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March 18, 2016

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Screw Loose Brews: Guildmaster’s Grounds

Hello everyone, welcome to the very first edition of Screw Loose Brews!

In Magic, there are players who pride themselves on their ability to read an opponent or be able to always top deck exactly what they need when they need it (a.k.a., believe in the heart of the cards).

Odds are, you know someone who prides themselves in their luck with drafting, or just crackin’ packs in general. As for myself, I am a brewer.

Would I call myself a master brewer? Phyrexia, no, but I will say that I have reputation of being able to think outside the box. Way back in 2011, I brewed up my first ‘real’ brew. The deck was designed as an homage to my love for Scapeshift, and was essentially a one-card win deck based around Terastodon. No, seriously.

The deck ramped up using cards like Growth Spasm and Khalni Garden, and once you had at least three (but as many as five) tokens on the field and the mana available, you cast Mass Polymorph and win the game by Poly-ing into a combination of 1-2 Terastodon and 2-3 Massacre Wurm. The Terastodon turns your opponents lands into 3/3 elephants, and all the Wurms wipe them all out and deal damage to your opponent for each. The math varies based on how many morph targets you hit, but one Elephant and two Wurms deals a minimum 12 damage. Two elephants and three Wurms is 36 damage.

It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was an idea that caught the attention of premier brewmaster and Magic pro Jacob Van Lunen, who featured it in a Building on a Budget article over at the Wizards HQ site. It was an unforgettable moment for me, and is without a doubt the current highlight of my Magic career. I later found out via a forum that the deck was played in the Lithuanian Nationals not long after its release, and I’m not sure the nerd in me has stopped being pleased with himself about that yet.

Still, it’s an achievement I hope to surpass and my attempts to do so will be collected here on this column. Any and all feedback is appreciated here, and I’ll do my best to reply. Don’t like a brew? Tell me why. Have an idea to make it better? Let me know about it! Think it’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen and my parents should be ashamed of me for even believing in myself for a moment? Yeah, me too. Anywho, without further ado, let’s cut to the brew!

Guildmaster’s Grounds

I love Ravnica. I love the lore, I love the guilds, I love the concept. All of it. The first Ravnica block marked my first independent foray into Magic, and the second one rekindled my passion for the game a few years later. Why does this matter? Because of these cards:

  

Let’s look at these cards individually for a moment.

Without their abilities, Izzet Guildmage is a 2/2 Human Wizard for two with a casting cost of U/R U/R. Nothing to write home about, but not bad. Then we have the abilities:

2U: Copy target instant spell you control with converted mana cost 2 or less. You may choose new targets for the copy.
2R: Copy target sorcery spell you control with converted mana cost 2 or less. You may choose new targets for the copy.

Well, that’s pretty interesting. Basically, we have a U/R bear with a U/R Howl of the Horde glued on to it. It’s pretty cool, let’s be honest, but it’s not really top tier material.

The body on this one is the same as its Izzet counterpart, with the main difference being that the casting cost of U/W U/W and that the Human sub-type is replaced by Vedalken. As for the abilities, we have:

2W: Tap target creature
2U: Counter target activated ability. (Mana abilities can’t be targeted.)

Well then. Talk about utility. Both of these Guildmages can be cast for UU, and with three mana on the board we get access to all kinds of fun shenanigans. The only problem is – and this is admittedly a kind of majorly big problem – that on our third turn, the only useful play we have available to us between the two mages is the ability to either tap down a creature, or counter an incoming ability from something or some ‘Walker. Turn four would probably look about the same, with Izzet Guildmage gaining the ability to copy the next instant or sorcery cast, but really if we wanted to do that for four mana, we’d just do it with this lovely card:

Now that is some serious utility right there. To this day, I’m shocked that this card costs less than $10. Shocked right up until I do the math on the ability, that is:

2U/R U/R: The next time you cast an instant or sorcery spell from your hand this turn, put that card into your hand instead of your graveyard as it resolves.

So basically, if I choose to pay five mana for Lightning Bolt, I get to keep my Bolt, and Grandmaster’s first ability will actually cause me to gain three life when I cast it. Pretty sneaky! Combined with the Izzet Guildmage, we could theoretically pay seven mana to cast two Lightning Bolts at up to two different targets and gain six life, all without dropping a card. That’s actually not bad.

