If you’ve missed part 1, part 2, or part 3 of this series you should definitely check them out before reading this one. If you don’t, it won’t be immediately evident why we’ll be using Gaea’s Cradle to pull off objectively modest things today.
Gaea’s Cradle sees a lot of play at the top end of the format because it’s a pretty objectively powerful card. Green already has access to mana dorks like Llanowar Elves and Fyndhorn Elves, which are some of the most reliable, explosive early game ramp pieces that exist in the game. In Part 1 of this series, we got some decent mileage out of Gaea’s Cradle because we ran a suite of 13 0-drop creatures. Casting these for free in an opening hand with a Gaea’s Cradle (or Crop Rotation to find it) means that we can pump out big mana way ahead of curve.
What do Competitive Decks do?
Competitive decks use Gaea’s Cradle for a number of reasons. In stax decks that run Winter Orb and a decent number of creatures, Cradle can be a great way to break parity because the one land you’re allowed to untap per turn produces more mana than the one land that everyone else untaps on their turn.
In other decks, you might see effects that untap Gaea’s Cradle (and the Cradle-like mana dorks like Priest of Titania and Karametra’s Acolyte) to make large amounts of mana on explosive turns.
Today I’d like to focus on Gaea’s Cradle in the context of a deck that likes to untap permanents for explosive turns. This build is going to be a little less organic than the rest because I’m pretty sure Derevi, Empyrial Tactician is the correct commander. Let’s turn things upside-down and build from the top-down, assuming that we’re working with a bant identity and figuring out what kind of things we can untap that might make for an interesting deck.
When I first started thinking about what I might like to untap, my mind went straight to artifacts. Artifacts are my favourite type of card in the game, and in any given pile of artifacts there’s usually something worth tapping more than once. Going heavy on an artifact theme would allow me to go big with something like Lux Cannon, or small by untapping mana rocks.
Dorks and Rocks and Dorks and Rocks
Adding to the two blue artifact-specific dorks above, we can include a small package of mana dorks and rocks to help accelerate into Derevi and produce mana after she hits the battlefield:
With a deck like this we’re definitely going to get more mileage than usual out of Coalition Relic and Mana Vault. Even though many of these things are worse than Sol Ring and Mana Crypt, I haven’t really found the need to include them in any of the decks in this series.
Mana During Combat
This is one of the tough parts about building around Derevi. We can run all the awesome or obscure mana dorks in the game, but Derevi untaps things during combat. This means we have to work a little bit to spend the mana on artifacts, so we end up with our first package of the game:
Mana Storage and Sinks
If we’re going heavy in an artifact theme, Shimmer Myr and Vedalken Orrery allows us to cast our artifacts during combat before the mana drains at the end of the combat damage step. Gemstone Array and Kruphix act as mana batteries.
Wait, What Are We Doing?
We’ve settled on a Commander, 15-card mana suite, a 4-card storage suite, and decided on untapping Gaea’s Cradle as being central to the theme. We don’t even know what the full theme is going to be yet! I structured this article this way because it’s actually how I went about brewing this deck, and as you can tell from the other articles in this series, it’s pretty unusual for me to start working on a deck without actually deciding on what I want to accomplish. I’m going to be 100% honest with you here – I didn’t really know where this deck was going until I pulled up a list of all the artifacts with a tap cost.
I found some things that I knew were going to show up in the search like Candelabra of Tawnos and a whole lot of mana rocks, but it wasn’t until the middle of the second page that I got really excited. Codex Shredder set the wheels in motion, and I set out to see if we could support mill as a primary win condition in this deck. Mill’s not typically very good, but none of the decks I’ve built so far in this series run a serious graveyard theme so it might actually play in the meta I’m creating.
I went back and structured a search for artifacts that included the terms “card”, “library”, and “graveyard”, and found a couple gems that I think fit perfectly into our game plan.
Artifact Mill Suite
Mesmeric Orb, Mindcrank, Pyxis of Pandemonium, and Trepanation Blade didn’t show up in my search, but I’ve built and played against mill-style decks in the past and these ones usually make the cut. Now we’re up to 30 cards and we finally have a mission statement for the deck!
