SCG Daily: Life’s Ups And Downs

I consider Rune-Tail’s flip trigger to be the easiest of the bunch to accomplish. Magic is stuffed full of tricky ways to gain lots of life. But if Rune-Tail is the easiest Ascendant to flip, then Rune-Tail’s Essence is the least dominating legendary enchantment.

Today, I’m feeling Foxy. After tackling the Confucian figures in Soratami, Human, and Ogre societies, it’s now time to look at the Kitsune. Their prophet of prophets goes by the name of Rune-Tail (although let’s be honest, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is the Yoda to Rune-Tail’s Obi-Wan), and he is one annoying dude.

I have no idea what I said in that first paragraph. This SCG Daily thing must be getting to me.

Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant

For some reason, 2/2 creatures for three mana don’t bother me. In fact, I like them. I know they’re inefficient as creatures go, but they just seem, I don’t know…. Right.

I think of creatures like Viridian Shaman, Chittering Rats, Man-o’ War, Nomad Mythmaker, Suq’Ata Lancer, Bonedancer, Glittering Lion, Caller of the Claw, Phyrexian Rager, Lava Runner, Jolrael’s Centaur, Vampire Hounds, the Battlemages, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and smile my biggest smile. So at least in terms of cost for power/toughness, I’m fine with Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant. A three-mana 2/2 is something that can fit into a beatdown deck, a mid-game deck, or a control deck, depending on its added abilities. Even better, at 2W it’s a card that’s easily splashed in any color deck.

Like Erayo, Rune-Tail’s creature type only matters because of its corresponding Patron. If I’m building a Patron of the Kitsune deck, then Rune-Tail is a fine addition (especially since they both care about lifegain). Otherwise, there is nothing to entice me into caring about the Fox Monk-ness of him.

As always, too, his legendary status makes including four in a deck slightly tricky since I have to think about what to do if extra copies get stuck in hand. Luckily, White happens to be excellent at such contingencies, thanks to cards like Kiyomaro, First to Stand, Descendant of Kiyomaro, Presence of the Wise, Empyrial Plate, and Shining Shoal. As an added bonus, most of these cards will gain me life for using them. Yay synergy!

When You Have Thirty Or More Life….

I consider Rune-Tail’s flip trigger to be the easiest of the bunch to accomplish. Magic is stuffed full of tricky ways to gain lots of life. White, Green and artifacts are the best at it, but Black can accomplish a hefty dose of lifegain as well. Rune-Tail also benefits from the fact that Wizards has been upping the general potency of lifegain to make it more playable. Whereas Healing Salve wasn’t going to get you to thirty life very quickly, cards like Beacon of Immortality, Auriok Champion, Lifegift, Genju of the Fields, Loxodon Warhammer, Nourish, and Pulse of the Fields will get me there in lickity-split.

The downside of Rune-Tail’s trigger is that once Rune-Tail’s Essence is on the table, all other copies of Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant are likely stuck in my hand. Even if I somehow drop below thirty life, I can’t safely play another Rune-Tail for fear of climbing again (I’m presuming that any Rune-Tail deck is going to be good at gaining life quickly). Once again, this underscores a need to do something with any additional Rune-Tails I happen to draw.

Rune-Tail’s Essence

If Rune-Tail is the easiest Ascendant to flip, Rune-Tail’s Essence is the least dominating legendary enchantment. It’s not bad, but I’m forced to wonder how many creatures actually die to damage. I’ll pretty much win against any red deck while Rune-Tail’s Essence is active…. But I would have an advantage anyway with a lifegain deck. I should kill White Weenie, too.

Green opponents are more of a problem, partly because of Green’s enchantment removal but also because of trample. Black has Fear and loads of non-damage way to kill creatures. Blue bounces things. Slower White decks use Wrath of God, or even spot removal like Reciprocate.

All of that means that I would have been more impressed if Rune-Tail’s essence gave my creatures protection from artifacts and all colors (a Pristine Angel effect), or if it prevented all damage done to me. As it is, the game is hardly won just because I’ve managed to flip Rune-Tail.

The other perplexing feature of Rune-Tail’s Essence is that it pretty much forces me to use creatures as a win condition. Why is this perplexing? Because if I’m climbing my life above thirty, who cares about creatures? With that much life I can win through sheer stubbornness, through decking an opponent, or towards some complex combo. If I want to use Rune-Tail to maximum effectiveness, though, I want my creatures to be ultra-defenders and unstoppable attackers.

It’s not a useless effect, luckily. A simple White Weenie deck is a lot scarier if I have a life pad and tough creatures. I would hope, though, that I could think of more interesting things to do with damage-prevention than simple bashing. Maybe now is a good time to turn to deck ideas…

Rune-Tail Decks

As I said, White Weenie is the most obvious deck to build around Rune-Tail. Add Auriok Champion, Venerable Monk, Descendant of Kiyomaro, and Eiganjo Free-Riders and I’m pretty much there. I built this deck, and it managed to both reliably flip Rune-Tail and win its games.

Man, was it boring.

