Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Silver Spoon: Mono-White Artifacts in Standard

Welcome back to Untap Target Player!

Just like any kid, I loved Indiana Jones while I was growing up.  Even as adults, we love to identify with Indiana Jones; he was like James Bond, but book smart.  He still got the girl, recovered the priceless artifact and killed Nazis (or commies, as per the new “addition.”)  The pursuit of the mysterious relic always intrigued me the most in the story; tales from all over the world describe remote locales or invaluable trinkets that have been lost to the flow of time, never to be seen by human eyes again.  The intrigue that surrounds these objects leaves room for speculation, hypothesizing and the constant spur to research and discover.  The mythical objects that Indiana Jones seeks are usually religious objects (either Judeo-Christian or indigenous), and as such, the power they hold is rooted deep in antiquated scripture sprinkled with legend and folklore. 

Although Raiders of the Lost Ark was the best one, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was my favorite one.  As a refresher, this is the one where Indiana Jones and his “I’m-too-busy-for-you” father Sean Connery make an amusingly dichotomous duo in the quest to follow archeological bread crumbs to find the Holy Grail. 

Several months ago, Dark Ascension, smack in the middle of a heavily trope-based expansion block, brought us an analogue for this inscrutable cup of healing and everlasting life. 

When this card first came out, it kindled a bit of discussion, but that tapered off long before Avacyn Restored was released.  Sure, we all know that “casual players love life gain,” but this card offers an actual win condition from gaining life.  Lava Axing for no mana once a turn is pretty great, right? 

Well, lifegain has always gotten a pretty bad rap.  Sure, it prevents you from dying, but it doesn’t do anything, and your card advantages usually dwindles too quickly if you can’t actually affect the board.  Mill decks, while rarely affecting the board as part of their win condition, at least are constantly pushing towards finality.  Lifegain doesn’t.  Only rarely does having a high life total contribute directly to winning a game.

Chalice of Life offers another opportunity to live the lifegain dream; it always does something, as opposed to cards that just gain you life.  Maybe this card could be the core of a Standard lifegain deck.  Woah!  Be careful!  We’ve heard this before, usually on the back of lifelink creatures and some creature based win condition.  We just have to make sure our cards something, or else…

What happens to most lifegain pilots.
Ok, so I don’t think it’s going to be based around one-and-done instants, and we need to live long enough and take little enough damage that we don’t mind grinding our life totals up.  White is naturally associated with lifelink, and upon a quick search of lifegain in Standard, I was also pointed to several other artifacts.  White provided sweeping options to kill creatures as well as complementary spells for defense.  Artifacts could then be pushed as the other “color” to comprise the deck.  Heck, I don’t need another color, let’s just use white and artifacts.

You have chosen...wisely.
Naturally, there are a lot of synergetic cards for this theme in the format, and they won’t be here for long.  With rotation approaching in just a few weeks, let’s make the best of what Scars of Mirrodin has to offer! 

Silver Spoon

Creatures (0)

Spells (37)

4 Dispatch
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Day of Judgment
4 Ichor Wellspring
3 Trading Post
3 Terminus
3 Chalice of Life
3 Pristine Talisman
2 Mycosynth Wellspring
2 Staff of Nin
2 Dispense Justice
2 Gideon Jura
1 Spine of Ish Sah

Lands (23)

12 Plains
4 Glimmerpost 
3 Phryexia’s Core
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Buried Ruin


3 Elixir of Immortality
2 Divine Offering
2 Purify the Grave
2 Witchbane Orb
3 Dismember
1 Terminus
2 Norn’s Annex

Dech Tech – Creatures

Yes, I’m still going to include a section on creatures despite the obvious lack of them.  When I considered building this deck, I thought about including several synergetic creatures such as Rhox Faithmender and Drogskol Reaver, splashing a bit of blue.  However, as I thought about it, it might be better to give them absolutely NO targets for their removal.  If it’s damage-based removal like burn, their only real target is me, and I can easily slough it off.  It was on that note that I decided to include only two pseudo-creatures, described below. 


