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Volrath's. Shapeshifter. Rocks.
By Kevin R. Brown
This article, as it's title would suggest, is about something I recently discovered about Volrath's Shapeshifter. That something? It kicks ass.

Let's take a look at the card in question (which is an inexpensive rare from Stronghold):

Volrath's Shapeshifter - 1UU

Creature - Shapeshifter

As long as Volrath's Shapeshifter is in play, and the top card of your graveyard is a creature card, Volrath's Shapeshifter has that card's name, mana cost, color, color, types, power and toughness. It has that card's abilities in addition to it's own.

2: Discard a card from your hand


So, in essence, it's a Blue version of Elvish Piper. Actually, on first glance, it looks much less appealing than the green elf. It has double U in the casting cost, meaning it's not nearly as splashable (even if it is a mana cheaper). It costs you card advantage, whereas the piper keeps your CA entirely stable by getting cards for your hand into play, rather than into the graveyard. Finally, the activation cost of the Shapeshifter is one mana more than the Piper's (2 colorless as opposed to G).

I'm the big, bad aggro player of our usual playing group when we get together at a local gaming store for multiplayer tournaments. Most of much love for Magic: the Gathering is derived from crashing beatsticks into the foreheads of my opponents. Problem is, it's hard to stay 'fresh' when you're the aggro guy. Everyone usually knows what you're playing within the first two or three land drops what your strategy is going to be, and defends themselves from it accordingly.

So, in my neverending endeavor to remain innovative, I usually salvage through my collection to build a brand new deck every time we run the tournament. It certainly doesn't always fare positively - though it does keep everyone guessing (as well as prevents things from becoming 'just the same old song and dance' for me). Today, running late for the game, I was tunneling through my cards in desperate search for something that looked both interesting and new. When I came upon an oldplayset of Volrath's Shapeshifters, I just hesitantly decided that, 'Well, guess they'd have to do.'

I now wonder how many investors got rich back in the day when they told themselves, 'Well, guess that 'Microsoft' crap'll have to do.'

Our games usually seat 8-13 players, and last 3-4 hours. There's all level of skill and technique, though nobody is ever packing their Power with them. Welder Mud, TnT, Reanimator, Pandeburt, Slivers, Goblins, Affinity, White Control and a whole menagerie of decks specifically designed for multiplayer (packing Forgotten Ancients, Seedborn Muses, Arcbound Crushers and Verdant Forces) are the usual fare.

Today saw 11 players (by the time I arrived). I showed-up in time only to get in on the last game.

Here's what I brought to the table:

Clayface

Critters

4x Volrath's Shapeshifter
2x Triskelion
2x Thorn Elemental
2x Minion of Leshrac
2x Archangel
2x Platinum Angel
2x Exalted Angel
2x Force of Nature
2x Lord of the Pit
2x Phyrexian Dreadnought
2x Darksteel Gargoyle
2x Polar Kraken
2x Juggernaut
2x Living Hive
2x Dragon Mage
2x Phyrexian Colossus

Artifacts

2x Scrabbling Claws
4x Aether Vial

Land

20x Island

Play commenced at around 11:30. We were finished by quarter to midnight. Local record.

I never even saw what half of the players were playing (our White Control guy was still playing White Control - God forbid he should play anything else - and our Goblin guy was playing Goblins, though his decks always vary).

I can't take credit for a majority of the actual deaths (most were picked-off by Goblin Grenades, Shrapnel Blasts and Bolts), but I sure am to blame to all of the dramatic drops in life totals that every other player quickly experienced.

I dropped an AEther Vial on my first turn with an Island, and proceded to collect counters on it every upkeep until it reached 3 (by my fourth turn). I used it to shoot a Shapeshifter into play, which nobody really took notice of. Then, a guy with a Sneak Attack went looking for undefender players.

'What's that creature you've got over there?'

'A Volrath's Shapeshifter.'

'How big is it?'

'0/1'

'Protection from Red?'

'No.'

So, he snuck out a Crater Hellion. I responded by dropping a Darksteel Gargoyle into my graveyard.

This resulted in everyone taking the time to read Volrath's Shapeshifter, wrinkle their noses and largely decide it was junk. The Hellion wound-up smashing a different player for 6 before dying.

Wow. It kind of works like Sneak Attack. But a little weirder.

