You Lika The Juice? – Esper Elixir, M10 Musings

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Friday, March 13th – In light of the snorefest metagame coming out of Kyoto I thought it would be a great time to talk about a deck utterly and completely off the radar. Then along comes Jacob Van Lunen’s Building on a Budget last Thursday featuring… an Esper Elixir deck! Of course, why not?

I thought I had everything worked out nicely… I planned on pulling out the Esper Elixir deck I’d talked with you all about some time back (Drinking the Thousand-Year Kool-Aid and then the Jellyfish of Distinction deck at the end of this column), recently revised and updated to run in the Friday Night Magic at Richmond Comix. Many of you seemed intrigued with the deck, and in light of the snorefest metagame coming out of Kyoto I thought it would be a great time to talk about a deck utterly and completely off the radar.

Then along comes Jacob Van Lunen Building on a Budget last Thursday featuring… an Esper Elixir deck! Of course, why not? The 16 rares in his deck don’t really bust the budget (much) when he avoids the pricing rare mana fixing lands… sigh.

Looking at his deck though, there are quite a few differences from my deck. His inner Spike pulls him into playing off-theme cards like Plumeveil, Merfolk Looter and Makeshift Mannequin. He looks at the deck and thinks “combo” rather than “synergy.” So, maybe he didn’t completely steal all my thunder.

My deck has changed a bit from the Jellyfish of Distinction version, here’s what I sleeved up for FNM:

Jacob’s article had me look again at Sphinx Summoner, a card I’d dismissed when it first came out but had me wondering why I wasn’t playing it once I realized it tutored for artifacts. It wasn’t until I drew my first copy at the FNM that I realized SS only tutors for artifact creatures (yeah, yeah, RTFC, I know…), thus the singleton copies of non-creature artifacts look a little dumb here so if you play the deck I’d drop the one Pithing Needle. Scourglass was really good for me though, so I’d be inclined to find a way to work in one more maindeck copy. Overall I was pretty happy with the Summoner, since he’d often go get the Transmuter if you hadn’t drawn one, or go get Sharuum so by the time the next turn comes around and you’ve blocked and lost your Summoner, Sharuum comes down, animates the Summoner and you go fetch up another artifact creature.

The core of the deck obviously is Master Transmuter, preferably with a Thousand-Year Elixir on the board to make immediate use of him, though in a pinch you can run him out there if Sculler has scouted ahead of time. Elixir can then be used to untap the Transmuter for even more fun and games. The ideal set up once you’ve stabilized the board is to Transmute Sculler during each of your opponent’s draw steps to prevent him from drawing a non-instant way of killing you. What’s particularly fun with Transmuter is dropping a Scourglass into play during your upkeep and then popping it, avoiding the whole “sit around for your turn and then your opponent’s turn before blowing up all non-land, non-artifact permanents” problem.

Sigil of Distinction has often been clutch in several ways, primarily as a cheap artifact (zero!) to play and bounce back with Esperzoa and Master Transmuter. It’s also a handy way to boost one of your early creatures to hold the ground against faster, more aggressive decks. Etherium Sculptor on turn 2, play a discounted Sigil at 4, equip Sculptor for a beefy 4/5 blocker. Lastly, the Sigil can be a finishing Fireball on a creature that has an open attack to quickly end a game from nowhere.

As much as I love the Sigils, after running the deck at the FNM I’m not sure whether the slots might be better served as some removal spells… Terror, Nameless Inversion, maybe Path to Exile or some combination.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the deck performed last week:

Round 1 versus Chris playing B/r Reanimator
I’ve got a pretty good start this game with both Elixir and Transmuter in my opening hand. When Chris plays the new unearth Rats and drops Empyrial Archangel into his graveyard I know what’s up, and while I try to get set up he plays Torrent of Souls with black and red mana and brings back the Archangel, boosts the several creatures he has in play between Rats and Bitterblossom tokens, and swings. When the dust clears I’m at one life. During my upkeep I use the Transmuter to drop the Scourglass I drew last turn and clear his side of the board, and then since he has no cards in hand I use the Elixir to untap the Transmuter and drop a Sculler during his draw step. He’s basically got to top deck a Makeshift Mannequin to get out of the lock, but luckily I’ve got a Sigil to make a large man and end things in three attacks. Game 2 I’ve got a turn 1 Relic of Progenitus, turn 2 Sculler to pretty well trump his game plan from the beginning, all I need to do is draw into a win condition and finish things.
Win 2-0

