SCG Daily #1: Four Spells In A Turn, Five Colors To Break It

I looooove card cycles. Love ’em. I also love deck brainstorming, pushing myself to think of ways to use a quirky card. Put these two things together, and you have a wonderful way for me to spend the next five days. Here’s how it’s going to work: I pick a card cycle from Saviors of Kamigawa that I think has potential for capital-F Fun. Then, each day this week I’ll focus on one card of the cycle and brainstorm Standard deck ideas. So, um, guess which cycle I started out with?

I looooove card cycles. Love ’em. I also love deck brainstorming, pushing myself to think of ways to use a quirky card. Put these two things together, and you have a wonderful way for me to spend the next five days.

Here’s how it’s going to work: I pick a card cycle from Saviors of Kamigawa that I think has potential for capital-F Fun. Then, each day this week I’ll focus on one card of the cycle and brainstorm Standard deck ideas (since it’s my favorite format).

A little known fact is that I dream of someday compiling a card-by-card exploration like this for an entire set. Until I figure out the logistics of that one, you get the very-mini version.

The card cycles I considered for my stint at SCG Daily were:

I chose the Ascendant cycle almost by process of elimination. The Kirins seem too tournament-worthy — or at least aggressively-costed enough that they might have serious Standard decks built around them once Mirrodin rotates out. As anyone who reads my stuff knows, my “Spike” quotient is very low. The Maros are similar, plus the fact that they all care about cards in hand makes them a little boring to talk about on card-by-card basis. There’s a potential boredom problem with the Epic spells, too, which all have costs so high that they either have to consider splashing green or do identical artifact-mana gymnastics. Besides, aren’t all casual deckbuilders thinking about epic spells?

That leaves the Ascendants and Wildebeests. I’m really fond of the Wildebeests, actually, and think that they build fairly different decks even though each is mechanically the same…. But my problem with the ‘Beests is their rarity. I love my gig at Building on a Budget, but it’s also nice to use this opportunity to build decks around a bunch of rares.

That leaves the Ascendants, which a) have terrific casual deck possibilities, b) are highly varied in what they do and how they trigger, and c) I named them. Perfecto!

I think with each of the Ascendants that it makes sense to focus on three parts of the card: The pre-flipped legendary creature, the “flip trigger” (what it takes to flip the card), and the post-flipped legendary enchantment. Let’s start with the only one that’s already received some attention: Erayo, Soratami Ascendant.

Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
What do we have here? First, it’s a 1/1 flier for two mana. That’s a decent cost for what you get, though I don’t see anyone rushing out to play Sea Eagle these days (or any day). Still, I like that it fits naturally into any deck’s mana curve. This puts it in competition with Coral Eel, Floodbringer, Guardian of Solitude, Neurok Familiar, Oboro Breezecaller, Sage Owl, Shape Stealer, Sneaky Homunculus, Soratami Cloudskater, Spiketail Hatchling, and Storm Crow as blue’s other pseudo-aggressive two-mana creatures. Coral Eel has the best power-to-cost ratio of this group, but that’s not saying much. Soratami Cloudskater and Spiketail Hatchling are overall better creatures because of their abilities. The rest are fairly situational — they might be okay for some decks, but mostly they’re bad.

Erayo is the only legendary creature of the bunch, which makes it a little trickier to use as a four-of in a deck. If I build a deck around Erayo, though, I definitely want four copies. It’s a fragile creature that can get whacked easily, and its trigger is hard enough to pull off that I probably don’t mind dropping the flier once Erayo Essence is on the table.

Erayo is a Moonfolk Monk, which matters almost not at all. Most of the creature types introduced or pushed in Kamigawa Block — Samurai, Ninja, Snake, Ogre, Demon — received cards to lure deckbuilders into considering them. Monks, while plentiful, have no Lord, Champion, or fancy equipment. Moonfolk can look only to Patron of the Moon, which is, I suppose, a small boon for Erayo. For the most part, though, its creature type is irrelevant.

Whenever a Fourth Spell is Played
The trigger is interesting because it begs a deckbuilder to load up on low-cost instants. Boomerang, Echoing Truth, Unsummon, Dream’s Grip, Twiddle, Peer Through Depths, Reach Through Mists, and maybe even Stream of Consciousness are going to show up in decks built around Erayo. Erayo might even be a viable reason to use Retract as a way of playing four spells in a turn. It also begs the use of Disrupting Shoal, since mana is the most limiting factor in playing four spells.

Speaking of Disrupting Shoal, Erayo decks probably want at least some cheap counterspells. After all, if I can counter something with Mana Leak, Condescend, or — best of all — Rewind, then I’m halfway to my goal… and if I have any countermagic post-flip, it’s brutal for my opponent. Bounce is also superb, of course, although my opponent would have to be pretty stupid to replay a bounced card with Erayo, Soratami Ascendant on the table.

