From_the_Lab

Another Year Older, Part I

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The letter H!ey there, gang, and welcome back to the lab! We've got a great column for you this week, simply because it contains the first half of the long-awaited results of the Birthday Contest! Yes, we're going to ignore all the neat recent developments in Magic for the time being (Magic 2010, the rules changes, and whatnot) and focus on a crazy Johnny contest that I kicked off about a month ago.

For newcomers to this contest or for those who like refreshments, the Birthday Contest was a typically restrictive but casual contest in which each contestant had to build a 60-card deck containing, at minimum, one copy of each Magic card that fell on their respective birthday in the Card of the Day archive.


I suspected that whittling the submissions down would be tough, but I had no idea how much turmoil I was about to go through. Suffice it to say that I read every of the 238 emails, and sympathized with each lovely deck. My first pass through this file was a brutal one, leaving me with 64 decks (eliminating nearly 75%!). My second pass left me with 49, and my third 26. This last part was agonizing, as I was forced to let 10 more decks go to get a magic number of 16.

I guess now is as good a time as any to say, thanks to everyone for sending and participating. Although your deck may not have made the Sweet 16, I read your submission as fully as the others. The top 16 decks were, in my eyes, the best of the best, the ones that provide a diverse series of articles and creativity. Thank you all.

Okay, on to the show! Throughout this two-part series (eight decks per part), I'll be going through a delayed Top 10 countdown, with six other decks sprinkled throughout.

The Decks


This first deck, I feel, is a good example of the contest: bringing together seemingly unrelated cards to form a very casual deck. Here's Brendon Liley's deck for January 24.

Cards: Nightmare, Mirror Gallery, Ghost Council of Orzhova, Damnation, Gilt-Leaf Archdruid


Brandon Liley's Birthday Deck
January 24


Brendon was lucky enough to have both Nightmare and Gilt-Leaf Archdruid. The plan is either to beat with Nightmare or take all the lands with the Archdruid (which helps Nightmare.) Prismatic Omen makes every land a Swamp, and it allows you to readily cast Ghost Council of Orzhova. With all the little Druids as fodder, Ghost Council should hurt your opponent plenty. Mirror Gallery wants to enable multiple Azusa, Lost but Seekings, to accelerate your land count. Finally, Damnation is a problem-stopper, as is Path to Exile, which can trick your opponent into upping his land count for later Druid theft.

This next deck is also a good example of a contest deck, but whereas Brendon's deck was easy to grasp, Ryan Sextro's May 14 deck was wonderfully complicated.

Cards: Martial Coup, Dross Scorpion, Arcanum Wings, Sun Clasp, Wirewood Hivemaster, Opalescence



Here are Ryan's card explanations:

Opalescence: Core of the deck: he enables your other enchantments to win the game for you and will become a nifty, permanent Armageddon with Enchanted Evening in play.

Sterling Grove: The enabler. This makes finding combo pieces easy.

Conspiracy: Side combo with Wirewood Hivemaster. Name Elf with this bad boy and watch the insects flow!

Dispersing Orb: The control. If you have spare insects, soldiers or Academy Rectors around, sac 'em and bounce your opponents' chances of winning.

Enchanted Evening: Hilarious with Opalesence, Yavimaya Enchantress, or Ancestral Mask.

Arcanum Wings: The tricky side finisher with Ancestral Mask. Picture this board: You control Opalesence, Enchanted Evening, Gilded Lotus, Dispersing Orb and Arcanum Wings strapped to your Dross Scorpion. The lands are obviously gone. You swing with the flying scorpion, your opponent doesn't block. You tap your Lotus for blue, aura swap for Ancestral Mask and hit for 15!

Sun Clasp: Emergency help for dying important creatures. Can be aura swapped in a pinch and can save an otherwise dead creature such as the very important Yavimaya Enchantress

Ancestral Mask: Funny, just.... funny. Everything in this deck is centered on enchantments.

Dross Scorpion: Seemingly out of place, but if this guy dies with Gilded Lotus or Skull of Orm in play, you get major mana or major recursion, you pick!

Wirewood Hivemaster: Very useful defense with Conspiracy. Especially useful with Dispersing Orb.

Academy Rector: See Sterling Grove. Another enabler that makes the combo work.

Yavimaya Enchantress: The beater. She hits hard in this deck. HARD!

Gilded Lotus: Mana, straight up. Doesn't die to Opalesence + EE and is the perfect amount of mana for an aura swap.

