Intro: Here We Go Again
Magic: The Gathering has a way of grabbing me by the collar when I’m looking the other way and pulling. Hard.
The most recent sound of cloth tearing came in July when Brandon Bozzi contacted me to ask if I would write card names and flavor text for Fifth Dawn, then codenamed Tomato. I said something along the lines of”Duh,” and set to work. Many months later I find myself on the”Earth” names and flavor text team as well. My public persona may have disappeared when I quit House of Cards, but now I feel like I am more a part of Magic’s bloodstream than ever.
Last month, in a two week span, I received a firestorm of e-mails and Magic Online chat windows asking me if I would consider writing more articles. I tried to figure out why so many people spontaneously contacted me at the same time, but I think it comes down to coincidence. Predictably, the groundswell got me waxing nostalgic for my old columnist days. I even had a nice long chat with Mark Gottlieb about writing. Then I had a brief e-mail chat with Ted Knutson. Then I had a chat with my lovely wife Sarah. [Apparently I’m not lovely. – Brokenhearted Knut]
Then I made the decision to start writing Magic articles again.
Unfortunately, I can’t write with an”insider” view until Fifth Dawn, and I will probably dedicate my as-yet-to-be-scheduled MTG.com articles to writing about the names and flavor text process. On StarCity, you get more of my”Diary of Doctorjay” fare. That is, I’m going to talk about deckbuilding in a casual, online world.
Standard disclaimer: If you want to hone your Limited skills, find a deck to beat Gobbos, or win yourself a PTQ, then run far, far away from me. Anyone who thinks of me as a”Strategy” writer goes in with the wrong expectations and gets their hopes dashed. I also know next to nothing about multiplayer, Five, or Peasant Magic. Instead, I’m writing for you folks who gather regularly around dining room tables for one-on-one duels and who think competitive thrill is a 3-2 Friday Night Magic record with a deck of your own creation. I used to think my target audience was too small to matter, but writing for MTG.com changed my mind. I know you’re out there, so sit back and enjoy yourself.
Oh, and don’t feel like you need to play Magic Online to read my babbling. I play my decks in the”Casual Constructed” room of Magic Online under the name doctorjay, but paper cards interact the same as digital ones without all of the bugs. The only real impact for non-online players is probably an annoyance with my focus on the Standard card pool.
Mirrodin has arrived to Magic Online, finally. I wait until a set is released to really go over the cards with a fine-toothed comb. Even though I now have the spoilers months in advance, it’s hard to make decks in a vacuum and no fun besides. Something about seeing the new art and hearing the buzz from other players really gets me energized about Magic deckbuilding.
Since I play almost exclusively online, I now don’t really pay attention to new sets until they reach Magic Online – long after the rest of the world has sunk their creative teeth into the cards. Believe it or not, I had not really absorbed Mirrodin until late November.
Anyway, my process is to really take my time and think about each and every card. As I do so, I jot down cards that inspire me to make decks. Then I sort my list into four categories. This list of cards is what I call my deckbuilding”Menu” for that set. Whenever I sit down to make a deck, I think about my Menu. More cards on the Menu than not will get a deck built around them, and I usually don’t spend any time at all building decks around cards not on the Menu.
Here are the four categories of any Menu I create. Alas, I wish I had pithy names for them. If you can think of some cute and catchy titles, by all means let me know.
These are cards I really like that no one else seems to care about or use. Most of them fall into the”bad rare” category, but some are”bad” uncommons or even commons. I have finally decided that my mind just thinks differently than most Magic players’, and this category is the strongest evidence. Every card on my Class I list will get a lot of deckbuilding attention. If I look at a card and three distinctly different decklists pop to mind, it’s probably a Class I or Class II card.
These are cards I like just as much as the Class I cards, but other people seem to have noticed them early on so they have at least a minor, public buzz about them. Either people are already actively trying to”break” them in articles and/or forums, or the cards have already shown up in winning tournament decks. Sometimes Class II cards become so ubiquitous as to be uninteresting to me (and thus fall into Class IV or off the Menu entirely), but usually there are several ways to use a fun card beyond what others have tried.
I like these cards a lot less than Class I cards, but they have the benefit of being unused and unexplored. Usually they are narrow, or really weird, or way overcosted. These are cards I think I can make some quirky decks around, but the decks might not turn out fun to play, or they might just fail to be anything but horrible.
These cards barely make the Menu. They have my same tentative enthusiasm as the Class III cards while already being publicly used or pondered. Class IV cards are there for me to think about on long drives, but these are usually the last to get decks built around them unless I randomly find myself owning four copies.
