Come. Join me on a roundabout journey through decks and the ideas behind them. I am about to tell you how much fun I’m having with Pokemon’s influence over Magic.
For those of you who haven’t played it, Pokemon essentially boils down to throwing a creature into a gladiator-style ring, evolving it with energy to make it bigger, and more capable of smashing face. Although it’s slightly more complicated than that, most of Pokemon is a quest for building a better creature than your opponent. She with the best Super Creature wins.
I used to hate Magic’s version of the Super Creature. There was no building involved; you just plunked down a Morphling or Masticore and began your domination over the rest of the table. There were bigger creatures than Morphling and Masticore, but none caused you to wet your pants quite so much. Because no matter what your board position, a Super Creature during the Urza days could bring you to victory. Back then, I hated creatures that could do everything. I thought it lacked imagination to play them. Spiritmonger would later make me similarly angry.
Recently, I’ve begun to fall in love with Magic’s Super Creatures again – oh, not Morphling, Masticore, and Spiritmonger. There’s too much pain associated with those three for real love. Besides, I still think decks with them lack imagination. No, I’m talking about Magic’s new Super Creature.
I guess my obsession started in the few weeks before 8th Edition’s release. I was acutely aware that Odyssey Block was going to be rotating from Standard soon, and I wanted to make a deck showcasing cards from Odyssey’s days that interacted well with Scourge, the newest set at the time. I give myself deck challenges like this frequently, which should surprise no one who has read my previous articles.
For various reasons, I decided to build a Gurzigost deck. I mean, Gurzigost – a six-power, eight-toughness monstrosity for a mere five mana that was essentially unblockable. How cool is that? Gurzigost’s bigness, its beefiness, its mutated bunny-ness just pushed me over the edge into wanting a deck that used it as a centerpiece.
I pretty much ignored the fact that Gurzigost is a Beast. A Beast deck, while a fine use of Gurzigost, did not exactly have the”centerpiece” feel I had hoped for. Instead, I focused on the new landcycling of Scourge as a way of filling up the graveyard for a nigh-unstoppable Gurzigost. After some tinkering, I ended up playing this in the waning days of 7th Edition Standard:
GEE, A Monogreen Gurzigost Deck
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Elvish Aberration
4 Krosan Tusker
4 Wirewood Guardian
2 Fierce Empath
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Silvos, Rogue Elemental
4 Moment’s Peace
4 Break Asunder
I pounded a lot of virtual faces with this deck in the Magic Online Casual Room (I would never play this deck in real life just because of the sheer amount of shuffling involved). The trick was to find those last few points of damage that three swings of a Gurzigost didn’t provide. Sometimes an opponent’s painlands were enough. Sometimes Llanowar Elves got in a few early hits; most often, Hurricane was a green Blaze to end the game.
What struck me about playing this deck is how much I love – or rather, how much I LOOOOOVE – swinging home with a big versatile fattie. Gurzigost could do lots of neat tricks, as could Kamahl (Silvos, by way of comparison, is just a big intimidating brute). They are the closest this generation of Magic cards had to powerhouses like Morphling and Masticore because of the combat tricks they can pull and their ability to take over a game.
And yet they aren’t Morphling and Masticore. They are Green, for one thing, and it just feels better to play a green deck with Super Creatures than a monoblue one. Also, Morphling and Masticore could pretty much win the game regardless of the deck. If you could play them, you did (or should have). My Gurzigost deck didn’t lack imagination – quite the contrary, actually. I had to bend my deck in serious ways to make Gurzigost a powerhouse. And when I did, winning with Gurzigost felt unnaturally cool. I always wanted to flex at my computer screen after games and scream”LOVE HIM! LOVE THE MUTANT BUNNY!”
At the time, I mistakenly attributed my flexing and giddy clapping to the fact that I like playing Legends. They tend to be big, they tend to be fat, and they tend to have neat abilities. Gurzigost had a decidedly Legendary feel, even though it wasn’t a Legend, and I have a long history of loving Kamahl.
