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Hydro Versus Pyro

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Why don’t cryomancers get any love?

Magic is full of pyromancy, flame, incineration, and blaze, but there are very few cards that directly represent ice and icy beings. However, perhaps even more importantly (Fire // Ice notwithstanding), is water.

Fire // Ice
Fire and water are two diametrically opposed elements in the spectrum of earth, fire, wind, and water. Richard Garfield, PhD gave a nod to these elements by ensuring each had a home in one of his five colors (fire and earth are red; air and water are blue), but the colors of Magic play in mostly different space than the elements, and by and large, Magic doesn’t really put much emphasis on these primal forces. (Yes, fire, we see you’re all prominent-like, but earth, air, and water are starting to feel neglected.)

That’s not to say these elements don’t have a bit of space in Magic expansion sets, but it’s nowhere the space of fire. Have you ever tried to build a geomancer deck? Neither have I, but Koth of the Hammer is rightly disappointed. Earth Servant, Earthquake, and Spitting Earth are all reasonable. Greater Stone Spirit and Jaws of Stone are pretty good, and I guess you could delve into the old Flowstone stuff. And how about that Stonehands?

I think a lot of the problem comes in that fire is just so easy to use for burn spells—it’s basically fire and lightning. (Hmm, interesting. Ever heard of Premium Deck Series: Fire & Lightning?) Contrariwise, blue has a ton going for it other than its measly elemental components. It has card-draw, Djinns, Spirits, artifacts, æther, Shapeshifters, and so on to worry about. And what is an air spell supposed to do? How about a water spell? Do they just tap things? What does ice do other than freeze stuff?

It’s easy to see why Wizards of the Coast sends us all this fire stuff when direct-damage spells are already known as “burn.”

But today, I want to play to the struggle between the two iconic elements with a Duel Decks of my own design: Water vs. Fire.

So, there’s the water deck I came up with. Note that when I say “water,” I’m not talking about Aquaman summoning the bests of the sea. There are no Giant Sharks, Coral Reefs, Island Fish Jasconiuses, or Lorthos, the Tidemakers in this deck. Think more of the Spider-Man villain Hydro Man or of waterbenders from Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you could create and shape water, what Magic: The Gathering spells would you have access to?

Tidal Wave
There just aren’t many great options, but I tried to put together something passable for a Duel Decks product, and I think it works. Aquamorph Entity, Fathom Seer, and Brine Elemental all seem to be composed of water, so they’re okay, and even cooler is that they have morph. Originally—and even in the artwork of these cards—Ixidor’s morph creatures were strange, spidery things, but I imagine that the morph creatures summoned by the hydromancer who is this deck’s wielder are amorphous globules of water until they take shape in their face-up forms.

I fudged a little with a few cards, which I was avoiding, but I wanted to make sure the deck had cool cards and was playable. Griptide and Devastation Tide seem to be playing with ætheric magic despite their aquatic trappings, and Sea Spirit and Rushing-Tide Zubera are Spirits despite their watery appearances. Blizzard Elemental treads into the domain of ice, and Quicksilver Gargantuan is from Mirrodin’s metallic sea—though it is a sea nonetheless. Dark Depths really has nothing to do with hydromancy, but who knows what secrets a wayward wizard could uncover while studying the aquatic arts? (Yes, I know Marit Lage is in a glacier; get off my back!)

This deck’s game plan is to stall as long as possible, using your watery powers to tap things, bounce things, and throw crashing Tidal Waves at the opponent’s creatures. Once the opponent has burned himself or herself out, clean up with a 5/1 Aquamorph, an unstoppable Blizzard, or a 7/7 aquatic Shapeshifter.

In my opinion, pyromancers are a bit played out. They even have an Ascension. (Pyromancer Ascension is among my favorite cards, but still . . . )

Fireball
Nonetheless, fire is the perfect enemy for water, and so here we are. The real challenge here wasn’t finding a list of playable fire cards (as it was with water), but rather, it’s paring down the list to something that would be fair to play against the water deck. As with water, the restriction stands that only the pure element is allowed. Therefore, there’s no ash, lava, cinder, scoria, or firebreathing creatures (unless said creatures are either also composed of fire or enchanted by Fiery Mantle).

As it turns out, there are a lot of firecats. Once I realized the number of Cats that were present, I looked for a way to make the tribal theme a mechanical one, but the best options were Adaptive Automaton and Coat of Arms (both of which play nicely with Firecat Blitz), but I felt that they push the theme out of bounds too far. It’s too bad there’s no firecat lord.

The plethora of fire-based Magic: The Gathering cards meant I didn’t have to fudge much here, but Heat Shimmer I suppose could be blurring the line. It’s “heat” instead of “fire,” although I think I would have accepted Heat Ray without question. The problem, similar to Griptide and Devastation Tide above, is that it’s flavorfully doing something that fire couldn’t really do. I suppose an adept pyromancer could shape a fiery simulacrum of anything, so maybe that’s a good excuse. The only other blur of the line is Quest for Pure Flame. It’s not a fire spell, but hey, who can’t go on a quest?

The game plan, of course, is to beat in with a bunch of blazing, high-powered creatures, burn away attacks, and send extra burn to the opposing hydromancer’s face. Braid of Fire is a cool enchantment that builds up the heat over time and generates mana that can be used for instant burn and for pumping up firebreathing for Fiery Mantle and Flame Spirit. I think the dream here is a late-game, Braid of Fire–fueled Ghitu Fire for the win. Also playing to the build-up-the-heat plan are Pardic Firecat and Flame Burst.

