Time Spiral: Fun with Fungus Review (Part 1 of 2)
Certainly blessed with one of the sillier names in the precon environment, Fun with Fungus is something rather akin to a Kentucky Derby horse- ridiculous name, but established pedigree, one that hearkens back all the way to 1994’s Fallen Empires. It is there that we shall begin our tale of Thelon of Havenwood and the downfall of the elves.
At the end of the ill-fated Brothers’ War between Mishra and Urza (documented mainly in 1994’s Antiquities expansion), Urza triggered a globally cataclysmic event to wipe out Mishra and the Phyrexians that had corrupted (compleated?) him by triggering the Golgothian Sylex. This precipitated a shift in the global climate, not unlike a nuclear Winter, which would culminate in the onset of an ice age (unsurprisingly, documented in the Ice Age expansion). Although this would have far-reaching consequences- not least in the creation of time rifts which themselves were to become the subject of the Time Spiral expansion- for Fallen Empires, the story was centered on a single, small continent in the Southern Hemisphere (most known places in Magic up to that point, such as Shiv and Benalia, were in the Nothern) known as Sarpadia.
Sarpadia was home to an established and flourishing cluster of civilisations. Humans, Elves, and Merfolk enjoyed structured societies and, yes, there were Goblins too. As the climate change rapidly onset, the crops of the Elves began to fail. One failed crop often means anger and frustration, but not ruin. A succession of them, however, brings on hunger, panic, and desperation, a fertile bed in which even the craziest of ideas can, over time, begin to sound sane. The Elves initially supplemented their diet with fungus found in the region- a sensible enough idea- but it wasn’t adequate to meet their nutritional needs. Something more had to be done, lest the Elvish civilisation collapse under the emptiness of its own stomach.
Enter Thelon of Havenwood.
Thelon was a druid, and he shared his kinfolk’s alarm at the deteriorating food situation for the Elves. The fungus the Elves had begun adding to their diets had helped, he noted, but in the meantime, other ‘supplemental’ food sources such as wild game, fruits and nuts were growing more and more scarce- the Elves were consuming them at a rate far in excess of their natural replenishment. On the present course, the Elvish nations would soon be approaching a full-fledged famine. But it was in the fungus that he discovered his people’s salvation, for not only did the local fungus seem immune to the climate change that had wiped out their cultivated crops… it was thriving.
Experiments with the fungus yielded promising results, and Thelon soon found that by infusing the fungus with high concentrations of Green mana, the fungus would rapidly grow and take on intriguing new qualities. Indeed, the fungus grew at an exultant rate, becoming semi-aware and mobile creatures known as Thallids. The Elves raised the Thallids as a crop, not unlike cattle, and it appeared that Thelon’s unique solution had saved his people.
For a time, anyway, for nature is an unpredictable thing. The Thallids did not stop growing and developing while in captivity, and before long they became self-aware, which in turn led to aggression against those who were cultivating them for food. That Elvish society was riven by fierce debates over the ethics of their treatment of the Thallids, though this was of little consolation to the Thallids who were continuing to be led to the slaughter to put food on the tables of the Elves. The Thallids rose up against their Elvish harvesters, and the fragile Elvish civilisation came crashing down to ruin. Eventually, a similar fate befell the other established civilisations of Sarpadia, with the older established races being crushed beneath the foot of the upstarts. In the end, Sarpadia was ruled from border to border by Thrulls, who despite their rapacious nature curiously left the Thallids alone. Perhaps in some way they regarded them as kindred spirits.
Magic: the Gathering would take us back to the plane of Dominaria many times after, most notably for the Phyrexian Invasion which culminated the Rath Cycle (Weatherlight as a Prologue, and all of the Tempest, Masques and Invasion Blocks). We would again revisit it with Time Spiral. The many cataclysms that had devastated the plane- from the Sylex Blast mentioned above to the Phyrexian Invasion and Rathi Overlay (where the Phyrexians looks to merge the artificial plane of Rath ‘over top of’ the plane of Dominaria)- had caused the fabric of reality itself to become distorted. Temporal rifts began appearing, bringing with them reflections of the past and glimpses of alternate realities.
One such rift brought a reflection of Thelon of Havenwood, whose original fate was unknown, and Thelon forms the centerpiece for a deck build around his creations: Fun with Fungus.
A Bittersweet Welcome
Despite its storied and tragic history, the deck itself is a fairly straghtforward creature-deck, albeit one with a twist. The central mechanic builds upon the classic Thallid abilities found in Fallen Empires- namely, the accruing of “spore counters” on fungus creatures representing their steady growth, which can be redeemed for certain abilities. The creatures can largely be divided into two groups: the fungus, and everything else.
For the fungi, the central mechanic as mentioned above sees each Fungus creature get a spore counter at the beginning of your upkeep. Get three counters, and the Fungus creature spawns a 1/1 Saproling creature token, a sort of slow and steady growth that swells the ranks. Most of the more advanced Thallids come equipped with an additional ability that interacts with the Saprolings.
At the bottom of the curve are the Thallids. Reprints from the original Fallen Empires, they are your must basic and findamental version of the archetype- they grow Saprolings at the same rate as all Thallids, but come with no extra abilities of their own. The deck issues you a pair.
Next up is a trio of Deathspore Thallids, which carry the delightful creature type “Zombie Fungus.” Like the first Thallid, these give you the ability to spawn Saprolings, but with an added bonus: the Deathspore Thallid will allow you to sacrifice a Saproling to give a creature -1/-1 until end of turn. A good source of steady removal throughout the game if played early enough, and some superb versatility for all those 1/1 Saprolings you’re likely to be generating.
