October 14, 2011
By Imshan aka Sinis
Andy: You really like Kamigawa, huh?
Imshan: Pretty much. I think the mechanics were more interesting even if most were objectively weaker than other block’s mechanics. Infect/Metalcraft for example. Not interesting.
Andy: But Imshan, modern R&D is the same brain trust that brought us Bloodbraid Elf… What do you mean you like old mechanics?
For those who know me, it is no secret that I think the Kamigawa block is really cool stuff. I’m not a weeaboo, I don’t serially watch anime, read manga or wear a kimono. The difference between me and the people who do not hold Kamigawa close in their affections might be the fact that I didn’t play during that block, which I’ve been told by numerous sources was less than stellar in both constructed and limited. I like Splice, Flip and Arcane cards, and I think that the design of cards like Kaho, Minamo Historian and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is more interesting than that of Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer, and the myriad of infect-related cards including Melira, Sylvok Outcast. Sure, mechanics like Spirit-craft are weak stuff, but it’s interesting weak stuff. In a format where we’re all trying to win, but look like we’re not trying too hard, interesting weak stuff might be the choicest cut. Now, this doesn’t mean I think all new cards are uninspiring. I like some of the new stuff, like Glissa, the Traitor and many of the cards in the Commander product.
Another feature of Kamigawa that I liked were the cycles of cards; there were the dragon spirits, the Patrons of the various non-human races (some of whom make interesting generals) and the Ascendants, Legendary Flip creatures who turn into enchantments with far reaching effects once their conditions are met. Praetors and Chancellors have nothing on those beasties.
I like Kamigawa and its cycles so much that this Rune-Tail article will be the first of a series on the Ascendant Flip creatures. Why Ascendants? Because enchantments with wide reaching effects masquerading as legendary creatures make interesting generals. In the last article about Horobi, I showed how a general that changes the rules around can be very fun and effective. The Ascendants from Saviours of Kamigawa do just that, albeit not as much as Horobi. This tour will take us through each of the Ascendants in the cycle, from plucky Rune-Tail to the dreaded Erayo, and all the handstanding dorks in between. (Spoiler alert: The Erayo article will be less about how to build a degenerate combo deck, and more about how to build a fun pile so that people wont mind that you’re playing a banned general.)
Rune-Tail himself is certainly the easiest of the cycle to flip. For those not in the know, Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant costs 2W for a 2/2 Legendary Fox Monk that reads “When you have 30 or more life, flip Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant.” The flip side is Rune-Tail’s Essence, a Legendary Enchantment which reads “Prevent all damage that would be dealt to creatures you control.” The way this works makes Rune-Tail one of the more interesting generals available in EDH as a whole. In the early game, Rune-Tail is as good as he’s going to ever be, and from then on, he gets worse and worse as life totals get lower. At some point, when that 30 life threshold is out of reach, Rune-Tail will be a vanilla 2/2 with some exotic subtypes. Contrast this with generals like Zur, who get incrementally better every time they are able to attack, or ‘bomb’ generals like Akroma, who are not very good in the early game (because you can’t cast them), but very powerful in the late game (because they might kill someone in a real hurry when removal resources are spent). Much of the time in this article, I’m going to be talking about the enchantment half — Rune-Tail’s Essence — because that is essentially what playing Rune-Tail amounts to. I don’t actually care much about the 2/2 Legendary Fox Monk aspect, and neither should you.
Rune-Tail is mono-white, placing him in arguably the second worst monocolour in EDH. Sadly, this also excludes Rune-Tail from messing a great number of effects that could be abused while he’s in play, like Earthquake, Savage Twister, Pestilence, or any other cards that globally deal damage. With that in mind, it’s going to be hard to build around Rune-Tail; there’s not a huge number of ways to really make that text work for value in mono-white. There are a lot of broad themes in mono-white to play with — rebels, soldiers and tokens, equipment, life gain, auras to name a few — so any Rune-Tail deck won’t be at a loss for a cohesive strategy. For this particular build, we’ll dabble with some auras and an underlying theme of life gain. Up front, two cards I am excluding are Test of Endurance and Felidar Sovereign. I don’t generally want to win games by accumulating life, and the nature of Rune-Tail with these two cards would make this deck more about creating an impenetrable fortress, and less about throwing down with incredibly resilient creatures. In other words, they’re boring.
The first set of cards we’ll need are ones that protect Rune-Tail. The game will have its ups and downs, but the longer Rune-Tail’s Essence stays on the table, the greater the chances of winning through sheer unwillingness to die. The first five inclusions are Fountain Watch, Greater Auramancy, Indestructibility, Aegis Angel and Vigilant Martyr. Fountain Watch and Aegis Angel have the notable distinction of protecting Rune-Tail’s Essence while being protected by it in return. Greater Auramancy will protect Rune-Tail’s Essence and any auras or the creatures we hang them on. Indestructibility and Aegis Angel are a good way to mostly spare us from enchantment-busting board wipes or targeted enchantment removal, and Vigilant Martyr is a little utility critter that can protect valuable enchantments or creatures. Beyond these, we’ll have to resort to recasting Rune-Tail, and gaining life in order to ensure Rune-Tail remains useful to us.
The second set of cards are the ones we can really abuse with Rune-Tail’s Essence. Even though we can’t play Earthquake or Wildfire, we can play Wave of Reckoning. Sadly, there are no other global damage cards for mono-white. The other category of effects that are abusive with Rune-Tail’s Essence are what I call “bodyguard” or “pariah” effects. These are effects duplicated by Veteran Bodyguard and Pariah. Like so many older cards, new versions and variants of them have been printed over the years: Pariah’s Shield, Weathered Bodyguards, Beacon of Destiny and Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo. There are others, like Kjeldoran Royal Guard that could easily be in this deck, but lie in the area of costing too much while not maintaining their ability consistently enough. Kjeldoran Royal Guard costs 5, but can only protect against one opponent’s worth of attacks. Opal-Eye and Beacon of Destiny only cover one source, but it could be any source (like someone’s Heartless Hidetsugu instead of just unblocked creatures), and each costs very little.
