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By: gwyned, gwyned
Nov 14 2011 1:52pm
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I. Introduction

By human nature, I think most people are strangely attracted by what is forbidden. Tell a person that something or someone is off-limits, taboo, or wrong, and what might have never received a second glance suddenly seems so alluring as to be irrestible. Call it curiosity, call it rebellion, call it what you will - the desire is undeniable. Perhaps it is a similar aspect of human nature that also draws us to believe that there is a secret to achieiving what we want most without having to do the hard work to obtain it. Forget years of study, practice, and hard-work, we want it now - the ability to take our common, unrefined skills and transform them into gold. Whether it be spinning straw into gold, obtaining the Midas Touch, or transmuting lead into gold, finding that one secret to success seems to be a theme woven throughout the human experience.

Which brings us, in case you haven't figured where all this is going, to Forbidden Alchemy. The name itself evokes images of some powerful dark secret, capable of unlocking the power you've always been looking for if you dare to delve into its forbidden rites. The card art has a similar ethos, as an artificer labors deep within a laboratory filled with all manner of vile and dark sorcery. And as I sort through the Standard Pauper cardpool, it is to this card that I return again and again. Assuming one can find the right combination of cards, it has the potential to become the proverbial silver bullet, solving the problems of inconsistency or a lack of reach that plague other decks. Clearly some have recognized its power, as it currently is the most expensive Common in the Standard format. And yet, for all its promise, for all the excitement leading up to its release, Forbidden Alchemy has been largely absent from the winning decklists of the first two events of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, the weekly PRE featuring the Standard Pauper format of which I am the host. It will therefore be the purpose of this article to offer an in-depth analysis of this card, discuss its potential synergy with other cards in the format, and construct an initial decklist that I believe is best suited to tap into the full potential of this taboo thaumaturgy.

As always, let me remind you once again that the goal of this series is to highlight relevant information about the Standard Pauper format from the results of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, commonly referred to as MPDC. MPDC is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 6:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room. You can also check out any of my previous articles by clicking here.

II. Analyzing the Card

So to get started, let's take an in-depth look at exactly what Forbidden Alchemy is capable of:

While initially compared to Preordain, in my opinion Foresee is probably a better analog, as both cards allow you to look at the next four cards in your deck. For one less mana, Forbidden Alchemy only gives you access to one of those cards, and forces you to discard the rest, which in normal circumstances is worse than the option to either leave them alone and draw them on subsequent turns or shuffle them back into the deck. Forbidden Alchemy, however, has two major advantages over Foresee. First, it is an Instant, opening up several lines of play that would be impossible if it was a Sorcery instead. Second, it has Flashback, allowing you to recast it at a later point, albeit at the premium price of 4 extra mana plus the need for some Black source. Although I would argue that Foresee is still a stronger choice, the fact that Forbidden Alchemy is even comparable to it speaks highly for its overall power.

So, let's consider the strength of this card. What's the worst-case scenario? Assuming you have no meaningful way to interact with any of your cards once they are placed into the Graveyard, Forbidden Alchemy gives you the single best card out of your next four, allowing you to discard any Lands or 'blank' spells. Although the loss of the other three cards may seem a drawback, in effect it is almost neutral. Given that each card you draw is effectively randomly chosen from the remaining cards in your deck, placing the three cards in your Graveyard is no different than if you never drew them in the first place. Or, to take it from a different perspective, the loss of the three cards is as likely to be helpful as harmful. Thus, even if you are unable to activate its Flashback, this is a solid effect.

So much for the worst-case scenario. Let's consider, then, what happens if we push it to the other extreme. In order to take full advantage of Forbidden Alchemy, you will need the ability to meaningfully interact with cards once they are placed into the Graveyard as well as access to a Black source to pay for the Flashback cost. So what's the best case? Imagine casting Forbidden Alchemy, drawing into a removal spell that takes care of your opponent's best creature, a solid creature, and two cards that can be cast from the Graveyard. Under that scenario, one could keep the removal spell and still have access to the other three cards as well, using Graveyard recursion to return the creature to hand, and cast the other two spells as well at the appropriate time. Additionally, since it also places itself in the Graveyard after being cast, it is almost as if you also draw a second copy of Forbidden Alchemy whenever you cast it. Thus, at its best, Forbidden Alchemy suddenly becomes a three mana Instant that effectively draws you not one card, but five. Obviously, a card that had that actual text would be utterly broken, almost on par with Ancestral Recall!