What seems out of bounds for an Erayo deck is many spells at four mana or above. An Erayo deck wants to speed through its library, constantly refilling its hand with card-drawing and cheap cantrips. This hurts my Patron of the Moon idea, since most Moonfolk come at a hefty price.

Erayo’s Essence
I’ll go out on a limb and say that Erayo’s Essence is the best legendary enchantment of the Ascendant cycle. If the first card my opponent plays each turn is irrelevant, I should be able to win the game quickly. Add countermagic, bounce, and Vedalken Shackles to the fray, and I have custom-made tools to dominate whatever deck I’m facing. This means that flipping Erayo isn’t dependant on a time or situation in the game; I want to flip into Erayo’s Essence as soon as possible.

I’m intrigued by the addition of Kira, Great Glass Spinner to an Erayo deck. Not only does this help protect Erayo, Soratami Ascendant while I’m trying to flip it, but it acts as additional frustration once Erayo Essence is on the table. The synergy is so good, in fact, that most of my favorite Erayo deck ideas are monoblue.

Of course, add Rule of Law — the reason that Erayo has received some serious tournament consideration — and you have a guaranteed victory. Which, I suppose, makes a nice transition to decks…

Erayo Decks
Most Erayo decks that people have tried to build so far are Blue/White and use Rule of Law. I understand the allure; after all, the two enchantments make an impenetrable lock and impenetrable locks are the stuff of dreams. Impenetrable locks are not, however, the stuff of my dreams, so I’ll leave you to your own devices when trying to abuse Erayo and Rule of Law.

As I said, most Erayo decks that come to my mind are monoblue because of the presence of Kira, and because bounce and countermagic fit so nicely into what an Erayo deck wants to do. A “slow” Erayo deck is going to be a modified MUC deck that tries to load up on low-cost cards. That seems incredibly boring to me, and I’m not sure why I would be adding Erayo to an otherwise solid Mono-Blue Control deck unless I’m just trying to be weird. Maybe a way to forge a different path is to concentrate on milling via Dampen Thought, which is moderately interesting.

More fun, it seems to me, is the revival of monoblue weenie decks. Patrick Higgins already beat me to the punch with his Erayo Affinity deck — but there’s a non-Affinity way to go, too. My original idea looked something like this:

No, there’s not a lot of offensive firepower there — but all I should need is a 2/2 guy if I can bounce what they play and counter what comes out of their hand. This deck has been great fun online, flipping into Erayo’s Essence as early as Turn 3.

There’s also an Arcane/Spirit route I could take, complete with a Callow Jushi/The Unspeakable engine, and maybe low-cost Spirits like Teardrop Kami and Dreamcatcher. Another blue-weenie way to go would be with Trusted Advisor, Sage Owl, and a huge stack of blue’s Ninjas. Blue weenie decks of all kinds, it seems to me, should be able to use Erayo.

This is not to say that Erayo decks have to be monoblue, though. If you avoid Rule of Law, green is the best non-blue color to couple with Erayo because of its massive mana-acceleration. If I can cast a Sakura-Tribe Elder and a Kodama’s Reach or two, I can easily find a way to play four cards in a turn without worrying what my opponent does. I can’t tell if the deck would involve Gifts Ungiven and Hana Kami or whether it would be a Stampeding Serow deck splashing blue. Don’t forget, too, that Azusa, Lost But Seeking has a bit of a crush on Moonfolk in general, which makes the Patron of the Moon deck a bit more plausible.

I can imagine a Blue/White weenie deck easily, and I can also imagine white helping along the milling strategy via Ghostly Prison and the two colors’ Honden. Isochron Scepter might work really well in Blue/White with Erayo, thanks to cards like Holy Day and blue’s bounce/counter/draw instants. Tallowisp makes a cute complement to Erayo as well and might make for a cool deck. I suppose you could even add Rule of Law to these ideas as an added bonus if you’re feeling evil.

A Blue/Red Erayo deck either turns into a focus on Isochron Scepter or maybe uses other cheap Moonfolk in combination with Seismic Assault. Thanks to cards like Glitterfang and Viashino Sandstalker, I also think there’s reason to hope that an aggressive Blue/Red Erayo deck can exist, too.

Finally, it’s a bit of a stretch, but I can see a Rats deck with Skull Collector splashing blue for Erayo and bounce. After all, if I’m going to replay my Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats because of ninjutsu and the big Ogre, why not stretch a little and get Erayo Essence out of it?

That’s my brainstorming around Erayo, Soratami Ascendant, as least the non-Rule of Law bit. If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear ’em in the Forums.

Tomorrow, I’ll take on Homura.

Think hard and have fun,