Getting a 4-3-1 record isn’t exactly a badge of pride…Unless you’re playing with a deck built as a joke.* My roommate had the idea of using a Daru Spiritualist, targeting it with some of the en-Kor gang, and making lots of clerics that were very hard to kill. I chuckled at the idea; it was cute, but was it practical? We really didn’t think so. So the idea was set aside, never to be seen again.
Then my roommate met Lightning Greaves at the Mirrodin Prerelease.
At first, he went looking for a way to kill with the combination, but the best he could come up with was using an About Face with the black half of Starlit Sanctum. Then he considered the white half and decided infinite life wasn’t too bad. I didn’t think so either, and I started to build a Cleric deck incorporating the combo. It went through plenty of revision, not all of it for the better.
“Raining on Sunday”
by John Dale Beety and Aaron Dubin
4 Foothill Guide
4 Nova Cleric
4 Beacon of Destiny
4 Daru Spiritualist
3 True Believer
4 Cabal Archon
4 Slagwurm Armor
4 Lightning Greaves
3 Second Sunrise
4 Starlit Sanctum
Now that you’ve all bought Braille keyboards, yes… It looks horrible. My fears of Goblins and Mono Black Control were completely misplaced and I just didn’t include a win condition more consistent than Starlit Sanctum. It ended up playing like a bad White Weenie deck part of the time, and that’s just not worthwhile. Still, the combo seems quite powerful and may well find a home in another, better deck.
I hadn’t had the chance to playtest as much as I’d wanted, and all the testing I’d done was against Goblins and a decent White Weenie deck my roommate and I had concocted for States. In fact, the only reason I was running Raining on Sunday was we only had the cards to build one practical deck. Thus, I got to play the crazy deck.
At seven in the morning, my roommate and I piled into a van and we made the trip to Indianapolis. We finished up our registration and lists, looked over the dealers’ tables, and sat down to read the latest issue of Sideboard** when an old friend of mine came up next to our table. I sat down to play with his son, who was sporting Green/White. I managed to pull off the major combo at nine life, and he promptly conceded. Just then, pairings were announced.
Before play started, however, the tournament organizer offered six packs of Mirrodin to the six players who had registered, in the opinion of the judges, the most unique decks in the tournament that used Mirrodin. I didn’t get a prize; perhaps my decklist looked too mundane. It’s too bad. I could have used the packs…
Round 1 vs. Sam King, Black-Red Scepter
Game one was all about the Jinxed Choker he laid out. All my threats were burned out without the protection of the Daru Spiritualist, and by the time I finally drew a spell which had potential – a Beacon of Destiny to go with my Slagwurm Armor (a cute pairing, I might add) – it was too late, as Jinxed Choker had brought me to two life. Assorted burn aimed at my head fought through the Starlit Sanctum and the heavily-armored Beacon (who also received Lightning Greaves), and it was on to game two.
Game two was much of the same. After a quick check with the judge about when Jinxed Choker’s damage level is locked in, it became clear he was one life too high. I conceded on my opponent’s turn after he reduced the number of counters on the Choker and saved himself. It wasn’t a promising start.
Matches, 0-2 Games.
Afterward, I asked Sam to take a look at my deck, since he seemed to be quite experienced. (It turned out he was a Level 2 judge who sported a nice 1900 rating.) By coincidence, one set of the combo was together near the bottom. He flipped through the first two, looked at the third, paused, and shuffled back to the two before.
“Oh my God, this is sick…”
He quickly wrote down the combo on his match notes and said he’d found a new deck for Friday Night Magic. After giving me some solid advice on the deck (including making up my mind whether the deck was combo or aggro) and fleshing out his match notes, he said goodbye, and I packed up my bag, steeling myself for a long day.
Round 2 vs. Edwin, Red-Green Random
These two games were over pretty quickly. Aside from burn and Furnace of Rath, he didn’t have any serious threats. The first game, my life total was untouched as he tried to keep up with my creatures; it was a losing battle. At the end, he dropped a Riptide Replicator for four, but I shrugged, untapped, and used my Starlit Sanctum to send precisely five points of life loss to him, courtesy of a double-Bonesplittered Foothill Guide.
Game two, he decided that maybe he should try throwing some spells at me instead of my creatures. This time, his lands decided to mess with him. He only pulled off one Hammer of Bogardan by the time I pulled out the last piece of the combo. I settled in at seventeen trillion life and slowly whittled him down with the Starlit Sanctum’s darker half.