As you can tell from my description, these categories are pretty fluid. About every month or so I take a look at the Menu to get inspired and build new decks. I rarely have the energy to physically revise my Menus, but mentally I move cards around between categories or drop them from deckbuilding consideration. It’s a hoot to go back months later and see what initially caught my eye about the set (a hoot? My mother-in-law has apparently been visiting too long).
You can also see that this is very much a tiered system. My early decks with a new set usually gobble up the Class I cards first and Class IV cards are sort of a creative safety net.
My Mirrodin Menu
Today I’ll share my Mirrodin Menu with you. Keep in mind that this is a very personal list. There is no agreeing or disagreeing to be done here. Instead, the reason for posting my Menu is to draw your eye to cards you may have previously ignored or give you new deck ideas to explore. If I can inspire original deckbuilding, I’m thrilled.
The other reason to care about this list is that it telegraphs the rest of my articles until Darksteel hits Magic Online. [Slated for December 2010. – Knut] If you want to know what I’ll be writing about, look no further than the Mirrodin Menu.
I’ll work backwards for heightened drama. I know you’re holding your breath out there.
Mirrodin Class IV Cards
(Cards I like that others are talking about or using)
A pity that Arc Slogger starts the show, because my interest in it is waning. I like that it has a big, fat body for an affordable price and that it fits into a relatively minor tribe (although it might be even cooler if it fit into no Onslaught tribes). It’s electric ability is the reason it catches the eye, though. There is something about building an eight or ninety card deck around this guy that makes me grin a little.
Bosh, Iron Golem
I am a sucker for Legends (you will find I am a sucker for all sorts of cards) and I sure enjoy expensive beef. A deck of Urza lands, artifact mana, and enormous mana-starved artifacts like Bosh and Aladdin’s Ring sounds really fun. I sort of picture it Green/Red with Explosive Vegetation and Sylvan Scrying. A Red/Blue deck with Bosh and March of the Machines sounds fun, too, but using March makes me a little queasy because of Opalescence flashbacks.
Bennie Smith already wrote an article featuring some of the possibilities inherent in Crystal Shard, and I admit to being convinced. Erratic Portal was always a fun card to build decks around, and although comes-into-play abilities are less potent than they used to be, they are still fun to abuse. Caller of the Claw? Clone? Amplify? Nekrataal? Clockwork creatures? I don’t know which way to take it, but the options sound entertaining.
The big, Protection from White body for three mana is pretty drool-worthy. But I am fairly uninterested in reviving Suicide Black, especially with Zombies pretty much already there and hanging out with the likes of Graveborn Muse. Instead, I see the potential in either a creature-saccing deck with Carrion Feeder and Nantuko Husk, a Black/Green deck with lots of tokens, or maybe both. Every time I set my mind to the task, the cards never quite come together in a way I like, unfortunately.
There aren’t currently a lot of support cards in today’s Standard, so I think decks using Krark’s Thumb will all look fairly similar. The deck idea I find the most appealing is a Goblin deck with Goblin Assassin, Goblin Psychopath, and Fiery Gambit. I would hate to trade for all of those cards when the deck would end up goofy and clumsy, though.
Mark Gottlieb obviously crowed about this card, but I haven’t really seen anyone take up the, uh, charge since [Peter Jahn took a look at in multiplayer. – Knut]. This is one of those cards with so many possibilities that my mind shuts down. I honestly think you could build a hundred distinct decks in all five colors with this thing. That should make it more appealing to me, but instead I think”Ow, brain hurts” and never really take it seriously.
Trash for Treasure
Red graveyard animation is interesting, and anything that says”put xx into play” is like a beacon for creative deckbuilders. Dump big artifacts like Bosh or Platinum Angel into your graveyard somehow, and then sacrifice some puny artifact land. With Lightning Greaves that sounds nice. Or maybe use comes-into-play or leaves-play triggers to maximum effect. Of all the cards in Class IV, I would say public interest and discussion has ruined my enthusiasm here most of all (although check out the cool Bosh and Trash musings here). I look forward to seeing casual Trash for Treasure decks in action, but I have less and less interest in being the one to build them.
I am a sucker for Elementals, and this one in particular can just be so big. The trick is to figure out various ways to keep the damage reliable. Pyrite Spellbomb and pingers like Embermage Goblin are my first ideas, but I honestly haven’t given it a great deal of thought. Still, if I am going to pick a centerpiece card from this list, War Elemental might be standing at the front of the line alongside Crystal Shard.
