What’s in the Cards?

Get aggro in style with Crystal Slipper, a new card from Magic's ...

Today, we’re going to do some a little bit different. I’m actually slightly ahead of where I want to be with my Work in Progress (Book 3 of the Legacy Trilogy, if you’re interested), so I’ve decided to have a bit of a play.

Over the years, I’ve played a lot of the Magic the Gathering CCG. I mean a lot. 

For those not in the know, this is a ‘VS’ style game, where each player has a customised deck of cards (or library) filled with spells, creatures and all kinds of fantastical ephemera which they take it in turns to beat their opponent over the head with. There are humans, goblins,
dragons, knights, vampires, angels, merfolk, dinosaurs, and a whole host of setting-specific critters to be had.

Each card has its own identity, conveying a snapshot of MTG lore, be it a spell, a famous hero, a location, a powerful heirloom, or whatever. Through combination with other cards and various bits and bobs of tie-in fiction, there’s a whole story to explore (although, as with any corporate endeavour, the quality and ease of access comes and goes as the years pass).

Like most games, you can engage with Magic in a number of ways. There’s a variety game types that work off different play sequences, player counts and rules behind what you can put in your deck. You can play for giggles, or the highest of high tournament play, if that’s your thing. But there’s another facet of Magic that I don’t see discussed that often: narrative.

Unfolding Narrative

Thing is, whenever you play a game of Magic the Gathering, you’re telling a story. Which creatures come out of your deck, and when. The battles they fight in their attempt to vanquish your opponent. The spells that empower them, turn them into a sizzling pile of goo or bring them back from the dead. Every game’s different. Every game’s a new story.

And it got me thinking: what if I can build a deck that kinda, sorta, maybe tells an existing story? Like Legacy of Ash, for example. Can I find cards to represent the characters and events of the book and make a functional not-entirely worthless deck?

Let’s find out.

The Rules

First of all, I’m going to need some ground rules.

There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of MTG cards, and I don’t want to go (more) insane finding the ones I need. That being the case, I’m going to limit myself to what’s known as the Standard (most recent) expansions. This has the added advantage that any cards I want to use are in the MTG:Arena online game, so I don’t need to track down the cardboard.

(The writing of Legacy of Ash also predates all the cards in Standard, for those who were wondering. No influence, direct or otherwise, here.) 

Secondly, I need to think about what makes a card suitable for inclusion. Obviously, there aren’t any cards with the same names as Legacy of Ash’s characters, so the names can be safely ignored. We’re primarily looking at a card’s effect in the game matching what it represents from the book and artwork that can pass muster. What do I mean by pass muster? Human art for human characters, correct gender, etc. Headline stuff like that.

Last of all, I’m deckbuilding almost entirely for theme. It’d be nice if it wasn’t an embarrassing disaster to play, but it’s not vital. Mana curve, efficiency, synergies? These are all nice, but not necessary.

I’m also going to narrow what the deck represents to what can (very, very) broadly be described as the Tressian Army – folk who’re gathering to repel the Hadari invasion. No Hadari. No Crowmarket. That should make it a bit easier.

Where to Start?

With that out of the way, it’s time to get started. That means finding cards to represent the characters. Happily MTG’s Standard block currently includes the Throne of Eldraine and Icoria expansions, which are chock full of knights and humans respectively. So let’s go.

Venerable Knight‘s the first card that grabs my attention. The image of an old warrior passing on what she’s learned, both in artwork and rules effect? Perfect for Revekah Halvor. That locks me into white cards for the deck, but that’s okay. I’m happy to go to two or three colours overall – anything more than that will make games an uphill struggle.

Mustering the Knights

With Venerable Knight‘s effect being to buff another knight upon death, I’m going to need some more knights so I can squeeze a bit of synergy out of the deck.

Adding black mana gives me access to Syr Konrad, the Grim, a brooding fellow who punishes your opponent when creatures die. Looks like I’ve found Viktor Akadra.

Black also gives me access to Kasamor “Smitten Swordmaster // Curry Favor” Kiradin and Rosa “Belle of the Brawl” Orova. Artwork and effects are pretty apt here as well.

