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The letter W!ell, hello there! This is yet another installation in the weekly From the Lab column, in case you were lost. I know when it starts snowing, my sense of direction fades to black quicker than the landscape fades to white. A winter wonderland in New York starts off as titled, but quickly loses any trace of "wonder," culminating in straight-up depression in mid-February. So I've got to build up some positive energy to get me through.


Fortunately, all you readers out there have unwittingly helped me out in that area. How? By sending me email after intriguing email, which I wholeheartedly appreciate. Whether the message contains a cool and inventive decklist or idea, or a response to a question proposed by yours truly, or a "Your combo doesn't work because _________!", I welcome them all. Thanks to a particular abundance recently, I think I'll address all three types today. Of course, I'm also going to be doing regular old Johnny things, including the introduction of the third Noel-hosted From the Lab contest. But don't scroll all the way down yet!


I received a lot of friendly reminders that the lands that Realm Razer returns to the battlefield enter tapped, not untapped. However, there is still a way to generate the required 4 ManaWhite ManaWhite ManaRed ManaGreen Mana to keep the combo going. (If you're lost at this point, check out last week's article.) If you have four lands exiled by the Razer, and have two Lotus Cobras on the battlefield, when they come back, the Cobras will recognize that and add (4 x 2 = ) eight mana to your mana pool. That's why the deck included so many creature-finders such as Primal Command and Chord of Calling, because you need to stick two Cobras on the board to go infinite.


Onto the sparse results of the question I posed in last week's article: Which possible race/class combination could out-badass "Rhino Soldier"? I got two handfuls of responses, which I was more than thrilled about.

Some were just hilarious, ifnot actually badass. Mike Wengal's suggestion hinted at a certain previous Labmaster's favorite creature type: Wombat Wizard. Travis Froggatt's suggestion made me laugh as well, due to its over-the-top-ness: Sliver Phelddagrif Spellshaper. My question is, does it tap and discard a card to make tiny Sliver Phelddagrif tokens?

The funniest one was definitely the following, dreamed up by Marek Bozykowski: Goblin Wall. Awesome.

Now, onto the two actual contenders in the quest to be more badass than Rhino Soldier. Nino P. had the close runner-up. Nino, who loves Knights as a class and claims to use one in every deck he has, submitted the very cool "Centaur Knight." In Nino's words, a Centaur Knight is, "an armored centaur who doesn't need a steed because of the obvious reason ...." Now that is cool.


But the best one, in my mind, actually outdoes Rhino Soldier itself. Ready? Tristan Sommer's email didn't need any other words than the following: 'Basilisk Assassin.' Wow. This is possibly the most terrifying race / class combo ever. A Rhino Soldier can be handled. A Basilisk Assassin? I'm already dead just thinking about it! I salute you and your lethal mind, Tristan.

A Great Furnace

Another widely participated reader interaction in response to last week was one I hadn't anticipated: a use for an indestructible Spitemare. Before, I had mentioned sacrificing a Dauntless Escort to make the red and white hybrid creature indestructible. Then, I went on to Lightning Bolt it, and laugh at the endless redirection. However, I thought there was no way to take advantage of such hilarity.


Boy, was I proven otherwise. A whopping six readers made more or less the same suggestion: Furnace of Rath! Those who made the suggestion were Arudis, Jon Marinner, Nathan Rich (who was the only one to alternately suggest Quest for Pure Flame), Enrique Gamez, Christopher Borriello, and Bradley Moore, who summed it up well: "If you add Furnace of Rath you could Lightning Bolt Spitemare and the damage it deals to itself each time doubles from the Furnace. After you have the number up to, say, 60,000 for good measure, you can aim it at your opponent's head." (It won't be exactly 60,000, but that's not really the point.)


Many others added a lifelink effect (Chris Angelico's favorite is Behemoth Sledge) to gain infinite life as well as blast your opponent with infinite damage. Andrew thought having a Rite of Passage of the board would be great, as it makes the Spitemare arbitrarily large. David concurred and added Druid's Call as another infinite mechanism, this one pumping out infinite 1/1 Squirrel tokens. Any of these plans works fine without Furnace of Rath as well.

There are (surprise) an infinite number of ways to build this deck list. I'm going to go with an Aura-based build, using Three Dreams as my Aura tutor. It can find Indestructibility (replacing Dauntless Escort), Scourge of the Nobilis (which is great on Spitemare before even going infinite), and Druid's Call.


Riffle Shuffle

Okay, let's take a quick break from email rooting and mailbox sifting. Notice one word I didn't use there was shuffling, which coincidentally is what the next deck is all about. Feast your eyes on tournament powerhouse Cosi's Trickster!


Okay, I guess that eye-feast was more of an eye-morsel. It's true that Cosi's Trickster isn't exactly the strongest creature ever. However, it's certainly intriguing enough for me to look at it twice. Cosi's Trickster is the second permanent card to explicitly care about your opponent shuffling his or her library, after Psychogenic Probe. I remember I had a weird Psychogenic Probe deck I used to play online all the time. It frustrated the heck out of my opponents, which I guess is one way to win the game.

How can we make our opponent shuffle his or her library to amp up the Trickster? For the sake of, well, something, let's stick within the Standard environment. Good thing, too, because in Standard there are these lands that sacrifice themselves to search up basic lands. They are quite good and widely played, so by that measure alone, Cosi's Trickster should accumulate a few +1/+1 counters.


