Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to 2013! You survived the stress of the holidays, the partying of New Year's, and the cataclysmic destruction of the world within the span of the last few weeks! Good for you!
As we reminisce about the past and dream about the future, I want us to look back a few months to late August of 2012, when this card was spoiled.
I am an easy target for Magic spoiler hype. Whenever they spoil something new, I don't care if it's just another Grizzly Bears—I get pumped. There's always something new about it that's fun and interesting, even if it's purely from a flavor perspective. When this little easy-to-cast one-drop was spoiled, I about wet myself with glee.
When I saw the Elemental on StarCityGames.com, I just stared at it for a few minutes. Cheap, no mana pump that fits in blue and red decks. Are they crazy? I thought. Just as crazy was the price; only $2.99 a piece? Are they crazy? My mouse hand jerked to snap order a playset, trusting they'd quickly climb into double digits. I mean, this was the blue Tarmogoyf. This would be the must-kill threat of the set!
As the spoiler list grew and I pondered the Elemental over and over again, I began to come down. Ok, so it does cost mana (to cast the spell you're exiling) and you lose the card. So it basically makes every instant or sorcery a double Battlegrowth. Well, that's, uh…that's not as good.
Needless to say, I was fairly bummed once I considered the significant investment more objectively. Eventually, I decided to wait and see how the Elemental would do before picking up a set. Still, if last year's Standard was any indication, one-drops with permanent pumps shouldn't be ignored.
Once the card was released, brewers like myself were eager to try out the Elemental too, but I failed to see any major list that might otherwise be synergetic sport even a single copy. Although Josh Cho played a sweet Legacy deck with a set of Nivmagus Elemental at the helm, I still hadn't seen a Standard application come up.
I took a whack at a fairly conventional U/R list and was displeased with it. Despite its flexible mana cost, I was finding it difficult to use the Elemental effectively. As I tested it, I found that the deck's spells needed to be cheaper to make investing in the Nivmagus Elemental attractive. It also turned out that most of my spells were better as spells and not as +1/+1 counters. I fiddled with some pretty stock U/R lists, but I found myself siding out the Elemental every time. If I was going to make the Elemental work, it was going to be in a fairly unconventional deck. Something had to change, and it had to happen from the ground up.
Alright, Matt, that was pretty anti-climactic. Stay with me, though. The Elemental gives me a unique option for every spell; I can just eat it! If my spell is countered, illegal, or impotent when it can resolve, I just gulp up the spell! This realization about the Elemental's power gave me a whole new concept to work with in deckbuilding. If everything is pretty cheap, I can keep pressure on and use cheap tempo cards to keep the damage coming.
Overload is a mechanic that hasn't seen much play outside of Limited and the rare spells like Cyclonic Rift and Mizzium Mortars. For someone like the Elemental, it's perfect. Both overload and the Elemental give your spells multiple modes and flexibility in how you cast them. So to complement the Elemental, I wanted to create a deck that had spells with lower intrinsic power level but greater flexibility so that I could choose from a multitude of options on the back of just one card.
As I filled in card slots, my excitement for the Elemental began to swell again, and before long, I was slinging this list. I was also getting inexplicably hungry...
- 4 Lightning Mauler
- 2 Markov Blademaster
- 1 Nivix Guildmage
- 3 Nivmagus Elemental
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 3 Reckless Waif
- 3 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Stonewright
As you can see, this very inexpensive deck is meant to be as aggressive and tempo-oriented as possible. Casting situational spells and indulging Nivmagus Elemental will help press the point reliably and efficiently.
Other One-Drops (Rakdos Cackler and Reckless Waif)
It's fairly clear that this deck happens to share a lot in common with the Mono-Red and R/B Aggro lists that have been having a fair amount of success at tournaments lately. In essence, this is basically a red deck that splashes blue for a bit of board manipulation and cheap defensive spells. Rakdos Cackler is an easy inclusion for any aggressive deck that can reasonably support him. He's still surprisingly effective in the late game; two damage is an even larger proportion of any wounded opponent's life total, so after the dust settles from sweepers and empty hands, a cheap 2/2 is just fine for a 20-to-0 deck like this.
