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Combined and Doubled

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In this experiment, we count on our leader to turn tiny progress into evolutionary victory.

A few weeks ago, I wrote back-to-back Tiny Leaders articles—new formats are always exciting to deck-builders because it gives us new space to explore. Playing with counters is well-trodden territory, but because the number of 3-or-less-mana legendary creatures is much smaller than the number of legendary creatures in general, the quirkier options that remain available become even quirkier.

Vorel of the Hull Clade

And Vorel of the Hull Clade certainly seems to be a quirkier option. Unfortunately, this Human Merfolk only doubles the counters of artifacts, creatures, or lands, so cards such as Jace Beleren, Archmage Ascension, Beastmaster Ascension, and even Iceberg won’t synergize with him. However, there are still plenty of options for this champion of the Simic Combine to play with.

Creatures with Counters

The more counters we can have on a single permanent the better, as Vorel’s doubling superpower will be more and more effective for each one. Doubling the counters on a Simic Initiate, for example, is nowhere near as exciting as doubling the counters on a kicked Kavu Titan or an X-equals-6 Vastwood Hydra. Let’s take a look at some of the creatures I went with.

Cloudfin Raptor and Experiment One These two evolving 1-drops have high potential for building their own counters. Sure, they don’t come with any, but the deck has several options for adding counters on turn two, especially in the case of Cloudfin Raptor. Cloudfin Raptor could already become quite large in Gatecrash Limited, and with Vorel showing up on the battlefield consistently for us, we can turn its 4/5 body into an 8/9 flyer more often than our opponents might like.

Cloudfin Raptor
Experiment One
Scute Mob

Scute Mob Our other 1-drop creature, oddly, is kind of a late-game card, though it can chump-block or sneak in 1-point swings in a pinch. Once we reach the requisite number of lands, however, Vorel can turn its 4 counters into 8, its 12 counters into 24, and . . . well, that should be enough.

Epochrasite This 1/1 is less impressive than Scute Mob at 2 mana rather than 1, and it comes with fewer counters. However, it just keeps coming back, and our opponents will be even more reluctant to kill it than players normally are, as they’ll know that its return means not only the 3 +1/+1 counters, but potentially plenty more with Vorel.

Ludevic's Test Subject My search for eligible Tiny Leaders cards with counters yielded this guy, who is a very interesting option. Its 0/3 body isn’t impressive for 2, and it only needs 5 counters to transform, so Vorel’s ability isn’t super-useful here—especially since we have to actually use the Test Subject’s activated ability to transform with the fifth counter. We can save 1 mana from the whole 10-mana process by using Vorel to jump from 2 to 4 hatchling counters, but I think this card is fun, and a 13/13 with trample seems good.

Epochrasite
Ludevic's Abomination
Quirion Dryad

Quirion Dryad This is among my favorite cards, and it’s one I always try to find places to play. It used to be stronger than it is nowadays, relative to formats and newer cards and so on, but it still has the ability to rack up plenty of +1/+1 counters for doubling.

Thrummingbird With most of our creatures bringing their own counters to the battlefield, this Bird Horror brings the ability to Thrive them all every turn. If we somehow sneak a counter onto the Bird, it will even start growing itself, revealing the true theme of this deck: With a little advantage and a little time, we’ll grow to Mythic Proportions.

Hooded Hydra, Primordial Hydra, and Vastwood Hydra Spells with X in their costs are the Cheatyfaces of Tiny Leaders, as they have the required converted mana costs while in players’ libraries and hands—but they rarely do while actually on the stack. Nonetheless, Hydras are often the sources of the most counters, which means we’ll need a few for our counter-doubling theme deck.

Thrummingbird
Hooded Hydra
Vastwood Hydra

Double the Counters

As I mentioned before, we want to maximize our doubling by having a lot of counters on individual permanents. That means such a permanent is more attractive to opposing removal spells, and we don’t want to put too many eggs in one basket, but there are some solid counter-granting cards that we should be able to leverage while also setting up for Vorel.

Burst of Strength There are several 1-mana spells that grant individual +1/+1 counters, but I decided to only play one, and this seems to be the strongest. We can use this as a trick in combat, and we can even use it to sneak in an extra Vorel activation by untapping him.

Hardened Scales This seems like a no-brainer. Every time we double, we’ll gain an extra counter, and when most other things happen in our deck, we’ll gain an extra counter then as well. Every evolution, proliferation, graft, and so on, is amplified for only a one-time, 1-mana investment.

Burst of Strength
Hardened Scales
Hunger of the Howlpack

Hunger of the Howlpack Okay, so this spell can technically be another in the Burst of Strength category of being a 1-mana spell that grants 1 counter. But I like to think of this more as a permanent Giant Growth that Vorel can double whenever he wants. Its nonmorbid mode is pretty tame, but its morbid mode is ferocious.

Ordeal of Nylea and Ordeal of Thassa These were both solid in Theros Limited, primarily with heroic creatures. We don’t have any of those here, but the potential for multiple counters works well with Vorel, and the potential to trigger the powers immediately works well in general.

Ordeal of Nylea
Ordeal of Thassa
Ring of Evos Isle

Ring of Evos Isle Ring of Kalonia is tempting as well, but I had to make some tough cuts. The blue-aligned ring of the cycle, Ring of Evos Isle, will grow many of our creatures, including Vorel of the Hull Clade, while giving us the potential to protect him from removal.

Lotus Blossom I want to have at least one artifact in the deck to double counters for, and this one seems to offer a lot of potential for huge Hydras. We’ll want to play it early, and we have to hope to have time to make use of it—and doubling the mana it makes before we play a Hydra is basically the same as doubling the counters on the Hydra after we cast it, but why not do both? The runner-up artifact was Banshee's Blade because it builds counters on itself as an Equipment, thus reducing our eggs-in-one-basket syndrome, but it’s pretty slow to get started.

Steady Progress Oh, I so wish I could play Tezzeret's Gambit here, but that pesky Phyrexian mana still counts toward the converted mana cost. At least this one’s instant speed, and giving all our creatures a permanent +1/+1 while drawing a card seems quite reasonable for a combat trick.

Lotus Blossom
Steady Progress
Minamo, School at Water's Edge

Minamo, School at Water's Edge I often leave lands unmentioned, even when they provide additional synergy with the decks I write about, but Minamo seems very useful with a commander who has a tap-to-activate ability. Engaging in such shenanigans, however, a bit mana-intensive.

If you want to evolve, if you need to graft onto something, or if you just want your scales hardened, give this deck a try.

Andrew Wilson

@Silent7Seven

fissionessence at hotmail dot com


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