Puresteel Sunrise

Magic is hard.

That’s what I’ve learned after a year of taking the game more seriously. Metagames are complicated, Snapcaster Mage, Ponder, and Birthing Pod are all very difficult cards to play correctly, and decks that are mono-instants are difficult to play against.

Magic can be very frustrating.

Bonfire of the Damned
That’s something I’ve learned over the last few weeks. I’m not usually one to tilt after losing or to be especially invested in any one game. However, Bonfire of the Damned has changed all of that for me. At the last three Friday Night Magics, the only games I’ve lost have been to miracle Bonfires. I’ve been losing a lot, and it’s been getting to me. Now that the game feels swingier and I’m spending more time frustrated than excited, I’ve been thinking that it might be time to take a break.

Magic is awesome.

We all started playing the game for different reasons. Sometime in the last year, I lost track of the reasons I play. At some point, I stopped looking to attack from new angles, and I started focusing too much on taking known quantities and tweaking them. I play the game because sometimes you build sweet decks that just smash metagames. I wanted to take a chance to talk about the deck that has me excited to play Magic again.

Rough around the Edges

Puresteel Paladin
I probably wasn’t the only one to think that Puresteel Paladin was going to be the best deck after Zendikar rotated. You use Mox Opal to power out early Sword of Feast and Famine hits or you can just kill an opponent with Sword of War and Peace; you even have Trinket Mage to find Sylvok Lifestaff or to play Squadron Hawk by fetching Flayer Husk.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. But there’s still time, and we have some sweet new tools from Magic 2013 to make it happen, right? The format is defined by green-based Bonfire of the Damned decks, so as long as we can get our Puresteel Paladin out of Bonfire range, we should be able to generate enough value from it, right?

That seems like a fine place to start, but I’d rather just combo my opponents out.

That’s right. Combo. What’s it look like? Let’s just say I’m playing more Kite Shields than I ever thought I would in a Limited deck, much less Constructed.

So, what exactly does this do? It looks like a terrible pile of cards, and it sort of is. Still, it does something very powerful, and there’s a lot of potential here.

The Plan

Let’s start with the easy part. You can’t win without Puresteel Paladin. You need multiple Paladins in play to get much of anywhere, which is why you have Phantasmal Image and Riddlesmith in addition. Once you have some number of Paladins, you cast a Kite Shield and maybe two to three more if you draw into them. You can suit up your Paladins to play around Bonfire.

At some point, you can casually sacrifice all of your Equipment to Piston Sledge, including the Sledge, and then rebuy them all with Faith's Reward to draw ten or more cards. Maybe you find more Shields; maybe more Faith's Reward and Puresteel Paladins. No matter how you do it, it becomes pretty easy to draw your deck.

Let’s take a second here to notice that both Puresteel Paladin and Riddlesmith are “may” triggers. That means you can draw exactly your entire deck before you cast your Laboratory Maniac. Then, you can cast the last Accorder's Shield in your deck and win the game or cast Visions of Beyond in response to a removal spell.

The Mana

The trickiest part of this deck is that you have to find a way to generate enough mana to keep casting Faith's Reward on your combo turn. We try to do that with a combination of Ghost Quarter, Mox Opal, and Gilded Lotus.

The artifacts at least are pretty straightforward. They’re just another thing that you sacrifice to Piston Sledge that generate free mana when you rebuy all of your permanents. Ghost Quarter, on the other hand, is a little more counterintuitive. You want to be Ghost Quartering your own lands, both to thin your deck and to generate mana.

Sword of Feast and Famine
In fact, in matchups in which you’re worried about Mana Leak, you can use Ghost Quarter with Faith's Reward as an instant speed Rampant Growth just to help pull yourself out of Mana Leak range.

The issue is that you need so many pieces just to generate 2 or 3 mana after your Faith's Reward. It’s not terribly difficult to find them once you draw between ten and twenty cards, but you can still whiff. Some people have been trying crazy things like Priest of Urabrask to go with Mortarpod to generate mana, but that seems a little excessive.

Instead, I added Sword of Feast and Famine and Sylvok Lifestaff, which both do similar things for the deck. Sword of Feast and Famine will be free to equip on your combo turn, so it’s pretty easy to untap your lands with it, which has made a ton of difference.

Sylvok Lifestaff, on the other hand, is there to interact with Mortarpod. Remember that you can equip for free, so you can sacrifice your Germs and Puresteel Paladins to deal damage and gain life before you sacrifice your Equipment and cast Faith's Reward. This can buy you an extra turn against aggressive decks, which means you can go off over two or three turns instead of being constricted on mana.

So . . . Now What?

I’m not really sure. That’s part of why I’m writing this! I want to see what other people can do with this kind of shell. It’s powerful, but fragile—soft to Vapor Snag and counterspells. I can’t tell if I want to have counterspells of my own in the sideboard or just transform into a more aggressive deck. I don’t know if four Faith's Reward is too many or if the deck needs more artifact mana and Phyrexian Metamorph.

Here are the two sideboard plans that I’m considering right now:

Day of Judgment
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Mental Misstep
2 Negate
1 Divine Offering
2 Celestial Purge
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Day of Judgment
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Sun Titan

This plan lets you use Puresteel Paladin and company to stall the ground while you set up for Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image shenanigans later on in the game. Day of Judgment is becoming better and better in these kinds of matchups now that people are moving away from Strangleroot Geist for Elvish Visionary and Frost Titan in their Pod decks.

It’s possible that Timely Reinforcements needs a slot or that the Mental Missteps and Negates just aren’t going to play out the way I want them to, but this is where I think I’m going to start for the sideboard.

The other plan I was considering is just to transform into a grindy beatdown deck. Something like this:

1 Divine Offering
2 Celestial Purge
1 Batterskull
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Cavern of Souls
3 Trinket Mage
3 Flayer Husk
1 Mental Misstep
1 Sylvok Lifestaff

Piston Sledge
You can just board out most of your Shields and combo pieces for random dudes and Equipment. You can still rebuy living weapon with Faith's Reward and Piston Sledge, but it’s really hard to say if that plan is good enough without playing tons and tons of games.

It’s also worth considering that you can just cast a few Shields to fill your hand, then cast a Sword of War and Peace and suit up for free. If you get a hit in with 12 or more cards in your hand, that’s a pretty huge swing, and it should give you the time you need to push through a win.

There’s been some buzz about this deck on Twitter ever since @Norbert88 first told me about Faith's Reward decks, and I think I’ve done just about all I can with it. I’ve taken this to two FNMs now, and I’ve done well in both (X−1 to split Top 4 and X−0), and the matchups are about what you can expect. You win plenty of Game 1s just because people have no idea what you’re doing. You’re soft to decks with spot removal, especially those that can back it with a clock. Zombies and control decks are miserable for that reason. Green decks are all but a bye—they can’t kill your Paladins, and the Shields buy you infinite time against their random creatures.

Let me be clear: This deck is not going to break the format, but it has a ton of potential. It’s a sweet angle to attack from that most people aren’t expecting. The problem is that you’re incredibly reliant on a single card for your deck to actually do anything at all. We need a sideboard or backup plan against the decks that can interact profitably. The deck needs to be refined. There are pieces missing, and I don’t know what they are anymore.

Here’s to hoping that someone else can break it!

Carlos Gutierrez
@cag5383 on Twitter