Reckless Waif is a little more unorthodox, but here's my reasoning. When compared to something like Stromkirk Noble, I feel that the Waif stacks up better. Against most of the slower decks, especially ones that don't run Pillar, this will hit for three on turn 2 as opposed to one on turn 2 like the Noble. It trades much better, too. When you trade a Merciless Predator with the front end of a Thragtusk, they are basically just killing a one-drop. Careful play allows the Waif to be effective at just the right point of the game. In such a hyper-aggressive deck, high-powered threats are a commodity; with all the instants I have, it's not a big deal to pass the turn and force the flip as long as I've got more creatures out.
A somewhat knee-jerk inclusion based on the nature of this deck, this cheap, two-power machine is great for flashing back burn or a cheap or overloaded spell. He still fits in the aggressive theme since I run him out as a dude about as often as I hold him for value.
This guy is awesome. Playtesting with him has been a delight: cheap, free haste without the awkward Fervor and Urabrask the Hidden! He has the flexibility to get aggressive and pair with a turn 1 Cackler while also being able to bide his time for that one alpha strike. Really like him.
This card hasn't gotten very much love, and rightly so. It's a pretty risky deck inclusion (it is effectively a 1/1 for three color-intensive mana), but the deck synergizes well enough that one connection (fairly easy on turn 3 with a Mauler) pretty much presages defeat. Bear in mind she is quite an effective blocker with or without +1/+1 counters.
Each of the singletons here serves an important though not pivotal purpose. Stonewright, although technically a one-drop, doesn't feel like one, so I didn't include it with the others. The Stonewright pairs nicely with any creature, forcing damage through against more than one blocker and empowering your low-power dudes in the late game. When paired with the Blademaster, watch out! Firebreathing is ruthlessly effective when it's +2/+0 for R.
The Guildmage is also in here for those long hauls. The ability to Loot multiple times in longer games can help me find the threat I need, and most spells are cheap enough that his second ability is occasionally relevant. Copies can be fed to the Elemental, too!
Mizzium Skin is a bizarre card. Part combat trick (a bad one) and part reactive spell (also fairly bad by definition), Mizzium Skin perfectly embodies my goal for this deck. With all the removal floating around out there, it helps to be prepared on the cheap. With the goal of this deck being sheer aggression, Mizzium Skin acts like a tempo boost.
Especially in game 2, after the less aggressive players side in removal, they will try to pick off your most intimidating threats with spot removal, but this little gem can easily protect them while they waste a card, a turn, and their plans. Although decidedly worse after your opponent sees it, keeping a single blue mana up will always make them hesitate to cast their removal spell. It's still a great surprise card, and it can be a nice tasty snack for the Elemental if removal isn't a problem.
Burn (Searing Spear and Thunderbolt)
Searing Spear is not a new addition to any red-supporting list, so I won't linger there. Thunderbolt, on the other hand, was a fairly deep choice. Basically Searing Spears #5-7 with the ability to shoot down an errant Restoration Angel, Thunderbolt allows me to carve deep into my opponent's life total. If you have an Elemental out, it is often better to simply let it eat the Lightning, but it's also an instant speed Lava Spike for when that's relevant (more often than you might think). Don't count on the second mode always being relevant, so don't be afraid to side it out if life gain or the lack of flyers merit it.
Cheap instants with the ability to skew tempo are the name of this game, and Unsummon is a prime candidate. Unsummon has never been an all-star with its inherent card disadvantage and ineffectiveness of dealing with a threat permanently. Still, with a deck that just needs to get guys through to keep the opponent on the defensive, Unsummon plays an essential role. It's also a great counter for their Rancor, perhaps one of its better applications.
