PokeDecks: Kalain, the Smeargle
Sketch of a Series
Every now and then, a relationship between two creators results in a collaboration that transcends the skills of the individuals. Hanna had Barbera. Lennon had McCartney. Gould has Gilligan. And now, Unsummoned Skull has Foxnoctom.
No, our project isn't Scooby-Doo, the Beatles, or Breaking Bad, but what we've created has taken the internet by storm: the PokeDecks Project.
What is a PokeDeck? A PokeDeck is a collaboration between brewer and alterist that results in a uniquely flavored Commander deck. The commander of the deck is altered with the visage of a Pokemon, and the deck, in turn, represents the moves of that Pokemon. The fusion of these elements takes commanders in distinctly new directions and creates a cohesive experience that both brewer and alterist can be proud of every time the commander hits the table.
As hard as it is to believe retrospectively, there was a time when I had no idea who Fox was. As I scrolled through Twitter, I would see a deluge of amazing art adorning cards that players prized, and I wanted that for myself. I wasn't sure how to go about it, however. I also wasn't sure I wanted to shuffle with altered cards. As a result, I decided to only get alters of commanders, who could go in their special sleeve and only get shuffled if I let them, at which point I could replace them with an unaltered copy.
With a plan in mind, I revisited a post I had bookmarked from Fox that had about 12 recently altered cards available. Being a huge fan of Pokemon, an alter of Kalain, Reclusive Painter as Smeargle caught my eye. But there was a glaring problem to me: other than Kalain being a painter and Smeargle having a brush for a tail, the card and the Pokemon had nothing to do with each other. How could I make this into a deck that felt mine and embraced both the card and the alter?
The first challenge was to figure out what Kalain brings to the table. As an uncommon commander, Kalain is relatively simple. When it enters the battlefield, make a Treasure. When you use Treasures to make creatures, they gain +1/+1 counters for each mana from a Treasure used to cast the creature. This sets up two clear requirements for the deck: make Treasures, and make creatures. As a two-mana commander that makes other creatures bigger, Kalain usually acts as an enabler rather than a centerpiece. But a Foxnoctom alter doesn't take a backseat to ANYONE. So, how do I bring it to the forefront?
To start with, we need Treasure synergies woven into the deck's strategies. Unexpected Windfall is a way to make Treasures while also digging further into the library. Storm-Kiln Artist can be a threat, and it not only grows with instants and sorceries, which suits my spellslinger style perfectly, it synergizes with Professional Face-Breaker, another card that weaves the ramp and draw roles together, while also pushing the aggressive theme. All of these Treasure-themed cards form the core of a deck built around Kalain, and many are aggressive creatures, which works with Kalain's proclivity for beating down. None of this says "Smeargle", though, so how do we integrate the alter?
The next challenge is to figure out how to cross the IP from Pokemon to Magic. Smeargle is a unique Pokemon, in that it only learns one move by level up, but it learns that move every 10 levels. That move is Sketch, which permanently turns into a move used by the opponent. As a result, Smeargle can learn literally ANY move in the game. So how does this translate into Magic?
If the Sketch move copies an opponent's move in Pokemon, it stands to reason that the Magic equivalent would be copying the opponents' game pieces, on the field or on the stack. Fork lets me use an opponent's instant or sorcery spell, regardless of color identity or cost, so it feels like that awesome feeling of Smeargle using an incredibly powerful move. Thespian's Stage may seem odd in a two-color deck without a lot of nonbasics, but what if I don't want to copy my own lands? Smeargle can sketch anything, so a landscape should be well within its purview! And then, we get to Heat Shimmer. While Kalain does make my creatures bigger, most green decks will go bigger than what this deck is capable of, so why not make my own? These kinds of cards are especially exciting to play, because they scale to the power of the table.
The Perfect Fusion
Arguably, the most difficult job is to fuse together the commander and the Pokemon. Sketch is as powerful or weak as what it has experienced, so it's only limited by the base stats and the environment. Kalain makes a Treasure and then grows creatures its owner controls when those Treasures are used to cast them. The pieces we're trying to fit together are using the opponents' game pieces and casting creatures using Treasures. So...how can we translate Smeargle's Sketch move into something that works with Kalain's abilities?
The answer is in the Oracle Ruling of Kalain's second ability: "Other creatures you control enter the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on them for each mana from a treasure spent to cast them." It specifies that I have to CONTROL the creatures, but not that I have to OWN them. That's where the PokeDeck beauty comes in: what if I cast my opponents' creatures?
Casting your opponents' spells is about as close to an analog to Sketch as there can be. Varragoth's Boast ability triggers on attack, which works with the aggressive undercurrents of the deck, and it allows the opponent to search for a card and put it on top of the library. Why is this a good thing? Because Robber of the Rich is another attack trigger, which allows me to cast a spell off the top of an opponent's library if they have more cards in hand than I do. In a Rakdos deck, that's not a difficult state to achieve. After all, Hellbent was their keyword ability in Dissension!
Author of Shadows represents another angle the deck can take: casting spells from graveyards. Since I cast the spells, Kalain can trigger if I used Treasures to do so. Draugr Necromancer is a surprisingly effective way to cast opponents' creatures and is the sole reason for the Snow manabase.
Smeargle, Use Sketch!
Here is the most recent iteration of the deck, with Professor Onyx and Chain of Smog as a two-card win con, so the deck has a way to be proactive at lower-powered tables. Also, this deck has not been changed significantly, despite newer cards for it being printed.
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It is worth noting that this was the first collaboration between Fox and myself, and one of the few where I did not supply an artist direction, so the focus was more on what I did with the alter and less on the collaboration itself.
Which PokeDeck will we cover next time?
Gotta Deck 'em All!