Magic Memories: Lion's Eye Diamond

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Sep 25, 2017.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, I was doing one of these threads covering another zero-drop artifact, Zuran Orb, and it got me thinking about my favorite zero-drop artifact of all time: Black Lotus Mana Crypt Mox Sapphire Spellbook Ornithopter Lion's Eye Diamond. But seriously, I love the card. Also, this one gets really weird, even weirder than Zuran Orb. I may not think that Zuran Orb is broken, but at least I've always thought that it was pretty good, and so has everyone else. It is universally recognized as a useful card. LED though, coming out just a year later, was roundly dismissed. It was considered unplayable. Discard your hand for mana? To spend on what? You just discarded your hand! Uh, that view changed. A lot. Spoiler alert, I guess. But we'll get to it...
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  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    —Rich Lipman, InQuest Magazine.

    Well, I guess it's obvious that times have changed. LED is by far the most sought-after card in Mirage, worth more than all of the other rares combined. It isn't the only card to ever be undervalued on its initial release and to become a powerhouse later. Prominent examples of that circumstance include Dream Halls and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But LED goes beyond that. This was a card that languished in junk rare obscurity for years and then, quite suddenly and used primarily alongside card that weren't themselves new printings, it took over Vintage. From 1996 to 2002 it was considered a silly card that only casual players would ever bother with, and in 2003 it was restricted in Vintage after spawning one of the most infamous decks of all time. So yeah, there might be other cards that people underestimated or that got better with new printings, but this case is really unlike anything else that ever happened. And I'd like to explore that, pin down just what went right/wrong.
  3. Mooseman Isengar Tussle

    Dredge, Dredge , Dredge, Dredge, wonderful Dredge.......
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  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    These days, LED is almost always used in interactions with cards that didn't exist before its big breakthrough. I've established that I think the card was always good, even before 2003. So my thesis could be that the card was a diamond in the rough (Oversoul wins at puns and is not sorry). The pervasive use of combos involving post-2003 cards is at odds with that thesis, and failing to nip that issue in the bud would seem ill-advised. Not to worry: I do ill-advised stuff all the time! So let's take a look at some applications...

