Today's article is a double dose of brewing. I've been thinking a lot about both cards for a few weeks, and it only occurred to me a few days ago that they can go in the same deck fairly profitably. I'm thrilled to talk about these two cards and how great they are together and...
Let's back up.
Astral Slide is an innocuous-looking card that happened to dominate the era in which it existed by powering up a very popular mechanic of its time, Cycling.
Cycling is an ability that lets you trade some amount of power for greater consistency. For instance:
Secluded Steppe is kind of a Plains. Instead of being an actual Plains, you get a choice with Secluded Steppe: you can play it as an enters-tapped Plains or you can pay a white mana and trade it in for another card. When you're light on mana and heavy on action, it's a land. When you're light on action and heavy on mana, it's another card. The mechanic of Cycling is obviously appealing to people who want more decisions per turn, since it rewards a greater understanding of resource balance and mana efficiency.
Astral Slide pays you for playing with cards that ask you to make a lot of decisions. For an up-front cost of three mana and an activation cost of zero mana per instance, you get to super-Flicker any creature. Here is the typical progression of someone discovering how Astral Slide works:
Level zero: "Hey, cool, I can play Astral Slide and cycling cards to mini-Fog my opponent's attackers!"
Level seventeen: "I wonder if there are any other ways to abuse the cards that also abuse Cycling."
Okay, so as per usual, we went deep.
Let me walk you through how it all started.
My first thought after seeing that Astral Slide was the poll's decisive winner was "oh, shoot – you can't Slide out a True-Name Nemesis." Which is true - for all the stalling that Astral Slide can do, it doesn't stop a True-Name Nemesis from attacking.
The other major issue with Astral Slide is that it basically cannot beat a combo deck without seriously trying. After all, the deck is built around a card that starts functioning on turn 4. By then, many decks have already finished shuffling after caving in our skull with an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Griselbrand or nine 3/3 Zombie tokens and a Flame-Kin Zealot. It's a bad scene.
So who are we preying on, exactly?
I think we're aiming to beat Shardless BUG, Delver of Secrets, any attrition deck (blue attrition with Jace, the Mind Sculptor as well as black attrition with Liliana of the Veil), Death and Taxes and other fair strategies. The goal is to lose to combo and crush all creature decks.
In order to crush creature decks, we're going to want an overloaded removal suite plus a draw engine. You see, most decks interested in killing creatures play around eight removal spells:
We want to play a few more than that. How do we select our removal spells, though?
It feels clear to me that this deck wants neither Swords to Plowshares nor Lightning Bolt despite likely being red and white, but I understand that that's unlikely to be intuitive to many of you. As such, let's start there.
This deck is going to be a long-game control deck. It has Astral Slide as a repeatable way to take care of something like Tarmogoyf or Delver of Secrets, so it doesn't need to clutter up the deck with extraneous ways of interacting with creatures whose only feature is a good rate on power and toughness. Rather, it should focus on being able to kill utility creatures.
Therein lies the rest of the issue: Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolt are both great at killing any given utility creature. Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman, Stoneforge Mystic – you name it, those cards kill it. But they don't kill the second copy. Or the third copy. In that respect, Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares aren't the best options.
Punishing Fire is the best recurring removal spell in Legacy. In a very specific context, Seismic Assault is better, but Punishing Fire is just excellent at what it does. The first copy may be an overpriced Shock, but every rebuy is just spending three mana to kill a creature.
If we're going to be playing a long game, the last thing I want to do is have someone peel a Deathrite Shaman and kill me with it. As it turns out, Astral Slide is not so good against Grim Lavamancer 2k12. I'm similarly unenthusiastic about Sliding out a Dark Confidant or a Stoneforge Mystic. Punishing Fire is there to clean up the trash, letting us focus on their monolithic threat turn after turn.
As I mentioned earlier, Astral Slide doesn't deal with True-Name Nemesis. Neither does Punishing Fire. We're going to play another removal spell that does deal with Nemesis, but first, I want to bring things back to a discussion of synergy.
These let a Slide deck hit early land drops and trigger Astral Slide in the mid-to-late game. Of course, Astral Slide predates one of the premier card-advantage engines in the history of Magic, Ravnica's Landcestral Recall:
The package is so neat and tidy – you cycle a land, you Slide something out, you replace the draw from Cycling with a Life from the Loam dredge, and you cast Loam to rebuy three cycling lands. Three mana for an Ancestral Recall with buyback.