My turn 5, I find a second shapeshifter. He's dropped into play with the Vial. Then, I discard a Phyrexian Dreadnought into the graveyard. At the time, nobody (including myself) realized the implications of what had just happened. I use my active shapeshifter to swing into the Sneak Attack guy, who is then killed at instant speed by a duo of Shrapnel Blasts from the guy his Hellion had run into.

Our TnT fanatic welded a Sundering Titan into play, exploding one of my two untapped islands and jumping both a Vorrac Battlehorns and Lightning Greaves onto the nasty beast. Then, he swung at me.

I figured I may as well chump with the Shapeshifter, wishing I still had the mana to... hey, wait a second...

'Your Titan takes 12.'

'Huh?'

'My Shapeshifters are both Dreadnoughts. I don't need to pitch for them individually - they're automatically whatever the top card of my graveyard is.'

Then, everyone opened-up to what was going to happen. Including me - who had just grown an enormous grin. The Titan took out another of my islands when it left for the yard, but it was more than repaid in blood when I smashed the guy for 24 points of damage on my next turn.

From here, things got messy. Realizing my board position, players swing at me while the Dreadnoughts were tapped, but could only bring me down to 9 before it was my turn again. The Goblin player took 17 after blocks, and was killed at instant speed by a lightning bolt from across the table. Without the Goblin player, the White Control guy knew that I wasn't getting killed by my next turn. So he cast Wrath of God.

In response, I dumped another Darksteel Gargoyle into the yard.

Next was a Thorn Elemental on my turn, which proceded to remain the form of the Shapeshifter long enough to bring 14 points of damage against two other players, who were again killed by sideline burn magic (we have a house rule that whenever you Coupe De Grace an opponent, you get to draw a card, in case you were wondering why all of the cherry-picking was happening).

With a few creatures starting to re-appear after the sweep, I decided to drop an Archangel into the yard - killing-off a painland wearied opponent with 10 damage to the dome while maintaining blockers. More than half of the players were dead, and we hadn't been at it for more than 10 minutes.

A Krosan Colossus morphed-up and ran at me. I ditched a Minion of Leshrac to blow it up.

My next turn find a 3rd shapeshifter - though not before I ditched a Polar Kraken to the yard at the end of my opponent's turn to trade a pair of islands to Cumulative Upkeep rather than a Shapeshifter for the Leshrac's breakfast. The Shapeshifter was vialed into play, then the white control guy took 22 damage from the Krakens - dying. Better still, the kill-draw sees a Trike into my hand - and I ditch it to the yard to vaporize a player who left himself at 7 life with a Necropotence.

Now, it's that 'Iron Triangle' portion of the game. There's a green mage with a few morphed-down creatures in front of him, and a player who hasn't done anything notable all game but has a Platinum Angel watching his back. The green mage is a little wary of the mana I've left open and the cards I'm holding, while I'm a little weary of those facedown creatures. Neither of us are very concerned about the other guy, who is genuinely fairly inexperienced.

The green mage opts for a draw-go. The other guy follows suit. I draw into a Dragon Mage. It goes to the yard, I smash the green mage for 5 in the air and we all pick-up new hands. I pass the turn.

Green mage taps-out to drop a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, then passes the turn. Other guy attempts to put me out of the game with a Channeled Lava Burst for 10. I respond by plunking Platinum Angel into my yard.

My next two turns see green mage swatted dead by Platinum Angel attacks.

'Okay. Just you and me. You want to call this a draw? I've got Platinum Angel in play too.'

'This deck. Is awesome. You die. Right now.'

My second Trike, also found on the Dragon Mage-Wheel, hits the yard. The Platinum Angel is blown out of the sky, and the remaining 5 points of damage wreck his remaining life total of 3.

Volrath's Shapeshifter is good. It's good for the same reason that Skullclamp is good - it works great with just about anything. There's tons of tricks, tons of flexibility - and perhaps they key difference between it and a card like Elvish Piper or Sneak Attack is that it is the weapon. It doesn't rely on just bringing a couple of beatsticks into play and hoping it doesn't get killed.

I couldn't have said it better than my final victim as he shuffled his lands and graveyard back into his deck:

'Volrath's. Shapeshifter. Rocks.'

Read More Articles by Kevin R. Brown!

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