Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Peasant Ashling - A Burning Vision

I hail from the land of Leprechauns, blarney, pots of gold at the end of rainbows and good beer. While it can be a bit tiring to be repeatedly assailed with the usual misconceptions about Ireland and the Irish, (I’m not a red-head, don’t live in a white-washed thatched cottage surrounded by sheep and I have more normal blood than Guiness running through my veins) sometimes you just get some things that others may have missed. This is the same for every culture of course, but, as I’m Irish and not, say, Brazilian, I only get our stuff: The cupla focail, GAA, Fr. Dougal and a lot of the phrases and legends that have made their way into modern life from old Irish culture and the Irish language. You may not have realised it at the time, but the Lorwyn block was an Irish/Celtic block. A lot of the feel was taken from Breton, Welsh, Scots & Irish origins from the monsters to the visuals to the names of the cards themselves.

I suppose you’ve never asked yourself why Ashling (the Pilgrim/the Extinguisher) is female. It just fits maybe? Or you know a girl called that or similar so you never thought to question it? Or maybe you don’t really care because she wasn’t tournament worthy and you just traded her away. :o) Well, Ashling is named after the a poetic genre that developed in the late 17th Century and continued into the 18th Century. It revolved around a female character know as “Aisling” who appeared either in dreams and visions as a young and beautiful woman or an old and haggard crone, and either represented something or entreated the readers in a roundabout way to do some task. In short, this character represented the nation of Ireland and either bemoaned the presence of the occupying English landlords and soldiers or entreated the Irish to rise up and free itself from the servitude and oppression of the occupying English. The genre was necessary as any open rebellion against the English or incitation to revolt was quickly quashed, violently and efficiently. The name is still quite popular however and Aislings are seen in Ireland and in Irish communities around the world.

Ashling the Pilgrim is both a more-pronounceable form of the original Aisling and a convenient play on Lorwyn’s elemental tribe’s link with fire: “Ash”-ling. I’m sure they giggled when they thought that one up. The trouble with the obvious nomenclature is that neither Ashling the Pilgrim nor Ashling the Extinguisher are “Aislings” in the truest sense of the word. One was a patsy for the Sapling and what she grew into was hell-bent on destroying the plane rather than a dream woman encouraging a people to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. I got the pun, I picked up on the reference straight away but, man, did they get that one wrong. Anyway.

Ok, so now we’ve done the irrelevant back-story, why am I even bringing this up? If you answered “You’re making an EDH deck maybe?” then go to the top of the class!! Yes, I’m making an Ashling deck but, wait!, it’s not any old EDH deck we’ve got here, today kids we’re making a Peasant deck.

Our little group decided to mix things up a little and set the challenge of a Peasant EDH deck, that is to say, only commons & uncommons are allowed. As most Legends are rare and our newer members are all post Shards of Alara, we allowed that the general could be rare. Very quickly we added Uril to the banned-list as most of the best solutions to troll-shrouded generals are at Rare or in Black which would put significant restrictions on anyone not playing Uril. Rather than warp the meta-game before we even got started, Uril was banned. We’ve seen a few versions of Peasant EDH, notably over at MTG-color-pie and 99 Things that suggested that any non-rare creature could be used as a general however we felt that, for flavour reasons, we would prefer to allow one single rare as general than to move outside Legendary. For those with a collection adequately large to choose a non-rare Legend, there is no drop-down for the single permitted rare: It’s your general or you don’t get one. And so everyone went their own way to build their Peasant deck.

An aside on Zombies:

I’ve been looking to build a Zombie deck for a long time now but haven’t for the lack of a number of what I consider to be key cards. I’m pretty picky when it comes it deck-building, I’ll build if I’m missing 2-3 cards but not 10 or 15. This was always the case when I started putting cards aside for a Zombie deck. Now that we’ve suggested a peasant format I could disregard any of the rare cards I was missing and plug the gaps with random brain munchers. I went to my binders and pulled everything out and found that I had 98 cards of the hundred I needed. One of the missing cards, Vengeful Dead, is pretty key in any mass recursion Zombie deck and up until this morning I couldn’t find this common. Now I have it and I’m only left needing to track down the last card which, unfortunatly, is my General: Balthor the Defiled. I know that some players have no problem with proxies or photocopies but I do. If you can’t play an exact card you should generally speaking be able to find a replacement. If you’re not willing or able to, you need to make the hard choice of changing your deck as a result. Here I’m faced with not playing Zombies until I find a Balthor but my mind is bent on the task. I will find one and I will be making a gap in my schedule to accommodate my playgroup RE: their brains.

Mmmmmmmmmmmm, Brrrraaaaaiiiinnnnnnssss!!!

End aside.