Removal Suite

Dispatch, Day of Judgment, Terminus, Oblivion Ring and Dispense Justice

With these cards the deck can handle any creature-based threat; seven sweepers are necessary to reliably maintain a clean board.  Maybe even a fourth Terminus is advisable mainboard, but these seventeen spells are designed to give you the valuable time you need to not only reach your goal life total, but also to gain card advantage as you hit multiple threats in one sweep.  Remember, we’re hoping that they will be holding multiple kill spells, wasting precious draw step real estate drawing dead cards and ineffective spells.  Therefore, these removal spells give you answers for everything else.

The Wellsprings

On par with the artifact theme, these increase your artifact count while also providing you essential hand elements such as colored mana and additional spells and artifacts. There are several sacrifice outlets in this deck that can maximize their value.  This deck doesn’t have much to do on turn two, and this at least you do something relevant and provide yourself deck thinning later down the line. 

Chalice of Life and Pristine Talisman

Marble Chalice, but good.
Our life gaining tools and win conditions, I wanted our life gain to also do something else.  Pristine Talisman is a nice card for this deck because of its artifact-ness, its ramp and its lifegain.  Although the Talismans are somewhat awkward, being the same cost as our win condition, I’m not terribly concerned with it and feel fine with its synergetically motivated inclusion.

Trading Post


Ok, so my last billion Standard decks have played this guy, but bear with me.  Casting the Post with a spare mana will put you on cloud nine in this deck.  Nearly every ability is relevant.  Making a Goat to chump your opponent’s errant dude, sacrificing an artifact (its main application), or discarding a card to gain four life will each put you on the path to success.  Sacrificing either Wellspring to put two cards in your hand is a great feeling, this deck’s cogs really turn when the Post is online, so I made sure to include three to guarantee a hit.

Staff of Nin

Dude, just cast a Wurmcoil Engine.
Casting this card puts your deck in overdrive; although pinging them for one a turn is not going to be great considering you have few other ways to kill them, but the one-sided Howling Mine puts you firmly in the driver’s seat when it’s time to untap.  Picking off Moorland Haunt Tokens or freshly-drawn Birds of Paradise is just a bonus.  That being said, this card is very slow, so there are some matches where it will be inappropriate.

Gideon Jura

Come at me, Midianites.
Gideon Jura is a repeatable Fog, repeatable removal, or an alternate win condition all wrapped into one on-curve planeswalker.  As he gets ready to move on to bigger and better things, he has time to offer a little bit more utility.  He is ideal for this deck, providing absolutely everything it needs.  Resolving Gideon puts this deck in a great position even if you’re behind.  As the only target for creature-based removal, he seems like the best possible one.  He even dodges sweepers, Bonfires and other blanket spells that both you and your opponent will be casting.

Spine of Ish Sah

Where Angel of Despair lives.
This glacially slow artifact provides an undeniable answer and inevitability in a deck that can easily recur it for profit.  This thing can be very bricky, and there are probably better selections, but being able to use this again and again will grind you to victory.  This is a highly situational card, as some decks will be too blazingly fast.  Even with stalling, some decks will prevent you from ever reaching seven mana.



Every morning there’s a halo hangin’ from the corner of my deck’s Glimmerpost bed…
This intriguing Locus is right at home here; the colorless mana it provides will be fine most of the time, and the bit of free life gain these bring will only help to keep you alive a little longer.  All four Glimmerposts can help you reach the 30-life mark by themselves, and that’s without spending a spell!

Phryexia’s Core

Thump thump...
A necessary part of the machine, this will help you sack your “blow me up!” artifacts while giving you a little bit of life in the process.  I’d play them even if I didn’t gain life, but it also goes along with the theme pretty well.

Ghost Quarter

Possibly the best reprint art ever.

As you can see, color is not very important to this deck, and about half the lands produce colorless mana.  The Quarter allows me to deal with problem lands, such as Inkmoth Nexus, Gavony Township and Kessig Wolf Run.  In a pinch, you can also destroy your own land for a ready-to-go Plains.  You don’t think you’ll ever do it, then you do it and you feel bad.