Relying on our opponent's lands is just not going to cut the mustard for me. (By the way, I've never understood that expression. You can't actually cut mustard, can you?) Let's think of other ways. How about Quest for Ancient Secrets? Usually used to restock your library after a long, slogging match, you could turn the tables and target your opponent, which means a shuffle. Polymorph seems like great spot removal in this type of deck. Sadistic Sacrament does sport a brutal casting cost (Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana), but it acts as both a Battlegrowth and a triple Extract. (Never mind kicking that thing, although doing so would be nuts.)


One of my favorite shufflers in Standard is the flying Jellyfish itself, Gomazoa. I love this card for some flavorful reason. I still don't get the Vorthos translation of the Time Ebb plus shuffling ability, but here's what I do get: A flying Jellyfish will eat your Hypnotic Specter. Flavor shenanigans aside, Gomazoa is an excellent blocker. It basically places a dangerous attacker somewhere in the middle of your opponent's library, while doing the same to itself. One of my favorite new tricks in Extended is facing off a giant army with a lone Gomazoa, casting Valor Made Real, and inking the entire army.

Another fun way to make your opponent shuffle is the giant Sphinx Ambassador. I've been waiting for a good excuse to plop this guy into a deck, and here it is. This flying fatty can play mind games with your opponent while threatening to steal his or her creatures, one by one.

Path to Exile is great spot removal that causes a shuffle. Speaking of that card, it would be unfortunate indeed if your Cosi's Trickster, loaded with four well-earned +1/+1 counters, fell to a simple Path. So I added a couple Whispersilk Cloaks. They shrug off removal and blockers! I bet a Basilisk Assassin would wear one. Architects of Will helps with the "mess with your opponent's library" theme. Lapse of Certainty can play a key role here as well. Just counter a problem spell with it on your opponent's turn. Then on your turn, sacrifice a Quest for Ancient Secrets (targeting the same opponent), and you've successfully hidden that problem spell away! Whee!


The Planeswalker Contest

Okay, contest time.

Since magicthegathering.com will be on re-runs for two weeks starting the week after next, we'll all have some time to chill and regroup. I'm announcing this contest now, so you can (if you wish to participate) start working on deck lists and thoughts over the holidays.


When reveling in the aftermath of the highly successful Birthday Contest (Part I, Part II), I wondered how I could follow it up. As fun as restrictive deck building competitions are, the restrictions were off-putting to some Johnnies out there who got saddled with an unbuildable pile of cards. Also, checking each and every deck was a challenge, and grading them even more so. I could barely sort out the top six decks from each other in terms of ranking.

So, something needed to be different this time. This contest, I knew, would be open-ended. I was toying with ideas, when the following email (ring that personal theme bell!) hit my inbox. The author was Brodi Roberts, alias Black Jester, who has been featured in this column once already. If you'll remember, Black Jester submitted a fun multicolored cascade deck called Five-Color Juggler. That was a blast, and as it turned out, this email was as well.


Black Jester's idea this time out was simple: to make a dedicated theme deck to one of the more exciting cards to come out of Zendikar, Chandra Ablaze. His dedication was pure: the deck was only made out of cards from his personal collection, and yet it was a tribute to Chandra's angry form. In his words:

"The flavor of the deck is all about Chandra. Her blood runs hot (Pyrohemia), she has an Elemental Appeal, a Fiery Temper, an insatiable curiosity (Burning Inquiry), and she enjoys intense music (Seething Song.) But don't push her to the Breaking Point, or she'll Erupt, you'll have a (Volcanic) Fallout, and Chandra will Flamebreak your heart."

Now that's what I call a thematic flair. But Brodi's deck wasn't just theme frills:

"The focus of the deck is all about the interactions between the discarding abilities of Chandra Ablaze (the hot, and hot-blooded theme of the deck), Pyromancer's Swath, and Grafted Skullcap, and madness cards Fiery Temper and Violent Eruption ... Hot Blooded tries to gain card advantage by constantly sweeping the board while blasting your opponents with bolts and trying to build up to Chandra's Ultimate."

So Black Jester's deck had a theme, and a game plan. Here's "Hot Blooded."


As you can see, this deck has excited me enough to create a contest based on the goal Black Jester set. Here's the contest.


Design a deck around a planeswalker. You can choose any planeswalker, from Lorwyn to Zendikar. Note that any planeswalkers in Worldwake will be left out in this contest, because they're not out yet.

Give your deck a pure thematic flair. What cards relate to your planeswalker, whether it be through abilities, personality, or storyline twists and turns? For example, Sarkhan Vol loves to Threaten his foes, and Tezzeret the Seeker had a life-changing Thirst for Knowledge. In your deck description, dedicate one paragraph to the thematic flair, using card names to as much effect as possible.

Give the deck an appropriate but viable way to win. Theme stuff comes first, but the deck must be somewhat playable in a casual format. Your planeswalker should be at least a part of your plan for victory.

Here's some specific criteria.

The deck must be a very close to, if not exactly, 60 cards. Easy.

Names are important. Your deck must be thematically named, and at least some of your card names should relate to the planeswalker in question.

The more singletons, the better. If your deck is stacked with eight or nine 4-ofs, I won't be as as much as a singleton-laden deck. Try to capture Brodi's feel of 'playing with what he owned.'

Above all, have fun! Despite the foreboding bold sentences above, this contest is really a way to express yourself through a planeswalker. Try to follow Black Jester's model above.

I'll answer any questions brought up through email only next week. Until then, start thinking creatively!

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