Editor’s Note – The title is a reference to the song Right to be Wrong by Joss Stone

4 Snapcaster Mage 4 Grim Lavamancer

This is how all of my latest decks for Standard and Legacy have started. Most of them also have a playset of Delver of Secrets, but the full four copies of both Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer have been present in pretty much every single list. Like always, as everyone who is part of a team or just often hangs out with the group of players from his local store knows, I e-mailed and discussed some of these lists with my friends and got a somewhat unexpected, yet quite unanimous reply:

– Why?
– What do you mean?
– Why the hell do you have four copies of two cards that probably have the worst interaction ever? If you’re maxing out on one of them already, then it doesn’t make any sense to have the other…

Why indeed? Isn’t one of the first rules of deckbuilding not to play with cards that interact poorly with each other? Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer eat up the same resource, the graveyard, so it really makes no sense to have them both in the same deck, and having four copies of each just can’t be right…right?

Well, Adam Prosak seems to disagree!

And so does Kyle Zimmermann…

Kyle decided to battle with four copies of Snapcaster Mage and three copies of Grim Lavamancer, despite knowing fully about the fact that they don’t really seem to play nice with each other. What he found out through playtesting (I assume), was that the cards were just too powerful on their own not to be played. In a way, they actually complement one another. In the match-ups where the Lavamancer is at its best (Mono-red, the U/R mirror…), Snapcaster Mage usually has more value as a surprise blocker or as an instant speed threat, that can still flashback a key counter or removal spell. On the other hand, the match-ups in which the 2/1 wizard is a Swiss-army knife (Wolf Run Ramp, Control decks…) are those where Grim Lavamancer’s main purpose is to sneak in some early damage and occasionally kill a Birds of Paradise or Inkmoth Nexus.

Similarly, Adam chose to play with four copies of Snapcaster Mage and the full four copies of Grim Lavamancer, once again due to the fact that their sheer power exceeds their poor interaction. In the Legacy format, an active Grim Lavamancer nearly invalidates a lot of the aggro strategies (like Merfolk, Goblins or Elves), and Snapcaster Mage is just an incredibly powerful tool with all the cheap card drawing and removal spells available. Such a big amount of cheap spells, along with all the fetchlands, Wastelands and Force of Wills also helps to shorten the negative impact of having the Mage and the Lavamancer both feeding off the graveyard.

The case of Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer, however, is not the only one in which power triumphs over interaction. Can you guess where power was favoured here?

Stitched Drake and Moorland Haunt in the same deck looks weird, doesn’t it? Particularly Stitched Drake! Sure, Moorland Haunt probably makes the list of most powerful cards in Standard, but Stitched Drake? Well, the truth is that the seemingly underpowered creature is one of the very few weapons that Illusions has to fight the awful Red Deck Wins match-up. It’s fueled by the cheap and fragile creatures that RDW easily kills, it usually takes at least two burn spells to put it in the graveyard and it flies.

Let’s look at yet another example…what seems wrong with the following list?

You got it? Green Sun’s Zenith + Gaddock Teeg as a one-off Zenith target. The two cards seem to have the worst interaction possible, since once you cast a Zenith for the Teeg, you can never cast it again. However, the legendary Kithkin is such a troublesome card for the control (stopping Force of Will and Jace, the Mind Sculptor from ever being cast) and combo decks (Ad Nauseaum, Turnabout and Time Spiral, Past in Flames, or Aluren) in the format that not being able to cast the Zenith again is a very small price to pay.

Lastly, let’s see what deck was once considered the worst deck ever made in Legacy. There are four cards that seem to interact quite poorly with each other…can you find out which ones?

Tarmogoyf + Tombstalker, Dark Confidant + Tombstalker, Dark Confidant + Force of Will… this deck is a mess… a hot mess! If there’s ever been a deck that ignored interaction for raw power, it’s this deck! Dark Confidant, coupled with Tombstalker, Force of Will and Jace, the Mind Sculptor will sometimes cause the deck to lose to itself, particularly in the more aggressive match-ups, but the cards are so powerful on their own that the number of wins they’ll grant will greatly exceed the number of losses.

The interaction between Tarmogoyf and Tombstalker might look awful at first, since the alternative cost of the Demon will sometimes reduce the power of the Lhurgoyf, but the 5/5 will always be cast in the late game, when the graveyard is usually stocked full of fetchlands, Wastelands, instants and creatures. And let’s not forget, a 5-powered flier for two mana, cast after most removal and counter spells have already been used, is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

In conclusion, let’s not allow our preconceived notions to stifle our deckbuilding and keep in mind that every rule has an exception. Even though they seem not to mix well, sometimes it’s right to play Snapcaster Mage alongside Grim Lavamancer, or Tarmogoyf in a deck that already has Tombstalker. All it takes is a basic understanding of the format, a willingness to look past the obvious interaction and most importantly, being able to play around your own cards.

Thanks for reading,

André Mateus.