Welcome Johnnies, Johnny-Timmies, and lapsed Spikes! Before I get started, I'd like to make an apology. As you may or may not know, last week I built some decks that were a little too powerful. Actually, they were a lot too powerful. I was dizzy with excitement at my entrance into Spikedom, drunk on unending victory and Jitte Coladas, and I just got carried away. Usually, when I put together some decks for this column, I try to ensure that the decks are fun, that they have the ability to win some games, and that they offer up enough ideas so that my readers (you!) can take the decks in a number of different directions if they so choose. As a result, I often intentionally avoid including cards like Sensei's Divining Top, the non-Jugan Kamigawa dragons, and the aforementioned Fork of Doom. They're obvious, for one, but they also crowd out other cards and other ideas. This already happens enough in tournament play, so why do it here, too?
While I didn't use any of those cards last week, the raw, untoppable and unstoppable power of Moldervine Cloak'd Chimney Imps nevertheless threatened to turn the Casual Decks Room into a pile of smoldering rubble and ruin the Online experience for so many casual mages. Clearly, with these decks I had gone too far. If the long line of demoralized spellslingers left in my wake wasn't enough of an indication, I also had to buy some new shingles, because these decks had a power level that was through the roof. Also, I had to buy some bigger charts, because my old charts were too small to adequately represent the calculus-derived power-index of those decks. It was a sad time for Magic. And for my roof.
But don't worry, folks. This week will be different. While Matt Cavotta is letting you taste the magic of an undoubtedly delicious Dissension card, I'll be here as usual, providing you with the fun decks, the weak puns, and the strained attempts at humour that you've come to expect from my tenure here at House of Cards. I think I'll start with some fun Gifts Ungiven decks …
Sorry, what's that you say? I'm the one who gets to preview a card today? Sweet! Unfortunately, the card is for Spikes and if you don't self-identify as one, read this preview at your own risk. I say it's for Spikes, though perhaps not the kind that you're thinking of:
With the Simic's tendencies to create, as Mr. Rosewater explained on Monday, “funky Island of Dr. Moreau-type creatures,” is it any surprise that their Guildmage is a, uh, hybrid of two existing creatures, a cross between a more efficient Spike Rogue and a flipped Kitsune Mystic, also known as Autumn Tail, Kitsune Sage? It's not a perfect translation, but it's close. The main difference is that you can only move the +1/+1 counters or Auras between creatures or permanents with the same controller.
One of the great perks of writing this column is that I get a Magic Online account stocked with four of every available card, as well as all of the Vanguard Avatars. Sometimes I'm tempted to abuse my good fortune and build a “casual” deck with four of each Ravnica dual land, four Jittes, four Sensei's Divining Tops, and four Pithing Needles. Maybe round it out with some Farseeks and Cranial Extractions. You wouldn't actually need a win condition, because you'd get so many concessions. Please, don't try this at home!
While it's definitely nice (and necessary) to be able to build any deck I want to, if I want to play in events Online, or around the kitchen table with friends, I have to buy cards just like everyone else. As a result, I love Love LOVE cycles of good Uncommons. I like cycles of good Commons, of course, but it's the Uncommons that form the backbone of most decks. Many people think of Odyssey as a powerful set, but all I remember about it is that every pack I opened contained a Darkwater Egg, a Sphere of Duty, and one of the bad, non-Psychatog Atogs. Compare that to Ravnica Block, which has great Uncommons in general, but also has Uncommon cycles that are full of excellent cards. There's the so-called “Power Uncommon” cycle, which doesn't actually exist, but nevertheless consists of Lightning Helix, Putrefy, Mortify, Watchwolf, Electrolyze, and others. There's the cycle of Guildlands (Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree and company), the cycle of “enhanced” spells (Ribbons of Night, Seed Spark, etc.), and the Guildmages. In my opinion, the Guildmage-cycle is one of the best ever. Each one is aggressively costed for a creature with that many abilities, and each one provides tremendous utility. These are all cards that are going to be relevant for tournament-goers and casual mages alike for years to come. Get yours today! I'm just sayin'.
