There's nothing quite like working in the hospitality industry, you meet all kinds of people from all over the world. Recently with my new job I've been working the front desk of a local motor inn during the night shift. Since there's only about 3 hours worth of work during the entire eight hour shift it gives a lot of time to think and piddle around in boredom. Since I have all this time on hand I decided I might as well brush up on tournament level magic a bit by examining the tier 1 decks from the recent nationals results. Although I was familiar with all the deck archetypes in the top eight places of these tournaments, I thought it would be fun to tinker a bit and try and make them better, or at least more interesting to those who enjoy piloting a semi-chaotic deck. J Thanks to some of the cards in Apocalypse I think I was able to achieve a certain level of amusement without being redundant or completely blind in strategy. My first subject and the one I thought would be most interesting to toy around with is the deck that either you love to play or love to hate, Fires…
We all know Fires fairly well I think or at least have heard enough about it that we know it's a deck to be reckoned with in the current Type2 environment. For those who aren't as fresh in memory of its threats and defenses I'll give a quick review of them.
Fires of Yavimaya: The deck's namesake. A relatively low casting cost (1GR) enchantment that gives all your creatures haste and can be sacked in a pinch to give one a valuable +2/+2 bonus till end of turn. By giving your creatures haste you get the extra attack out of them before your opponent can respond with devastating sorceries such as Wrath of God and Rout. It also gives a much needed and desired extra smack, or 3, from the next two cards.
Blastoderm: Everyone's favorite green fatty at the moment. Its big at 5/5 and cheap for its 4 casting cost (2GG). In addition to these nice stats its also untargetable putting a big crimp in the offensive elimination of creatures by black and red players. In a small tribute by the designers to balance out this powerhouse it gets a Fading: 3 tagged to it so that it doesn't cause trouble for too long. Hence why getting an extra attack from FoY is a nice bonus.
Saporling Burst: "Boom!" or "I win" are often words accompanied by this hitting the table and are what gives Fires its primary attack force. Being able to dump out on turn 4 with a FoY in play can give you 3 4/4 attackers very early to smack around your opponent. Its only major weakness that early in the game is targeted enchantment removal such as disenchant or the new and very nice IMHO Orim's Thunder.
Birds of Paradise: They can't deal damage by themselves and they aren't particularly threatening. But I can't think of a good Fires deck without them. With only a single G casting cost they are the preferred turn 1 play and the mana diversity they offer is too good to pass up in a multi-colored deck and is one of the things that assist Fires in popping out quickly. In addition to this they also having Flying which means if you get dragged into a long game they can chump block an attacking flyer such as the popular Blinding Angel and save your attack phase next turn giving you that extra chance to finish off the enemy.
The other 3 main cards that consistently appear in Fires decks of all kinds are the Chimeric Idol, Flametongue Kavu, and Thunderscape Battlemage. The Kavu simply because it blasts things coming into play and has a 4 power making it a lethal adversary. The Battlemage isn't particularly threatening in combat being only a 2/2, but its come into play kicker abilities are fantastic as they allow you to destroy an enchantment and/or make you opponent discard 2 cards. Both of which are good in a control heavy and enchantment heavy environment. Chimeric Idol is simply good as an alternate threat factor. Because it's only a creature on the turns you want it to be, it can easily dodge Wrath of God and because it's an artifact it isn't affected by defensive cards that have color requirements like Teferi's Moat.
All these cards usually make up an average of 25 cards in the deck and land consists of another 22 slots on average. This leaves 13 spaces for the precision 60 builders to fill out, usually with an array of burn or enchantment removal and backup creatures such as Rith the Awakener, Shivan Wurm, or Two-Headed Dragon.
