Tribal Thriftiness #52 – Shards Has A Lot of Dollar Rares

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Tuesday, December 23rd – While doing the research for last week’s article, Dave was stunned (stunned!) by the number of Shards rares that were just lingering around in the dollar bin. This week, he picks up a couple to run with.

TT: Year One

With this column, it’s been one year since I started filling in for Chris Romeo, and I have to be honest: this column has never failed to present its challenges! When I started, I hadn’t been writing for nearly 5 years — and even then, it was anything but regular. Writing Tribal Thriftiness has renewed my desire to write about (and play) Magic on a regular basis, and even though a lot of my ideas come in WAY off base, I still enjoy the challenge of sharing some new idea with you every week. Thanks to everyone who comments in the forums, and to the folks at Star City for giving me an outlet each week.

Now on to the good stuff.

Shards in the Dollar Bin

Last week I mentioned that 44 of the 53 rares in Shards of Alara were $3 or under, and it made me want to see what all was there. Clearly I’m not remembering good Shards rares, or I would be amazed that they were three dollars or less! And it would trigger another Dollar Bin column.

Hey look, it did!

As of this writing, 47 of the 53 rares in Shards of Alara are $3 or less. That’s an enormous percentage. So let’s poke around and see what we can find.

Knight-Captain of Eos ($1)

Coming so shortly after the tribally-themed Lorwyn block, you’d think that a card that made Soldier tokens and cared about Soldiers in play might see a little more action. You know, in maybe a Soldier deck? There are 55 cards in Standard right now with the Soldiers subtype; heck, they even have their own lord now! (Field Marshal, $2.50) I guess the reason Knight-Captain of Eos gets no love is because his ability is mostly defensive, whereas Soldiers want to be offensive. But I think that Knight-Captain can be the backbone in a mostly-defensive Soldier deck that tries to make one big attacker rather than swarm the offense.

Exalted: It just so happens that a fair number of the Exalted guys are Soldiers as well: Akrasan Squire, Guardians of Akrasa, and the as-yet-not-included-in-the-colors-of-the-deck Rhox Charger and Waveskimmer Aven. Playing a little Exalted theme is a good idea, and Guardians especially fit the defensive mindset of the deck.

Defensive Soldiers: The first defensive guy I thought of was Thoughtweft Trio ($2), as he can block any number of creatures (and has first strike and vigilance, making him a tough nut to crack on both offense and defense), but it would require having enough Kithkin in the deck to make sure we could reliably Champion him. Cenn’s Tactician is another good defensive option, pumping up your Soldiers and letting them block better at the same time. I’d definitely include Zealous Guardian (appearing for the first time, anywhere!) as not only an instant-speed surprise blocker, but also instant-speed food for the Knight-Captain. Surprise! And did you know that Forbidding Watchtower now becomes a Soldier creature?

Offensive Soldiers: Ideally you’d like to have something with a little evasion on it to be your “big hitter” of choice; the Trio might be fine (and might get big!) but will be stopped all day if your opponent can churn out speedbumps. Burrenton Bombardier is a flyer that can be used to pump up your attacker if you already have one going. Hearthfire Goblin is a 2/2 double-striker that could be dangerous with only one hit. Kithkin Zephyrnaut should hit Kinship often enough to make him a 4/4 vigilant flyer on a regular basis.

4 Knight-Captain of Eos
4 Cenn’s Tactician
4 Guardians of Akrasa
4 Hearthfire Goblin
4 Burrenton Bombardier
3 Ballyrush Banneret
3 Zealous Guardian
2 Thoughtweft Trio
2 Kithkin Zephyrnaut

4 Unmake
4 Oblivion Ring

4 Forbidding Watchtower
4 Rustic Clachan
14 Plains

Rare Cost Summary:
Knight-Captain of Eos ($1.00 x 4 = $4.00)
Thoughtweft Trio ($2.00 x 2 = $4.00)
Rustic Clachan ($2.50 x 4 = $10.00)

Originally I was going with the eight Exalted creatures, but realized I really needed more Kithkin for Thoughtweft Trio, so I swapped Akrasan Squire for Cenn’s Tactician — they’ll often be serving the same purpose. Ballyrush Banneret makes a showing to bring down the cost of the five-mana Knight-Captain (and to serve as another Kithkin for the Trio). Unmake and Oblivion Ring make up the removal suite and should help to let you get an enhanced Soldier in to deal damage here and there.

