Welcome back punters. Today I bring you part 3 of Mental Cesspool. If this is your first time reading the vile madness that oozes like phyrexian goo from my brain, you might want to check out part 1 and part 2 of our journey. We’re exploring what tools we have to enjoy playing combo-oriented and spell-oriented decks while not being a two-card-monte douchebag. We’re looking at alternative deck options that will allow you to play and win with decks that don’t just drop value tubbies in the red zone.
Last time we investigated all the types of storm and pseudo storm tools in our toolbox. I touched in a very general way on resource requirements to power such a deck. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to go more in-depth the tools we have to power this monster. In a deck like this we need several things:
- We need to be able to cast a lot of spells.
- This means we need a way to fuel those spells. Traditionally this means we need a lot of mana.
- We also need ways to refuel our hand with more spells.
- We need a way to ensure we have the necessary tools at the right moment;
- And finally we need to ensure we can survive to being able to go critical and go critical successfully.
Today I am going to focus on being able to cast our spells.
Omniscience or Infinity
There are three ways to enable casting spells en masse: Cheating to make “free” spells, having a lot of mana to pay for them, and synergy engines. I know when I think “free spells” the first thing that comes to my mind is Omniscience. Funny that I would mention this card. It’s not like it isn’t in the title of today’s discussion or anything. As we all know, Omniscience allows us to cast spells from our hand without paying their casting costs, but it’s not the only card with this ability. There is a surprisingly large number of cards that will allow you to nab a card or two from target a player’s hand, graveyard, or even library and them for free. The problem with this approach is you have to cast the targeting spell first. Then, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “Stealing other peoples’ cards is like a box of boosters… You never know what kind of pointless garbage they have on hand.”
Stealing something here and there is great, but we’re looking for a sustained solution, something we can use for repeated value. That is the core difference between Omniscience and Knowledge Exploitation.
What other cards sustain this ability to make things free? Blue has a few good ones, including two-thirds of the following. Aside from the big guy, blue offers Dream Halls, which allows the casting of anything if you can pitch a card of a matching colour. Unlike other alternative casting costs, notably Force of Will, which requires the exiling of the pitched card, Dream Halls only requires discarding to the graveyard. This means these cards are accessible through recursion; think Yawgmoth’s Will or deck recyclers like Time Spiral. Finally in green we have Aluren. Aluren is somewhat more restrictive than Dream Halls or Omniscience. It only allows free play of creature spells with a converted mana cost of three or less.
Free play of spells, however, does not guarantee a win. It needs something else, like the ability to reload your hand for more tools or to find the next tool in the chain. There is no point in being able to cast as many spells as you like for free if you have no spells to cast.
“Going infinite” in mana production is our second option. But going infinite has a certain stigma in EDH circles:
“Oh geez, combo player goes infinite.”
“Oh look, no skills there, just infinite loops.”
“Well if it isn’t the most boring play ever.”
I don’t disagree. Having the ability to go infinite in a deck is like having a finger already on a nuclear launch button. Long-time readers of the site will know how we as a group generally feel about push-button wins. We’re not fans of them given our desire to actually play the game for the experience of the game. In other words, while I do not condone the “two card monte”, I can appreciate an infinite loop that the player has to work to achieve.
To borrow some terminology and ideas from our own Sean Patchen, I think of infinity sequences in a series of axes. One axis is the number of cards as components of the loop. The other axes are the projected outcomes of the loops. These can include mana generation, board state expansion (i.e. generation of token creatures), temporal expansion (spell count for storm triggers), and resource gathering (mass card draw). Typically, the more outcomes that you want your loop to encompass, the more puzzle pieces that it needs to operate.
Infinite Mana! Genesis Wave! Haste!
We’re specifically interested in mana generation here. Although I’m not going to list all the possible ways to do that (If I did, I would be here till next week), I will point out that infinite mana generation in whatever colour you like is simple – as simple as combining Pili-Pala with Grand Architect – right up to more complex algorithms involving sacrifice outlets, recursion engines, and haste sources.
Like with Omniscience, when you use infinity engines you need a way to refuel on cards to enable continuous casting. There is little point to infinite mana if you have nothing to do with it. One could use X spells – which you cannot use with free cast effects – as well as conventional draw spells to refuel, infinity loops have the advantage of being able to incorporate additional subroutines to enable card draw or hand filtering.
Finally we have synergy engines. These are sequences of ways to meld cards in hand with puzzle pieces on the board that function as self-replacing-or-better cantrips. A perfect example is Manamorphose. For two mana and a card from your hand (itself), it generates two mana and a card draw. Thus this produces a net resource change of 0, but with a net gain on two alternative axes: an additional card in graveyard and an additional point of storm count.
Typical Vintage and Legacy storm lists use a combination of null resource plays, mana ramp, and cheap draw spells to count up to a critical mass of storm while focussing resources to get a kill spell in hand. These decks typically abuse the ”four of a card” rule and statistical probability to increase efficiency and consistency. While EDH is a singleton format, the sheer volume card variants does allow a weaker form of this kind of machine to operate.
The advantage to the synergy engine is that it is challenging to pilot. It requires skill and mental agility. As such it can be as exciting to watch as to play. The disadvantage to this kind of deck is that once you go critical, your turn can take a while to play out. Not all players are prepared to deal with this. Secondly, this kind of deck has a higher probability of missfire. That is, it may chain a pile of spells and still do little to nothing. The final challenge with this deck is to increase the density of the cantrips and pseudo-cantrips to enable going critical during the chain reaction.
Guns, Bombs, and the Kid Who Straps C4 to the Back of a Hamster
Now I know you are all wondering which way I am going to swing on this. Do I recommend Omniscience? Is it best to have infinite mana? Are synergy engines best? I know I just waxed lyrical about how much cooler storming out using skill and math is than just slamming down an Omniscience and tossing spells out left and right like a well ignited Catherine wheel. Well okay I really want to say that. I really want to recommend going hard core synergy. But in reality all three options are viable.
And I would recommend using all three options. Omniscience style effects are easy to include. You can readily Omniscience and Dream Halls, at a minimum. If you are running low CMC creatures you can also abuse Aluren. This leaves 96-97 slots open. From here you can pack in two to three small-scale infinite mana combos. Often they will share some redundant pieces, so between this redundancy and tutors, you should be able to land one successfully. From here you simply need enough gas to creep up your storm count enough to play a winning win condition, and your synergy engine canptrips are going to do that for you. Not only can they start your chain. They can also find you the infinity loop or the Omniscience, and from there drive your numbers to the final kill.