Magic Memories: Fluctuator

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Apr 17, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    With the upcoming release of Amonkhet and the new potential toys for cycling-based decks, I've had Fluctuator on my mind lately. I still have an old Fluctuator deck sitting in a box somewhere. The card has long been a favorite of mine.

    I hesitated to make a thread for this one. I mean, I already wrote an article about Fluctuator. While there is more that could be said outside the article, I did cover the main points. But when I pondered what card to write about next, I kept coming back to Fluctuator. And then I went back and read that article. I seem to have misremembered it as being more comprehensive than it actually was. Turns out, that's just a blurb from the old "Type Fun" blog that I archived here at the CPA. The decklist in there doesn't even match the current version of my Fluctuator deck, I think. I can do way better than this. And forum posts seem like a better format for such an exploration of what is fundamentally a weird card. So let's do this...
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    It was the summer of 2002. I had a small playgroup back then, but floated around playing with friends who were more involved in other playgroups, some of them more focused on tournament gameplay, while others were strictly casual. In one of these meetups, I saw two of people playing a game, and something strange was going on. One player had a deck with these ostentatious bright-orange sleeves. They were like traffic cone sleeves. While this wouldn't be at all uncommon today, back then most of us played unsleeved decks or used clear "penny sleeves." I did have some black sleeves, enough for a few decks, and a couple of my friends had red or blue sleeves, but even those were not typical. I remember seeing my friends mix black and red sleeves together for playtesting a deck because they didn't have enough of either color, and even though it was only an informal playtesting session to guide deckbuilding, I was irritated at this and protested it, because apparently I had nothing better to concern myself with. I might have seen some more exotic colors before this point, but never traffic-cone orange!

    The strange sleeves were what first drew my attention, but what piqued my interest was that the game looked odd even from across the room. The guy with the orange deck had most of his deck in his graveyard. Usually, that meant that the game had run on for a long time or that someone being milled out, but the other player's graveyard was small and orange-sleeves guy (his name was John, but I'd barely met him at the time, and "orange-sleeves guy" sounds cooler for my purposes here) was in the process of drawing clumps of cards, looking at them, dumping them into his graveyard, and drawing more cards. So I knew that something interesting must be going on! And of course that meant I had to investigate it...


