Explorations #33 - Borrowing a Deck
In a recent article (that you can read here), I threw out five different potential cards to build decks around in a future article:
Based on the comments and emails that I received, it seems that there's at least some interest in each of these cards. I happened to be feeling in a random mood, so I went to http://random.org/ and chose a card at random to start off with - and Skill Borrower came up. This one seems like a lot of fun to me. People love getting stuff for less than they're supposed to pay for it, and Skill Borrower is one way to get this done. Time to embrace this!
Before we start, I'm a little disappointed now that Ward of Bones didn't come up to build around. The Ward is probably the most challenging deckbuilding concept here, and something I really need to think about. I'll be sure to write an article about this card in the future though, so let's get down to business with Skill Borrower.
Skill Borrower is a fairly complicated card, so let's take a few minutes to make sure we know exactly what we're getting.
Skill Borrower 2U, Artifact Creature - Human Wizard, 1/3
Standard enough stuff here. This feminina is a 1/3 creature for three who goes down to Incinerate, Lash Out, Naya Charm, Path to Exile, and Lightning Bolt - but lives through Shock, Magma Spray, Flame Jab, Mogg Fanatic, Murderous Redcap, or Jund Charm. I guess this isn't horrible, but just note that Skill Borrower is somewhat vulnerable.
Skill Borrower is a Wizard, which had some linear love recently in Morningtide - so maybe there's some advantage to be gained there. She's also an Artifact Creature, which received a good deal more love than Wizards did throughout Alara block - so that's something else to keep in mind.
Play with the top card of your library revealed.
There haven't been many cards in the history of Magic that use this effect. I'm going to take a minute to go over most of them, since I think it's kinda interesting:
Crown of Convergence
This is a Selesnya card from Ravnica that seems like it would be right at home in the 'color matters' world of Shadowmoor/Eventide. Kind of a cool effect, I'm a little disappointed I've never played with this card.
Alright this one doesn't have exactly the same wording, but it's the same in spirit - and one of my early favorites. Enduring Renewal is one of the old school combo enablers, and the basis for some of the jankiest combo decks of all time.
|One of the first infinite combos that I discovered...
Enduring Renewal + Ashnod's Altar + Ornithopter + Fireball was one of the first ever combo decks that I built, and this was in a world without Enlightened Tutor - not exactly the most reliable thing ever. Goblin Bombardment made this one a little stronger after Tempest hit the scene. I spent way too much time as a small child trying to make this combo more efficient. If only I could have that time back...
Future Sight / Magus of the Future
Future Sight is one of my personal favorite cards, and also the basis of one of my favorite decks. Here's a sample list:
You can read more about one of BDM's favorite tier-2 decks 'Tight Sight' in the links below:
I love playing this deck, and if it appeals to you at all then build it and give it a shot - Tight Sight is a blast!
Ok this card isn't very interesting, but believe it or not he was the focus of one of the Auction of the People decks used in the Magic Invitational 2001.
If you're not familiar with Auction of the People, it involved Invitational competitors bidding life and cards for which deck they will play out of a pool of twenty or so. The twist here is that the decks are usually not very strong, often built around weird themes, which explains how Goblin Spy worked his way into an Invitational deck - one built around Spies.
Check out that link for a report on how Kai Budde beat down Dan Clegg and his Goblin Spies... Orcish Spies too! Imagine battling Kai Budde with only Spies to defend yourself with?
Ok, back to Skill Borrower.
As long as the top card of your library is an artifact or creature card, Skill Borrower has all activated abilities of that card. (If any of the abilities use that card's name, use this creature's name instead.)
Alright, here's where things get interesting. It's important to be clear here that Skill Borrower only gains the ACTIVATED abilities of these cards, and not static abilities. Remember that activated abilities are written on the card in the form of "cost: effect".
So, let's say that this bad boy is on top of your library:
Skill Borrower would gain his 'Tap: 3 damage to target creature or player.' ability, but NOT haste. The tap ability is an activated ability, and haste is a static ability. Another example. Let's say you have one of these monsters on top of your library:
Unfortuantely these guys do absolutely nothing to benefit Skill Borrower. Flying, haste, protection, first strike, vigilence, trample, morph, etc. are all static abilities and do not work with Skill Borrower.
The other major class of abilities that doesn't benefit Skill Borrower are triggered abilities. These are abilities written in the form of "whenever...." or "when..." or "at...". For example:
These two cards are examples of creatures with powerful triggered abilities. These two casual superstars do nothing for Skill Borrower.
