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The One Perfect Card

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We’ve all had moments like this.

You’ve played a couple of games with your new deck. It’s so close to perfect—it’s just missing that one card. You know exactly what effect you need. You’ve started scouring your collection and Gatherer, and you’ve been searching for similar decks from past formats to figure out just what that missing card might be. You’re at your wit’s end trying to figure out what fits in to those last few slots. Sometimes, that effect just doesn’t exist, and the project is shelved or reworked. Sometimes, you settle for something that’s close enough. Occasionally, there is a revelation.

Those moments are the reason I play Magic: the moments when all the pieces fall into place, and you stumble into the perfect card or interaction for your pet deck-building project. For me, these moments of inspiration have always felt like level-ups, as though I’ve just identified something unique and important about a particular card or deck and that I understand it on a more meaningful level. Often, these lessons would apply either directly or indirectly to improving other decks and projects—an awesome bonus!

Most examples I have of moments when everything came together are small: the first time I understood that Harrow both fixed my mana and set up threshold; the first time I drafted Eternal Witness and Crystal Shard; the first time I returned Nim Deathmantle to play with Sun Titan; Prismatic Omen plus Emeria, the Sky Ruin; Disciple of Bolas plus Child of Alara or Grimgrin, Corpse-Born. It always seems so obvious in retrospect, but those moments were certainly pivotal in my development as a deck-builder. This week marked the most recent revelation, and I want to take this opportunity to share how a small discovery can have large consequences for a broad range of decks. So what’s the card in question?

Read the Runes

This seems to be such a small effect. It’s certainly replaceable, right? After all, it’s just an inefficient filtering effect that’s definitely worse than cards like Sphinx's Revelation or Blue Sun's Zenith—at least in some circumstances. Context is everything, though, and a card that has very little value in most circumstances can very easily turn into an absolute all-star in others. Earlier this week, I had no idea this card existed. Now it’s in every blue deck I have built. Here’s how that happened.

Ephara Draw-Go ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez

  • Commander (0)

This is my Draw-Go Ephara deck I’ve written about previously. The deck has changed a reasonable amount since I last wrote about it, but the core game plan is the same. You’re trying to cheat extra lands into play using Surveyor's Scope, Faith's Reward, Second Sunrise, and various fetch lands. Sometimes, you are able to dump a bunch of lands into play with Planar Birth instead after pitching them to Compulsion or discarding to hand size with Compulsion. Regardless, you leverage that mana advantage to make tokens, draw cards, and bury your opponents in Planeswalker advantage, protected by the combination of Knight-Captain of Eos and Soldier tokens.

Planar Birth
So where does Read the Runes fit in? Read the Runes does basically everything I want a card to do. At worst, it’s a powerful engine for filtering through my deck. At best, it puts a bunch of basics lands in the graveyard for Planar Birth, either from hand or graveyard. It’s an enormously powerful draw engine in conjunction with Second Sunrise. If you want, you can even use Surveyor's Scope before you rebuy your lands for additional value. It even lets you rebuy enters-the-battlefield effect or generate double activations of Planeswalkers with Faith's Reward. At the very worst, all the random tokens and useless permanents such as Land Tax are now fresh cards I can leverage.

Read the Runes might not have the same raw power as Blue Sun's Zenith in this list, but it’s so much more flexible, and it functions as part of so many different engines that there’s an enormous upside to playing Read the Runes instead. Sure, you have to jump through more hoops, but the upside on Read the Runes is so much higher, and when it’s bad, it’s really not that much worse than an effect like Stroke of Genius.

All of these crazy interactions led me to wondering whether this is a card that slots into my Child Lands deck. After all, that’s also a deck that likes drawing cards and sacrificing permanents. This may be a little crazy, but I think this may be exactly the card I’ve been looking for in that deck as well.

Child Lands ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez

  • Commander (0)

Ad Nauseam
One of the most busted cards in this deck is Ad Nauseam. Many games are ended by casting an end-of-turn Ad Nauseam, paying about 12 life for at least as many cards, and then tutoring for a Manabond to start going broken. Consequently, this deck really wants additional copies of Ad Nauseam to set up those turns when I really am able to turn the corner and take control of the game. Unfortunately, there are not especially many effects like Ad Nauseam. Believe me; I’ve tried. Promise of Power is close, but it’s a sorcery. Necrologia runs into similar issues. Jace Beleren is fine because it’s easy to rebuy, but it’s ultimately underwhelming. Dig Through Time is certainly an option, but it doesn’t give you the same raw card advantage. Scotty Mac recently gave me the awesome idea to try Mystical Teachings to just tutor for Ad Nauseam, but then Read the Runes happened.

