You Lika The Juice? – Toning Down the Mize In Magic

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One of the new cards from Morningtide I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around is Cream of the Crop. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it because it’s Green, it seems really good, and it’s not a creature. That’s relatively rare in Green.

One of the new cards from Morningtide I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around is Cream of the Crop. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it because it’s Green, it seems really good, and it’s not a creature. That’s relatively rare in Green.

Of course, it’s dependent off creatures so that’s appealing to me too, but that’s also a pretty big restriction on the usefulness of the card. If you don’t search up some way to put another creature into play, then you will get to a point where Cream of the Crop isn’t doing anything for you. Let’s assume you’ve solved that problem – and I’ll talk about some approaches a little later – what’s nice about Cream of the Crop is the options it gives you. Once you play one, you will rarely draw another one unless you want to. Sometimes you’ll want to just rely on the one; sometimes you might want to double your fun, letting you dig nearly twice as deep for each creature you cast.

What’s intriguing about this card is how powerful it is as a way to take away the randomness of the top deck, the “mize” in Magic so to speak.

Now, let’s pull back the camera a bit for a wider shot. We’ve got the mighty, mighty Countryside Crusher staring us full in the face. Everyone knows he’s a beating, able to grow to ridiculous size with Greater Gargadon in Standard, and even bigger in Extended with crazy Life from the Loam shenanigans. What’s even better about this guy though is his ability to stop drawing lands. Countryside Crusher pretty well guarantees you won’t be drawing blanks so long as he’s in the game. Many, many games in Magic are won or lost by one player drawing “gas” while the other runs out of it.

Let’s pull back even further, and take a look at the Clash mechanic. While it appears to be taken as primarily a Limited-quality mechanic so far, I suspect we all may be underestimating its potency as a Constructed enhancement.

“It turns out that the biggest innovation of clash is that it sneakily has a deck-smoothing element. The more clashing that goes on, the less mana-screw everyone has in the early game and the less mana flooding goes on late game. In short, games with clash play better. We managed to do that and add an element of suspense into the game. You have to admit that you didn’t see that one coming.” – Mark Rosewater, Class is in Session

What’s holding back Clash right now in a lot of people’s minds is the fact that it seems to help your opponent some too… and it does! Of course, if both players are playing a better game, the outcome will rely more on play skill and less on randomness, which is a good thing. Even though the Spike in you may pump the fist when your opponent gets mana hosed or mulligans his way into oblivion at the tournament, the decent human being inside of you likely feels a little cheapened. It’s much more satisfying beating your opponent in a hard-fought, well-played bout.

One of the main attractions of the game of Magic is its randomness: you may be losing, and the likelihood of the card you need before losing being right there on top of your deck are slim to none, you draw… AND THERE IT IS!!! That adrenaline rush is incredibly sweet, as if God or Karma or your ancestors looked down upon you and smiled.

One of the main frustrations of the game of Magic is its randomness: mana flood, mana screw, and mulliganing to oblivion. It’s like God or Karma or your ancestors looked down upon you and frowned, or worse – decided to play a cruel cosmic joke on you.

The competitive atmosphere in the game, particularly on the tournament scene, accentuates the emotion tied to the randomness of the game. We love it, we hate it… but I think most competitive Magic players likely come down at least slightly on the side of hating the randomness. Magic shouldn’t be like Chess, but wouldn’t it be nice if randomness at least appeared to play a slightly lower role?

Clash, Cream of the Crop, and Countryside Crusher… maybe I’m reading a little too much into things, but it strikes me as a deliberate tweaking to Magic towards making it just a little less random, without taking it away completely. I’m wondering if this is just a by-product of some of the block mechanics (like Kinship) or whether there’s a movement afoot in R&D to produce more of this sort of thing. Perhaps there’s a faction working behind the scenes. Since Devin Low is given credit for first designing Clash, maybe he’s the one we should keep an eye on! Here’s what he said about the mechanic:

“Does clash add an element of randomness to a game? Sure it does. But that’s not a bad thing. From bridge to Magic to poker, every card game has randomness built in, and that’s the source of a lot of the fun. If you start with Magic and take out randomness, you get something like chess, which most Magic players find a lot less fun than playing Magic. In professional football, there’s certainly a lot of skill involved between the two teams, but there’s also a hearty helping of luck that adds a lot of the drama, and thus the fun, to the game. And advanced players can look a little deeper into clash by using a variety of methods to turn the seeming randomness in their favor…

“Another benefit we found to clash while playtesting it was that it subtly smoothes out both players’ draws, especially their mana flow. Whenever you or an opponent clashes, one side effect is that each player gets to filter the top card of his or her library to the top or bottom. If you need more lands, you can filter your way closer to lands. If you have plenty of lands and need more spells, you can filter past the lands to get to your spells. When your hand is empty and you’re trying to top deck spells, clashing your way past a land that you no longer have to draw feels a lot like drawing an extra card. And when you reveal the awesome card you’ve been hoping for with clash, you can choose to keep it on top instead of putting it on the bottom. Ironically, the seemingly random clash sometimes reduces the randomness of Magic’s mana flow.”

Okay, enough musing about concepts, let’s buckle down and see how to best use Cream of the Crop. The way I see it, there are a few ways to go.

