Magic, of course, is a game about wizardly combat. What really sets it apart from Saruman and Gandalf shouting power words and throwing thunderbolts at each other, however, is the significant role creatures play in the game. Though I do play some spell-based control from time to time, there’s really just nothing quite as satisfying as sending a motley squad of Giants, Birds, Elephants, and Barbarians across the battlefield to punch, claw, stomp, and stab their way to victory. As fun as the regular creatures are, the bigger ones are even better (I still remember a time when Craw Wurm was truly awe-inspiring), and the fun factor really tops out when you can get those big creatures for cheap or nearly free (Elvish Piper and Reanimate are the go-to examples, but have you ever pulled off Urborg Panther / Feral Shadow / Breathstealer into Spirit of the Night? I highly recommend it).
When Quest for Ula’s Temple was first revealed from Worldwake, it made my day. Not only was it another entry into the “huge guys for free” pantheon of effects, but it operated by means of a loose collection of tribes that have historically been the perfect balance of enormous and expensive, terrible and terrifying, and monstrous and moronic. With such great potential for both savage beatings and comedy gold at the same time, I just had to get in on it. The set of Quests I quickly traded for languished in my binder for months before I finally manned up and took the initiative to actually put the deck together.
First things first, if I’m going to build this deck at all, I have to go all-in. Cards that don’t directly relate to the journey or completion of the Quest are a total no-go. Turns spent not advancing my progress in that respect are turns spent not controlling Krakens, and that’s completely unacceptable. For this I need a heavy mass of creatures (including plenty of Krakens, Leviathans, Octopodes, and/or Serpents), as well as a heavy mass of Scry and other similar library manipulation effects. The manipulation isn’t just necessary for making the Quest work, but for finding a copy of it as soon as possible if there wasn’t one already in my opening hand. I need enough mana sources to get myself rolling and keep it up until The Stars Are Right, but not a whole lot, since I’ll hardly need any more past that point. I’ll go ahead and present the list here, and then get into more detail about the choices below:
4x Augury Owl
4x Cryptic Annelid
4x Inkwell Leviathan
2x Polar Kraken
2x Stormtide Leviathan
4x Survivor of the Unseen
2x Wrexial, the Risen Deep
1x Ancestral Knowledge
3x Dream Cache
4x Quest for Ula’s Temple
Halimar Depths is pretty much an auto-include for a deck that has Blue spells and a particular need to poke around the top N cards of the library. The number of Islands I chose to fill out the base is driven by the fact that I desperately want to get to 4 mana in order to cast Cryptic Annelid, and then after that I don’t really care at all.
Okay, we have a lot of different things going on here. First there are the straight Scry cards: Augury Owl, Cryptic Annelid, and Condescend. When I’m in “find the Quest” mode, anything that isn’t a Quest or another manipulation card is going to the bottom. I don’t care what it is, I don’t need it now, because it won’t help me if I don’t have a Quest on the battlefield. Once I do have one, then it’s just a simple matter of using these to keep a creature on top of the library for 3 turns in a row before the real fun starts happening. Dream Cache and Survivor of the Unseen are special, in that they also give me access to the cards in my hand for the purpose of making sure my hand and the top of my library have the proper composition. It’s important to note here that the Survivor can be activated in response to her cumulative upkeep trigger, so you can see what your turn will look like before deciding whether to pay the cost. Ancestral Knowledge was originally a stand-in for the 4th copy of Dream Cache I found out I didn’t have, but I really like it as a one-of. The ability to dig down 10 cards and see what’s going on is usually a good enough push that I only have to pay the cumulative upkeep cost for 1-2 turns before letting it go (or less, if I have monsters in my hand and stack triggers to get the last counter on the Quest before the cumulative upkeep resolves).
Eldritch Horrors from the Deep
Alright, it’s time to get serious. Inkwell Leviathan is basically the greatest Leviathan creature ever printed, so there’s no question that he’ll end up being one of the stars of the deck. Though the deck will almost never cast him except in a case of extreme emergency, his mana cost turns out to be rather important. It’s a total of 9, which means he can be tutored for with Grozoth, who also happens to be a massive Leviathan. Having a full set of each means I’m definitely going to have Inkwell Leviathans when it’s time to go to Temple. Wrexial can’t be cast at all, but the ability to access various effects out of opponents’ graveyards can come in handy sometimes. Stormtide Leviathan keeps me safe after my smaller “speed bump” creatures have run out, and allows Inkwell and Wrexial to go hog-wild with their Islandwalk. The inclusion of Polar Kraken is really to show how I wasn’t even playing around when building the deck, and that something serious is about to go down. The fact that he’s Polar Kraken will make some opponents underestimate him, and the following exchange isn’t uncommon:
Me: “Polar Kraken.”
Opponent: “What is wrong with you?”
Opponent: “Oh, that says 11 with trample, doesn’t it?”
Quest for Ula’s Temple
This is where the magic happens, people. Like I said before, if there isn’t one in my opening hand, my game is completely dedicated to finding one. After that, it’s just a couple more turns of minimal effort and I’m off to “Step 3: Profit” for the rest of the game. I do realize that hanging an entire deck on one card is risky, especially with such a small amount of defense for it (right now just the set of Condescend, and nothing else). However, the relative lack of enchantment removal I tend to see on a regular basis combined with the fact that I’m likely to draw into multiples helps ameliorate that risk a fair bit. If it becomes more of an issue in the future, I’ll think about adding either some Discombobulate for extra defense and manipulation or some Elixir of Immortality for recursion and life cushioning.
So there you have it! The deck is a real rush to play, especially during those tense first few turns of the game when I’m trying to set up before my opponent can really get rolling. Once I do have the completed Quest in place, the game almost always ends in a total blowout, and the sheer amount of damage I’m able to hand out every turn has allowed me to defeat up to 3 other players in the same game (hmmm… now I’m thinking about Archenemy). Be sure to leave some comments here and let me know what you think.
Have fun, guys.