Scourglass ($1.50)

When Scourglass was originally spoiled, a lot of people looked at it as an updated version of quality artifact removal like Nevinyrral’s Disk and Powder Keg and Oblivion Stone. The problem with Scourglass was twofold: one, it cost White mana (meaning you couldn’t just tuck it into any old deck) and two, you could only activate it during your upkeep, meaning using it as a threat just wasn’t an option. Your opponent would always know when you were going to activate it, and what you were going to take out as a result.

But I think Scourglass has been criminally overlooked. Like Oblivion Stone, if you work at it, you can make it a lopsided removal tool, wiping out permanents on your opponent’s side of the board while leaving your side relatively untouched. The focus of a Scourglass-based deck should be around getting (and keeping) that lopsided advantage from the Scourglass.

The Wacky Combo: So here’s what I came up with. You want to re-use the Scourglass as often as you can, ideally. Unfortunately, there are very few cards that return artifacts from the graveyard to play, at least that perpetuate the kind of combo that we want to use. Lots of ways to get CREATURES back from the graveyard, like Persist. Man it would be cool to use something like Cauldron Haze to give our Scourglass Persist. Is there any way to make the Scourglass into a creature so we can recur it?

Why yes, yes there is.

Wizards was kind enough to reprint March of the Machines ($1) in Tenth Edition. Junk rares unite! With a March of the Machines out, you can use Cauldron Haze or Antler Skulkin (I know!) to give your Scourglass Persist. Sure, it will end up killing the March of the Machines, which is why you use Reknit. I know! It’s like a smorgasbord of crummy cards that you wouldn’t even use in Sealed Deck.

So now the trick is to populate the deck with artifacts (and lands, I guess) that you would like to actually use, and who aren’t horrible as attackers under March of the Machines … if necessary.

Useful Artifacts: Courier’s Capsule certainly seems to be tops of the list. Icy Manipulator or Trip Noose play defense until you can find a Scourglass, and then deals with any stragglers that might come from behind — plus Icy is a beefy March-fueled attacker. There’s Mind Stone to act as mana ramping. Sculpting Steel ($1) could give you redundancy.

Beefy Creatures: Ideally you would want to win with a horde of March-fueled artifacts, but you can’t rely on it. So we should include some beefy artifact creatures to clean up after Scourglass clears the board. Tower Gargoyle would be ideal, but would mean we would slip into a third color (which might be necessary for something like Executioner’s Capsule anyway). Adding the Black would also give us access to Tidehollow Sculler. Juggernaut maybe? Grim Poppet ($1) — now there’s a nice finisher AND removal all in one tidy package. Sanctum Gargoyle may not be a heavy hitter, but he does come with evasion, and can fetch back used Scourglasses.

4 Scourglass
4 March of the Machines
4 Antler Skulkin
4 Courier’s Capsule
4 Mind Stone
4 Icy Manipulator
3 Grim Poppet
3 Reknit
3 Cauldron Haze
3 Sanctum Gargoyle

4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Seaside Citadel
6 Island
10 Plains

Rare Cost Summary:
Scourglass ($1.50 x 4 = $6.00)
March of the Machines ($1.00 x 4 = $4.00)
Grim Poppet ($1.00 x 3 = $3.00)

The White-Blue version focuses on the “combo” and reusing Scourglass as many times as possible. It’s probably not quite as resilient as turn 3 Darksteel Ingot, turn 4 March was back in the days of Mirrodin. The real problem is the manabase, although with mostly colorless artifacts in the deck, it’s doubtful you’d have NOTHING to play — just maybe nothing useful.

4 Scourglass
4 March of the Machines
4 Courier’s Capsule
4 Icy Manipulator
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Tower Gargoyle
4 Obelisk of Esper
3 Antler Skulkin
3 Executioner’s Capsule
2 Grim Poppet

4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Esper Panorama
8 Plains
4 Island
4 Swamp

Rare Cost Summary:
Scourglass ($1.50 x 4 = $6.00)
March of the Machines ($1.00 x 4 = $4.00)
Grim Poppet ($1.00 x 2 = $2.00)

Less focus in the Blue/Black/White deck on abusing Scourglass — it’s mostly there to clear the board and make sure your Tower Gargoyles get in for damage. It still has half the combo (Antler Skulkin + March + Scourglass) but it relies less on the March to do the winning.

Happy Holidays

That wraps up the first year of Tribal Thriftiness. 52 columns on a mostly-weekly basis is something that I haven’t done in a very long time! I hope that you have found me to be a serviceable replacement for Mr. Romeo, and that you will keep coming back as TT moves into the new year!

Thanks again and happy holidays to everyone!