Bull Rush is terrible. Path of Anger's Flame is barely passable, as have been all its variants. When you put them together, though, you have a pretty decent card for this deck. Dynacharge gives you the opportunity to just win games out of nowhere. Turning an attack for four into lethal is a thrilling way to steal a game. You'll almost always want to cast it overloaded, but if not, you can certainly feed it to the Elemental for a permanent and better boost. This is inherently a mediocre card, but remember that most of these are. Their synergy with the deck is what makes them good.
Syncopate is a bizarre choice; a low land count and no ramp means this can often be outpaced. However, this card will perform best as a turn 2 Force Spike, and beyond that it's a one-mana snack for our homie. If your opponent has flooded out, give your Elemental a little more board presence by sloughing it off on their late-game Arbor Elf. Primarily an early-game card, I am still always grateful to have one in hand. As the game progresses and I've resolved two or three creatures, I feel very comfortable sitting back with two or three mana available for X... Sigh... I miss Mana Leak.
Originally a pair until I realized how awkward two in hand is, Dangerous Wager is a very exciting card. To Wager in any deck, you need to have a pretty thorough knowledge of the list you're playing so you know why you're throwing your hand away. Although at best a cheaper instant Divination (that Tiago can easily flash back), it can also be used if your hand might as well be empty. If you need a burn spell to kill your opponent and they've got lethal on board, what's the point in having a hand at all?
This card can really get there, and I highly recommend it for very low casting cost lists. If you like your hand, the Elemental will happily clean your plate. I'm starving by now, by the way. I wonder if we still have some sauerkraut in the fridge from last night...
The land base is pretty paltry; 21 lands, only eighteen of which produce color, is very slim. Still, I rarely need more than two or three mana, and nothing in the deck costs more than that. I included Ghost Quarters to deal with Caverns and keep your Syncopates live while providing outs for tough-to-beat lands like Gavony Township, Kessig Wolf Run, and (apparently) Nephalia Drownyard. Rarely will I care about the loss of land on my side; I just like that it's free and uncounterable.
Also, in the vein of Mono-Red, a single Crucible breaks through the lithosphere to join us. A lot of decks have trouble dealing with a 4/4 uncounterable Hellion, and this is here to exploit those decks for very little deck real estate.
The sideboard has evolved a great deal since its original construction and is fairly conventional in comparison to the deck itself. Three Counterflux come in for the long game. Alternatively, once I've got a couple threats out, Counterflux unerringly protects me from whatever nonsense the opponent uses to defend themselves or to prevent an over-the-top spell from dealing with me. Although counter-heavy decks aren't really in vogue at the moment, nonsense decks are, and being able to unquestionably thwart them is worth a fifth of my board.
Mizzium Mortars is a bittersweet inclusion. It hits for four, which is out of range of my staple Searing Spear, and the overload is tempting, but six mana is a fairly big task for this deck. I've still used it, mind you, but this should be treated as another spot removal spell. Grafdigger's Cage is my single Reanimator answer, and it prevents shenanigans from Zombies, too. Although a bit of a nonbo with Snapcaster Mage, I'm fine with him just being a flashy dude if it comes down to it.
Curse of Echoes, far and away the most basically expensive spell in the list, completely undoes a lot of archetypes not based on creatures, including Five-Color Control, U/W Flash, Miracles, and even some Jund builds. Pillar of Flame, like Searing Spear, is a comfortable and cozy staple that will continue to remain as long as Gravecrawlers keep lurking.
Electrickery is one of my favorite cards in the sideboard. Both aggro and control decks alike employ mana dorks and little tikes made with Lingering Souls. This is a cheap and edible spell meant to handle all of those problems. As a side note, this is one of the few ways for Izzet to deal with a resolved turn 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben from your opponent immediately. Thalia is a big game against us, and having an answer for her and any other swarms is relevant to me.
Finally, Traitorous Blood is in there for the battlecruiser creature decks lumbering around Standard. Thragtusk, Griselbrand, Angel of Serenity...all of them can be conscripted at a moment's notice. I like Traitorous Blood over Mark of Mutiny for the trample, which is relevant when I need to push a lot of damage through a smaller squad. The double red is a little awkward, but I don't want things to go wrong and force me to leave them with a slightly pumped creature, either.
