If you’ve missed part 1 and part 2 of this series, you’d better catch up and buckle in. Today we’re continuing our Descent into Madness with Aetherflux Reservoir. In keeping with tradition, I’m going to talk a little bit about what Aetherflux Reservoir does, why it’s in competitive decks, and some clues in its functionality that allow us to take it in a totally different direction.
Aetherflux Reservoir was one of the high-impact artifacts that were dropped on us in Kaladesh block.
On its surface, the payment for the activated ability is pretty ridiculous. 50 life is a lot of life, and it seems like one of these arbitrarily-difficult-to-set-up win condition numbers like you’d see on Battle of Wits, Helix Pinnacle, Chance Encounter, or… uh… Gleemax.
As we explored in my article on Jhoira Storm, though, getting to 151 life to machine gun the table takes fewer than 17 spells cast thanks to the magic of growth of triangular numbers::
|Spell #||Life Gained||Total Life Gained|
This is an easier scenario to set up than stalwarts in the storm archetype like Tendrils of Agony, fits in any colour identity, and happens to be really easy to tutor up. That’s a recipe for success at competitive levels of play if I’ve ever seen one.
What can we do with massive amounts of lifegain if we’re not just straight up playing storm, though?
Kidding. Calm down.
Drawing cards is not the worst thing you can do with a high life total. In fact, it’s one of the best. Having a really strong draw engine in that ridiculous Jund Ad Nauseam deck worked out better than expected, and drawing cards is my favourite thing to do in the entire game, so let’s pick up our deck and play with it.
Rather than actually gaining the life off of Aetherflux Reservoir we’re going to play it pretty fast and loose with a category of effect that I’ve always loved.
Lich effects are strong. They turn life gain into card draw with absolutely no downside in sight*.
*Except for the massively huge downsides that constitute about ⅓ of their oracle text.
The interaction between Lich and Aetherflux Reservoir is a really spicy one, and you can refer to the Aetherflux Reservoir chart above to see just how many cards you can draw by casting even a modest number of spells.
Deck Mission Statement
This is a casual deck built around an objectively powerful life gain engine and win condition. We’re looking to retain the feeling of winning the game by casting spells to gain absurd amounts of life, but instead of gaining life we’ll be drawing cards. We’ll be taking advantage of the interaction between Lich effects and Aetherflux Reservoir to accomplish this, and supporting the interaction with a suite of cards that will hopefully prevent us from dying.
A Note on Dying
Dying is generally bad, and we’re probably going to die a lot while playing this deck. The good news is, we might not always lose. I started out by researching some cards that might prevent me from dying. I used snippets of cards that I knew from this category like Phyrexian Unlife and structured scryfall searches to get an idea of what colours I might need to support our Liches:
- If you would lose the game
- You can’t lose the game
- Life total
- Don’t lose the game
- Less than 0
- “Dealt damage” + “Instead”
- “Lose Life” + “Instead”
After a ton of reading, I was left with a list of mostly white cards, which is unsurprising because we’re focusing a lot on damage prevention and damage replacement effects:
Teferi’s Protection reminded me that I could act in response to the “lose the game” trigger being put on the stack, so I felt that a suite of stifle effects might also fit into our game plan: I also included Sundial of the Infinite, which didn’t come up in any of my searches but is always the first thing that comes to my mind when I’m mitigating triggered downsides.
I originally included Voidslime in here because it fits the package theme, but I ultimately decided that GUU is too colour-intensive for a deck that I already know is going to be super greedy on B and W, with quad pips showing up in Lich casting costs, and double white pips just about everywhere else.
To round out our “I hope I don’t die” package, I decided to push a little into an enchantress theme with Act of Authority, Grasp of Fate, Aura of Silence, and Island Sanctuary to trip my opponents up and remove troublesome effects from the board. We’re probably not able to go off if we’re staring down a Managorger Hydra or Hydra Omnivore or something, so removal is especially important here.
