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Type Fun's Academy Rector
By Stephen O. Bahl
This article was originally written for the "Type Fun" blog operated by CPA members Oversoul
and Al0ysiusHWWW. All such articles archived here were written by one or both of those individuals.

Most of my favorite creatures aren't used for attacking or blocking so much as they are for making something crazy happen. Al0ysiusHWWW already covered a great example in Goblin Welder with his Stax entry. Today, I'm going to focus on another such creature.

With 3W and some way to kill your own 1/2 creature, you can grab any enchantment from your library and put it directly into play. This is a powerful effect. The cost is a little steep though, so you'll want to use it with a particularly powerful enchantment of some sort. But first, you need to actually get the Rector into your graveyard. One way to do this is to block any creature with power 2 or greater. This relies on your opponent attacking you. This won't be efficient for a combo deck, but it does give the Rector a use that might not be immediately apparent: it can serve as a deterrent. Your opponent(s) will hesitate to attack you if it means killing the Rector, because killing the Rector means activating its ability. But under most circumstances, you'll want to be able to kill the Rector on your own. Any cards that let you sacrifice creatures will do, although some work better than others.

Most of the best cards that do this sort of thing are black, really. It's black's specialty. Sacrifice or Burnt Offering gives you back your mana investment (sans white mana) from playing the Rector in the first place. This can be used to play other spells, typically they'll be of the variety that synergize with the enchantment you're fetching.
Phyrexian Tower doesn't provide as much mana, but has the advantage of being a land. Dredge nets you a free card draw. Tendrils of Despair disrupts the opponent's hand. Innocent Blood forces the opponent to sacrifice a creature while you sacrifice a creature you wanted to kill in the first place. There are also several creatures that have sacrificing another creature as cost for an activated ability, such as Phyrexian Ghoul, Nantuko Husk, Carrion Feeder, and Phyrexian Broodlings. Other creatures, such as Lord of the Pit or Devouring Strossus have sacrificing a creature as an upkeep cost.

There is one card that stands out above all others when it comes to comboing with Academy Rector. And that is Cabal Therapy.
By itself, Cabal Therapy is potent hand disruption. At minimum, it lets you peek at an opponent's hand while ruling out the one card (whatever it might be--Force of Will is a common choice) that you fear most. Often you've already seen the opponent's hand via Duress or another card and Cabal Therapy then functions as surgical removal for the one card you most want to remove from your opponent's hand. For only B, that's a good deal. But there's more. Cabal Therapy can be replayed from the graveyard for the mere cost of sacrificing a creature. But sacrificing Academy Rector is what we're trying to do in the first place, so the cost is more like a gift. This card looks and acts as though it was made for Academy Rector. I should note that in any deck relying on Rector/Therapy, it is typical to run four each of Duress and Cabal Therapy. The two complement each other nicely and this gives the deck eight slots of surgical hand disruption.

But if you want to use Rector in a non-black deck, there are other options. Artifacts like Altar of Dementia or Ashnod's Altar can allow you to sacrifice the Rector and get something out of it. Pyroclasm can kill the Rector and any other small creatures on the board. Starlit Sanctum, Animal Boneyard, or Worthy Cause can kill the Rector and give you a bit of life. In a pinch, any card that can kill creatures will work.

Just as there are plenty of ways to kill the Rector, there are also plenty of things it can fetch. I separate these into two strategies. The first strategy is to use Academy Rector to grab a broken enchantment of some sort, often an enchantment that costs a lot of mana. Four mana and whatever it takes you to kill the Rector could grab even the most expensive enchantment. This strategy lets you circumvent the cost of playing the enchantment, but there's a problem. The most powerful enchantments, the ones with broken effects that let you win the game in short order, the ones you'll hypothetically be fetching with the Rector don't actually cost nine mana. Many of the best enchantments in the game cost four mana, which is the same as it would take to play the Rector in order to fetch that enchantment. Part of what keeps Academy Rector from being too inordinately powerful is the problem that there just aren't massively powerful, game-winning enchantments that are made balanced by a high mana cost.

There is an enchantment, arguably the most powerful in the game, that does cost more than Academy Rector. At 4BB, Yawgmoth's Bargain is still playable with mana acceleration like Dark Ritual, or it can simply be brought into play with Academy Rector. Actually, the combination of these two cards was once infamous in tournaments. Now Bargain is illegal in all tournament formats except Vintage, where it's restricted. Between the two cards in this combo, Bargain is obviously the one that is broken. Once it's in play, unless the life total of the player with Bargain is already substantially lowered, s/he can recklessly pay life to draw whatever cards will be needed to win the game. There are several ways of doing this, varying in speed and reliability. The method I used most extensively was to Skirge Familiar with Drain Life. This creates an engine that pays life for cards with Bargain, cards for mana with Skirge Familiar, and finally mana for life again with Drain Life, damaging the opponent as well. But it's expensive to get running. Even with Rector mitigating this for Bargain, Skirge Familiar is still another five mana and some extra is needed for each Drain Life. Because of this, I eschew Skirge Familiar and prefer two other kill conditions.

Illusions of Grandeur with Donate has a similar effect to the Skirge Familiar kill. It won't generate mana, unlike the Familiar, but it costs seven mana total (or four mana one turn and five the next) and doesn't even need Bargain in play to work because the two cards even without Bargain will make an opponent lose 20 life. Bargain in play helps, though. The 20 extra life from Illusions means potentially 20 more cards drawn through Bargain. The fact that Illusions is an enchantment means that it can even be fetched by Rector.