People oohed and ahhed over the Free-Riders/Champion/Venerable Monk action for the first turn or two, but after that even I got tired of it. The only cool part was using Kiyomaro himself as a finisher.

Another obvious idea is to move over to Green/White and use Ageless Entity. Doesn’t everyone try this deck at least once? Well of Lost Dreams make an appearance, along with all of Green’s goodies like Dosan’s Oldest Chant, Nourish, and Terashi’s Grasp. Maybe the deck gets crazy and uses both Honden.

I mentioned Patron of the Kitsune earlier, and I rather like the idea of a Patron deck with Rune-Tail, Eight-and-a-Half Tails, Pious Kitsune, and Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo. The Rune-Tail’s Essence and Opal-Eye combo is a nice one, and almost certainly means a lock until my opponent can deal with my permanents in a non-damaging way. Like the White Weenie deck, though, I think this deck might wander too closely to the borders of Coma-ville.

Speaking of comas, Rune-Tail does happen to make a Millstoning strategy possible. The trick is using creature-based milling a la Cloudhoof Kirin and Soratami Mindsweeper, though I could enhance these with good ‘ole Millstone and Dampen Thought. Please gouge my eyes out of my skull with this deck, though.

Which is to say that the above decks are, shall we say, less than inspired when it comes to fun quotient. Here are a few more ideas with a little quirkier take on Rune-Tail:

One of the things I used to hate with my old Cog decks was how easy it was to kill Trinket Mage, Leonin Elder, and even Auriok Salvagers. Rune-Tail makes cogs a lot more robust, and recycling Sunbeam Spellbomb might actually serve a central purpose to the deck. Of course, since I last played around with cogs, both Sensei’s Divining Top and Pithing Needle have entered Standard, which makes this an even more exciting idea.

One of the cards I really like as a complement to Rune-Tail is Lifegift. I’ve built Lifegift decks from time to time, so I know how much my life can climb with two or more on the table. Enter Rune-Tail, Ageless Entity, and land animation like Natural Affinity and Rude Awakening and I think there’s great potential to win with an unstoppable crew of Forests and Plains. Here’s the deck that has been pretty crazy online:

The fun part is that most of my opponent’s have forgotten about Rune-Tail’s Essence when I attack via Natural Affinity. As a result, they tend to lose a lot of lands rather than trade a lot of lands. Spectators who saw this deck compared to my Eiganjo Free-Riders deck agree that this one is a lot more dynamic and fun.

Another idea comes in the form of Walls. Most people forget that Rolling Stones is still in Standard right now – and hey, it happens to be in the exact same color as Rune-Tail. I can envision a mono-White Wall deck with Wall of Swords, Sunweb, and Wall of Spears. The other cards in the deck would be lifegain cards like Chastise, Genju of the Fields, and Terashi’s Grasp. For some reason I see Shining Shoal in this deck, too, though I can’t put my finger as to why.

Let’s see… flip Rune-Tail, add Genju of the Fields, Genju of the Cedars, Ghostly Prison, White and Green Honden, Promise of Bunrei, then… wait for it… Yavimaya Enchantress as a finisher! Maybe this is an excuse to add a small Tallowisp engine for Cage of Hands and Arrest, too, though it’s hard to think of how to insert Spirit or Arcane cards into the deck. Heck, maybe the deck eschews a lot of global enchantments as a way of fueling Tallowisp a bit more.

Probably my favorite of Rune-Tail deck ideas involves an old trick that used to be popular with Pestilence-type cards and Obsidian Acolyte (it actually predates this combo, but I remember these Urza-based decks fondly). If I can flip Rune-Tail and can also add cards that do damage to all creatures, I will probably get a one-sided Wrath of God and be able to win. These days, Red is probably the best second color thanks to Pyroclasm, Flamebreak, Earthshaker, Jiwari, the Earth Aflame, and Ryusei, the Falling Star.

Black has lost a lot of its ability to help, with really only Wail of the Nim as a damage-based board-clearer. On the upside, Black offers more lifegain a la Consuming Spirit, Swallowing Plague, Vicious Hunger, etc. I can picture the Red/White deck a lot better than the Black/White deck, though.

Instead, the White/Black deck I picture climbs to thirty life, flips into Rune-Tail’s Essence, and then uses that life for some diabolic purpose. Pain’s Reward, Murderous Betrayal, Nightmare Lash, and Phyrexian Colossus come to mind, but those don’t seem evil enough. I’m picturing something along the lines of the Wall of Blood/Grab the Reins combo. Hmm. Something to think about.

Finally, I think there’s an interesting five-color artifact deck to be made with Clearwater Goblet, Tower of Eons, Staff of Domination, Sun Droplet, and Well of Lost Dreams. My guess is that the deck defers to March of the Machines as a kill mechanism…. Although that feels a little pedestrian once I’ve flipped into Rune-Tail’s Essence. Again, something to think about.

As always, I hope you’re enjoyed by Rune-Tail musings. Tomorrow I’ll round out the cycle with what is certainly the most difficult Ascendant from a deckbuilding perspective: Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant.

Think hard and have fun,