    Figuring out what was going on with the orange deck didn't take long. Urza's Saga was one of my favorite sets, and while I must have recognized Fluctuator as a card, I had essentially forgotten about it, and certainly not thought of building a deck that consisted almost entirely of cycling cards. So playing this deck, one paid mana to cycle cards until Fluctuator was in-hand, then cast Fluctuator and cycle cards for free, running through the whole deck to find a combo finish. That first version of a Fluctuator deck I saw back in 2002 had four copies of Fluctuator, one each of all the cycling lands at the time (Blasted Landscape, Drifting Meadow, Remote Isle, Polluted Mire, Smoldering Crater, Slippery Karst), one copy of Songs of the Damned, one copy of Drain Life, one copy of Haunting Misery, one copy of Overmaster, and 27 cycling creatures. That turned out not to be ideal, although being able to win a three-player game off a big Songs of the Damned by hitting one opponent with Drain Life and the other opponent with Haunting Misery was a neat trick, and one I emulated when I first built my own version of the deck. Overmaster, besides being a "new" card that I wasn't willing to use back then, was rather bad in the deck anyway, needing a red mana open to avoid being a dead card and even then not providing all that much protection. One could Overmaster to force through Songs of the Damned, use Drain Life and, if it was countered, finish the opponent off with Haunting Misery (which was John's idea in the first place), but it wasn't worth the risk of slowing the deck down with a dead draw. After I'd already added a single copy of Swamp to my version for a better chance at a third-turn kill (with a card that would be dead less often than Overmaster), John did the same. But it was the addition of Lotus Petal that gave the deck a potential second-turn kill. At some point, I took out Songs of the Damned and Drain Life for Dark Ritual and Lotus Petal, making the deck just a little bit more consistently fast, making second-turn kills possible, but going all-in on Haunting Misery. But for most of high school, I was piloting the Songs of the Damned version. Actually a few of us were. At least four people I knew, in addition to myself, had this sort of Fluctuator deck. It was very cheap to build and very fast. A glass cannon combo deck, and that sort of thing has its uses.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    We had a guy in our playgroup named Chris, and for a while, Nick and Chris had similar schedules and interests, so they were hanging out together a lot and playing Magic. Ultimately, Chris probably became a better player than Nick or myself, but we knew him back when he was inexperienced, and even as he became skilled, he had some strange ideas and misconceptions about deckbuilding, so the two of us would make fun of him a lot. In hindsight, I really think that a lot of the time Nick and I were being too stubborn or were subject to confirmation bias, and we were far too hard on Chris (not in a mean-spirited way, but just that we didn't give him reasonable consideration when sometimes we should have). But the example I remember best was that Nick had a neighbor he got into Magic and brought into our playgroup, a guy named David. Somehow, David inherited a bunch of sealed Magic product that was several years old, but not extremely valuable at the time, mostly Rath Block cards. Nick was able to use mostly cards that David already owned to build him a cheap deck based around Academy Rector + Yawgmoth's Bargain. Using one of his own decks, Chris had beaten David's Bargain deck that Nick had thrown together with David's cards. From this experience, Chris concluded that Yawgmoth's Bargain wasn't actually a powerful card. This was wrong, of course. But fundamentally, Chris was a skeptic about these things. He wouldn't have us just tell him, "This card is good. This card is bad." He had to see it for himself. Combine that with his love of weird card interactions that weren't necessarily very effective, and Nick bemusedly concluded, "Chris's decks are dumb. Chris is dumb."

    Like some of the rest of us, Chris was enamored of Fluctuator and its rapid-fire combo interactions. And of course, he had some wild ideas regarding cycling-based combos that were probably not tenable. Chris was also an avid fan of the card Replenish. This motivated Nick to build a deck something like the one in this thread.

    Completely useless, but with Fluctuator drawing so many cards, Replenish putting so many enchantments onto the battlefield, and then Harmonic Convergence stacking the top of the library with so many cycling cards that could be drawn for free, there were so many cards moving around that Nick knew he could use it to baffle Chris into forgetting that the deck didn't actually have a kill condition.

    As pointless as Nick's "Fluc. Ru" deck was, cycling Rune of Protection cards into Replenish was a real thing I did see. Opalescence turns those nigh-useless Runes into an army of lethal attackers. I find it to be much slower than the Haunting Misery kill, with no significant advantage of it own, but some players did go for it.
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Notably, Fluctuator was banned in Standard. However, as Standard bans go, this is about as non-notable as they get. I've seen no record that Fluctuator decks in Standard had any level of tournament success. The Dark Ritual + Haunting Misery kill was unavailable because Weatherlight had rotated out of Standard, and the Songs of the Damned + Drain Life kill was also not available with the Standard card pool. I've seen theoretical decklists with Living Death, but that's far inferior, and I haven't found any tournament data showing that such a deck was viable, let alone banworthy. In the DCI announcement, the rationale was that if Fluctuator was left alone after they banned so many other, better combo decks out of the format, then Fluctuator would "rise to the top." Presumably, they received this information through anthropomancy. :rolleyes:
  5. Shabbaman insert avatar here

    Any fond memories I have of cycling are demolished by Astral Slide.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Huh, I see a lot of particularly positive and particularly negative stances toward Astral Slide. I wasn't involved in Standard or Extended, which is where the card seemed to live, so I have no strong opinions either way. I do find it a bit amusing that Fluctuator was the one cycling-based card that got banned, even though Astral Slide clearly became much, much more successful than it ever could have.

    Shabbaman: if Astral Slide was really that bad, how do you feel about the new Amonkhet cycling-based stuff, such as Shadow of the Grave and Drake Haven?

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