Fringe decks: Aluren

forest 2 banner

I know, it’s another Forest banner. My Google-fu was too weak to find a high-resolution picture of the eponymous card. My apologies. I really like a lot of the Forest arts however, even more so than the other basic lands. It must be the Swedish heritage. 

Despite what some would claim, there is room for brewing in Legacy, even when the format is full of Delvers and Ancestral Recalls. The top 8 of the tournament on Saturday would probably suggest that the Delver strategies are the premiere of the format, and I will do an analysis of those decks once the top 8 is presented online, but for now, I want to talk about the deck my friend played on both Saturday at the large tournament and on Sunday past, described in my post “The woes of tiny metagames“. The deck is centered around a particular green enchantment:

aluren.hq

I’ve posted the deck list online here: Link to TappedOut.net. It is highly recommended that you check out the link, since the deck contains so many obscure cards that you don’t see anywhere else. I will gatherer-link most of the cards that are never seen outside Aluren, but I think seeing it in its entirety would be helpful.

tinker.hq

Originally designed by MaRo to be a “fixed” Transmute Artifact. Hah!

So, what is Aluren? It’s an old combo deck that was first premiered in Extended, back in the days when Standard was called “type 2”, Vintage was called “type 1”, Legacy was known as “type 1.5” and was a tiny, obscure format that not a lot of people played – it was type 1 but all the cards that were restricted in type 1 was banned in type 1.5 – leading to a weird format where you could play Mishra’s Worskshop decks but without the Moxen, and you could play Landstill with Mana Drain. Extended was, back then, generally “not shit” but full of combo decks. At the 2003 PT New Orleans, the entire Swedish crew played a blue-red deck centered around Tinker and Goblin Welder. Tinker was actually legal as a four-of in the format! What’s worse is that it wasn’t really the most broken deck in the format. Oath of Druids was legal. Goblin Recruiter was legal. Hermit Druid was legal. And in this format, I chose to play Psychatog. Call me crazy.

I often faced Aluren online back in the hay-days of Extended, and I considered it a nightmare match-up at first. It took a long time to grasp the combo and actually start beating the deck on a more regular basis – I think the match-up was generally in Psychatog’s favor.

With the death of Extended as a format, first informally, and then formally, when it was officially dropped by Wizards as a sanctioned format, some of the decks just died. Oath of Druids is only legal in Vintage these days, as is Goblin Recruiter, and even there – the decks aren’t very good. Hermit Druid was playable in Vintage for quite some time, but rarely seen these days. Tinker is a staple of the format, but restricted, and Goblin Welder has seen better days. Aluren, while not a pillar in Vintage, can be played in Legacy, as is evident by my friend’s list.

But how does the deck win? Well, the combo is, on paper, quite easy:

1) Play Aluren. This allows both you and your opponent to cast creatures for free and at Instant speed, but there are no decks in Legacy that could abuse this like Aluren, meaning the symmetrical effect that on the surface makes it look like a “fair” card really isn’t symmetrical.

2) Use Imperial Recruiters to find Cavern Harpy and Parasitic Strix.

cavernharpy.hq3) Cast Cavern Harpy, and in response to the enter the battlefield-trigger (these types of triggers that force you to return permanents to your hand are called “gating”), cast Parasitic Strix. Since you have a black permanent in play, you can drain your opponent for two. Return Parasitic Strix with Cavern Harpy’s trigger, pay 1 life and return Cavern Harpy to your hand.

4) Repeat ad infinitum.

Fairly simple and straight-forward, right? Still, since you can almost always pay a life to return Cavern Harpy to your hand (unless it’s on the stack), the combo is extremely difficult to deal with. Should somebody in stage 3 of your plan try to remove Parasitic Strix from the board in some way, just bounce Cavern Harpy and re-cast it again through Aluren, and return Parasitic Strix to your hand. The combo’s inherent obscurity is what makes people play incorrectly against Aluren, and that’s part of the deck’s strengths.

This combo is backed up by Deathrite Shaman for mana-acceleration, Thoughtseize and Cabal Therapy for protection, Brainstorm and Intuition to find said protection or combo pieces, and a slew of value creatures like Shardless Agent. Baleful Strix is a great addition to the deck, not only because it furthers the deck’s similarity to the Harry Potter owlery, but because it protects the Aluren player from early beats, it draws cards, and it can work well with Cavern Harpy.

So, how did my friend do? Not great, unfortunately. He started off strong 4-0 and was the one we rooted for to keep winning while the rest of us was 3-1 and 2-1-1, but then he lost three in a row, while my friend and I both top 8’d. His match-ups:

2-0 Infect
2-0 Lands
2-1 Storm
2-0 UR Delver
1-2 UWR Delver
1-2 UR Delver
0-2 UR Delver

The fact that he beat two other combo decks in round 1 and round 3 respectively shows that my perception of the deck as being “too slow” to compete with other combo decks – but then again, the disruption of having 8 discard spells in the mainboard and 4 Force of Will after sideboard has to have an impact in these match-ups. His round 4, 5, 6, and 7 opponents shows a lot what the top tables looked like – lots of Delver of Secrets, lots of Treasure Cruises. His round 5 opponent was Elof, the same one that I lost against in round 3. My friend blames the result on the last two matches on fatigue, which is easy to see considering the hour of the day they were played in, and the complexity of Aluren as a deck. He did beat UR Delver in round four, and reported having little issues out-racing the deck. UR Delver also “only” play Daze and Force of Will as disruption.

I’m not going to argue for Aluren as a deck in the format, but I think it’s an interesting take on a combo deck in the format. It’s hard to disrupt once it gets going, and the deck has some ways to generate a lot of value from its creatures even before Aluren is cast. The problem is that before Aluren hits the board, the deck is full of derpy Grizzly Bears with some good enters the battlefield-effects, but not much else. Baleful Strix is great for holding the fort, but won’t race a creature any time soon, and anything else in the deck will be outraced by the common beaters in the format.

Play it, if you dare. If you, like my friend, manage to actually win games in a competitive format without making someone’s head explode, then even better!

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