Skull of Orm: Recursion. Very good for picking up lost Sun Clasps, Enchanted Evenings, or Dispersing Orbs that have died to the odd Naturalize or the like.

Martial Coup: Your defense against creature beats. Can be used in a pinch for blockers or Orb bait.

I received a very similar submission from Dominic DeCesare, which, while ultimately surpassed by Ryan's in my opinion, is still worthy of a name drop.

The Top Ten Birthday Decks


Here's an April 21 concoction by Alex van der Bie. I liked how Alex took advantage of his linking themes through smart card choices.

Cards: Unmask, Paupers' Cage, Disrupting Scepter, Shadow of Doubt, Animate Wall, Soratami Cloudskater


Alex van der Bie's Birthday Deck
April 21


Alex explains:

Ghost Quarter is obviously good with Shadow of Doubt and is also great against all those multi-color decks running around these days.

Tolaria West fetches Ghost Quarter and the white mana you need for the singleton Animate Wall (more on that in a minute.)

Soratami Cloudskater helps dig for any and all combo pieces, but it doesn't do much beside that but attack for 1.

Wall of Blood is the cool combo with Animate Wall. Just make it attack and pump it up.

Wall of Distortion: Another wall that fits in with the discard theme.

Maralen of the Mornsong: Obviously good with Shadow of Doubt but also a game winner with the discard—especially Funeral Charm + Isochron Scepter! They better have some good answers or instant death.

Animate Wall can be searched for with Maralen to finish the job quickly.

All in all I really like the deck and while there is a lot going on it all goes together in a cool way. Maybe the deck needs a better finisher but I wanted Animate Wall to be a centerpiece of course."



I laughed out loud at Mark Verkoulen's June 28th deck, because what could be more hilarious than going infinite with Iron Star?

Cards: Squandered Resources, Tormod's Crypt, Crackdown, Iron Star, Divine Offering



Flagstones of Trokair: this card let's you find all the Plains dual lands if you sacrifice it to Squandered Resources (or if you play a second copy). And using Crucible of Worlds you can play it again to find all the colors this deck is playing.

Auriok Salvagers and Arcbound Ravager work together to create a huge artifact creature by recurring Tormod's Crypt (preferable, since it has a 0 Mana manacost), Iron Star and Ashnod's Transmogrant. Of course Crucible of Worlds can be sacrificed to the Ravager as well.

Ashnod's Transmogrant: This card is probably the best find I came up with, for this card pool. It changes both your own creatures and those of your opponent into artifacts so they can be destroyed by Divine Offering. It gives nonwhite 2-power creatures an opponent controls +1/+1 so that they will not untap due to Crackdown. And it changes our Auriok Salvagers and our Angel tokens into artifacts (and if need be our 6/1 Spirit Mountain too) so that they can receive the Ravager's +1/+1 counters and can still untap if you have a Crackdown in play (since the Ravager might not be able to do this due to its size). And as mentioned before it can simply be retrieved by the Auriok Salvagers' ability.

Demonic Tutor: Since I need only one copy of most of the cards in my deck, tutoring for a card I might need seems better than sitting around waiting for the card I need, while I have several unnecessary copies of another card.

Fastbond and Crucible of Worlds allow me to use Squandered Resources without losing my lands.

Genju of the Spires: changes our Mountains into 6/1 creatures that when killed, can simply be returned to play by using Crucible of Worlds. It also lets us gain life by using Iron Star, and can help produce lots of 4/4 Angel tokens.

The Urza lands together with the Fastbond / Crucible / Resources combo can help produce large amounts of mana. This can be used to put counters on the Ravager. It can also be used to cast the Genju multiple times to create a large amount of 4/4 Angel tokens.

Although it is not very likely, the deck can produce infinite mana, an infinitely large creature, an infinite amount of Angel tokens and even an infinite amount of life. How? Well, like this:

In play: 1 Fastbond, 1 Crucible of Worlds, 1 Squandered Resources, 1 Plateau, 1 of each Urza land, and 2 Iron Star

In hand: Genju of the Spires


1. Tap Urza's Tower and the Plateau to add 3 ManaRed Mana to mana pool
2. Use 2 ManaRed Mana to play Genju of the Spires and gain 2 life
3. Sacrifice Urza's Tower and the Plateau for 1 ManaRed Mana or 1 ManaWhite Mana and replay the two lands to lose the 2 life again.
4. You are now back to your original position although you have 2 ManaRed Mana or 2 ManaWhite Mana in your manapool, repeat to go infinite.


