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Being a Good Host


I am an unabashed casual player. I don't apologize for loving all things casual. This often means that I go beyond what is "acceptable" to others. Sometimes that means using a card from the Commander banned list in a Commander deck. Other times it means throwing a silver-bordered holiday card into a deck.

Part of the reason I get away with these crazy moves is a tolerant play group. My group has very much embraced the Social Contract, without anyone ever really talking about the Social Contract. The idea that we all build decks that aim to create a fun game experience for everyone is something we all strive for and we have never really had to have a talk about it.

Each of us, somewhere along the way, has probably built a deck that was just a little too much. Perhaps it was too powerful, or proved to be a little unfun for the rest of the players. Each of us has come to recognize that deck as such and the deck was then adjusted or deconstructed to ensure everyone was having a good time. None of us get much time to play Magic, so spending an hour getting beat over the head by an unfun deck is just something we don't do.

Given that attitude in the group, when I asked if anyone minded me playing a deck with some Un- cards, everyone just smiled and encouraged me to bring it out! It didn't hurt that we had decided to add Planechase cards for this game, so everyone knew that the game was going to be more chaotic than normal!

For those of you that haven't had the joy of playing a game with Planechase cards added, let me give you a quick and dirty summary. Planechase cards are oversized Magic cards that we pile in the middle of the table. Once everyone has settled on their opening hand, the player going first flips the top Planechase card in the deck and we follow the rules. Planechase cards tend to change something about the game state. Some do damage, some allow you to draw more cards, and some give you free mana. If you want to leave the plane, you roll a six-sided Planar die. You have a one in six chance of sending everyone to a new plane. Since the cards are all face down in the center, you may be going to a better place or a worse one! This adds some serious chaos to your games!

When my first play was Exploration and the plane we were on, Stairs to Infinity, allowed us to draw extra cards and have no maximum hand size, I was excited to see all the insanity that I was going to be able to achieve. After each of us had drawn several extra cards, and I had played two lands for each of the last three turns, I played Land Aid '04 and chose to sing this particular song. Be warned, it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day!

With all these lands in play, the cards started to tumble from my hand. But what was actually in the deck you ask? Given that our Magic nights are at my house, it is important that I be, a good host.

History of the Build

This deck came from a desire to build a Dr. Julius Jumblemorph Commander deck. I knew I wanted to build around the host mechanic but it was clear pretty early on that there wasn't enough there to make that happen. Even including every card with host or augment in Green and White still left me with so many empty spots in the deck that it just didn't seem worth the trouble. I looked at building a deck using the fact that Jumblemorph is every creature type, but that was going to end up a Voltron deck. That may still happen in the future, but at that point, I really wanted to build around host.

When I shifted to a 60 card deck, things got a lot better. The deck was really starting to come together, but there were some serious holes. Card draw was very weak and the deck seemed to be lacking the wackiness I want from a deck that is loaded with silver-bordered goodness. I decided it was time to branch into another color.

I had discovered that the deck's mana base was amazing (more on that in a bit), so I considered a five-color build. I started looking at the host/augment cards across all five colors and the colorless options. That was when I discovered the limitations with the ability. Each color's host creatures essentially only do things that the color already does really well. Green has ramp and ways to make creatures bigger. White bounces and gains life. Black destroys creatures. Red attacks well and destroys artifacts. Blue draws cards and mills. Now, because this is Unstable, they do these things is crazy ways that can involve dice and a variety of strategies, so it is still weird, but it means that if you are looking to put together a host and augment to say, do something bizarre on every upkeep, you probably aren't going to find it.

I didn't want to run a deck that was just going to draw cards to get more mana to kill a creature or artifact that swings with 5/5 creatures that can fly. That's fine, but I wanted more crazy. I opted to add one color and expand into other areas of Unstable within those colors. I knew Green and White were in, and it didn't take long to decide on Blue as the third. I have plenty of decks that already run Black and Red, so I decided to leave them on the bench. At that point the deck choices were easy for me. It was just a matter of how many of each card to run.

