SCG Talent Search – The Spirit of Saint Johnny: A Play in Three Acts

Thursday, October 28th – I loathe the Johnny stereotype. I detest the normal use of Johnny staple techniques and cards for being way too obvious.

Act I: In Which Our Hero Attempts to See the True Meaning of Johnny

Although I’ve gained about sixty points on my rating in the past few months just from being halfway competent nowadays, most of what I play is casual multiplayer with a bunch of friends. And you can ask any of them (well, if you knew them, but then you’d know me, and you wouldn’t need to ask): I am a junk rare junkie. I know no bigger thrill in this game than to take a “stupid” card and gussy it up in a vessel of death. In my group, I’ve managed to make the following into must-kills: Ghosts of the Innocent, Keeper of the Nine Gales, Void Maw, Capricious Efreet, and Sacellum Godspeaker, to involve the whole color wheel. I’ve made junk-rare databases from searching card sites by price, just so I can make a whole bunch of decks for cheap. If I wrote a Magic investment column, I’d be the penny stocks guy. I’ve traded Primeval Titan and intentionally gotten back Mayael’s Aria. (Okay, I got a bunch of Standard-relevant stuff, too; what’s your point? I’m the one telling this story…)

That said, I loathe the Johnny stereotype. A lot of non-Johnny writers, whenever they see a “whenever” on a high-cost card, dismiss it as being for Johnnies, wish it cost two less/drew a card, and move on. With those creatures above, nobody’s doubting my Johnny cred, but often I detest the normal use of Johnny staple techniques and cards for being way too obvious.

It doesn’t take long before deck 537 abusing a particular card feels really similar to deck 536 abusing a particular card, or this mill deck feels like that mill deck, or going infinite with mana feels like going infinite with creatures. After you’ve been playing long enough, these thrills wear off. Warp World used to be my favorite card, back when MTGO players cursed my deck for being built around a “random card”; it’s boring to me now, as the Magic world at large knows how to abuse it. Same with Dark Depths; back when your best tool to get Marit Lage was playing Aether Snap and Chisei, Heart of Oceans uphill both ways in the snow land, it was more fun than when it was married to Thopter Depths (nee Foundry; I always pegged her as a girl who would hyphenate).

For a game with as many rules and rule-breaking cards as Magic, Johnnies on the whole have done little to move past some basic thought processes. To that end, I present two decks: my deck from the dankest of jank; and how to make a proliferate deck that’s fun, varied, and actually does stuff.

Act II: In Which Our Hero Consumes and Confuses

I had this deck for a while when I introduced it to some players who had recently joined our group. I informed them up front that they’d have no idea what I was doing… and I was right. Against Thraximundar/Mortician Beetle, R/W/U Levelers, and Vampires, I won with the following:


You’ve seen Johnny netdecks that want to abuse Doubling Season or Inexorable Tide or Faerie Tauntings or Throne of Bone? This isn’t like them. I’ve never played another deck remotely like it, so effectively does it channel its inner Curse of the Fire Penguin.

In the early game, you’re mostly championing life gain lands with Wormfangs. To the rest of the table, this is fidgety and harmless; they know you’re doing something or other, but it’s not really affecting them. This has several advantages, the main one being that you subtly are gaining one or two life for nearly every one of your game actions without having to pay for it. This also allows you to be aggressive with your early drops, like Wormfang Newt; you’ll “ramp” and gain life if he dies, so it’s all well and good if he takes out an opponent’s early drop or blocks something nasty. But this also allows you to be sneaky with Weathered Wayfarer. Much like getting jiggy with Knight of the White Orchid, the Wayfarer offsets your self-inflicted mana screw by tutoring up Sejiri Refuge and friends. Few people bother to look at your board state and your revolving door of lands until they’ve addressed the large threats; but once fisticuffs have raged among the other players, and they turn to your board, you’re at 28ish life.

In the midgame, you’re generally doing the same thing, but with creatures. Wormfang Drake combos well with Aven Riftwatcher, Nevermaker, or a Wormfang Newt that’s hiding your precious life-gaining land. (Have I mentioned that Wormfang Newt is a Nightmare Salamander Beast? How much damage have you dealt with Salamanders?) In the absence of true beefy creatures, Wormfang Crab is your imitation. Given the options of life gain land, Nevermaker, etc., your opponent will pick a basic land 9 times out of 10, and that’s no big loss for a 3/6 unblockable.

Momentary Blink is well known as being palsy with the Riftwatcher and probably less so with the Nevermaker, but blinking the Drake can make a surprise blocker, blinking the Newt can gain you life from a land, and blinking random things continues to do random things. Pull from Eternity can let you re-flash it back, which is weird but sometimes useful.

After enough life gain and Crabs and Salamanders keeping you afloat around 15-25 life, the real fun starts. (Actually, saying, “You’ve been salamandered!” when I connect with Wormfang Newts is a lot of the fun.) Day of the Dragons nets you Dragons, sure, but when it hits the field, you’ll probably also find two lands, some life, and a bounced permanent buried in the metaphorical couch cushions of your Wormfangs and other exiled creatures.

