Recently, I got a chance to fulfill a Magic-related dream. Let me share this special moment with you, then explain how this is relevant to you.
I have a deck that I put together a very long time ago. There was a new creature ability called extort and it was perfect in a multiplayer environment. Pay an extra mana for a spell and everyone loses a life and you gain life equal to the life lost. This isn't news to most of you; extort is a great ability and regularly shows up in Orzhov deck-builds. I built a 60-card deck to abuse extort and it was fun. I even wrote about it almost seven years ago. The deck got a little repetitive since you were trying to cast Whitemane Lion again and again with the goal of winning by extorting everyone out of the game. The decklist was changed. Whitemane Lion came out and the deck shifted to something that still had plenty of extort creatures, but could do other things.
Then Elbrus, the Binding Blade was previewed. This card is just spectacular! One of my creatures stabs an opponent with it during combat. The blood that gets on the Blade releases the demon bound in the Blade! You then have a 13/13 with flying, intimidate, and trample, who gets bigger every time an opponent loses! Be still my multiplayer heart! When Withengar Unbound is around when an opponent is ground down, the demon doubles in size! A 26/26 will likely be able to kill the next opponent in one swing. The flavor is wonderful and the chance to plunge Elbrus, the Binding Blade deep between the shoulder blades of an opponent drew me in like a bug to a glowing blue electrical light. I added Elbrus to my extort deck and bided my time.
This is when all of you recognize the folly of a hopeless dreamer like me. For a 26/26 Withengar to actually swing at an opponent, a few things need to happen.
- I need to cast Elbrus, the Binding Blade. I'm not going to tutor for the card, so it just has to be drawn. Then I need at least seven mana to cast it. Sure, seven mana happens in a lot of multiplayer games, but usually not until the end stage of a game. At that point, do you want to spend seven mana for an artifact that may only offer a creature +1/+0?
- I need to equip the Blade to a creature. The cost is minimal, but it isn't the cost that is the issue here, it is the creature. You need a creature that can actually hit an opponent. A host of token creatures probably aren't going to get the job done. In fact, there will be a limited number of creatures that could get the job done considering everyone should have some pretty significant defenses up by that point in the game.
- I need to do combat damage with that creature. You can't just tap to do a point of damage. You can't Fling the creature. Your opponent can see it coming. If they have any way to stop it, they will. In fact, every opponent will try and stop you because they all know the nightmare that will be coming.
- I need to attack with Withengar Unbound. Your combat step is over so that means you'll be waiting until your next turn. You'll notice that Withengar doesn't have hexproof or indestructible. Targeted removal can take this Demon down.
These are a LOT of hoops to jump through and I decided right away that I wasn't going to change the deck to make it more likely to happen. Adding resources to this pipe dream felt like wasting even more resources, so I decided to just put it into the deck and see what happened.
For the last six years, it went as you would expect. In most games, I never drew it. When I did draw it, I only played it a handful of times. The artifact was countered or destroyed most of the times it did show up. I managed to equip a couple of times, only to see the creature die to removal or in combat. One time I finally managed to do combat damage with a creature holding Elbrus, and it finally transformed! It even got to attack an opponent who promptly played Swords to Plowshares. That would be the closest I ever got to the dream.
Until just last night.
The game was rolling along nicely, and Elbrus was in my hand, but I hadn't given it a second thought. I didn't have enough mana to cast it so I was working with smaller creatures and trying to stay alive to build my mana base. I also had Sun Titan and a couple of Kingpin's Pets in hand, so I was trying to work out a way to loop the Pets. Elbrus just wasn't a consideration.
Just as I drew my seventh mana source, the battlefield was wiped by an opponent. I played a Kingpin's Pet from my hand and had some early defense. Everyone else took their turn and no one had a flying creature by the time my turn came around. I could play Elbrus, then the next turn I could equip it and swing! Well, I'd done that dance before and Elbrus would likely be destroyed right away, so I decided that I would wait until I had an eighth mana to equip with immediately. On my next draw, a Plains showed up in my hand. It was a sign and I went for it.
I played the Plains and put our Elbrus, the Binding Blade. I asked if anyone wanted to counter it, and everyone was silent.
I equipped it and asked if anyone was going to kill the Kingpin's Pet in response.
I looked at my four opponents and chose Josh, who was tapped out, as my target. He took the three damage and Withengar Unbound emerged from the Blade!
I said go and waited to see what would happen. I watched as player after player played out their turn, and passed. No wrath, no removal. Then it was my turn. I was going to get to attack!
Everyone was above thirteen life, so I chose what seemed like the best target (Will) and swung. He took it like a champ and dropped below thirteen life. I passed the turn and waited. My opponents smelled blood in the water and Will was eliminated before I had the chance to swing again. However, Withengar doesn't need to do the damage when someone dies, the demon just needs to be there. Just like that I was sitting with a 26/26 creature, deciding which of my opponents to attack next turn, as everyone was below 26 life. I swung and took out Andy, and now Withengar was a 39/39 and the very definition of overkill. Josh finally drew Journey to Nowhere and Withengar was banished, but the deed had been done. Withengar had counters and took out an opponent! It was a great night of Magic!
The whole point of this is to stress the joy of deck-building. It is very easy to get locked into building the optimal deck. Do you have enough card draw? Do you have enough mana ramp? Is your removal package big enough to handle the expected issues? These are all very important considerations. Failing to consider them means that your deck won't even get off the platform. But remember why you are playing! Winning is great, but the experiences you can enjoy are worth far more. I'll remember Withengar Unbound far longer than I will who won the game.
When considering all of the usual questions, start asking yourself what you are putting in your Dream slot. Even just a couple of cards that swing for the fences. Cards that will only really work when Magical Christmas Land lines up. Sure, most of the time they aren't going to cut it, but that one time when it does will be glorious! It will be that moment when everyone in the room will lift you up on their shoulders and parade you around triumphantly, celebrating this crazy moment. Do you really want to give that up for the 63rd best card in your deck? Do you really want to give that up to get that extra 0.05% bump on your consistency?
What is my next Dream moment? I'm running a single copy of Persistent Petitioners in my Brudiclad deck. Someday the stars will align and I'll have a token copy of the Petitioners and all of my tokens will become Persistent Petitioners, and I'll mill someone out of the game from out of nowhere. It may never happen, but the Petitioners are there, waiting for their moment! If you can't take your chance at living the dream when playing a fun card game, when will you?
Take your shot! Live the dream!