Magic Memories: Aluren

Discussion in 'Single Card Strategies' started by Oversoul, Aug 12, 2019.

  1. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Playing with Aluren in EDH again inspired me to start a Magic Memories thread for the card. I didn't do it at first, but I'm starting one now. I've had a fondness for this card for something like 20 years and I've built decks around it multiple times, but actually I've overall used it much less than most of the other entries in the Magic Memories series. In part, that's a consequence of the general inflexibility of this card. Staples like Dark Ritual, Regrowth, and Survival of the Fittest get used again and again in various archetypes. Even more obscure cards like Soldevi Digger and Sengir Autocrat are ones I've managed to throw in a lot of decks over the years. But Aluren is always a card that's exclusive to "the Aluren deck." Whatever that deck might look like...

    I was enthralled with this card ever since I first read it, some time in the late 1990's when I was still inexperienced and distinctly naive about the game. Perhaps one reason that Aluren stands out so much in my mind is that my view of the card hasn't really evolved, unlike my views of most other cards from back then. I mean, I've gotten some practice with it and there are powerful new synergies that didn't exist at the time, but the core aspects of Aluren as a functional Magic card remain unchanged, and I guess I recognized them even when I was young and stupid.

    With Aluren, you're pretty much stuck with these features...
    • You can cast your cheap creatures (3 mana or less CMC) for free.
    • You can cast those cheap creatures at instant-speed.
    • Your opponents can do the same.
    • The card does nothing with more expensive creatures.
    • The card does nothing for non-creature spells.
    • To break the symmetry on this, you need to load up your deck with cheap creatures.
    • Those cheap creatures may not do much without Aluren.
    Aluren has never really been a value-based enchantment. It's 100% reliant on synergies with creatures, and those creatures should have certain traits. It's tricky. Despite the obvious power of "cast spells for free" the limits on this card are severe enough that making the card work well is not easy.

    An early attempt at making Aluren work was one of the Tempest precons, called "The Swarm."

    14 Forest
    7 Plains
    2 Vec Townships
    1 Elven Warhounds
    1 Krakilin
    3 Master Decoy
    4 Muscle Sliver
    3 Pincher Beetles
    2 Ranger en-Vec
    3 Rootwalla
    3 Skyshroud Elf
    1 Soltari Crusader
    2 Soltari Trooper
    3 Trained Armodon
    1 Aluren
    3 Pacifism
    1 Recycle
    1 Anoint
    1 Disenchant
    1 Elvish Fury
    1 Needle Storm
    2 Overrun

    Yikes, that list is bad. Well, with only one copy of Aluren, you probably just aren't getting the card anyway, but if you do cast it on turn 4, you can rush out a sizeable attacking force. Elven Warhounds and Krakilin don't synergize with Aluren, but the other creatures can all come down on a single turn from one's hand. But it's clunky, unreliable, and ploddingly slow for a beatdown deck by today's standards.
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    In the mind of most seasoned players, Aluren has become indelibly associated with the "Gating" mechanic from Planeshift, and the association is somewhat deserved. I'll get to that, but not yet. Aluren was part of the game for over three years before "Gating" was, and people did use the card anyway. I want to explore this late 1990's usage of the card, before moving on to what would later come.

    Information on this subject is sparse, and my own recollection is a bit foggy. That underwhelming Tempest precon is the best-documented version of one approach, which was attempted in a more sensible fashion by players. Most early attempts at exploiting Aluren were in creature-based deck with some kind of card-drawing engine. Such decks didn't endeavor to go infinite or even to primarily focus on comboing out. Some of them were primitive aggro-combo concepts, focused on beatdown with stuff like Muscle Sliver and other cheap slivers, or with Viashino Sandstalker, Llanowar Sentinel, Uktabi Orangutan, and other efficient creatures from that era. Players recognized that Aluren was very good with EtB triggered abilities on creatures, and used the card to fuel synergistic plays. Often there'd be some kind of card-drawing engine like Recycle or Nature's Resurgence.

    An especially interesting engine, available with only Rath Block cards, was Aluren + Recycle + Thalakos Scout...

    Aluren lets you play your creatures for free, Recycle lets you draw cards off them. If you draw a non-creature card, you can discard it to bounce the Scout, then replay the Scout, drawing something else, looping through your whole deck. I like it so much I think I've got to find a way to try it for myself some day.

    A more straightforward approach, which I personally consider to be inferior, was something I saw in casual play back then...

