Jittes and both Azorius Heralds. I get Umezawa’s Jitte on the table, and have a Congregation at Dawn for three broken Elephants. Worse? This isn’t even unbeatable. He made a mistake – he attacked with his Plagued Rusalka and lost a sacrifice outlet for the Protean Hulk in his hand. This left me with a Jitte and three elephants that could easily play around a 6/6 and deal lethal.
Game 3 he makes an interesting play: Macabre Waltz for zero, pitching Protean Hulk. Uh oh. Soon he Footsteps of the Goryo targeting Protean Hulk, and he fetches Hana Kami and Plagued Rusalka. I play Faith’s Fetters on Hana Kami. I have little gas but plenty of removal. I Wrath of God his creatures quite a bit – any that seem remotely dangerous, anyway.
He then swings with the Mindslicer with four cards in hand. Me? One card in hand. Never seen a dragon block so fast…
He loses his hand and realizing his mistake plays Gifts Ungiven for four lands to get them out of the deck.
That was pretty much game right there.
Round 5 – Ghost Husk
Daniel is a solid player who is currently at 2-2. At 2-1-1, with a win I will definitely make the cut to Top 8. A 3-2 record is not guaranteed, but 3-1-1 is. We take some time to look at the standings. My tiebreakers are absolute trash (big surprise) but his are among the best. We have to play it out.
Game 1 takes approximately seven years to finish. I’m looking at my life total sheet, and let me tell you it runs the entire length of the notebook paper. And then some.
Sadly, my notes for this game consist of only one word: “Confidant.” With Ghost Husk, as you can imagine, things were long and grueling, his overwhelming creatures against my removal and life gain. Did he have to be the only guy to ever run Orzhova, Church of Deals in his list? Made this match so much longer…
Somehow I win it after going down to two life on the final turn.
Game 2 he gets a turn 2 Seek from Hide / Seek for Yosei, the Morning Star. I get the nut draw with plenty of turn 3 Hierarch action, and two Pithing Needles – one for Nantuko Husk and the other for the Church of Deals.
Then he drops Umezawa’s Jitte. Son of a…
I shortly rip a Jitte of my own and the table is even again. I begin to get the advantage, and his bad combat trades begin to catch up with him. It was a long game, but ultimately Ghost Council of Orzhova is not enough to stop this deck.
Top 8 – Izzetron
Ellison is a good player who is regularly at the top tables. Before the tournament began I provided him with a Simic Signet. I would soon find out why he needed it.
Game 1 could only be described as the Super Nut High of Izzetron draws.
Count your mana, make it look official.
Turn 3. Mana burn for one.
Words can’t describe. As if it were ripped right from a Magic sitcom or something…
“I got it!” says one of the writers. “We need to show him beat bad, right? So we’ll give his opponent a… get this… third turn Simic Sky Swallower!”
High fives all around.
In this second game I discovered that Trygon Predator is absolutely ridiculous against Wildfire decks and their reliance on Signets for quick restarts after the reset. Trygon holds the ground for a good long time, then he is Volcanic Hammered and Ellison proceeds to drop 3 Signets, Keiga the Tide Star, and Wildfire. The board is cleared except for a dragon….
… and Guardian of the Guildpact. On the team. Rocking out with its c*** out.
It don’t block fliers, though… Damn it.
Thus ended my tournament glory for one day. Eighth place don’t get nothing but a “Have a nice day.”
Resolutions and Evolutions
Am I done with this one? Nah. I realize it’s Tier 2 at best. But I want to make it better. At least gleaming the cube of Tier 1.
Speaking of my decks that gleam cubes and such, did you see the deck that got second place in New Mexico?
2 Fellwar Stone
4 Weathered Wayfarer
4 Boros Signet
4 Wrath of God
3 Genju of the Fields
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Godo, Bandit Warlord
4 Ryusei, the Falling Star
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
1 Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang
3 Yosei, the Morning Star
1 Bottled Cloister
Looks very similar to something I was working on back in March (read the forum discussion for further evolutions including adding red to the build).
Could be a coincidence. Who knows? But that Genju-filled tech was broughten to you by this here writer.
Now am I trying to insinuate that Cloudstone Curio is the best undiscovered rare in the format? Hell, I don’t know.
What I am telling you is that I have the latest list here, and that you should give it a whirl in your favorite digital outlet. I think you’ll like it a lot:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Wood Elves
- 2 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Coiling Oracle
- 2 Court Hussar
- 1 Simic Sky Swallower
The main deck changes include a fourth Cloudstone Curio. Originally I had three in here because “I would draw into one soon.” But you really, really want to drop a second or third turn Cloudstone Curio. Those crucial early turns when you can get down your most synergistic card are not to be underestimated.
I also put in a maindeck Umezawa’s Jitte. I’m not going to explain why. Just, you know, imagine the possibilities. And stuff.
Simic Sky Swallower is in here not only to commemorate what could be the Worst Beat of my Magic Career, but also for threat diversity. In version 1.0, if a player said Cranial Extraction naming Loxodon Hierarch and Yosei, the Morning Star I was pretty much finished. My weenie 187 guys were no match for their beasts. This gives me another finisher, and he’s just as good as advertised.
The sideboard has seen an almost complete overhaul. The new additions are Ghost Quarter, which is brutal against many Urzatron builds, Paladin en-Vec because, well, as they say: Paladin en-Vec with Umezawa’s Jitte is one of the best (if not the best) combo in Standard. Guardian of the Guildpact is super sweet, but four mana and dies to Putrefy is not something I want to be relying on right now.
It’s getting late and it’s time to go. This article was written on the evening of my daughter’s fourth birthday. Happy Birthday sweetheart. Big thanks to my friends James and Jordan for providing a meal, chatter, and cards for the tournament.
Until next time…
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written while listening to The Von Bondies “Pawn Shoppe Heart”