You CAN Play Type I #127: Deconstructing Darksteel, Part IV – Instants


Okay, so Deflection and Misdirection should have been Red now? This pie business is sure confusing.

Anyway, Deflection was a chase card after Jester’s Cap back in Ice Age days, but it was just too tempo inefficient. Barring a Fireball for twenty, Deflection didn’t really do all that much for four mana, aside from having cute flavor text. Shunt, at three mana, isn’t all that different in Type I. Remember, this effect truly took off with Misdirection’s free cost.

Bode unleashes yet another monstrosity upon us

Mad Dragon, perhaps reminiscent of Hulk Smash’s and Growing ‘Tog’s subtle debuts, has arrived on the German scene without much of a fanfare. Check out the decklist, and see if your initial reaction matches your initial reaction to Growing ‘Tog:

Mad Dragon, Benjamin Ribbeck, Champion, February 8, 2004 Dülmen

Combo (8)

4 Animate Dead

3 Worldgorger Dragon

1 Shivan Hellkite

Other creatures (19)

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Arrogant Wurm

1 Gorilla Shaman

1 Uktabi Orangutan

1 Anger

4 Squee, Goblin Nabob

Others (7)

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

4 Survival of the Fittest

Mana (26)

4 Bazaar of Baghdad

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Pearl

1 Windswept Heath

4 Wooded Foothills

4 Bayou

4 Taiga

2 Tropical Island

1 Forest

Sideboard (15)

2 Carpet of Flowers

1 Elvish Lyrist

2 Flametongue Kavu

3 Hidden Gibbons

3 Naturalize

1 Uktabi Orangutan

2 Viridian Shaman

1 Wonder

Oh yes, where Hulk Smash once met Miracle Grow, now you have Oshawa Stompy meets Dragon.dec.

Benjamin’s win came in the most recent 93-man Dülmen. Even that big a win can be conservatively viewed as a rogue surprise. Morphling.de just put up the lists from last week’s Moers tournament, though, and Dülmen regular Peter Matyssek won with Mad Dragon. It was a smaller, twenty-eight-man tournament, but its Top 8 did include names such as Morphling.de’s Oliver Daems with Iso-Keeper and Pro Tour: Nice Champion Alexander Witt with Slaver. Surprise is apparently not it.

The source of this new hybrid tech? None other than Roland Bode. Again.

Next time you see those Green creatures, remember that Bazaar might not be pulling out just Arrogant Wurm.

Introducing Abe Corson

Abe Corson a.k.a. Katzby is the newest, but far from the least Meyer-esquely amusing, Paragon and I realize he’s still below his name drop quota in this column. Let me reprint some declassified correspondence centering around Abe.

It began when elder New York Paragon Eric Wilkinson asked for a step-by-step guide to timing Swords to Plowshares or Stifle against Worldgorger Dragon, just to be sure. I obliged, but Abe broadened the discussion. For example, he reminded that if the Dragon player enters the combo banking on Bazaar of Baghdad to search up his kill card, you also have to time Swords or Stifle by waiting for Bazaar to empty his hand of Forces of Will. This makes the difference between catching him in a hideous board position and winning outright due to his mana burn.

But you knew that?

Well, Abe is even sneakier from the other side of the matchup.

Quoth his e-mail:”[A] lot of people will concede as soon as they see the combo going. People just don’t realize that if there is an odd number of cards in my library, then they have a chance to draw the game if the Laquatus is my bottom card. In fact, my deep, dark, dirty secret is that whenever my opponent concedes like this on the first game, I’ll just sideboard out my Laquatus and have him concede again the second game, even though I can’t possibly win.”

Even more amusing, Abe shares his stories about using Gaea’s Blessing as a sideboard card against Dragon, then countering his own move by killing with Shivan Hellkite and Red mana.

Analyzing Isochron Scepter in Type I

Control players around the world have weighed Isochron Scepter for Type I, and come up with conflicting answers. Personally, I think the divergence might be explained by metagames, and for a general one, I’d happily run some of these modal The Abyss replacements, supported by the usual Cunning Wish arsenal.

However, I think some of the analysis is off.

