Tag: Izzet

The Art of Commander

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast

I have a lot of fun with Commander (EDH if you’ve been around a while). It seems to be my father’s preferred format for Magic, and my siblings always have decks with them. It’s been made clear to me that some of my decks have significant chinks in their armor. Both my Zedruu deck and my Jaya deck are very feast-or-famine, it seems, relying on combos that may or may not appear fast enough to respond to threats adequately in some situations. I’ve started to think more tactically about these decks. I want to build decks to have fun, but I also would like to not get completely blown out as often as I have been lately.

Enter Sun-Tzu. The philosophy in The Art of War emphasizes the flexibility, strength, and speed of a successful fighting force. I’ve looked at my current roster of Commander decks, and how their colors and theme and signature creature provide those three points. Sharuum (One mark of a great soldier is that he fight on his own terms or fights not at all.), Karthus (Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.), and Ghave (Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.) all seem to be winners so far. As much as I like Zedruu and Jaya, their decks often have me quickly devolving into “top-deck” mode, just hoping they yield the exact card I need to get myself out of whatever terrible situation I’ve found myself in. They are also comparatively slow (a shock considering Jaya is mono-red) and Jaya has little synergy with the rest of her deck. So where do we go from here?

I’ve been looking towards the recently completed Return to Ravnica block for ideas, and I have at least a couple potential decks I’ll be assembling and testing in the coming weeks.

Izzet Engine

Speed is the essence of war.

While Zedruu can facilitate a great deal of card draw, making it more likely to pull an answer to a problem I’m facing, it can be difficult to get a donation to an opponent that lasts long enough for Zedruu to bring in the rewards. I have many methods of drawing cards and benefitting from those draws, and a general who gives me a direct, relevant, and reliable benefits from drawing is my old friend, [mtg_card]Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind[/mtg_card]. I’ll have to dismantle both of the above decks to give Niv-Mizzet the tools he needs to blast my opponents, and there’s plenty of room for a variety of planeswalkers, time shenanigans, and even the synergy of Niv-Mizzet working with… um… Niv-Mizzet. [mtg_card]Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius[/mtg_card], to be exact. I’ll probably be assembling this exciting and somewhat frightening lightning-powered engine of destruction this weekend.

Orzhov Alliance

Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without having to fight.

I’ve wanted to put together a vampire EDH deck for some time, now. The good thing about pairing the fiends with Orzhov’s Extort mechanic is that I do not need to engage in direct confrontations to get an edge over my opponents. I was initially torn as to who should take control of the alliance, as I have a soft spot for [mtg_card]Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts[/mtg_card]. However, after some consideration, it seems that [mtg_card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/mtg_card] is slightly faster and has more synergy with the Extort within the deck and lifelink-equipped vampires. I’m looking forward to putting this deck together, as it’s been an idea I’ve had for quite some time.

This leaves me with another slot in a fat pack box for an EDH deck. Perhaps another mono-color deck? I’ll have to contemplate that.

FNM: The New Standard

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Geist of Saint Traft, Art by Igor Kieryluk

The wait is over. The rotation has occurred. We have returned to Ravnica, and the plane-spanning cityscape has not disappointed. As much as things change, however, some thing do remain the same.

A challenge whenever a set rotates out of Magic is adapting old decks to the new Standard. Some designs are more resilient than others. Some cards in and of themselves take the wind right out of certain decks, vis a vis [mtg_card]Birthing Pod[/mtg_card], while others like [mtg_card]Delver of Secrets[/mtg_card] lose the suppor they need to really shine ([mtg_card]Ponder[/mtg_card], etc). To be frank, I’m pretty happy to see both of those decks fall by the wayside or perhaps slip in to Modern, a format to which I must sadly send my trusty [mtg_card]Hero of Bladehold[/mtg_card] – more on that tomorrow.

However, the token generation of my Scars/Innistrad Standard deck remains mostly intact. With the addition of the Populate mechanic used by the Selesnya Conclave, the possibility exists to generate even more creatures without warning. Examination of existing resources also indicated some potential that, until now, went unrealized. To that end, I built the following deck.

