Lately I've been very happy. Though not a cheerful person most of the time, in these last few days I have noticed a significant change in my demeanour. On occasion, casual glances might have caught me skipping light-heartedly, or pausing to appreciate the smallest token of nature. A flower. A slight breeze. Even a subtle drizzle of rain does not go unappreciated.
I have noticed a similar change in the people. Though this shared anticipation of good things to come has very different ways of integrating into an individuals' behaviour, I find this noticeable uplifting of spirits has in turn a beneficial effect on my state of mind, thus coming full circle.
It started with the first sunny afternoon and the occasional "stepping out without one's coat". Spring is here. And summer is on the way.
This nurturing environment seems to have an exciting effect on human beings and a human being with a positive mindset seems to motivate other human beings. In the summertime, friends hanging out together will inspire each other to achieve great things or great fun. If someone utters "Maybe we could go to the beach today?", the rest of the gang are instantly packed and ready to go.
Yes, I certainly prefer the warm glow of motivation over the chilling breeze emanating from the Ice Cave.
Ice Cave 3UU
Whenever a player plays a spell, any other player may pay that spell's mana cost. If a player does, counter the spell.
With the Ice Cave out, your summer holiday turns into a drowsy autumn afternoon. The mere suggestion of activity will be shot down, if your cellmates can muster the energy to protest. The nastiest thing about the Ice Cave is, that is flourishes in large multiplayer games (which in turn implies that the game itself withers and dies).
What did you expect?!
Suppose you're in a three player game. In turn four, you tap out to play the Ice Cave, feeling pretty secure behind a variety of walls. Both your opponents are tapped out as well. As the next player takes the turn, he's the only one with mana available. He can cast with impunity and it is probably a smart move to do so because you never know when you'll have the opportunity again.
It is conceivable that this it what the next few turns look like; players using all mana sources to bring threats into play. Eventually, someone will opt to keep some mana open, because he or she has a superior board position and is willing to defend it or perhaps he or she has nothing (worthwhile) to cast. The untapped lands will indicate which color of spells can no longer be played. This will lead to other players not tapping out, until all players are just keeping there mana open. Winter has come and a thick layer of noncasting has covered the land.
Taking a closer look
The above game describes the three stages that this deck will induce. First of all, the Setup. Getting up defense and fixing mana. It's obvious that if you want to get more mileage out of the Ice Cave, you better be packing more mana than your opponents (although you probably can't hope to have more mana than both opponents combined. Let's assume that the Ice Cave is not enough of a threat to have everybody gang up on you). In the Setup stage, you could also employ some colorfixing, Make sure you got the means to stop your opponents dead in their tracks.
Next, there's the Rush. Players casting spells and putting down threats because they can. Note that this is the stage in which your Ice Cave is most likely to be destroyed. Assuming you can't use the Cave's ability to protect it (because you are tapped out), people might want to get rid immediately. More on this later.
Here's some bad news: the Rush is the most unpredictable part of game. People who don't want counter shenanigans will start gunning for you. You will have drawn a lot of attention your way and thus people will start gunning for you. You will have a real hard time suppressing that smirk of your face, henceforth people will be gunning for you.
But here's some good news: You can end the Rush on your next turn. If your defence survived a full round, there's no better way to stop the Rush by a classic "Draw-Go". If things have gotten out of hand, some intervention might be necessary and the Rush might persist.
More good news: there might not be a Rush. Playing the Ice Cave when the right opponent is not tapped out (again, more on this later) might skip the stage all together. Playing one later in the game (probably your second or third) will make sure you can counter enough to negate a Rush.
During the final stage, dramatically called "Inhospitable Cold And Bone Chilling Wind Of The Winter Of Noncasting" (but usually referred to as "Winter") you'll need to win the game. Subtly or Swiftly. Playing some spells that won't be countered and some that can't, creep toward victory. Finish with a single bound over a tall building.