The Cards Themselves

Wild Crocodile: this is the best card in the deck and it isn't even close. If I draw an opening hand with two land and a Wild Crocodile, I know I am good to go. The Croc guarantees I hit my 3-drop and the likelihood of hitting a 4-drop is very good. I'm drawing that many times, and the deck offers plenty of ways to have Wild Crocodile activate again. The Wild Crocodile is the reason I would be willing to have a five-color deck. The lands for this deck are four Seaside Citadel and basic lands because the Wild Crocodile is just that good. I've played several games with the deck and goldfished at least 20 more. I have never been mana-screwed. He is so good I went from my usual 24 lands down to 22. I know you are still reluctant. Hang in there for a minute.

Ordinary Pony: Ordinary Pony works with every creature that has an enter the battlefield trigger. That means it works with every host creature that isn't augmented, and every Black creature I've added to the deck. Often the first creature I flicker with Ordinary Pony is Wild Crocodile to find another land. Sun Titan, Acidic Slime, and Mer Man all love this card. Once the Ordinary Pony is on the battlefield, it is usually the first creature I try to augment. Getting the Pony to repeatedly bounce another creature just makes this deck take off!

Serpentine: Serpentine on Ordinary Pony or Wild Crocodile means that when you play your land for the turn, you either get another land or bounce Wild Crocodile and get another land. Either way, it means that you are guaranteed to hit your land drop every single turn. Serpentine locks up any land concerns you have. Some of you have noticed that this isn't really ramp. Everything here means that I get a land drop every turn, which is great, but you often have games where you want more than that. I will say that getting a land every turn in a game that lasts 15 turns alleviates a lot of concerns about ramp. You don't grow superfast and draw attention to yourself. Everyone sees a Serpentine Pony or and just thinks that is cool, but not a threat the way an Eldrazi or 20 token creatures is a threat. However, if you insist on ramp...

Land Aid '04 and Exploration: I've already mentioned Land Aid. I have no shame so the card has no drawback. Exploration lets me play an extra land on my turns. With Serpentine Crocodile around I'll always have a land in my hand, so I'll get two lands every single turn! How's that for ramp!

Dr. Julius Jumblemorph / Clever Combo: these cards are basically search engines to find whatever I need. I didn't buy a single card for this deck, using just the cards I had from the box of Unstable that I opened and some other cards that were gifted to me by a friend who knows my love of silver bordered cards. This means that I have only one Serpentine in a deck that should probably have more.

Magic Word: This is better than Arrest because you have the option of letting your opponent attack or block with the card if you want. It also gives you the opportunity to keep inside jokes in your group going, say absolutely ridiculous, lascivious, or insulting things to your opponent. Whatever works for you!

Vedalken Orrery: It took a couple of games to put the Orrery in, but once I realized that Augment creatures are also creatures, it was an easy decision. Some of the Augment cards can be pricey so being able to hold up mana until an opponent's end of turn, or threaten to augment a creature after they have declared attackers opens up a whole new level for the way the deck plays.

Granny's Payback: This card may be getting the cut. As someone in his forties, this card can take me from the brink to a power position in the game. However, that has been the problem. I've played it once and was immediately pummeled back down to a low life total. It did more for other opponents than it did for me.

Animate Library: For my friends, this has become what this deck is all about. It regularly comes into play as a 30/30 or more and is just so bizarre that it is very memorable! The downside for me is that it is basically a nonbo with the rest of the deck. If you bounce your library, the enchantment comes off, so it stops being a creature. You can't augment it and I don't really have any way to give it evasion, so most times it is attacking into a 1/1 token. I suspect that this belongs in a different deck that can protect it and give it evasion. In the right deck, this could be a card as feared as Blightsteel Colossus. In this deck, it is a bizarre cool creature.

Back to the Game

So what happened? A Serpentine Crocodile brought my land count to over 15 in short order. I animated my library at least three times and someone else managed to steal the card from my graveyard and animate their library. Luminate Primordial acted as a quasi-Wrath as it was bounced by a Half Shark Half-Pony to take out two of each of my opponent's creatures. I took out a couple of opponents with my eclectic selection of creatures before I was eliminated.

The deck has won more often than it has lost, and it could definitely be tuned further. For now, I'll look for even more bizarre interactions to add to the deck and see if I can make it more unstable!

Bruce Richard