Magic is a fun game. Insane difficulty, creativity within confinement, and multiple ways of approaching the same goal have made it a game that appeals to all types of players. Some people want to play silly cards that are funny or ridiculous. Others like the story lines and lore behind the characters. There are people who have fun going through the motions of the game and seeing what each deck has to offer, and then there are those that just want to win with whatever the best deck is. There’s nothing wrong with any approach, and that’s the beauty of it: you play the game how you want.
Ultimately, though, you are playing to win the game, but when you can do so in big, silly fun ways are when I have the most fun. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue drafting just about any deck that’s offered within a cube and I approach drafts open to whatever is open and ready to go into whatever direction seems the strongest at that time, but if the opportunity arises to do silly things, I’ll jump at that chance.
What’s silly? What does that even mean? It’s a term I use a lot when talking about cube, but it means a variety of things. First of all, what isn’t “silly”? I consider the meat-and-potatoes decks to be of the non-silly variety, the decks where you’re hoping to play guys on curve or hold up counterspells until you’re ready to play your bomb. “Isn’t that every deck?” And yes, it’s an apt description for a lot of them, because they’re good decks and match up well against a variety of strategies. They have removal and answers for the silly plays they’ll encounter or the other fair decks, they have their own threats that can win the game in a number of turns, and they have ways to gain incremental advantage over multiple, “fair” plays. They’re never going to win the game in 1-3 turns randomly or go off and amount a massive board presence from nothing. They are methodical decks that have synergy but do not necessarily combo off or play a game-winning threat way before they’re able to deal with it. And that’s fine! Those decks win games. But they aren’t “silly.” Silly decks are playing a Dream Halls and winning within the same turn off a storm count of a million, or chaining through your graveyard with a Recurring Nightmare, or casting Upheaval and re-starting the game with 5 permanents to your opponent’s 0. Silly means going from zero to a thousand in one turn. There you are, playing a deck with weapons and good creatures, and you just lost because you played a Hero of Blade hold and they milled the rest of your deck off a storm count. Maybe you could’ve played it differently, but what if it was game 1 and you had no idea they were combo, or you didn’t even have the disruption in your hand anyways? All you can do is laugh because it’s a silly way to lose a game that you didn’t know you lost, and those decks are awesome to play.
Recently I drafted a deck that tried to get silly in a variety of ways, and the deck was a lot of fun. I’d like to talk about some of the cards I chose and how they worked with each other, along with some of the sideboard options I had and what I chose not to play.
Birds of Paradise
Burning of Xinye
Simic Sky Swallower
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Sword of War and Peace
Anger of the Gods
Eureka: This was the first awesome card I picked in the draft—I think my second or third overall—and put me onto the big-ramp, big-things deck that fit into the other strategies I squeezed into the deck. Eureka is like the better Show and Tell if your deck is made to abuse it, and this one was and wasn’t. It was a good Eureka deck in the fact that I had multiple giant things and awesome permanents I wanted to put into play. Any time I had Eureka I probably had at least one thing I wanted to go crazy with, and because I had enough fat in the deck there was a chance I’d have 2 or even 3. The bad part about Eureka here is that it lacked considerable card draw to fill up my hand with gas. Harmonize is good, but beyond that there was really nothing. So if I curve out into my Eureka and have one thing to their 2 or 3, I could be screwed as they drop a permanent piece of removal along with 2 of their own big threats. I like going UG with Eureka since it allows me to constantly have a reasonably sized hand while still being able to curve up into my ahead-of-schedule mana base. In this draft I didn’t think I was actually blue at all, but the Image and Upheaval were picks in the third pack when my fixing was all set so they weren’t any issue to pick up and play at all. Eureka decks also combine well with a lot of other strategies which, as a base green deck and a good set of lands to fix, I was able to play without much issue. Many different decks want big creatures and the right amount of mana to play them just in case, and green is the perfect place for that effect.
Burning of Xinye: AKA Wildfire, this was one of those strategies. Xinye was a card that I picked on the wheel since no one ever wants to go into Wildfire but it’s such a strong strategy in the big green decks. Wildfire/Xinye is like the card that everyone says is incredible but no one actually plays. There are some groups out there that consistently look to draft the deck, I’m sure; preference should be a big part of every cube’s construction when considering archetype. But for the majority of drafts I’ve been involved in or groups I’ve played with, Wildfire has been a card you can consistently count on to wheel.
