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Attention to Detail #42
Mismatched Pairs
by Jordan Kronick
October 25, 2006

Remember when the cards in a set had very little to do with each other?  Maybe you don't.  It's been a long time since Magic sets were thrown together without much thought for what was in the rest of the set.  Of course, some attention has always been paid.  And sometimes you just end up with Purelace and Ancestral Recall at the same rarity.  But those days are long gone.  Today we've got sets where all the cards make sense.  They follow a theme.  And the sets themselves have a greater theme which fits into the block theme.  If you pick any two cards from a set, you should be able to see – in some way – the theme which connects them.  So that's my experiment for today.  With the help of a couple friends, I've chosen two cards from Time Spiral.  First we're going to see how the theme dictates the design of the cards.  Then we're going to find out if that theme helps them work together. 

 

The first card is one which has received a whole lot of attention lately in the world of Time Spiral limited.  It's a bomb without question and it's among the most anticipated cards of all time.  I'm talking, of course, about Stuffy Doll.  It's indestructible.  It blocks.  It pokes.  It just sits there until you win the game.  And anyone who has read Attention to Detail in the past knows that just sitting there until you win the game is one of my favorite ways to finish a match.  Stuffy Doll is a defensive player's dream.  There's a couple of flaws in that indestructible armor, of course.  The first is the casting cost which is prohibitive.  5 colorless isn't absurdly expensive, but it can be a lot to pay for a card which is never going to win the game in a hurry.  When you think of strong 5 mana cards in limited, your mind often drifts to big green creatures.  Fangren Hunter and his ilk are one of the most common sights in limited.  They tie up the ground, they stomp over for victory.  They are good cards.  But they are not purely defensive cards.  When you pay 5 mana for something, you want it to win the game.  And Stuffy Doll, bomb that is he is, is not going to win the game on his own.  Your opponent can play around him and 1 point of poking every turn is probably not going to win any races that you haven't already won.

 

The second flaw in the armor that is Stuffy Doll is the toughness.  Yes, toughness isn't a huge issue when you're talking about an indestructible card.  But it does matter.  There's three basic ways to deal with an indestructible creature.  You can remove it from the game.  You can bounce it.  Or you can give it a 0 toughness.  The first option is often the strongest, but it's the hardest effect to produce of the three.  The second solution is only temporary.  0 toughness will always be the simplest way to deal with Stuffy Doll.  And fortunately for opponents of the doll, there's a few ways to accomplish this in Time Spiral limited.  Here's three very relevant cards for the problem:

 

Sudden Death – This card is easily among the strongest removal spells ever printed.  It's split second nature and big toughness boost mean that it can kill nearly everything that doesn't say 'protection from black' on it.

 

Feebleness – Another instant speed answer to Stuffy Doll, but this one is common.  It's only -1 toughness, so a pumping effect could usually help here.  However, this is also an Aura.  So even if they've got that Thrill of the Hunt to save their doll, it's still going to die next turn.  The most frequently used answer to the doll, without question.

 

Funeral Charm – Lastly we have one of the rarest cards in Time Spiral.  It's a timeshifted card, so you can't expect to ever see this.  However, it's also a timeshifted card that's going to go around the table a little bit.  This is not Akroma or Psi Blast.  It's just Funeral Charm.  And while it might be the best charm ever, it's still just a charm.  Keep an eye out, as it will rarely let you down.

 

If those were the only ways to deal with Stuffy Doll, I wouldn't worry much.  However, there's other cards that can take it out too.  Stuffy Doll might be indestructible, but it's also fragile.  So even if you get one you can't rely on it for the win.  So I've explained why the Stuffy Doll is good and why it isn't.  But the real question here is how does Stuffy Doll fit into the theme part of today's experiment.  What does Stuffy Doll have to do with time?  Well, a couple things.  Firstly, it's a throwback back.  Without examining the mechanics of the card, you know it's about time.  Stuffy Doll was featured in the art of a few very early cards from Magic history – Black Vise, The Rack, Wall of Wonder and Cursed Rack.  And, as any good Methuselah knows, he was also featured in the art of a Jyhad Card.  Each of the five was illustrated by Richard Thomas.  Sadly, Thomas didn't do the Stuffy Doll itself, but the reference is still strong.  But surely this card has to fit the theme in more than just name (and art) alone?  Well of course it does.  As I already mentioned, Stuffy Doll is slow.  And “slow” is a reference to time.  Ravnica block (and specifically Guildpact) gave us a big look at the bleeding style of play in the form of the Orzhov.  Bleeding someone slowly is definitely a style of play that cares about time.  It wants time to go on for a while.  The game shouldn't finish quickly.  If it did, the bleeder probably lost.  Stuffy Doll cares about time because it wants lots of it.  It wants time to do its job, no matter how much is required.