Tutors and Such
We’re going to want to have regular access to the central cards in the deck, namely our Lich effects and Aetherflux Reservoir, so this is going to cement blue as a third colour alongside white and black to give us — at a minimum — an Esper identity:
When adding tutors I looked long and hard at Zur to determine if I wanted to just go in really hard on an Esper enchantress theme. After all, we already have Phyrexian Unlife (which we could very easily add Solemnity to), and Solitary Confinement. We could also run Zur staples like Grasp of Fate to help stabilize and interfere with our opponents. When I really got to think about what the deck would need to win the game, however, I decided that mana production is probably going to be the limiting factor once we’ve got the card draw engine online.
I eventually decided to go through the same exercise as I had with the previous two decks and look at the entire card pool of WUB, WUBX, and WUBRG commanders.
In Search of a Commander
The first thing that popped out to me was Sydri, Galvanic Genius. People have been giving Aetherflux Reservoir lifelink since it was spoiled, so Sydri might actually be a more synergistic commander than Zur.
Our four-colour options are Breya if we add red and Atraxa if we add green. Neither of these are particularly exciting, although Breya might result in a few Lich draws if we have enough artifacts to sacrifice for life gain.
For an incredibly brief moment while looking through the 5C commanders, I considered both Atogatog and Sliver Queen. Neither of them scream “Lich!” but Sliver Queen gives me permanents to sacrifice, and Atogatog has some weird incidental synergies with some of the only enchantment sacrifice outlets in the game – Phanatog and Auratog. Ultimately I decided that it was going to be difficult enough to accomplish what I set out to do without muddying the water with an Atog subtheme, and turned to the partners.
Tymna is a card that sees a lot of play alongside Tana the Bloodsower and Thrasios, Triton Hero in competitive circles. Tymna provides access to black and white, and has the potential to draw us cards both before and after Lich comes down. It’s not quite as splashy as something like Breya, but I have a feeling that this card draw is going to come in handy. Adding blue to this identity means we have to choose between the following UX partners:
We’re not — at any point — making infinite mana, so Thrasios is out. Ludevic, Kraum, and Ishai are out by virtue of the fact that they have no relevance to what we’re doing, so we’re left with Silas Renn, and Kydele. I know from my Vial Smasher deck that Silas Renn sometimes provides utility as an early-game deathtouch blocker that deters attacks.
Kydele, however, actually alleviates some of the problems that our earlier analysis revealed. Kydele synergizes with our card draw strategy and provides some mana that’s going to let us continue casting spells to draw into more cards. What’s more, access to green means we can run a decent suite of mana dorks to help the deck get off the ground and provide a little fixing.
Kydele and Tymna, you’re our commanders.
Alternate Win Conditions
As we discussed in Part 2 of this series, I love putting in alternate win conditions that aren’t too far off from our primary game plan. Our game plan so far is to cast a bunch of spells and either gain life or draw more cards, so before we get too deep into the weeds I’d like to call out a few role players that are going to help us close out the game:
It’s a relatively short list, but Psychosis Crawler is something we can cast off of Kydele that turns our (hopefully) huge volumes of card draw into damage. Vizkopa Guildmage’s second ability is something we can use to a similar effect, but if we’re able to generate big mana and activate it multiple times, it’s something that will synergize with the life gain we’re going to include to fuel our Lich draws.
Gaining Life to Draw Cards
So far we’ve just been talking about the life gain from Aetherflux Reservoir, but we can design a good chunk of the deck to provide some life gain as well. Not only does this reduce the number of spells we need to cast, it’ll give us some reach to get us to the late game.
I started out with some of my favourite life gain cards:
I actually don’t think we need to go super deep with this type of effect in this deck because of how explosive they all are. Lich specifically causes a ton of life loss, meaning we can cast Lich, lose 30-or-so life, follow it up with Children of Korlis, and draw 30-or-so cards. This goes for Tainted Sigil, as well as Transcendence which we identified earlier.
Our good friend Gary is especially nice because Lich and Nefarious Lich are both black devotion allstars. With one of these in play, we’re draining our 3 opponents for 6 life each, but rather than gaining 18 life we’re drawing 18 cards. As if that wasn’t good enough, if we include Eldritch Evolution in our tutor package as a way to get Lich into play off of Academy Rector, we can also put Gray Merchant directly into play right after it.
Overall I’m not a big fan of the confluence cycle, but after considering Righteous Confluence in this deck I think I’m sold. If we pair it with our stifle effect package, we can exile our own Lich and draw 10 cards for 5 mana, ideally stifling the lose trigger when Lich is exiled. It’s 5 mana but that is a pretty big impact to the game.
