Welcome back to the Top Ten Cards for each of the three major psychographics! We have Johnny, Spike, and Timmy. What do you primarily want to do when playing Magic? Spikes see it as a game to win. That’s what games are for. Timmys see Magic as a game to enjoy. Both are right. Johnnies see Magic as a game to figure out, as a puzzle to put together. They want to delve into the 18,000 game pieces and come up with combos and synergies others missed. They want to imprint their own unique take into the game. But most of all, they just want to solve Magic.
Johnny sometimes is seen as the infinite combo machine. But that’s not really fair. Not every Johnny and Johnny Card wants to win with a quick repeatable combo. Sure, there’s a lot of Johnny in a deck playing Aluren, Pandemonium, and Man-o'-War bouncing itself over and over again and killing everyone with damage. That’s very Johnny! But Johnny also enjoys the intricate framework of cards, and letting them grow in value as they have synergetic interactions.
Take my recent Diaochan, Artful Beauty Commander deck. It has a bunch of ways to keep folks from targeting and killing my own stuff. The very first game I debuted it, I dropped Swiftfoot Boots, played Diaochan, equipped her, and tapped her to kill someone’s Somberwald Sage. The only other targetable creature out was Inferno Titan. So he targeted the Titan. That’s Diaochan’s synergy with effects granting Hexproof or Shroud. That’s a deck built around an interesting little corner of Magic I’ve put together. It’s my Johnny moment.
I remember once playing a 60 card Green and Black combo deck with no Swamps, just non-basics or creatures that made Black mana. I had a bunch of big creatures to out in my graveyard with things like Cycling (Krosan Tusker and Scion of Darkness). Then I played Ashes of the Fallen and called Nightstalker. Probably something no one had ever called in the history of Magic with Ashes of the Fallen (It was a couple of months post release). I then waited until the right moment, and played Return of the Nightstalkers. All of my Nightstalkers came back from my graveyard to the battlefield, and I destroyed my Swamps. That was the synergy — a deck with no Swamps, Ashes, and Return of the Nightstalkers. I still remember dropping that combo and getting someone to see it for the first time. It was my Johnny moment.
Johnnies get mechanics like Transmute. You have to find the right cards to give your transmute the perfect dose of flexibility. Cards like Drift of Phantasms suggest a suite of three casting cost cards for your deck to transmute. That’s what Johnny likes — puzzles.
Ever since Conspiracy was printed, Johnny’s everywhere have had tools for changing creature types. We’ve seen a lot of awesome improvements on this basic concept. After Unnatural Selection was printed, and the tribal emphasis and trickery in Onslaught Block, cards like Peer Pressure were adopted by Johnnies everywhere. Then Lorwyn brought Changelings and Tribal cards to the forefront, and again, cards like Nameless Inversion were played and given interesting angles. Who doesn’t like to Slivercycle their Homing Sliver into a Nameless Inversion removal spell? And all of that creature type craziness began with Conspiracy, a card still on the short list of powerful Johnny cards. (See also: Xenograft)
Ah yes, the Ascension. Are you ready to climb up Pyromancer’s Hill? All you have to do is play spells already in your graveyard. Sound easy enough? Sure! Plus you can load up with redundant cheap cards that break through your deck: Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, and stuff like that. Then you can begin the forking. Did you play an instant or sorcery? Awesome, here’s another! Did you play a broken, game-breaking X spell or token making spell? Excellent, here’s another! Pyromancer Ascension might be the most visible of this lot, but there are a lot of cards like it, such as Harness the Storm.
There are a lot of similarly themed cards out here like Krark-Clan Ironworks and Phyrexian Altar. Then there are sacrifice outlets for things like damage (Goblin Bombardment) or milling (Altar of Dementia). But at the end of the day, Ashnod's Altar was unique, because it was the first repeatable sacrifice outlet ever printed. And it was the only good one for years. Ashnod's Altar was used with tons of odd and wonky combos, like with Initiates of the Ebon Hand to kill someone with Drain Life. Even today, in a modern era of Magic, it’s still one of the most efficient sacrifice outlets out there, and a great engine for any Johnny deck-builder. I hope that its new day in the sun in Eternal Masters also gives it a new life at kitchen tables everywhere!
Or as I like the call it ,the Ooze of a Thousand Faces. I think it’s high time Magic has its first Ooze Planeswalker, don’t you? Meanwhile, we have Necrotic Ooze that clocks in and absorbs all of the cool activated abilities from other stuff. Anything dead in your graveyard? Then the Ooze will mimic their abilities. Activate away my friends, activate away! You can combine it with a ton of awesome tricks and potencies. Feed the graveyard with great cards, or sacrifice them for effects like Sakura-Tribe Elder. Activate Thornling to give it Indestructible. Give it counters, use it to backup combo elements that just died, or whatever. The Necrotic Ooze is like a mirror — every Johnny looks at it and sees something different. (See also — Experiment Kraj or Master Transmuter)
Self-bouncing is fun! Who doesn’t like to play a self-bouncing engine like this, and then start bouncing your stuff back to your hand? Sure, at first it may sound like it works against the cause of winning. Timmy wants to smash! You can’t smash with something that you just bounced. But you can get that Pacifism off of it. You can pull off those -1/-1 counters it got after blocking a creature with Wither or Infect. You can reload and then play it again to give it a new slate of counters or to get another trigger from it. You can use it to switch zones so you can discard a card to the graveyard of a cool effect or to save it from removal. You can do all of that stuff and more. So from fun zero cost creatures (Kobolds of Kher Keep) to layering in new synergies with Vedalken Orrery, there is a load of synergy packed into this powerful artifact. Self bouncing indeed!