This is a casual deck built around untap effects to maximize the effectiveness of Gaea’s Cradle, mana rocks, and mana sinks. We’re looking to retain the feeling of winning the game producing absurd amounts of mana and getting multiple uses out of permanents that tap to provide an effect. We’ll be taking advantage of the interaction between our commander, Derevi, and a suite of permanents that burn through people’s libraries.
Creature Mill Suite
If we’re really going to take advantage of Derevi’s untap ability as well as maximizing production from Gaea’s Cradle, we actually have to be attacking with creatures. This mean we can’t totally pack the deck with artifacts – we have to leave a little room for creatures. For this suite of creatures, I tried to see if I could reinforce the main theme of mill.
I’m actually really happy that Ambassador Laquatus showed up in my searches, because I’d never seen the card before and I wasn’t totally comfortable with the number of mana sinks I came up with in my first pass at this deck. Having a big mana sink on the field means we’re not wasting any mana during combat, and he does exactly what we want him to do.
Drawing isn’t really milling, but if we can get a few untaps in with Jace’s Archivist it’s close enough to the same thing that it doesn’t matter. I also included Kozilek in this list because a lot of our mill is symmetrical, and being able to shuffle our graveyard back into the library means we’re in a much better position relative to the rest of the field.
With only about 20 slots left, I have to shore up what I expect to be this deck’s weaknesses by providing some general utility
This cast of supporting players can really be split into three main categories:
1) Additional draw/mill
2) Additional untaps
3) Graveyard hate
The choices aren’t particularly spicy, I don’t think. Seedborn Muse and Unwinding Clock really kick the mill plan into overdrive with even a modest board, and Synod Artificer essentially multiplies Derevi’s untap effect by the number of blue mana we have available.
I’m actually really happy to be able to play Winds of Rebuke in this deck, because I think the card is quite good. In more competitive metas, you see it played to mess with topdeck tutors like Vampiric Tutor, and having the ability to bounce permanents can get you out of more jams than a lot of people realize.
If I wanted to adjust the power of this deck, I’d likely replace the additional mill effects with one-sided draw effects like Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Edric, Spymaster of Trest. I thought about doing that with this deck but I’m trying my best to avoid building a third deck for this meta that wins by drawing most of its deck and playing a storm-like winning turn. I might also include more ways to reliably tutor up Gaea’s Cradle, like Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying.
The Finished List
What we’re left with is a primarily-blue deck that aims to ramp a little at the beginning of the game, but nearly every piece has been selected to either chew cards off the top of people’s libraries, or enable multiple activations of the pieces that do. Finishers like Forced Fruition, Fleet Swallower, and Keening Stone top the curve and have the potential to take the place of things like Phenax, Mind Grind, and Glimpse the Unthinkable that you might see in traditional U/B or U/B/X mill decks.
During gameplay, I think it’s going to be very important to focus on attacking whoever is open, but directing all of the mill towards one player at a time until they’re dead. Doing this reduces the chances that the most threatening player at the table is able to close out the game before we get our engines going. I think this deck is surprisingly well-positioned in the small meta that I created, because it reduces the number of lands (and cards) available to Ad Nauseam Landstorm, reduces the critical mass of 0-drop creatures that Hulkmorph can grab off of a Hulk trigger, and doesn’t try to outpace 4C Aetherlich on damage vs. life gain.
With that, we’re finally at the end of this 4-week gong show. What we’re left with is four decks that are roughly tuned to play against each other. They’re functional decks that are built around extremely powerful cards used in unusual applications, and I can tell you first-hand that they’re a blast to play. When I started this series I’d intended it to be a thought experiment, but my (primarily competitive) playgroup has really taken a liking to the first two that I actually assembled in paper. We’ve been playing them in our casual games and I think they’re playing a big part in reigniting the casual/creative deckbuilding spark in my local meta.
I’ve officially added Ad Nauseam Landstorm and Riku Hulkmorph to my arsenal of decks, and as soon as I can get my hands on an unlimited Lich, the 4C Aetherlich deck I built last week is going to join them in my bag.
For those of you who have been following these articles week-to-week, I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, and I hope that it’s inspired a few of you to look at certain format staples in a way you never have before! If you have any thoughts for multi-deck themes for me to build around in future article series, be sure to hit me up in the comments below. It’s only a matter of time before I catch the brewing bug again.