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Ironroot Chef: Battle Raging River


This week’s competition is a battle for acknowledgement and redemption. Today, you decide who finds what they’re looking for in Battle Raging River.

John Dale Beety is a creative writer with a love for the flavor of Magic. Sharing his perspective on the creative side of the game puts him in a rare class of qualified cooks who know their way around a flavorful kitchen.

Mike Linnemann is an Iron Chef without a win. While undoubtedly skillful and experienced, his challenge is more than mastering the taste of a given card: He needs to find a win before his status as a chef falls into utter disrepute.

For these two titans of creative to clash our humble, just chairman chose a Limited Edition Alpha classic in Raging River. It’s a card that broke the rules until the rules were bent just for it. Now, it will bend both chefs to create something even greater.

Raging River

Challenger John Dale Beety

Raging River costs its initials to cast: rr. Coincidence? It probably is, but it’s amusing nonetheless. The rs don't stop there either. Raging River is also rare, and due to its age, it is on the Reserved List and can't be reprinted as a paper card.

Whatever one's thoughts on the Reserved List itself, I find the idea of a deck made up entirely of cards on the Reserved List fascinating. The Reserved List isn't nearly as Melvin or anti-Vorthos as it might seem at first either; what could be more flavorful than long-crumbled lands, extinct creatures, and ancient spells that never will be seen again?

Reserved List Red has a nice ring to it, and in honor of a card that divides creatures into right and left camps, I'll balance the R's and L's by making the deck Legacy-legal.


Raging River throws combat math into chaos, complicating the opponent's best efforts to plan blocking. And what's better than combat chaos? More combat chaos!

Two-Headed Giant of Foriys
Any Raging River deck must have creatures in abundance, and Reserved List Red offers a suite of twenty-five beat sticks. Varchild's War-Riders bring the early beats, and the 1/1 red Survivor creature tokens given to the opponent don't seem so numerous when divided by a Raging River. Subterranean Spirit clears out all Survivor tokens once it's active as well as any other pesky X/1 blockers without flying. Dwarven Thaumaturgist meddles with power and toughness, Ogre Enforcer shrugs off collective would-be efforts at lethal damage, Márton Stromgald gives strength in numbers, whether it's on the attack or hosting a block party, and Two-Headed Giant of Foriys makes things even more unfair when the opponent tries to attack back.

Any deck stuffed full of red creatures cries out for Gauntlet of Might, hence the play set, and once Gauntlet of Might is part of the deck, we must have something to do with all that red mana! Rock Hydra and Balduvian Hydra give new meaning to the term redhead, while Lightning Dragon soars through the air to light up foes.

Around these creatures, I have placed a small suite of suitable spells. Four copies of Raging River are a given, as is a play set of Gauntlet of Might. World enchantment card Chaosphere and its simpler cousin Gravity Sphere shore up a weakness of Raging River by making life miserable for flying creatures. Disharmony transforms an opponent's attacker into your temporary blocker, offering the promise of a two-for-one. Firestorm costs only 1 red mana (and several cards) to annihilate an opponent's battlefield, while Heart of Bogardan lingers on the battlefield, growing in potential devastation with each upkeep.

Candelabra of Tawnos acts as acceleration in conjunction with the mana base's non-Mountains, Balduvian Trading Post and City of Traitors (emphasis on Traitors), and with a Gauntlet of Might on the battlefield, the numbers get totally out of hand. Speaking of Gauntlet of Might, it powers up all four of the dual lands represented in the deck; Taiga is a Mountain Forest, for example, so it counts.

So there you have it: a Raging River deck, red, rare, and reserved. Enjoy!

Ironroot Chef Mike Linnemann

I saw this card to build around, Raging River, and I thought two things. It’s the Mississippi River, which runs near my house in Minneapolis, and I thought of Iona. I opened an Iona, Shield of Emeria at Grand Prix Las Vegas and haven’t found a good home for her in a deck as of late. I know the local Commander night doesn’t ban her since she basically doesn’t allow your opponent to play Magic. She is certainly not an honorable way to win, and that thought brought me how Raging River interacts with my deck: It’s not supposed to.

You see, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but I grew up rural. I mean, Melrose has no stoplight, there are legitimately six large farming families with cousins everywhere, and yet, it was a public school out in the country. One would think, after looking at my state, that there could be a few American Indians who went to my school. I can only think of four people because most Sioux or Ojibwe American Indians don’t live in the middle of Minnesota—they were forced out.

And that’s my deck. My deck today on Ironroot Chef is the Mississippi River, a Raging River, and the politics behind my state.