Survival of the Fittest is a quintessential Johnny card for a bunch of reasons. Sure, Spike might find a use for it as well, but at the end of the day, it’s a tool for Johnnies. It interacts with the whole deck, and requires careful deck-building. Johnnies have even been known to exploit the discard cost as a way to get a creature in the graveyard without being responded to. Take the card Volrath's Shapeshifter. It’s the top card of the graveyard, right? So you can discard a creature to Survival while paying its costs, change what the Shapeshifter is copying, and it doesn’t use the stack, and can’t be answered. That is a Johnny card. (See also, #7 above!)
Ah yes, the Lattice. The Mycosynth Lattice is one of the key combo cards in Magic’s history. One of the classic Johnny moves is to change the type of the card from one to another. Those changes create opportunities. In the early days of Magic, color changes were all over the place, as were hosers of various sorts, and you saw those changes heavily. I might use Sleight of Mind to change my Northern Paladin from destroying Black creatures to Green ones, as you are running a Green heavy deck. Or I could use Alchor's Tomb to modify my own colors to better play with my stuff or to dodge your color-based attacks. And giving the artifact type to something has always been a classic move, with a lot of built in synergies. From cards like Darksteel Forge to fun, color-free ways of playing your stuff, there’s no limit to the artifact shenanigans you can pull off. Mycosynth Lattice and friends are among the Johnniest cards and concepts out there!
3. Birthing Pod
Spikes like Birthing Pod because they like cheap things that play well in tournaments. And the Pyrexian Mana lets them play it more cheaply than normal. But the Pod is really a Johnny card that’s cheap enough for Spikes. Let me point out why. The restriction on what you can get (just the casting cost +1) means you have to carefully build your deck to actually use the Pod well. And that’s where a Johnny really shines, because they can have odd, unusual, and totally powerful cards and make them work very well in accord with other stuff out there. In the hands of a true Johnny, the Pod sings. It’s power is fully unlocked. See also cards like Hibernation's End, Wild Pair, and Protean Hulk, all of which have various effects that require a certain set of cards in the deck.
Ah yes, the Clone factory that is Kiki-Jiki. Because our good legendary Akki friend made it big in the tournament scene, Kiki-Jiki was one of the most popular entrants for casual mayhem. It can play so many roles in casual town, from tapping to make another enters-the-battlefield effects, to making a powerful beater, and creating a bunch of angles of combo killing fun times with cards like Restoration Angel and Sky Hussar. Obviously, the Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch became powerful combo cards and you’d see it with those, or alongside stuff like Splinter Twin. Decks that grab Kiki-Jiki with something like Chord of Calling or Tooth and Nail. And now Kiki-Jiki is arguably overplayed in most formats. But he’s still powerful, and that’s a clear fact.
1. Unusual and Forgotten Combo Engines
Johnnies hate treading the same path as others. They see Magic as a puzzle, and they are trying to assemble the pieces. I have to tell you, as a self-confessed Johnny myself, I hate doing the same thing everyone else does. If I’m forced to, I at least try to add my own spin to take ownership of the combo. Like many of my fellow Johnny players out there, I love finding and unearthing old and forgotten combo elements. Don’t forget how I proclaimed the value of Foster so much I created an entire series of articles called Foster and Friends (before it was reprinted). There are a lot of cards out there that linger forgotten. Five that jump to my mind are Wild Research, Holistic Wisdom, Enduring Renewal, Dross Scorpion and Blinkmoth Urn. When was the last time you saw someone run Spellbinder? What about Bloodbond March? Cream of the Crop? Impromptu Raid? You get the idea.
Johnnies of the world love cards that are unheard of, unappreciated, and unheralded. Forgotten to the depths of time no longer! Your Johnny brushes them off, and then gets them ready for rocking the block.
So the Johnniest card of all time? It’s the one about to get unleashed on you this week at Magic night!
Oh, and let’s give a honorable mention to cards like Sundial of the Infinite /Eon Hub or Deadeye Navigator, Celestial Dawn, Enchanted Evening, and Donate and . . . well, you get the idea. Johnny loves y’all.
So, here’s to all of the Johnnies out there, for always pushing to do something, new, different, and, most of all, special. Here’s to all off you for giving us that moment when it all comes together, and Magic truly sings. Thanks!