This gives the combo some synergy with the Bargain/Rector combo. Rector can fetch Bargain or Illusions. Illusions can fuel more card-draw through Bargain. Bargain makes it easy to find Donate. And Donate with Illusions in play means that the opponent will lose 20 life. There are still some drawbacks, though. This kill condition forces the use of blue cards. The combo does still cost seven mana, which isn't cheap. It will usually spread the kill over two turns, either by getting Bargain out and then waiting a turn to cast Illusions and Donate, or by casting Illusions on one turn and then Donate on the next. This makes the deck vulnerable to disruption. Still, it's more reliable than Skirge Familiar.

I briefly piloted a Vintage-legal version of this deck for casual games in 2005, although it was severely underpowered. Without the constraints of the restricted list, I'd have at least increased the amount of artifact mana, which could have considerably sped the deck's kill up. Here was my decklist...

4x Duress
4x Cabal Therapy
4x Academy Rector
4x Illusions of Grandeur
4x Donate
4x Dark Ritual
3x Seal of Cleansing
1x Yawgmoth's Bargain
1x Yawgmoth's Will
1x Balance
1x Demonic Tutor
1x Vampiric Tutor
1x Frantic Search
1x Sol Ring
1x Mana Vault
1x Lotus Petal
4x Gemstone Mine
4x Dromar's Cavern
1x Polluted Delta
2x Bad River
2x Underground Sea
1x Scrubland
1x Tundra
1x Adarkar Wastes
4x Island
4x Swamp

The other kill condition I'll focus on with Bargain is to use Tendrils of Agony. It's probably my favorite card in all of Magic...
Simply play nine other spells, any nine other spells, and then this. The opponent loses 20 and you gain 20. When compared to the Donate kill, this does have some disadvantages. You do need to play several spells to get the kill, rather than just two. It's not an enchantment, so it doesn't provide an alternative target for Rector. You can't boost your life if it's too low before you get Bargain into play. But mostly, this is the superior kill. Bargain makes playing several spells in the same turn very easy to do. The storm makes this kill much harder to disrupt. Everything happens on the same turn. You're not forced to make blue mana for the kill or use any blue cards if you don't want to. You can Tendrils for some damage and use the life gain to draw more cards, then play another Tendrils for the win. Bargain makes killing with Tendrils easy.

Really, the worst thing I can say about this deck is that there are many other Tendrils decks that are more powerful. When testing decks for a decklist to use as a demonstration here, I leaned toward a build that would probably be improved by cutting Academy Rector entirely...

2x Yawgmoth's Bargain
1x Necropotence
1x Yawgmoth's Will
4x Academy Rector
4x Duress
4x Cabal Therapy
4x Dark Ritual
4x Cabal Ritual
3x Demonic Tutor
3x Tendrils of Agony
4x Lion's Eye Diamond
4x Sol Ring
4x Chrome Mox
4x Mox Diamond
4x Lotus Petal
4x Scrubland
2x Flooded Strand
2x Polluted Delta
2x Godless Shrine

The idea is to disrupt the opponent a little with Duress and Cabal Therapy, then drop the Rector, get Bargain, draw a bunch of cards with Bargain, play spells, most of which are either free or can add more mana to the pool for playing more spells, then end with Tendrils of Agony. It works and I'd even say that it works pretty well, but it doesn't really have an advantage over other Tendrils decks.

Remember how I said there were two main strategies to use regarding what Rector fetches? Well, other than simply going for a broken enchantment like Bargain, Academy Rector can also be used as a toolbox, fetching whatever enchantment suits the situation. An excellent example of this strategy is Pattern Rector, a deck that was once used in Extended and Type 1.5 tournaments (before Type 1.5 became Legacy). Pattern of Rebirth is an enchantment that can fetch a creature from the library when it dies (and since it's a creature enchantment, when the creature it's enchanting dies, it dies). Academy Rector is a creature that can fetch an enchantment from the library when it dies. Together, these make it very easy to grab any of an assortment of both creatures and enchantments. An excellent tool for killing your own creatures is...

Phyrexian Ghoul makes killing either of these toolbox cards easy. And every time it does, it gets bigger. Also, Saproling Burst or Symbiotic Wurm can be fetched from the library into play, either of which can make the Ghoul really, really big--enough to kill the opponent, actually. It's a neat trick, and can result in a third turn kill. Despite the power, don't rely on this type of kill too much. The Ghoul needs to go unblocked for it to work, and bounce spells or other disruption stops the kill in its tracks. Pattern Rector decks still tend to pack either the Burst or the Wurm, because they're useful in other situations too and make up part of a larger toolbox, like in this decklist:

4x Academy Rector
4x Pattern of Rebirth
4x Cabal Therapy
2x Phyrexian Ghoul
2x Nantuko Husk
1x Symbiotic Wurm
1x Saproling Burst
1x Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1x Yosei, the Morning Star
1x Eternal Witness
1x Recurring Nightmare
1x Decree of Silence
1x Worship
1x Parallax Wave
2x Pernicious Deed
2x Demonic Tutor
2x Wall of Roots
4x Wall of Blossoms
4x Birds of Paradise
1x Phyrexian Tower
4x Scrubland
4x Savannah
4x Bayou
4x Windswept Heath
2x City of Brass
2x Reflecting Pool

The deck plays differently depending on the opponent's strategy, using some combination of Pattern and Rector to find whatever answer it needs to shut the opponent down. Creature hoards will find it difficult to get past things like Symbiotic Wurm or Akroma, while Pernicious Deed can come in at any time and wreck them. Decks that target your life total have to also circumvent Worship. Other possible choices for inclusion are Confiscate, Verdant Force, Darksteel Colossus, and Avatar of Woe.

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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 - Thursday (Jan 25, 2018)

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