The common framework is to go with card advantage. Following my restatement of Mike Flores Investment (see”Counting Tempo, Part II“), you use up two cards before even achieving anything. Thus, people say it takes too long to break even in CA.

Then other people might say that if you play it with a bit more mana, you’ll be sure to use the Imprinted card at least once, so you really get just -1 CA.

However, there is an important tempo dimension to Scepter, and the way it can momentarily pause games just isn’t captured by a theory of dead cards (see”The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution“).

From my Shadow Price discussion (see”Counting Shadow Prices“), a card advantage based deck – read: control – will seek the late game, where the extra draw steps it trades for become more valuable against other resources. Thus, efficient ways to preserve tempo and stall the game are important to the CA strategy. Cheap removal and Force of Will are explained this way, though they themselves are not CA engines.

I think this is a more relevant framework for, say, a turn 1 stick Imprinting Mana Drain.

Again, while we spent a lot of time with CA because it’s the most visible and easiest to track, it’s only a step towards the complete view.

Deconstructing Darksteel: Instants

Again, our two rules:

Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)

Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?

And, for the more general discussion, refer to”Shadow Prices” (see”Counting Shadow Prices“).

Ending with the traditional order, we go to instants, normally one of the most interesting Type I categories in every expansion. I realize that I left off posting the Mirrodin review somewhere there, with Spoils of the Vault and Paragon Steven Holeyfield a.k.a. Nameless’s Scepter-Dream’s Grip tricks.

Last Word

This is the most eye-catching of the lot, and you get Counterspell along with the standard two-mana Scragnoth premium. Note, though, that Last Word can’t be countered by abilities, either, making it a bit better against things from Null Brooch to Nether Void.

Again, you have to go back to tempo. The two-mana premium is only good in counter wars, and even against Blue decks, these don’t make up the entire game. Thus, in most cases, you’re paying twice as much only to make worse tempo trades. Because of this narrow use, uncounterability is best when it’s almost free, such as Illusionary Mask’s ability and Blurred Mongoose. Talking tempo, Red Elemental Blast remains the best general anti-Blue sideboard, not a more-expensive but seemingly-more-powerful card, like this.

What Last Word could do is set up a mind game with Cunning Wish, since even the threat of it could encourage an opponent to play differently against Wish. I’d rather bluff it than actually board it, though, since in a lot of cases where you’ll stop his bomb with Last Wish, he has enough of an advantage to just counter your Cunning Wish.


Speaking of bad counters, the venerable Arcane Denial has arguably been dethroned from the”worst counter” throne, and Vex doesn’t even do funny things when you counter your own spells. There’s a reason why it was only named”Vex,” not”Infuriate,””Exasperate,” or”Perplex.”


This innocuous instant actually presents an interesting problem for Type I. Since artifacts are more prevalent, it’s a more interesting question than Erase over Disenchant.

The anti-regeneration isn’t so important, so you basically get half a Naturalize for half the mana.

How important is one mana, you ask?

Plenty, judging from the fact that Elvish Spirit Guide is used in far more than Stompy these days.

From the nature of starting with a seven-card hand, though, the difference between one and two mana isn’t so big here. Now, don’t get me wrong, since the difference between Savannah Lions and Fresh Volunteers is huge. However, Oxidize and Naturalize are reactive spells.

What’s the incremental cost of having to wait until your second land drop? Here, probably not much, compared to not having the anti-enchantment half of Naturalize in the same slots during the turns you have more than one mana anyway. Sure, you can assume you can deal with commonly-played enchantments in other ways and go for mana tightness, but again, the incremental cost to ramp up to Naturalize is small. Even Stompy traditionally ran Emerald Charm, but had no trouble using the same slots for Tranquil Domain and later Naturalize.

The bigger gap lies in waiting for your fourth and your fifth mana drop, so I suppose you’ll see one Oxidize in Cunning Wish sideboards. Hulk Smash, for example, has a ready Green element for it.


Speaking of increments. If Hurkyl’s Recall couldn’t be used to make an artifact mana-based combo, it’s dubious that shaving off one colorless will break it. On the other hand, you lose the uncommonly-used ability to make any player with Grafted Skullcap sweat.