This makes complete sense, and yet is quite frustrating. It makes sense because for most people involved with cube, red is something you’re either splashing for removal or going full-out with in an aggressive deck. Wildfire is a specific strategy that you have to build around, a card that you can’t throw in every deck that can cast 6 drops with RR in their cost. Yet Wildfire is so strong and dominates so many other decks that it confuses me why people don’t try and play it even more. 4 damage destroys a lot, and yet you can sculpt your creatures to live through it with natural girth and weapons. It also helps that it doesn’t hit players, so your planeswalkers can live through it on top of an empty boards. It’s like Jokalhaups except easier to abuse, since you don’t need floating mana or planeswalkers to make really good. It’s also an easy card to side out in case it is awful, swapping the Clifftop Retreat for a plains for a forest as well.
I liked Xinye a lot in this deck because it did everything I wanted. Playing Eureka, dropping my girth and the extra land/ramp that I need to hit Wildfire on the next turn, and then casting it is typically a GG against a lot of different decks. Being able to ramp up with extra lands or artifact mana meant that I wouldn’t decimate my mana base if things went wrong after a Wildfire. 4 mana also fought against most decks well, at worst putting my opponent in a one-to-one creature face off where mine was typically bigger or hit harder in the air. Wildfire was a natural fit with the course of this deck and, with a few picks dedicated to fixing, I was able to play it with no issue in terms of casting the card.
On a final note regarding this card, you’ll notice I interchangeably refer to the cards as the same, all under the umbrella of Wildfire. For all intents and purposes, Burning of Xinye is Wildfire. But even though they are technically different in that one asks you to sac and another wants you to destroy the lands, so if you have Boros Charm than Xinye is actually pretty friggin rad.
The Lack of Artifact Removal & the inclusion of Terastodon: This was the toughest part of the deck—how do I deal with artifacts and enchantments? I’m mostly playing my own game, trying to go over the top with Wildfire/Upheaval/Eureka and didn’t have any actual ETB creatures or ones that lived through Wildfire. Is that enough of a reason? At the part of the curve where Wickerborough Elder sits is where my higher-impact plays begin and I’m not sure if I can spend the mana and turns dealing with it. It’s a great sideboard option, along with the Krosan Grip, against the decks that present artifacts and enchantments you must deal with. The Terastodon over something like the Signet or any of the other options was a concession to absolutely no early answers while still stockpiling my late-game silly stuff so I would always have a draw. The deck has minimal card draw so having one of the pieces of fat to play is important, and while you can have draws that are jammed with things you can’t cast, there’s enough early ramp to at least make plays. I think this deck does enough on its own without being too worried about my opponent that I’m OK with keeping everything dedicated to my plan instead of having cards that don’t work towards my goals but are solid otherwise.
Phantasmal Image: Recently it came to my attention that a lot of other players don’t rank this card like I do, which is “really, really high.” Phantasmal Image is an insane card that is wildly versatile, playable in 99% of the decks which can make a single U, and a high pick in packs without cards clearly better than it. Versatile is a weird word to describe a card that only does one thing when you cast it, which is clone a creature, but at a cost of 1U it’s easy to use Phantasmal Image in a variety of decks and spots during a game. In this deck Image played a lot of different roles, from copying additional early ramp creatures, giving me big plays at 7 mana with my 5 drop creatures, and copying any pain-in-the-ass spells my opponent may bring to the table.
Because of Phantasmal Image, I should’ve considered the Deranged Hermit more. It’s a fine card with a lot of my spells, sick off of ramp with the Green’s Sun Zenith, and a reason to bring in the Recurring Nightmare in case I’m grinding against a deck with a ton of removal. I ultimately decided to leave Hermit out because he’s my only big threat that rolls over to Wildfire when he’s out there. Except if Wolfir is soul-bonding against one of them—and I think Wolfir is fine since I can play it as I choose and not walk into potential blow outs if at all possible—the hermit and all his chumpy squirrels die to Wildfire. While it’s only one card to worry about when talking about bringing in the Hermit, cutting down to 24 was tough enough as is and I don’t think Hermit was that much better than my other options to put such a terrible duo in the deck. Pretty much any hand that ends up with both Burning of Xinye and Deranged Hermit in it has at least one dead card in it for the majority of the game, and giving myself the chance to draw that hand seems awful.
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre: I hardcasted this guy in one game. This little blurb should really be about Gilded Lotus, because that card was nuts.