That’s a lot of Red deck ideas. For some reason Mirrodin’s Red inspired almost as many Menu cards as the other colors put together (keep in mind that I’m calling cards like Bosh and Krark’s Thumb Red cards for the purposes of deckbuilding).
Mirrodin Class III Cards
(Cards I like that no one else seems to like)
I am a sucker for”Lords,” which is one reason I appreciated the Onslaught block so much. Auriok Steelshaper is forcing a lot of deck characteristics into one deck – it wants Soldiers and/or Knights and it wants Equipment too. In other words, it wants you to build a modern day White Weenie deck around it. The problem is that a WW deck would probably be a lot more effective without the Steelshaper, which is a dynamic that sounds frustrating right off the bat. Maybe there is a cool deck to be made with low-cost Knights and high-cost equipment, but I’m not sure.
It took me awhile to figure out that this gives creature removal to every color. I played a deck for awhile that used four Bribery and four Clone in it, which kept my online games pretty varied and interesting. In fact I would probably like Duplicant a lot more if I wasn’t tired of my Clone deck. Still, I can see a mono-Blue deck stuffed with Duplicants, or maybe a Green deck with Hunted Wumpus and Tempting Wurm in a Suicide Green build. Since Desert Twister costs six mana, Green paying six for a usually-beefy Nekrataal sounds okay to me.
Once upon a time, I had a brief love affair with Custody Battle. Fractured Loyalty has the same sort of allure. The difference is that here you can really open the deck up to any kind of repeatable targeting effect, the cheaper the better (think Bits of Chiss-Goria, the Shards, and Zealous Inquisitor). Could an Unspeakable Symbol deck actually come out of this? It might be fun to find out.
Jinxed Idol and Jinxed Ring, where you have control over when an opponent gains control of the cursed object, inspire me a lot more than the Choker. But the ability to make the damage grow and shrink is pretty fun. I either picture a mono-Green deck with gobs and gobs of mana at its disposal or a creatureless white deck that gains gobs and gobs of life.
There was a pretty good buzz about Luminous Angel when the spoiler was released, and it drew a lot of comparisons to Verdant Force. Then people realized how expensive and small it was, along with how relatively few tokens you get and the buzz vanished. I still like it, though. The problem is its heavy White mana requirements, which means you’re using cards like Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice, and maybe even Dawn Elemental. Once you’ve traded for all of those cards, you might as well just start building Monowhite Control and use Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Maybe a White/Green deck with Overrun effects or an Extended-style Soulcatcher deck? Bleh.
The name alone makes me want to use it in a deck, and its utter uselessness on the surface is really appealing. If there was a Braids/Smokestack card in Standard, Nuisance Engine would be getting more notice. Now it looks like a combo piece, which doesn’t inspire me at all. But how funny is this with Chromeshell Crab or Cultural Exchange? I wonder if Seedborn Muse, Centaur Glade, and the Engine belong in a deck to do… something (probably with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa). Or maybe that Carrion Feeder/Nantuko Husk deck I mentioned before. I don’t know which way to take it, but I think there is potential for a lot of fun here.
Okay, this one is a little embarrassing. The good use for this card is in conjunction with Power Conduit. The obvious use for this card is to try and lock down an opponent who isn’t playing Blue. Neither of these uses appeal to me, truth be told. No, when I saw Quicksilver Fountain I wanted to build my very first Islandhome deck. Sigh. It’s true. I am twisted and sad, but come on! Doesn’t a Slipstream Eel–Sea Monster deck sound like fun? Islandhome is sadly a mechanic of the past, so it’s probably better for a paper deck with Seasinger, Vodalian Knights, and Manta Ray. In Standard, there is something-a very, very small something-to be said for trying a near landless deck with Boil and/or Choke.
Tooth and Nail
I admit that any sorcery that costs 7GG should flat-out win you the game. And I also admit that Tooth and Nail doesn’t come even close to winning the game. That’s disappointing. But remember that we’re building fun decks here, and all a 7GG sorcery should do in a fun deck is something fun. Putting any two creatures from your library into play, with the option of playing two mana less for a lesser effect, counts as fun to me. I figure in finding the splashiest creatures possible, you have two options. The first is beef, in which case you want two Krosan Cloudscrapers. The second is if you can find creatures that are really synergistic with one another. You know, Ambush Commander-Kamahl, Arcanis the Omnipotent–Seedborn Muse, Siege-Gang Commander-Skirk Fire Marshall… that sort of thing.
