Have you ever heard of the Nephilim? Don’t be surprised if you haven’t. An innovative idea, they were the first creatures to cost exactly four different colors. They were released in Guildpact, the middle set of the Ravnica block. The designers were trying to come up with creatures that did unique things without just making five fatties. Their flavor is difficult to pin down, since with four colors apiece, they were more defined (if at all) by the one color each was missing than the ones they had. Wizards insisted that they were worth the work to get out, but none of them saw really any competitive play.
In The Mana Pool playgroup, some of these have come up from time to time. Mike’s five color deck has used Witch-Maw Nephilim to great effect, and Chewie used Yore-Tiller in his Progenitus EDH/Commander deck when we played the game on UStream. These are probably the strongest, at least in the abstract, although Dune-Brood Nephilim is begging for some use.
Even for the Nephilim, Ink-Treader is just weird!
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing with it, or just don’t get what’s going on with all of that text, Ink-Treader is normally just a 3/3. When a player casts a sorcery or instant, and Ink-Treader is that spell’s only target, its ability is triggered. Then, for each creature on the battlefield that could legally be targeted by that spell, the spell is copied targeting that creature. You can target Ink-Treader with Doom Blade, since the only color it isn’t is black, but it won’t be copied for black creatures or creatures with shroud. You control all of the copies, so picking your spells is essential- you can draw a ton of cards off of Accelerate, or you can kill yourself with Char.
While purchasing Guildpact, I kept opening Ink-Treaders. I have more than a set, despite not even getting that many packs. Having at least four, combined with just how strange the card is, meant only one thing- I had to make a deck around it.
The deck has gone through a great number of changes over the years. The premise has largely been intact- play Ink-Treader and copy some spells. The main spell to copy is Polymorph, both to search out some of my own creatures as well as basically replacing every creature on the field with a random one from its controller’s deck. This upheaval has always been what drew me to the combo, and it has remained regardless of the other spells in the deck.
Here’s how the deck looked in February of 2008, when it was featured in an Out Of The Deck Box segment in Episode 15 of the podcast:
Non-Creature Spells (27)
2x Magma Jet
2x Blind with Anger
2x Psychotic Fury
1x Vanish into Memory
3x Journey of Discovery
2x Tel-Jilad Stylus
1x Seal of Primordium
As you can see, the deck was a tricky toolbox sort of thing. Polymorph with an Ink-Treader out could result in another Ink-Treader or a huge monster. Cytoshape says that you can throw around temporary clone effects, making your creatures great and everyone else’s, well, not. Magma Jet will allow for a lot of scrying without actually killing the Ink-Treader.
Still, not everything worked. Intet didn’t really work out without more ways to manipulate the library, and even then a lot of these spells just weren’t so impressive that they needed to be powered out by the dragon. Reminisce wasn’t really needed at all, since usually the game was over before I ran out of Ink-Treaders.
I took another look at the deck after Zendikar came out, and I made a few changes (new cards are starred):
Non-Creature Spells (31)
4x Vines of Vastwood*
2x Psychotic Fury
2x Lightning Helix*
1x Blind with Anger
1x Magma Jet
1x Word of Seizing*
1x Inside Out*
1x Graceful Reprieve*
1x Ricochet Trap*
1x Rite of Replication*
1x Aether Mutation*
2x Tel-Jilad Stylus
2x Armillary Sphere*
With Alara still fresh in everyone’s mind, the Knights were an excellent addition. Now, if I stole creatures via Word of Seizing (yay split second) or Blind with Anger, they would probably be bigger when smashing their owner’s face. Vines of Vastwood doubled as creature pump and to negate either my Ink-Treader being destroyed or someone else from enhancing their own creature. Aether Mutation is a super-Evacuation that gives me tons of saps. I was most excited about playing Rite of Replication; worst case scenario, I got a token copy of every creature, but best case scenario, I got 5 token copies of each creature!
Now, it’s been a while, and it’s time to address the deck once again. Let’s go card-by-card.
Mana Base – seems okay, but we’ll get to fine-tuning that after finishing everything else.
Ink-Treader – no discussion necessary.
Knight of New Alara – now that we’re further from Alara block, he may not be as useful.
Polymorph – again, nothing to say about this.
Vines of Vastwood – this has been pretty good, but I probably don’t need a full set.