Round 2 versus Andrew playing W/b/u Sigil of the Empty Throne
Before the game starts Andrew banters with me, saying he’s playing a weird deck and he’s glad he’s playing me now because he knows I don’t just netdeck and bring Tier 1 decks to FNM. I smile and tell him I play “Tier X” decks, and we have a good laugh. As we play things out it looks like he’s playing Five-Color Control, but my spells don’t get countered, no Wraths spoil my fun, only a few Oblivion Rings slow me down. I whittle him down with his own Bitterblossom as he’s forced to constantly block my larger creatures. Eventually I drop Scourglass during my upkeep, blow the world, and swing in with a bunch of artifact dudes. Second game Andrew has to mulligan and ends up drawing not much of anything, I ping him with a small dude a few times before Esperzoas drop in to end things pretty quickly. The two games are over so quickly Andrew asks for another game just for fun, and finally his deck kicks into gear, playing a Sigil of the Empty Throne and then going nuts with Shimmering Wings to make lots and lots of 4/4 Angel tokens. It was actually pretty brutal.
Win 2-0

Round 3 versus Tony playing Five-Color Control
Tony is an old-school player who’s recently gotten back into the game after getting married and having three kids. We have a long, grueling slug-fest, full of counterspells, Wraths, and Cryptic Command blow-outs, all of which I just looooooooove of course. I manage to take the first game somehow by eventually getting a Transmuter to stick and abuse Grim Poppet to overcome Broodmate Dragons. Second game is an even longer grind until Tony finally gets me into top-deck mode between Scepter of Fugue and Esper Charm with nothing on board except for Elixir. In the interest of time, I concede. We try and play quickly for the last game but time is soon called and Tony’s got a fistful of counters and removal to stop my fairly aggressive Esperzoa draw, and we can’t finish in the five extra turns. We chat a bit afterwards, and turns out that Tony is actually older than me by a few years; I would have pegged him as early- to mid-thirties. Tony credits his youthful, well-preserved features to lots and lots of Guinness beer. I make a mental note.
Draw 1-1-1

Round 4 versus Allen with B/W tokens
Last FNM I played B/G Elves and beat Allen twice to win the tournament, and it was a brutal slugfest against his B/W Tokens deck. This time around I don’t have nearly the tools in the deck to survive a good draw, and Allen gets just about the nuts draw both games. In the second game I play my ass off to try and hold off his fast assault long enough to stabilize, and if he doesn’t draw a removal spell off the top of his deck (having played out his hand) and I can untap with an Adjudicator in play I should be able to turn things around. He rips a Path to Exile. Of course. I’m a little grumpy because this matchup seems tough with normal draws, to have him get nigh-perfect openers each game… well, at least I got to stretch my legs a bit before the last Swiss game.
Lose badly, 0-2

Round 5 versus Rachel with Red Deck Wins
My grumpiness fades as I get paired against Rachel, a lovely art student from nearby VCU. Rachel is new to the game but is in good spirits and seems to be all about having fun, and it’s infectious. She leads with turn 1 Figure of Destiny all three games, but I manage to get early Sigil-backed blockers to slow things down long enough for me to search up bigger artifact shenanigans. I’m fairly sure a Philosophy of Fire major likely would have cooked me two games straight, but I’ll take it, in the hopes of making Top 4.
Win 2-1

Unfortunately 3-1-1 doesn’t make it in with Tony going 3-0-2, so my Esper Elixir run is at an end. I do get randomly awarded a foil FNM Kitchen Finks, and though I don’t play foils in my tournament decks, I decide to keep this one for EDH, especially since the deck I’m making for the EDH in a couple weeks is Green/White/Black. Why not?

So where does the deck go from here? The Transmuter/Elixir combination has a lot of potential, but it’s too slow for aggressive decks, and struggles against true control. It seems to be a mid-range deck that beats up other mid-range decks pretty well. The next time I run it, I think I’ll try cutting back on the Sigils and Esperzoa and add in removal spells to see if that helps.

