Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Curious Broccoli - Mono Green Combo beats

Sorry for the brief hiatus, I've been camping!

So far I've introduced Thada-Adel & Rafiq; Group Hug doesn't need much of a mention (apart from re-stating my belief that Hive Mind is NOT a card you should include!); I'm not finished building Toshiro Umezawa to the point where he can be presented to the reading mill... eh, handfuls so that leaves me to introduce you to one of my favourite ladies in Magic: Azusa. (Maybe one day I'll get to bring you Michiko Konda, my #1 lady, in her own deck but not yet!)

What's the deal with Azusa? She's a 3 mana 1/2 that gives you a couple of extra land drops. That's not very..... Legendary. Her backstory isn't really much to go on if you want to base a deck on her especially as her goal of "uniting the peoples of Kamigawa" would by necessity involve other colours and EDH will restrict us to Mono Green. Here is her Wiki entry:

Legendary monk of the sacred order of Jukai Forest, disciple of Rokuan and best friend of Iwamori. A master tracker, she started a quest from Jukai all across Kamigawa, and learned from all the cultures of the world in order to join together the peoples of Kamigawa. Her ultimate fate is unknown.

Meh, that's not going to encourage me to build a deck. Azusa accellerates your lands but then again so did the recently banned Roffellos and he was never a candidate to head up this army even when he was legal. So why choose Azusa over any other mono Green legend? It all goes back to infinite land drops in an Enchantress deck I played years ago. You see, when you have an Exploration in play you get an extra land drop. You play that extra land and somehow return the Exploration to your hand. If you tap the additional land to replay the Exploration, the game doesn't remember your initial extra land and treats the replayed Exploration as giving another additional land drop. If you could find a way to repeat this process multiple times you could conceiveably play all the land in your deck.

Taking this a step further, if an effect allowed you to return a land to your hand during this loop, you could re-play and re-bounce lands for as many times as you desired. Essentially the loop would be self-perpetuating until you want to stop it. In the Enchantress decks of old, the bounce mechanism for both the lands and the Exploration was Words of Wind which had the advantage of forcing your opponent(s) to return their board to their hand in addition to your loop. In the Enchantress deck, you were drawing cards off the loop with the traditional Enchantress effects in addition so, once the engine got going, you essentially neutered your opponent and found your win condition in a single turn.

Moving back to EDH, our first issue is that any such shennanigans need to conform to the formats' strict deckbuilding restrictions, to wit: Either we change our General or we omit the traditional motor and find a replacement. Luckily to achieve multiple or infinite land drops in mono-green we can ignore the Enchantress engine entirely (and thus blue) and simply add Cloudstone Curio.

Ah, jank rares that look great in design but struggle to find their niche out in the real world! I'm of the opinion that this little bauble is potentially one of the most degenerate motors in Magic. Had R&D not included that little "non-artifact" caveat, I'm sure we would have seen quite a lot of broken plays including (old) extended turn 2 infinite storm count into Brain Freeze. Unfortunatly the requirement to actually pay mana to put a non-artifact permanent into play pushed the Curio from easily breakable into very powerful in a very niche set of decks. (Old) Extended Elves ran this in some of the Glimpse/Elf decks as an additional meant not to run out of steam. It allowed the deck to "go off" on a single Glimpse as long as a pair of 1cc elves could continuously trade places netting 2 cards for each full loop. With Nettle Sentinels & Heritige Druid, this little combo pretty much meant you could draw your entire deck if needed.

That's not our goal here though (actually it is but not with elves!) So we have a means to recur lands in the Curio and, in our general, a means to play multiple lands, how do we take this to the next step and make it so we can play infinite lands? If we were to add another creature to the mix we could bounce Azusa off the Curio when we played that second creature and re-play her for 2 addional land drops much like we did with the Exploration in the Enchantress decks of old. There's four options here:
  • We could pay G for a Bird of Paradise or similiar. This is a solid option because the Bird/Llanowar or Fyndhorn elf is a useful enough accellerator outside of this interaction. The downside is that it brings the mana cost of the loop to 2GG and we have only 2 additional land drops. We'd run out of mana pretty quickly.
  • We could use Dryad Arbor (conveniently a "forest" as well as a creature), making the loop cost only 2G, though, being a creature, the Dryad Arbor couldn't be tapped for mana the turn it arrived. We're still where we were with the 1cc guys, needing 2 extra mana.
  • We could use an automatic Token generator like Genesis Chamber though these effects are generally for all players (and you don’t want to give your opponents more resources than strictly necessary) and there are timing issues. When you play Azusa, you generate the token. When the token comes onto the battlefield it triggers the Curio. You won’t have time to play your two additional lands before you resolve the trigger and return Azusa to your hand. If you have a third creature, you could, but this negates the entire point of the exercise.
  • Just don’t pay for your creatures at all. As long as you’re willing to share and you restrict yourself to a certain group of creatures, this is possible with Aluren. This 4cc enchantment allows all players to play any creature costing 3cc or less at instant speed without paying its mana cost. Ok, you’re helping your opponents quite a lot here because most decks will have creatures that fall into this category however in EDH the trend is generally towards utility in smaller creatures rather than splashy effects and they must have the creature in hand in order to benefit. These are slim safety-lines to be clinging on to but you can generally profit during important turns enough that the drawback doesn’t really matter.

