Ertai’s Trickery: The Mad Machinist’s Mash-Up (Part 3 of 6)
Welcome back to the next installment of our latest series, Ertai’s Trickery! Our goal is simple: make a solid 60-card deck out of a very limited card pool: Planechase’s Metallic Dreams, Archenemy’s Assemble the Doomsday Machine and Tezzeret’s deck from Duel Decks: Elspeth vs Tezzeret. In past episodes we settled on a colour scheme and began to look at removal. Next, we’ll be looking at ways to get the most out of the 60 cards we settle on.
Stretching a Buck
The next theme we want to look at is the popular one of card advantage. Card advantage is a bit of an all-encompassing term that boils down to having more virtual and actual cards than your opponent. Since a card at its most basic level represents options, the one with the most (and better) options usually wins. For those unfamiliar with my usage here, allow me to explain what is meant by virtual card advantage.
The classic scenario for demonstrating actual advantage has my opponent attacking me with Grizzly Bears, then casting Giant Growth upon it for extra damage. I respond to the Growth with a Lightning Bolt, killing the Bears before the Growth resolves. Voila! I’ve used one card (the Bolt) to get rid of two (the Bears and the Growth). Since my opponent and I begin the game with the same number of cards (assuming no mulligans, of course), that’s an efficiency bump which can help me win the game. Simply put, I’m doing more with less.
Virtual card advantage is when you have one card that does the job of multiple ones: same concept, but from a different angle. Think back to the ol’ Scryb Sprites, a 1/1 Flyer. Now think of a card we have available to us here, the mighty Pentavus. Pentavus comes into play as a 5/5, but his segments can break free and become 1/1 Flyers (Scryb Sprites) themselves. Therefore, Pentavus represents virtual card advantage: one card gets us the effect of several cards (see also: Broodmate Dragon).
We’ll begin our next round of refinements by looking at those cards which give us this sort of advantage, and there are plenty!
To begin with, we have two “fetch” creatures available to us, each of which has the ability to snare us another card to replace itself in our hand: Faerie Mechanist and Trinket Mage. The Mechanist is very solid, but we need to take a closer look at the Trinket Mage. Card advantage is very important, but it’s not worth playing a card blindly just because it puts you a card up. For instance, if you had a card that cost three mana for a 0/1, and when it entered the battlefield it went and got one more copy of itself from your library, is that a worthwhile card to play? Probably not, because paying three for a vanilla 0/1 is poor card quality. For a card to be at its best here, it needs to be playable on its own and net you some useful advantage.
The Trinket Mage is a 2/2 Human Wizard for three mana, and fetches an artifact card with a Converted Mana Cost of 1 or less to your hand upon entering the battlefield. A 2/2 for three isn’t all that impressive, especially considering that as a Human Wizard there is no synergy with the Artifact-centric cards we have open to us. Affinity ignores him, the Master of Etherium doesn’t buff him, and so on.
This is all very forgivable if his other service was valuable, but as we can see already there are not a lot of ‘trinkets’ for him to fetch: Aether Spellbombs and Everflowing Chalices are the only things that cheap here. It’s nice to imagine times we’d love to get another bounce effect out, or use him to get a Chalice to ramp up with, but just as often he’ll be grabbing one or the other when it’s not really needed, and then we’ll be stuck with him just loitering about doing nothing all that great. One of the great traps of Magic is coming up with situations to justify the inclusion of a card that aren’t consistently present: this is called “best case scenario mentality,” and we’ll need to resist it here. The Trinket Mage is just not consistently good enough, despite his card advantage, to warrant a spot in the deck with so many other 3-drop choices.
Moving on, we have three cards left that provide virtual card advantage. We’ve already mentioned Pentavus, and the others are the Nuisance Engine and Tezzeret the Seeker. The Engine cranks out 0/1 Pest tokens onto the battlefield to the tune of two mana, once per round. Since the Pests are considered Artifact Creatures, there are some solid synergies available to it (Affinity, Master of Therium, Master Transmuter, Steel Overseer, etc). While I’ve never been a fan of the card, and nearly cut it, it’s worth hanging onto just to see if it could work in the right environment.
Pound for pound, Planeswalkers give some of the greatest virtual card advantage of any resource in the game, as they can be activated each turn for a spell-like effect (and often even count as a semi-Fog for a turn or two for you when your opponet goes after your ‘Walker instead of you). Anyone want to best against Tezzeret’s chances of being cut before this series is through?
Yeah, me neither.
Next up are our outright card-drawing engines, those cards which give us actual, real cards from our library. Thoughtcast starts out expensively, but its Affinity can make it 2/3rd’s of an Ancestral Recall without much difficulty in this sort of deck. Keep Watch can snare us a clutch of cards all at once, but is situational and relies upon us being attacked by a large number of creatures to be optimised. Because being attacked by hordes of critters means we’re probably on the defensive, it’s often going to be a case of “too little, too late.” We want to be aggressive in this deck, and start bashing in with our Artifact Army as soon as we can!
Thirst for Knowledge is also conditional, but in this case it’s a very easy condition for us to meet. We’re unlikely to use all three copies we have available to us, but again that’s a refinement for a later time. Lastly we have the Serum Tank which gets us a card at a cheaper cost provided we’ve been steadily casting Artifacts (no fear there), and the Dreamstone Hedron, the “triple Mind Stone” from Rise of the Eldrazi. Because of its steep casting cost, I didn’t count it with the mana ramp cards despite its ability to give you mana, but instead see that ability as supplmental. The “draw three cards” is nice, but I’ve often found that battlefield circumstances affort little opportunity to profitably deploy these.
The last resource open to us for card advantage is the graveyard, and reclaiming spent cards is just as good (and often better) than getting fresh ones from your library. To that end, we have a pair of Skeleton Shards available to us, with the added benefit that they are optimised with Black mana. There’s also an Argivian Restoration. The Restoration doesn’t actually give card advantage- it essentially trades places with an Artifact in your library, but can give you a tempo advantage if you salvage out something with a greater casting cost than four. For lack of a better place, we’ve lumped it here.
All told, a few very nice options here we’ll be wanting to cram into the finished product, and some others that need a second look. But for now, there are some easy cuts to make.
Safe for Now: Argivian Restoration, Faerie Mechanist, Nuisance Engine, Pentavus (x2),Serum Tank, Skeleton Shard (x2), Tezzeret the Seeker, Thirst for Knowledge (x3), Thoughtcast
Goodbye Forever: Dreamstone Hedron, Keep Watch
We’ll end today on an easier note and take a look at the non-basic Lands available to use. A pooling of the three decks has given us the following: Seat of the Synod (x3), Vault of Whispers, Mishra’s Factory, Stalking Stones, and Darksteel Citadel. For now, we’re passing all of them. Although Darksteel Citadel’s Indestructibility is fairly useless, it’s still an Artifact Land and quite valuable to our efforts. The other two man-lands are somewhat more situational, but a pair of them couldn’t hurt.
Safe for Now: Darksteel Citadel, Mishra’s Factory, Seat of the Synod (x3), Stalking Stones, Vault of Whispers
Things are shaping up! Next time, we’ll at last be taking on the largest portion of the card pool available to us: the Creatures. With so much relying on those particular choices, be sure to check back in two days’ time!