Everything about Magic lately has gotten me excited. From the six-month Standard format to the implementation of the scry mulligan rule, I’m getting pumped about all of it. Recently, though, my eyes have been on the new Battle for Zendikar spoilers. As a general rule, I try not to talk about the new set extensively until the whole set is spoiled because I find that brews, more than competitive decks, fare better when you wait for all the set’s intricate pieces to be revealed.
It’s really hard this time though. Between sweet new lands, outstanding art, and towering Eldrazi, it’s a huge challenge to not gush about the return to my favorite plane in Magic.
Maybe… maybe we can at least get the flavor, right? Like, you ever have an urge for a donut and the bakery’s out, so you settle for a bagel with a whole mess of cream cheese? Just me, huh?
This was the only “bulk mythic” from spoiler season for Magic Origins. It never got above $2.99 on StarCityGames.com, and it’s trailed down to the base price of $1.49 at the moment. These kind of Warp World effects often live in red, with Warp World, Scrambleverse, and Thieves’ Auction seeing play in wacky Commander decks and casual circles. None of these or their variants have ever been serious contenders for Standard due to their highly variable results and immense mana costs, and The Great Aurora is no exception, though the fact that it’s a green sorcery means that ramping into it is a bit easier.
Providing a lot of lands is great, but to what end? You could resolve bulky green creature after bulky green creature, if you wanted, but I think we can do this with a bit more finesse. What’s a good way to leverage lands?
Dreadwaters has been around once before during Avacyn Restored, and it’s proven itself as a niche archetype in Magic Origins Draft, assuming you can get the Sphinx’s Tutelage and blue’s conditional removal to support it. While considerably weaker than nearly every other mill spell at the same cost, even its contemporary Talent of the Telepath, there is a point where Dreadwaters scales to be more powerful than even the fabled Glimpse the Unthinkable, Traumatize, or even Sphinx’s Tutelage. We’re all about using the unusable here, so let’s see if we can make it work.
Before I dug into a version with The Great Aurora, I had a preliminary list that included Sphinx’s Tutelage alongside familiar green creatures designed to support the early game.
This list was untested but it appeared to be pretty dull, giving me the impression that we weren’t really doing anything groundbreaking. It felt pretty safe, and while that’s often the herald of a good deck for tournament play, we’re here to have fun. Zendikar was always about going over the top, and as the new set nears we should prepare ourselves to go all-in.
This definitely felt more exciting. The Great Aurora cares only about the cards in your hand and the permanents on the battlefield, so making sure both of those counts stay high is the main goal of the deck.
The creatures in this deck need to provide two functions: help me stay alive against aggressive decks while being semi-relevant in decks where your opponents cast very few creatures. Considering that half of the creatures block really well and the other half turn into planeswalkers in the midgame, the balance seems correct.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy reminds us how sick both Merfolk Looter and Snapcaster Mage are. We haven’t had an honest-to-goodness Merfolk Looter in a long time, and while a 1/1 that filters your draw is good, an 0/2 that filters and turns into a sweet planeswalker is better. Jace allows us to stave off one attacker in the early game while his -3 is the real engine; Dreadwaters isn’t terribly powerful in the early game, but when you have tons of lands late in the game, you can cast and recast the same spell twice in a turn. Dreadwaters for fourteen, -3, Dreadwaters for fourteen more.
Satyr Wayfinder is the best roadblock. Instead of Elvish Visionary, which will guarantee you a draw, the fact that Satyr Wayfinder builds your graveyard up for Spell Mastery and Jace is a huge bonus. If you brick with him on turn three but you played Jace on turn two, he’s ready to flip!
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is an early-game speed bump, too, but late in the game she can help you ramp further to get to The Great Aurora mana. Making a 4/4 is often relevant, too, and unlike Nissa, Worldwaker, you’re not putting a permanent on the line to do it. Many times though it’s just going to be a 2/2 Borderland Ranger, and if I could have four more Satyr Wayfinders, I’d probably just do that.
Finally, you have three copies of Hornet Queen. In terms of spell-to-permanent ratio, Hornet Queen is about the most efficient spell you can cast. Each of the Insect tokens count as permanents as you resolve The Great Aurora, letting you draw five more cards after resolving the Queen.
Spell Mastery is an unusual mechanic to be featured in every color, especially those who don’t fancy themselves as sorcery slingers. Regardless, the good Spell Mastery spells for green that don’t revolve around creatures revolve around land instead.
Animist’s Awakening is a bit of a gamble, but the fact that, for three mana, you can add two lands to the battlefield and potentially untap them right away is worth considering. It’s hard to know when to pull the trigger on this; it’s tempting to cast it as X for 1 to try and curve out, but it’s riskier. On the other hand, you often need lots of lands to make X sizable enough for a guaranteed hit. I guess we’ll just have to test it and find out!