    I do not think that Aluren was a valuable addition to Enduring Renewal decks, but Enduring Renewal was the most popular way to go off with an infinite combo back then, and pairing Aluren with it was something I remember seeing.
  3. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    I think just about all of my recollections of Aluren as a card before Planeshift were either creature-based draw engines with Recycle or infinite combo decks with Enduring Renewal. Somewhat frustratingly, those are the two least interesting applications to me for Aluren in an older environment. As much as Recycle seems fun and is the kind of card I should like, I can't shake the feeling that it's just a bad Magic card. It costs six mana. It's too slow. and Enduring Renewal? Love it. Great card. Played with it a lot. And I don't think that an Enduring Renewal deck needs or wants Aluren. Enduring Renewal requires some setup, and the best decks at using it do this smoothly and efficiently. Aluren costs just as much mana and both cards feel like build-around enchantments. Cards that cap off a combo. Not cards that you want to assemble a combo out of together. Or maybe it's just me...

    Aluren didn't make waves in tournament Magic, so far as I can tell, until later. So some of the "90's" results I find when surfing the web are actually for either Tempest Block Constructed or for the unofficial "Middle School" format. I suspect that the Tempest Block Constructed decklists are all coming from the same person, some Aluren enthusiast who was also a Block Constructed deck-brewer in the late 00's. And I salute that individual. Good job. That Thalakos Scout tech is almost certainly a retro thing, and not an authentic "someone was playing this in 1998" concept.

    But I did dig up some old Usenet posts, and other, more interesting Aluren decks were published back then, even if they were not widely disseminated. Does digging up old Usenet posts by other people I didn't even know about count as "Magic Memories"?

    In particular, it would appear that an application of Aluren was to incorporate it into a modified version of the old "TradeBlossom" deck. Don't remember TradeBlossom? I'd imagine that few people do. It was a moderately successful tournament from back when Stronghold was new, before Exodus came out. It was based on this core...

    In order to fulfill a controlling role, you had to bounce your opponent's stuff with Tradewind Riders, but along the way, you could bounce your own Walls, then recast them and draw cards. Awakening yielded more Tradewind Rider activations. It's slow and clunky by today's standards, but I hope that astute observers can appreciate how flexible this concept is. You could block with Walls, then tap them bounce something. Attacking into a field with multiple copies of Tradewind Rider and Wall of Blossoms would be unproductive for virtually any creatures available in that environment. Drawing more copies of Tradewind Rider generated more control. Drawing more copies of Wall of Blossoms accelerated card-drawing. Drawing into more copies of Awakening let you establish a hard prison on your opponent, bouncing lands between Awakening triggers.

    Aluren isn't a particularly good card for that exact deck, but if you replace Awakening with Intruder Alarm as your source for untapping your Tradewind Riders, you get something explosive and potentially infinite. Exciting.

    Here's a decklist I found from 1998, built to lock opponents out of the game by bouncing all of their stuff:

    6x Forest
    12x Island
    1x Gemstone Mine
    1x Skyshroud Forest
    4x Aluren
    4x Walls of Roots
    2x Walls of Blossoms
    4x Intruder Alarm
    4x Tradewind Rider
    4x Man-0'-War
    4x Impulse
    2x Harrow
    4x Counterspell
    4x Mana Leak
    4x Propaganda

    Here's another one, which seems to lean on Soul Warden for massive (potentially infinite) lifegain:

    4x Tradewind Rider
    4x Wall of Blossoms
    4x Soul Warden
    4x Man-o'-War
    4x Birds of Paradise
    1x Ephemeron
    1x Fallen Angel
    3x Aluren
    3x Gaea's Blessing
    4x Mana Leak
    4x Impulse
    4x Undiscovered Paradise
    4x Gemstone Mine
    2x Adarkar Wastes
    2x Brushland
    2x Underground River
    5x Forest
    5x Island

    Not tuned tournament lists, but Aluren did make for some cool and unique casual decks.
  4. Mooseman Isengar Tussle

    It's someone's "memories".
    I do remember the "TradeBlossom" decks, and with Soul Warden. I think Killer Joe used a variation of the deck to piss off a lot of players (hehehe). It did cause other players to target him without cause, or with cause, since he was a very good deck builder.
    Oversoul likes this.
  5. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Creature-based combos weren't really properly developed in the late 90's. Like a lot of other good cards, especially good combo cards, Aluren was overshadowed by the blue/artifact cartel of "Combo Winter." In hindsight, Aluren would quietly get better with accumulated new printings of cheap creatures. A really nice one of these, which might have boosted Aluren considerably, was not tournament legal or widely explored. But we'll get to that.

    Aluren synergizes with cheap creatures that have EtB triggered abilities. But to build a real engine, players generally needed another enchantment, something like Recycle, Intruder Alarm, or Enduring Renewal. In 2001, Planeshift introduced the "Gating" mechanic, and several of those creatures gain some value under Aluren. But one of them in particular was key, and it changed the use of Aluren forever...

    I wrote about "Raisin Bran" briefly in my "Combo Breakfast" article. Here's a list...