Once again, Read the Runes just does everything. It functions as a sacrifice outlet for both creatures and lands at instant speed. It turns lands from Life from the Loam into actual cards. It sets you up for enormous blowouts using Faith's Reward. You can use it to sacrifice permanents that are going to die anyway, such as Glacial Chasm and Dryad Arbor, to net a few cards on the cheap. This isn’t Ad Nauseam by any stretch of the imagination, but Ad Nauseam doesn’t do all the cool tricks that Read the Runes can. Once again, this is a case of a card being an awesome role-player and fitting perfectly into every piece of what a deck is trying to do. Let’s see if we can go three for three.

[Cardlist title=Grimgrin Attrition ? Commander | Carlos Gutierrez]

  • Commander (0)

Gravecrawler
I love playing this list because it’s straightforward and aggressive, but not completely linear and reliant on the combat step. It’s never overbearing at the table until well into the late game, and there are all kinds of cool shenanigans Grimgrin, Corpse-Born is capable of. So what’s the problem? This deck runs out of cards really fast if there’s not an early Skullclamp involved. Between Gravecrawler, Bloodghast, and more, it’s really easy to bring a bunch of sacrifice fodder into play, but it’s hard to actually turn that into useful resources.

Enter Read the Runes.

Now I can filter away excess lands and turn my cheap, rebuyable creatures into actual resources that can be used to keep the game under control while I continue to bring the beats. You might think Reprocess is a more commonly played card that does the same thing; you’re mostly right, but there are important distinctions. Reprocess is only ever going to cost 4, but it’s a sorcery and requires you to sacrifice permanents to do anything. Read the Runes has the two important qualities of being an instant and allowing you to mix and match sacrificing extra creatures and just looting into a better hand.

This is an especially powerful combination in this deck because it has a huge suite of answers, but not all of them are useful in every situation. Sometimes, a spot removal spell is better than a Grave Pact—sometimes vice versa. Sometimes, you really need to hit a way to gain life or a Cabal Coffers to be able to cast all your spells. The ability to loot through your deck digging for those cards is a powerful one, and I intend to take full advantage.

Last-Minute #MTGDTK Rundown

Demonic Tutor
Sidisi, Undead Vizier is the card I’m most excited about so far. It slots right into both Child of Alara and Grimgrin as a recursive sacrifice outlet and Demonic Tutor with a completely reasonable body attached. This card is obviously just absurd, and I can’t decide whether or not I’m excited to see what a deck built around the legendary Zombie Naga looks like.

Profound Journey is an exciting new tool for Kemba, Kha Regent and Ephara. The ability to rebuy creatures, Equipment, lands, and Planeswalkers alike is super-powerful, even if we’re paying a premium for the flexibility of the effect. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this card isn’t good enough when you have to pay 7. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s among the best cards added to those decks in several sets.

I feel that I should be excited about Risen Executioner, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with it yet. I feel that it should slot into Grimgrin, but I don’t know that I’m interested in paying 10 or more to rebuy this guy as games go late. I think it’s exceedingly likely that you’ll generally have better things to do with your mana unless you can consistently control the contents of your graveyard.

Eternal Witness
I don’t currently have a deck that Den Protector fits right into, and that needs to change. Eternal Witness is among my favorite cards to play with, and this one will be no different. Paying 5 for a 3/2 and a Regrowth that can be recurred is a reasonable deal. The interaction with Vesuvan Shapeshifter is awesome. I don’t know what deck will end up playing with this wombo-combo, but I can assure you that it’ll be happening.

Sunsorch Regent will be slotting directly into my girlfriend’s Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck. It’s big. It gains life. It stays on her creatures-with-flying-that-are-mostly-owls theme. What more could you ask for?

The last card I’m excited about so far is Ruthless Deathfang. Butcher of Malakir and Grave Pact are awesome. Consequently, I’m willing to believe that a more political, albeit less powerful, version of the effect is also reasonable. At this cost, you’re competing with Reaper from the Abyss, but there are times when spot removal just can’t do what Edicts do. I don’t know if this will stay in many of my decks, but I’ll certainly be giving it a try.


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