Since a turn 4 Saporling Burst is some good, I figured trying to pop it out sooner would be better. I also thought that while the deck has a fairly high offensive level it lacked enough fast and useful disruption for my tastes and could often be beaten by a few well-timed counter spells, a Teferi's Moat, or a Story Circle. This is where I came up with what ended up being Shadow Fires, I originally was going to call it Dark Fires, but the color diversity went for more of a shade of grey then pure black. I'll give you the deck list first, then my explanations.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Phyrexian Scuta
3 Thunderscape Battlemage
// Enchantments and Artifacts
4 Saporling Burst
4 Fires of Yavimaya
4 Dark Ritual
4 Orim's Thunder
4 Gerrard's Verdict
3 Battlefield Forge
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Sulfurous Springs
4 Karplusan Forest
Yes that's right, it's a 4 color tech technically, though I like to think of it as 3 and a half for the sake of esthetics. J As you can see the staple FoY, Saporling Burst, and BoP's are all there, but Blastoderm is missing. I opted to replace Blastoderm with Phyrexian Scuta for a few reasons. The first two being that the Scuta doesn't fade away after three turns, and can be dark ritualed out on the first turn if you really want to get the jump on someone at the sacrifice of 4 life points. But what about the Blastoderm being untargetable you ask? Well, lets look at it like this, how many targeted spot removal is there in the current environment that can be used against black creatures? There's the ever-popular Terminate, the new Vindicate can be as well though it's a sorcery, and then there's our wet burn such as shock, seal of pan frying, and of course the impressive Urza's Rage. Terminate is a problem of course, but you can always slip Blastoderms into the Scuta's place if you think they're going to be played heavily or just keep them in the sideboard just in case. Burn is weak lately and thus it takes about an average of 3 burn spells to kill a kickered Scuta which even though you gave up 3 life to get it that way, is a nice trade in card advantage with the ratio of 1:3 and also clears the way for other threats that they'll have to scramble to get rid of. I found the more I played with the Thunderscape Battlemage the more I loved it and thus I kept 3 of then in. The next big missing card is Chimeric Idol. With its semi-evasion ability against things like Circles and T. Moats it's a fairly useful card but it can die to other causes, especially in this enchantment/artifact hating environment. This is where the new Spiritmonger comes into play not only to replace the Idol, but as extra fat in place of things like Shivan Wurm, though I will say that losing trample hurts a bit. It can color shift to dodge things just like the Idol, but is also twice the size of it and gets bigger as it fights. In addition to being black and regenerating, its nearly impossible to get rid of by targeting unless you use Terminate. Its only weakness is that pesky Wrath of God and its ilk. Speaking of which, don't you hate it as a fires player to see all your hard work get flushed down the tubes by a top-decked or well-timed Wrath? I know I did in play testing and decided that since I wasn't about to put blue into this deck to counter it I'd have to find a way to get some pre-emptive disruption against it.
Thank you for Hymn to Gerrard…. err, I mean Gerrard's Verdict. For the bargain price of 2 mana (WB) you get a Hymn to Tourach of old school infamy that rather then being random gives you the opportunity to gain a few life if you opponent discards land or an advantage if they discard spells. The life gain opportunity is very useful in this deck because of the Scuta payment and all the pain-lands you need to suck mana from. There has never been an environment before that I remember that can so greatly hinge on just gaining a few extra life at the right time. The sooner you can pop these out the better as the opponent gets a tough decision to make. Do I a) discard land and hope I draw more in a mana heavy environment, b) discard my protectives like Wrath or Counterspells and hope to outrace the fires deck, or finally c) discard my threats and go into an immediate defensive role with the hopes that I can swing out on top and that the fires deck slumps slightly with its offense. I have often found that decks such as U/W control often take choice C as the longer game is in their advantage.
After this there is Dark Ritual which I used both out of the fact that in this deck its what allows a turn 3 fired Saporling Burst to come out swinging, (better then turn 3 Blastoderm IMHO) and out of nostalgia as we won't be able to use it again other then it Type 1 after Masques rotates out in 4 months. L The deck also gains possible speed advantage from it in its higher cost spells that can use black mana like Scuta, Spiritmonger, and a kickered Battlemage.
As I've said a few times previously so far, this is an enchantment hating environment, one because enchantments are heavily used and two because there are several nice options to get rid of them. Fires has previously used cards such as Wax/Wane and Hull Breach to deal with them though in testing I found that while wax/wane was good, its wax ability wasn't so useful as all it did was allow me to "win more" when I was already winning, the wane ability was nice simply because of its nice low cost to pick off enchantments at instant speed but it lacked the ability to kill artifacts as well. Hull breach on the other hand can pick off both enchantments and artifacts, one at a time, or one of each at the same time. This was nice because it only needed two mana to cast (RG) and both were the decks main colors so no need to splash. However this does come at a price because the card is a sorcery, and I think that most people will agree that I want to blow up my opponents Saporling Burst today, not tomorrow when I may be already dead. There must be a happy medium to these two cards and once again Apocalypse came though by giving us Orim's Thunder. I can't say enough happy things about this card when it comes down to it, its 3 casting cost (2W) is a touch more pricey then its traditional white ancestor disenchant but as its only a single white mana its easy to splash and is an instant. In addition to this niceness its also got a cheap kicker of R that can give you the ability to take out enemy creatures along with the enchantment or artifact. Because of this extra removal I felt I could safely remove Flametongue Kavu from the deck and it speeds up more because its instant speed instead of summoning speed. I found that it also made my opponents in play testing think a little smarter when they know your running them with questions like, "Do I play my T. Moat and Blinding Angel at the same time and risk losing both or play it safe with just one of them?" Counterspells accepted of course.
My biggest problem was getting the mana ratios right. I decided to go with 24 lands to hopefully get the right diversity faster and give some standing against an unruly Ponza deck. Though this mix works about 85% of the time I would welcome any advice on the mana ratio to make it more efficient. I also note that I decided against Cities of Brass because of the heavy Port use going on and that the deck really doesn't need another way to kill itself.
All in all I found that the deck was competitive in play testing against other popular archetypes in Type 2 and was often getting the better side of normal Fires match ups winning about 65-70% of the games played. Though I will admit that apprentice isn't the best training ground. If anything this design gives a new twist to an old deck that I found much more interesting to play then the standard build and utilized some of the new cards coming into the tourney environment soon.
Nick "Ura" Saviskoff
Some guy who thinks he's a cat