Elemental Clash

What good are Duel Decks if they don’t duel? I decided to become the hydromancer and square off against the heat.

Game 1

Dark Depths
I won the roll and started off with an Island and then a Halimar Depths. My opponent led with Mountains, and when I cast a turn-three Watercourser, it met a turn-three Flame Slash from a missed-a-land-drop opponent. I played Dark Depths, my opponent Flame Bursted me on its turn, and I removed an ice counter from Dark Depths at the end of its turn.

I passed after playing another Island, my opponent played a Braid of Fire but still no third land, and I played a fifth mana-producing land and cast Sea Spirit. It ate a second Flame Burst with a bit of Braid of Fire mana in the upkeep, but my opponent had no other play.

I played a sixth mana-producing land and passed, my opponent passed back, and I forgot to remove 2 ice counters. Despite my spells, I simply passed again, seeing whether I could make a 20/20 before my opponent played a third land. The turns passed in that fashion for a couple cycles until I had my Marit Lage token and subsequently attacked for 20.

Game 2

In the next game, my pyromancer opponent went first. Mountains and Islands faced off against each other on the battlefield until my opponent played a Chandra's Spitfire and I played a Watercourser. It ate a Flame Javelin, though, and I took 1 from the attack.

I played another Watercourser, which was Pyroblasted, and I took another 1. I cast a Hydromorph Gull, hoping the pyromancer would be out of burn for one of my few flyers, and it seemed he was, as the opponent Heat Shimmered it, and I took 3.

Hydromorph Gull
This time, I attacked with my Gull, and I cast a face-down Aquamorph Entity, leaving three Islands untapped for in-response transformations. A misclick, however, (did I mention I was playing against an AI opponent?) meant my morph died to a Flame Burst. The opponent cast Quest for Pure Flame, I took 1 from the Spitfire, and the Quest gained a counter.

I attacked with the Gull again, putting my opponent to 14, and played a freshly-drawn Dark Depths. I took another 1, the Quest gained a counter, and my opponent cast Flame Elemental. I removed 2 ice counters and drew another Island, allowing me to Griptide the Flame Elemental while keeping 3 mana available for another Dark Depths counter removal.

I attacked my opponent down to 11, took 1, dropping to 12, and the Quest went up to 3. My opponent cast Scorchwalker, and I removed an ice counter. I played Halimar Depths and attacked with the Gull. My opponent attacked with Chandra's Spitfire and Scorchwalker, and I summoned a Tidal Wave to jump in the way of the bloodrushing Elemental. The Quest for Pure Flame went to 4, and my opponent recast its Flame Elemental. I removed an ice counter at the end of its turn.

I Hydroblasted the Elemental and attacked my opponent down to 5. It put a Fiery Mantle on Chandra's Spitfire, firebreathed a bit, and attacked for 3, putting me to 8. I removed 2 more ice counters end of turn and then attacked for 3 again.

It was then when the computer froze up, apparently trying to decide what to do. Pumping up the Spitfire with five Mountains and doubling its damage with Quest for Pure Flame could have meant victory that turn—except for the Hydrosurge I was holding. I’m not sure what else the computer had in its hand, but I’m pretty sure I had that one.

Game 3 – the Swap

Fiery Mantle
This time, I decided to try the fire deck, and I led off with a Braid of Fire. The computer, in its infinite wisdom, cast Gush with the alternate casting cost as soon as it had two Islands. It discarded Moonring Island, Island, and Devastation Tide.

Keeping with the fire deck’s mana-screwed trend, I didn’t play a fourth land, and I passed back. Again with the infinite wisdom, the computer played a face-up Fathom Seer. I hit a Chandra's Spitfire and cast it, and at the end of my turn, the computer returned a land to its hand in order to cast Tidal Bore, tapping my Spitfire.

The Fathom Seer attacked, and I took 1. I drew a fourth Mountain and played it, and I attacked for 1 with my Spitfire. On its turn, the computer cast Rushing River to return my creature to my hand. Fathom Seer attacked for 1 again, and I took it again.

I recast Chandra's Spitfire and passed back. The computer cast a morph and attacked with Fathom Seer; this time, I blocked with the Spitfire. I drew Fiery Mantle, enchanted my Spitfire, pumped it a couple times, and attacked for 3, putting the computer at 16 to my 18.

The computer morphed up Aquamorph Entity as a 5/1 during its upkeep and subsequently attacked for 6, dropping me to 12. During my upkeep, I spent 7 mana from Braid of Fire to firebreathe my Chandra's Spitfire. I drew a perfectly-timed Mountain, played it, Heat Shimmered my Spitfire, Searing Blazed my opponent and its Aquamorph for 3 each, triggered the Spitfires, and attacked for 15. That’s how this deck—and Braid of Fire—is supposed to work!

Canceling Out

Okay, so maybe this computer was not the best of opponents, but I was able to see how the water and fire decks played against each other. It felt weird that water creatures could die to fire and that all the firecats weren’t just extinguished by the water Elementals, so maybe this thought experiment in flavor wasn’t super-successful, but I still enjoyed the premise. I also think the decks could be pretty fairly matched with competent players—just don’t Gush and Tidal Bore away all your own lands.

Andrew Wilson

@Silent7Seven

fissionessence at hotmail dot com


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