While browsing through various lifegain-centric decks, I came across Words of Worship.
On the surface, this card seems insane. It allows us to replace card draw with life gain (which, in turn, will be replaced by card draw). Initially I thought that this would allow me replace Lich draws with life gain, which Lich would then replace with more draws. Something about this didn’t sit quite right with me, so I tossed the idea out to the local judge community to weigh in. Winnipeg L1 judge Steve Lee reminded me of how two Doubling Seasons interact with each other, and off to Comprehensive Rule 614 we went:
For those of you who aren’t familiar, CR 614 is where you’ll find everything to do with Replacement Effects. If you’d like to consume this in a slightly friendlier format, you can also listen to Judgecast Episode #173 (http://judgecast.com/archives/1110) where they have an hour-long discussion about Gather Specimens, or the relevant sections in Yawgatog (https://yawgatog.com/resources/magic-rules/#R614).
The specific rule that governs this interaction is CR 614.5, which states:
614.5. A replacement effect doesn’t invoke itself repeatedly; it gets only one opportunity to affect an event or any modified events that may replace it. Example: A player controls two permanents, each with an ability that reads “If a creature you control would deal damage to a creature or player, it deals double that damage to that creature or player instead.” A creature that normally deals 2 damage will deal 8 damage— not just 4, and not an infinite amount.
This means that Lich is going to create a replacement effect to change some instance of life gain into card draw. Before that happens, we are using an activated ability to replace Lich’s card draw with life gain. Because Lich is already modifying the original event, it won’t continue to replace the resultant life gain with card draw, and the net effect is that I will gain 5 life.
That being said, if the original event is card draw, I can absolutely pay the mana into Words of Worship to replace it with life gain, and Lich will happily replace that life gain with card draw. This means I can pay 1 mana in each of my draw steps to draw 5 cards instead of 1, so the synergy is still strong enough to include.
Fixing and Ramp
I didn’t include sections on fixing for the last two decks because I wasn’t doing anything particularly interesting. For this deck, though, I had to be particularly conscious of life loss. If we’re going to be starved for mana for our explosive end-game, we can’t be taking tons of damage from things like City of Brass or Mana Confluence, no pain lands, and even fetching a shockland might be painful enough to shy away from. This made building a 4C manabase noteworthy in my opinion, so this article might be a little longer than the others.
For this deck I’ve got a heavy white and black skew so I decided that if I’m going to take damage off of mana production, it had better help me cast my white and black spells. I included Godless Shrine and Scrubland as fetch targets and included a large suite of on-colour fetch lands which will mostly be fetching basics. I also included all the filter lands that produce BB.
Rounding out my mana fixing lands is as many filter lands as we can fit. Filters aren’t for every deck, but when you’ve got a high density of colour-intensive spells you need to cast on curve
For utility, I went with a relatively small package because I don’t think I can afford to have many of my lands producing only colourless:
After sampling a few opening draws, I was noticing that the hands were a little on the slow side. This was a relatively easy weakness to shore up because we happen to be in green, so I included a small suite of mana dorks and a couple on-colour signets to ensure that we have access to white, black, and green in the early game.
What we’re left with is this pile of cards:
In terms of gameplay, what we’re looking to do is toss out a bit of ramp in the early game and work on some incidental life gain. When the opportunity arises, we’re looking to either hard cast or cheat out one of our Lich effects and pop one of our explosive life gain cards to draw a good chunk of the library. From there, every spell we cast is going to dig deeper, allowing us to get our hands on one of the multiple options we have to remove lich. From there, we can either cast instant speed spells to actually gain life from Aetherflux Reservoir and start killing people with the “lose the game” trigger on the stack
If we can’t play at instant speed, we’re looking at our stifle suite to save us so we can continue casting spells, gaining life, and fishbowling people to death.
It’s certainly not as sexy as giving Aetherflux Reservoir lifelink, but how often do you get to become a Lich?
What do you think of today’s brew? Is this a decent casual-meta analog for Aetherflux Storm decks? Are you sick of me running through 200 ways to build a deck that draws a ton of cards?
As always, hit me up in the comments!