I work at the University of Minnesota Foundation, basically in the fundraising arm of the university. We’re an old school, founded in 1851, a full seven years before our territory became a state. Eleven years later, the Morrill Act was signed. This act provided each state with thirty thousand acres of “unappropriated” federal land, a “Land Grant” to use for colleges. The idea was to sell this land to fund public universities, educating farmers, or “industrial” workers. One may ask, “Um, who’s land was this?” Well, it was American Indian land largely across the country. Many people were removed or forcibly killed, but many descendants live on today, just not in that geographic region anymore. While the land was used by universities, that land is built from broken treaties and outright theft. I live with that weight, but I’m not happy about it. The card Land Grant, is top-down flavorful in this deck. If an “explorer,” a settler if you will, has no land, this card magically gets it for free, not unlike nineteenth-century politics with American Indians. This card sets up “better starts,” an “equitable start” for someone with privilege.

This deck is built around a Raging River that mechanically works with attacking. That’s not how American Indians used our great river. It was a trade route. My deck purposefully does not attack because in the battle for land, there weren’t a ton of outright offensives in my state with lines drawn after the fact. No, it was “diplomacy” and treaties and Collapsing Borders, filled with Propaganda and a Collective Restraint by the two major American Indian groups of people in Minnesota. Often, the Ojibwe people of northern Minnesota would be in conflict with the Sioux tribe compared to French fur traders, British traders, and trappers, or even the Scandinavians who came down on longboats. The distrust was for white people, and frankly, for good reason. It’s an enchantment, an allure to attack but no means to actual make effective damage/reclamation, not unlike reality in the 1850s.

Image via www.geo.msu.edu

The white Veteran Explorers would look into Exploration of the land. They had maps and a Lay of the Land from politicians. Farseek? Please, if a college could walk a few miles and get granted land, even a terrible soldier could. The need to seek anything far wasn’t even needed—the government and the Civil War guaranteed land. Once it’s being farmed, and they would Clear the Land, purposes used for hundreds of years by American Indians was no longer possible. They used to Plow Under for any purpose, effectively turning opponents reeling into finding answers and pushing them into stasis with . . . 

Exploration by Florian de Gesincourt

I did add a Tribal Flames as a win condition, as a full, violent retaliation was always an option to “win,” though even that had War Tax implications or, worse, full Global Ruin with an Annex—there are never enough legal ways to steal land.

Hinterland Harbor is effectively Duluth, MN, a hotbed for trading that worked for years because of Lake Superior. Terramorphic Expanse feeds into the win condition—and also the inevitability of settlements covering all five lands of Magic and America. Minnesota can be wicked cold in the winter, and since there are over fourteen thousand lakes, Tundra and Arctic Flats made perfect sense. I looked into adding pain lands as their mechanic felt like a visceral community’s damage, but as the player piloting this deck, you don’t feel the pain. I made a singleton fetch land there in Windswept Heath as a mere reminder of the possibility that someone is affected by this land-snatching.

I looked into Diabolic Intent, especially with the interaction with Veteran Explorer. The issue is that many of these Manifest Destiny–driven initiatives weren’t malicious in intent, they honestly thought what they were doing was right. It didn’t fit the flavor, but looking back at history, we could make the case. The fact that I was arguing with myself drove me to remove it.

TL;DR I built a prison deck that is an allusion to my state’s history and the current ramifications of collapsed borders.

The Vote

Below, you can read the judges’ scoring to see how Nate and Stybs cast their ballots. However, this is your chance to score the winner of Battle Raging River.

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The Judging

Nate’s Judgment

Nathan Holt @walktheplanes

Nate’s the host of Walking the Planes, a documentary series about Magic: The Gathering with a healthy dose of sketch comedy (for value).

Ironroot Chefs! What a pleasure to be back in action after a week off due to celebrating the U.S. government's birth and eventual triumph over its oppressors. As we'll see this week, there is a darker side to that story.

Your imaginations shine brightly in Battle Raging River. We have two very different decks on display, but neither sweet in flavor. One is spicy. One is bitter. We are exploring our palates. Our powers as chefs are growing stronger.

Challenger John Dale Beety

A commonly misunderstood notion about Vorthoses is that we're all about characters and linear narratives. Not so. There are many avenues to producing delicious flavor. We care about aesthetics, the "feel" of the cards, and the "story of the game." In this way, your Raging River brew coalesces into a masterfully consistent and scrumptious experience. The River is our hero. Its chaos inspires your aesthetic. The supporting cast wreaks havoc in a giant, complicated mess. And yet, the deck is elegant and refined. All rare, all reserved, all red. A wonderful expression of creativity. Bravo.