Can't touch this
What this deck needs are cards that are resilient to the Icy cold. These cards fall, according to my tunnel vision, into five categories:
You can still play lands and thank God for that. Not only will all players still have the ability to expand their manabase, but lands will give us access to much more nifty tools. Mana development through Krosan Verge, color fixing through Terminal Moraine, defence through Maze of Ith and Kor Haven. Removal through Quicksand and Contested Cliffs and of course creatures in the form of various manlands. Combined with the afore mentioned mana-demands on this deck, we can already see it is going a land heavy deck.
Some cards are just thick-headed. Creatures who just can't be convinced to leave when countered. Spells who won't be removed from the stack without resolving. These cards mean business. Scragnoth and Blurred Mongoose from the olden days come to mind, but there is also a brand new samurai Isao in town (for a guy who does abandoned the world of men to become entwined with the Kami's and the spirit world, he sure is fond of his mortal coil).
There are a variety of these creatures about, which might even give the deck some serious beat down potential. That's a win-condition right there, ladies and gentlemen!
Remembering that the Ice Cave can only counter spells, it would be prudent to play abilities. Alas, most abilities are activated by permanents which in turn have to be played. Fortunately, there's cycling. And cycling-triggers. And as we all know, activated ability + triggered ability = uncounterable spell. Onslaught block was ripe with cards with a two fold use which comes in handy now; through cycling a Decree Of Pain, you get a uncounterable -2/-2 for each creature. On the off chance to have eight mana while the others don't, you get to destroy all creatures and draw a lot of cards.
Though some cards have outrageous mana costs, this does not cripple their playability. Alliances brought us several instants that are quite costly, but could be played by removing a card of similar color from your hand from the game. This also enables you to keep on countering other people's spells, whilst playing your own. Fifth Dawn brought us the Bringers, which would cost a hefty nine mana, or just one of each color. Do keep in mind that these card are tricky; some of these spells have mana costs that can still be paid easily.
Dawn Elemental. Rushwood Elemental. Time Stretch. Chromescale Drake. Krosan Cloudscraper. B.F.M.. There are some cards which have mana costs which just blow your mind. Your opponents will probably never be able to counter that. Unfortunately, you hardly won't be able play them as well. Still, we will be putting at least one in the deck, because how can I dismiss a group of cards I have just named freaks?
It's all about making choices
First turning point of the article: what colors are we going to play? Should we sacrifice consistency to be able to counter every spell our opponents can dish out? Can we rely on some mediocre landsearching to provide all colors we need to soft lock the entire game? Why am I still thinking about this?
Five colors it is.
Setting Up For The Setup
Now to combine the stream of wisdom into a focussed beam of deckbuilding. Since making a five color deck work is no laughing matter, I'll have to infuse the deck with some serious cash: Duallands. Though I started played well after the Duals were out of print, I've managed to collect quite a few and can't say I have ever regretted the large amount of money spent on them. Because the deck will be mainly UG and uses Krosan Verge as a mana accelerator, let us consider the following as the start of the deck.
4x Krosan Verge
4x Tropical Island
Followed by the addition of some manland. We'll look for the ones that are more defence-minded, because they will be keeping us alive during the setup. The following Stackless creatures are through to the final:
2x Forbidding Watchtower
1x Spawning Pool
3x Treetop Village
Because the deck might contain some beasts, I think two Contested Cliffs are going to make the cut, seeing as its card advantage and a uncounterable (albeit not very dependable) way of destroying creatures. Now, we are up to 24 lands, but a lot of them are perishable. A couple of Petrified Fields might come in handy, bringing the total land count to 26. No mana-screw for this boy! Next to four Ice Caves, this leaves just us with 30 slots.
Now for some cheap creatures, preferably from one of the five categories of resilience. Having selected the Stackless, we'll be moving on to the Stubborn. Blurred Mongoose is arguably the best Stubborn creature around, because it's immune to most removal. Right behind him is the new and improved Isao, Enlightened Bushi, which unfortunately is legendary so we'll use only two. The regeneration does make it an excellent blocker, especially because it does not require colored mana. Fellow green mages, your spells are seldom safe!
From the Alternatives, we select Pyrokinesis. A powerful card, but with the great drawback of having to remove a card of similar color.. which won't always be possible in a 5 color deck. Pertaining to the other to categories, we can't hope to find any good Setup cards, due to their definition of mostly-unplayable.
