Magic Memories: Bubbling Muck

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Mar 24, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Having already started threads for Dark Ritual and Lake of the Dead, I assume that I've made my penchant for black mana acceleration clear by now. Bubbling Muck is a curious case. The card is all but forgotten, and lived in the shadow of the much more successful High Tide. Actually, I should probably just do one of these threads for High Tide. I have a long history with that card. I played "casual" High Tide decks for years. When the Legacy format was first announced, I immediately began testing High Tide builds. I gave up on Legacy High Tide decks, and then didn't purchase copies of Reset until that version of High Tide was no longer good. Arguably one could still try High Tide in Legacy, but Candelabra of Tawnos is key there, and is one of the few big money cards in Legacy that I do not own. But High Tide was a pretty big card for me, and there's a lot I could say about it. But first, Bubbling Muck was the card that got me into High Tide initially, and I want to give a nod to the obscure card.

    Relative to High Tide, the disadvantages of Bubbling Muck are...

    1. It is a sorcery.
    2. It is not blue, the best color in Magic.

    Even though High Tide was printed in Fallen Empires in 1994 and Bubbling Muck didn't show up until 1999, decks based around High Tide appeared only shortly before Bubbling Muck. For years, High Tide was an unremarkable common from one of the early sets. Urza's Block introduced "free" spells that changed things for the card. These cards untap lands, and if the lands tapped for more mana than was needed to pay for the spell, each one yields a net increase in mana. Cloud of Faeries, Great Whale, Peregrine Drake, and Snap have all been used in combo decks at some point because of this property, and I've used them all myself, but for High Tide decks in Extended, the focus was on Frantic Search, Turnabout, Time Spiral, and Palinchron. Every single one of those cards are blue, which was convenient for setting up a High Tide combo deck. Black didn't get spells with this "free" mechanic. It did have its own version in Priest of Gix, but that didn't synergize with making lands tap for more mana. Also, blue had access to excellent card selection spells and to countermagic for stalling and protecting the combo.

    With everything going for High Tide, there seemed to be no real reason to use the inferior black version. Bubbling Muck's saving grace turned about to be a consequence of format structure: High Tide was in the same Extended environment as the Urza's Block free spells, but had been long gone from Standard. In both Standard and Urza's Block Constructed, Bubbling Muck could do a modest impression of High Tide. Yeah, you needed islands for the blue mana to cast the free spells and with only swamps generating extra mana, the explosiveness was cut, but there were ways to mitigate this. Some players used Yawgmoth's Bargain and Dark Ritual, drawing so many cards that the deck could make up for the reduced mana burst. Some players attacked the problem more directly, emphasizing Peregrine Drake and Snap. Some aimed to go off with more lands out and relied on Palinchron to generate infinite mana. All of them took advantage of Yawgmoth's Will to replay spells from the graveyard, which was a big part of why they worked.

    Ultimately, these "Dark Tide" combo decks with Bubbling Muck as a substitute for High Tide, while having some neat advantages, were overshadowed in Standard due to being a bit slower and more elaborate than dedicated Yawgmoth's Bargain combo decks. And that's where I come in: I didn't play Standard. I liked the idea of Dark Tide, so I put together my own list. Well, I didn't really know what I was doing. I didn't own all of the cards that were used in competitive Dark Tide lists, and I also didn't have a thorough understanding of what this kind of deck would need. So my first attempt failed pretty decisively. And from there on, it became an educational experience.

    That's why I picked Bubbling Muck as a card to write about. Some obscure deck from a very old Type 2 environment isn't really noteworthy, although such discussions are potentially interesting. No, the important part for me here is that Bubbling Muck was a card I used early in my development as a player/deckbuilder to learn important lessons about what made combo decks tick. As with many of these memories, my close friend Nick (Al0ysiusHWWW) was involved. He helped me test and refine what I was doing. I didn't own all of the cards to exactly reproduce a netdecked tournament list, but I also didn't need to. For my purposes, it wasn't ideal. Those tournament lists were constrained by a smaller cardpool, whereas for my casual decks, I wasn't paying attention to which sets I was using. This led to a progression, which Nick saw long before I did. He was a good deckbuilder. I was clueless). But I got there eventually...

    Step 1: Might as well throw some copies of High Tide in there. Get more mana acceleration from both swamps and islands.
    Step 2: Now that you're using eight copies of mana-boosting spells, you don't need to rely on some of the other Dark Tide stuff you were using.
    Step 3: Bubbling Muck doesn't pull its weight as much as High Tide. So many of your cards are blue, so you have more islands than swamps. You need blue mana for the "free" spells. Might as well adjust the deck to focus on the blue part.
    Step 4: High Tide is now doing more legwork, and Bubbling Muck has, in this new configuration, become a bad card. Cut it.
    Step 5: Without Bubbling Muck, you might as well go monoblue.
    Step 6: Oh look, now you're a High Tide deck.

    And so it was that Bubbling Muck and I parted ways. I suppose this was back in 2000 or 2001.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    If I ever do a High Tide thread, I'll have to talk about "Solidarity" decks, which relied on their spells being instants in order to take advantage of Reset. While Bubbling Muck would probably have benefited from being an instant like its predecessor, for a lot of black decks, it wouldn't be that important. If one were to use Bubbling Muck as a straightforward, mana-boosting spell, the main cards it could accelerate would be creatures or sorceries, rather than instants. While Bubbling Muck could get big things out faster, it needs swamps to do it, and building up swamps takes time. Assuming no other sources of black mana, Bubbling Muck's progression goes...

    1 Swamp: No mana left. Bubbling Muck wastes your mana.
    2 Swamps: Bubbling Muck nets zero mana.
    3 Swamps: Bubbling Muck taps one to start, then the other two produce an extra mana each, for 1 net mana.
    4 Swamps: Bubbling Muck taps one to start, then the other three produce an extra mana each, for 2 net mana.
    5 Swamps: Bubbling Muck taps one to start, then the other four produce an extra mana each, for 3 net mana.
    6 Swamps: Bubbling Muck taps one to start, then the other five produce an extra mana each, for 4 net mana.

    And so on. Notably, this means that without some other source of mana or some way to tap lands multiple times in the same turn (as in Dark Tide combo decks), Bubbling Muck requires five swamps to pull ahead of Dark Ritual in any way. That's pretty steep. One could argue that Bubbling Muck need not compete with Dark Ritual, but could be run alongside it, but realistically, with the way decks were constructed when the cards were part of current sets, they would have been in competition most of the time. It's a competition that Bubbling Muck can't win.

Share This Page