Magic Memories: Kaervek's Torch

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Jan 29, 2018.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    This could easily have been Magic Memories: Fireball. Maybe it should have been Magic Memories: Fireball. Arguably, Fireball is the better card. Although really, there are several options with their own unique features...


    Historically, some of those weren't around yet for many of the decks I built. But Blaze, Fireball, Disintegrate, Kaervek's Torch, and Lava Burst were all available and I used all of them. A lot of the time, they're interchangeable. I've titled this thread with Kaervek's Torch, but a lot of the time, any of those other spells perform the same function. So let's break that down...

    As I've noted so many times, I got my start in Magic with the original Portal right after it came out. In the environment of Portal, Blaze was an extremely powerful card and it was easy to see. Blaze was introduced as a beginner's version of the effect already found on other red X spells. Although dumbing it down made it strictly worse than its predecessors, Blaze demonstrated that even a bare bones version of the effect was pretty good.

    Lava Burst
    Another thing I've noted in Memories threads is that much of my early collection was built from cheap grab bags from my local game store, which had a lot of Ice Age cards. So I acquired Lava Burst early on and it replaced Blaze in my hodgepodge "I'm an inexperienced Magic player and don't know what I'm doing" decks. I got a lot of mileage out of Lava Burst. I think it was one of the original cards in my Burn deck. By the time I wrote that horrid "Build a Better Burn Deck" article here at the CPA, I was advocating for more efficient direct damage spells and warned against X spells, but I think that was a relatively recent development in my deckbuilding at that point. I definitely remember using Lava Burst in my Burn deck in high school. Probably didn't take it out until 2003 or so. The anti-prevention effect hardly ever mattered. It could have been Blaze. But it wasn't. Also, Lava Burst just looks cool. Some underrated card art right there.

    The OG red X spell. Fireball is the most famous of the bunch and might still be the best overall. Its damage-splitting feature tends to matter more than the bonus effects on most other red X spells. More than almost any other card, Fireball might be responsible for making kids in the 1990's do math.

    The other original red X spell. Disintegrate could be used to prevent creature recursion, which doesn't usually matter, but matters a whole lot when it does. Because both Disintegrate and Fireball were in the game from the very start, casual players have frequently found themselves choosing between them. A common answer as "Why not both?" Other than that, the effect on Disintegrate really matters against decks heavily employing things like Animate Dead and Raise Dead, while Fireball's damage-splitting is has more general versatility.

    Kaervek's Torch
    Fireball might be more famous and more useful overall, but Kaervek's Torch became my favorite of the bunch. A big reason for that, not the only reason, but definitely a primary factor, was Force of Will...

    It was a very popular card at the time. Unlike Fireball, Kaervek's Torch had built-in resistance to countermagic. And that counted for a lot.
    Psarketos likes this.
  2. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Disintegrate began my love of the mechanic that would become exile, just before the namesake card Exile became my favorite card in the game. It remains my favorite specific mechanic, leading all the way to browsing all deck contents before passing the turn.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Exile was another card I got a lot of mileage out of! Perhaps not enough that I'd think to do a Memories thread for it, but it was a fine card nevertheless.

    Speaking of Disintegrate, and this is a bit of a tangent but I said Kaervek's Torch was just a stand-in for red X spells anyway...

    The "remove from the game" concept that would later become "exile" was originally based around flavor. Disintegrate removed the creature from the game if it killed it because, flavorwise, a disintegrated creature is completely gone and can never be brought back. So while it wasn't done for any mechanical gameplay reason, it worked out reasonably well because it gave a powerful burn spell a nifty bonus. This use of flavor became a bit odd with some other cards. For example, black was the vicious color that killed creatures, so it got stuff like Terror and Dark Banishing. White's proclivity for non-lethal tactics gave it stuff like Swords to Plowshares and Exile. You don't kill the creature, you just send it away from the battle, where it can live out its life somewhere else. But mechanically, this made the creature cards more dead than if they'd been hit by the black spells, not less. It could still get brought back with Regrowth or Animate Dead or shuffled back into the library with Feldon's Cane. But the "nicer" white cards were actually more thorough, more punishing. Combine that with white having an easier time dealing with artifact creatures (Disenchant, Divine Offering) and getting board wipe (Wrath of God, Balance), with the result that the antagonistic "kill stuff" color was a distant second place in the department of killing stuff. On the other hand, black had other things going for it to make up for that deficiency, so ultimately it was a bit of a wash. But I definitely think that early usage of the "exile" concept was haphazard and poorly planned.

