Part Two, Who Wants a Loxodon Hierarch?

In Part Two, we continue our thoughts on Captured Sunlight with more detailed discussions on longtime favorite Loxodon Hierarch!

First of all, great discussion from everyone. My favorite comment has to be from hudnall56:

Captured Sunlight into Kitchen Finks is the most mid-rangey thing I’ve heard of for a long, long time.

Which battles that of KZipple in a seething firestorm of violent controversy:

That isn’t nearly as midrangy as Foolkillers.

(If by “seething firestorm” we mean “soothing balm” given the subject matter).

So before we get into the specifics of what the most ridiculous thing that we can do with a Captured Sunlight is, I would just like to address the most mid-rangey thing hudnall56 could imagine:

So… four mana, six (really eight) life, and a 3/2 body… followed by a 2/1 body.

How does this compare to four mana for four life and a single 4/4 body?

This, my friends, sounds notoriously like a question of How Card Advantage Works.

Loxodon Hierarch and Card Advantage

On its face Loxodon Hierarch doesn’t generate any card advantage. Now if we move from on-its-face traditional counting to the more accurate world of interactive Magic, Loxodon sometimes generates card advantage. For example against a Black deck it isn’t going to generate any card advantage drawing a Terror, but against a Red Deck it can pickpocket an extra card when someone has to spend, say, a Tarfire and a Seal of Fire.

… Or is it just one more card?

The reason Red Decks hate Hierarchs is that they are fundamentally card advantage against Red Decks. Life gain is not advantageous in general, but against a Red Deck that has scads of different cards that do nothing but nug the brains for two… Life gain atually looks like card advantage; on top of any actual exchanges that take place on the board, a Loxodon Hierarch will undo a Red Deck’s next two Shocks.

Loxodon Hierarch… The Best Card or Constructed Unplayable?

At the time of the last Pro Tour Honolulu, chatter around the top of the game was that Loxodon Hierarch was the best card in Standard. A quick glance at the actual Top 8 decks from that tournament reveals… not a single Hierarch!

For the next Constructed Pro Tour that year, Charleston (the often discussed team Pro Tour), we approached the format with the notion that Loxodon Hierarch was the best card in the format. It was a warping card from our deck design perspective, more influential than any other single card in our crafting of our three individual decks. Interestingly, while almost every team played four Hierarchs… the winning team didn’t. Just sayin’.

Now recently Luis Scott-Vargas — a player who has recently transformed himself from a The Rock / Solar Flare kind of guy into a Pro Tour winner with Elves, then followed up with standout performances on the backs of decks like Swans and Storm, recently posted something I found quite controversial and thought provoking on his new site

I used to be a fan of Loxodon Hierarch type decks myself, and guess what? I didn’t win at the Pro Tour level. Midrange decks designed to pummel aggro may work during the Swiss at a PTQ, but you will usually meet your demise during the Top 8 to someone playing a real control deck. I learned my lesson the hard way, playing these sorts of midrange decks as recently as PT Hollywood in 2008. My Loxodon Warhammer plus Chameleon Colossus deck did well enough until I played against a bunch of Reveillark decks, which completely annihilated me. Turns out that a control deck with Cryptic Command and Reveillark is better than a control deck with Cloudthresher and Primal Command. I understand why people are drawn to decks like this, but all I can offer is my advice to put down the Finks and pick up Vendilion Cliques while there is still time.

As you can see, Luis writes almost like a religious convert!

The title of the piece?

Decks That Can’t Win Tournaments

Which poses the question… Do we even (ever?) want a Loxodon Hierarch?

My old Two-Headed Giant teammate Steve Sadin likes to talk about the time that he beat me in an Extended PTQ. Any kind of Magic friendships typically ultimately come down to bragging rights, but this was a special case (it’s not like he is still bragging about beating me in the finals of a mock tournament, Loam v. Haterator)… In the future PTQ he beat me Boros v. Haterator, in a matchup where I drew Loxodon Hierarch. The fact is, Steve won the flip, had the tempo, burned the right Birds, and minimized the awfulness of Loxodon Hierarch when it showed up. As a former Boros player myself, I can recall dozens of games where I just got by the Hierarchs with Manriki-Gusari, Boros Garrison, and Eight-And-A-Half-Tails… And that was Standard.