    Burning Desire
    This was the deck that got LED restricted in Vintage and banned in Type 1.5. In that same announcement, Burning Wish and Chrome Mox were also restricted based on dominance of that same deck, but both of those cards were later unrestricted without issue and it is pretty clear in retrospect that LED was the card that pushed the deck over the edge. Storm was brought to Magic with the release of Scourge, but early testing revealed that Mind's Desire was broken in Vintage because a deck could drop some mana-producing artifacts, cast Desire, and then use the cards from Desire to cast a second Desire, which would cast even more cards and lead to a third Desire, and so on. Mind's Desire into Mind's Desire was so blatantly overpowered with the Vintage suite of restricted artifacts that the card was given a special preemptive emergency restriction (which wasn't called that, but whatever). Players still wanted to access the power of Mind's Desire, so they built decks with the card in the sideboard and used Burning Wish to fetch it, which was way weaker than having four copies in the maindeck, but still worked. Mike Long was an early pioneer of this "Burning Desire" archetype and decks along this vein were often called "Long.dec" even for years after he'd quit Magic, which was annoying and stupid, especially because "Long" is not a meaningful name for this sort of deck and "Burning Desire" sounds cool as hell. But anyway, the important innovation was to move Mind's Desire to the maindeck and Yawgmoth's Will to the sideboard, effectively giving the deck four card slots (Burning Wish) that could fetch Yawgmoth's Will. By itself, that's pretty good. Lion's Eye Diamond makes it bonkers.
    The deck played four different restricted cards that could serve as a Draw-7 spell: Wheel of Fortune, Timetwister, Windfall, and Tinker (for Memory Jar). Lion's Eye Diamond could be activated with any of those on the stack, generating three mana per Diamond to fuel spellcasting once a new hand was drawn. LED could also be cracked open for mana in response to Demonic Tutor, Demonic Consultation, and of course Burning Wish. In a pinch, it could even be used with Ancestral Recall or Diminishing Returns, or even Mind's Desire. If the deck managed to get its copy of Yawgmoth's Bargain onto the board, it could activate LED and then draw cards with the mana floating. Ultimately, the goal was to cast a lethal Tendrils of Agony, but what really gave this whole strategy an inordinate amount of kick was the use of LED and Draw-7 spells to fuel Yawgmoth's Will. "Discard your hand" isn't much of a penalty when you're already planning to replay all of those cards from your graveyard anyway.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I can't remember where and when I first saw Bomberman decks emerge, and records from back then are sporadic. Bomberman has primarily been a Vintage deck, but it has also existed in Legacy, and I think it might have originated in the old Type 1.5. The idea was to use hand-sculpting, especially Trinket Mage, to get both Pyrite Spellbomb and Lion's Eye Diamond, then loop Lion's Eye Diamond with Auriok Salvagers for infinite mana, then loop Pyrite Spellbomb for the kill. As a three-card combo, it isn't the fastest thing, but Bomberman decks tend to be played as control-combo builds, disrupting opponents while building toward the infinite combo.
    Of course, Black Lotus works perfectly well in this combo and could even be advantageous over LED because you can generate infinite mana and then use it to cast stuff from your hand. LED was already restricted in Vintage before Auriok Salvagers was printed, so there wasn't much point in tutoring for it when you could just as easily tutor for Black Lotus. But Legacy doesn't get Black Lotus, so LED is the only option.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    While it would have been possible to pair LED with the Madness mechanic well before its breakthrough with Storm, I never saw that happen and it certainly wasn't popular. In the early years of Legacy, one of the most explosive aggro archetypes was a blue, green, and often red Madness deck fueled by Lion's Eye Diamond. Al0ysiusHWWW built such a deck in 2005 or so, and we came to the conclusion in our testing that it was the fastest aggro deck in the format. Wish I'd saved his list. Wonder, Anger, Arrogant Wurm, Roar of the Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, Wild Mongrel, and other staples of the Madness archetype in other formats had already existed for years, and it was just a matter of putting them in the same deck as LED. Survival of the Fittest also played a role, and one trick was to activate Survival of the Fittest, then crack LED with the ability on the stack. Discarding a creature is part of the cost, so the requirement will already have been met before LED purges one's whole hand. The mana from LED can then be used to pay for the creature that Survival finds. Really the only new addition that I can remember this kind of deck getting was Life from the Loam.
    Released in late 2005, this card has really proven itself, being probably the most versatile tool for decks that manipulate their own graveyards out of any card ever printed. With cards like Wonder and Roar of the Wurm, Madness decks could get a boost by milling themselves, and Life from the Loam gave back all those lands that LED discarded. The lands could even be discarded again for use with Wild Mongrel, Careful Study, or Mox Diamond. It's slower than the all-out aggro version, but has more staying power.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    There have been a lot of different Belcher decks. The first ones I remember seeing were Vintage decks with one Bayou and one Tropical Island, both of which could be fetched with Land Grant. When the Legacy format was created, I devised a version with one Bayou and one Taiga. Soon Belcher decks evolved to use only one land, and then, once they got more tools, no lands at all. The exact composition varied considerably, but the gist of the concept was always to ramp up to seven mana, cast Goblin Charbelcher and activate it, killing the opponent as early as possible, preferably on the first turn. A pure, glass cannon combo deck.
    The role of LED in these decks, in constrast to decks like Bomberman, was as straightforward as can be: get four mana, cast Goblin Charbelcher, then use LED to pay for the activation of Goblin Charbelcher. Ramping to seven mana was a bit tricky, but ramping to four and having a copy of LED in hand was pretty easy to pull off, and Lion's Eye Diamond certainly contributed in the majority of Belcher's first-turn kills. These days, Belcher decks look very different from their ancestors in 2004. Legacy Belcher decks are almost all hybrids, alternating between Goblin Charbelcher and Empty the Warrens as kill cards. In Vintage, the card has largely transitioned to a role in Paradoxical Outcome decks. Still, all of these continue to employ Lion's Eye Diamond.
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    IGGy Pop
    Now, here's a bit of an obscure one. IGGy Pop was a Legacy deck that mostly used older cards, but didn't really become established until after LED had already risen to prominence in decks like Bomberman and Belcher. Even though Ritual-fueled decks using Tendrils of Agony had established themselves in Vintage, Legacy didn't pull it off at first: its banned list ruled out the known strategies. Legacy had Lion's Eye Diamond and Lotus Petal, but it had no Power 9, no Mind's Desire, no Tinker, no Wheel of Fortune, and, perhaps most importantly, no Yawgmoth's Will. So at first, even though Tendrils of Agony was available, there wasn't really a successful Legacy Storm deck. But then players turned to the poor man's Yawgmoth's Will, a card released, improbably enough, in the very same set...
    Ill-Gotten Gains → IGG → IGGy Pop. The interaction between Ill-Gotten Gains and Lion's Eye Diamond was explosive enough to allow for a competitive (at the time) Storm combo deck. IGGy Pop held its own, but was never really a Legacy powerhouse, and gradually lost ground as other decks adapted and got better tools to work with.
  9. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Dredge, Dredge, Dredge, Dredge, wonderful Dredge.

    The name "Dredge" these days is synonymous with highly specialized decks that rely on explosive graveyard interactions, but at first, it was just the mechanic associated with the Golgari in Ravnica. As I mentioned in that "Storm Count" article, the Dredge mechanic does have some potent applications, and I've already touched on Life from the Loam here. And with the advent of Dread Return in Time Spiral, the Dredge cards were already being used for self-milling purposes. And then Future Sight introduced one of the weirdest cards to ever become a tournament powerhouse.
    It costs BBB and if you cast it then it does nothing but sit there! But if you can get it, or preferably multiple copies of it, into your graveyard, then it becomes a token-generator. The Dredge mechanic makes it easy to fill up your graveyard and get these things ready to make some zombies, so all you need is a way to get creatures on the battlefield and have them die. Magic already had something for that!
    For years, the card was the namesake for the deck, which started out dredging chunks of its library into its graveyard, then used Ichorid's ability to put itself onto the board, fly over blockers thanks to Wonder, die, make some zombies with Bridge from Below, come back again, and eventually get sacrificed to Dread Return for Flame-Kin Zealot and a lethal army of flying zombies. All the deck needed was a way to get enough cards into its graveyard to start the process, preferably on the first turn. And the initial suite of cards for that consisted of Breakthrough, Deep Analysis, and of course Lion's Eye Diamond.

