In my set review, I mentioned that Voltaic Construct looked ridiculous in any number of formats. Since I got four out of the packs I got at the prerelease, I decided to find out just how busted that card is, at least in casual play. (It's busted.) Since breaking it casually is too easy, I will also look at it in T2. Regionals is coming, after all.
Before I get to the real format, I want to revel in multiplayer memories. I built a Construct deck for the first casual night after the prerelease. I have, since then, torn the deck apart - it is too good to be fun. For my opponents, that is.
I don't play P10 cards in these decks, but otherwise I build to T1 rules. That meant that a lot of the cards I wanted to play (Tinker, Mana Vault) were restricted, but the core cards (Constructs, Metalworkers) are not.
Since I was playing casual games, typically two to five player chaos, the kill cards had to be capable of killing several opponents at once. That eliminated the best options for duels, Stroke of Genius and Magma Mine. I decided on a Cursed Scroll and a Millstone, plus a Memnarch in case of problems like Ivory Mask.
Typical highlight: turn 5 - I was generating infinite mana. It was turn 5 because everyone had been targeting me, and I had had my turn 2 Metalworker and turn 3 Thran Dynamo killed. Not good enough. As I put 500 Blue mana in my pool, a bystander asked"But how do you kill them?" I dropped Memnarch, turned to the bystander and said"This game, I'll kill them with an FTK, a couple elves, that Steelshaper and whatever Steve has under that Bonesplitter. But since I'm stealing everything on the board, including lands, they'll probably concede."
Short of concessions, the key to the deck is infinite mana, Voltaic Construct and Karn, Silver Golem, which can turn any artifact into a creature. I can do infinite damage with a Cursed Scroll, or mill everyone's libraries away in one turn with a single Millstone. Untapping and retapping Urza's Blueprints or Planar Portal allows me to draw my deck, at least until I pull whatever I need. Or, in a worst case scenario, I can animate the big mana artifacts and card drawers and beat with those. I have beat for sixteen on turn three.
Here's the deck at present. I designed this, mentally, on the drive home from the prerelease, and actually built it in an hour before leaving for casual night. It won nearly every game, but that version was still badly untuned (I grabbed Jayemdae Tomes, which were handy but bad, over Planar Portals.) Here's the updated version.
4 Voltaic Construct
4 Thran Dynamo
4 Karn, Silver Golem
4 Thran Dynamo
3 Urza's Blueprints
3 Planar Portal
3 Lightning Greaves
2 Gilded Lotus
R Grim Monolith
R Mana Vault
R Voltaic Key
R Sol Ring
R Stroke of Genius
R Brain Geyser
1 Cursed Scroll
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
4 Seat of the Synod
R Tolarian Academy
This looks pretty good, but it could still be better. This is geared towards a multiplayer format. A T1 duel deck could cut some redundancy in the tap for mana artifacts and replace them with black tutors, Brainstorm or Impulse, Force of Will, Duress, and so forth, and could win with simpler cards - Stroke of Genius is a great kill card if you only have to kill one player. (Fireball is also good, but it does nothing in the deck until you have the combo, and it doesn't help power the Metalworker.)
For a while, I had some Shield Spheres in the deck as well to provide early blockers, but I haven't needed them. The deck kills faster than any creature decks - even a whole table's worth. I toyed with Darksteel Colossus, but he was also pointless - the deck killed everyone when it went off, so playing him accomplished nothing special.
The one tricky part of playing the deck is going off. Generating the infinite mana is pretty easy, but you also have to draw a win condition. Karn and Lightning Greaves are the key.
Let's look at a good draw and a short game:
Turn 1: Ancient Tomb, Mana Vault, Sol Ring, Voltaic Key, Gilded Lotus., Karn.
Turn 2: leave Vault tapped, fifteen life, cast Voltaic Construct, Urza's Blueprints in hand.
It's easy, right? Use Karn to make Gilded Lotus a creature, Lotus / Construct for a ton of mana, cast Blueprints, tap to draw card, make it a creature, untap with Construct, tap to draw a card, untap, keep it up until you draw a win condition, win. Right?
Once you make the Blueprints a creature, it has summoning sickness. You need to use Lightning Greaves to get around that problem. However, if it is equipped with Greaves that creature cannot be targeted with the Construct. So you do the following dance, once Blueprints is a creature.
1) move Greaves to Karn or Construct
2) untap Blueprints
3) move Greaves to Blueprints
4) tap for a card
Of course, draws like this are better:
Turn 1: City of Traitors, Sol Ring, Metalworker.
Turn 2: tap Metalworker (revealing Construct, Planar Portal, Vault, Dynamo), cast Construct, infinite mana, cast Portal, tap to search for win condition, then win.