Pulse of the Fields

This is the best of the Pulse cycle, and explaining exactly why merits a beginner’s discussion. In”Counting Shadow Prices,” I detailed that Magic is like a cardboard stock exchange where you trade resources throughout the game. Most, such as cards in hand and creatures on the board, are directly relevant.

Some, however, are not, mainly life. This is only important when you hit a victory condition; in other words, only the last life point really counts. Thus, while Pulse of the Grid is a better Whispers of the Muse at half the price, you’ll probably spend more than you save trying to keep your opponent’s hand larger than yours without killing yourself.

As for life, however, a control deck doesn’t care about the opponent’s life total so long as it can lock up the game later and win at leisure. Moreover, for a control deck that doesn’t deal damage until it’s ready to win, this card will always come back, unless the opponent pulls the old anti-Mirror Universe move of mana burning himself, which still lets the control player win in one turn instead of several.

This is a strong Cunning Wish target, competing with Heroes’ Reunion if you plan on a longer game. With burn being mediocre now, though, removal is a more permanent solution to Wish for in more competitive environments.


Okay, so Deflection and Misdirection should have been Red now? This pie business is sure confusing.

Anyway, Deflection was a chase card after Jester’s Cap back in Ice Age days, but it was just too tempo inefficient. Barring a Fireball for twenty, Deflection didn’t really do all that much for four mana, aside from having cute flavor text. Shunt, at three mana, isn’t all that different in Type I. Remember, this effect truly took off with Misdirection’s free cost.

Aside from that, look at Fork. Heavy Red just isn’t the kind of deck that wants reactive three-mana moves.

Echoing Decay

On the surface, this appears to be just a weaker Diabolic Edict or Smother, since you can’t count on milking the bonus early, when pinpoint removal is the most important. Even in a more casual combo with, say, Living Lands, you’re talking about names and even mana bases are extremely diverse in Type I.

What Echoing Decay does, actually, is give Black a cheap option to sweep tokens, from Soldiers to Saprolings – yes, tokens technically have names. For a Cunning Wish-based deck that wants to hedge against Decree of Justice, Stifle is probably the more flexible choice, but you might find Echoing Decay a useful sideboard someday.

Echoing Courage is fun with the same tokens, though Coat of Arms is the traditional choice for these fun decks.


A mono-Green deck likely won’t need this, so it’s mainly a Cunning Wish target for decks that, for some reason, have a heavy Green element but no White for Heroes’ Reunion or Renewed Faith.

Savage Beating

Relentless Assault was an attractive marquee card, but didn’t do more damage than simply another fattie. So how about Savage Beating, the triple-strength Relentless Assault that quadruples your creature damage?

Though there are easier combos than a five-power creature and Savage Beating, I imagine this’d be fun in a chaos game where you’re allowed to split your attack against different players on the same turn.

Relentless Assault has the better flavor text, of course.


No, this isn’t that good for you, since artifact-heavy combo decks can actually draw cards and for other decks, you’ll need to dig most before you’re set up. I just found this Affinity version of Impulse an interesting rehash.


Again, speaking of increments, compare this discount version to the original Honorable Passage, Shadowbane, and Reverse Damage. Like Oxidize, Hallow would be a better Cunning Wish target, except it’s so narrow that it only realistically works against Price of Progress. The broader Honorable Passage is still better.

Test of Faith

This is actually a rehash of the Ice Age Sacred Boon, only it’s a lot better, since the target gets a power boost. While you can set up perplexing combat trades with this and add variety to your White deck, running it outside a more casual, creature-filled environment will make your deck less consistent.

But in those more laid-back games where style counts, just imagine a Two-Headed game with a Modular player, and winning with your Faithed up, mechanized Savannah Lions. Finish with Army of Allah for that ultimate eclectic effect.


Although Swords to Plowshares is in print, there might be cases where you’ll want additional removal, and Purge remains is an efficient if narrow option.

Well that’s it for this week. I’ve been feeling sick on the verge of ending this penultimate year of Law School, so we’ll pick up next week when I get to do something different now that Darksteel is done.

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

Paragon of Vintage

University of the Philippines, College of Law

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