[mtg_deck title=”Spirit Squadron”]
// Creatures
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Drogskol Captain
2 Geist of Saint Traft

// Spells
4 Lingering Souls
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Rootborn Defenses
4 Favorable Winds
4 Eyes in the Skies
2 Cackling Counterpart
2 Detention Sphere

// Planeswalkers
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

// Lands
5 Plains
4 Island
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Vault of the Archangel
1 Swamp

// Sideboard
4 Judge’s Familiar
3 Cyclonic Rift
3 Azorius Charm
3 Sundering Growth
2 Grafdigger’s Cage

The centerpiece of the deck is, of course, [mtg_card]Geist of Saint Traft[/mtg_card]. With every attack, his guardian angel appears. She has a tendency to disappear after combat, but Instant-speed Populate cards and [mtg_card]Cackling Counterpart[/mtg_card] can copy her, and the copy sticks around. Enhanced by [mtg_card]Intangible Virtue[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Favorable Winds[/mtg_card], she’ll be a force to be reckoned with. The multiple Captains protect each other and any Spirit tokens I generate, as well as making them even more powerful. It’s a heavily aggro-flavored deck, but preventative spells like [mtg_card]Rootborn Defenses[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Detention Sphere[/mtg_card] should help stave off sweeping responses or large defenders.

As eager as I am to test this deck in a true FNM situation, my heart remains leaning towards Izzet. In the wake of the various pre-release and release events, I know I have a variety of mad science choices. As good as the cloning technology in the Spirit Squadron deck might be, I feel a strong Izzet deck will be a touch flashier in its climax. I’ve been playing around with a few designs, facilitating between control and aggressive burn, and I think what follows is the best one yet.

[mtg_deck title=”Izzet Controlled Burn”]
// Creatures
4 Goblin Electromancer
3 Guttersnipe
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

// Sorceries
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Mizzium Mortars

// Instants
4 Izzet Charm
4 Searing Spear
4 Dissipate
2 Think Twice

// Planeswalkers
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
2 Jace, Architect of Thought

// Lands
7 Island
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Steam Vents
7 Mountain
2 Desolate Lighthouse

// Sideboard
4 Demolish
4 Chandra’s Fury
3 Counterflux
1 Mizzium Mortars
3 Thunderbolt

It’s still a work in progress, and I’m torn between [mtg_card]Dissipate[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Syncopate[/mtg_card] as the main deck counterspell. The Electromancers reduce the cost of each, both include the Exile clause, and while Dissipate may be a touch costlier, it does not allow my opponent the chance to ‘buy’ their way out of the counter. I’ll run with it for now and see how it works. If it looks promising, I may alternate between using this deck and Spirit Squadron in upcoming FNM events.

Standard isn’t the only format out there, though, and I’ll address the formats I’ve been neglecting since my days in high school… next time.

Flash Fiction: The Blistercoil Harness

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Izzet Charm, Art by Zoltan Boros

For the Terribleminds Epic Games of Aspects Redux, the d20 of Destiny instructed me to write Fanfiction about a Heist Gone Wrong featuring a Sea Monster.

The small, customized keyrune did its job, unlocking the door to the facility. It was an excellent forgery, one of Grigori’s finest. Natalya pocketed the keyrune and looked over her shoulder. Bringing Grigori along still seemed like a bad idea, yet there he was, right behind her, his face eager. She considered knocking him out and wiping his memory, but that was always tricky business, and House Dimir needed his forgery skills.

“Just stay close,” she hissed, and pushed the door open. The interior corridor was dark, luminescent fluids flowing through transparent tubes under floor grating the only light. Natalya was fine with this; her domain was the night itself. Grigori, for his part, obeyed and remained quiet, close at her heels.

They had only taken a few steps inside when the door slammed shut behind them. Overhead lights crackled and snapped to life. At the far end of the corridor, a small mechanical dragon perched above the doorway. Ruby eyes peered at the trespassers, and when its mouth opened, it was not fire that issued forth, but a tinny voice.