The deck is very powerful and a blast to play, but it is not significantly better than existing T1 archetypes. Some Keeper decks were running Power Artifact and Grim Monolith last year, and that combo is a lot less fragile, since it did not involve creatures. However, there is not much serious T1 being played around here, so I'm not that practiced in the format. Maybe the T1 experts can tweak this into contention.
When I start looking at Voltaic Construct for T2, I dismissed it at once. I have tried base-Blue combo decks in Mirrodin T2 for states (Zur's Words, etc.), and they didn't work. That type of combo does not fair well in a world of fast decks and Akroma's Vengeance. Then I started noticing that the Vengeances are disappearing. The Construct looks more interesting if artifacts survive past turn 5.
T2 does not have Karn, Silver Golem. (It should. Wouldn't Karn be great in this format?) However, the format does have one Karn-like effect - March of the Machines.
March of the Machines: 3U, Enchantment. All non-creature artifacts are artifact creatures with power and toughness equal to their casting costs.
Gilded Lotus, March of the Machines, Voltaic Construct - infinite colored mana. We just might be able to do something with that.
March of the Machines also has some interesting effects in the current metagame. It trashes Affinity, for one, because Artifact lands die. Even the Darksteel Citadel - it is now a 0/0 creature, and dies. Yes, Mr. Owner, you did get the indestructible feature when you bought that place, but look at the fine print on your deed: the Citadel is not guaranteed to withstand concession, Wrath of Mom, or state based effects.
Broodstar is not as big a problem - or just as big - when artifact lands go away. And if Broodstar is not already in play, Affinity can have some problems getting it out. Got Talismans? In play? Good luck drawing the Glimmervoids.
March of the Machines can also help against Skullclamp decks. March of the Machines negates Equipment - animated Equipment falls off and becomes a stand-alone artifact creatures. Bonesplitter and Skullclamp become 1/1s with no useful abilities. Spare elves and goblins look like, well spare elves and goblins. They don't look like little card drawing machines.
Let's start with the fun stuff. Let's assume that the combo is working and you have infinite mana. What do you want to do with it? Here are some cards that could be used.
Yup, you have the mana to cast him - two copies even. You could also use the mana to cast Index. You have infinite frickin' mana - don't dink around, win the game already. You want to cast a finisher - something that will either win the game or force a concession. You certainly don't want to cast a non-hasty creature, no matter how good that creature may be. (I have another deck for Darksteel Colossus.)
Now this is more like it. Infinite mana and X spells go together like two things that go together really well. Dump lots of mana in your pool, then hit your opponent and every one of his/her artifacts for about five billion points each. Just because you can - and because you cannot Deflect or Shunt a Fireball with multiple targets.
This is one exception to not casting a creature - with infinite Blue mana, Memnarch can steal everything on their side of the table. This could be important if they have Worship, Platinum Angel or something like that - something that stops you from winning with Fireballs, the way gawd intended.
With March of the Machines, this is the block's Desolation Angel with kicker - it is a 6/6 that comes with a built-in, continuous Armageddon. All lands are now artifacts, and all artifacts are creatures, and all the lands are 0/0s that die to state based effects. This might be worthwhile if you have March in play, but don't have the Construct. It does lock up the game - even if an opponent plays a land, the land dies before it can be tapped for mana. (This even happens with Sacred Ground in play - the lands are dying to state based effects, not an effect I control.)
If you have infinite mana, you can pump the dragon to lethal size and serve. Too bad it doesn't have trample. Or Haste.
If you want to beat down with what you have for the win, Icy can tap everything an opponent has (remember, with March in play, Voltaic Construct can untap Icy.) Then just untap all your artifact creatures, and beat. You will have, at a minimum, a 5/5 Lotus and a 4/4 Icy. You can untap everything again, even if you don't have lands free. Simply declare your attack phase, generate mana via the Lotus and Construct, use some of that to untap the Lotus, declare attackers, then use the rest of the mana to untap them all again. Next turn, if there is one, you can use the Lotus / Construct and Icy to tap all your opponent's permanents, and then untap all your stuff, during your opponent's upkeep. Unless they have done something silly (e.g. the infinite life clerics deck), you should kill them in a couple turns.
Millstone / Tower of Murmurs
This is useful if they do have something silly, like the infinite life clerics deck. It should probably be a sideboard card. Remember that Millstone does beat for two. Also remember that Millstone does not get to tap and mill on the first turn under March of the Machines, and that Lightning Greaves cannot solve that problem, since it cannot equip something with March in play.
