I have an itch, dear reader. An itch I just can’t scratch. A little something that has wormed its way into my brain and refuses to leave. On rare occasions when the stars align, rivers run backwards and sundry other mystic omens come to pass, a Magic card will amble into my mind and take up residence. I am overcome by the need to do something with the card, be it fun or fair or so laughably broken that Lindsay Lohan thinks it needs help. It’s one of the more enduring and endearing qualities of Magic that even as a relatively seasoned player, sometimes I can still discover a card that shakes loose parts of the machinery in my brain and sends them pinging off in unexpected directions, and today you’re all invited to join me as I try to make the ridiculous workable. Can it be done? I don’t know. At the very least, it promises to be interesting!
Look at it. Just look at it, gentle reader, and bask in the glory of whatever cracked, degenerate mind dreamed up such a clusterfuck. Reading it is an emotional rollercoaster of dizzy highs and bleak lows! Let’s take a more detailed look:
Cost — 3BBBB
A CMC of seven for a 4/4 creature? In terms of basic stats it’s high cost, low value. No thanks.
When Phage the Untouchable enters the battlefield, if you didn’t cast it from your hand, you lose the game.
…wait, what? What in the name of Satan’s fiery gonads is that? A conditional ETB1 with the power to insta-lose the game? That’s about as desirable as a shit sandwich. Get outta here, Phage.
Whenever Phage deals combat damage to a creature, destroy that creature. It can’t be regenerated.
Pretty standard Deathtouch variant. It never hurts to have, but it sure as hell isn’t worth the high CMC on the average-sized body, let alone the Damocles sword of “you lose the game” dangling over your noggin. Nobody in my meta plays Regenerate effects anyway, so the additional little stinger isn’t much of a bonus. Moving on.
Whenever Phage deals combat damage to a player, that player loses the game.
Oh. Right. Well, then. That’s…huh. Loses the game, you say? I see. Sir, your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your publication — I want that. I want it all the time. Drawbacks be damned, I want this card in every single deck I run and I want to dance in the rain of salty, salty nerd tears it produces.
What a package. Harsh, unforgiving, a double-edged sword that doesn’t care whose guts are hitting the floor. It makes my brain light up like an MDMA fiend’s Christmas tree. To explain exactly why, there will be a momentary digression onto the topic of Magic’s primary psychographics and their different priorities. Bear with me.
Coined (or at least publicised) by Mark Rosewater, head of Magic R&D and public face/whipping boy of the Magic brand, the psychographic profiles of Spike, Johnny and Timmy attempt to broadly categorise the three player types that Magic R&D caters to. Each have different interests and approaches to the game, and in every set cards are included specifically to please certain profiles:
· Spike wants to win. His (or her; the names may be largely gendered but the attitudes are unisex) intention is to find the most efficient route to victory and take it. Spikes are the most likely to care about deck optimisation and whether one card is strictly “better” than another, preferring quantity of victories over quality.
· Johnny loves to play combos. The more complex and arcane the better. Where a Spike may evaluate a new card on whether it is a strict upgrade of an old one, a Johnny considers how the new and old cards interact. Often Johnny will disdain winning through simplistic means like beating face, feeling that his deck has failed if he cannot pull off one of his big combo plays, and would rather win a single ridiculous victory than a hundred straightforward ones.
· Timmy just loves Magic. The interests of the other two don’t even amount to a blip on Timmy’s radar. If he sees a cool card, he wants to play it. Big monsters and crazy spells are the point of the game for Timmy, whether they are synergistic/efficient or not. He just wants to make the big, splashy plays that look awesome and make him feel good.
Supposedly, every player shares one or more of these qualities, even if they’re not aware of it. Some people possess all three to greater or lesser degrees. I know I do, and which psychographic stands dominant changes depending on my mood. What I find interesting about Phage the Untouchable is that she grabs the focus of all three parts of my mind:
The Spike in me sees the latter ability, a potentially simple way to knock opponents out of the game, and finds himself in a fantasy dream sequence where visions of Whispersilk Cloak dance through his mind. He can visualise opponents falling in the early turns, unable to strike back, and he likes it.