Also at the two-drop slot are three Thallid Shell-Dwellers. These defensive options let you erect a formidable (0/5) wall while continuing to grow your Saproling garden. They don’t interact with the Saprolings directly, but should buy you time to ensure a solid crop rotation.
The Thallid Germinators are a little more robust than the earlier Thallids, weighing in as 2/2’s. In addition, they let you cash in your Saprolings to add a temporary buff (+1/+1 per Saproling) to a creature. Three Saprolings for a Giant Growth may seem a touch steep, but bear in mind that with a Germinator on the battlefield, your opponent will immediately have to look at combat in a whole new light if you have even a few Saprolings in play. They can also be used as a finisher, sacrificing all your Saprolings to boost a creature that slipped through your opponent’s defenses. Another solid addition, the deck gives you three of these as well- great consistency!
Further up the chain, we find the Sporesower Thallid. Sure to be one of your deck’s all-star contributors, the Sporesower has three things going for it. First, it’s a very robust body (4/4) in a deck that doesn’t carry a lot of them, having the highest combined power/toughness of any creature in Fun with Fungus. Second, it adds a spore counter to every Fungus you have in play, every upkeep. Finally, you get both of these things for only four mana. A superb deal, you’ll be very happy to draw one or both of these in the midgame.
Finally, at the top of the curve we find the Savage Thallid. A 5/2 for five mana, he’s not as good a deal as his Sporesower cousin, but his ability is quite useful- sacrifice a Saproling to regenerate a Fungus. Like the Thallid Germinator, this ability too will give your opponent some headaches in the red zone, as trades begin to become more one-sided affairs.
While that’s it for the Fungus, there are a half-dozen other creatures in the deck that bear examination.
A pair of Herd Gnarrs are in good position to take advantage of the deck’s mechanic. With Saprolings popping off, the Gnarrs should often be swinging in as 4/4’s or even 6/6’s. They’re a bit expensive for what you have to work with, but on the upside because you don’t have to redeem the three spore counters for a new 1/1 Saproling until you want to, you can coordinate a large finish by popping a few off in one turn. It also makes for a good- if predictable- combat trick.
A pair of Pendelhaven Elders give an adrenaline boost to all those 1/1 Saprolings you’ll have running about (as well as a few of the Thallids themselves). This can be quite a strong ability given how much of your ground forces will be 1/1. Interestingly, Fun with Fungus also includes a copy of Pendelhaven amongst its lands, which has a similar effect (albeit more localised).
The Wormwood Dryad seems something of a misfit, as she doesn’t directly synergise in any way with the rest of the deck. Still, a 3/1 landwalker isn’t a bad thing to have, though there were likely better options for another three-drop.
Finally, there is Thelon of Havenwood himself. Thelon is a bit at odds with his creations, which will give any pilot of the deck some interesting choices to make. The entire deck is focused around craking out the 1/1’s and putting them to good use. Thelon’s +1/+1 pumping ability- while considerably powerful- has a negative synergy by inclining you to keep all those counters hoarded on the Thallids. Each game may present differing circumstances as to which is preferable, but it’s not bad to have the option. His second ability is another gem, allowing you to repurpose dead Thallids into your graveyard and given them a sort of renewed life once more, adding spore counters to all your Fungus.
Mighty Emanations from the Past
Like any creature-based deck, Fun with Fungus is only as effective as its noncreature support, for a clogged red zone can really stall the deck, and it has no solutions to aerial threats. Luckily, there are some choices here.
The removal suite is small, but solid. There’s a Krosan Grip to target an artifact or enchantment. Like the Grip, the two Sudden Deaths feature the split second mechanic, meaning your opponent can’t respond with any shenanigans once you fire one off (including countermagic). Each will fell a 4-toughness creature or less.
Assassinate is somewhat less exciting. Although it destroys a creature outright (rather than giving it -4/-4 until end of turn), it’s sorcery-speed removal that relies upon your target being tapped. This means it’ll kill an attacker, but be less useful against a nettlesome defender or utility creature. Finally, there is a Feebleness, an improved version of the classic spell Weakness– for one more mana, it comes equipped with flash. Feebleness trades some of its potency for the fact that its an aura, and will offer its effects for more longer than just the turn it was cast.
Moving on we find a few combat tricks in a pair of Strength in Numbers and Might of Old Krosa. There are some positive creature auras in twin Fallen Ideals and a Verdant Embrace, which despite having the weaknesses normally associated with auras do synergise well with the deck. The Fall Ideals turn any of your creatures into a Fallen Angel, and with the farm of Saprolings you’ll seldom run out of victims. The Verdant Embrace riffs off of Verdant Force, and also generates a Saproling each upkeep (yes, including your opponent’s).
If it’s more Saprolings you’re after, you’ll be happy to know that there are pair of Sprouts here as well, a 1/1 for one mana that essentially has flash. Claws of Gix give you a sac outlet to generate a little life as needed, while Dread Return can bring one of your fallen creatures back to play. The flashback cost- sacrifice three creatures- is far less daunting in this deck than in most.
Certainly one of the game’s more intriguing theme decks, we’ll be taking Fun with Fungus to the test of battle, and returning with the results in two days’ time. Will Thelon’s creations stand the test of time? Or will they instead be relegated to the dustbin of history. We’ll find out!