With all 3 Iron Stars in play you can use this procedure to gain infinite life, with Sigil in play you can produce infinite 4/4 flying Angel tokens, and by producing the 2 ManaWhite Mana and using this for Auriok Salvagers' ability you can keep replaying one of your 1-or-less-costing artifacts and sacrificing them to Arcbound Ravager to create a infinitely large creature.

The Top Ten Birthday Decks: Number Eight


James Marsh was forced to use some very tricky cards for his July 9 deck, but he made it work by thinking outside the box. (Bonus points for naming his deck!)

Cards: Raging Bull, Incinerate, Minion of Leshrac, Death Pits of Rath, Tolaria


James Marsh's Jund Deathday Surprise
July 9


Each of the cards selected has a win condition. Death Pits of Rath sets up for regular creature control and damage with Incinerate and Hissing Iguanar. Minion of Leshrac accelerates the death rate.

Raging Bull is the cheapest red creature to bounce with Oni of Wild Places. With Lightning Cloud in play, this means each turn when Raging Bull is played, I can ping one of the opponent's creatures and kill it (with Death Pits)

The only way to play Donate is with Tolaria. Tolaria can be tutored with Scapeshift and then Donated to my opponent. Then Ayumi, the Last Visitor and Livanya Silone can get through unblocked each turn.

Deathbringer Thoctar and Death Pits of Rath means I can ping and kill each creature my opponent controls. Hissing Iguanar or just plain unblocked creatures will finish off the opponent.

Furnace of Rath just makes everything go that much quicker.


Let's take a quick break from the Top Ten list and talk about a breezier deck. Some people (clever, clever people) opted to get my attention by focusing their deck and card choices on the theme of origins, as I debuted the contest on Origin Stories Week.

Doug Maull saw his cards and decided to base his deck on his life and his memories. This was a very creative direction, and the deck explanation was so well written that I felt it should make the article.

Cards: Jackal Pup, Forgotten Ancient, Evolution Charm, Goblin Grenade, Powder Keg



Right away, Powder Keg is perfect because I just turned 21, haha! And had to throw in Tower Above to accentuate my height.


Forgotten Ancient made me think a bunch. As much as I don't think about my parents and my upbringing all that often, I still find myself becoming "the man [my parents] always knew I'd be." I just keep on picking up +1/+1 counters of wisdom from my dad, even if I forget about him sometimes. And Uncle Cytoplast Root-Kin stands to teach a thing or two, also.

Which leads me to the newer Taurean Mauler. I see this card as myself. I am moving along in life, picking up my own +1/+1 counters, too. (My last name being Maull doesn't hurt either.) And I loved that he was a changeling. I tend to adapt well to my surroundings.

And what a way to use Goblin Grenade! So I threw in my big, dumb friends from home like Colossus and Fire-Belly. Goblin Grenade also very accurately portrays how loud we can get sometimes.

I chose my lands mostly to mana fix, but also I threw in Mutavault. Because sometimes memories from home can feel like an old friend. One of the guys. Just another changeling in my mind. And there are also lessons to be learned from the land itself sometimes, you know? Who knows when Taurean Mauler might pick up that crucial +1/+1 counter of insight off of Llanowar Reborn for the win?

The Jackal Pups were a forced fit at first, but then I realized they were perfect. I have a horribly warm spot in my heart for past loves and ex-girlfriends. I'm the kind of guy who will still be there for people. Love doesn't just go away. And when they hurt, I hurt. Perfect fit, Pup, perfect fit.

But yeah, this deck is verrrry me, and again I loved this contest. Hope you weren't bored to tears. Thanks for reading.

No, Doug, thank you.

The Top Ten Birthday Decks: Number Seven


Here's the last Top Ten deck of the day. Built by Øystein Hjertvikrem, this deck sold me through its description, playability, and synergy.

Cards: Blizzard Elemental, Frankenstein's Monster, Hunter Sliver, Eternal Witness, Wrath of Marit Lage, Snake Basket


Øystein Hjertvikrem's Birthday Deck
March 11


Øystein explained:

I decided to build a Sliver deck, as that would allow me to use the Hunter Sliver (as a passive bonus to other Slivers) even when Wrath of Marit Lage is out. By having Basal Sliver I can sacrifice slivers to get huge amounts of snakes out of my Snake Basket. The slivers in the graveyard will in turn be eaten (or fused?) by Frankenstein's Monster. With some help from Hivestone and various slivers, Frankenstein's Monster should hit hard.