    In my old decks employing both Disintegrate and Fireball, I found it advantageous to deploy Disintegrate to clear pesky creatures and hold onto Fireball for later, for a possible damage-splitting two-for-one or other such interaction. Ultimately, my preference was to aim my burn spells directly at my opponent's face, but getting rid of creatures and exiling them just to make sure was a potential path toward that eventual goal.
  4. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Speaking of innovations on the early X spells that never got a reprint, one of my favorites is [IMG]
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Sadly, Energy Bolt is on the Reserved List. I vaguely remember using it, once upon a time. But it couldn't have been very much and it must have been very early on. Ultimately, I don't think it's a practical card for most decks: if you're playing a red deck and have access to a Blaze-like spell, you probably aren't going to bother blowing your mana on a Stream of Life. But as a corner case, the modularity is handy. It might have been a nice option for a reprint in some Standard environment at some point if it hadn't been on the Reserved List. Also, the art is great.
  6. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Interesting that it made the Reserved List. I too have always loved the art, and the card is quintessentially combolicious - your opponent opened with Leyline of Sanctity? Hmm, well lets gain as much time as there are cards in our deck to find a way around that... :)
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Reserved List card selection at the time was some process along the lines of "When a new core set comes out, any rares from the older expansion sets that aren't getting reprinted and haven't already been reprinted go on the list by default." That's why Mirage has a whole bunch of bad rares that are on the List, which is kind of funny.

    Exactly! In the right kind of casual deck, the extra point of mana in the cost is well worth the flexibility. And if you're playing some big mana deck in multiplayer, the option to either nuke an opponent or gain a ton of life, depending on the board state, is good. I do wish the card had been a bit stronger, though. It's been so long that I can't remember, but I might have abandoned the usage of Energy Bolt in my own multiplayer deck back in the day just because it couldn't hit creatures. Also, this would have been before Ivory Mask existed, and Energy Bolt is a bit more useful in an environment with that kind of effect...
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I fell in love with Kaervek's Torch for the potential to set up big player-targeting burns that were resistant to countermagic. It wasn't foolproof: opponents could still use Counterspell on it if they had four mana open, or Force of Will if they had two mana open. But it made the job of playing around countermagic a little easier. Years later, we'd get Banefire, an even stronger option for that purpose. Mostly. I mean, if I'd had Banefire in 2000, I'd totally have used it. "Can't be countered" is better than "Can be countered if they pay 2 extra." And the anti-prevention clause could matter in some matchups. I mean, damage prevention isn't an especially common mechanic, but I did once get a lot of use out of Scars of the Veteran, and Banefire would nullify such tactics. It does stipulate that X has to be at lesat 5 to get the bonus, whereas the anti-targeting part of Kaervek's Torch is always on, but that's a fringe consideration at best. It might matter if you really needed to get rid of a small creature. But these days, I'd prefer Banefire overall.

    The major exception to this is for spells that target, but do not counter or prevent. Eye for an Eye is one example.
    That could be disastrous with Banefire, but Kaervek's Torch might work. More likely, the card we'd be worried about is Misdirection...
    Banefire might have nothing to fear from Force of Will, but that doesn't make it safe from all other "pitch" spells. Misdirection isn't as commonly seen as it once was, but Banefire makes a nice, juicy target for it. Kaervek's Torch, though, can get around Misdirection if the opponent taps out.