Where is the boldness? An Iron Chef doesn't just put a cherry on top of the sundae. The cherry has to be stuffed with Italian tuna and coated in sriracha or some sh*t. Where is the "wow factor"? There has to be a way to throw me a curveball without ruining the simple elegance of your theme.

That said, your adherence to the theme was tight. Very nice. And extra points for reminding me how weird the Reserved List is. God forbid WotC reprinted Dwarven Thaumaturgist, lest metagames be shattered by its . . . by its . . . well, I guess by its insanely sweet artwork! Broken!

Creativity: 3

Boldness: 1

Adherence to the theme: 3

Ironroot Chef Mike Linnemann

Wow. This is what boldness looks like. The choice to portray your home state's nineteenth-century politics is ambitious as hell. The deck is personal. Emotional. Painful. Visceral. The cards you chose made me think deeply about the story you were telling. I learned something. If I could give you a 4 for Boldness, I would.

The deck seems to be at war with itself. On one hand, the land-grabbing cards represent the U.S. government and Manifest Destiny. But you say the no-attacks-type cards represent the Indians' peaceful use of the river. Do I have that right? Is the deck's point of view from the Indians' side or from the government's? I'm guessing the point of the deck is that it's at war with itself, fighting on both sides, but that wasn't exactly clear.

Your deck's biggest weakness is adherence to the theme. I love using the Raging River to represent the Mississippi, but that seems to be where use of the theme ended. As you say, the Raging River is all about attacking. Your deck does the exact opposite. Bold, but not on theme. The ingredient launched you into a story of profound personal importance. That's fantastic. But the river should be the protagonist in your story, and in that sense it seems miscast.

Creativity: 2

Boldness: 3

Adherence to the theme: 1

Adam’s Judgment

Adam Styborski @the_stybs

Adam is the Content Manager for Gathering Magic. He's a casual player at heart and weekly columnist for MagicTheGathering.com. He also travels the country for Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage, and he shares his Pauper Cube everywhere.


Your plan was audacious: Limit your deck to the Reserved List, and play with the attributes of Raging River. I begrudgingly admit you finessed some amazing flavor from a small set of possibilities. If I hadn’t seen many decks before, I’d have marveled at how you seemed to squeeze blood from a stone.

However, as I’ve admonished previous chefs, applying an artificial restriction does not inherently make more flavor. Commander decks are tough, but it’s easy to get lost in a deep pile. There’s no specific plane of Magic that fits all sizes and types of flavor. Deck restrictions limit the possibilities without necessarily providing a reward worth the sacrifice.

You came close, but you missed so much more had you opened your ingredients list up. I feel your deck of combat nightmares was a hit, but that’s not all Raging River is meant to do. There are dozens more “divvy” cards in the game and plenty of other ways to wreck combat in red—all outside of the Reserved List. And since nearly everything is legal in Legacy, I found your “L” balance a little lacking—that was hardly a restriction at all.

The score I award reflects your talent to seasoning despite the few choices you left yourself as well as the risk you took bringing it to life. But exemplifying Raging River required more for my tastes:

Creativity: 1

Boldness: 3

Adherence to theme: 2


The history of your state, like that of most states when those curious begin to dig into them, is fascinating, heartbreaking, and surreal. How the next generations will judge us and our treatment of fellow humans is a terrifying thought: We, too, are probably monsters and demons manifest as those doing “what’s right” by our values and ideas.

How you got there from Raging River was a convoluted trek indeed.

The Mississippi River is among the most important waterways in the United States, steeped in stories and discussions dating back to its discovery. Comparing Raging River to that—dividing west and east—is powerful. But as you journeyed into the depths of prejudice, racism, and the horrors that the powerful inflict upon the weak, the ties to Raging River became weaker.

Your theme is powerful, and the choices you made for it fit perfectly. I can’t imagine more creativity and style in a deck, but abstracting all the way to your point from just Raging River was a winding course a little too far to make it strong. My score for you reflects the power and wit you put on display at the sacrifice of the theme:

Creativity: 3

Boldness: 3

Adherence to theme: 1

Voting closes midnight Thursday, and the first winner will be announced Friday (7/17/2015). Follow @IronrootChef on Twitter for the final score and victory announcement and to share your ideas for secret ingredients. Our chairman Nate will continue to use your suggestions to challenge our chefs to the core.

And if you think you have what it takes to challenge the chefs, send an email to IronrootChef AT gmail DOT com with all of your flavorful qualifications. We’re looking for new Ironroot Chefs and competitors, and you could be the next to take a shot at impressing the judges.

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