“Greetings, trespassers! My master, Benedict of Nivix, bids you welcome. As you have entered through a locked and secured gate, it is my duty to inform you that neither my master nor the Izzet League will be held responsible for any harm that comes to you should you remain. If you do not heed this warning… well, good luck!”

“Do you think he was expecting us?” Grigori was even more nervous, now.

“Don’t be a fool. We’re here to retrieve this ‘blistercoil harness’ that Benedict is building, and to remove all memory of it from his mind. It’s a straightforward job, and I won’t have you making a mess of it. So stay close and do as I say.”

The younger man nodded twice. She turned back to the corridor, studying it.

“Well? Are we going on?”

Natalya glared at him. She reached into her satchel for one of her wooden rods. Choosing one of the shorter ones, she tossed it down the corridor. About two meters from her hand, it was caught in mid-air by a wild burst of static electricity, and fell to the grating a blackened length of collapsing ashes.

“How about you help me find the trigger switch, first.”

So it was that they proceeded through the laboratory, one step at a time, disabling all manner of pitfalls and traps. Static fields, jets of flame, spatial distortions, gravity plates, time traps: Natalya defeated them all, with a little help from the forger. Finally, after several roundabout corridors, they found a vast open area, on a catwalk far above an indoor reservoir.

“This must be run-off from one of the Izzet steam vents!” Grigori peered over the railing.

“Yes. And Benedict’s main laboratory is said to be close to one of them. It must be near.”

They made their way carefully along the catwalk, testing each step. They were about halfway across when it disengaged from the walls.

Grigori screamed the whole way down. Natalya, while shocked, focused on aiming her fall way from the catwalk. Thankfully, the water was not electrified or anything else sinister, merely quite warm. Grigori came up for air.

“Ugh! I’m so sick of this dungeon! Now what do we do?”

“Be quiet.” Natalya’s fangs were out. She didn’t bother to retract them. She had more important things on her mind. “I’m thinking.”

That was when something large and scaly slid past her ankle under the water.

Grigori’s eyes went wide. “Well, think faster! I think something down here wants to eat us!”

“Stay calm. Or, at least, try.”

Moments later, a great serpent burst out of the water, glaring at the intruders with large, yellow eyes. It opened its mouth, revealing a glittering array of razor-sharp teeth, and hissed at them. When it dove back under, Natalya invoked one of her favorite spells.

An illusion of Natalya appeared across from her, mirroring her movements, while she herself disappeared. The giant creature snapped at the illusion, which exploded in a puff of dark indigo smoke. As it tried to shake the fog away, Natalya lunged for its throat. The moment her dagger touched it, however, electricity shot through her system. It catapulted her back into the water. Grigori kept her afloat while she recovered her senses.

“Ah! I see you’ve met Richie.”

The Dimir agents looked up. Benedict himself floated high above the pool. Over the blue and red clothing of his guild, he wore a metallic vest, gauntlets, and greaves, all connected by cables of various colors, featuring luminescent cylinders that crackled with power.

The blistercoil harness, Natalya observed. He’s wearing the bloody thing.

Speaking aloud, she asked “How dangerous is ‘Richie’?”

“Oh, not terribly. Not usually, anyway. Do you like him? I’m surprised the Combine doesn’t need an electric eel three meters long with defensive scales. He’s a very good watchdog, though.” The magus tossed a fish towards the pool, and Richie burst up to snatch it from the air before disappearing again with a splash.

“We’re not intimidated by him, or by you.” Natalya felt Grigori grip her arm as she spoke. Untrained fool. “We will find a way out of this trap.”

“No need. Let me give you one.” Benedict pointed at the wall. A bolt of lightning snapped from his finger and hit a crystal not far from the surface of the water. A hatch opened. “You can leave now, with my blessing, and my thanks for showing me how better to conceal my earlier traps. Or, you can remain, find your own way out of the pool, and continue to try and reach my inner lab. Of course, it only gets more dangerous from here. Your choice.”