So we have Aluren and Cloudstone Curio: one allows us to play our creatures for free and the other allows us to bounce a creature once we play another. At this point we can play Azusa and any other cheap creature for free generating multiple instances of two additional land drops. As the Curio will also allow us to bounce lands, we also have our means to generate infinite land drops. If we play a land and bounce a land that has been tapped for mana, we can thus generate infinite mana. If the second creature also has an effect that triggers on entering the battlefield, we have more possibilities. A very basic package could look like this:

- Elvish Visionary & Wall of Blossoms to draw as much of your deck as you need.
- Eternal Witness to recur useful cards from your graveyard.
- Sylvan Ranger & Wood Elves to purge your deck of lands into either your hand or into play.

So the theory is sound and the deck can be built around this interaction. After all, so far we’ve only listed about 15 cards including land to fuel a degenerate engine, however I’m not all that much about the degenerate combo engines and I needed a hook that would make this idea into a deck I’d actually enjoy playing. After all, we don’t really want to combo out in every single game. If that was the aim, I would have just played Rof/Staff and whined when he got the general ban. One of the requirements of having a general that focuses on getting a lot of land into play is that you must get a lot of land into your hand. This in turn requires you to dedicate deck slots to getting those lands into your hand. We have 3 windows of opportunity here:
- Landfall
- “Lands in play matter”, or in our case “Forests matter”
- Lots of mana is good for “stuff”

One of my first ideas was Baru, Fist of Krosa. His “Forestfall” ability was huge when you had a head of creatures in play that you wanted to beef up. In application however he was never a go to guy and generally ended up being a little more kill rather than the means to kill. If I can find a way to get him back on board, he may make it, but sitting waiting for an army was not his bag. Other “Forest matters” cards that made it were Beacon of Creation & Howl of the Night Pack. Both are capable of generating huge armies out of an empty board state. In the case of Beacon of Creation, combined with Planar Portal, it’s an insect army each and every turn until one or both effects are dealt with. This allows you to sandbag other cards in your hand for when your opponents finally do kill your Portal or Beacon.

Speaking of huge armies, when you have a board empty except for 15 lands, Rude Awakening can provide a, well, rude awakening and deal lethal out of nowhere. It’s a risky move but generally one that slips under the radar. Other cards that generally love having lots of land on the table and multiple land drops or boat loads of mana are Ant Queen, Avenger of Zendikar,
Chamelion Colossus, Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, Rampaging Baloths and Wolfbriar Elemental. The last, Wolfbriar Elemental, is worth singling out here as another cute 2 card combo. With Cloudstone Curio in play, you can use one of the Curio triggers from the wolves to bounce the Elemental back to your hand. The following turn you can rinse and repeat until the Curio or Elemental is dealt with (with the trigger on the stack or an old fashioned Counterspell). Your army becomes “X 2/2” wolves where X is “your total available mana -4”. In a deck that likes to vomit its mana base onto the table you can see that repeated large wolf armies is a distinct possibility.

The rest of the deck is a large dose of finding lands and getting them into hand or play through increased land drops: (Krosan Tusker, Oracle of Mul Daya, Primeval Titan, Sakura Tribe Elder, Solemn Simulacrum, Yavimaya Elder, Rites of Flourishing, Exploration, Gaea's Touch, Seek the Horizon, Skyshroud Claim, Crop Rotation, Cultivate, Gaea's Bounty, Harrow, Kodama's Reach) The need for some defence in the deck has trimmed this down to what we have here. The less you want the deck to be a combo deck the less you need these slots dedicated to thinning your deck out.

