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Type Fun's The Fluctuator
By Stephen O. Bahl
You are reading about the most mindless deck ever conceived. This deck's strategy is so simple, it makes burn decks seem complicated and full of choices. The Fluctuator can be so simple that it can be piloted by an algorithm or flowchart. This isn't always true, though. Decklists can vary. Here's a particularly mindless version of The Fluctuator (I built this deck for my younger brother back in 2004) found while rummaging through my shelves...

4x Fluctuator
2x Shimmering Barrier
3x Disciple of Grace
3x Disciple of Law
2x Sandbar Merfolk
4x Cloud of Faeries
4x Pendrell Drake
1x Sandbar Serpent
3x Wild Dogs
3x Darkwatch Elves
3x Bloated Toad
1x Songs of the Damned
1x Drain Life
1x Haunting Misery
1x Swamp
4x Blasted Landscape
4x Drifting Meadow
4x Remote Isle
4x Polluted Mire
4x Smoldering Crater
4x Slippery Karst

You can look up unfamiliar creatures if you like, but the creature composition is really irrelevant. The important part is that every single card in this deck besides the Swamp, Songs of the Damned, Drain Life, Haunting Misery and the four copies of Fluctuator has Cycling 2.

Once a Fluctuator is in play, all those Cycling 2 cards have Cycling 0. Here's where it gets easy: once Fluctuator is out, all you need to do is make sure you have one black mana available, then cycle every card in your hand that you can until there are no more cards in your hand that can be cycled (or until you're about to deck yourself, but that tends not to happen). With nothing more than this, you should be able to win. Use that one available black mana to play Songs of the Damned, use BBB from it to play Haunting Misery and the rest to play Drain Life. This will easily be more than 20 damage.

But it's simple not just because the kill is pretty easy to understand. Each creature cycled goes to the graveyard, meaning that Songs of the Damned produces a black mana for each one, and that black mana is used to pay for and fuel large damage from both Drain Life and Haunting Misery. The way the deck plays before doing this is also very straightforward. No creatures or enchantments are put on the table. No sorceries are played. Simply drop lands and cycle cards until you run into Fluctuator, then play it. Then the deck plays unlike any other archetype in Magic: all you have to do is pull the noncycling cards in your hand, set them aside, throw the rest of your hand into your graveyard and grab however many cards you just put into the graveyard, over and over until you can't do this anymore, at which point you play the kill cards.
It's so easy that you really don't even need to have experience with the rules of the game to play this deck. If the opponent can't do anything to break your combo, most of the rules will be irrelevant because you'll be winning before anything beyond the scope of very, very basic rules can happen. And if the opponent can break your combo, you lose anyway. And that's the drawback with this deck. It's not at all resilient. An intelligent opponent with a reasonable deck stands a good chance of stopping this deck in its tracks. You can't disrupt the opponent and you can't defend yourself against the opponent's disruption. It's a one-shot kill. Well, you could commence beatdown with your cycling creatures in some hypothetical situations, but realistically, you rely on getting Fluctuator out as soon as possible and comboing with it either that turn or the next.

The good news is that opponents won't have too much time to act. The Fluctuator can frequently achieve third-turn kills. While it won't ever be a candidate for the most powerful deck in any format, it can mop the floor with bad decks every time and present a dangerous clock for the average opponent to work against. And opponents usually don't mind losing to it, either. This isn't often true for cut-throat combo strategies that ignore the opponent and simply try to take the game as quickly as they can. Perhaps this is because unlike other combo decks, The Fluctuator takes an assortment of ordinarily mediocre cards that happen to have cycling and actually uses them in a way they were never meant to be used.

If you are familiar with this deck, you may have seen other versions that try to address the disruption problem by making the deck either faster or more reactive. The problem is that Fluctuator, the centerpiece of the deck, it self-limiting. Adding more noncycling cards causes the deck to become inconsistent and ruins the whole point of running a deck like this in the first place: getting to repeatedly discard and replace your hand of mediocre cards. You may also have seen versions that replace Songs of the Damned and Drain Life with Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal. This allows for a second turn kill. The only reason I didn't do this was because I wanted to be able to kill two opponents at the same time, as many of my games back then were against two opponents. For one-on-one, go with the Lotus Petal/Dark Ritual version of the kill. In addition to being fun, this is a very cheap deck. The Fluctuators are the only cards in it that are really worth anything.

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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