Now that we know that we're interested in Life from the Loam plus cycling lands, it makes much more sense that we would want to kill Deathrite Shaman on sight – letting a Shaman nibble away at our lands is no fun. Of course, Punishing Fire and Life from the Loam have pretty straightforward synergy - dredging Life from the Loam can turn up Punishing Fire, which can be rebought with Grove of the Burnwillows, which itself can be rebought with Life from the Loam. The circle of life! Except, you know, with infinitely more durdling around and far less actually doing things.
So the core of our deck so far is:
4 Wasteland (because once you're Loaming, you really ought to)
No matter what we're doing, we're going to want a creature that synergizes with Astral Slide. Ideally, it would also synergize with Life from the Loam. Fortunately, Eternal Witness does both and is the same color as Life from the Loam, so it seems like a pretty clear inclusion.
I don't really know how many cards with cycling is the right number for an Astral Slide deck, so I did some research. As it turns out, the right number is somewhere in the teens. Full disclosure: I'm getting this number from some preliminary research into the last competitive Astral Slide deck, piloted by none other than Fearless Leader Cedric Phillips half a decade ago in Extended:
Cedric had four maindeck Spark Spray because Scion of Oona was ostensibly a real card back then (see also: Cloudthresher), but we aren't facing down a ton of targetable x/1 antagonists in Legacy, so we're going to have to pass on that noise. We are, however, very interested in Edge of Autumn.
Edge of Autumn is a card that cycles for no mana, is a Rampant Growth when we need it to be, and (very importantly) can sacrifice a cycling land for some amount of value. This interaction can kickstart our Life from the Loam engine while also smoothing out our draws. I'm very interested in all of this, so we'll be playing four Edge of Autumn.
I'm not sure whether there's another worthwhile cycling card (and yes, I looked at all of them, including Radiant's Judgment), but I'm going to hope that sixteen is enough to get us through a game.
Our updated list is:
We're looking at 42 slots spoken for already, with 23 of those being lands. I'd like to get up to at least 27 lands, and it makes a lot of sense for those to be dual lands. I don't think that having fetchlands makes a ton of sense right now, but that may change. For now, though, we're interested in filling out our removal suite, finding a way to kill people that doesn't involve rebuying Punishing Fire to net a point per turn, and fitting some sweet cards into our deck.
Let's take a look at what we're building so far from a strategic vantage point: we're a dedicated board control deck that should be able to stymie any opposing offense. How can we exploit an opponent who isn't dealing us damage?
Cute, cute. A little less sixteen candles, a little more Legacy-playable?
Getting warmer. Don't they make cards that create marginal advantages every turn for zero mana, though?
I promise I'm not just trying to make fetch happen. Hear me out first.
We're a deck that rebuys a bunch of lands and Punishing Fires. We don't really care about discarding those lands or Life from the Loams or Punishing Fires – it's all kind of fungible. Tibalt's +1 ability doesn't discriminate, which is perfect – we get to draw a card (maybe dredge Life from the Loam) and discard a card that we're a decent shot to just freeroll, either by Loaming back or regrowing with Grove of the Burnwillows. This is pretty much the ideal deck for Tibalt's first ability.
The -6 is where the fireworks happen. If they have something like an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Griselbrand or something else, we can keep that in limbo for a while with Astral Slide. We can tick up Tibalt, sifting through our deck, developing our manabase, and tying up their creature(s). Eventually, we can just steal their stuff with Tibalt and end the game in one turn.
Of course, I'm not stopping there. What if we could safeguard our action and give Tibalt a bunch of garbage to throw out? We aren't blue, so we can't play Brainstorm, but there is another way…
So yeah, we're going pretty deep on Life from the Loam synergies, but look -- the original Scroll Rack synergy was with a card that put three lands in your hand every turn. Why not have Scroll Rack + Life from the Loam be a thing? We can Loam back some lands, put them on top with Scroll Rack, dredge them away with Life from the Loam, and turn our manure into real cards! Alternatively, we could put our spells back, hold our lands in hand, and activate Tibalt's +1 ability to guarantee that we will lose nothing of consequence.
"Exile any number of cards from your hand face down. Put that many cards from the top of your library into your hand. Then look at the exiled cards and put them on top of your library in any order."
So it doesn't make us draw cards, which is unfortunately dissynergistic with Life from the Loam. Fortunately, we have one last sweet card that we can shoehorn in.