Buried Ruin

A complementary, but not necessary, piece of the mana puzzle.  Buried Ruin is a great late game draw without hampering the early game, and the ability to recur an important artifact or even just a Wellspring, this can help provide the tailored answer you need.


I feel like this sideboard is very synergetic to this deck, providing utility in a wide variety of situations.  Elixirs of Immortality protect you from 20-to-0 decks while also providing artifacts for metalcraft, an extra push towards active Chalices and refueling a spent library due to a drawn out game or a mill-happy opponent.  Jace, Memory Adept is a real card, and this deck draws a lot.  Divine Offering lets you deal with their artifacts at instant speed and on the cheap.  White doesn’t get a lot of artifact removal at this cost and utility, and you can also smash one of your own for profit if your opponent hasn’t drawn the offending artifact. 

Purify the Grave is a good answer for cute graveyard decks and even graveyard hate; exiling your own Chalice of Life to protect the rest inside your deck from a Surgical Extraction may mean the difference between 0-2 and 1-1.  Being an instant allows precision and surprise, foiling Snapcaster Mages and Geralf’s Messengers alike.  Witchbane Orb will completely shut down some decks, providing answers for Blood Artist-type drain decks, burn and mill decks. 

Dismember is a necessary inclusion due to the resurgence of infect decks.  As lifegain doesn’t matter at all to infect decks, you need an answer to deal with their mutagenically-grown squad.  It’s also helpful for providing additional spot removal as needed.  The life loss is not a problem for this deck, which can gain it back over the course of a couple turns without even trying.  I placed an additional Terminus in the sideboard, just in case you just have to have four, most likely against the 25+ creature decks.  Finally, Norn’s Annex is a great secondary option for a high-count creature deck.  For decks that can’t pay W, this card will just about single-handedly shut down their offense.  Goblins, Zombies and Mono-Green will have trouble dealing with this thing’s heavy toll, and even if they can pay W, it does slow them down. 

Playtesting and Analysis

So, how does the deck do in practice? 

I’ve dry run it against other decks I’ve made to test its best and worst matchups.  It does very well against all but the most creature-heavy decks.  If they have 16 or less creatures, you’ll probably win without even trying; the effectiveness of this deck is fairly complex and technical, but it maintained healthy life totals even under heavy fire.  However, it was also much harder to hit 30 life then you might think.  Without actual creatures to block the opponents relentless attacks, you were rarely getting ahead until the board was clear or until you resolved a Trading Post and started tossing stuff. 

I did get a chance to playtest it once against my good friend Danny in a recent Magic night with him and the Magic crew. He was playing his B/W Exalted deck.  He got an aggressive start, plugging me down with a big Knight of Glory.  Resolving Sublime Archangel put me at a precarious 8, even after some fairly aggressive life gain on my side.  I cast Day of Judgment and stabilized.  Even with some new additions to Danny’s board, Terminus after Terminus put me firmly ahead.  I resolved Gideon and smashed him on an empty board despite him going to 25 from a Vault of the Archangel activation.  The final turn consisted of an unprotected Duty-Bound Dead getting Day’ed and me smashing for exactsies with a Gideon and a Staff of Nin tap.

For the record, I do not plan to play this at Friday Night Magic.  It’s not because I don’t have the cards (though I’m missing a few key ones) or because I don’t think the deck is good.  I just don’t think I’ll have time to.  This deck is very, very slow, and I feel like we’ll have a lot of 1-0’s and 0-1’s as opposed to full matches.  At Something2Do, where I normally play, rounds are only 40 minutes, and a lot of fairly regularly paced games go to time there.  In a more casual environment like I’m used to, this deck may also be fairly irritating to play against, so I’ll opt for another for now.  Regardless, the success level of this deck is pretty high given the time it takes to get you there. 

This week we looked into the past at what will soon be gone.  Next week, I want to take a look at the future with a deck that will not only be ready post-rotation, but will welcome rotation.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

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