Originally, I was going to include a paragraph about cards like Urza's Armor, which I included in my first Karn deck, shortly after Saga was released. It beat for six with Karn in play, and slowed weenie rushes. My point, however, was that it was too slow and just plain bad without Karn. Then I got thinking about Thunderstaff, which is half the cost, meaning that you could drop it turn 3. It would slow the Goblins. Moreover, with the combo, it could pump any creature to infinite size.
Your dream game goes something like this:
Turn 1 Cloudpost.
Turn 2 Cloudpost, Talisman.
Turn 3, Island, Lotus, Talisman, Thunderstaff.
Turn 4, March, Construct, beats with Lotus, 2 Talismans, Thunderstaff - if anything is unblocked, Thunderstaff pumps it to lethal size.
Thunderstaff has the advantage, like Icy, of being good before the combo comes down. The question is whether the card is good enough to make the cut. It seems to help against Goblins and White Weenie - but I'm not sure that's enough to justify it. Of course, it does shut down soldier tokens altogether.
Another kill card, and one that passes the combo test. (It is good when you don't have the combo.) Before the combo, the Nexus taps for mana. After the combo, it becomes an artifact creature, pumps itself to lethal size, then flies over for the win.
Finding the Pieces
This deck needs to find the combo pieces quickly. It needs something like Impulse to power through the deck. Too bad Impulse isn't legal. That being the case, let's look at what card drawing / tutoring we can use.
Rush of Knowledge
Should win the game once the combo is out, and too expensive when it is not. (I'm just showing off, of maybe padding my word count - but how many people remember this is even legal? .... How many don't care? .... Oh. Okay. I'll shut up now.)
Thirst for Knowledge
Probably the best we have, but this deck cannot run artifact lands. (March of the Machines is supposed to kill their lands, not ours.) That means that this card is often a draw three, discard two kind of card.
We don't run quite enough artifacts to make this good enough. It's the artifact lands thing again.
Read the Runes
Another powerful card drawing instant, and an excellent way of finding the kill card once you go off.
With a ton of artifacts, this rips through a deck. Without them, it rips through a couple cards. Thirst is better, because double Blue can be a minor problem at times. Read the Runes is better. This needs more testing, but it probably will only see play in block.
A solid tutor, but Read the Runes seems cheaper and better. Both do the same thing when going off, but Fabricate might be better beforehand. The deciding factor, so far, is that Read the Runes can get two Fireballs and a Memnarch with infinite mana, while Fabricate cannot.
Powering Out the Combo
Gilded Lotus costs five mana. You need to cast that, and cast it quickly. That means mana acceleration. Let's look at the options:
Fast, powerful, costs a card and dies to March of the Machines. We don't need no stinking Moxen.
Two mana per turn, for a one mana investment. Great acceleration, but it comes at the cost of making their creature kill useful. The other concern is in handling weenie rushes, as discussed below. If the deck plays Pyroclasm, the Engineer may not fit. The Engineer is also useless for powering a Mana Leak on turn 3, and doesn't improve under March.
These seem like the best options. If the deck is playing Mana Leak, you can play one and a land turn 3, and still have Leak mana open. They also turn into 2/2 beaters with March of the Machines.
It gives you any color pain-free, and it becomes an indestructible 3/3 under March. That is a nice deal, but the format seems too fast.
Trinisphere has proved to be too slow. By the time it hit, the affinity decks already had lethal damage on the board.
Pyroclasm seems like a decent bet against Goblins and WW. To bad the colors conflict, so you cannot play a R/U talisman or fetchland. Pyrite Spellbomb is another possible answer - it can be Goblin control or a card drawer.
I mentioned Thunderstaff. I need to test that.
Mana Leak is likely. I'm still at the stage of testing where I am trying to find a balance. Mana Leak may make the maindeck, or may be a sideboard card.
He protects my artifacts when going off, and blocks many cards. However, I found he was coming down too slowly (turn 3), and died too easily (Shrapnel Blast). He did protect my stuff, though. I thought about Lightning Greaves on Leonin Abunas, but that didn't work - Greaves is just a 2/2 under March of the Machine. Abunas is certainly better than Darksteel Forge for protecting my stuff - Forge was never going to be cast before going off in any case.
One note on off-color cards: This deck likes Mirrodin's Core. It is a great one-drop in a deck without many. It can power out Abunas, the Fireballs, or Pyroclasm, and since it is not an artifact land, it survives March of the Machines. I have also experimented with Chromatic Spheres as a means of digging through the deck and fixing mana. Again, it is a matter of space and one drops - they are probably an either / or with the Core, but they can fit. It depends a lot on the matchup.
Here's a current version of the deck.