    Which X spell to use depends on one's own deck composition and on the expected metagame. If Misdirection is prevalent, I'm probably all-in on Kaervek's Torch. If I'm playing a grindy deck that aims for card advantage and attrition, Fireball is probably the better choice.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    It's one of the oldest and most famous combos in Magic. Channel + Fireball is the tradition, but I preferred Kaervek's Torch, like I said. I had a few ChannelTorch decks. I am a jerk. The longest-running incarnation was a red/green deck with Pandemonium + Saproling Burst. I must have mentioned it when I did a Memories thread for Pandemonium, I think. I called this deck, in a few incarnations between 1999 and 2005, "Flyswatter." Why that name? I've completely forgotten! I do know that back then I had a habit of naming decks after objects, but I didn't have a rigorous method behind it. The two the stuck around long enough for me to really remember were Flyswatter and Septic Tank. Flyswatter was my Saproling Burst deck, which later incorporated Channel and Kaervek's Torch.

    I still remember the origin of the "Septic Tank" name. When I was in high school, I was recruited to help my uncle install a new water line in a church building. I assume that my dad roped me into this, but I don't actually remember that part anymore. We ended up needing to dig a trench across a small parking lot, so we marked a path and used a jackhammer to break up the asphalt, then used picks, shovels, and prybars to create the trench. While digging, I ran into an old, forgotten septic tank and had to use the jackhammer to reroute the path in a semicircle around the septic tank. It was miserable and I hated that septic tank. So I named my blue/black discard deck after it because my opponents were going to hate me. I am a jerk. I soon switched over to a different concept, a monoblack deck, but the name stuck. Flyswatter was some less memorable usage of the same silly deck-naming approach.

    Saproling Burst is awesome. I should do a Memories thread for it. The Fading mechanic is thoroughly deprecated and it seems unlikely that the card will be reprinted, which is really too bad. Anyway, Flyswatter was an odd sort of aggro-combo deck. I didn't use tutors or anything like that. Just some efficient red and green creatures and spells. If I drew both Channel and Kaervek's Torch, there was a good chance that I'd be able to pull off the traditional combo kill. If I drew both Pandemonium and Saproling Burst, I could get the slower combo kill of the "Black Jack" combo. By the standards I have today, this concept might not really be palatable. I'm not sure. I mean, it wasn't super-consistent, but it was usually OK. For instance, I might draw Channel and Pandemonium, so I'd try to Channel out the enchantment and a bunch of creatures, hopefully finishing the opponent off. Or I might draw Kaervek's Torch and Saproling Burst, so I'd play more defensively and wait to crash in with saproling tokens and finish the opponent off with Kaervek's Torch. The two "kill you" combos were largely independent of each other, but no combination was bad, so it worked out.

    Of course, Channel is widely recognized as totally mean an overpowered. Not sure how much that applied in those days. Maybe more? The Channel + Fireball was infamous, and the real classic first turn play of Mountain, Black Lotus, Channel, Fireball, win was a kind of meme, circulating as a cautionary tale of the power of old cards or whatever. I never saw that first turn play out in a real life game, having only played against Black Lotus a couple of times, and only in Vintage-legal decks, where it and Channel are both restricted. But I sure did hear the story. On the other hand, Sol Ring is one of the most overpowered cards ever, and no one was interested that I was also running it in this deck. Casual play is weird like that.