It seems clear then that Forbidden Alchemy should be characterized as being somewhere between solid and very good, and is a worthy inclusion in any deck that can reliably take advantage of even some of its potential. But, in the end, it is only one card. So the question that needs to be addressed next is this: Given the current card set of Standard Pauper, are there other solid to very good cards that will allow you to push the power of the card as close to the best-case scenario as possible? Currently, there are three different types of cards we need to consider - Graveyard recursion, Flashback cards, and cards that require a creature in the Graveyard as part of the casting cost. Let's take a look at these options, working backwards through these three effects.

III. Finding Some Synergy
A. Creature in the Graveyard as an Additional Cost

There are currently three such cards at Common in the Standard set:

 

Corpse Lunge is perhaps the least powerful of the three. While not a bad card in Limited, the fact that it is unusual for a Creature in Pauper to have more than 3 Power, combined with the requirement of already having a creature in the Graveyard, greatly reduces the effectiveness  of this card. To make matters worse, since Graveyard recursion is one of the best effects Black has at its disposal, playing spells that exile creatures from the Graveyard is certainly counter-productive. Makeshift Mauler and Stitched Drake, on the other hand, are both strong cards, not only for their above average Power and Toughness but also for their extra-efficient mana cost. This efficiency, however, is mitigated somewhat by the requirement of already having a creature in the Graveyard before you can cast them. And this, in turn, means that they too suffer from the same weakness that diminishes the effectiveness of the second method of maximizing the power of Forbidden Alchemy - Graveyard recursion.

B. Graveyard Recursion

There are currently eight cards in the Standard Pauper cardpool that return creatures from the Graveyard to the player's hand, and of these five are in Black. And of these five, two are Creatures with this effect as an 'enters the battlefield' type ability. While Morbid Plunder is probably worthy of consideration, arguably these creatures are the two best options:

1. Gravedigger is by far the most common source of Graveyard recursion, and one that has seen play time and time again as it is reprinted in Core sets. While not particularly efficient, the advantage of this card is that it functions almost as two cards in one - a typical 2/2 for 3 mana + a Disentomb. Even better, because it is an 'enters the battlefield' type effect, there are lines of play to get even more value. One can simply bounce the Gravedigger back into your hand by means of something like Unsummon or Aether Adept, allowing you to continue to recycle creatures from the Graveyard. Or, one can even chain the Gravediggers together in multiples, holding one in your hand until the first one dies, and then casting the second to bring the first back into your hand, allowing you to reuse them over and over again.

2. Ghoulraiser is a more recent addition from Innistrad. For one mana cheaper, one receives the exact same creature as the Gravedigger, with much of the same advantages. However, this efficiency comes at a price, since the Ghoulraiser only targets other Zombie cards in the Graveyard, and a random one at that. Fortunately, there is a surprisingly large number of Zombies in the cardpool currently, although only a few are normally considered playable in Standard Pauper. The best of these are probably Armored Skaab, Gravedigger, and Stitched Drake. Thus, to maximize the efficiency of Ghoulraiser, one is forced to limit your selection of creatures to those that he can reliably return from the Graveyard. And while there certainly are some synergies here to take advantage of, the complexity of these choices makes maximizing the power of Forbidden Alchemy that much more difficult.

Given that White and Green each only have a single card that return creatures from the Graveyard, and given that these colors have little other synergy with Forbidden Alchemy, it would appear that Black and Blue are almost certainly going to be the only colors worth considering.

C. Cards with Flashback

Thus far into our initial foray into Innistrad, there are only 11 Commons with Flashback; of these, 4 are in Blue, 3 are in Red, 2 are in Green, and 1 is in Black. Given what we know thus far, it is unlikely that Green or White will make the deck. Red probably isn't going to be present either, but I suspect that a Red splash might be worthwhile. With that in mind, let's take a look at our options that will help us maximize the value of Forbidden Alchemy.

