ello and welcome back to the Lab. This week has thus far been dedicated to previews for the upcoming Magic 2012 Core Set. Seemingly no other major release has caught me this off-guard. Magic: The Gathering Commander distracted me completely, with its many instances of absurdity in card form. As I was reeling from that pseudo-set's creative density, some spectral voice yelled "FINISH HIM!" (perhaps my imagination) and I was hit with a full blast of Magic 2012.
Volcanic Dragon | Illustration by Chris Rahn
I will take a paragraph to froth about the set, if you'll indulge me. As a fan of repeatable activated abilities, I'm all afluster at the Mage cycle, specifically Azure Mage. Bloodthirst returning is a welcome surprise, and cements Guildpact (which also inspired M11's Leyline cycle) as the unofficial Secret Mine of Core Set Design Space. And some reprints from Magic's past positively burst on the new scene. Zombie Infestation fueled many a resource driven slash infinite combo deck, and now it can do so for fresh eyes. Worldslayer getting the core set treatment is interesting, and means that my favorite sword artwork is back. But the return of Volcanic Dragon makes my heart soar. Everyone knows what card hooked them to Magic. Mine was Volcanic Dragon, way back when. Now look at that screaming lava streak of a dragon. Nostalgia triumphs!
Oh, my preview card? Longtime readers will remember my preview cards tend to swim in the bizarre end of the mana pool (such exhibits include Hive Mind and Knowledge Pool). This one's no different, although it's not nearly as wordy as those two.
My preview card has been present in every Magic game ever played. You have activated Sundial of the Infinite before. You just didn't know it. Every battlefield that has ever existed in the Infinite has had a Sundial. You know, to tell time. Or the absence of time. Or even, on certain occasions, end it.
Be proactive. Take hold of your ability to end your turn. Click here.
Now that's out of left field, huh? Sundial of the Infinite instantly goes down in Magic history as A Weird Card. Even the supposedly helpful reminder text contains the taboo word "stack." That better be a purple symbol I see there.
Sundial of the Infinite also instantly provides style points to any deck that runs it, even (or especially) as a singleton. That way, you can activate it during your actual end step. Just because.
But does Sundial actually... do anything useful? In a reactive sense, surely. Any spell your opponent casts on your turn (combat trick, flashing creature) can be instantly countered with the Sundial, at the cost of the rest of your turn. Combat in general becomes that much safer, with the Sundial holding sway over any tricks that could be busted out as a last resort.
Sundial of the Infinite | Illustration by Vincent Proce
On the much trickier proactive front, let's blend Sundial of the Infinite with a classic cycle of freebies, the Future Sight Pacts. Normally, you'd have to pay for each Pact you cast during your next upkeep, or you'd lose... the... game. It's a savage drawback, but Sundial can help you dodge it. Just end your turn during your upkeep, with the Pact payments still on the stack. They will be exiled, and you'll have countered a spell / prevented damage / searched for a green creature / destroyed target nonblack creature / made a 4/4 Giant—for free!
Of course, the new price is the rest of your turn, which seems counter-productive (since you'd set yourself back by paying for the Pact anyway.) However, using the Sundial keeps more of your mana open, for flash cards or instants on your opponent's turn.
Since this idea nugget involves Pacts, I reached for a card that makes them quite ridiculous. This card is none other than Djinn Illuminatus. With the giant replicating genie out, cast Pact of the Titan at your opponent's end step and replicate it 117 times. (Literally, Giant replicating.) During your upkeep, all those Pacts will demand 117 times mana. Activate Sundial and end your turn right there, avoiding death.
This is sort of clunky, since it delays your final swing with 117 Giant tokens. Luckily you have Pact of Negation and other mean blue spells to protect them during your opponent's final turn.
Another fun trick is to activate the Sundial during your upkeep, so you miss your draw step. How fun is that??? Of course, you have something like Azure Mage (hey, didn't I mention Azure Mage sometime before?) to get your fill of cards during your opponents turn. But why would you skip your draw step in the first place? If you had a symmetrical upkeep effect that you'd be better off dodging, like Braids, Cabal Minion. End your turn during your every upkeep to avoid Braids' offering, then play your turn on your opponent's with Azure Mage or anything similar, or even instants and flashy things.
Anything similar to Braids can be switched off on your upkeep and still wreck your opponent. Perhaps the meanest of these is the ancient Mana Vortex. Call to the Grave is a reprint that is doubly synergistic with the Sundial. Dodge the sacrifice (you don't want your Azure Mage gone) and dodge the end step trigger as well! This way, Call to the Grave sticks on the board. Your opponent better be packing Zombies. Dreamborn Muse suggests a milling route.
Although I have much love for Braids (and her parallel universe self), I'm going to play with Smokestack, primarily because I can proliferate it. During your upkeep, Smokestack will trigger twice. Stack the 'Stack triggers so you add a soot counter first. With the sacrifice ability still waiting, activate Sundial of the Infinite to dodge it and the rest of your turn. This way, you can accumulate soot counters freely while throwing that soot all over your opponent during his or her upkeep.
Proliferate for this deck needs to be available on my opponent's turn. Mainstay Contagion Clasp is perfect, as is the instant Steady Progress. Extra proliferate targets are of a vast quantity, but how about Tangle Wire? Keep the fade counter level high via Clasp while you end your turn every time with Sundial. If you don't get Smokestack up in time, lock everything down with Tangle Wire for a while.
The deck hinges on its artifacts, so I added an extra durability factor: Leonin Abunas. The protective Cat Cleric gives all my artifacts hexproof. Setting everything up might take a while, but card draw and Everflowing Chalice should help.
After (or even while) Smokestack does its thing, excess mana should flow into Helix Pinnacle. It'll take a while, but with Smokestack singlehandedly clearing your opponent's board every turn and proliferate giving the occasional nudge, it'll be a safe journey up the tower.
I'm aware this is cruel and unusual punishment as far as sympathetic deckbuilding goes; nevertheless, these kinds of decks should exist, I think. On some level of the Infinite.
...And the Infinite Sadness
The final trick I want to pull (with a little brainstorming push from Kelly Digges) is to completely break effects that trigger "at the beginning of the next end step." End the turn with these effects on the stack, and they fade, never to recur. (You have to let them hit the stack first, or they'll just trigger at the beginning of the next end step that actually happens.)
What sorts of effects contain the magic phrase? It crops up in lots of "blink" effects—effects that exile something for a duration, and then return it back to the battlefield. If you activate Sundial in response, though, it won't come back. So now Flickerwisp exiles permanents and they stay there. Galepowder Mage vanishes a creature every attack.
Even more repeatable than those would be Astral Slide, with a deck loaded with cycling cards that can draw into one another. Sundial of the Infinite turns that deck into a creature-exiling machine.
In the end I decided to balance the cycling with permanents that liked to be blinked. I went with token-making things like Cloudgoat Ranger and Rise of the Hobgoblins, which turned out to be my win conditions. Marshaling Cry bridges the gap between the two angles quite nicely. Among other cyclers, the ever-useful Eternal Dragon fits in here, as does the inexpensive Glassdust Hulk.
Whew! That's one tricky Sundial. Until next time.