 

That's our first half of today's mismatched pair.  The second half was – I assure you – chosen without foreknowledge of the first half.  But it just happens to be a great fit with Stuffy Doll.

 

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy is really, really good.  No matter what angle you examine him from, he's really strong.  He can produce repetitive card advantage.  He's a 4/4 for 4.  He's cool looking.  He doesn't die to Dark Banishing-esque removal.  What more could you ask for?  And it just so happens that he fits nicely right next to Stuffy Doll.  As I mentioned, Mishra costs 4 mana.  Stuffy Doll costs 5.  That's always a nice pairing when you're trying to make two cards work together.  Especially when one of them helps the other.  You'll notice that despite it's epic stature, Stuffy Doll is not legendary.  That certainly surprised me.  I just assumed that it would be.  But I'm glad it's not.  Because while having one Stuffy Doll in play can gum up the works for your opponent, two can simply stop them dead.   Mishra can power out Doll #2 at the same time as Doll #1.  As a matter of fact, Mishra can help you get past another favorite way to deal with Stuffy Doll – countering it.  You see, Mishra's artifact searching ability works regardless of whether or not the first spell gets countered.  So cast your Doll and you can be sure you'll be getting one if not two.  Stuffy Doll might be a little slow, but that's a huge defensive wall (with a couple of offensive prods) on what is still an early game turn. 

 

Before I dive headlong into making Stuffy Dolls work in multiples, we need to take a moment to talk about Mishra's place in time.  After all, the experiment is about theme.  So why is Mishra in a time set.  Once again, the throwback theme is present here.  Mishra is one of the most beloved characters in Magic and it's good to see him in print at long last.  But what does the card's text have to do with time?  Well, while Stuffy Doll wants time to last for quite a while (so there can be more poking), Mishra likes to speed time up.  That's what he's doing after all.  Searching for an artifact and putting it into play without paying for it is acceleration.  I've been fascinated by Mishra since I first saw him during the Time Spiral preview weeks.  Here's a card, I said, that's going to do something.  How can it not?

 

We already know how Stuffy Doll and Mishra are going to work together for us.  One produces more of the other and we tie up the board until we win.  Easy enough.  But Mishra's more than just a one-trick pony.  You don't want to play him in a deck where his only function is to find another copy of one artifact.  If you did, you could just play with Sculpting Steel or Mizzium Transreliquat.  You want to get the most for your mana with Mishra.  And that means playing with a lot of artifacts.  It means getting jobs done with artifacts that you might otherwise do with non-artifacts.  For instance, removal.  Let's assume we're talking about a casual Extended deck for the moment.  There's artifacts that can be removal as well.  Fortunately, we're in a good color trio for removal thanks to Mishra's weighty casting cost.  My first suggestions would be a pair of rocks – Aether Spellbomb and Pyrite Spellbomb from Mirrodin.  Cast one and you get two.  Sac them to remove a problem or sac them to draw a card – it's all good in spellbomb land.  So what else do we need?  Well, we want to make sure that our mana comes out the way we want it.  And I think the best choice for this job is Signets from Ravnica.  Some combination of Izzet, Rakdos and Dimir Signets to produce the mana that Mishra wants.  You could even get him out on turn three and drop a Doll on turn 4.  That's not bad at all. 

 

What else works with Mishra?  Well, I've mentioned many times how much Mishra loves his own toys.  Mishra's Bauble in particular seems perfect.  It becomes a slightly slower 0-cost Inspiration!  That's not bad at all.  But the fun doesn't stop there.  How about something to make the Baubles do double duty?  Usually it's just a cantrip.  But what if looking at your opponent's top card was important?  What if you were playing with Booby Trap?  Suddenly we've got a curve that looks alright.  On turn 1 we're playing Spellbomb.  On turn 2 a Signet.  On turn 3, Mishra himself.  Turn 4 we get the Stuffy Doll.  Turn 5 it's time for a Booby Trap.  Assuming we've had a Bauble at some point in the first 5 turns, we can sac it now for a nearly guaranteed 20 damage (that's two Booby Traps, remember).  This deck writes itself!

 

I'm going to take some time to perform this experiment again in the future.  We lucked out today in that the two cards related so directly to each other.  But I think it's a good sign that the things in Time Spiral block work together.  If you tried this with some older set, you might have a problem.  I don't see a whole lot of synergy between Jovial Evil and Divine Intervention.  And if you remembered what both of those cards do, you get 10 points which you'll be able to credit towards the future purchase of a Bentley.  The point is that we've come a long way in the way Magic cards are designed to work together.  The most common problem I've heard about designing decks with Time Spiral is not that they don't know what's good but that there's too much that works together.  We've got the biggest Standard envionrment ever on the horizon.  There's going to be more options than ever.  And unlike the huge sets of days gone by, everything here is designed to work as a machine.  It can get confusing, but don't worry – I'm here to help.

 

 

 

 

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