Matches, 2-2 Games.
I wished him luck and we parted ways.
Round 3 vs. U/W Control
Game one, there’s not much to say: Bonesplittered clerics knocked his life total down. Game two, there’s even less to say: Five swings with Exalted Angel knocked my life total down.
Game three was where things got interesting.
Once again, he got out his Exalted Angel and began swinging. His fun was cut short, however, by the arrival of the Starlit Sanctum. I went through the Cleric ping-pong routine and then dropped the Sanctum. I chose to gain twenty-five trillion life and put myself in a comfortable position; he called a judge to ask if the combo was legal. The judge blinked several times and then affirmed it.
Unfortunately, this was the match I discovered a major flaw in my deck that I honestly hadn’t considered: the lack of creature removal and what happens when an Exalted Angel comes to call. In the end, we drew the game out with him at fifty-three life and my own life total just shy of two quadrillion, after I repeated the combination out of spite. Neither of us would concede to the other. He said later that he would have given me something for my concession, but I didn’t even want to discuss it; the judge was still there, watching the match, and the last thing I wanted was a disqualification for saying the wrong thing.
Matches, 3-3-1 Games.
This left no time for lunch, so I ignored my stomach’s rumblings, checked in with my roommate (he was 3-0 at the time) and prepared myself to be eliminated from contention.
Round 4: vs. Allan, non-Goblin Sligh
Prior to this match, whether desperately lonely or just messing with my head, Allan talked about how his grandfather was a Nazi and how he felt guilty about it. I simply told him that”His guilt isn’t yours.” He looked at me and commented that it sounded like it came off a Magic card. I don’t remember one like that, but maybe it did.
Game one seemed to be confirmation that the deck was terminal. Another Isochron Scepter came out, this one imprinted with Shrapnel Blast. Despite help from a Starlit Sanctum, my life total fell in five-point chunks until it couldn’t fall any further.
Game two, on the other hand, he didn’t find any threats that could easily get around my 1/7 armored Planar Guide, and I finished with a flourish, attacking with a 6/2 Cabal Archon and then sacrificing him to himself for the win. The third game was much of the same; the Bottle Gnomes he sided in were minor inconveniences.
2-1-1 Matches, 5-4-1 Games.
By this time, word had spread about my deck. As I sat down for my round five match, my opponent’s friends cautioned him at the table about my deck, warning him that I could”Go infinite on turn 3!” I naturally denied it – but it was a true denial, since the deck can’t”go infinite” until turn 4. The young man was quite dismissive of his friends:
“Yeah, right! My Mono White Control deck can whip his deck’s <expletive> any day!”
Thanks for the information…
Round 5: vs. Jon, Mono White Control
Game one: I saw him cycle Renewed Faith, and that was about it. A True Believer and a Cabal Archon attacked him with a Bonesplitter each for three turns, and that was that. As a side note, he attempted to Wing Shards me with the True Believer out. He didn’t really like me after I pointed out that he was the only legal target of his own Shards.
As we sideboarded and I removed my Foothill Guides for Planar Guides, Jon griped at his teammates, complaining that I was too lucky and that I’d ripped the card I needed to win off the top of my deck. I said nothing but thought,”That’s Magic. Deal with it.”
Game two, Jon cackled evilly as he finally laid an Exalted Angel. I was highly unimpressed, since I’d held the last combo piece in my hand for a while, waiting for an opportune moment. I moved my Lightning Greaves from my Nova Cleric to my Daru Spiritualist and back again, and then asked him if he minded me doing that a trillion times. He immediately called for a judge, and in a show of bad sportsmanship, asked if he could make me go through the physical motions of that transfer. I told the judge I had no problem with that. The judge seemed surprised until I told him that I’d won the last game and if my opponent wanted me to have a sore arm and a 1-0-1 match win, that was fine by me.
On second thought, Jon wanted me to execute the combo.
“Hold on a second. You’ve been rude to me since before the match began. You’re not getting off easily. Forget a trillion life. I’m gaining two quadrillion life.”
“White, tap, sacrifice Nova Cleric.”
For the second time that day, a judge explained the combo. Jon continued to whine to his friends, along the lines of”That’s sick! Combos like that shouldn’t be in Type Two! It’s just sick!”
I looked at him and told him,”That’s why I’m playing with it.”
Then I repeated the combo for two quadrillion more life to annoy him.
