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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
May 23 2018 12:00pm
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I present,

Deck 1 Nova Pentacle

Nova Pentacle

Yeah, remember this card? I didn't. I stumbled upon it while researching for my "Back in the Day" article, and had to read it a few times to truly understand it. When I first saw it over 20 years ago, I'm sure I misread it as a reverse Jade Monolith, or a repeatable Simulacrum (which we'd later see as General's Regalia), decided it wasn't good, and pushed it out of my mind. But those cards it ain't, for you see:

If you don't have any creatures, the opponent is forced to redirect the damage to their own.

You thought this was a defensive shield? Wrong, it's an offensive weapon!

One perfectly fine option is to run 1 or 2 of these in a creatureless deck with no other synergies, simply as a way to gain some life and remove your opponent's least important creatures.

Another route is to use some synergy! That's what I'll be doing.

Rule #1 is to be proactive. Don't wait for your opponent to deal you damage; deal it to yourself. Here's how (and how not):

  • Avoid Force of Nature types. You might be lured by their high damage-per-turn clauses, but fight it. Literally all of these cards when used next to the Pentacle will simply kill themselves if so wished by the opponent. Lord of the Pit, Kezzerdrix, the Rite of Belzniok token, their stats all line up to kill themselves (unless you also also combine them with Steely Resolve, but now we're really getting wonky).
  • Avoid Pestilence types. Four mana doesn't equal a four-damage trigger; it equals four separate one-damage triggers. The Pentacle will only redirect the first of these, which is not worth your time or mana.
  • Avoid Inferno types. The best-case scenario is sweet, even worth relaying to your friends should it happen, but be realistic. The Pentacle costs three to activate, which next to the expense of the Inferno (or huge Earthquake or whatever) is a bit prohibitive. And is your opponent really likely to have a 12-toughness creature? If so, there are more efficient ways to deal with it.
  • Pick cards that also do something. Ashes to Ashes is a great example here. Compare it to, say, Acidic Soil, which might be nice in your burn deck, but doesn't do much to the board. (And if you are building an all-out burn deck, Pentacle is the first card to cut.)
  • Pick repeatable cards. Why am I recommending Witch Hunt and Jinxed Choker when I cautioned against Acidic Soil? Because these can win you the game and Soil is a one-shot. Also note that, unlike Earthquake or Aftershock, they deal damage on a different turn than they cost mana, so it is easier to pay for the Pentacle.
  • Pick cards that make mana. Depending on your budget and level of casual-ness, Ancient Tomb and Mana Crypt would be good. Cheaper and more casual-friendly is Tarnished Citadel.
Trivia interstitial: Penta- is obviously a real prefix, but is pentacle a real word? Highlight to reveal the answer and some related musings.  It is indeed, and it means exactly what the card art depicts. Nova Pentacle is currently the only card it appears on. One wonders why WotC doesn't use the word more often, as it's quite specialized and evocative. Talisman appears on 11 cards; why not Pentacle too? Perhaps because of its similarities to a pentagram? In the 90s MtG was sometimes accused of being satanic and corrupting our children—is WotC worried about resurrecting that controversy?

Now we can start looking at combos.

  • Creatures you want to be damaged. Stuffy Doll, High Priest of Penance, Deep-Slumber Titan, enrage creatures, &c. Instead of throwing the damage back to opposing creatures, put that damage to work! Do remember that Pentacle gives the opponent a choice of target, so this will only work if the Doll is the only creature on the battlefield (or if the opponent favors it as a target to their own creatures).
  • General's Regalia. It's different from the Pentacle, so most decks will want one or the other. Some decks will want both.
  • Madcap Experiment. If Pentacle is your only artifact, this is Whir of Invention plus Terminate for seven mana. If your deck has multiple artifacts, you can only safely cast this when Pentacle is already in play.
  • Removal. "Don't all decks need this?" Of course, but remember that Pentacle doesn't kill whoever you want. It kills, if you're lucky, whoever the opponent wants. If they have a creature with 7 toughness, Pentacle is probably killing nothing at all. So you'll also want to pack some Doom Blades or Wraths.
  • Death Pits of Rath. No longer need you fear that 7 toughness creature! Pentacle will now kill whatever it touches. An alternate version of this combo is Cowardice, although if you're running that, you can likely find cheaper ways to target than Pentacle. And if you can't, I suggest Oasis and Squee's Toy.
  • Early game. "All decks need this too," yeah, but really look over what we have so far. It's mostly cards costing 4 or 5 mana. And if we can't start killing creatures until the Pentacle is active, and we can't even cast creatures of our own (so as not to weaken the Pentacle), we really need to find some cheap solutions. Accel is helpful. Also consider Tangle, Tangle Wire, and cards of their ilk.

We are ready for a decklist. Please reread this article's title before proceeding.