So temporarily thwarted with my first deck idea, I turned to Ashling & 99 Mountains.dec. Yeah, we laughed. Once. Maybe twice. Then it got old. This may have been about turn 5. I went into the tank (i.e.: the internet) to get some more out of the possibilities that peasant Ashling could offer. There’re lists and lists galore out there but they generally go for either very heavy mountain representation or a very heavy burn suite. The issue with both these approaches is that if you cut all the rare & mythic cards out of the lists, well, you’re generally left with Ashling & 99 Mountains again. Have a look at this list that was sent to Bennie Smith over on Star City Games to deck clinic:

1 Ashling the Pilgrim (general)
1 Akroma's Memorial
1 Gauntlet of Power
1 Magebane Armor
1 Mana Flare
1 Shield of Kaldra
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 That Which Was Taken
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
1 Smoldering Spires
1 Teetering Peaks
1 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
88 Mountain

Here’s the same list without the rares:
1 Ashling the Pilgrim (general)
1 Smoldering Spires
1 Teetering Peaks
88 Mountain

Ashling and some land. We’re not getting much help here. The deck clinic went on to suggest: Urza’s Blueprints, Warp World, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea, Gamble; Sword of Fire and Ice, Apocalypse; Mindslaver; Godo, Bandit Warlord; Loxodon Warhammer; Countryside Crusher Shinka the Bloodsoaked Keep, and Miren the Moaning Well. None of these, bar Loxodon Warhammer, can help us with the additional restrictions we have placed on the deck.

So I decided to break Ashling down to see what lines I could follow to fill out a deck. Ashling needs to use her +1/+1 ability to burn things and she needs to gain +1/+1 counters so that, when she burns things, she burns them for a lot. While one is a means to the other, these two are not necessarily connected. Ashling can gain +1/+1 counters independent of her built-in ability to add them. If we can add counters outside of her own ability, it won’t count towards the number of activations per turn though it will make the fires burn all the brighter when she does flame on. I first thought of a silly little card called Ashnod’s Transmogrant which, in addition to adding a single +1/+1 counter, turns a creature into an artefact. As I’m sure anyone playing for any length of time is aware, there’s an excellent mechanic that allows for +1/+1 counters to pass from one artefact creature to another: Modular. Unfortunatly Ashling is totally dependant on the Transmogrant to become an artefact and we have no way to find or recur it within our rarity restrictions. So while it maybe a cheap & easy additional +1/+1, it’s not the key to an Ashling – Modular deck. Heck! Back to the drawing board!

There are loads of cards that give +1/+1 counters. Unfortunatly most of these are Rare or non-red. We have the aforementioned modular mechanic, there’s Dragon’s Blood, that’s good. Energy Chamber will help us as much as Modular would: a lot if we can be sure to be able to change Ashling into an artefact with any regularity but very little if we can’t. Power Conduit is an option but we’ll need some permanents with counters.

Let’s leave that there for now and take a look at the other side of Ashling: She needs to activate her ability 3 times per turn to explode. In a multiplayer game Ashling can activate her ability twice on any player’s turn and gain two +1/+1 counters without exploding. Essentially she can grow by +2*X/+2*X for each trip around the table where X is the number of players provided you have enough mana to fuel her. Man is the second key element to making an effective Ashling explosion. You need a lot of mana all throughout the game including the first few turns. This is the only way to ensure not only that you’ll be able to set her off at will but also that you’ll have no problems replaying her again and again. After all her ability is pretty self-destructive, the usual suspects used to protect her from herself are rare and, thus, not available to us.

We are going to need pretty much every non-rare colourless or red permanent source of mana acceleration. This may look boring, it is, however the mana investment Ashling requires is huge and she’s likely to need it all. Excepting all but two of the creature based mana sources, we have Fire Diamond, Mind Stone, Foriysian Totem, Grinning Ingus, Coldsteel Heart, Dreamstone Hedron, Everflowing Chalice, Thran Dynamo, Worn Powerstone, Soulbright Flamekin, Sisay’s Ring, Star Compass, Sol Ring, Temple of the False Gods, Thran Turbine, Red Mana Battery, Ur-Golem’s Eye & Basalt Monolith. The reason we want to avoid creatures is simply that they will likely die when Ashling does her thing. Grinning Ingus allows us to occasionally pay now to benefit the next turn. On the off-chance that this could be useful, as well as having a warm body to throw under the bus occasionally, I’m willing to give him the nod. Coming at it from the other side, Heartstone will allow us to pay less for her ability so I’ll add that in too.

On the land front we have some Mountains and the possibility of Dormant Volcano and the underwhelming Mercadian Bazar. A Terrain Generator is essential of course which will prompt the inclusion of an Expedition Map. Ramping up your land count in this way, and with Wayfarer's Bauble, is where we want to be going.

We mentioned Power Conduit before and the cards that we can use to use it to add (or subtract) counters from Ashling. Mercadian Bazar, Everflowing Chalice, & Red Mana Battery will all turn 1 counter into an extra +1/+1. With the help of a Voltaic Key, it will turn 2 of these counters into extra +1/+1 counters. It can also work in reverse if we want to change +1/+1 tokens into mana for any reason. It allows us to use Coalition Relic counters to stockpile on our Everflowing Chalice or even gain some probably much needed life with Sun Droplet.