I think that's about it for the rundown on Skill Borrower. Let's get down to business and put together a deck.
Skill Borrower's Favorite Toy
There's one card that seems to stand out above all others when it comes to synergy with Skill Borrower.
Not only is Sensei's Divining Top one of my favorite utility cards of all time, but it also plays absolutely perfectly with Skill Borrower. If you're dealing with a card that cares about what is on top of your library (see Counterbalance), then Sensei's Divining Top can give you the manipulation you need. The only problem with this? Sensei's Divining Top is long gone from Standard and banned in Extended, so we're locked into Classic with this combo. No big deal, this'll work - just making sure that everyone knows we're dealing with a Classic deck this time around.
Alright, so let's get down to business. The next thing I want to do is brainstorm a list of creatures and artifacts with sweet activated abilities for us to steal. This should give an idea of what exactly we can expect our little Skill Borrower to do, assuming that we can get a few of these cards to the top of our library. This is going to be a long list, so feel free to just skim through...
|Arcanis the Omnipotent
Ancestral Recall is good, huh?
Avatar of Woe / Visara the Dreadful
Reusable removal is always strong.
Requires sacrifice of our Skill Borrower, but just one activation should be enough to seriously screw up our opponent's plans.
If we end up going heavy on the artifacts, then this could be a one-sided Wrath/Akroma's Vengeance.
Kamahl, Pit Fighter
One Lightning Bolt per turn seems solid.
Not sure if we need this kind of mana, but this could be a good way to get it if we need it.
Altar of Shadows
Altar of Shadows isn't very exciting, I just wanted to point out that this one gets better now that manaburn is a thing of the past.
With enough blue mana we can take control of anything.
Getting a 2/2 creature each turn sounds decent...
But getting an 8/8 each turn sounds a whole lot better. Talk about exciting! I really want to try this out.
Obelisk of Alara
Talk about some seriously utility - with the right mana our Skill Borrower can do it all.
I thought for a second I had figured out an amazing combo here, but no such luck. At first glace I thought that the oracle wording only checked power as a static ability, but it's checked as part of the activated ability as well. Bummer.
Not only does this guy provide some sweet abilities, but he's probably also very castable in a deck that runs Skill Borrower. Just need to make sure we have black and white mana for the mini-Vindicate.
Control Magic is good, huh?
Merieke Ri Berit
Skill Borrower untaps as normal while using her powers, so this provides a way to control and then destroy a bunch of creatures. Sweet!
If we go heavy with the artifact theme, then this card should provide a lot of synergy.
Potential surprise reset button via Skill Borrower.
Skill Borrower just gets the upside of this card - trade two cards in a graveyard for a draw. Not bad.
Turns life into -1/-1 counters. Not sure how good this is without the 9/9 body.
Razia, Boros Archangel
Pretty cool ability, totally screws up combat for your opponent. Awesome surprise trick if we're able to shuffle this guy to the top in the middle of combat.
Thriss, Nantuko Primus
Super Giant Growth each turn.
I used to play this guy in an old mono-black deck. Provides an Avatar of Woe-like ability that also gives +1/+1 counters. With Skill Borrower, don't need to worry about losing life or anything funky.
|Minion of Leshrac
Can destroy creatures as well as lands.
Skyward Eye Prophets
If we activate their ability via Skill Borrower and then use Sensei's Divining Top then we should be able to get a land when we need it, and a card when we need it.
Oona, Queen of the Fae
Awesome manasink, if we activate this ability once or twice then we should be way ahead.
If we end up running lots of blue and red creatures, then Mindwrack Liege may get a slot.
Land destruction is frowned upon in the casual room, but this guy is cool.
Scion of the Ur-Dragon
Could be fun on Skill Borrower, we'd need to run a Dragon or two in addition to make it at all worthwhile.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Kiki-Jiki allows us to create infinite 2/2 creatures, but unfortunately they're all tapped and only survive until the end of turn. This would be a win with Disciple of the Vault, and there's also potential to utilize the Sky Hussar combo.
Chainer, Dementia Master
Awesome ability on this guy, I've never had a chance to play with him.
That's a serious list! Lots of awesome options, plenty of strong things to do with Skill Borrower.
So What Next?
Alright, so now I've laid out a theme and brainstormed about a million cards that could work well within the theme. What's next? Well hopefully this material has given you a few ideas of your own, and hopefully you have the urge to build a few decks. If so, then please go ahead and do so now! You can probably get a lot more out of this by just taking a shot yourself, and then maybe coming back later to read the rest of the article after drawing a few of your own conclusions. Or maybe you should just reading to hear my ideas, what do I know?
