SCG Daily – The Golden Age #1

We’ve finally done it. With the new year, we’ve now made a daily article besides Ask the Judge a regular feature on StarCityGames.com. This will be a rotating post filled by a number of our Featured Writers over the course of the year designed to give you a glimpse into their daily Magical thoughts. The first installment of this new feature will be manned for the next few weeks by none other than the quirky, entertaining, and most excellent Adam Grydehoj!

Pretty much everyone who’s played the game for a couple of years has a personal Magic Golden Age. Back then (It doesn’t matter when “then” was. It could’ve been Onslaught Block), the game was still fresh and exciting. You could put Krosan Cloudscraper in your decks, and no one would laugh because they remembered their own Golden Age. Well, chronologically, my Golden Age started with Ice Age and stretched on through Mirage Block. To be fair though, this was before I understood the concept of “Blocks”, so I played with everything from before Ice Age as well. The Golden Age ended when Tempest was released. I took one look at the Slivers and thought, “These things are way too powerful. They never should’ve been printed.” So, of course, I built a sliver deck and found that it wasn’t all that great. I mean, it could beat my Serra Aviary deck, but still. In any case, the damage had been done: I’d seen what I’d believed was a deck that could beat every other deck, and I had wanted to the play it, even if it meant that I’d never again be able to seriously use enchant worlds featuring pictures of parrots.

Now, the thing that most of us eventually realize is that our Golden Ages weren’t inherently more golden than any other time period; it was really just us. I hope that I’m not crushing any illusions when I say that Thallids never were any good. Thallids dominated your playgroup because the other members of your playgroup were running Serra Aviary decks.

That said, old cards matter. For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a daily column about old cards. There’ll be decks in the articles, but I assure you that they won’t be well-tested. Like the Golden Age itself, this column will be strictly casual. It’s aimed at newer players who might not know much about Magic‘s post-Arabian Nights and pre-Tempest history. For these readers, the articles will teach about the past and point toward some fun ideas for casual play. Conversely, older players might just enjoy being reminded of those cards that they loved back in their Golden Ages. These cards won’t be powerhouses like Winter Orb or Swords to Plowshares; they’ll be cards that were either fun or influential (possibly even both). That’s right: Flanking and Ferrets, spore counters and Splintering Wind, Phasing and assorted phantasmal objects. Just about everything, in fact, except for banding and Homarids.

Okay, maybe banding too. But only on request.

The Golden Age #1: Visions of Creature Tokens Dancing on my Opponent’s Head

I’d planned that the first article in this column would be a simple one. I thought, “Don’t stress yourself. Go into it slowly and focus on a single card.” Immediately, Pygmy Hippo came to mind. This little fellow from Visions has always intrigued me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for an easy article. On the one hand, the creature does something stunningly quirky and powerful. On the other hand, this power is exceedingly difficult to harness.

Until the appearance of Champions of Kamigawa’s Nature’s Will, the hippo’s ability was entirely unique. While it’s not difficult to think of cards like Winter Orb, Static Orb, and Rising Waters that are synergistic with Pygmy Hippo, if you’re using cards like that you’re already on your way to a top-tier deck, and you probably shouldn’t be fooling around with the pachyderm. As my Uncle Toby Shandy likes to say, “Don’t sac the Black Lotus for a first-turn Ferropede.” More simply: Although Pygmy Hippo combos with the Orbs like a dream, I refuse to sink so low as to give you a decklist. Ha.

So, excluding the power cards, what do we have? Well, I know this sounds terrible, but despite wracking my brains (the one in the Petri dish isn’t looking so good these days) about it, I just can’t think of a remotely viable deck based around Pygmy Hippo. Nature’s Will isn’t half so hard to work with, primarily because, unlike the hippo, it doesn’t require that you use the mana you steal. There are surprisingly few methods of getting rid of an unspecified quantity of colorless mana each turn. The best option seems to be Magma Mine which, not quite coincidentally, also comes from Visions. Price of Glory is also sneaky if you can support a Red splash. But not even Magma Mine and Price of Glory are sufficient to make a playable deck. Certainly, Pygmy Hippo is helpful all on its lonesome because it can deprive Blue decks of counterspell mana during your second main phase. This alone isn’t worth the possibility of mana burn though, especially when cards like Dosan the Falling Leaf already exist.

Thus, I give up. My Pygmy Hippo decks just die to everything. If you’ve built a deck that performs decently in a casual environment and utilizes Pygmy Hippo without utilizing a previously tournament-winning, land-locking enchantment or artifact, please post it in the forums. I’m genuinely interested.

So long as we’re on the topic of Pygmy Hippo, it’s worth mentioning Phelddagrif from Alliances. To the eternal dismay of Tribal Night deck builders the world over, Phelddagrif is not a Hippo (remember the old legend-creature-type rule) although it can, rather perversely, abet your opponent in amassing a Hippo army. Phelddagrif flaunts flavor and the color wheel in a way that would never happen today; not only is it difficult to explain how the animal produces Hippos for your opponent (No, that’s impossible, you dirty boy. It’s legendary, remember?), but I find myself wondering how it survived during the Ice Age.

Pygmy Hippo isn’t the only Green card from Mirage Block to put the pressure on Blue. Visions also included City of Solitude, an enchantment that has recently reappeared in creature form as Dosan the Falling Leaf, and River Boa still sets efficiency standards. This latter creature was accompanied by another two-drop, Karoo Meerkat, a creature which still sets it’s-just-so-darned-cute standards. Besides these cards, there were also the more typical Roots of Life and Tropical Storm.

This anti-Blue talk, however, is beside the point. The point is reminding you of creatures that have the power to gift your opponent pointless, humorous tokens. Yes, the Phelddagrif experiment from Alliances was apparently so successful that Ovinomancer wormed its way into Visions’ development. Seeing recent attempts at abusing Azusa, Lost but Seeking, I couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t this legend be great with Ovinomancer?” After a few, insubstantial tweaks on [author name="John Matthew Upton"]John Matthew Upton’s[/author] deck (It’s still almost Standard.), we have the following:

U/G Turbolamb v. 1.0

4 Eternal Witness

4 Soratami Cloudskater

4 Azusa, Lost but Seeking

4 Ovinomancer

2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

3 Crucible of Worlds

4 Condescend

2 Oxidize

3 Kodama’s Reach

2 Rude Awakening

12 Forest

9 Island

2 Blinkmoth Nexus

And it works great! Remember to watch out for those Sheep tokens if you suspect your opponent on holding Echoing Courage. And don’t play it against Affinity, Big Red, other U/G Control decks, Mono-Blue Control, or Kiki-Jiki Control. Not bad against U/G Pygmy Hippo though.

In closing, I’d like to bring this article half-circle and return to Alliances, the set that gave us Spiny Starfish (the advanced progeny of Wall of Kelp). Now, you may not recognize this just by reading the card, and I find the phenomenon tricky to comprehend myself, but Spiny Starfish is actually one of the most annoying Blue creatures ever printed. Even though those Sheep tokens made by Ovinomancer are a bit of a laugh, over the years, a great many alpha strikes have been foiled by a sea of Starfish tokens.