1. Let's start by eliminating these two options. Bump in the Night is not great. If the card dealt 3 damage to target creature or player, that would be awesome - but that card only exists in Red and has rotated back out of Standard. Forcing an opponent to lose 3 life might seem similar, but the inability to target creatures instead is a definite liability. And if that effect for  is bad, it's terrible for , making the Flashback almost a joke. Dream Twist is equally bad, despite having some narrow applications in Limited where milling oneself is a viable option and milling out an opponent is actually feasible. Nonetheless, Dream Twist is certainly not the effect that we're looking for here, as Forbidden Alchemy will place plenty of cards into the Graveyard without any help.

2. Moving from the worst to the best, Think Twice and Silent Departure are almost without a doubt the best of the bunch when it comes to Flashback cards. Both cards have solid effects for their mana cost, although the fact that Silent Departure is only Sorcery speed is certainly a disappointment. And although both cards are actually weaker than their non-Flashback counterparts (Divination on the one hand and Unsummon on the other), the fact that both cards can be cast from the Graveyard more than makes up for this reduced overall power. When casting Forbidden Alchemy, these two cards are exactly what you want to see among your next four cards, allowing you to pick out a choice piece of removal or efficient creature.

3. The options in Red are not as good, and neither Geistflame nor Nightbird's Clutches are probably worth including in the deck. This is not to say, of course, that these two cards are unplayable. Geistflame is a solid choice for any deck playing Red, especially given the pronounced presence of 1 Toughness creatures in the current metagame. Nightbird's Clutches in general is more of a niche card, slotting in nicely in decks whose effects depend on getting in damage to either quickly overwhelm an opponent or in deck that play creatures that create beneficial effects from dealing an opponent damage, such as Bloodcrazed Neonate. But since both these cards are fairly aggressive they probably are not going to make the deck.

4. In general I am not yet a proponent of three color decks in the new metagame given the lack of decent fixing outside of some specific archetypes. Currently, however, Artifacts are proving to be the cornerstone of several of the top tier decks to emerge in the format, and neither Blue or Black have any way of interacting with them short of either countering them or bouncing them away for a turn. For this reason Ancient Grudge or Manic Vandal might be worth including in the deck, although the former is a bit of a stretch, given that one needs access not only to Red but also Green to actually make Ancient Grudge anything other than Shatter. Whether or not multiple copies of Shimmering Grotto is good enough for that role is probably a discussion for another article, but my hunch is that it just might be enough.

Unfortunately, that doesn't leave us many options as far as additional Flashback cards. With the release of the next two sets within the Innistrad block, I would expect this pool of cards to increase somewhat, but until such a time, there simply are not enough Flashback cards in Standard Pauper to rely solely on them to take full advantage of Forbidden Alchemy. For the time being, the only path forward seems to be to take the best options from all three of the strategies we examined and see if they can be combined into something that will maximize our use of Forbidden Alchemy.

III. The Decklist

Here is my initial attempt at a decklist based upon the factors I've discussed in this article:


Let me conclude by giving some of my thoughts regarding this build. First and foremost, between the cards with Flashback and the total number of creatures, over 40% of the deck can be recurred from the Graveyard (almost 70% of the non-land cards). While I included copies of Ghoulraiser in several of the early drafts, I ended up removing it entirely, both because of its limited ability to return creatures and the fact that AEther Adept can play a similar role while also having other utilty options in the build. I also limited the copies of Stitched Drake that the deck is running so as to minimize the chances of weakening the Gravediggers. Finally, I chose not to include any Flashback cards outside of the Blue simply because of how meager the other options are. Thus, given the current realities of what is available in the cardset, I believe this is a solid build to maximize the power of Forbidden Alchemy.