Deck 2 Rainbow Vale

Rainbow Vale

This card is one great hub of synergies. There are cards that combine with it, and then cards that combine with the cards that combine with it. Let's run through some highlights.

Some cautions:

  • Don't try Political Trickery with lands like Oboro, Palace in the Clouds or Archaeological Dig. If the land leaves play before the swapping resolves, the swapping won't happen. (This is why Undiscovered Paradise is so nice in here—it returns long after the swapping resolves.)
  • Juxtapose might seem like some nice redundancy for Legerdemain, but it usually isn't. You can't pick which creature to swap, so if both your Plotter and Zedruu are in play, you're losing the Zedruu.
  • You cannot rely on Collapsing Borders to close out the game. In a typical scenario, it will be a 1–2 point drain life every turn. If you are unlucky, it might even be gaining the opponent life! Run some other wincons.
  • Strionic Resonator does not pair with Akroan Horse. It only can duplicate triggers you control, and you might own the Horse, but you don't control it when it's making a token. (If you do control it when it's making a token, you don't want to copy the ability, as that token would go to the opponent.)

The deck:



Deck 3 Manabarbs


How does one unleash the power of Manabarbs?

The spike way is to just run it in an aggro deck as a Sulfuric Vortex. But I'm not a spike, and I had rather pair this with Hedron-Field Purists and Purity.

Hedron-Field Purists  Purity

Lose life to my own spells? No, I will not. Another card to pair well with both of those is Pyrohemia. I think we have the core of our deck! Where do we go from here?


Tectonic Instability



Mana Short

...and no.

Forcing the opponent to tap their lands could work. This is harder than you might expect, though. Manabarbs only works on lands that were tapped for mana, and surprisingly few cards force that. No Mana Web, Mana Short, Tectonic Instability, War's Toll, or even Power Sink can make the opponent produce mana if they don't want to. Power Surge would, yet it's (perhaps wisely) not online. (Ever since the removal of mana burn, Power Surge does extremely little in non-Manabarbs decks.) Maybe you could at least get some value off of Rhystic cards?

As for Pyrohemia combos: Wall of Hope negates that life loss, in addition to providing some early-game stall. Disciple of Law helps the Pyrohemia to stay on the battlefield by surviving its activations. There are many pro-red creatures to pick from, but I prefer Disciple's cycling to the additional offense on Soltari Priest, defense on Kor Firewalker, or versatility on Paladin En-Vec. We won't always want it, and there are many other combo pieces we might need to find.

Swans of Bryn Argoll was a consideration, but I decided I had too many four-drops already.

With some accel (Boros Signet), artifact/enchantment removal (Hide), removal for creatures too big to burn out (Journey to Nowhere), and redundancy (Rolling Earthquake), I think we have our deck!

Barbed Hemia-Field Purity Purists
Wall of Hope
4 Disciple of Law
4 Hedron-Field Purists
4 Purity
16 cards

Other Spells
3 Journey to Nowhere
4 Boros Signet
2 Hide/Seek
4 Manabarbs
4 Pyrohemia
4 Rolling Earthquake
21 cards
23 RW lands of choice
23 cards
Rolling Earthquake


But that's not all—


Bonus Section Homeless Combos

Here are some combos that, although neat, don't to me indicate a deck.

1. Wandering Mage & Grim Poppet

Wandering Mage  Grim Poppet

Turn that drawback into a boost! With enough black mana, you can machine-gun down anything. Or at least gradually wither it away over a series of turns.


2. Freyalise's Winds & Sentinel of the Eternal Watch

Freyalise's Winds  Sentinel of the Eternal Watch

The Winds plus vigilance is an obvious starting place. But if your vigilance creature can also tap other creatures, each tap lasts two turns, meaning it can lock down two creatures by itself. The other vigilance creature with this ability is Ojutai, Soul of Winter. And unlike Icy Manipulator, these creatures don't tap themselves to activate. (The Icy locks down a creature for two turns—but itself for those same two turns as well.)


3. Teferi's Veil & Valduk, Keeper of the Flame

Teferi's Veil  

What's better than getting a bunch of 3/1s each turn? Multiplying how many 3/1s you get each turn! Any that don't die in combat will phase out, safely dodge the exile trigger, and come back the next turn to join their new friends. A similar trick works with Mimic Vat.


4. Grunn, the Lonely King & Sword of the Ages

  Sword of the Ages

It's sweet to attack with a 20/20, but he does often end up getting chumped a few times while your opponent takes over the game, which explains why he currently sells for a penny. But what if you were okay with your opponent chumping? What if you then flung your 20/20 to the face? And yes, Fling itself is cheaper and quicker than Sword of the Ages, but it can't also sacrifice your other creatures, which you may need to do if Grunn wasn't kicked, as he often won't be.


I conclude.