As “Spike”-like as it is, Simic Guildmage is by far the Johnniest of the cycle and will require a bit more deckbuilding finesse to make it work. What exactly can we do with it? Here are a few ideas. This is by no means a comprehensive listing:
There are some cards that generate +1/+1 counters each turn, like Chlorophant, Rushwood Elemental, or Vebulid. Unfortunately, these Greedy Guses keep all their counters to themselves. Not any more! Our man in Ravnica (Simic Guildmage) is all about sharing the wealth. Redistributing it, if you will. Brother, can you spare a +1/+1 counter? Simic Guildmage can and does.
There are other cards which can provide you with a nice cache of +1/+1 counters to mine. Phyrexian Marauder, Shifting Wall, Krakilin, and Ivy Elemental, not to mention half the creatures in Mirrodin Block, all come into play with a stockpile of transferable counters.
Shed those unwanted counters!
On the other hand, there are cards that don't want +1/+1 counters. If you had the guts to play Myr Prototype, you might have noticed that after a while, it becomes difficult to attack with it. Simic Guildmage is there to alleviate the burden of all those beads. Similarly, the Guildmage will allow you to better control the Golgari's Necroplasm, allowing it to take out its gelatinous fury on Saproling tokens, Snake tokens, and subway tokens … every freakin' turn! Fungusfolk, pack your bags, you're going on the Ooze Cruise.
Enchant the Unenchantable!
You may have noticed that the Guildmage's Aura Graft ability only targets the Aura, not the creatures. What this means is, as with Autumn Tail, Kitsune Sage, you can move Auras on to creatures that can't be the target of spells or abilities, such as Guildpact's Giant Solifuge. The Solifuge would be a good creature if it wasn't so darn fragile. Sure it has three very synergistic abilities, a higher-than-usual power-to-cost ratio, and a flexible mana cost, but that one in the bottom right corner means that everyone's favourite Insect-that's-not-an-Insect dies to Eager Cadet! And Tarpan! And Abu Ja'far! (Okay, everything dies to Abu Ja'far, but still …) Well, no more! With the help of Simic Guildmage and some of our trusty Moldervine Cloaks, the Solifuge can suit up and perhaps become playable in constructed. The same goes for other stand-offish Green meanies like Kodama of the North Tree, Blastoderm, and Multani, Maro-Sorcerer.
Everyone knows how annoying Arcbound Ravager was when it came to combat. The ability to shuffle counters from creature to creature before and after combat damage has been assigned makes it tough for the non-Ravager player to find any good blocks. Simic Guildmage is similar, if not as brutally efficient. What it lacks in efficiency, though, it makes up for in versatility. The counters are fun to move around, but you can get a similar effect by moving power-enhancing enchantments like Elephant Guide, or, uh, Moldervine Cloak (Cloak is my Jitte). Other neat things you can do include moving Curiosity on to one of your unblocked creatures, or passing Serpent Skin or Blessing of Leeches from creature to creature, setting up regeneration shields as you go.
Don't touch my stuff!
Those familiar with the Leonin Shikari + Lightning Greaves combo from Mirrodin Block will see Simic Guildmage's potential to thwart targeted removal spells. All you need is an enchantment like Alexi's Cloak, or Zephid's Embrace, and let the “fizzling” begin. In a similar vein, commonly played cards like Faith's Fetters and Pillory of the Sleepless can be partially negated by Simic Guildmage. Conversely, you can use those Auras yourself, and move them on to newer, more dangerous permanents as the game progresses.