Life is going to be a bit of an issue as we’re low on defence and high on throwing fire about. Unfortunatly Red is a little under-stocked with life-gain and equipment that gain life are generally rare. Fortunatly Loxodon Warhammer saw print as an uncommon so that’s an easy inclusion. That’s pretty much all we can allow for in the deck though, hardly more than a nod in the direction of hopefully not dying too quickly! In other equipment Lightning Greaves and Whispersilk Cloak can protect Ashling long enough to go nova and occasionally surprise a player with a quick beating. The only remaining idea I have is Slagwurm Armor. Its +0/+6 gives Ashling some room to explode and still stick about. Unfortunately when you activate her ability for the third time in a single turn, you also remove all the counters. Any damage is likely to destroy the Legend without some help and our “Protection from Red’ equipment is all rare. The Slagwurm Armour gives you a little lee-way in clearing the board without needing to recast your general.

So we have looked at a few of common and uncommon ways to try to maximise both the token and mana production needed to really turn up the heat, what are we going to do with all this mana bar pumping it into Ashling? We could pump it into X-spells, surely there’s a couple at our rarity that are playable:

Blaze, Fireball, Flaming Gambit, Kaervek's Torch, Fanning the Flames, Jaws of Stone, Spire Barrage, Lava Burst, Volcanic Geyser and I may have The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service lying about somewhere. It’s worth a laugh if nothing else. As a sop to killing off the inevitable elf deck that Marc is going to build, I’m including Breath of Darigaaz, Pyroclasm & Sulfurous Blast. That may or may not be enough but it is a lot of potential fire.

That leaves us with the following list:

Ashling the Pilgrim

Grinning Ingus
Brighthearth Banneret

Ashnod's Transmogrant
Dragon’s Blood
Power Conduit
Fire Diamond
Mind Stone
Foriysian Totem
Darksteel Ingot
Coldsteel Heart
Dreamstone Hedron
Everflowing Chalice
Thran Dynamo
Worn Powerstone
Sisay’s Ring
Star Compass
Sol Ring
Thran Turbine
Red Mana Battery
Ur-Golem’s Eye
Basalt Monolith
Expedition Map
Wayfarer's Bauble
Voltaic Key
Sun Droplet
Loxodon Warhammer
Lightning Greaves
Whispersilk Cloak
Slagwurm Armor

Vorrac Battlehorns
Tenza, Godo's Maul
Explorer's Scope
Adventuring Gear
Sensei's Diving Top
Crystal Ball
Darksteel Pendant

Flaming Gambit
Kaervek's Torch
Fanning the Flames
Jaws of Stone
Spire Barrage
Lava Burst
Volcanic Geyser
The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service
Breath of Darigaaz
Sulfurous Blast

43x Mountains
Dormant Volcano
Temple of the False Gods
Mercadian Bazar
Terrain Generator

Now we have a list that is a very good starting point for a more solid deck. There are obvious flaws: the lack of creatures, the lack of more pinpoint removal and the fact that we’re totally ignoring any artefacts that may appear on the other side of the table. With 56 land and another 16 mana sources, there’s always going to be space for any changes that need to be made. Feel free to chime in the comments section for any obvious omissions.

Now with a lot more games under my belt, I've made the obvious change of taking out the illegal Coalition Relic for Darksteel Ingot and have added a few more goodies. Sensei's Diving Top and Crystal Ball are a good place to start. These are obvious to filter off the lands polluting the top of your deck. While I find you can generally accellerate quickly up to a critical mana point, there's a time that you need to be drawing spells. I may even bring Darksteel Pendant in here such is the need to filted down through your deck. There is next to no drawing in the entire deck so we'll filter instead.

Brighthearth Banneret has taken the place of Soulbright Flamekinas the latter's ability was never relevant and the former has been useful in both reducing the cost of and boosting Ashling with it's reinforce ability.

Finally, as you're building Ashling up to be a huge furnace for the rest of the table, we must remember that she's also a big beater. The biggest issue then becomes the lack of trample so O-Naginata, Vorrac Battlehorns & Tenza, Godo's Maul all join Loxodon Warhammer in turning her into an offensive threat. In the same vein Fireshrieker's double strike is a huge bonus if she can also have trample from elsewhere. Interesting to keep in mind that, as with the Slagwurm Armor, Tenza, Godo's Maul will allow Ashling to survive an activation at 3 counters as it will give her a permanent +3/+3.

Finally, another two equipment round out the Voltron that Ashling seems to be becoming: Explorer's Scope and Adventuring Gear. With the large % of lands in the deck we have a higher chance than usual to hit with the Scope and benefit with the Gear as well as accellerating your land. These last two are more or "we'll see how it goes" rather than "this is what the deck needs" so further testing will decide. The updated decklist is above.

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