It’s such a shame that it costs so much to use these abilities, though. Having constant access to being able to tap down creatures, counter abilities, copy spells, and save our cards would be an incredibly fun deck to pilot. If only we could make it better, stronger, more powerful than ever before. If only we had the technology. If only we had…

Oh snap, we do have Training Grounds. And it costs how many mana to play it? One!? Wait, does that mean that under the right circumstances, and with an Izzet Guildmage and a Soulfire Grand Master on the field, we could spend a measly four mana to deal six damage, gain six life, and not be out a card?

It absolutely does.

With a Training Grounds on the field, Izzet Guildmage becomes a 2/2 that copies any instant or sorcery for just one mana. Azorius Guildmage gives you the ability to say ‘no’ to any Planeswalker and most attacking creatures for one mana. Soulfire Grand Master basically gives your instants and sorceries lifelink and buyback: 2. The control is real. If only UWR had some kind of hyper efficient creature we could use to seal the deal.

What the?! I look away from Magic for two seconds, and this is the kind of stuff that gets printed. Don’t even get me started on Siege Rhino. Let’s add this absolute beast of a 3/3 Flyer to the mix, and see what our list is looking like:

Guildmaster’s Grounds

Creatures: (15)
Azorius Guildmage
Izzet Guildmage
Mantis Rider
Soulfire Grand Master

Spells (19)
Azorius Charm
Cryptic Command
Izzet Charm
Lightning Bolt
Serum Visions
Training Grounds
Vapor Snag

Lands (26)
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Mountain
Plains
Prairie Stream
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents

Sideboard (15)
Cryptic Command
Cyclonic Rift
Electrickery
Izzet Charm
Mizzium Skin
Mizzium Mortars
Shattering Spree
Supreme Verdict

Once we get a Training Grounds on the field, everything gets really silly, so as you can imagine the goal is to make things highly silly in your favour. Turn one Training Grounds is obviously ideal, but might not always happen. When it does, your turn two Mage will likely eat a removal spell. That’s fine, because as soon as turn three hits, our position becomes pretty strong, fast. At turn four, the battlefield is ours, as we get the ability to do potentially do some really quite ridiculous things. What kind of ridiculous things? Well, with only Izzet Guildmage + Training Grounds on the field, we can:

  • Deal up to 12 damage from one Lightning Bolt
  • Draw up to four cards and scry up to 8 from one Serum Visions
  • Bounce up to 4 creatures and deal up to 4 damage with one Vapor Snag

Now, imagine we’re turn five or six, and we’ve got an Izzet Guildmage and a Soulfire Grand Master on the field… We end up doing absolutely ridiculous things like dealing up to 15 damage from one Lightning Bolt (or 12 damage and keeping the card!), all the while gaining 15 (or 12!) life.

Disgusting. But it’s not enough. We have removal, we have draw, we have anti-creature and anti-planeswalker tech built in, we have sustain, and the sheer value we get per card is absolutely untouchable. What we’re missing is ways to deal with hexproof creatures (other than just going over/around them).

Electrickery is a great sideboard option for two reasons: First, it doesn’t target our guys, because let’s be honest, 2/2 bodies are not exactly resilient. Second, it can be replicated by our Izzet Guildmage in both default and Overload mode, giving us three damage to only opposing creatures only for four mana under ideal conditions. It’s big brother Mizzium Mortars is also a solid choice, but the Overload is a bit pricey and can’t be replicated. We can also do four damage to our opponents creatures with Electrickery with only five mana.

In the vein of Overload, Blustersquall is another nice control choice, but I’d rather have more Cryptic Commands to get more value for four mana. Mizzium Skin and Cyclonic Rift are the the other two best options available to us in terms of Overload spells.

I like Shattering Spree and Supreme Verdict as sideboard options too, to deal with various types of threats quickly and effectively.

With the concept outlined and detailed, it’s time to put it to some rigorous testing and analysis. Stay tuned for the follow up article where I outline some highlights of matches played with this deck, do some serious fine tuning, and ultimately find out if this deck is worthwhile or just an absolute pile of garbage.

See you all soon!