    Bomberman showcases a synergy that takes maximum advantage of LED being a 0-drop artifact that makes 3 mana, but Ichorid, which gradually came to be called by the name "Dredge" instead, was the deck that took the fullest advantage of the "discard your hand" aspect of the card. The mana was almost incidental, although these early Dredge decks did tend to use it to flashback Deep Analysis and to activate Cephalid Coliseum. These days, LED mana in Dredge decks is often used to flashback Faithless Looting.
  10. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    With three cards banned from the top combo deck in Vintage, other fast decks rushed in to fill its place. A blue-heavy, disruptive storm deck that was fast enough but also slightly more resilient in the face of the format's devastating Workshop decks became the most successful of the lot: dubbed "The Perfect Storm." Another version, using Diminishing Returns, went for sheer speed and was mostly just known as "Draw-7." The Perfect Storm (TPS) didn't really have any identity beyond doing the same sort of stormy stuff that Burning Desire decks had already been doing, and new additions to the deck were mostly utility or anti-hate cards, so the name stuck and it was, in some sense, the longest-lived "Storm deck" in Vintage. Eventually, as happened with Ichorid, the name sort of evolved to be replaced, although it hasn't fully gone away. I've always liked TPS, but for the purposes of this discussion it isn't very interesting: it used LED the same way that Burning Desire did, but with the limitation that the card was restricted, which is a big consideration but an especially simple one. Other Storm decks followed suit, employing a copy of Lion's Eye Diamond, but generally using it with the same old tricks. There was a version that relied on Grim Tutor and another that attempted to get the functionality of Burning Wish with the more dangerous Death Wish. But Storm decks could always crack LED in response to Demonic Tutor (or Burning Wish) and these were just slight variations on that. However, Vintage did soon get another deck that used LED in other applications: Doomsday.
    I think Doomsday decks started showing up in Vintage in 2005, and before that the card had been strictly a casual toy, although I might be forgetting something. That would mean it had a slightly longer period than LED of being part of the game before being "discovered" as a tournament card, not that they are the only such cards or the ones with the longest span of time for that. Off the top of my head, I believe Mystic Remora has them both beaten. Anyway, in the case of Doomsday, I can scarcely fault the Magic community for failing to break it at the earliest possible point, whenever that would have been. This thing is a mess. You lose half of your life and almost all of your cards. Even today, Doomsday is so tricky to use that it must be one of the most skill-testing puzzle cards in existence. You get to keep your hand and your stuff on the battlefield, so you have that to set up your win along with whatever five cards you want between your library and graveyard, so there are some ideal board states in which Doomsday is a trivial win. There are also times when a clever variation on a common setup wins the game, but you have to know what to look for. Knowing when to cast Doomsday, which cards to stack, and in what order can be daunting. Even experienced players might not remember their lines of play for every scenario, and the use of cheat sheets while playing Doomsday decks on Magic Online has been the subject of a minor controversy. CPA Vintage superstar 13NoVa has considerable experience playing Doomsday, so ask him about it: this stuff goes over my head.