Children of the Crop

To maximize Cream of the Crop, you’ll want to play as close to all creatures as possible. That way, each card you play will likely help you dig up another card to play. Obviously, you’ll want to maximize the power of each creature for maximum dig. Something like this:

Once you get to four lands, you can use Cream of the Crop to stop drawing any more lands (unless you want to for Timbermare echo or to feed Gargadon). Pop off the last fading counter on Gargadon during your upkeep so he can let you dig 9 cards deep for a face-smashing — and likely game-ending — Fatal Frenzy.

Here’s another creature-heavy approach:

Epochrasite seems like an interesting choice; once it dies, each time it comes back into play it’ll let you look four cards deep before your draw step. I kinda like the idea of using Cream of the Crop so you can draw Beacon of Unrest each turn. Theoretically, since you’ll always have four copies of Beacon in your library, each time you reanimate something with a decent power, you could very well hit another Beacon on the Cream of the Crop trigger. Shriekmaw, Groundbreaker, and Cloudthresher are all creatures that will go to your graveyard early for later reanimation. Beacon Groundbreaker every turn? Sounds good to me. Spectral Force doesn’t go to the graveyard by itself, but if your opponent doesn’t do something about it, it’ll kill your opponent anyway. I’m not completely happy with no one-drops in the deck, so I’m kicking around some ideas… running four Cloudthreshers leaves me disinclined to want to run Birds of Paradise.

I could see adding green and Cream of the Crop to a Kithkin beatdown deck, something like this:

Yeah, yeah, I know I went there on the name, but I couldn’t resist.*

If we’re splashing Green we probably want to run Tarmogoyf, but with this build I wanted to push the Kithkin/Soldier synergies as much as I could, especially since Preeminant Captain is a fantastic way to keep your mana free for Militia’s Pride activations.

Now, the biggest flaw I see with utilizing Cream of the Crop this way is that you’re setting up your next draw a full turn ahead of time. Say you put a game-ending Thoughtweft Trio on top of your deck from the last Cream of the Crop trigger, but during your opponent’s turn he destroys all of your creatures? All of a sudden you’ve got a blank sitting there on top of your library (though you could cast it anyway just to dig 5 cards deep). A lot can happen during your opponent’s turn to make you regret resolving Cream of the Crop the way you did.

Flash Crop

I think flash creatures offer a big boost to the effectiveness of Cream of the Crop; being able to activate Cream of the Crop during your opponent’s end step is obviously the perfect time to set up your next draw. Check this out, a concept I’ve kept coming back to time and time again… a Blue and Green creature control deck:

Imperious Perfect is a nice complement to the flash/Cream of the Crop setup, letting you make a creature and activate Cream of the Crop without having to waste playing a Mystic Snake or Venser for no good reason. It’s nice to play a full 8 one-cost mana accelerators to help you get that turn 2 Perfect or Storyteller down; later on, once you get a Cream of the Crop in play, you can dig right by any of those early creatures for the good stuff. Cloudthresher is a huge seven power at instant speed, giving you a gigantic dig through your library. I suspect Cloudthresher will likely prove to be bff for Cream of the Crop in quite a few decks.

Crop ‘o the Norin to Ya!

To wrap things up, I thought I’d toss out this odd combo to you: Norin the Wary plus Cream of the Crop. Granted, Norin’s 2 power isn’t exactly digging deep, but he’s going to be dipping out and popping back into play during each player’s turn, giving you access to 3 or 4 cards into your library. And of course Cream of the Crop keeps you from drawing extra copies of Norin.

So what in the world would you do with that level of library manipulation? Put it in some kind of combo deck? Maybe Dragonstorm? I wouldn’t even begin to know how to pull something like that together, so I’ll leave that to the more combo-inclined among you – feel free to post your own Norin the Wary/Cream of the Crop deck in the forums! Me, I think I’ll add it to an odd little beatdown Warrior deck to keep the gas flowing:

Obsidian Battle-Axe gets a workout here. Turn 1 Norin, turn 2 Cream of the Crop, turn 3 Battle-Axe. Norin of course ducks out, but then he comes back into play and you stack the Cream of the Crop trigger first, the Battle-Axe second. Norin gets equipped and becomes a 4/3, then Cream of the Crop resolves and you get to dig 4 cards deep. If your opponent plays a spell or attacks, you get to dig again. Your turn you draw that card, maybe it’s a Bramblewood Paragon, Norin ducks out, Paragon picks up the Axe and swings. End of turn Norin comes back, Paragon gives him a token and hands him the Axe back, and Cream of the Crop lets you dig five cards deep this time. Fatal Frenzy seems like the best choice of a relatively inexpensive card with the ability to win the game out of nowhere, but there might be something better. I’ll be kicking the idea around some more, but I’m definitely curious to hear from you all.

Anyway, hope you’ll be enjoying the tools Wizards has been giving us to help take some of the “mize” out of Magic. I know I will, especially now that I just picked up my fourth Cream of the Crop!**

Cya next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

* Yeah, it’s entirely possible I wrote this article mainly to cook up funky names riffing on Cream of the Crop.

** Out of 2.5 boxes of boosters opened, how many Mutavaults?