So those are the cards I like and that tickle my brain. Now come the cards I can’t seem to get out of my head.
Mirrodin Class II Cards
(Cards I really like that others are talking about or using)
This is the perfect example of an artifact I like trying in all five colors. What would a White Grid Monitor deck with Decree of Justice look like? How about a Red burn deck? A Black drain deck with Promise of Power and Consume Spirit? Green land-destruction with Plow Under? Or maybe a modern mono-Blue control deck with Bribery and counters galore? All of these sound fun to build to me and worth pursuing.
The temptation is to use Lightning Coils in a fast Goblin deck as a finisher. That sounds so boring, though. Any color non-token creature that dies puts a counter on the Coils, so why not think of it in combination with board-sweepers like Wrath of God or Bane of the Living? An Elf, Zombie, or Wall deck with Lightning Coils sounds intriguing too. Think of decks other than Goblins that put a lot of creatures on the board, and then add reset buttons and Coils to let the fun begin.
Now here is a use for Nuisance Engine (or Myr Incubator, for that matter). Megatog seems like such a great finisher, and for some reason I really like the idea of it in a mono-Red control deck with Starstorms and Icy Manipulators. The idea of making a Megatog/Atog deck is almost too obvious to be interesting, but thinking about all of those scrapped artifacts sitting in the graveyard as a potential resource piques my imagination. Second Sunrise is clearly an option, as is Black graveyard animation and one-off tricks like Myr Retriever. I don’t know that the deckbuilding landscape is as varied here as with the rest of the Class II cards, but I like Megatog a lot.
A lot of discussion has centered around Proteus Staff as the next Oath of Druids. Despite the buzz, I can’t help being charmed by this card. It gives Blue a non-bounce answer to problematic creatures while simultaneously offering a host of deck tricks. The fact that the Staff and Riptide Shapeshifter are in the same color means that you can probably make a deck with both, and maybe five or six ridiculously huge creatures with different creature types. Or you can try the Sage Owl route and use library manipulation. Or maybe an artifact-heavy deck that goes looking for a Phyrexian Colossus. This card strikes me as something that may show up in”good” decks pretty regularly, but that shouldn’t detract from its allure to rogue deckbuilders.
Speaking of rogue deckbuilders, curse Bennie Smith. He has adopted Second Sunrise as his I-will-build-a-cool-deck-around-this-card-or-die selection from Mirrodin. As such, I have seen him wax theoretic about the Sunrise with Spellbombs, Chromatic Spheres, Shrapnel Blasts, Read the Runes, Atogs, Ravenous Baloths, and all sorts of other options. His ideas are cool, but they’ve taken some of the wind out of my Second Sunrise sails. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of fun potential in this card.
Mirrodin Class I Cards
(Cards I really like that no one else seems to like)
And here we go. On to the cards that keep me up at night.
Altar of Shadows
At first I only thought this card was mildly interesting, because it so clearly sits in the late-game, giving you slow board domination as it goes. The problem is, how do you survive to the late game? If you are using creature removal to get there, then the Altar is unnecessary and if you aren’t, then you died in the mid-game. And then there is that Black mana buildup that needs an outlet. All dilemmas, and normally these are the kinds of things that would bump this card into Class III.
But lo, I continue to ponder Altar of Shadows. Right now I have in mind a deck with Seething Song, Goblin Machinist, and Erratic Explosion, but I think there are reasons to use this in every color. Like Duplicant, I like that this gives creature elimination to Blue and Green. All in all, I think there are lots of fun decks here.
Betrayal of Flesh
I am a sucker for Zombify effects, and very rarely do you get them at instant speed. Although I know Betrayal of Flesh is expensive, it strikes me that it will almost never be useless. The single Black mana also means that the card is splashable. The only downside is the saccing of three lands, which hinders a multicolor deck significantly and means that this card should really sit at the top of the mana curve (except in the case of land-cyclers, which are great compliments). Crucible of Worlds will make this less of an issue some day, but for now a deck would probably rely on non-land mana like Talismans, Myr, and other mana creatures. I don’t care, really, because I know I would enjoy almost any deck that could make good use of Betrayal of Flesh.
There are two temptations with Fireshrieker. The first is to try and win the game in one mighty blow by having a creature deal more than twenty damage. I think either a Green deck, a deck with lots of other Equipment, or a Dragon deck might be able to pull this off. The second temptation is to start looking at cards that do cool things with combat damage like Brood Sliver, Ebonblade Reaper, and the Sliths. This second temptation is a much stronger pull for me, and the options are numerous.