    Lion's Eye Diamond makes its way into many Doomsday piles because Doomsday decks stack their (five-card) libraries exactly, so if you cast a draw spell and follow it up by activating LED, you know what you're drawing into and have a plan for using your LED mana. Of course, Black Lotus also works for this sort of thing and provides even more options, but it is even better to be running both cards, especially since you can only have one of each. In Legacy, though, you don't get Black Lotus at all! Doomsday took a while longer to establish itself as an archetype in Legacy, where it gets to use the glorious full playset of Lion's Eye Diamond (but loses out on other Vintage-restricted bombs). It still shows up in both formats despite taking a huge hit this year from the Vintage restrictions of Gush and Gitaxian Probe and the Legacy ban of Sensei's Divining Top. I imagine that with such tenacity and with so many options for customization, Doomsday (and LED alongside it) will be sticking around for years to come, but the complicated and high-risk nature of the archetype probably has it permanently relegated to the fringe.
  11. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The Epic Storm
    At first, blue/black decks along the lines of IGGy Pop were the default home for Tendrils of Agony in Legacy. Another early Legacy Storm deck, which has been evolving ever since, was "The Epic Storm." A key distinction was that in 2006, three new red cards were released that dramatically boosted Storm: Rite of Flame, Grapeshot, and Enter the Warrens. With the new emphasis on red, TES used Lion's Eye Diamond in a a different way, relying less on Ill-Gotten Gains and shifting toward activation in response to other spells: Burning Wish and Demonic Tutor. Wait, that's not right. Demonic Tutor is banned. Or is it?
    Lately, one of the issues I've pondered is how when it comes to competitive decks is how a minor shift in the functional details of a card can make a massive difference in playability. That sounds mundane, and while the principle is familiar enough to people that it isn't actually surprising, it also wouldn't necessarily be true in every sort of game. At some point, I'll have to just break down and write an article about this, but to briefly explain, there are cases in Magic where a card is broken, but a weaker version is mediocre, and the difference between them is such that there is seemingly no middle ground that could realistically occupy an intermediate space. For example, Demonic Tutor is widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful cards and is banned or restricted just about everywhere. It costs 1B. Diabolic Tutor has the exact same rules text, but costs 2BB, and is unremarkable and rather weak. So if we simplify this to say that 1B is too cheap for this effect and that 2BB is too expensive, what is the "right" cost to make it a good card, but not a broken one? Well, there's a too-good version at two mana and a too-bad version at four mana, but no card that has the exact same effect at three mana, but a couple that are close: Grim Tutor costs 1BB and does the same thing but also makes you lose 3 life, while Rhystic Tutor costs 2B but is contingent on your opponent not paying 2 mana to stop you. Neither card is very good, but the life loss from Grim Tutor isn't such an obstacle that it would stop people. No, Grim Tutor just isn't worth it. WotC seem wary of an unfettered version of the card at three mana, but I personally suspect that even if Grim Tutor didn't cost life, it would still be lackluster. Still, there's definitely some grey area here. Would a version of the card at 2B work? WotC would not print it, but if they did, would it be good? I suspect that it would be a bit weak. And yet, there's no other option, no possible middle ground. If 1B is too strong and 1BB is too weak, 2B is really all that is left, and if it's not good enough, then there's not actually a possible card that has the appropriate cost in this scenario, one that is properly balanced. With their intense focus on Limited gameplay and especially booster drafts, WotC would probably go to the other side and conclude that 2B and even 1BB are too good, but that still doesn't change the fact that 2BB is demonstrably weak. Between 1B and 2BB, there are really only a total of four possible points on the spectrum without completely changing the nature of the card by making it require triple black or require a second color. And if none of those points is the cost that makes the card strong without being busted, then there's just no good "home" for the effect. All of this is hugely complicated by the varying utility of effects and the varying availability of resources across formats. If you're in a booster draft and casting a spell for 2BB, it had better be one of your deck's primary colors. In Legacy, you just might be persuaded to splash it.

    Alternate versions of troublesome cards offer other opportunities. An obvious example of this is Diabolic Intent, which functions like Demonic Tutor, but requires a creature sacrifice. Not every deck can fulfill that second condition and not every deck should try, but it does seem like a successful example of a card that does what Demonic Tutor does without being either too strong or too weak. But variations like this can't be compared to each other in a clean, linear way. Infernal Tutor is a more complicated version that has a much weaker effect, revealing a card from your hand and showing your opponent that you are fetching another copy of that exact card, but if you achieve "Hellbent" then it exactly replicates Demonic Tutor. Under most circumstances, this would be far weaker than Diabolic Intent, as sacrificing a creature is, for many decks, not a big deal. And that's where Lion's Eye Diamond comes in and messes everything up. Activating LED in response to your own Demonic Tutor is a known interaction that has its own advantages, and if Infernal Tutor is used in this way, then it is identical to Demonic Tutor anyway. Because many combo decks cannot afford to waste resources playing creatures, Infernal Tutor, which otherwise is clearly the weaker card, becomes more valuable than Diabolic Intent.