Grigori was already swimming for the hatch. Natalya made no move to stop him. Instead, she narrowed her eyes at the floating man and his blistercoil harness.

“Do your worst.”

Benedict smiled.

“Good. I was hoping you’d say that.”

Returning to Ravnica

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Hypersonic Dragon, Art by Dan Scott

I must confess that, as much as I adore the setting and dynamics of Ravnica, I missed the block the first time around. I picked up Magic: the Gathering for the second time just as Time Spiral was debuting, after a long hiatus from the game stemming from the events leading to my breakdown. If I knew then what I know now… ah, but it’s water under the bridge. The future is brighter than the past, and the future is the Return to Ravnica.

I committed myself to representing Izzet all weekend long, and not just because their promotional card is a lovely alternate art foil of [mtg_card]Hypersonic Dragon[/mtg_card]. Which we could actually use, in deviance from the normal sealed rules. I was looking forward to what amounted to a Magic marathon, especially because the last couple work weeks have been so grueling. So it began at my friendly local gaming store, Cyborg One, with…

Friday Night, Midnight

After a long day of work and a less than stellar showing at Friday Night Magic, I prepared myself for the first pre-release event. Upon opening the box, I found my packs were leaning towards the new mechanic Izzet introduces in the set, Overload. Each card with Overload can be cast for that increased cost, which allows you to switch the word “target” on the card with the word “each”. The highlights were [mtg_card]Mizzium Mortars[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Cyclonic Rift[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Teleportal[/mtg_card]. Two [mtg_card]Goblin Electromancer[/mtg_card]s made those spells very inexpensive, even on Overload. The main card from the guild pack, however, was [mtg_card]Mercurial Chemister[/mtg_card], a somewhat beefy scientist that allowed me to draw cards with relative impunity.

However, it was difficult to strike the right balance with the deck, and all of the big spells supporting rushes towards the win only ever broke even for me. Still, a record of 2-2 is nothing to sneeze at, and I did get a couple new prize packs.

Saturday Afternoon, Noon

With the guild box at this event, I found myself splashing into Azorius. Two of my big rare pulls, [mtg_card]Righteous Authority[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Detention Sphere[/mtg_card], seemed extremely helpful in maintaining control of the battleground. Considering my largest bomb was the intimidating [mtg_card]Utvara Hellkite[/mtg_card], I wanted to make certain I would see the turn in which the big guy hit the table. More often than not, however, I didn’t need him. As good as his synergy was with the aforementioned Hypersonic Dragon, most of the work was done by a [mtg_card]Stealer of Secrets[/mtg_card], usually enchanted with [mtg_card]Pursuit of Flight[/mtg_card]. Multiple Detain effects (Detain shuts a creature down for a turn) and other removal made fliers even more difficult to stop. At one point, I had a Stealer with Pursuit, [mtg_card]Knightly Valor[/mtg_card], and Righteous Authority enchanting her. This sort of thing saw me placing second overall in the event, with a record of 3-0-1. I split my prizes between packs and store credit, and opened a [mtg_card]Blood Crypt[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Vraska the Unseen[/mtg_card], and [mtg_card]Epic Experiment[/mtg_card] among others.

Sunday Afternoon, 2 p.m.

Sundays during these weekends are different. Cyborg One runs Two-Headed Giant events, and with this pre-release, each team got two guild boxes to start with. I paired up with Jay Treat, mastermind of Wizard’s Familiar, to make the most of the event. He chose Selesnya while I continued to participate in these things FOR SCIENCE! He opened a [mtg_card]Grove of the Guardian[/mtg_card] to go with the one he had as a promotional foil, while I opened an [mtg_card]Armada Wurm[/mtg_card]. I also opened a second [mtg_card]Hypersonic Dragon[/mtg_card], and we began to formulate our plan. In essence, it fell to me to manage the early game, holding off aggression with [mtg_card]Frostburn Weird[/mtg_card]s and removal like [mtg_card]Street Spasm[/mtg_card] while he made preparations for his large token creatures. Once he had at least one out, he would Populate them as much as possible, generating additional tokens as part of several instant-speed spells, such as creating flying creatures with [mtg_card]Eyes in the Skies[/mtg_card] or making his creatures indestructible with [mtg_card]Rootborn Defenses[/mtg_card]. We felt prepared for just about anything.

