Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #51: Free Fatties

It’s fun to play with creatures like Phantom Nishoba, Hypnox, and Verdant Force, but they’re too expensive to play…. So what’s the solution? Simple – don’t cast them. There are plenty of other ways of getting fatties into play without paying all that mana. It’s like being the Hulk after an injection of Super Soldier serum and wearing Iron Man’s outfit!

Deep in the heart of every Magic player is what Wizards calls a Timmy – a kid who just lives to smash with huge monsters. Things like Polar Kraken with Improvised Armor, or Force of Nature with Gaea’s Embrace and three Rancors, or even a Berserk Blistering Firecat. It’s like being the Hulk – or even the Hulk after an injection of Super Soldier serum and wearing Iron Man’s outfit.

Of course, serious Magic players know you cannot wait to cast creatures with a casting cost higher than Kai’s composite rating and fatter than {insert name of favorite thinness-challenged magic player here}. You’ll be dead long before you get to twelve or fifteen mana – unless you are running some form of combo engine, in which case you can win much more easily casting Stroke of Genius or Kaervek’s Torch.

Even in multiplayer, investing that much time and mana in a single creature is problematic: Not only can the most amazing creatures be countered, or bounced, they also die to Terror, Wrath of God, and Chainer’s Edict… And if you’ve shot your wad getting the creature into play, that’s probably the end for you.

Still, it’s fun to play with creatures like Phantom Nishoba, Hypnox, and Verdant Force. So what’s the solution? Simple – don’t cast them. There are plenty of other ways of getting fatties into play without paying all that mana.

One caveat, though: If you put a creature into play, as opposed to playing it from your hand, many of the comes-into-play effects will not trigger.

Illusionary Mask

I’m starting with a rare rare. Illusionary Mask is a classic rare from the original sets, and it is very hard to find. StarCity has some – here’s a link to the store search. My local dealers generally don’t – and when they do, Illusionary Mask is expensive. That’s probably because Mask is a strong T1 deck archetype.

Simply put, Illusionary Mask will give any creature the equivalent of Morph – it lets you play the creature face down. It does not change the final casting cost, but it can get you around painful comes into play abilities. For this reason, Illusionary Mask decks typically run Phyrexian Dreadnought and Lord of Tresserhorn. However, the Mask does not help much in casting Verdant Force or Hypnox – Mask does not reduce the total casting cost.

Sneak Attack

Another rare, but from a much more recent set. For a single red mana, you can put a creature into play; that creature gains haste, but you have to sacrifice it at end of turn. The ultimate Sneak Attack turn one play is something like Black Lotus, Land, Mox, play Sneak Attack, use Sneak Attack to put Nicol Bolas into play, attack. The opponent starts their first turn with no hand and thirteen life.

Sneak Attack decks like large creatures with strong effects: Crater Hellion nails all creatures with four damage; False Prophet clears the board at the end of the turn. Deranged Hermit dies, but the squirrels stay. Avalanche Riders, Man-o-War, Flametongue Kavu, Nekrataal, Monk Realist, and Uktabi Orangutan all take care of permanents. Academy Rector fetches other enchantments to combine with Sneak Attack. Favorites included Greater Good, so you could draw cards off the creatures that were going to die at end of turn anyway, and things like Haunted Crossroads (or, nowadays, Oversold Cemetery) to put dead creatures back in your hand.

One interesting version of Sneak Attack ran Wizard Mentor; that meant you could Sneak out Wizard Mentor and another interesting creature, then use the Mentor’s ability to return itself and the other creature. The deck also used Dual Nature, which duplicates any creature card that comes into play. This results in some amazing set-ups.

For example:

Sneak out Mentor and Yavimaya Granger (duplicated, meaning it put two lands into play tapped.) Tap the Mentor to return the real Mentor and Granger to hand. (This kills the Dual Nature duplicates, incidentally.) The next turn, you have at least two more mana available, so you can sneak out the Granger again to build the mana base, or other utility creatures: A Man-o-War to bounce opposing permanents, Deranged Hermit to create Squirrels, Avalanche Riders to kill land, Flametongue Kavus or Nekrataals to kill opposing creatures, Goretusk Firebeasts to kill opponents, and so forth.

The last time I played the deck, Goretusk Firebeast wasn’t printed. I killed with lots of squirrels. However, with Dual Nature and Sneak Attack in play, plus Wizard Mentor and Goretusk in hand, you only need three red mana and a clear line of attack to kill an opponent. Simply Sneak in the Goretusk (doing four to opponent), Dual Nature creates a second Firebeast (four more to the head), Sneak out Mentor, tap Mentor to return the real – not duplicate – Firebeast, then bring it out again for another eight damage to your opponent.

Then swing with the two hasty Firebeasts.

For reloading, Gravedigger works well with the Mentor, or you can try Barishi or its Kavu equivalent. Oversold Cemetery, Oath of Ghouls, Haunted Crossroads, or Volrath’s Stronghold all work as well. If you prefer spells, Death’s Duet, Aphetto Dredging, Restock, and Nostalgic Dreams would also work. So does Survival of the Fittest and Squee, Goblin Nabob – and, with Sneak Attack, you can even attack or block with Squee, if you like.