Beyond those considerations, there are a couple other factors to highlight. Given that this deck ends up in the Midrange segment of the continuim, having at least eight removal sources seemed wise. Geth's Verdict, along with Disperse in the Sideboard, is a strong option versus the Hexproof decks that make up at least a significant percentage of the metagame. Fume Spitter and Perilous Myr are likewise strong options against the more Aggressive decks, especially those that rely upon low Toughness creatures. Phyrexian Rager provides additional card-advantage, and also opens up additional lines of play for AEther Adept and Silent Departure. Sylvok Lifestaff also provides enough Lifegain to help give the deck more reach. As for the Sideboard, I did end up planning to splash Manic Vandal off of the Shimmering Grottos as an unfortunate but necessary way to deal with the preponderance of Artifcts in the metagame right now. I also included Nihil Spellbomb as the only real way to combat mono-black decks and others that rely heavily on Graveyard recursion, as well as Negates to provide some basic permission effects against Control decks. Finally, I rounded out the Sideboard with some additional copies of cards found in the main deck to give additional options between games.

IV. Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this special look at Forbidden Alchemy and some initial thoughts on how to take advantage of this powerful spell. As always, let me remind you that if you would like a sneak peak at my content before it goes live here at PureMTGO.com, you can always browse over to YouTube.com, search for "gwyned42," select one of my video-casts, and click the Subscribe button. You can also now follow me on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Let me also extend a special thanks to all my fellow Standard Pauper players who have taken the time to thank me for these articles. If you have some specific thoughts on how I might improve this build, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you in the comments. And let me say once again thanks so much for taking the time to read my thoughts, watch my videos, and comment on my articles. See you next time!

5 Comments

Keep up the good work, nice by joekewwl at Tue, 11/15/2011 - 16:40
joekewwl's picture

Keep up the good work, nice read sir. :)

There's 9 ways to recur a by JMason at Tue, 11/15/2011 - 20:25
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There's 9 ways to recur a creature in standard, gravedigger, ghoulraiser, ghoulcaller's chant, disentomb, morbid plunder, remember the fallen, salvage scout, woodland sleuth, corpse cur. Maybe you could do an artifact infect recursion build using the 3 effects available to white?

I may give your deck a spin, but I prefer Armored Skaab to Forbidden Alchemy because getting a creature as part of the package is always value in pauper. Not only that, but it's a Zombie. Also, Ghoulcaller's chant in a Zombie deck is powerful card advantage. Anyway, there's a great nucleus of a deck based on Zombies:

4 Armored Skaab
4 Ghoulraiser
4 Gravedigger
4 Stitched Drake
4 Walking Corpse
3 Ghoulcaller's Chant

There's a shortage of quality zombies, what I'd like to see out of the next set is a 1 drop zombie. My version uses Delver of Secrets instead, and the rest of the deck is removal and draw.
I think there may be room for 1 to 2 Forbidden Alchemy since I struggle to fill the yard with just 4 effects, or I could use your idea of fume spitter.

I considered going that by gwyned at Tue, 11/15/2011 - 22:23
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I considered going that particular route, but I don't think the Zombies are strong enough to warrant it. Armored Skaab in particular is not as good as Forbidden Alchemy, since you don't actually get to do anything with the cards you draw other than put them in the bin. If the quality of Zombies is better as the block progresses, this could prove to be a better way to go, although I still think Forbidden Alchemy would be a cornerstone of such a deck.

I meant to say, I'm not a fan by JMason at Thu, 11/17/2011 - 08:15
JMason's picture

I meant to say, I'm not a fan of Grotto in a 2 colour deck, and your only reason to have them are the Manic Vandals. Now I understand you want the chance to recur the Vandals from the graveyard, but I wonder if it's worth the damage to your mana development. I'd try it without Grotto's, and some additional bounce or countermagic instead of Vandals... in fact why not Lost in the Mist which does both.

Even though the Grottos do by gwyned at Thu, 11/17/2011 - 09:27
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Even though the Grottos do slow your mana development down somewhat, I actually think they are decent even in a 2 color deck, assuming that you have double mana costed spells. I actually tried the deck without the splash and without the Grottos in last Monday's event, and in several spots I would have loved to have a Grotto on board to avoid being color-screwed when you only draw a single of one Land type but multiples of another.