This deck is one of the more tested and tweaked decks that I've posted on Untapped. I've been playtesting it since mid-November and have done so against a wide variety of archetypes, so instead of a normal breakdown, I'm going to try something that actual pros do and describe some good and bad matchups. I'll do three of each and give you a play guide.
In my opinion, the consistency of Mono-Red is only eclipsed by the level of manipulation in this deck. Mizzium Skin is huge in this matchup and should be used just as much as a combat trick. Bait them into making the right attack; it's unlikely they can effectively surprise you. You can be the beatdown in this matchup. Save your removal for their creatures and hold the Syncopates for their late game Thundermaw Hellkites, Hellriders, or Devil's Plays. Feel free to throw spells on to the Elemental too, as he'll quickly move out of removal range after just a couple meals.
One of the most popular archetypes in Standard has trouble dealing with this deck. The tempo and burn often keep them on the defensive. After they've let your seemingly insignificant creatures through, this deck can efficiently finish them off with burn. Sublime Archangel and its exalted target can be easily disrupted by the tools in this deck. Spellemental does even better after sideboard. You should be able to outmaneuver this deck easily and quickly punish them for greedy plays.
An increasingly popular and broad archetype, the four- and five-color good stuff decks are gaining traction at my local FNMs. However, your deck can get explosive, can't-lose hands fairly often, and the more damage you can push through the better. While they Farseek and Thragtusk, you'll be crashing in for increasingly impressive amounts.
Play conservatively because most pack Supreme Verdict maindeck just for decks like this. Spot removal is often fairly sparse, though, so don't be afraid to go all in on a risky Dynacharge + Thunderbolt. Sideboarding will by highly dependent on the colors used; heavy B/R builds might compel you to keep your Skin on. After sideboarding, focus on hitting Sphinx's Revelation, as I've noticed these decks have a hard time winning without it.
Although we have good matchups against a variety of popular archetypes, we chew glass against others, and more testing will be needed to figure out the best strategy to combat them.
Token decks are a rough matchup for the hungry Elemental. Tempo is much less relevant when they can often out-creature this deck. I've had the most success aiming for their nontoken spells like Intangible Virtue and planeswalkers. A bunch of 1/1s isn't scary, but even one Virtue can put the game out of reach.
Flickering creates an awkward situation for this deck. Although Thragtusk on his own is no biggie for this list to outpace, a 3/4 flyer, a 3/3 Beast, a 5/3, and ten life is backbreaking. Huntmaster of the Fells is also a very tough card for it to beat because you lose so much card advantage trying to deal with it. Your best goal is to push as hard as possible by playing out your hand. I know you'll be walking into a Bonfire, but it's one of the few lines of play I see for this deck.
Blood Artist is a nuisance for this deck to beat. That combined with aggressive Zombies means you'll have a tough time getting a win before sideboarding. In game 1, you'll want to be the beatdown. Play out your team and be careful with your combat math. Watch for the second main phase Geralf's Messenger and take that possibility into consideration at all times. While this deck has the ability to win the game out of nowhere, so does the Zombie deck.
This deck has sampled a lot of cards over the course of its life, including Delver of Secrets (too terrible), Krenko's Command (too low in power), and Bonfire of the Damned (too expensive). After a lot of tweaking, I feel pretty confident in this list. It's usually gone X-1 when I've tested it, but it does have difficulty with some of the more complex midrange and control builds. Lady Luck needs to be on my side for those, and the Lady and I broke up a while ago (she said it was her, not me) so I need more reliable ways to deal with control-heavy fields.
I hope you've enjoyed this deck, and I wish you and yours a pleasant, prosperous, and healthy new year! Look out, 2013: we're going to be filling you with a lot of Magic!
Until next time, don't forget to untap!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online