Elvish Piper / Quicksilver Amulet / Dragon Arch

All of these cards allow you to put creatures directly into play, and creatures put into play in this way cannot be countered. The trick, of course, is to actually get these cards into play, and protect them. Once they are active, you can start pumping out a stream of ridiculously large and powerful creatures. Once these cards are active, they rock.

Once they are active.

The problem is that until you get the Piper or Arch or Amulet down, all you have is a handful of really expensive cards that are tough to cast. And once the Piper gets killed or the Arch/Amulet gets Disenchanted, they go back to being next to useless again.

The opposite problem can also occur – if you have a couple Arches in play, but fail to draw any creatures, the deck doesn’t work very well. You can add search mechanisms and card drawing, but you may not have room.

Cards like Tinker and various Tutors can help find the cards, Guardian Beast and so forth can protect them, and Argivian Restoration can get them back when destroyed (okay, those work for the artifacts – use something else for the Pipers), but it is still tough to keep the engines on the table. And having Naturalize printed does not make it any easier.

Astral Slide

Astral Slide temporarily removes a creature from play when someone cycles a card. This works with some fatties – because, when a Morphed card returns to play, it returns face up. This means that you can cast a creature for Morph cost, then Slide it, and have it reappear in its full glory. The creatures for an Astral Slide deck should be obvious – just look for the real fatties with Morph.

The other advantage to a Slide deck is that you have a built-in mechanism for digging through the deck – and one that works even better if you add Fluctuator.

Zirilan of the Claw / Rashida Scalebane / Volrath’s Stronghold

Zirilian of the Claw searches for dragons, puts them into play and gives them haste. It also removes them from the game at end of turn. With Zirilian in play, a deck can produce exactly the dragon it needs – Vampiric Dragon or Shivan Hellkite to gun down weenies, Rith, Dromar or even Treva, as necessary. One of the best Zirilan plays I hgave seen recently was made by Dan Bock in 5color, who searched out Worldgorger Dragon in response to Upheaval.

You can get around Zirilian’s”remove target dragon” from the game effect with Rashida Scalebane, who taps to bury target dragon, giving you life equal to that dragon’s power. So search it up with Zirilan, attack, then kill it with Rashida. The”remove from game” trigger can’t find the dragon if it’s in the graveyard, so you are free to use something like Volrath’s Stronghold or Haunted Crossroads to put it back on top of your library. If you don’t need that dragon in hand immediately, just use Zirilan to search for another dragon, and whatever you just put on top of the library is lost in the shuffle.

Like the Piper, Amulet or Dragon Arch, Zirilan decks don’t work as well when opponents keep killing Zirilan – but Volrath’s Stronghold can bring Zirilan back as well. Zirilan has two other selling points: He searches as well as puts cards in play, so you will always have dragons to send… And playing with dragons is always worth a bunch of style points. Nicol Bolas is a Beast!

(Well, technically, he’s not a beast, he’s an Elder Dragon Legend… But you get the point.)


Last, but certainly not least, are the Reanimator decks. Reanimator decks are simple and solid – drop a creature into the graveyard, reanimate it and beat. They can be very fast and they generally have some methods of selecting the cards to bury, so they can often choose the best possible creature to return. They are very strong – but also pretty scary. In multiplayer, even a turn 2 Verdant may not be enough if the entire table comes after you.

Then again – it often is enough.

Reanimator decks need a method of getting creatures into the graveyard. You can simply wait for opponents’ creatures to die, and reanimate those creatures, but this is not always enough. Sometimes you will end up with nothing but elves and goblins to animate. Still, it does work – this weekend I will be playing a deck with Grave Pact and Corpse Dance as board control, and running a couple Animate Deads as an alternative path to victory.

A better option is to make sure you can get cards into your graveyard yourself. Entomb is a perfect way to get the perfect creature into the graveyard on turn 1. Buried Alive works as well – and finds three cards. Cabal Therapy and Funeral Charm both target any player, so you can target yourself and discard the fattie you drew. Zombie Infestation is yet another way to get those cards into the graveyard.

Choices for the actual reanimation spells are also numerous: Exhume is brutal. It can get cast on turn 2 to recover a creature Entombed on turn one – and while it allows everyone to do this, how likely is it that anyone else will have a fattie in the graveyard on turn 2? Mirror match aside, that is not going to happen.

Other spell options include Reanimate, Animate Dead, and half of Life/Death – or even Ashen Powder. Creatures that can bring a dead creature back into play are also fairly numerous, with Doomed Necromancer just the latest in a string of such cards.

Reanimation decks are powerful – powerful enough that cards to destroy these strategies have also been printed. Ebony Charm, Rapid Decay, Coffin Purge, Crypt Creeper, Eater of the Dead, Cremate, Phyrexian Furnace, and Tormod’s Crypt all serve to keep the dead in their graves and wreck a necromancer’s day. Fear them, but they are not really reason to put this deck away. A good Reanimator deck can play around these cards, with some luck. (Insert power of the dark side joke here.)

This article should conclude with discussions of Living Death and Recurring Nightmare decks, but those are complex enough to warrant their own article some other time.


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