Still not enough knights, but poring over the cards available, there aren’t many other candidates to draft in. Eventually, I settle for Syr Alin, the Lion's Claw to represent Izack (perhaps a bit too weighty a card for such a minor character, but Izack’s awesome) and Worthy Knight to represent Calenne Trelan (a bit of a stretch, but the card’s mechanic is delightful). We’ll also have an Inspiring Captain to represent Josiri Trelan.

Everyone Else

The other faction, beyond knightly types, I want to include are the Wolf’s-Heads. Happily, by adding in red mana, Throne of Eldraine provides not only a suitable card for Drakos Crovan (Robber of the Rich) but one that can also represent his followers. Outlaws' Merriment spits out angry outcasts at a pleasing rate. Just the thing you need if you’re facing a shadowthorn invasion!

But that still leaves a few of Legacy of Ash’s ‘big names’ looking for representation. A bit of digging around offers up Fencing Ace to fill in for Vladama Kurkas (we’ll overlook the incorrect number of arms and eyes). Anastacia’s a harder one to place, given her unusual nature, but I finally find an acceptable match in Victory’s Envoy. Folk may not take to Ana right away, but once they do…

To round out the creature side of the deck, I need soldiers. I find them in Battalion Foot Soldier which happily recruits other copies of itself from my library to hold the line. Rampaging Monument, while made out of the wrong material, feels like a good Kraikon substitute, so we’ll have a couple of those. No lions to be found for Simarka, but Twilight Panther fills the niche.

That’s 18 creatures in all (plus 4 copies of Outlaws’ Merriment, which are effectively creatures) and all the major players covered. Time to look at the spells to support them.

Spells

Right away, I know I’m going to be less flavoursome here. I’m going to need to be in order to compensate for the deck’s weaknesses. 

I’m looking for cards to buff my bold heroes/expendable soldiers and to kill my opponents’. None of this fancy card draw or counterspell nonsense.

Unbreakable Formation, Righteousness, Outflank and Integrity // Intervention tell the story of a battle underway.

Dire Tactics Gideon’s Sacrifice show one going badly.

Last of all, Sanctuary Lockdown boosts almost all the creatures in the deck, as well as provides a sneaky bit of attack and defence.

Adds lands for mana to cast the rest of the library, and we’re done!

“Legacy of Ash”

Creatures

2 Twilight Panther
1 Venerable Knight
1 Fencing Ace
1 Robber of the Rich
1 Smitten Swordmaster
1 Worthy Knight
4 Battalion Foot Soldier
1 Belle of the Brawl
1 Inspiring Captain
2 Rampaging Monument
1 Syr Alin, the Lion’s Claw
1 Syr Konrad, the Grim
1 Victory’s Envoy

Spells

1 Gideon’s Sacrifice 
4 Integrity // Intervention
1 Outflank 
1 Righteousness
4 Dire Tactics 
2 Sanctuary Lockdown
1 Unbreakable Formation
4 Outlaws’ Merriment

Land

4 Blood Crypt
4 Godless Shrine
2 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Savai Triome
2 Swamp

So, How Does it Play?

Honestly? Better than I thought it would. The deck synergies are threadbare, and it needs a bit too much mana to function as smoothly as I’d like…

…however, it has pulled out a few wins on MTG:Arena – I suspect through sheer novelty value alone. It’s so horrendously off-meta that I can sometimes almost feel my opponent going crazy, trying to work out if they’re up against a genius or an imbecile (hint: it’s not the former), and what the Dickens I’m going to slap down next.

But then, building a powerful deck was never the point. Within the bounds I’ve set for it, this is a load of fun to play. When Kurkas/Fencing Ace smacks down a much larger creature through a burst of Integrity, or a Kraikon/Rampaging Monument goes on a spree, it feels glorious – part of the story I’ve already written, or a scene that never made it to the page. Exactly what I wanted!

The deck’s never going to put me up the rankings, but I’ll dig it out from time to time.

So, over to you. Have you ever built MTG deck around a completely different story? What do you think of the cards I’ve used to represent Legacy of Ash? Do you have suggestions? Tweaks?

Let me know in the comments below.

 

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