I knew I was safe, since he’d cycled three cards in setting up his play, but he still carried the game to extra turns. By that time, I didn’t really care; I was far more interested in making snide comments and earning laughs from the spectators who had come to watch the game. The best received was”Thanks for the foot massage, Akroma!”
3-1-1 Matches, 6-4-2 Games
By this time, when I was walking down the hall, I had people I hadn’t played asking me about the deck and how I was doing. It was rather creepy for me, since I’d never known anything like it.
For the next match, there were a few people watching.
Round 6: vs. Rod, U/W Control
Rod had Sam, my first opponent, for a teammate. Thus, there was no surprise factor for this match; a Daru Spiritualist was an immediate target for any control he could muster.
Game one, his Chain of Vapor bounced my Daru Spiritualist, but I replayed it and executed the combo, setting myself at one trillion life. A young kid beside me kept asking,”How did you do that?” and all I could do was say I’d explain it later and ignore him from then on. Rod asked for a library count; we were even, and he’d gone first, but he’d cycled Eternal Dragon for a Plains and I’d already drawn my card for the turn. Rod acknowledged reality and scooped.
Game two, my combo didn’t show up, but my equipment did. Bonesplittered Planar Guides came crashing through until he was down to two life. Then I used a Cabal Archon on him. Despite desperately digging through his deck with Trade Routes, he didn’t find lifegain, so he resigned.
4-1-1 Matches, 8-4-2 Games
Rod was a classy gentleman; if you’re reading this, thank you. You were a joy to play against.
By this time, everything in contention for the Top 8 was a well-known deck… Affinity, Red-White, Goblins, Mono Black Control, Goblin Bidding, or White Weenie… Except mine. After my sixth-round win, Sam King came over to check on his teammate, and was surprised to find me not only as his teammate’s opponent, but as the winner of the match. He congratulated me and wished me luck, as did most people who’d heard about my success with a life-gaining deck. Some people had even renamed it”Infinite Clerics” to suit their own ideas for a proper deck name.
There were half a dozen players watching my next match. They were treated to a spectacle.
Round 7: vs. Nick, R/W Slide
This one hurt.
Game one, I got him to within five life when the Astral Slide came out. My Nova Clerics hadn’t shown up, so I didn’t have anything to deal with Slide. Three hits from an Exalted Angel and several Lightning Rift activations later, I was a goner. Game two differed only in the details, with no Slide but two Lightning Rifts active on his part of the table. My Nova Clerics were AWOL, as were my Daru Spiritualists. The Altar’s Lights were also in hiding, so that didn’t help. Without any parts of the combo and no way to protect my creatures, he Rifted them out as they showed up and removed my life in elegant two-point strips.
4-2-1 Matches, 8-6-2 Games
I was unofficially out of the running for the Top 8, but I went ahead and played the last round out to help my last opponent with tiebreakers.
Round 8: vs. AJ, Affinity
This was even bloodier than the last round. Game one, my hands were one-land, one-land, one-land. I kept the last one and never drew another land that game. Needless to say, I lost.
Game two wasn’t any closer; this time I drew more land, but I also drew three Cabal Archons during the game, and I’d taken a mulligan and kept a two-Plains hand. Naturally, there wasn’t a Swamp in sight. Broodstars hurt without a life total that looks like Bill Gates’s bank account.
4-3-1 Matches, 8-8-2 Games
Afterwards, I headed home with my roommate (who went 0-3 after his start and dropped after that) and mused about the deck. I wouldn’t want to play it again the way it is, that’s for sure.
How would I change it? It would probably be either White-Black or White-Blue. White-Black has the advantage of Terror and Spoils of the Vault (don’t laugh; if this happens, you’ll be in the millions as far as life goes, so why would you care about twenty?) while Blue has control, tutoring, and milling effects. The deck could be tuned either offensively or defensively, but I wouldn’t attempt both at the same time. It just ruins the deck’s effectiveness. Either one might work, so both are worth a shot.
This deck didn’t win states. I doubt that it could win a Friday Night Magic the way it is now. Still, I think it’s an idea worth exploring. Perhaps you’ll find a better way to play the combo. Just remember that nobody ever complained about having too much life.***
Have a good time!
John Dale Beety
* – This seems to be a habit for me.”Twelve Cards and Some Land” ought to be proof enough.
** – Requiescat in pace, Sideboard Magazine. You will be missed.
*** – Okay, maybe someone with Transcendence in play…