Musings on Magic 2010
So I’ve wanted to comment on the recent announcements regarding the new base set, but I’ve had so much to write about already. Most of the changes I’m pretty happy about – I like the name change, and I’m okay with the greater frequency of release; I see that as an opportunity for Wizards to make tweaks to the metagame, either bringing back or creating a card to combat (*cough* Bitterblossom) a mistake card (*cough* Cryptic Command), or to temporarily inject an old powerhouse card just to shake things up for a year. As someone who got into Magic because of its fantasy trappings and flavor back during Unlimited, I’m pleased to see Wizards trying to recapture some of that.

Making brand new cards for the base set is pretty exciting too. As a player, what excites me the most is playing with cool new cards and trying to discover something that most others have dismissed or overlooked. These new cards are going to give me that much more enjoyment, though having to actually buy base set cards is going to stretch the budget.

Now on the con side… two of the three cards they’ve previewed so far make me frown. Take this one first:

Your opponents can’t cast spells this turn.

Now sure, from a flavor stand point, this card makes sense. It would be familiar to any D&D fan since a time-honored strategy for screwing with opposing spellcasters was to drop a Silence spell on them, since spells usually require verbal components. A new player making the crossover from D&D to Magic would instantly recognize the potential of this card.

However, veteran Magic players who don’t have a masochistic streak are likely groaning at this Orim’s Chant update. You think Counterbalance/Top was bad in Extended and is currently numbing minds over in Legacy? That’s nothing compared to Orim’s Chant imprinted on an Isochron Scepter; that brutal combination was absolutely miserable to play against. Even before Scepter came along, Orim’s Chant was annoying the hell out of players, when it seemed that they always came in pairs or trips, so that turn after turn after turn you can’t cast spells. Even worse, Orim’s Chant was a potent weapon for combo decks to operate unmolested.

Did we seriously need a new Orim’s Chant? Seriously?

And this one:

Wall of Frost
Creature — Wall
Whenever Wall of Frost blocks a creature, that creature doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.

Now, this one rings my Green rant bells. Remember when I proposed that Wizards should take the “tap” mechanic from blue slice of the color pie and give it to Green? Since then, they reprinted a cheap Icy Manipulator and made it heavily White, and now they’re making this. But Bennie, you may say, nobody plays Walls… and yet Walls are getting played more and more lately; just look at the most recent incarnation of Five-Color Control from Kyoto and see how many times Defender pops up. The Red Zone is getting more action than ever before so good Walls have become quite useful.

Now, Green – the “creature color” — used to have the best walls in the game, from Tinder Wall to Wall of Blossoms to Wall of Roots. They even Timeshifted Wall of Roots to remind everyone how great they were.

Plumeveil isn’t technically a Wall, but it’s hard to say it’s not one of the best Walls ever printed. Because it was given Flash to make it a clever pseudo-removal spell, it was of course made hybrid Blue.

Wall of Frost may look innocuous, but if you think it through it’s got a subtle power. It’s large enough to block just about any groundpounder, and with its ability it can effectively stop two creatures a turn after the first. Sure, it’s no Plumeveil, but Plumeveil is rotating out this fall.

So we’ve got a good non-Green Wall, reminding me that Green used to get good Walls, and it’s tap-down ability is like a kick-in-the-teeth rebuke to my suggestion of giving Twiddle to Green. Heck, Green even had Whip Vine, an Alliances card that had a similar ability.

So, M10 has 246 cards we don’t know about; would it be too much to ask that Green gets a good wall too? Maybe a Twiddle?

Finally, I’m seriously shocked and disappointed that the Ravnica dual “shock” lands won’t be in M10. Before Forsythe’s bubble-bursting article I would have laid down money those lands would be in it. To me, the evidence was in the relatively weak Domain elements of Conflux, since the Ravnica duals are perfect complements to Domain. I figured if getting Domain was easy those Domain cards might be worth playing.

Thus, I’m guessing the brand new M10 duals have a good shot at having double land types. Without some sort of pain involved, I’m curious how they’re going to be as good as Forsythe claims. My guess is that they’ll be something like this:

Land — Swamp Forest
Mirkwood comes into play with three mana counters.
Tap: add 1 to your mana pool.
Tap, remove a mana counter: add G or B to your mana pool.

So even if you use up its colored mana, it still counts as a Swamp and Forest for Domain purposes. Gemstone Mine saw some use back in the day, so I think some sort of charge counter might be how Wizards goes here.

Okay, so that’s it for this week. Have a fun weekend!

‘Til next time…


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