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Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North
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The Hornet Sting K.O.

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Last time, I discussed the idea of not always playing the optimal card choices because I like to make things a little more interesting. Well, let’s take a look at a decklist.

Now, there’s a lot going on with this decklist, but a lot of that is not what we’re here for today. But if you looked closely, something might have stood out to you. Well, something should have; I gave five cards their own little subheading. Check out this gang:

Dragonstorm
Bogardan Hellkite
Worldgorger Dragon
Changeling Titan
Changeling Berserker

When I first built my Maelstrom Wanderer deck, it seemed a little durdley. I wanted to add something to the deck that would reward me for just playing a sequence such as Gruul Signet, Explore, Ponder, storm spell. A Brain Freeze or Tendrils of Corruption—while popular storm-based win conditions in other formats—wouldn’t be particularly potent in a deck trying to be somewhat fair (read: not playing Ad Nauseam), and a Hunting Pack—which the decklist does include—would be fun but not quite game-ending with a storm count of only four or so, but a Dragonstorm with the right collection of Dragons in the deck could serve as a way for the deck to win without an explosive start or massive incremental advantage (other than land count).

Plus, using Changelings as Dragons seemed silly and fun. The combo satisfies a Johnny impulse I didn’t know I had: Making both the changeling keyword and the champion keyword relevant to a single combo is pretty neat.

Maelstrom Wanderer
The combo? Oh, right. Let’s take a look. So, we Dragonstorm with at least three spells previously cast in the turn, right? The first copy to resolve finds us a Bogardan Hellkite. Let’s deal 5 to someone or to his Platinum Angel. The second copy to resolve is a Worldgorger Dragon. That guy—who used to be Commander-banned but is no longer—exiles all of our other permanents . . . but not our spells on the stack. The next Dragonstorm copy resolves, and we fetch a Changeling with champion a creature. Champion the Worldgorger Dragon, which exiles it, which returns all of our other permanents, which means Bogardan Hellkite deals 5 damage again. Finally, let the Dragonstorm resolve, and fetch the other Changeling. Champion the first Changeling. That returns the Worldgorger Dragon, which exiles all of our other permanents, which means the new Changeling is exiled, which means the original Changeling returns. Have it champion the Worldgorger Dragon, which means everything else returns, including the Hellkite—to deal 5 damage again—and the second Changeling—which can again champion the original Changeling and repeat this process.

Instant-speed removal pretty much means you lose the game, but otherwise, you win the game. In addition to dealing as much damage with Bogardan Hellkite as you want, you reiterate all of your other enters-the-battlefield triggers and can generate infinite mana (because your lands keep entering the battlefield untapped). If you want to do something other than turn your opponents to cinders with the Hellkite, just champion a creature other than the ones specified above to break the loop. You can also manually assemble the combo without Dragonstorm, and if you have the Dragonstorm but one or more pieces is in your graveyard, Elixir of Immortality can fix that.

Now, as it turns out, this deck is not super-durdley, and it does not need a one-card-infinite-combo win condition to be good. It can start out slow, but it’s always drawing cards and ramping, and casting Maelstrom Wanderer twice in one turn off a Crystal Shard and then casting Early Harvest followed by a Hunting Pack can mean good game (note the hastiness of the Beasts thanks to your Elemental commander). Omniscience, Praetor's Counsel, and Mind's Desire are all powerhouses as well.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is: I need to make this deck worse. I’m going to cut the previous five cards and replace them with the following five cards. Let’s take a look at the new plan.

Firemind's Foresight
Illusion // Reality
Hornet Sting
Rite of Replication
Fire Servant

I just replaced a one-card combo with a four-card combo. Here’s how it works:

First, cast a kicked Rite of Replication on your Fire Servant. You now have six Fire Servants. What would be good now? A Lightning Bolt. A Lightning Bolt for 192. That’s what would be good.

Spark Spray
But that’s not what I want to do. Let’s cast a Hornet Sting for 64 instead. Hornet Sting has become quite infamous since its printing in Magic 2011 for being an egregious stretching—or breaking—of the color pie. It’s also a little silly. Scourge’s Spark Spray is a red, strictly better version in that it has cycling, and green is certainly not known for its direct damage. That’s why opponents won’t mind when you knock them out with a single 1-mana spell.

Would you prefer a single card resulting in five minutes of an infinite trigger loop or a single bad card amped up to 64?

Unfortunately for us, Fire Servant has a pesky qualifier on the types of spells it can enhance, which means we’ll have to use a little Illusion—of Illusion // Reality fame. By making the spell red before it resolves, our six Fire Servants will do their work. When the Hornet Sting is resolving, the first will double it to 2, the second will double that to 4, the third will double that to 8, and so on, until we end up at 64. If we happen to lose a Servant somewhere in the middle, it’s at least 32, which should be enough later in a Commander game, and if it’s a sixty-card game, 32 should be plenty, and even 16 could be enough.

Argivian Archaeologist
Fortunately for us, Illusion // Reality can be useful at other points in the game for its Reality side, and if you happen to have a chance to Illusion a Blasphemous Act—so it kills some creatures with protection from red—or an Olivia Voldaren so she dies to her controller’s own Reiver Demon—all the better. Hornet Sting will occasionally be useful to kill off a Rhys the Redeemed, an Argivian Archaeologist, or a freshly cast Animar, Soul of Elements, but Fire Servant is actually the odd man out here for being a textless 4/3 for 5 mana when you’re not using it for the combo (though I guess he does some work with the one Earthquake). If the deck had some more red burn spells, that could be a little different, and it might be a good idea to add some, especially at the 2-mana spot. That’s because of the new Return to Ravnica card that can pull some of the combo together: Firemind's Foresight. The only card in the above list that the Foresight can find at 2 is Reverberate, and unfortunately, it doesn’t work great with the combo—if you Reverberate a Hornet Sting, it will be green even if the copied version was red due to an Illusion—so having some other options could be nice. However, Firemind's Foresight can find Hornet Sting at 1 and Illusion // Reality as either the 1 or 3 (because of crazy split card technology!).

The alternative to making Hornet Sting red is to change Fire Servant’s text to say “green” with something such as Glamerdye. The problem is that the copies of Servant won’t share the text changing, so unless you want to Radiate a Crystal Spray, I’d stick with the Illusion // Reality plan.

Before I go, let’s see what a sixty-card deck built around this plan might look like.

For now and for some indeterminate time further into the future, I’m Andrew saying, “Fire hornets sting the hardest.”

Andrew Wilson

@Silent7Seven

fissionessence at hotmail dot com