What might be a good combination with the inevitable Ice Cave is some bounce. Hmmm.. bounce and defence.. Wall of Tears? It's cheap and will probably hold back some damage (although I can imagine a lot of creatures I don't want to return to their owners' hands).
Entering the Rush
This is where some of the bigger creatures matter, and some kind of board clearing might be necessary. First, we are going to include the infamous Scragnoth, Eater Of Blue Mages. Seeing as it is a stubborn beast of considerable toughness, four doesn't seem like overkill. This brings the number of creature-spells up to fourteen, which seems about right considering we are also packing six manlands.
Now about that removal: this is clearly Reds' department. Stubborn gives us Urza's Rage, Spell-less gives us Slice and Dice. The Alternatives had already provided Pyrokinesis. Nuff said.
Plenty of mana all around, but nobody playing anything. Whilst your creatures might still be taking little bites at a time, it's time to put your opponents out of their misery. One of the two cards selected for this very purpose I've already mentioned: Urza's Rage. Better be packing four then, seeing as you might play some during earlier turns. The second one comes from the Spell-less category: Decree of Justice.
Finishing the decklist
The deck seems pretty well-rounded, except for two major gaps: artifact removal and enchantment removal. Seeing as there are no cards that can get around an Ice Cave, I have decided to put in two copies of Creeping Mold. A sorcery speed Naturalize for twice the mana isn't particularly good, but the double green in the casting cost gives a better chance of resolving. Moreover, the ability to destroy a opponents' manland will certainly come in handy.
Here we go:
4x Blurred Mongoose
2x Isao, Enlightened Bushi
2x Krosan Cloudscraper
4x Wall of Tears
2x Creeping Mold
2x Decree of Justice
2x Decree of Pain
4x Ice Cave
2x Slice and Dice
4x Urza's Rage
2x Forbidding Watchtower
1x Spawning Pool
3x Treetop Village
2x Contested Cliffs
4x Krosan Verge
2x Petrified Field
4x Tropical Island
Playing the deck
I promised I would get back to the point of playing your first Ice Cave as soon as possible. You could ofcourse wait another two turns in order to play it and keep mana open to counter a Naturalize or Disenchant. But in a multiplayer game, there's a good chance someone else has already attracted too much attention to him- or herself. An Cogs deck running rampant might actually be a good thing; they will protect the Ice Cave if able for you because you've given them a tool to equalize the playing field. And, there are four in your deck. Forcing some enchantment removal is never bad and you have time to find another, because it is a defensive deck.
What and when to counter?
This is the part where it gets really tricky. I'll start by answering the first question, but must admit up front that there is no real answer for the second question.
This is just knowing the basic rules of playing (multiplayer) magic: the Timing issue of the Ice Cave. When someone plays a spell, the Ice Cave's ability will trigger and be put on the stack. Not until the resolution will players have to decide whether they want to counter that spell, starting with the active player (the player whos turn it is) and in round the table from there. You can't just wait until you are sure nobody else is going to counter it.
This brings us to what to counter. First of all, you probably want to counter everything that destroys the Ice Cave; it is what keeps you in control of the game. More importantly, counter spells that ruin your defence. Your Wall of Tears is keeping you alive so you'd better do the same for it. Due to the high ammount of land in the deck, you can probably recover from landdestruction quite well, but global land destruction really takes away your edge (though everyone starting over with an Ice Cave in play is kinda fun). The most important thing here is to figure out if you're the one who needs to be countering this spell. There might be several other players who have more to lose if the spell resolves and also have the mana to remove it from the stack.
But, above all, this is a fun deck
Author's final note:
Upon examining this article a creature might come to mind. This bulging insect would seem to fit the theme of this article and might have filled a slot in the decklist offered above. Was this an oversight by this beloved author who is of course partly human and therefore intitled to make some mistakes (as long as they don't dominate the tournament-scene)?
Alas, the answer is no. I played this card and needed a considerable amount of time to realize what might be obvious to most: it is terrible. It isn't worth the newspaper to kill it with.
We will speak of it, no more!
(*spits on floor in disgust*)