    Anyway, Kaervek's Torch is right up there with Banefire as an upgrade to Fireball for the classic Channel combo. There's not much to say about it. Yes, it's broken. Yes, it's mean. Yes, it's simple. It's just a brutally effective one-two punch, probably the most notorious combo of its kind in the history of Magic.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Because there are official records kept, reports published, etc., many of the deck archetypes I mention in these threads were competitive tournament decks at some point. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, my focus has been more on casual Magic and I've attended tournaments very sparsely. But as a matter of practicality, it's a lot easier to analyze the competitive history of a card than it is to describe its history in casual Magic. Even when it's a card I used myself, I probably didn't have the foresight to save my old decklists, and I certainly didn't keep records of game outcomes and such. I might not be actively posting tournament reports, decklists, and metagame data in these Memories threads, but I do take advantage of the existence of such information and I draw on that when I summarize some of these things. For casual play, that just isn't possible. So I try not to go overboard on the tournament stuff, but it's often much easier to frame the history of a card in terms of tournament play. After all, I can take a tournament deck and play it in casual games or modify it for some casual environment. But it isn't always possible to go the other direction! In fact, many of the casual decks I've played either with or against are conceptually similar to something from a tournament environment, even if they differ in some important respects. One rule of thumb, which I almost never think about, is that casual decks with well-known identities tend to be derived from tournament archetypes. Someone might come up with something cool in a local playgroup, but historically there hasn't been a mechanism for that deck and its identity to spread to a broader community. But information on tournament decks is widely disseminated and deck concepts there can migrate into casual playgroups. Lots of casual players can, independently of one another, adopt some deck concept from a tournament, perhaps modify it for their own needs, and all play similar decks. But when they're not getting any inspiration from tournaments, casual players tend to brew their own concoctions or get them from friends. A Standard player in my area might modify his deck based on tournament results halfway around the world, but I'm probably not going to adopt a novel casual deck built by a stranger halfway around the world, and even if I do, not enough other people will do likewise for it to achieve real community recognition. The Casual Players Alliance has always been too small for that to work. I think that the two biggest forces to ever defy this rule of thumb have probably been the Magic Deck Vortex (a now defunct website that was once popular enough to start solidifying some casual archetypes) and EDHrec (an active website that consolidates deckbuilding trends within a single casual gameplay variant). But that isn't much. Setting Commander aside, it's still extremely rare for a grassroots casual deck archetype to develop widespread recognition, and in the days before Magic websites like TappedOut (or the aforementioned Magic Deck Vortex), it was even less likely.

    And then there's ElfBall. It came out of nowhere. I guess. I have no idea, really. I first encountered ElfBall way back in 1999. It used Priest of Titania, Gaea's Cradle, and a bunch of elves to produce lots of green mana, then it used Skyshroud Elf to turn one mana red for a giant Fireball. And then I saw it pop up again. I forget when or where I first heard the name "ElfBall." But that's what these decks were called. ElfBall decks got a bit of a boost in Onslaught Block with stuff like Wellwisher, but the core pieces were already there. I only ever knew of ElfBall as a casual deck, didn't see it in any tournaments, and was unaware of any connection to any tournament decks. That's still the case. From what I've seen, tribal Elves decks were essentially casual prior to Onslaught Block. Many individual elf cards saw plenty of tournament play, but those weren't decks based around elves. My cursory internet searches show no record of ElfBall decks in any old tournament format prior to Extended circa 2009 (using different cards, but with a similar result), roughly a decade after I first encountered ElfBall myself. Everything older than that is in reference to casual gameplay, and even the oldest sites I've spotted don't go back as far as the first time I encountered ElfBall. It appears to be a genuine case of a popular casual archetype, with its own commonly accepted name and everything, that arose without any input from tournament play.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Other mana ramp
    Channel and mana-producing elves are green. The other color that gets the best mana ramp to exploit something like Kaervek's Torch is black, with things like Cabal Coffers, Songs of the Damned, Bubbling Muck, Skirge Familiar, etc. But if you're making a bunch of black mana anyway, it's usually more practical to just use Drain Life or Consume Spirit, rather than splashing for red. Historically, I don't think the decks ramping up black mana really had much cause to try to use red cards, which was why Soul Burn was never very popular. I tried to use it, but was never really happy with the card...
    ...especially not after the stupid Invasion reprint permanently weakened the card's Oracle text!

    Anyway, red mana ramp has increasingly more potential, but I don't think it's quite to the point that Kaervek's Torch is a good gameplan there. I might be wrong on that. I suspect that Ignite Memories or Grapeshot is more practical for a deck employing red mana ramp cards.

    But there's also colorless mana! And that's an area where Kaervek's Torch can shine. Especially with infinite combos. However, most decks that use infinite combos seem more inclined toward blue cards, and they're often better served by something else.
    I used Braingeyser and/or Stroke of Genius in several combo decks. And a deck with either has little use for anything like Kaervek's Torch. There can be exceptions, though! The one that sticks out in my mind right now is Krark-Clan Ironworks, a deck I tested a lot with Al0ysiusHWWW in 2004. He piloted it in some Mirrodin Block Constructed tournaments. Of course, he was using Fireball, which had just been reprinted in Darksteel.

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