The point of Luis’s piece on ChannelFireball seems to be that we shouldn’t want to want Loxodon Hierarchs… Which is a different question than we are trying to answer when we talk about Captured Sunlight.

Because ultimately I think we can all agree that a Captured Sunlight into a Wooly Thoctar in Standard is probably pretty good (and generally better than a “real” Loxodon Hierarch). So what are some of the other scenarios we can project?

  • Kitchen Finks – I have never done this yet. But according to hudnall56, this is quite mid-rangey
  • Civic Wayfinder – This offers a fair amount of card advantage; I would not typically want to play an Exploding Borders… This effect is pretty similar (and probably generally better as you get a body out of it, and all things considered, gaining four life with no effect on the board is probably better than dealing four damage with no effect on the board). But like I said, I wouldn’t typically consider playing Exploding Borders.
  • Rampant Growth – Kind of miserable, actually. Worse in almost every way than the previous.
  • Lash Out – (and substitute any Terminates, Nameless Inversions, and so on that you like)… Could be pretty good depending on the board. If you have the only guy this is kind of miserable.

Most of the time this card seems underwhelming given its flip capability (I wouldn’t make the same statement talking about Bloodbraid Elf, which will often be flipping cards like Hell’s Thunder, Boggart Ram-Gang, and the like in an offensive haste deck. On balance, I have Captured Sunlight in a deck like this:

Four-color Cascade Ramp

4 Bituminous Blast
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Broodmate Dragon
4 Captured Sunlight
4 Enlisted Wurm
4 Kitchen Finks

4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Rampant Growth

4 Lash Out

3 Exotic Orchard
5 Forest
4 Jungle Shrine
2 Mountain
1 Plains
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Savage Lands
1 Swamp

4 Anathemancer
4 Cloudthresher
3 Path to Exile
4 Volcanic Fallout

Testing is super preliminary at this point, but the deck follows many of the same principles as previous Jund Ramp decks. Against Reflecting Pool control you have to rely on the extreme amount of card advantage to keep pace, then side in Anathemancer as a tremendous threat.

Faeries is a deck that seems like it has to be solved with the sideboard; those Volcanic Blowouts are also there for Boat Brew, B/W Tokens, and other decks that employ Spectral Procession.

… Which all together is a big chunk of the metagame.

That said, this deck can play pretty powerfully, the Standard Storm, kind of. I wasn’t initially a fan of Enlisted Wurm, but in this deck it can play like Mind’s Desire. The bonus on this card has been about 2.5 for me so far… You know, Enlisted Wurm flipping Bituminous Blast flipping Civic Wayfinder.

Just a jumping-off point, to be sure, but I think Loxodon Hierarch would be proud.


facebook comments:


#1 KZipple on 05.02.09 at 1:04 pm

I mean, it isn’t like the tournament where he put down the 4/4’s was won by some midrange green deck or anything.
Re: What LSV said
I think it is fundamentally erroneous to say that Strategy X is innately better than Strategy Y. I think the trap that some people (Mike, old school LSV, myself sometimes) is that we get comfortable with midrange decks and so our testing is skewed by that. If we were better, we would have a more accurate understanding of what the best deck is, whether it has Vendilion Cliques or Loxodon Hierarchs (or Martyr of Sands!).
Re: Cascade Ramp
I think this is what happens when you make Null Rod’s flavor text into a card…except Gerrard is right this time. But OH MAN is Enlisted Wurm exciting. It’s always fantastic in Limited…why not 60 cards? As per my last comment, I’m definitely bombing out of Regionals this year. Thanks Mike. Maybe it needs like 2x Fallout main?

#2 Five With Flores » Just in Time: Obstinate Baloth on 06.28.10 at 9:42 pm

[…] Baloth ∙ Loxodon Hierarch ∙ Ravenous Baloth Wilt-Leaf Liege ∙ Dodecapod ∙ … and Obstinate […]

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