    On the surface, the Lion's Eye Diamond + Infernal Tutor combo isn't that amazing, as it requires two cards to find one. Infernal Tutor costs 1B and LED gives you three mana, so you're really only ahead by one mana. There is no one thing that, by itself, redeems the combo. It's a bunch of little things...
    • LED is good in multiples.
    • LED can be used for color-fixing.
    • LED bumps the storm count up without costing anything.
    • Infernal Tutor can be used with Rite of Flame to ramp up mana production.
    • Infernal Tutor can be used to double up on LED in preparation for setting up another Infernal Tutor, a Burning Wish, or some other use of LED.
    • LED can be used without Infernal Tutor if you have another card that synergizes with it, such as Burning Wish or Second Sunrise.
    • With multiples of LED and with mana from rituals, Infernal Tutor can be used in "tutor chains." Infernal Tutor revealing a second Infernal Tutor and finding a third, then Infernal Tutor revealing Lion's Eye Diamond for a second one, cast both Diamonds, Infernal Tutor and activate both Diamonds to find Burning Wish, filling up your graveyard and increasing the storm count.
    • Either card can be cast before the combo turn to help set something up, such as Infernal Tutor doubling up on Helm of Awakening or LED being used to set up Recoup.
    The Infernal Tutor + Lion's Eye Diamond has come to be perhaps the most defining characteristic of Legacy Storm decks, and while nothing these days really looks like the 2006 version of TES, the combo remains prevalent and is probably the major reason that Lion's Eye Diamond is well over $100.
  12. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Ad Nauseam Tendrils
    I once wrote an entire article dedicated to Ad Nauseam. The card has had some impressive applications, all of them in combo decks, and has been especially potent in Legacy, largely thanks to Lion's Eye Diamond and its synergy with Infernal Tutor. Early ANT decks focused on dropping as many copies of LED as possible, then finding Ad Nauseam with Mystical Tutor, Infernal Tutor, or just plain drawing into it, and cracking LED with Ad Nauseam on the stack. It was possible to follow this up with the aforementioned Ill-Gotten Gains trick, getting back cards that had been discarded by LED. Ad Nauseam Tendrils has risen to prominence as the Storm deck in Legacy, its position as the top combo deck overall frequently being supplanted by things like Reanimator, Elves, and various Show and Tell decks, but ANT always seems to bounce back eventually.
    ANT was once a strong Vintage deck, but it has fallen out of favor in that format, and I suspect Yawgmoth's Bargain can do the same job, but better.
  13. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Sunny Side Up aka Second Breakfast aka Scrambled Eggs, etc.
    This one is really obscure, but hey, this is the Casual Players Alliance and not the Mainstream Tournament Deck Alliance. Actually, the deck itself was a tournament deck, but mostly didn't get access to Lion's Eye Diamond. I actually covered this in my Combo Breakfast article, which remains one of my favorite Magic articles I've ever written. In 2006, an Extended combo deck emerged using the synergy between Helm of Awakening and one-drop artifacts that could be sacrificed to draw cards, most of which were the Egg cards from Odyssey (e.g. Darkwater Egg) to cycle through the deck. Then those artifacts could be brought back from the graveyard with Second Sunrise, generating massive card advantage. The use of both egg-themed artifacts and a sorcery with "sun" in its name gave everyone the opportunity for an unusually fitting chapter in the saga of breakfast-themed deck names, but this was a bit of a rogue deck and I've seen records with several different names. The engine itself was simple enough and the card-drawing artifacts were, under Helm of Awakening, essentially mana-neutral. The trick was getting the initial burst of mana to make this a fast combo deck and to also have mana production built into the engine, so that one wasn't stuck cycling through a bunch of eggs and then not actually having the mana for Second Sunrise and also to eventually "go infinite. That's where Lotus Bloom came in. Why Lotus Bloom? Because Lion's Eye Diamond had already rotated out of Extended before Second Sunrise existed.
    So this combo deck wasn't a huge hit in Extended, but it did see tournament play. It was a thing, so to speak. Just not with Lion's Eye Diamond, even though LED would clearly have been better in this sort of deck than Lotus Bloom, as you can actually cast it. The "discard your hand" part scarcely even matters because once you have a single Helm of Awakening, you can dump your other artifacts onto the board, then activate LED discarding chaff (mostly lands at that point), and then start cycling through your deck. It wasn't Extended-legal, but people were free to do it in casual play, and I did. And actually, all of these cards were legal in Legacy, so there technically was a tournament version of Sunny Side Up that included Lion's Eye Diamond. Technically. I never took my own version into a tournament and I don't think it was well-positioned compared to other Legacy decks at the time, and it would fare even worse today. But people did try it and I saw a grand total of two records of such decks making Top 8 appearances, both of which were in the early years of Legacy and both of which were probably at janky tournaments with other dubiously competitive decks (I can only see one such record now, but the netdeck repositories that were active back then are gone, so a lot of this data is kinda lost to time).