3 Chromatic Sphere
3 Pyrite Spellbomb
3 Talisman of Indulgence
3 Talisman of Progress
4 Gilded Lotus
1 Mycosynth Lattice
4 March of the Machines
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Mana Leak
2 Read the Runes
4 Voltaic Construct
3 Leonin Abunas
This version shows that I am still testing, and rebuilding. I pulled the Pyroclasms and replaced them with Mycosynth Lattice. It should lock up the game when it arrives. I'm not completely sold on Mana Leaks, but I'm testing.
The next version to test will revert to Pyroclasms and Icys.
I'm not sure enough of the right build. I can build versions to beat most of the metagame, but I don't know what build to standardize on. That build will, of course, affect the results. Right now, I can say that the deck concept - build unspecified - does pretty well against the whole metagame. Anyway, testing results sometime.
Here's a really fast block deck - Bad Card Affinity (BCA.) I put this together and played against the March of the Machines deck. (Okay, technically, Ingrid played it against me, with March of the Machines. March went like 2-28.) (At that point, I was playing with March / construct for block, without Pyroclasm.) BCA could do pretty well, whereas the aggro affinity versions with Broodstar could not. BCA does okay in T2, as well.
Bad Card Affinity
4 Great Furnace
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Tooth of Chiss-Goria
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Welding Jar
This deck is typically attacking for at least three on turn 2, and finishes with Shrapnel Blast. It is pure speed. Nothing fancy, nothing tricky - just speed. Here's a typical block game, against Green hate, which should be worst its matchup.
Turn 1: Jar, Citadel, Chromatic Sphere, Tooth, Frogmite.
Turn 2: Vault, Disciple, blow Sphere, Spellbomb, beat for three, Ornithopter
Opp: Forest, Chosen (sixteen life)
Turn 3: Furnace, attack with Thopter, pump
Opp: Forest, Shaman targets Thopter, Jar saves, (fourteen life)
Turn 4: cast Ravager, attack with Thopter and Frogmite, Chosen blocks Frogmite, pump Thopter with Tooth, tap Furnace to fire Spellbomb at opp. (opp at 11), sac Frogmite, Furnace, Citadel, Vault, Tooth to Ravager (opp at 6 life), sac Ravager to itself, 6 counters on Ornithopter, which beats for seven.
That's a turn 4 win, against an anti-artifact hate deck, and Bad Affinity never drew a Bonesplitter, Myr Enforcer or Shrapnel Blast.
There is just one reason why this deck works as well as it does - the Disciples. They mean that Shrapnel Blast does six, Pyrite Spellbomb is a Lightning Bolt, Chromatic Sphere is a free Zap, and Arcbound Ravager is completely broken.
They are also the reason that the March of the Machines deck has problems. Normally, an Affinity deck should roll over and die when March hits, since all the lands, Welding Jars and so forth die, and all the Equipment falls off. However, with a Disciple in play, March of the Machines means that all those dying lands ping you as they go.
Trinisphere is also way too slow against this deck. Quite often, by the time you cast it (turn 3), the Affinity deck has a winning position on the table. Shatterstorm would help, but Wizards figured out what that would do to block early on. (It was in the first Bacon spoiler, but not in Mirrodin.)
Right now, Knut should file both these decks under Food for Thought.
After I sent this article off to Ted, I figured I would need to say some
more about Bad Card Affinity (BCA) - the speed Affinity deck that gave
March the most problems. BCA is just designed to be fast - it has no
late game at all. Mid game, if it happens, consists of waiting until
you have a Disciple in play and sacking everything to a Ravager to drain
the opponent out and/or getting a Shrapnel Blast through.
BCA runs Tooth instead of Skullclamp. Deliberately. Tooth is generally
playable on turn one and frequently powers out a turn 1 Frogmite. It
is also playable as a combat trick. It is in the deck because it is
You can also build a very good Affinity deck around Skullclamp, and
adding Genesis Chamber provides insane amounts of card drawing. Clamp
is great with the Disciple. However, Genesis Chamber is a two-mana artifact. Skullclamp ties up two mana per turn, assuming you both
use it to pump a real attacker and then to draw cards. BCA only had eight
cards for which the deck expected to pay two mana - Shrapnel Blast and
Ravager. The Skullclamp / Genesis Chamber deck is slower - great in
the midgame, but slower. That gave March more time to deal with it.
I see three versions of Affinity.
BCA is the fastest, and generally wins or loses by turn 4. It can pull
out a late win, but if a game goes long, it is probably going to lose.
Skullclamp / Genesis Chamber has a fast start and explosive midgame, and
should never have to get to late game. It is the most powerful
anti-control version, although Genesis Chamber is symmetrical, so I would
hate to play that against Skullclamp Goblins or Skullclamp Elves.
Broodstar Affinity, especially the versions with more counters, has the
best mid-to-late game power. It should win, unless it allows itself to
be seriously outdrawn. Skullclamp / Genesis Chamber means it can get