Grab the Reins
Until another online game stole his soul, I played a lot of Magic against Scott Forster. One of his most clever decks was a Black/Red thing based around the idea of stealing your opponent’s creatures with something like Threaten, then using Reckless Charge to attack, then saccing the creature to either Bloodshot Cyclops or Carrion Feeder. When it got going, it was surprisingly evil. I personally think that Grab the Reins was printed especially for Scott and hope its existence will lure him back to Magic Online. If not, I will be there to pick up his mantle and think of diabolic ways to abuse opponents with their own creatures.
Living Hive is probably the card in Mirrodin that most attracts me. Oh, I don’t think there are any particularly clever deck ideas to use with the Hive, but I love big, expensive, green fatties whose only drawback is their cost. And as many people have noted, this is much closer to Verdant Force than Luminous Angel. Most deckbuilders will think of ways to put the Hive into play through reanimation or Elvish Piper-like tricks.
In cases where you aren’t paying the cost, though, you have to argue for the Hive over cards like Scion of Darkness, Akroma, and Clockwork Dragon. What I want to do with Living Hive is cast it, fair and square, and then win through creature swarms. I love Green decks that produce loads of mana to throw things like Living Hive onto the table. Eight mana is a heck of a lot to ask, but I will enjoy giving it a try in a mutant Elf deck, a Natural Affinity land deck, or a deck that tries to use tokens to maximum effect.
I always liked Gigapede. The war of attrition when you repeatedly dedicate resources to an undying creature is, for me, a fun way to win a game of Magic. This time around you can even target your undying creature to help it along (fly, Devourer, fly!). I also think there are some interesting things to be done with the creatures you sacrifice, either with an effect like Caller of the Claw/Rotlung Reanimator or with a creature that loves the graveyard like Lhurgoyf. I’m also wondering if a Zombie deck with Devourer and Ghastly Remains is possible.
Let’s see… Bottle Gnomes, Triskelion, Cathodian, Clockwork creatures, Solemn Simulacrum, Myr Retriever, Dross Scorpion, Rust Elemental, Pentavus. Yes, I think bringing artifact creatures back from the graveyard should be great fun. This is probably a deck that gets better as the Artifact Block adds its other two sets, but in the meantime there are still a lot of pieces to play around with.
I picture a deck with some of the above cards along with Moriok Scavenger and Gravedigger for maximum recycling pleasure. There is nothing holding this card in a Black deck, however. Red with Trash for Treasure, Blue with an Affinity engine, Green with its Deconstruct mechanic, and White with Leonin Abunas – each color has something to offer an artifact-creature-recycling deck.
Next Step: Pack Crackin’
You have now seen my own twisted take on Mirrodin from a casual Standard deckbuilding perspective. Undoubtedly if you set your attention to creating your own Mirrodin Menu it would look very different from my own (and would likely have different categories for ranking your selections). And I want to be clear that if a card isn’t on the Menu it’s not because I think it sucks or is uninteresting. If it’s not on the Menu, it simply means I don’t want to use it as a deck centerpiece. Yes, I think Platinum Angel is really cool. But no, I don’t feel compelled to build a deck around her.
Of course, the question now is which cards to start building around first. I often take an alphabetical approach, or sometimes I rank the cards in each category and start from the top. This time, however, I have decided to let the fickle hands of Fate and Chaos decide.
I’m going to start buying Magic Online Mirrodin packs and opening them. The first time I come across a Class I card, that’s the card I’ll build my first post-Mirrodin deck around (yes, that means that Betrayal of Flesh, Fireshrieker, Grab the Reins, and Skeleton Shard have a better chance than Altar of Shadows, Living Hive, and Nim Devourer). In my next article I’ll let you know which card showed up first and how the ensuing deck has fared.
Until then, I hope I’ve managed to give you some intriguing deck ideas or, at the very least, get your creative fires started. For you kooky, would-be deckbuilders out there, make your own Menu and get to work.
Hey, you know this article writing stuff is pretty cool. I should do it more often.
See you online,
(I can’t promise that I will reply to everyone who writes me, but feel free to share your thoughts either in the Forums or via e-mail. The more time it looks like you put into your feedback, the more likely I’ll respond. I will read all feedback, though, so let me know what you would like to see more or less of in the future and I’ll try my best to accommodate.)