Thinking about this deck, I came up with two major ideas. One I'm going to cover only briefly, and the other I'm going to go a bit more in depth with. First the brief idea.
Skill Borrower is an artifact creature, as discussed above, and in the Classic cardpool there are a lot of cards that care about artifacts. We can tutor for artifacts, get them on the cheap, copy them, and use them to draw cards. My first idea was to put together a deck that exploited Skill Borrower's status as a person of the artifacts. In doing so I found a deck on the Wizards boards that was basically what I had envisioned in my head. Unfortunately it didn't seem to get a lot of action in the forum, which is disappointing since it's such an awesome deck.
Here's the list:
... and here's a link to the forum post:
This list runs four copies each of Ponder, Thirst for Knowledge, Fabricate, and Esper Charm alongside the Top/Borrower combo, artifact lands, and some awesome Skill Borrower targets. This seems like a strong and clean start if you're interested in working on or just playtesting with an artifact-based Skill Borrower deck. To me this one looks like an absolute blast.
I don't think you can go wrong with the decklist above, but I want to try out something a little bit different. Hitting Skill Borrower on something like Avatar of Woe is really awesome... but it sucks to draw a big expensive creature like this most of the time. We don't want our hand to clog up with huge creatures that we can't cast. Of course the goal is to float creatures like this around on top of your library in order to power up Skill Borrower, but this isn't always an option. Here's a quote from a comment on my article last week:
"Getting skill borrower to activate godsire's ability would be awesome, but that of course present the challenge of just what you do once you actually draw godsire..."
I think I've got a good solution to the problem. What's one thing you can do with huge expensive creatures that are in your hand and uncastable? Well you can find a way to discard them and then cheat them into play via reanimation! Today I want to try out a combination Skill Borrower/reanimation deck. I already went over most of the options above, but here's what I'm going to start out with.
The base of this deck starts off with playsets of Skill Borrower, Sensei's Divining Top, Animate Dead, and Reanimate. From here I add ways to get cards on top of your library Brainstorm, into your graveyard Careful Study, and both into your hand and graveyard Intuition. I'm only really running a playset of Remand as spell interaction - this is an area of the deck to pay attention to, it's very possible that we will want more than this. There's also two copies of Tendrils of Corruption, which is anti-aggro and lifegain to offset Reaminate.
The creature/artifact toolbox is where you really get to have some fun with this deck. Try out whatever you want. I went with Godsire - the ability to cheat 8/8s into play sounds like a lot of fun to me. Chainer is another card I've always wanted to play, so he found a spot in my giant badass toolbox. Is there anything that seems like a lot of fun to you in the huge list of options I ran down earlier? If so then toss it in!
There's also some customization here in the balance between Skill Borrower and reanimation. I decided to run pretty much exclusively targets that can run double duty between these two strategies, but that doesn't mean that you have to. Sure Akroma may not do anything for Skill Borrower, but she sure as hell goes well in the bin with a Animate Dead pointed at her! If this sounds fun to you, then go ahead and run a copy or two.
Let's test this thing out.
Game 1 vs GW Aggro
I start off with Sensei's Divining Top and my opponent plays out Llanowar Elves. I get a turn three Skill Borrower and my opponent plays Kodama's Reach into Loxodon Hierarch... but thanks to Godsire on top of my library I start beating down with 8/8 creatures. Watchwolf comes down for my opponent, but used-to-be-super-efficient 3/3s are no match for an 8/8 beatdown.
Analysis: This one went basically exactly how I drew it up. After some thinking, I want to make a small adjustment. I have more ways to manipulate the top of my library than I have ways to get cards into my graveyard, so I'm going to up the number of Careful Studies and switch out one copy of Brainstorm.
Out: 1 Brainstorm
In: 1 Careful Study
Game 2 vs GW Control
I play out Sensei's Divining Top and my opponent gets turn two Wheel of Sun and Moon. That's kind of a bummer, but at least I have Skill Borrower. Or at least, that's what I was thinking until my opponent played Humility. Was he gaming me? I have Remand, but it only saves me for a turn. Nuisance Engine comes into play and I eventually die to a bunch of 1/1s.
Analysis: Two green-white decks in a row, but these two games could not have really been much different. This game was basically my deck's worst nightmare. Not only did my Skill Borrower get shut down by Humility, but my reanimation strategy was shut down by Wheel of Sun and Moon! Not exactly good times.