There are also a few cards that will increase your mana count as opposed to your land count: (Lotus Cobra, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Vernal Bloom) Interesting to note that I have not included the mana elves or BoP mentioned at the very start of the article. In playing the advantage they give you of getting a second turn Curio or Azusa is largely negated by their general uselessness later on in the game.

Some graveyard recursion: (Genesis, Regrowth, Eternal Witness) Notable exceptions are Nature’s Spiral, Restock and Recollect but cut had to be made somewhere and these fell by the wayside.

A pinch of disruption: (Acidic Slime, Terastdon, Woodfall Primus, Krosian Grip) This is no-where near enough of course. No Desert Twister, no Creeping Mold? No Lignify? At a certain point in the deck-building and testing process I had to make a decision as to whether the deck was to be a proactive or reactive deck. Given the fight for places there was little choice but to be the aggressor where possible and thus a lot of solutions are left out. Actually we have a lot of solutions, just not the ones you’d normally associate with green control. One of the most elegant, I always find, is attacking with big monsters for the win. It tends to solve a lot of problems.

Cards that draw or filter cards: (Wall of Roots, Elvish Visionary, Greater Good, Sylvan Library, Scroll Rack, Seer's Sundial, Skullclamp, Harmonize) Green has precious little card drawing so anything that allows you to draw cards is obviously golden. The exception is Horn of Greed. My land drops far outstrip all my opponents however in certain situations, as with Rites of Flourishing and especially Storm Cauldron, the advantage slips more and more against you. The calculation you need to make is not your # of card draws again 1 other opponent but your card draws against the total of all your opponents. You need to be out-drawing them each x3 or x4 in order to benefit from the Horn. For this reason a card that would be an auto-include in a 1v1 deck is marginal here. It simply gives too much advantage to your opponents collectively to be blithely thrown into the deck.

The rest of the deck is a mish-mash of like-type redundancies, cards that will make your army more threatening and ways to stay alive.

Seedborn Muse – With Ant Queen, Kamahl & Planar Portal, the Muse is a terrible weapon that announces your victory next turn.

Haste is not something that people expect from a mono-G deck. Who cares if you make 20 wolves when they can wrath them away on their own turn? Akroma's Memorial & Concordant Crossroads punish players for not dealing with you sooner by deciding the game there and then.

Storm Cauldron is a replacement Cloudstone Curio for lands granting you an additional land drop and punishing your opponents for playing spells that don’t directly remove it. Lifegift is to gain some (ok, quite a lot of) life during the game. When you’re constantly taking 4-8 from your Sylvan Library, you want to stay in the game and this helps you do that.

Two final notes on card inclusions/exclusions: I’ve brought in Crucible of Worlds & Zuran Orb. With Multiple land drops this is essentially the same landfall combo however it goes through your graveyard rather than through your hand, gaining you life as you do so. Don’t be a dick and Strip Mine everyone!

Cards I don’t have that I really need to find a place: The overriding one at the moment is Burgeoning. I think you can see the potential applications!

Enjoy playing Broccoli!

Azusa, Lost but Seeking

25 Forest
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Wooded Foothills
Dryad Arbor
Sapseep Forest
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Gaea's Cradle
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Khalni Garden

Acidic Slime
Ant Queen
Avenger of Zendikar
Chamelion Colossus
Elvish Visionary
Eternal Witness
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Krosan Tusker
Lotus Cobra
Oracle of Mul Daya
Primeval Titan
Rampaging Baloths
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Sakura Tribe Elder
Seedborn Muse
Solemn Simulacrum
Sylvan Ranger
Wall of Blossoms
Wolfbriar Elemental
Wood Elves
Woodfall Primus
Yavimaya Elder

Akroma's Memorial
Cloudstone Curio
Crucible of Worlds
Eldrazi Monument
Planar Portal
Scroll Rack
Seer's Sundial
Storm Cauldron
Zuran Orb

Beastmage Ascension
Concordant Crossroads
Doubling Season
Gaea's Touch
Greater Good
Rites of Flourishing
Sylvan Library
Vernal Bloom

Beacon of Creation
Crop Rotation
Gaea's Bounty
Garruk Wildspeaker
Howl of the Night Pack
Kodama's Reach
Krosian Grip
Life from the Loam
Rude Awakening
Seek the Horizon
Skyshroud Claim

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