Gilded Lotus: This card was nuts. Gilded Lotus is a sweet card and one of my favorite in cube. Splashing the sweet cards that are passed to you is incredible and an amazing strategy in a format where most of the packs will have awesome cards for you at pick 4 and even beyond. Sometimes packs will be full of a color and you’ll get remnants, or the early packs will have so much of one color that multiple players will go into it and be supported while another color will only have one drafter. Decks like these love to play the cards like Gideon Jura or Upheaval that are far off the base color but bring an effect that the mostly green decks otherwise would have trouble with, and Gilded Lotus is a major engine in making that happen.
3 mana is so much. 5 mana when you cast Lotus and 9 mana if you have land the next turn is such a huge jump. If my ramp deck has a Gilded Lotus in it, I’m actively looking to pick up cards like Ulamog or Griselbrand since I won’t need to rely on the cheat strategy to get those cards into play. With the Eldrazi, I get their sick casting triggers as well. Gilded Lotus is a card that makes you want to play everything in every color that does sweet stuff, and it’s impossible not to get passed an off color piece of awesome when you’re drafting.
No Balance or Recurring Nightmare in the Main Deck: I left these two in the sideboard since I’d rather have them situationally instead of in every game.
Balance is a strong card, but there are so many situations where he’s really awkward. If I flood the board with a ton of creatures off Eureka and my opponent has a full hand that he doesn’t empty with, Balance may attack his hand but it will wipe out my board. If I’m ramping up hard, it could destroy my mana elf or advanced land base and kill my production at the expense of their hand. If they’re playing a creature light deck, Balance is just about always awful, and with the cube we drafted this in that wasn’t out of the question since there were many combo archetypes supported.
Against certain decks though it really shines. It’s a cheap wrath against the quicker decks; while you might lose a few cards to discard, killing their early offensive could be enough to win the game as they have to top deck into gas. (That’s partly another reason it’s not so great here, since I only have the Harmonize to be left with in my hand to recover.) Where Gideon is great, Balance is an awesome addition, since they’re both good against the decks with a decent amount of removal and creatures to back them off that keeps their board full of dudes and ours empty. Against decks with creatures and card draw I can also hurt their hand by blowing everything out of mine and then Balancing, keeping my probably-superior creatures out to match theirs while taking out multiple cards from their hands. Balance had its moments, but I wasn’t willing to bring it blind into the fight through the main deck.
Recurring Nightmare also had the issue of having some limited interactions with the rest of my main deck. There were a few cards that were certainly sweet with the Nightmare. Thragtusk is obviously nuts, Terrastadon could certainly get silly albeit a bit risky, and Phantasmal Image would situationally be awesome. Three cards aren’t enough to put a spot in a tight list aside for a card that would introduce a 5th color. While mana fixing wouldn’t have been an issue and adding in a swamp and maybe the Graven Cairns into the main could have been reasonable, the appeal is not great or wide enough with what I’m really doing and the potential hassle that a swamp and a Graven Cairns could bring to some draws isn’t worth the head ache. Recurring Nightmare is a card I love and when Deranged Hermit is good than Nightmare comes along with it, but there’s no reason to go crazy just to do it.
Green Sun’s Zenith: I liked that this card did a lot, and after sideboarding Zenith gave me more options. On turn 2 Zenith was a nice ramp spell; Around 6 mana I’m getting a sizeable threat that can start putting on serious pressure; and at 8 or 9 I’m trying to win the game. Potentially drawing Zenith at multiple stages of the game is crazy as it acts as multiple copies of creatures attached to one card. In the 2nd and 3rd games Zenith can find my artifact and enchantment removal at 5 with Wickerborough Elder—6 if you’re looking to have it active as well—and the Hermit at 6 too. It’s fine that Zenith misses Elesh Norn and Ulamog, since it does grab a couple of big-time finishers that do different things in Terrastadon and Simic Sky Swallower. Being able to grab any creature would be nice, but going base-green means that a majority of the knives from the swiss army were present. I had and missed an opportunity to grave a Natural Order during the draft, so I didn’t hesitate to take the Green Sun’s Zenith when I saw it.
Anger of the Gods: This card was sweet out of the sideboard, but Slagstorm is still better and you don’t really need more than that and Pyroclasm in addition to the Wildfires for set red wraths. While exile may be relevant against some cards, I brought Anger in against decks with a lot of quick, cheap threats, and in the one game it showed up in it performed well. Exile was pretty irrelevant, and in most match-ups the cards that Anger would kill are not ones you’re too worried about coming back. (I had recurring nightmare anyways!) I’d rather be able to hit players and planeswalkers as an additional option as well.
Overall, this deck was sweet. Casting Ulamog–hell yeah. Thanks for reading!