    Second Sunrise was just a bit too slow for a glass cannon combo deck in Legacy. It was successful in Modern, but this required a much more convoluted setup, as the Modern version didn't have access to Helm of Awakening or the Egg cards. The original setup was streamlined, chaining free artifacts into each other and, if uninterrupted, leading clearly and easily to a kill. Although the Modern version worked, it was much messier and had more lines of play that had to be followed properly, with more chances to lead to a dead end and failure to kill the opponent if one had bad luck with topdecks or followed the wrong line. An accumulation of otherwise unrelated factors in the Modern environment led to the bizarre state of affairs in which this deck was very good, perhaps not the strongest deck but at least a very strong contender, but required inordinate time to complete games. Opponents couldn't just scoop once a combo was presented: the combo wasn't necessarily a sure thing and navigating through different steps could, by luck or by player error, result in the combo fizzling (it was even possible to accidentally deck yourself). So that got Second Sunrise banned in Modern and forever tainted by a reputation for producing a "time-wasting" combo deck, in part because of the story of Brian Kibler writing "F6" on a piece of paper and placing it one the table after asking the judge if he could pass priority to everything and go use the restroom while his opponent took forever killing him. But the Legacy version is much simpler and faster to play!
  14. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The Poor Man's Yawgmoth's Will Version 2.0
    I've mentioned the prevalence of the Lion's Eye Diamond + Infernal Tutor interaction in Legacy combo decks. For several years, this was used alongside Ill-Gotten Gains in dedicated Storm combo (ANT and TES) and in specialized Reanimator variants. But these days, Ill-Gotten Gains is a fringe card. Instead, combo players prefer Past in Flames. It doesn't really have a role in Vintage, where players have access to the real Yawgmoth's Will, but it led to something of a Combo Renaissance, pulling combo decks out of the funk they'd fallen into with the 2010 ban on Mystical Tutor. It later became a Modern powerhouse as well.
    The card has taken on such a prominent role in Legacy combo decks that "Ad Nauseam Tendrils" could more properly be named "Past in Flames Tendrils." It has the obvious drawback that it doesn't actually bring back LED: the Flashback mechanic is strictly for instants and sorceries. Everything else, however, is golden. LED can be activated with PiF on the stack, providing mana with which to cast spells from the graveyard. LED can be activated to help pay for a PiF that is already in the graveyard. LED can give Infernal Tutor Hellbent so that it can fetch PiF. LED can discard chaff from hand to make sure that Cabal Ritual has Threshold after PiF gives it Flashback. With mana from rituals added to mana from LED, PiF can chain together enough spells for a lethal Tendrils of Agony. So even though PiF doesn't work on artifacts, the synergy with LED is actually quite strong.
  15. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The Rise and Fall and Rise of Vintage Dredge
    Most of the Vintage tools for Dredge are the same ones that are available in Legacy, with two all-important distinctions. Firstly, LED is restricted in Vintage, so Dredge decks only have access to a single copy. Secondly, Vintage gets this monster.
    Even though Dredge in Vintage cannot reliably draw LED every game, every Dredge deck still throws a copy in because it is awesome. But Bazaar is the card that makes Dredge go, and Vintage lists not only use a playset of Bazaar, but also include a playset of Serum Powder to make sure that they can mulligan into Bazaar. This sort of deck is very fast and very consistent, tending toward third-turn kills but ideally shooting for second-turn kills, if uninterrupted. Because of this Dredge is infamous for winning the first game of nearly every match, but struggling through sideboard hate in subsequent games. And opposing decks are virtually required to sideboard heavily in order to beat Dredge. If enough decks are running lots of sideboard hate for Dredge, then Dredge decks cannot perform well, which means that fewer people will be bringing Dredge decks to tournaments, which means that players do not need as much sideboard hate for Dredge, which means that they devote sideboard slots to other matchups, which means that Dredge decks can perform well again. This is the cycle that has been going on in Vintage for about a decade. LED doesn't get drawn frequently enough to make or break this oscillation, but it is a very powerful play nevertheless.
  16. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    When Magic Origins came out, I was gushing about the "Spell mastery Demonic Tutor." I thought it was the most promising card in the set, and it did find its way into Storm decks.
    The drawback of needing to pay five mana up front was severe, but if you could do it, you had Demonic Tutor. No need for Hellbent. But you had to achieve Spell mastery (usually pretty easy) and you had to get to five mana (asking a bit much). That this card made so many waves really illustrates just how good the original Demonic Tutor is. Dark Petition was initially more successful in Vintage, where the refunded mana could be used to outright pay for restricted 3-drops, mostly Yawgmoth's Will and Necropotence. Dark Petition has gone on to serve as a niche card in Legacy, but it pairs poorly with Ad Nauseam and isn't as good at outright casting key cards in that format.

    LED doesn't actually help to cast the five-mana Dark Petition, and using it like Infernal Tutor just means that you are paying more up front for what amounts to the same thing. Dark Petition has the advantage that It can be cast with mana from rituals, saving LED for later.
  17. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, I've devoted a whole lot of words to describing the historical use of Lion's Eye Diamond since it rose to prominence in Storm decks in 2003. This includes a whole lot of cards that were new printings. But like I said, for about six years, the card was generally considered bad. From this, one might conclude that it was the new printings that did the trick. They introduced new interactions, so LED could be viewed as a sleeper card that wasn't viable at the time, but became powerful with those new printings. Much of what I've written so far would seem to support this: one couldn't take advantage of using LED in a Dredge engine or in the Bomberman combo back in the late 90's and early 00's because the cards simply didn't exist. However, it is my contention that this view is dead wrong. I don't just want to rebut it: I want to annihilate it. And that's a bit trickier than what I've done so far. Truthfully, I am uncertain how to proceed. All of the decks I mentioned (Burning Desire, Bomberman, Madness, Belcher, IGGy Pop, Dredge, Doomsday, TES, ANT, Sunny Side Up, TPS, other Storm, DPS) saw tournament play. I didn't actually post decklists, but decklists to exist. There are records of them. They are out there. And they were known to work. For me to come up with hypothetical pre-2003 uses for LED and just assume that they could have been good isn't the same as real, demonstrated results. But I think that I have a strong case anyway. I believe that Lion's Eye Diamond was a strong card from the beginning and that deckbuilders in the 1990's, while they were certainly intelligent, lacked the background of experience for combo deck construction. I suspect that if skilled players with the benefit of hindsight and an up-to-date understanding of deck construction were cast into the Magic scene of 1996 (or earlier, for that matter), they would devise powerful decks and shape competitive Magic. In my fantasy scenario, these players actually compete in Magic and don't do some other thing instead like bet on sporting events or foil terrorist attacks.