Our first game ended with a rules dispute, and while technically the win was ours, after all of the back and forth we offered our opponents a draw, rather than just cackling all the way to the winner’s circle. After that, though, all of our wins were legitimate, though some were a bit narrow. At one point, I had a Hypersonic Dragon on the field, and he had two Bird tokens and a Guardian token. While the Guardian did not fly, there was a [mtg_card]Rogue’s Passage[/mtg_card] available, which meant that, since our opponents had no way to block flying creatures, we could damage them with impunity. And with that mix of creatures, with every attack we were devastating their life total.

We placed first in the event. It may be the biggest prize pool I’ve ever won in Magic. I couldn’t have done it without such an exemplary partner.


With a very comfortable amount of store credit to my name, and after several good trades, I am now in a position to roar back into constructed Magic events. My Legacy deck is nearly complete, I have two Standard decks to finish, and I have a couple ideas for the Modern format. But that is a post for another time.

Why Izzet?

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast

Ravnica is one of my favorite blocks in Magic: the Gathering‘s history. It provided a flavorful plane with lots of versatile deck ideas and all sorts of interesting guilds based on pairings of colors. So when Return to Ravnica was announced at PAX East, I pretty much lost my face. With the spoilers we’ve been seeing of the expansion, which hits next month, my glee is pretty justified. But while the Azorius guild is in my primary colors of white and blue, and a good deal of my cards from the previous block set in that plane appear to be from the sadistic playground of Rakdos, I’ve always considered myself Izzet at heart. Why?

Izzet is the red and blue guild. Blue is a color of mind games and control, featuring counterspells, illusionary creatures, and using an opponent’s cards against them, while red’s fast-paced flavor leans towards direct damage, fast creatures, and big flashy finishes like dragons and laying an unstoppable smackdown with a single card. When combined in the Izzet guild, the result is the magical equivalent of super-science. Izzet mages experiment with electricity, flight, spell manipulation, and time shenanigans. Why? Because they can!

Ravnica features a great deal of inter-guild politics and scheming, from Dimir spies lurking in the shadows to Golgari agents stealing undesirables for use in their experiments. Izzet certainly has its share of secrets, and if any of the guilds were to be working on some sort of doomsday device, it’d probably be them. However, it’s hard to imagine them working from a truly malicious angle. Again, for Izzet, it’s all about pushing the boundaries of Magic, trying new things no matter how dangerous, and letting the mind dictate one’s limits.

I like this very much because I’ve never been one to straight up copy deck lists from other players. I may get ideas from other lists, and I of course am curious about things like Maverick or The Rock, but I won’t be throwing down cash to simply run a deck someone else is running, regardless of how much that deck wins. For me, a good portion of the fun in Magic is the theorycrafting. Rather than being confident that I’m going to win every match I play, I’ve gone into events wondering how well or how badly the deck will run in competition. As much as it sucks to lose, especially when most “top” players tend to run the same deck, i.e. whatever the best pro players are playing, the experimentation does have rewards in and of itself. You learn about your own playstyle, you figure out what works for you, and you decide what you don’t want to do.

I think that’s where Izzet’s appeal lies, for me. While no two-color combination necessarily locks a player into a particular style of deck, red and blue together can go heavily for control, lean entirely towards aggression, or rest anywhere in between. It lends itself towards the very experimentation that keeps me going back to my favorite local comic & gaming store every week.

And it’s run by a genius dragon. That’s pretty much the cherry on it.

If you play Magic, are you excited for Return to Ravnica? Have you chosen your guild? I’d love to hear about it!

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