So as 8th Edition washed over Standard, I decided to try my hand at another versatile Legend: Arcanis the Omnipotent. I set about making an Arcanis deck that wasn’t Reanimator and wasn’t a Wizard deck – the only places I had seen the Omnipotent One in the past.
I quickly discovered that slapping Pemmin’s Aura on Arcanis was pretty silly. I made a monoblue deck with lots of artifacts, Sage of Lat-Nam, and – wait for it – Spellbook, which allowed me to go off with the Arcanis-Aura combo, drawing about twenty-one cards a turn and winning through Storm and bounce effects.
Ick. I generally don’t like combo decks. And the deck wasn’t smashing face with fatties, it was making people concede. Boo. Hiss. Go away, awful memories of Morphling!
Something about the versatility of Pemmin’s Aura blew me out of the water, though. It’s blue creature elimination. It makes a blocker unmovable. It turns anything with three or more toughness into a stellar win condition. More, baby, more! I don’t know how I could hate the creature Morphling but love the Morphling-enchantment so much. Maybe I’m desperately trying to make up for all of those losses my rogue decks had to Morphling. Or maybe using Pemmin’s Aura takes imagination.
I came up with this:
MYTHMAKING, A Blue/White Enchantment Deck
4 Coastal Tower
4 Flooded Strand
4 Nomad Mythmaker
3 Riptide Mangler
2 Arcanis the Omnipotent
4 Aether Burst
4 Dragon Scales
4 Pemmin’s Aura
3 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Deep Analysis
2 Future Sight
1 Spirit Link
Let me just say that this is a weird, slow deck except on the odd cases when it beats down with a Dragon-Scaled Aquamoeba. Most people have no idea what I’m doing enchanting their creatures with Pemmin’s Aura on Turn 3 until I kill their creature dies and later the Aura reappears on my Riptide Mangler to win the game. Smart players figure out what I’m up to pretty early and can find a way to kill first my Nomad Mythmakers, then me… But the sheer number of different ways to use the cards in this deck make me incredibly happy.
“Aha!” I thought in a moment of self-reflection,”It’s not Legends I so adore, but versatility!”
So I played around with a bunch of Swiss Army type decks with tutors and options. I liked the decks, but like the blue artifact thingie I was drifting away from that giddy feeling rather than towards it. What was it about Gurzigost and Kamahl that put the sparkle in my eye?
And here is what I realized: I like Legends a lot. They are Magic’s most flavorful creatures and tend to be pretty interesting to look at. I also realized that I like versatility, because my decks are so odd that it’s nice to know I always have a way out of potentially bad situations.
But Legends and versatility are only part of the story. I realized I was fast falling in love with was Magic’s new take on the Super Creature.
Gone are the days of Morphling, Masticore, and even Spiritmonger. If we see another single creature dominate the board, sending opponents into a deepening spiral of hopelessness, then it will be because of an R&D mistake or because of a dominant deck designed to make that creature powerful. Creatures these days can still be big and have a lot of abilities (witness Akroma, Angel of Whooping Ass), but they are costed in the stratosphere. No creature out there in today’s Standard is automatically scoopville for the majority of decks.
Super Creatures today are built. Phyrexian Plaguelord is a monster with Grave Pact on the table and a Natural Affinity in hand. Arcanis is good on its own, but it’s adding Pemmin’s Aura that makes it ridiculous.
The idea of piling resources onto a single creature so that it can be a chosen champion is immensely appealing to anyone with a flair for the gladiatorial. It is why, I think, Pokemon gained so much popularity. Building Super Creatures has always been a fun part of Magic, too, but it has never really been worth pursuing outside of some Enchantress builds with Ancestral Mask.