    So I'm going to attempt to capture some of the factors involved in the apparent late blooming of LED, some of the extenuating circumstances, and some of the areas I where I believe that there were missed opportunities. I suspect that the card was severely underutilized, and while it isn't really possible to get data showing this, I'm going to attempt to build a case anyway. I'll start with one fact that, by itself, doesn't amount to much. It's far from being the primary culprit in the suppression of LED. But it just might have mattered...

    Lion's Eye Diamond rotated out of Standard at the same time that Urza's Saga entered Standard
    There is no denying the powerful influence that Standard has. The decks and concepts that define competitive Standard spill over into the culture of Magic as a whole, from other tournament formats to casual gameplay. Now, Lion's Eye Diamond had its window of Standard playability just like any other card. And I do want to address the possible applications for it starting from when it was first printed in 1996. But still, if it had been possible for the card to start making waves in 1998 instead of 2003, I don't think anyone would have batted an eyelash. But it wasn't printed in 1998. It was printed in 1996. And those two years make a big difference. Urza's Saga the set that entered Standard the moment that LED left it, introduced powerful cards that would later go on to be used alongside LED in Vintage: Yawgmoth's Will, Windfall, and Ill-Gotten Gains. And the same block would also produce Tinker, Memory Jar, Yawgmoth's Bargain, and other cards that became infamous for their role in fast combo decks, some of which would go on to become banned. While I do think that there are other missed opportunities, that so many powerful cards for exactly the sort of decks that LED is known to empower were being tested in brews in a format where LED wasn't available at all, wasn't on the table and had actually just left the table, seems significant. Considering the level of effort that went into developing the combo decks in the era of Standard with Tempest and Urza's Saga as the large sets, I can't help but think that if LED had been in that card pool, it would have been thoroughly tested. But it was one block too early, so it wasn't even examined in that context.
  18. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Extended Madness didn't take off until Lion's Eye Diamond rotated out of the format
    This one is at least partially attributable to deckbuilding choices, rather than format constraints. Mirage Block rotated out of Extended on October 20th, 2002. Madness decks had inundated Standard almost immediately following the release of Torment in February, so there was a window of time in which most of the classic cards from the "UG Madness" shell were available in Extended alongside LED. To my knowledge, the connection was just never made within that window. Madness decks did appear in Extended later, and after Legacy was created, Madness decks incorporated LED, which was by then recognized as a powerful card. When Madness decks emerged in Legacy, they used very few cards that wouldn't have been available in 2002, mostly sideboard cards and dual lands anyway. Well, that's the benefit of hindsight. And I can't even be sure that LED Madness would have been good in the format: it was a very competitive format with some scary decks like Trix, Oath, Sligh, and Miracle Gro. Still, I can't help but think that this was a missed opportunity, and one that wouldn't have been missed if Lion's Eye Diamond was respected as an accelerant back then. It was thought of as a bad card, so the obvious synergies were overlooked.
  19. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The cards that actually interacted with Lion's Eye Diamond to get it restricted in Vintage already existed before Scourge came out. All the new set did was add a finisher
    My forum avatar is the art from Tendrils of Agony and my signature mentions it. I am a fan of the card. But there isn't really a direct link between Tendrils and LED. One doesn't tend to use LED to cast Tendrils or anything like that. The Storm card is really just the finisher. It is a better finisher than combo decks previously relied on, but it is not the only finisher available, and the real power, the stuff that makes these sorts of decks powerful, was already there. Burning Wish might not have been around for that long, but Timetwister, Time Spiral, Windfall, Wheel of Fortune, Yawgmoth's Will, Demonic Tutor, Tinker, Memory Jar, Yawgmoth's Bargain, Balance, Regrowth, Demonic Consultation, Diminishing Returns, and Chromatic Sphere were all cards to which LED was activated in response, and they all existed well before the Burning Desire deck broke Vintage. I'm not claiming that the Storm cards, Mind's Desire and Tendrils of Agony, didn't enhance the usage of LED in Vintage. They did. But with so many cards that make LED such an efficient source of mana in a big combo turn, it sure seems like the card could have been viable before 2003. Of course I cannot prove this. The Burning Desire lists are almost certainly better than previous options could possibly have been, but Burning Desire dominated the format. It took LED from zero to banned, singlehandedly. And maybe, if players with the benefit of today's deck construction knowledge and Magic's history were transplanted into the competitive environment of the early 00's to build Vintage decks, they wouldn't have bothered with LED until after Scourge added the Storm cards to the toolkit. But I really, really doubt it.