Hivestone also makes all your snakes from Snake Basket into slivers, which with the help from Mnemonic Sliver, Gemhide Sliver and Basal Sliver, will help you draw and play Mogg Infestation followed by Wrath of Marit Lage, which is basically an expensive one-sided wrath effect.


Today's last deck is, as far as I can see, fueled by insanity, or randomness, or probably a combination of the two. See, some people went the crazy route, building their decks to a strange tune. There was a game-show themed deck and a music themed deck. One guy built his deck around the flavor of Dwarven Trader, for crying out loud!

Steven Wolf went the extra crazy mile with his January 21 deck. I can't explain it better than he did, so read on.

Cards: Lord of the Pit, Battletide Alchemist, Mistform Ultimus, Sands of Time, Colos Yearling.


The Deck: ALIEN VERSUS PREDATOR


THE SCENE

Our protagonists are the humans, drawn to Antarctica by a satellite image of a heat signature, miles below a glacier. A fantastically rich businessman uses his wealth to convince a team of experts to accompany him to investigate the site, where they discover a huge ancient temple. Excited by their find, they venture into the temple and right into the center of an alien war that's been raging for millennia! Now surrounded by unimaginable horrors, their only hope of survival is to team up with the aliens and reduce the opponent's life total to zero! The fate of the earth depends on it!

THE CAST


THE HUMANS
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer x1: Charles Weyland, our industrial billionaire with the funds to get anything he wants.
Battletide Alchemist x1: Alexa Woods, the expedition guide, puts the safety of her team above all else.
Colos Yearling x4: Our assorted side cast of humans, none very important as they're only there to get killed for the sake of advancing the story, like a good little red-shirt (see Star Trek). But what's an Alien movie if the people aren't armed with flamethrowers!


THE PREDATOR AND HIS AWESOME GEAR
Lord of the Pit x1: The B.A. Mofo himself. Nobody else in this movie is a match to him aside from the Queen. All he really cares about is the hunt. It makes no difference to him whether he's killing aliens, humans or his controller; as long as he's dealing 7 damage to something, he's happy.
Whispersilk Cloak x1: He can turn himself invisible!! Sort of makes him hard to block or shoot at!
Leonin Bola x1: Trapping the enemy is a standard part of his arsenal.
Viridian Longbow x1: What would our favorite stalker be without his shoulder cannon?
Lightning Blast x4: Sometimes you need a REALLY big blast from that shoulder cannon.
Nevinyrral's Disk x1: If all else fails and he's going to die, what does he do? That's right; activate the timer and BLOW EVERYTHING UP!


THE ALIENS
Thought Nibbler x4: The face huggers that come out of the infamous eggs. Small, quick, and hard to avoid. (More chosen for artwork than mechanics! This art always made me think of the Alien movies.)
Mistform Ultimus x4: These aliens don't have their own specific form, they take attributes from whatever species they're birthed from.
Heart Sliver x4: They're blindingly fast.
Talon Sliver x4: They're almost always going to attack before you even know they're there.
Acidic Sliver x4: And even if you kill them, their acid blood will make short work of you.
Sliver Queen x1: Add to it all their gigantic mother that spits out more like it's her job! And she's the only other creature in this fiasco that can face down the Predator.


THE PLOT DEVICE

Sands of Time x1: This temple is not static! It keeps fluctuating, walls move, stairways close off, doors open. Sometimes our characters get locked in until it is time for the temple to shift again. This keeps everyone on his or her toes and makes it all unpredictable.


THE SETTING

Archaeological Dig x1: This is the whole purpose for heading to the glacier to begin with.
Ancient Ziggurat x4: The temple. Also helps to cast cards. This is a bizarre five-color mishmash. Fortunately, the deck is almost entirely made of creatures, so it can be used for almost everything.
Reflecting Pool x4: Again, five-color mishmash.
Vivid lands: Comes into play tapped? A good monster movie lets the suspense build!

So who's going to prevail? The hive-minded aliens? The one-man-army predator? The lame-o pathetic humans? Or will it be the other player? Time to shuffle up and find out!


Speechless? You should be.

Next week is a theme week, so I'll stick to that, but the week after I'll bring you eight more wacky Birthday Decks, including the winner of the contest!




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