I have great memories of Alliances. It isn’t my favorite set. No, that’s surely a tie between Mirage and Visions. It is the first set that I remember the release of though. Before then, I’d just been fooling around, but it was around the time of Alliances when I subscribed to Inquest Magazine. Anyway, I’m not here to confess. Beyond whatever personal importance Alliances has for me, when I now look at its spoiler again, I realize that it has oodles of charm. Like every other set, Alliances includes some basic elements, has boring cards like Agent of Stromgald and bad and boring cards like Noble Steeds, yet these are the minority.
It’s probably best to start by getting the necessary laudation out of the way: A spell from Alliances is the undisputed most format-shaping card in Vintage. Yep, Force of Will, folks. Come back next week, and the 100th customer will get a free French Hotdog. Force of Will is but the best of a cycle of Alliances uncommons with discard-based alternate casting costs. Of the others, only the White spell, Scars of the Veteran is not eminently playable. Contagion and Bounty of the Hunt are sturdy as a concrete rabbit warren, and Pyrokinesis makes even my landlord giddy. So, although it may be popular to blame spells that cost no mana to cast for everything under the sun, it’s good to remember that the oldest of formats would be extra broken if not for one of the first free spells. After Force of Will, the next most-played spell from Alliances is Diminishing Returns, a card which just goes to show that no matter how hard you try, Timetwister is unfixable. Happily, Alliances gives Type One fans a balancing method of fixing the format’s high speed, Gorilla Shaman.
One of the premier cards from Alliances is Balduvian Horde, a Red creature that doesn’t look like much now (in the days of Emperor Crocodile and Vulshok War Boar) but was, back then, the closest thing Magic had to a new Juzam Djinn. In general, those Balduvians were promising people, and one can easily imagine a casual Balduvian Dead, Spark Elemental, and Lightning Coils deck. A requisite component of this deck would have to be Death Spark, one Red’s best pieces of reusable burn and a nice low-mana complement to Pyrokinesis. A smidgen higher up on the curve is the ever-exhilarating Rogue Skycaptain (whose real name is George, by the way). While we’re at it, we might as well include Lim-Dul’s Paladin (Or Lim-Dul’s Pal if you two are really chummy. And no, I don’t want to hear about your “special relationship.”) as a way of tip-toeing past Worship. An unfairly forgotten little charmer is Insidious Bookworms, about as good a one-drop as Slowly Suicidal Black can find. Mix these simple ingredients together, and we get:
R/B SparkGoat v. There Will Never be another Version of R/B SparkGoat
4 Spark Elemental
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Insidious Bookworms
3 Carrion Feeder
2 Mountain Goat (just because we can)
4 Death Spark
2 Rogue Skycaptain
4 Lightning Coils
4 Balduvian Dead
2 Lim-Dul’s Paladin
Lim-Dul’s Paladin perhaps deserves a bit more attention than we’ve given it. In decks that aren’t designed to make use of its disadvantage, it’s not so slick of a card, but at least, it’s better than Keeper of Tresserhorn, a creature which, like certain politicians, looks pretty intimidating but is really just a big fluff cake. Keeper of Tresserhorn’s boss, however, Lord of Tresserhorn would, in most sets be the oddest creature around. Even if Lord of Tresserhorn loses out to Phelddagrif on uniqueness, he was, at the time, tied with Leviathan as the creature with the second-highest power in the game.
Still within the realm of multi-colored fun is Phantasmal Fiend. Not only is the card a rules nightmare, but even if you avoid using other spells and abilities to alter the creature’s power and toughness, it’s helpful to have a calculator and a ream of paper on standby. The real question though is: Why avoid spells and abilities that alter the creature’s power and toughness if you can have more fun the other way around?
Practically Builds Itself v. 1.1
1 Unholy Strength
4 Insidious Bookworms
4 Lim-Dul’s Vault
4 Blood Lust
3 Slagwurm Armor
4 Diseased Vermin
4 Bestial Fury
4 Phantasmal Fiend
4 City of Brass
The great thing is, I didn’t do any testing at all. No, I haven’t the foggiest idea about the interaction between Phantasmal Fiend, Blood Lust, and a certain television celebrity whom I’ve been paid not to name. Although Lim-Dul’s Vault may be better suited for other decks (good decks, perhaps), it’ll find any one of your very annoying creatures, preferably Phantasmal Fiend. In common with Michael Howard, Diseased Vermin might not look like much, but it has made it top anyway. The Rats would be loads of fun if the deck had any method of getting them past blockers. The deck could include some burn or defensive pump for this purpose, but it has always been my opinion that creatures with evasion run contrary to the interactive spirit of the game.
I’ll close this article with a rare example of Green direct damage. I mean, of course, the much loved Splintering Wind, an enchantment which is every bit as bad as it looks. What I love about Splintering Wind is just how much is going on in the rules text and just how many color wheel precepts are broken: 1) Green direct damage; 2) Green creatures with Flying; 3) Green damaging its own creatures; and 4) Green emphasis on racing. What can I say? It’s me.