The part of my mind that is Johnny is rifling frantically through the filing cabinets of my brain, searching for exploits and trickery to mitigate the downsides and accentuate the powerful positives. How to twist Phage’s first ability around, turning what seems like a negative into a game-winning play, excited at the thought of doing what nobody expects.
My inner Timmy is quiet most of the time, shouted down by the other two personalities, but he’s still lurking back there. He’s the one who stops me trading my Garruk, Apex Predator away even though it’s a colour combination I rarely play, because it’s so cool! He doesn’t care about the degenerate antics Johnny is fascinated with or the sleek efficiency Spike seeks; he just thinks Phage the Untouchable is a bucket of crazy awesomeness that will make a big splash when she hits the table, and that’s fun!
With those three all competing for attention, it’s no surprise that Phage has lodged in my brain. There’s something in there for everyone, and I definitely want to take advantage of that. The only question is what to actually do with her. Played as a Commander, that first trigger will be a bitch; Commanders begin the game in, and frequently return to, the Command Zone. They may be re-cast from there at any time they could normally be played, but it is not technically part of the hand2. Meaning that with Phage as the Commander, the first time she was brought into play would trigger her ability and the game would be over, for her controller at least. If this could be circumvented she’d be an incredibly powerful leader in a quasi-Voltron3 build, focused on evasion rather than stat buffs since Phage doesn’t need to do a lot of damage to kill — a single point will do. As to getting her on the board, others have written pieces on the various tricks to throw her down without killing yourself, but they don’t really appeal to me. Too clunky for Spike, not enough flair for Johnny and poor Timmy doesn’t understand why we’d have to jump through so many hoops just to play a neat spell.
As one of the 99 in another deck, Phage would still be useful but wouldn’t make too big of an impact. Unblockable antics aside she’s just a 4/4 with Deathtouch, and opponents who couldn’t get rid of her would just chump block her attacks each turn. Spike doesn’t like her chances, and doesn’t fancy waiting around in the hopes of finding a chink in an opponent’s armour to slip through. Johnny finds such a tactic disgracefully pedestrian. Timmy likes the simplicity but not the lack of impact on the game state – a fizzled play or one that fails to significantly move the game along just isn’t as fun as something that shakes the game up.
So here’s a thought. What can we do with Phage’s first trigger that makes it work for us? Let’s think about the wording. It’s an ETB trigger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it affects us. It’s perfectly possible for creatures to be passed around during a game like a joint at a Cypress Hill concert, whether by creature-stealing spells, clone effects or grave robbery. Phage’s insta-kill trigger is powerful enough that any opponent who can steal her will probably want to. Is there some way to intentionally pass Phage to another player and then trigger her ETB ability, booting them out of the game? Johnny loves this idea. Spike grudgingly accepts it, for a win is a win is a win. Even Timmy is pleased by the idea, even if it isn’t as straightforward as he prefers to be, because it’s a big crazy move that is bound to have opponents paying attention.
Switching ownership of Phage won’t be a problem. The easiest method is the classic Switcheroo, straight-swapping one of an opponent’s creatures for Phage. Unfortunately one of the easier options, the Djinn of Infinite Deceits, has a restriction that won’t let us exchange Phage as she’s a legendary creature. Still, the switch is the easy part of the plan; plenty of cards will enable the exchange. The tough part will be triggering Phage’s ETB ability once she’s out of our hands. The first option I considered was obviously the use of blink4, but unfortunately many of the all-star blink cards (Momentary Blink, Banisher Priest + any sacrifice outlet, Deadeye Navigator) have the drawback of returning Phage to the battlefield under her owner’s control, and since we don’t want to kill ourselves with her ETB trigger, that’s not exactly ideal. The switch-and-blink strategy, I fear, is unworkable. That’s doesn’t mean there isn’t a way, though…
The actual methods I’ve come up with are slightly more complex, but are bound to be hilarious nonetheless. Firstly, we have the Phage +Endless Whispers +literally any sacrifice outlet combo. Once the Whispers are in play, it’s a simple matter of casting Phage from our hand and then killing her, which should easily be do-able (mana permitting) within a single turn. Pick an opponent, sacrifice Phage, and then once she comes back into play her ETB trigger goes off and that opponent is out of the game. It’s simple, it’s sweet, and it will hopefully result in an expression of shocked bafflement quickly giving way to impotent nerd rage. Delicious! Alternatively there is potential skulduggery with a Grave Betrayal +Donate sort of scheme, first playing the enchantment and then trading or passing it to an opponent, and then as above by sacrificing Phage. Once she hits the graveyard, said opponent is forced to dredge her back up and put her back into play, losing the game.