This game was very frustrating, but it did teach me that I have no way to get out of a situation like this - so I'm going to add in a way to deal with on-board enchantments/artifacts... at least temporarily.
Out: 2 Remand
In: 2 Cryptic Command
Game 3 vs Red Aggro
I play turn one Careful Study, but completely whiff on reanimation targets for my potential turn two Animate Dead. It would have really been sweet to see Godsire or something... My opponent starts off with Raging Goblin, Goblin Brigand, and then Bloodrock Cyclops. I take a bunch of damage early from these aggressive creatures and a couple of Incinerates.
I cast Intuition and end up with Avatar of Woe and Godsire in the graveyard, and am able to follow up the next turn with double Animate Dead. I'm down to two life, but this is a really strong board position and I win before my opponent is able to draw a burn spell or evasive creature.
Analysis: Intuition is really a fantastic card and I probably should be playing more copies. Maybe one less Brainstorm and one more Intuition? I'm pretty psyched that out of three games, I've been able to win one via Skill Borrower and one via reanimation. Cool!
Game 4 vs Discard
My opponent plays turn two Ravenous Rats, which gives me a discard outlet for Oona, Queen of the Fae. I use Animate Dead and attack five times for the win. He makes me discard my entire hand and then plays Nyxathid, but Oona gets the job done.
Analysis: Not much to say about this one, I was thankful for my opponent for his generous discard outlet! I wasn't quite thankful for the Hymn to Tourach and Stupor that followed, but the damage was already done.
Game 5 vs UB Control
I keep a really sketchy one-land land with Swamp, Sensei's Divning Top, Brainstorm, and Careful Study. I try to find a blue mana source early, but get absolutely nothing. My opponent Boomerangs my Swamp and Remands my Top. I discard down from eight cards to get Oona into the graveyard again, the Faerie Queen eats Recoil.
I finally manage to get some lands, but I'm taking hits from Ravenous Rats and a mystery morph creature. I've got double Tendrils of Corruption in hand, and a plan to get out of this... when my opponent flips over Bane of the Living and kills me just before I could get my plan going.
Analysis: This was just a stupid decision on my part, I should have taken the mulligan. One land plus Top is always so temping, but that hand has bitten me many times. Learn from my mistakes and mulligan this one!
Game 6 vs GR Something
I start off with Top, my opponent plays Diamond Valley. I have a hand of triple Skill Borrower, and before long I have Borrower online while floating Chainer around on top of my library.
Intuition lets me bring Godsire, Avatar of Woe, and then a second Godsire into play via sending them to the graveyard and then using the Skill Borrower's Chainer ability. My opponent plays Tinder Wall and Staff of Domination, but I get Memnarch on top of my library and steal his staff. I make a whole bunch of 8/8s and attack for the win.
Analysis: Pretty much everything in the deck got going on in this game. I borrowed some skills and reanimated some huge dudes. Here's a screenshot of the end.
Four 8/8 creatures, Avatar of Woe, and active Skill Borrower. Not bad!
This deck is pretty expensive, but I think this is relatively easy to fix. There are only a few main issues: the manabase, Cryptic Command, and Intuition. The manabase is the real problem, but that's pretty much always the case. Let's start with the non-land replacements first.
Out: 2 Cryptic Command, 1 Intuition
Cryptic Command is a card I've used before, and there are tons of budget replacements. Not many are as good, so if you're going to go with a replacement here then I'd recommend something cheap. Echoing Truth seems like a natural fit here. Not only does this card bounce problematic artifacts/enchantments, but it can also take care of tokens if necessary.
If you're interested in replacing some other functions of Cryptic Command, then you could try out Mana Leak, Counterspell, Brainstorm, Deluge, or something else like that. I'm going to throw in one copy of Brainstorm to kinda replace Intuition. I know this is a bit of a stretch, but Intuition is a pretty unique effect and a tough one to accurately replicate on a budget.
In: 2 Echoing Truth, 1 Brainstorm
Animate Dead and Reanimate are a little bit expensive ($1 and $1.50), so it's possible that you may want to remove these for alternatives. Exhume is coming out reasonably soon when Urza's Saga hits, so that's a solid upcoming budget option. If you're interested in replacing these cards on a budget, then you can try out one of these options: Doomed Necromancer, Dread Return, Life/Death, Makeshift Mannequin, Zombify.