Far more common is casting Dimensional Breach and wreaking all sorts of voc, ha and elsewise. Sometimes the board is too amazing and needs a reset; the Breach does that serviceably. But there are three other purposes for the Breach, all of which are profitable. First, you start regaining the life from your lands. Second, you can drop a Wormfang Crab with no drawback if you bring it back first off the Breach. And third, Pull from Eternity becomes a Vindicate, hitting whatever’s been Breached and sending it graveyard-ward-ly. If you’ve ever wondered what Chris Griffin felt like in the “Take on Me” video, sending a creature from the battlefield to exile to the graveyard is the Magic equivalent.

After awhile, Wormfang Crab or Day of the Dragons takes over the game, and you cruise to victory. I was revisiting the Anthony Alongi multiplayer menagerie for ideas as to why this deck works, and I think I figured out how this pile survives: it’s the world’s least obvious cockroach, hoarding survival measures for a time of prophesied nuclear waste. In a large free-for-all, this deck looks severely underpowered for a while — why play Grizzly Bears with drawbacks? And then

Dimensional Breach happens. The deck’s surprisingly cohesive once you understand when to attack and when to block with your Wormfangs, but it certainly isn’t one you can loan to a friend who isn’t me.

Act III: In Which Our Hero Is Fruitful and Multiplies

With that deck in mind, let’s travel to Mirrodin, a land that proliferates when scarred. Some have been trying proliferate in Pyromancer Ascension decks, but I don’t see it. I played a Grixis version of Pyromancer Ascension prior to Standard rotation and did all right with it at FNMs, but this newfangled idea of Steady Progress is pretty narrow for something like the Ascension; much like metalcraft needs a lot of artifacts, proliferation needs a critical/Chimeric Mass of counters.

My experience with proliferate thus far is that you can’t sit around with too many combo pieces waiting for your counters to come. Yes, you can proliferate whenever you cast a spell if your tide inexors, but so what if the spell isn’t synergistic? This is unsatisfying; we must forge our own path, create our own counters, and perform in accordance with other inspiring-sounding clichés!

A successful proliferate deck requires a bunch of hungry, young birds awaiting the regurgitated worms from their Thrummingbird mothers. (Savor

flavor!) What shall our birds be? Taking a cue from Ascensions and Steady Progress, over a few iterations I now iterate the following:

Bloodchief Ascensions are kinda funny. They were thought to be great until they weren’t, but Mirrodin finally may have given it sufficient fodder. Bloodchief Ascension has some unique features relative to its rare, quest-y brethren and sistren;

-          An active Ascension’s trigger will give a counter to an inactive one

-          One of the easiest ways to give it counters (Necrogen Censer) has counters

-          One of the easiest ways to abuse it once it’s active (Grindclock) has counters

Necrogen Censer also can be activated instantly, which is huge. Anyone who’s faced a Luminarch Ascension in multiplayer knows how problematic the passing of turns is; having a Censer or two lets you get a counter on Bloodchief Ascension on whatever turn it’s needed (read: whenever it wasn’t going to happen anyway), achieving a similar effect. Blocking Perilous Myrs work, too. Once the Censer, Myr, and other peoples’ turns have powered up your Ascension, Carnifex Demon or Contagion Engine can send several cards to graveyards, or you can use Grindclock/Tome Scour as a Drain Life. I’ve dealt twenty off two active Ascensions and a Tome Scour; it’s as fun as it sounds.

If you’re drawing none of the above, try using Everflowing Chalice and Chimeric Mass for fun and profit. Building up like so, once you find a Carnifex Demon or some such, the way is clear for the unaffected Mass to impact faces, domes, and red zones.

There are a number of synergies here that lead to wins in this deck, many of them fairly different, but all of them held together with proliferate and many of them offering style points.

Old Man Johnny Alert!

I like to challenge myself by making decks Standard-legal when reasonable. That said, the Old Man Johnnies of the readership may ask, “How could I pimp this with cards from when Magic was Magic?” It makes me wonder why you want to play with proliferate, but hey… my suggestions to OMJs for Bloodchief Ascension triggers are:

Clutch of the Undercity
Hissing Miasma
Undermine (I assume Countersquall is too chic)

Should you wish to proliferate differently, here are ten cards I haven’t played (or cast, depending on how very old or very new you are as a Man Johnny) that seem fun/weird:

Black Market
A Cephalid Vandal you have Donated
A Cytoplast Manipulator you have not Donated, although you could use it to gain control of a creature you have Donated
Iceberg (but only with Everflowing Chalice so you can call the deck Everflowing Chaliceberg)
Myojin of Your Choice
Private Research
Purraj of Urborg (make him your general!)
Spike Cannibal (pepper the field with +1/+1 counters, proliferate to taste, and serve — your guest will love it)
Tidal Influence (you could use Inexorable Tide to proliferate Tidal Influence…)
Tourach’s Gate (real OMJs cast Fallen Empires)

Whether you use these cards or others, do make sure to keep it fresh, keep it funky, and use those terms for deckbuilding rather than boy bands.