Cytoshape – this has been an all-star.
Psychotic Fury – like the Knight, this was probably stronger when multicolor creatures were in vogue. It’s true that drawing a card for each creature is good, but there are other spells that do the same with an added benefit.
Snakeform – turning everything into 1/1 snakes and drawing cards works pretty well.
Lightning Helix – this should have been in the deck since the beginning. It’s staying.
Blind with Anger, Word of Seizing – stealing all creature in play is a focal point of the deck, and these particular cards are great since they’re instants. Still, I don’t like the non-legendary restriction on Blind, especially with these newfangled Praetors running around.
Magma Jet – this is one of the best burn spell ever. It stays.
Inside Out – cantrips are great for this deck. I’m not sure that this one is a great fit, but it’s definitely versatile.
Stun – cantrips, anyone? This is pretty good, since it means that I get through no matter what.
Ricochet Trap – this never really proved to be all that useful, and honestly I’m not sure why I put it in.
Rite of Replication – I’ll keep trying to live the dream, thank you.
Aether Mutation – so good! It’s important to remember that this is one of the deck’s only sorceries, but the effect is strong with or without Ink-Treader.
Tel-Jilad Stylus – this has always been in the deck, because I can use it to save my Ink-Treader in response to its ability triggering. Lately, however, I’ve wondered if it’s worth a slot, much like Reminisce.
Here’s what I’m removing:
-2 Knight of New Alara, -2 Vines of Vastwood, -2 Psychotic Fury, -2 Harrow, -1 Ricochet Trap, -1 Blind with Anger, -1 Graceful Reprieve, -2 Tel-Jilad Stylus
Here are some cards I’d like to consider trying:
Act of Aggression – this effect has turned into a central pillar of what the deck strives for, and this latest “Threaten” effect comes with the added bonus of being potentially cheaper than the others.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn – I’d like to have more impressive creatures to Polymorph into, and this one certainly fits the bill. While not everyone loves the king of the Eldrazi, he at least has the power to close the game that the deck currently lacks, and he won’t be the target of any unfortunate Doom Blades.
Urabrask the Hidden – another Polymorph target, and one that I can actually cast. Emrakul with haste is pretty saucy, and slowing down my opponents is important.
Chord of Calling – the Nephilim is so important to the deck that when I don’t draw one, I just tread water. This effect has been needed for some time, and instant speed puts this above Eladamri’s Call.
Congregation at Dawn – not only does this get a Nephilim, but it can set up Polymorph targets if used correctly.
Gather Specimens – the thought of casting this and then table-Polymorphing gives me goosebumps.
Cultivate – you were probably surprised to see me cut Harrow. This is the reason. While Harrow is a great card, the drawback of sacrificing a land when I’m trying to get to four colors is a bit too cumbersome. Cultivate (or Kodama’s Reach) fixes that problem.
With these possible inclusions in mind, we turn back to the mana base. With Graceful Reprieve gone, the only things that cost white are the Ink-Treaders and some Polymorph targets. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be using Akroma here, but I always think it’s important to consider her for these types of “cheat creatures into play” effects. Therefore, white sources are of the least importance. The others are fairly equal, with blue getting an edge if we include Gather Specimens (and consider that we also need the blue for Polymorph, especially if we do both in the same turn). Green is also key, since it enables Cultivate to find the other colors. There are only so many ways to make blue, red, and green mana from the same land, so we really need to look at lands that can produce any color.
Grand Coliseum is an excellent choice. It’s a turn slower than City of Brass, but it can be used pain-free for colorless mana. Forbidden Orchard is another interesting land, since it essentially gives away free Polymorphing tokens, but that just makes the game more interesting in my opinion. Plus, I’ll probably end up stealing whatever they get anyway. Finally, Rupture Spire is just fabulous. Once you make the initial down payment, you’re good to go for the rest of the game.
Here’s the deck in its current configuration:
Non-Creature Spells (29)
2x Vines of Vastwood
2x Lightning Helix
2x Chord of Calling
2x Congregation at Dawn
2x Gather Specimens
1x Magma Jet
1x Word of Seizing
1x Inside Out
1x Rite of Replication
1x Aether Mutation
2x Armillary Sphere
There’s the deck, as it stands right now. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be sure to report on how it does the next time The Mana Pool dorks get together!