    4x Bayou
    1x Forest
    4x Island
    1x Mountain Valley
    4x Tropical Island
    4x Underground Sea
    4x Yavimaya Coast
    4x Cavern Harpy
    2x Man-o'-War
    4x Raven Familiar
    2x Spike Feeder
    4x Wall of Roots
    4x Aluren
    1x Arcane Denial
    4x Brainstorm
    4x Force of Will
    4x Impulse
    1x Stroke of Genius
    4x Vampiric Tutor

    Aluren + Cavern Harpy is the core of the engine, but it needs something else to run. Usually, this was Raven Familiar. Raven Familiar could dig for more cards and Cavern Harpy could bounce it, then one could pay 1 life and bounce Cavern Harpy to keep the loop going. If one could dig up a Spike Feeder and a Man-o'-War before running out of life, the loop could stabilize and generate infinite life. Cast Spike Feeder, remove a counter from Spike Feeder and gain 2 life, cast Man-o'-War bouncing Spike Feeder, cast Spike Feeder, remove a counter from Spike Feeder and gain 2 life, cast Cavern Harpy and bounce Man-o'-War, cast Man-o'-War and bounce Spike Feeder, cast Spike Feeder, remove a counter from Spike Feeder to gain 2 life, pay 1 life to bounce Cavern Harpy, cast Cavern Harpy bouncing Man-o-'War, etc, etc. Rinse, repeat. Net life gain: as much as your little heart desires. This amount of life is more than sufficient to dig through the rest of the library. From there one could repeatedly cast Wall of Roots, make a green mana, bounce it with Man-o'-War, then use Cavern Harpy to bounce both Man-o'-War and itself. Net green mana gain: as much as your little heart desires. The kill condition was Stroke of Genius. Although nothing in the engine could make the single blue mana required to cast Stroke of Genius, it was considered generally safe to pass the turn with infinite life, a board full of every creature in the deck, and a fistful of Force of Will and blue cards.

    A seven-card combo isn't ordinarily playable, but this was really more of a three-card combo with high modularity and flexibility. All of the creatures involved were useful in some way, either on their own or with each other, and they could protect the player or help dig for other combo components. Even Aluren could be used to more quickly deploy creatures. The only real chaff card was Stroke of Genius. And later versions would dispense would chaff entirely. These Extended Aluren decks were not the fastest combo decks, nor the most compact. But they were some of the most robust and versatile.

    Although I didn't play Extended, this archetype formed the basis for a casual Aluren deck I'd play, and I had friends who built similar decks.
  6. Melkor Well-Known Member

    I had the idea back in the day that I would team up Aluren with Greater Good and creatures that had over 3 power that cost 3 or less. Never quite figured out what else the deck would do, and it was all a moot point as I could never trade for more than the 1 Aluren I already had.
    Oversoul likes this.
  7. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, that's an interaction I haven't seen! Greater Good is an interesting card. For how big its effect can be, it seems like its actual usage has generally been subtle. Greater Good is in the unfortunate position of being something like the twentieth-best enchantment in Urza's Saga. Bad break. If it had come out back in Fallen Empires or Judgment or something, it might have made more of a splash. But it came out right in the middle of an era chock-full of powerful enchantments. For me, the card isn't something I've sufficiently experienced and studied to really want to start a "Magic Memories" thread, at least not yet. But it's possibly close to that. I've had one copy of Greater Good since forever and it's been splashed into some B/G and W/B/G deck centered around graveyard usage. Even if you can only get to a point where you're keeping a few cards, you churn through you deck so quickly that it can be explosive.

    A while back, I was going to build a casual deck with Greater Good as a main engine. I forget the details, but I scrapped the project early on when I realized I only had a single copy of Greater Good and the card had become very pricey, despite having been reprinted in Ninth Edition. Didn't want to spring for more copies and I had other decks I was focused on anyway. Since then, probably due to the Battlebond reprint, the price on Greater Good has dropped precipitously. Now the card is downright cheap, as Magic cards go.

    I don't know how much potential there is in the Aluren + Greater Good combination, and it shares the same problem as the other enchantment + enchantment interactions, to whatever extent that this is a problem. Some might say that these interactions are very cool but not very practical, which is not necessarily a problem in casual gameplay settings. Well, while Greater Good got reprinted and became affordable, the price on Aluren steadily climbed (it's a Reserved List card). So it's not in the normal budget for most casual players. But I can see the appeal.

    A card that I had not yet mentioned, but was going to get to soon, is Endless Cockroaches.

    The mention of Greater Good kind of segues into this card, as Aluren + Endless Cockroaches + [any sac outlet] is an infinite loop. In the case of Greater Good, the result is that you lose your hand and dump your library, one card at a time, into your graveyard. This seems pretty bad, but it could potentially be exploited...
  8. Melkor Well-Known Member

    Greater Good, definitely one of my Magic Memories if I ever did my own such series. It was surprisingly effective to just play it straight up in a more casual environment. Definitely seems like a useful casual Commander card these days.

    And one last thing on Greater Good, as an added bonus, whenever you sacrifice a creature to it, you get to say "It was for the greater good."
    Mooseman and Spiderman like this.

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