Think about it for a second: what card deals with True-Name Nemesis, has synergy with Scroll Rack's Oracle text about "putting cards in your hand", and has synergy with a mechanic that lets you draw cards on your opponent's turn?
A one-mana Wrath of God, of course. It gets better. There's a sweet soft lock available with this deck now: if we cycle a card into Terminus with Astral Slide in play, we can Slide out Eternal Witness and then Miracle our Terminus. At the end of the turn, Witness will come back and rebuy Terminus. If we have Scroll Rack, we can put Terminus back on top and do it again next turn. And the next turn. And the next turn. Aaaand the next turn.
You get the idea.
I'd like to have a few sweet one-ofs in the deck, because there is literally nothing better in Magic than drawing your perfect one-of card that takes over a game. I have two specific cards in mind:
Sundial of the Infinite probably requires a bit more explanation. Really, though, it's there as a combo with Astral Slide. If we Slide an opposing creature out on our turn, we can go to our end step, put the delayed trigger from Astral Slide on the stack, and activate Sundial of the Infinite. Upon that ability's resolution, the Astral Slide ability that's on the stack gets exiled, which is semantically different from being countered but is basically the same thing – it disappears and doesn't happen again. The creature never comes back.
This has the nice side-effect of occasionally snagging Brainstorms or what-have-you, since ending the turn will exile everything on the stack. It's almost certainly too cute for its own good, but since when has that stopped a card from making the cut?
Finally, I think we just want more lands – our mana situation is going to be pretty rough as it stands, and I'd like to be able to cast our spells. To that end, I'd like to have two fetchlands and four dual lands as the last six cards in the deck.
For starters, I think it makes a lot of sense to lean toward red mana. We're playing Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded and Punishing Fire, two cards that want a lot of red mana. Most of our duals should be red.
Our only real dilemma, then, is how to split the 2/1 count of Taiga and Plateau. Since we have a set of Grove of the Burnwillows, I'm going to err on the side of casting Astral Slide and Terminus and start with two Plateau. I have no idea how this is going to play out, so these numbers are obviously up for revision, but I'm happy with the following as a starting sixty:
I'm not sure whether it's better to add a set of Mox Diamond and go down to 25 land, but I'm hopeful that someone like Jeff Hoogland will come by and educate me on how to build a proper Mox Diamond manabase. After all, the man is a Life from the Loam fiend in Legacy.
As you may have noticed, we are in no way prepared to interact with combo decks with our maindeck. We have a zillion ways to kill creatures and no way of stopping an opponent from counting to ten. Our sideboard, then, should probably have a bunch of hateful cards to that end. What are our options?
The most obvious inclusion is Chalice of the Void.
We have zero one-mana cards. If we weren't so intent on killing creatures with our maindeck, it would be a great maindeck fit. Regardless, our sideboard is going to start with four of these.
Since we're NOT playing blue (what is this world coming to?) and we're planning on going long, we actually have a Blood Moon effect available to us. We don't really want actual literal Blood Moon on account of our Wastelands and fancy Grove of the Burnwillows, but we do get to play with Choke.
Geeeeeeeet ******, cantrip combo decks.
Since Dredge and Reanimator can bulldoze us before we're ready to play Magic, we want something cheap but very effective against them. Since we're already opening ourselves up to cards like Abrupt Decay and Engineered Explosives by playing Chalice of the Void and Choke, it makes the most sense to have another hate card that is also vulnerable to the same set of cards. After all, if we draw two sideboard cards and they draw a Pithing Needle and a bounce spell, we want to have overloaded their bounce spell. If they draw two bounce spells…well, I guess they win. But we could draw three sideboard cards! I guess this is why we play the games, right?
Regardless, we're going to want Grafdigger's Cage – it's a versatile card that comes in against everything from Dredge to Reanimator to Storm to some fringe strategies, it doesn't hose us at all, and it operates on a time frame that is actually useful. It will very occasionally have some dissynergy with Chalice of the Void, but I'm okay with having both cards. In that world, I think we're doing all right.
Our tentative final deck, then, is:
Due to some work-related constraints, videos on this deck will have to wait until later next week. Instead of videos next Tuesday, I'll be bringing you another sweet deck, born from whatever you select from this here poll:
As always, I look forward to hearing your ideas on the deck. See you in the comments!