Thirst for (Blue) Blood
What if we paired Blue's evasive creatures (or its ability to grant evasion) with Green's Bloodthirst creatures from Guildpact? You could use creatures like Silhana Ledgewalker, Phantom Warrior, and Drake Familiar to deal the damage necessary to power up your Bloodthirsty minions like Ghor-Clan Savage. Then, either battle it out with those guys au nature, or start siphoning off some of those counters and transferring them on to the evasive guys. That covers the +1/+1 counters, what about the Auras? Moldervine Cloak loves all the unblockable critters, and the blockable critters love Infiltrator's Magemark and Flight of Fancy.Circulating Bloodthirst – Standard Legal
Don't get too attached
One creature that I haven't mention yet that is probably on everybody's mind is Bramble Elemental. It sure likes to have Auras become attached to it. Auras like Fists of Ironwood. With a Simic Guildmage and a Bramble Elemental enchanted with Fists of Ironwood in play, you can pay 2UU to make two Saproling tokens by moving the Fists from the Elemental to the Guildmage and back again. A similar trick can be pulled with Stasis Cell, since that Aura can be shuffled around as well. Moldervine Cloak is a must (I promise I will stop saying that at some point), and Wurmweaver Coil is just a fun card. While we're at it, we might as well add some of those Giant Solifuges and Kodamas of the North Tree to the deck. They could really use the help. Vinelasher Kudzu and Trophy Hunter list +1/+1 counters as one of their major exports. If the Hunter has no flying enemies in sight, you can just shoot down the Faerie tokens provided by Hunted Troll (who doesn't mind being in a deck with Fists of Ironwood). Since the deck is so focused on making tokens and producing counters, I included a Doubling Season. Simic Guildmage works well with the green enchantment, since each counter you move from the first creature becomes two counters when they arrive on the second one.Bramblin' Man – Standard Legal
Before you can love another, you must first love your elf
Before I get to the last deck, I have a small confession to make: I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Ha, I'm just kidding! That's a big confession. The small confession is that I have an unnatural predilection for Elf Tribal decks, an abnormal penchant for the other little Green men, a strange proclivity for the pointy-eared mana-makers, not to mention a freakish propensity for using Microsoft Word's thesaurus tool.
I'll use just about any excuse to build an Elf-based deck. Dog ate my homework? Built an Elf deck. Girlfriend had a headache? Built an Elf deck. Needed to audition for the House of Cards gig? Built an Elf deck. Needed to write my first article for House of Cards? Built an Elf deck. Asked to build a deck for this year's Magic Invitational Tournament? Built a deck which may or may not have Elves in it. (It does). Given all of that, it just makes sense that my first Preview article would also feature an Elf deck. It was pure coincidence that the card I was given to preview is both an Elf and an Elf in my favourite colour combination (Blue/Green), but we play the cards we're dealt and/or assigned by the Editor.
The +1/+1 counters come courtesy of Llanowar Elite, Golgari Guildmage, Elvish Vanguard, and Titania's Chosen. As for enchantments, Pemmin's Aura seemed like a fine choice, for its synergy with Wirewood Channeler (Infinite mana as long as you control another elf!) as well as its ability to foil removal (especially in concert with Simic Guildmage). At the same time, Pemmin's Aura makes Phantom Nantuko, Clockwork Vorrac, and the card Mark Rosewater previewed this week, Experiment Kraj, into little +1/+1 counter factories. Whip Silk + Titania's Chosen is a cute counter-generating combo that I used to use, and it fits here, too. What do you do with all of those counters? Either make a huge creature, suit him up with Zephid's Embrace or Pemmin's Aura, or move them all on to Triskelion and end the game with a makeshift “Green Fireball.” Elf Help – Legacy Legal
I have a sneaking suspicion that once the entire set is spoiled, we'll be able to fix up the mana on these decks. Until then, we'll make do with Yavimaya Coast and good old-fashioned Basic Lands.
These decks are just the tip of the iceberg. I have a whole iceberg of decks in my mind, just waiting to be built. For today's article, I stuck to Blue/Green and tried to make use of both of the Guildmage's abilities. There is very little overlap between the two. For example, there aren't too many Auras that care about +1/+1 counters besides Ferocity and Predatory Hunger. In a way, this leads to decks that are probably trying to do too much. I think you'd be better off picking one of the abilities and focusing on it. This also opens up the possibility of other colour combinations.
Until next time, have fun attaching target Aura enchanting a permanent to another permanent with the same controller and/or moving a +1/+1 counter from target creature onto another target creature with the same controller!