Nissa’s Pilgrimage is much more reliable; two Forests for three mana. We might never get Cultivate or Kodama’s Reach again, but I’ll take this in the meantime. With The Great Aurora, this is close to a green Divination, as it grants you two cards for three mana and one spell.
Dreadwaters may or may not need to be a four-of given our ability to recast it with Jace, but I don’t want three to be in the bin, zero to be in the library and seventeen cards to be in my opponent’s deck. This is just a first blush, but it’ll likely wiggle around.
In lieu of real removal, Whelming Wave can solve a considerable set of problems with aggressive decks. If you find yourself battling against a more passive deck, Jace will happily mill away that pesky hand trash. It also allows you to rebuy Satyr Wayfinder and Nissa activations, especially if that next land will put you over the edge to flip her.
Finally, we have two copies of The Great Aurora. Perhaps the most fun thing to do would be to casting a discarded copy via Jace, reshuffling the Jace and all your lands for maximum value. You only get two shots with two copies as it exiles itself on resolution, but I just really really want to cast this spell.
There are 28 lands in this list, and that seems like the right balance. Too many and you’ll do nothing but “land, go” the whole game, but too few and your land-based spells get much weaker. I like Radiant Fountains here due to the fact that you can rebuy their lifegain with The Great Aurora, and the color demands of this deck aren’t particularly high despite the plethora of Forests and green spells. I’ve found that, when splashing a color, having an untapped, painless source of it is really important. It just takes a little more attention to land sequencing. Thus, two Islands made this list.
No sideboard yet, but I bet with some practice I could find the right balance.
I found a friend with a slightly out-of-date gauntlet built, and we tested this deck against three different archetypes offered within the gauntlet: Abzan Aggro, U/B Control and Ascendancy Combo. It crumbled to each of them without a fight: zero wins out of six games.
The deck was a bit too do-nothing. I was soft to combat due to the fact that I lacked much in the way of removal. Dreadwaters were always too weak and too late without other help, and the creature base was smashed to bits through removal and combat. Animist’s Awakening was hit or miss, with a five-mana version missing and two three-mana versions hitting on both flips. The best cards in my deck were Hornet Queen, The Great Aurora and Radiant Fountain, especially in congress with The Great Aurora. I couldn’t really get set up against decks that were outmaneuvering me at every turn. None of the cards were terribly impactful, even when working together.
It was time to go back to the drawing board, as tempting as it was to go the dump.
The land count got bumped up to fully half the deck, making all of the cards that care about lands off the top a lot better. Satyr Wayfinder proved to be too weak and, in general, unnecessary given how much of my stuff was dying due to removal and combat. Still no removal, but there’s bulkier creatures to block instead. Spell Mastery was never achieved and even if it had been, it wouldn’t have been relevant. Thus, Animist’s Awakening is the only one of those to survive.
With these renovations, I charged back into the gauntlet, choosing U/B Control and Abzan Aggro again, Jeskai Burn/Control.
U/B Control was still a challenge pre-board, as they could just hold the counterspells and discard in their hand until I tried to resolve Dreadwaters or The Great Aurora. However, because I had threats like Hangarback Walker (an extremely unfair card in today’s Standard) and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, I was able to diversify enough that he had to tap out more than the first time. After sideboarding, things got much better as I slammed all but the Aetherspouts in. Each threat was able to stand alone and I never overextended. In game three, I bled him out of counterspells (as he’d boarded most of them out game two after seeing all the creatures), resolved The Great Aurora to shuffle his multi-counter Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver into his deck, resolve three Temple of Mystery triggers and cast two Dreadwaters for nineteen a piece. Remember, those lands come into play from The Great Aurora untapped!
Abzan Aggro was less of a challenge, as both Hangarback Walker and Courser of Kruphix kept him honest. I gained enough incidental life to dodge Siege Rhino and I got him two games to none, with those sideboard Aetherspouts as a critical component.
The deck was somewhat inconsistent and it banked heavily on a few key cards, but resolving The Great Aurora was just as fun as I expected, and even role-players like Animist’s Awakening and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy were exciting as well. Maybe I just like looking at multiple cards off the top of my deck. Maybe I just miss cascade. Maybe I’m just anxious to get to Zendikar.
Either way, it’s a fun one if you’re looking to go big in your casual circle, but I’m anxious to see what happens when you cast The Great Aurora, get a bunch of untapped mana and then resolve Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger…
I’ve just got one angle on The Great Aurora, and as wacky a card as this nine-mana sorcery is, I know I’m not the only one who’s opened a couple and tried to work a deck around it. Help us see the light!