To be honest, Reanimate hasn't been completely overwhelming in my test games and I'd consider removing it. I've had a number of situations with Reanimate in my hand, but no desire to cast it. Reanimate is best in aggro-reanimator strategies, and our deck is more on the control end. A deck that uses Reanimate to its fullest potential might start off with something like Dark Ritual, Entomb Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and then Reanimate to bring the Angel into play. Akroma can start getting in there right off the bat and will end the game on turn three without resistance. Built in protection makes Akroma fairly tough to remove, and there's a fairly narrow set of solutions for your opponent in this situation.
Not only does our deck not run Entomb or Buried Alive, but it doesn't run any super-aggressive reanimation targets. Most of the reanimation targets are control-based instead of aggressive, largely for synergy with Skill Borrower. If you're interested in going in this direction, then I'd recommend mixing up the reanimation target package, but you'll lose some of the power of Skill Borrower.
Instead I'm going to remove Reanimate in exchange for some less aggressive and more expensive (manacost, not $$) options.
Out: 4x Reanimate
In: 2x Makeshift Mannequin, 1x Beacon of Unrest
I'm also going to throw in a singleton copy of Sickening Dreams. This is an awesome card in the early game, fights aggro strategies, and acts as an additional discard outlet. The only problem is that Sickening Dreams can take out Skill Borrower if we cast it for three or more, but I think that running one copy is safe.
In: 1x Sickening Dreams
Some of the cool reanimation/Skill Borrower targets are about $1 or so, so you can replace those if you want. Just throw in whichever cool cards that you have in your collection. The final thing I'm going to do here is revamp the manabase. Goodbye Underground Sea and Polluted Delta.
Out: 4 Underground Sea, 4 Polluted Delta, 2 Sunken Ruins
In: 5 Island, 5 Swamp
This deck is fairly cheap, and you can make it even cheaper by replacing some of the reanimation targets for ones that you happen to have in your collection. As discussed in the huge list above, there are plenty of options that work here. If you want to get rid of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth then I'd also take out Tendrils of Corruption. You could replace this with Duress, which is about $0.75 now - but is being reprinted as a common in M10. If you want creature control, then maybe gool ol' fashioned Terror? Or the new Doom Blade?
Out: 2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, 2 Tendrils of Corruption
In: 2 Swamp, 2 Duress
Seems like a fun, customizable casual deck! Before I wrap this one up I'll take this for a quick spin in the casual room...
Game 7 vs RGW Aggro
I start off with Duress and see the following cards: Mountain, Plains, Forest, Forest, Lightning Bolt, (Gaddok Teeg), and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. I take the Lightning Bolt and he plays out Isamaru and then Gaddock Teeg. Gaddock Teeg shuts off some of my reanimation spells, but overall isn't too horrible for me right now. Savannah Lions joins the fun, but I Sensei's Divining Top into my singleton Sickening Dreams and clear the board while dumping Godsire and Arcanis into the graveyard.
Animate Dead brings Godsire into play, and I get in for 8 and create an 8/8 creature. My opponent topdecks Swords to Plowshares and takes out Godsire, but I've still got another 8/8 to beat down for the win.
Analysis: Pretty sweet plays in the one, Sickening Dreams really saved my butt! If you make a sideboard, then definitely consider running more copies of this guy for the aggro matchups. If you're having trouble with the aggro matchup, then definitely consider adding another copy or two into the maindeck.
I really feel that Borrowing a Deck was a big success. I've Skill Borrowered Godsire tokens into play, and reanimated the very same Mythic Rare. Johnny and Timmy should get a kick out of this list, and I always love coming up with decks that leave the door open for lots of customization. I think this deck is a fantastic framework for readers to customize into their own unique versions.
Maybe there's a version of this deck that runs Counterbalance/Top? We'd probably need to run fewer reanimation targets, since having cards that cost eight on top of our library won't counter much. Maybe there's a version that plays closer to the aggro-reanimator strategies that I talked about earlier? Here's a decklist in this style for reference, played by Gadiel Szleifer to the top 8 of Pro Tour Columbus in 2005:
This deck is capable of bringing Akroma, Angel of Wrath into play easily on turn one. Careful Study, Chrome Mox, and Reanimate will get the job done - alongside a whole bunch of other different combinations. Duress and Cabal Therapy provide protection.
Alright that about wraps it up for this one. Hopefully you found something interesting in this tale of borrowing skills and raising the dead. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Casual Deck Doctor - thanks for reading!
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