60-Card Battle of Wits

As are many Magic players, I’m a big fan of the Izzet. But the League is only third on my list of favorite guilds, so when the guild t-shirts were available for sale about a month ago, I picked up my top two choices and left the blue shirt with the red dragon logo out of my shopping cart. However, U/R tends to be my favorite color combination for competitive Constructed play.

A couple years ago, I had a good string of making Top 8 at Friday Night Magic with a deck from Mike Flores that looked quite a bit like the one below. And when I played a local Modern event a few months back, it was with Pyromancer Storm combo. Not only are both these decks U/R, but they’re both based on Pyromancer Ascension. Today, we’ll look at a little sillier of an application for the Zendikar pyromancer’s ultimate quest.

The Baseline

Pyromancer Ascension
Pyromancer Ascension doesn’t do much on its own. You have to build your deck at least conscious of its presence in your deck. Most notably, you’ll need more than singletons of instant and sorcery cards. At the bare minimum, I suppose you could get away with four copies of a single instant or sorcery in your deck. Imagine a deck of twenty-five lands, twenty-seven creatures, four Pyromancer Ascension, and four Cruel Ultimatum. The first Cruel Ultimatum would just be cast and go to your graveyard, the second would put 1 counter on any Pyromancer Ascensions lying around, the third Ultimatum would put a second counter, and the fourth would be doubled. And while Cruel Ultimatum is a nice spell to double, this hypothetical decklist isn’t really a good showcase for the power of the Ascension.

High-level Magic play has produced a suite of cards that can surround the Zendikar rare to swiftly generate victory, both back when it was in Standard and in the current Modern metagame. Cheap draw spells, ritual effects, and some form of win condition—burn spells, storm spells, or both . . . or perhaps Archive Trap—come together for the win.

But we want to play casually, and winning is not ultimate victory. If we win, we want it to be awesome . . . or at least interesting. Hmm. I’m starting to sound like the Izzet League.

Modern Pyromancer decks are fast. They have to be; the whole format is fast. We want to fill our deck with good cards so the Pyromancer Ascension has a chance to do its thing, so our deck will look a lot like those Modern decks. However, we want to slow ourselves down as well. (If you end up playing multiplayer, twenty or so Goblins from an Empty the Warrens might not even hold up against multiple opponents.) And while we don’t want to end up with a deck like my Cruel Ultimatum example, we can add some good cards that will also slow the deck down—while perhaps making it more resilient in longer games. How about Isochron Scepter?

With some cards that support our Ascension and some that generate more value over a longer game—rather than going straight for the kill—our unfinished deck looks like this:

Making It Memorable

We have room for four more cards. Let’s make them good.

The above list can already win games, though it could be a bit tricky. We can draw a ton of cards (perhaps too many) by casting Radiate on the Ice half of Fire // Ice. Lightning Bolt with a couple Pyromancer Ascensions active can deal a lot of damage, and with multiple copies of the 3-damage instant in our graveyard, Mystic Retrieval (especially with Ascension) can do a lot of work toward rebuying them and letting us cast them again. The new Izzet guildmaster’s spell Firemind's Foresight can help us pull everything together.

However, we have higher hopes than dealing a bunch of damage. Let’s try something a bit more . . . experimental. (No, not Epic Experiment again this week, though that could certainly be something interesting to try in a deck like this!)

1 Reiterate and 1 Heat Shimmer

First, let’s take a look at Reiterate. It’s a Fork with buyback. (Fine, it’s a Reverberate with buyback.) Buyback is good. In a multiplayer setting, you might sit back with your mana and just wait for a juicy target. You could duplicate an opponent’s Opportunity and make it your own or perhaps copy a lethal Death Grasp that was pointed at you and steal a win. With Pyromancer Ascension, those are just plain doubled.

However, consider Seething Song. With an active Ascension, try this:

You now have access to infinite red mana . . . and therefore infinite Forks. Any spell you can cast with your red mana, you can copy any number of times. And if you have leftover blue mana, go ahead and cast that and copy it any number of times as well. As long as you keep casting instants, put them on the stack on top of each other, and never let any of the original copies resolve, thus leaving you access to all of those spells for the rest of the step (which should be plenty of time to win the game should you so choose).

Have you ever cast Radiate on a Heat Shimmer? It’s like an Insurrection except that your opponents get to keep their copies of their creatures and can therefore block. So, why not play Threaten and Radiate that instead? Well, if you Heat Shimmer with infinite Reiterate buyback, you can make any number of copies of any creatures your opponents have on the battlefield, and if you’re like I am, that sounds like a lot of fun.

1 Research // Development and 1 Reweave

If you have an opponent who won’t let you take cards from outside the game that didn’t start in your fifteen-card casual sideboard (preposterous!) because “those are the tournament rules,” he’s a sourface jerk, and go ahead and just kill him with Lightning Bolts. Or you could point out that you’re not in a Constructed tournament and those rules don’t apply to you. On the other hand, if you are playing this deck in a Legacy tournament, those rules do apply to you, and you might have made the incorrect deck choice.

Now comes the fun part. We now know we can resolve any spell we want any number of times. What effect would we most like to replicate? Damage spells create an easy victory. Mill spells create an easy victory. Heat Shimmer, above, creates a very exciting, but ultimately easy victory. Instead, let’s cast Research of Research // Development fame.

This strange and unique half of a card will let us shuffle four cards from outside the game into our library. Now, perhaps at some point in the game, you will have decided to cast this spell for its Development half. That could be quite useful at times. On the other hand, you may have even chosen to cast Research to shuffle a few necessary cards into your library, perhaps to find them with Firemind's Foresight. However, let’s instead assume that you have Seething Song on the stack, Reiterate in your hand, and a whole bunch of {R} in your mana pool. Use an Island and a Transguild Promenade to generate the needed {G}{U}, cast Research, and copy it any number of times, adding a ton of cards to your library.

What good does a massive library do you? Well, Battle of Wits of course! (If you read the article title, you may have seen that one coming.)

Battle of Wits
While going infinite with Reiterate, it shouldn’t be difficult to draw most or all of your library using Accumulated Knowledge and/or Ice (of Fire // Ice). With little to no library remaining, use the first Research that resolves to shuffle in a Battle of Wits, and cast Reweave to sacrifice a Pyromancer Ascension and put the famous Odyssey win-condition enchantment onto the battlefield. Resolve a hundred or so more copies of Research, and win during your next upkeep!

Note that many of the above spells are instants, making it possible pull off the combo during an opponent’s end step before untapping and winning the game. You could also Research for a Twiddle, draw it, then cast it targeting your Transguild Promenade, using all your {R} to repeatedly Reiterate it, generating any amount of mana in any combination of colors. Shuffle in all the cards you have lying around, draw them all, then cast them all. Even as you’re putting all the cards you own onto the battlefield, your opponents will be picking up theirs.

And that’s how you win with a sixty-card Battle of Wits deck that doesn’t contain Battle of Wits. The end.



Below is the deck with the final four cards and the sideboard added, including Battle of Wits. Until next time, I’m Andrew saying, “I don’t recommend actually shuffling your Commander decks together as you add them to your library—just stack them up.”

Andrew Wilson
fissionessence at hotmail dot com