    "But Oversoul," you point out, "that mana acceleration has to actually lead somewhere, you dummy. You can't just posit that something would have been the finisher. What would a pre-Storm LED deck have looked like? Stupid idiot." Wow. Well, I admit that I'm not really sure. While I was following Vintage in the early 00's, I was haphazard about it and my memories of anything from that far back are a little hazy. I do remember that "The Deck" was extremely popular, and I suspect that this had something to do with the lack of experimentation on LED, not because I suspect that The Deck would have been especially oppressive toward the card, but because when a grindy card advantage deck is the supreme focus in a format, "discard your hand" sounds very bad. Notably, mana burn existed back then, so if your plan was to tutor for something and continue floating the LED mana even after casting the card taht you'd found, Force of Will in response would leave you with an empty hand and mana floating in your pool. Ouch. Anyway, unless we can perform the experiment of conscripting a bunch of Magic players into a kind of playtest work camp and compelling them to test decks for old iterations of Vintage, we'll never know for sure, and I don't think I can get funding for that. Throwing out some guesses...
    • The "Bombs Over Baghdad" Vintage Madness decks of 2004 used LED as a singleton and didn't particularly rely on new cards, so I suspect a version with unrestricted LED would have been even better.
    • Gro-A-Tog was an extremely powerful deck, predating Storm, that made good use of Yawgmoth's Will and was already using other tools that could be enhanced by LED. To my knowledge, no one on the planet tested LED for Gro-A-Tog, which was dethroned by the restriction of Fact or Fiction. Getting LED to work would require some modification to the way the deck played, but I do think it might have been able to speed it up.
    • Academy decks varied over the years and acted as a kind of spiritual ancestor to Storm combo. On the surface, LED would not be good for such decks because they relied on Mind Over Matter, but that's a finisher anyway and LED would be activated for mana in combination with other cards to boost mana for actually putting MoMa on the board in the first place.
    • Rector decks did predate Burning Desire, although they really didn't develop a Vintage presence that much earlier. I think this could be a promising role for LED in a pre-Storm environment because the strategy of sacrificing Rector in order to fetch Bargain directly from the library protects the combo player from being shut down and mana burned by Force of Will.
  20. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Broken Jar
    I had intended to get to this earlier and then I forgot about it. The first tournament deck, as far as I know, to make use of LED was actually in Extended in the late 1990's, but it was an unusual case so I wanted to distinguish it from Burning Desire: there was a kind of late 90's limbo in which the new rules allowed a mana ability to be used to pay for a spell on the stack, but Lion's Eye Diamond had not yet received an erratum to prevent it from being used in this way. So this meant that, back when Broken Jar was legal, one could put a spell on the stack, activate LED, and use the LED mana to pay for the spell on the stack. It wouldn't be discarded since it was no longer in your hand. The Oracle text on Lion's Eye Diamond now has a strange-looking stipulation that you can only activate it when you could play an instant. So LED did see tournament play in the 90's, but only because of a rules oddity. The LED that was actually used in 1999 was effectively a different card from the one that was printed in 1996 and later dominated in 2003.

    And yet, here's the catch: Lion's Eye Diamond would have been a fine card in that deck even after the erratum. In the first place, LED is a zero-drop that could be sacrificed to Tinker. But more importantly, it could be activated with a Jar on the board and then its mana could be used to pay for cards drawn by Jar. And of course, it could be used with Yawgmoth's Will. I contend that in such a deck, post-errata LED would have been an excellent card. And its success should have tipped players off as to how powerful it really was. What went wrong? The answer is, in retrospect, hilarious.

    The DCI banned Memory Jar. They thought that was the broken card. After all, the deck was named after it! This was a deck that contained Dark Ritual (later banned in Extended), Mystical Tutor (now banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage), Vampiric Tutor (now banned in Legacy and restricted in Vintage), Lotus Petal (later banned in Extended, among other things), Mana Vault (holy crap), Ancient Tomb (later banned in Extended), Brainstorm (now restricted in Vintage and the eternal controversy in Legacy), Yawgmoth's Will (arguably one of the most powerful cards ever, and of course it too was later banned in Extended), Mox Diamond (no longer banned anywhere, but it has made appearances on ban lists in the past), Tinker (not to sound like a broken record, but it's super broken and was later banned in Extended), and, of course, Lion's Eye Diamond. Out of all of those cards, the one that was targeted, the one that was thought to be the problem, was Memory Jar.
    Now, people inside and outside WotC like to enshrine Memory Jar as a broken monstrosity, emergency-banned and blah, blah, blah. But I see, and have already noted, ample evidence that WotC aimed at the wrong target on this one, and I've not seen any evidence that they chose correctly. Is Jar a strong card? Yes, I think so. Should it be banned in Legacy? I think not. But given the wake of devastation as Tinker marched on, proving itself across multiple formats, I wouldn't hesitate to say that in the Tinker + Jar combo, it's Tinker that's the broken piece. When a deck is too powerful and you ban a card to kill it, but then later, to stop other dominant decks, you have to ban six other cards from that same format, which were also in the deck you initially targeted, what then can be said for that first card you banned? I don't think it's going out on a limb to say that it was the other cards that made the deck broken. I'd go even further and say that no one else in Magic, no one unaffiliated with WotC, could possibly miss that spectacularly, that visibly, and so many times, and still be taken seriously. But perhaps this is a rant for another day. As for Lion's Eye Diamond, I suppose that it just got lost in the shuffle. With so many overpowered cards in the same deck, everyone assumed that the temporarily boosted LED wasn't a culprit. And by the time Storm appeared onstage, Broken Jar was but a distant memory.

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