The third category of cards that Rune-Tail’s Essence likes are “Blaze of Glory” effects. The best of these effect are persistent ones, like Palace Guard. While there are other creatures in the ‘blaze’ category like Avatar of Hope or Wall of Glare, my other pick for this category is Entangler, because of cost, and because we’re going to be messing around with auras.
… and that’s it for Rune-Tail-warped picks. There’s nothing else. Well, almost nothing; there’s one more piece of secret tech later. All the really abusive cards are in other colours, and it’s a hard feature to really work with. That doesn’t mean that Rune-Tail isn’t good, however. Creatures out of Rune-Tail will be superior in combat and generally speaking, difficult to remove. Once we start to add enchantments to them, they’ll be pretty dangerous.
For creatures, we’re going to want the most aura-centric critters possible without warping our deck too much. The guys that make this happen are Auramancer, Auratouched Mage, Lost Auramancers, Nomad Mythmaker, Totem-Guide Hartebeest and Umbra Mystic. These guys basically fall into the same three categories; they recur enchantments, they tutor enchantments, or they make enchantments better. I’ve left out Mesa Enchantress and Kor Spiritdancer because they are only really good when there is a truly astounding number of enchantments in the deck. This deck will not have quite so many to sustain their usefulness.
As for auras, we’re only going to choose a few in addition to Pariah and Entangler. Since we’re also playing to increase life total, the first creature aura to look at is Spirit Loop. Cheap, recurring, and effective. In contrast, Celestial Mantle doesn’t quite make the cut because of the expense, and because it is actually ‘too good’. Even though it’s a powerful life gaining aura and very much worth what you pay for, six mana is steep, and doubling your life total attracts a significant amount of attention. Cards like Spirit Loop advance your life total in a subtle and less dramatic way, allowing your life total to creep up unnoticed. For the same reasons, we will avoid Beacon of Immortality.
On the other side of subtle, Eldrazi Conscription is probably the least friendly tool available. If there is anything worse than Annihilator triggers, it is probably Annihilator triggers on creatures that cannot be killed in combat (like on Ulamog, or creatures under the influence of Rune-Tail’s Essence). While this also attracts attention, it goes a long way toward winning the game. The final aura I feel is worth mentioning will also draw people’s ire: Faith’s Fetters is a catch all removal piece with a nice bit of life attached. Our other auras will provide some amount of evasion, damage, vigilance and resilience. To tutor any of this stuff up, including Faith’s Fetters or Indestructibility, Three Dreams gets the job done, and provides us with badly needed card advantage.
No white creature deck would be complete without equipment, but we’re not simply going to gather every piece of equipment with lifelink and squeeze it in. In fact, we’re going to be very selective about what we play, because we’re in mono-white, and mana isn’t going to be limitless. The first pick for this deck is Loxodon Warhammer. It’s a lot of power, Trample, and Lifelink in a deck that needs all three of those things pretty badly. Umezawa’s Jitte also gets the nod for a few reasons. Jitte is a very good card on the worst of days, but in this deck it’s especially good. We can swing every turn without worry, because Rune-Tail’s Essence watches over our creatures in combat, and the life gain can prove to be critical for maintaining our general’s power.
My final equipment pick is a little bit tech, and more than a little secret. In fact, it’s so secret that it hides in plain sight as an awful card. Neko-Te is an interesting piece of equipment from Betrayers of Kamigawa. Now, I’m either being overly fond of a pair of prosthetic claws, or I’m really on to something. Neko-Te serves to disable creatures that we would have no way of defeating ordinarily. Rune-Tail’s Essence does a lot for us, but it does not allow us to best Ulamog, or even Wall of Denial in a scrap. This either encourages people to let creatures through unblocked, or disables troublesome blockers so that we can power through. It also can prove to be extremely problematic when on a creature with Entangler, or Palace Guard with some extra power. We just have to be careful who’s holding them when we throw Wave of Reckoning.
Outside of permanents, we have enough life gain for Feudkiller’s Verdict to be a reliable 5/5 body with some sweet life gain on top. Like all decks, we’ll need sweepers. Since our general is either an enchantment or completely worthless, Hallowed Burial is a very useful wrath and tuck effect. Rune-Tail will either be an enchantment and be immune to Burial, or will be a 2/2 creature that we hardly care about. For the same reasons, Final Judgment is another good wrath effect that will deliver problematic creatures to the exile zone and deny decks that depend on recursion a fair amount of resources. Since we’re running all these enchantments, Winds of Rath will give us a distinct advantage over our opponents. A popular card I see a fair amount of — Austere Command — gets excluded because we never want to choose enchantments, and generally wont want to flush our equipment or mana rocks away either. If we had a unified cost to our creatures, it might be worthwhile to risk our artifacts, but as it stands it would just be an expensive creature reset that allows for regeneration.
The remainder of this deck needs no introduction. Sun Titan, Sol Ring, Swords to Plowshares and the miscellany of tutors are all intuitive choices that we rely on in our white decks. Additionally, there are some natural finishers like Akroma. This deck relies on Rune-Tail’s Essence to give us an advantage in combat. The deck seeks to maximize that advantage by using auras and equipment to enhance our creature’s capacity to threaten opponents.
Are Rune-Tail and the rest of the Ascendants both interesting and powerful enough to form the centerpieces of Commander decks? I’ll let you, the reader, decide.
Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant
Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo
Beacon of Destiny
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Mother of Runes
Knight of the White Orchid
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