Doesn’t that just sound filthy? It’s the sort of play that nobody is going to see coming. Best of all the effects can be used to set up a favourable board state for yourself with other cards; in a multiplayer game, one opponent can be the unlucky recipient of Phage and once she’s dead another finds themselves in control of Abyssal Persecutor, keeping you safe for as long as it’s on the board. Why not go the whole hog and build a deck that’s filled with similar shenanigans, focused not on winning but on forcing opponents to lose? It may be a subtle difference, but it’s an important one when it comes to our strategy. Obviously we will want to go five-colour, just for the ridiculous Door into Nothingness, because just look at the bloody thing. Any time you can run such a simplistic way of forcing someone from the game, you’re going to want to. All the better that the artifact’s sacrifice requirement sends it to the graveyard rather than into exile, allowing it to be recurred for multiple uses by the likes ofSharuum and Treasure Hunter.
But wait, there’s more! For added wickedness, we can drop Hive Mind into play and from there, the world is our oyster. Forcing other players to copy our spells may not sound too beneficial, but what if our spell is Intervention Pact at a table where nobody else is playing white? There’s a whole cycle of these zero-mana instants, one for each colour, which guarantees that unless you’re facing up against a fellow five-colour player everybody is going to get screwed over by the mana requirement of at least one of them. Cast it during your turn and then pass, and watch a frustrated opponent fall to an unpayable upkeep trigger. We could play Transcendence and then use Puca’s Mischief to toss it over like a hot potato, cackling maniacally as our opponent finds themselves dead from having too much life. How about using the same trick to pass across Forbidden Crypt, followed by Bojuka Bog or Primal Command to empty out the opponent’s graveyard and force a loss upon their next draw step? The level of sheer bastardy involved is joyful to contemplate.
As for who will lead this five-colour storm of dickishness, for me the only real choice is Progenitus. Of all of them, he seems to best fit the theme – protection from everything means that opponents attempting to cripple him will have their work cut out for them, and in a pinch the 10/10 body can provide a quick route to victory if all of our cunning schemes have foundered. Not quite as sneaky or elegant as our other win conditions, but it’ll have to do, and Progenitus’ varied protections do fit quite smoothly with the overall message of the deck; abandon all hope, ye who sit opposite!
Magic has near-infinite variety and possibility, and while some routes to victory are glaringly obvious, I hope I’ve demonstrated today the sheer potential available for decks which go against the grain. With good planning, practically anything can be exploited, and I encourage all of you reading this to give it a go yourselves. What cards have you always yearned to do something awful with? What paths to victory do you feel are as yet unexplored? Let us know in the comments just how you’d go about breaking the cards you’ve always wanted to.
See you next time!Notes:
- The commonly abbreviated form of Enters The Battlefield, a specific type of triggered ability which activates when…well, you can probably work it out yourself. [↩]
- I’ve heard a rumour that, for Commander purposes, the card has been errata’d to enable casting from the Zone, but haven’t seen it sourced to anywhere reputable. Take it with a pinch of salt. It seems to me that without the potential landmine of her ETB trigger, Phage would be much too powerful a Commander in the hands of any competent player. [↩]
- Voltron (for those of us outside of North America who grew up watching different TV shows, I suggest “Megazord” as an alternate name, with the meaning being much the same) is an interesting deck archetype which centres on the Commander, buffing it with artifacts and enchantments to create a beast of a creature and hoping to end the game in a single, massive attack. It’s one of my favourite styles to play, albeit one of the trickiest to pull off successfully. [↩]
- Another common deck type, blink decks make use of commanders such asRoon to repeatedly re-use powerful ETB triggers, usually by exiling and then returning the triggering card to play. Very powerful, very annoying to play against. It’s hard to kill something that won’t stand still long enough to be hit. [↩]