So the new rise of Super Creatures in Magic strike me as a fairly significant shift in the Magic landscape. What marks the shift is this:
- Creature enchantments are getting better. Enchant Creature cards used to be a huge liability because of the loss of card advantage. But recent creations like Elephant Guide and Dragon Scales are a way of making them less of a liability. Other attempts, like Arcane Teaching and Pemmin’s Aura, try to put multiple advantages onto one enchantment so they’re worth the risk. In either case, Enchant Creature cards are becoming a better and better way of amping up your creatures.
- Land destruction is on a low swing, giving you the resources necessary to fiddle around with big creatures with enchantments on them.
- Permission decks are on a low swing, meaning your creature or Super Creature building block is less likely to be countered than at any other time in Magic’s history.
- Equipment is coming! Mirrodin brings a new card type that is all about creating the Super Creature. As you know, Equipment squirms out of the card-advantage dilemma by staying in play after your creature dies.
All of these reasons let me know that my newfound interest in creature-building is not a random occurrence. Wizards wants us to be playing around with taking a base creature and adding to it. And those people interested in deckbuilding should rejoice because now the Super Creature no longer involves one card, but several. As such, the entire idea of a Super Creature is a deckbuilding challenge.
Here is my last pre-Mirrodin Standard deck:
SUPER SCALES, A Green/White Fattie Deck
4 Windswept Heath
2 Elfhame Palace
2 Krosan Verge
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Deftblade Elite
4 Krosan Tusker
3 Fierce Empath
3 Exalted Angel
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Silvos, Rogue Elemental
1 Phantom Nishoba
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
4 Dragon Scales
4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Dragon Fangs
Keep in mind that this article isn’t about convincing you to try out my decks. The point is how these decks are winning (admittedly casual) matches: I win with 8/10 Angels and 6/6 Druids who animate land before a Wrath of God. I smash face with a 2/3 Deftblade Elite for awhile until my opponent finds her Smother, at which point I have six lands and an 5/7 Exalted Angel ready to take over. I get a ridiculous amount of mana before my opponent can blink, then drop Fierce Empath and Akroma on the same turn to go along with my Dragon Fangs and two Dragon Scales in the graveyard.
I played a game recently where my opponent kept plopping amplified Kilnmouth Dragons onto the table to combat my unkillable Phantom Nishoba. His Shivan Dragon, enchanted with One with Nature, met with my Dragon Fanged Akroma. It was a glorious melee, with each blow sending thunder across the sky. Can you imagine what happens when Equipment is part of the mix and his Dragon reaches for a Fireshrieker while I’m digging desperately for my Worldslayer?
The fact is, Odyssey may be leaving but the pit fighting is just beginning. Some people hate that Magic is degenerating into Pokemon-like battles between ever-evolving, Godzilla-like giants. Maybe it’s just the kid in me, but I’m finding Magic’s new turn to be a blast. Building big beasties speaks to the Doctor Frankenstein in us all.
Besides, my green/white deck can easily roll over to a good old-fashioned blue/white control deck, a Teferi’s Puzzle Box–Underworld Dreams deck, or quick Goblins. Lots of Magic deck archetypes exist now.
But this new idea of building a bigger, badder, and world-crushing champion strikes me as a potentially new way to look at building decks. Too many permutations exist between Enchant Creature, Equipment, and Creature cards to really test the different ways they can be thrown together. That means not only is there the potential to find some ridiculous trick that Wizards Development didn’t see, but also that the possible decklists are endless. I fully expect to continue my quest for the most fun Super Creature, and I expect some of you will too.
Let’s hope we meet on Magic Online, eh? May the best creature win.
-j ([email protected])
P.S. – Okay, it was probably rude to write an article out of the blue without saying what the heck has happened to me. No, I no longer have a weekly column at Magicthegathering.com. Yes, I still plan on writing for magicthegathering.com and StarCityGames occasionally because yes, I’m still playing Magic (mostly via MTGO). Yes, I’m still writing fiction, but I’ve been momentarily derailed by an opportunity to write names and flavor text for future Magic sets. I’m currently at work on Fifth Dawn, which has been ridiculously fun. So yes, I’m a bit of a Magic evangelist because I love the directions I see the game heading.