It’s shocking. With fetches and shocklands everywhere, your well-heeled opponents are often at 14-15 life by the time they’ve established a board position – and that’s if you haven’t already hit them with an attack or two. Mind you, they don’t care – because their game plan is to go off the next turn with an auto-kill, or otherwise lock you down and make it impossible to push through the final 8-10 points of damage.
But if you can somehow postpone their combo-licious game plan and take advantage of the shockland hit… well folks, that’s what we budget brewers call a window of opportunity.
Cipher Tricks is a deck that aims to use Hidden Strings on evasive hexproof critters to tap your opponent’s land for extra damage. In many match-ups, turning your opponent’s best dual or Urza land into a lowly Swamp will slow them down the crucial one or two turns you need to become the big spoon to their little spoon. Even if you don’t find Hidden Strings, they will still likely need to tap their lands and ping themselves with damage. Untapping your own lands with Hidden Strings allows mana to be used twice in one turn – so say hello to my little fren’ Mana Leak.
All this extra card playing does burn through your hand fast, however. So Curiosity is used to counteract the overall card disadvantage of the strategy. (Initially, a whopping three cards must be in play to do 3-4 damage per turn. While this can escalate with more enchantments on more lands, it’s not very efficient).
On the defensive side, you can tap to kill creatures with Royal Assassin or Agent of the Fates. For decks able to counteract land enchantments (karoo lands, for example), the sideboard has some additional creatures and removal. You’ll need to draw into removal pronto to have any hope against very fast decks (Infect, Affinity).
1 Bojuka Bog
2 Dimir Aqueduct
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Exotic Orchard
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Nightveil Specter
2 Royal Assassin
2 Agent of the Fates
4 Hidden Strings
4 Mana Leak
4 Contaminated Ground
4 Pooling Venom
2 Echoing Decay
2 Agent of the Fates
1 Royal Assassin
2 Murderous Cut
1 Nihil Spellbomb
T1 – Play a land, pass the turn.
T2 – Play either Invisible Stalker or Contaminated Ground.
T3 – Play a critter if you haven’t already. Play Hidden Strings, tapping your opponent’s land for damage and untapping your land for Mana Leak or Dispel. If Hidden Strings isn’t around, play Cloudform and hope you draw into your cipher spell soon – because a 1/1 Stalker and a 2/2 Cloudform critter do not make for a very impressive attack all by their lonesome.
T4 – Play more land enchantments and/or creatures. Play your Nightveil Specter here but be aware this guy is just there to soak up a Lightning Bolt and keep it off your face. While a specter can win you the game if left unblocked for several turns, that won’t happen very often.
T5 – Continue to play land enchantments and tap them with Hidden Strings. Untap a karoo land the turn you play it and use your defensive cards to keep your opponent from crushing you. There are several tricks with Hidden Strings to be aware of, so let’s look at that now:
A short Hidden Strings user guideline
In descending order of importance, Hidden Strings is used to: 1) Tap your opponent’s land to do damage, 2) Tap your opponent’s critters so you can attack over them or kill them with Royal Assassin, 3) Untap your lands for counter or removal mana, 4) Untap your creatures for a pseudo-vigilance effect (key point: you can target Royal Assassin or Agent of the Fates to kill more than one creature per turn).
How to kill three creatures in one turn
It’s fun and anyone can do it: 1) Tap Royal Assassin to kill a tapped critter, 2) Cast Hidden Strings and tap another critter while untapping your assassin. Tap the assassin to kill the second creature, 3) Cipher Hidden Strings and attack with your unblockable creature, the cipher goes off and you can tap/untap to kill a third creature.
Now, hold on, I know you’re thinking ‘or instead of the shenigans you could play one card called Damnation….’ Yes, but this keeps your board position intact to constrict him to death with land enchantments on following turns. Options to sweep only your opponent’s creatures and keep all of yours alive are mana-intensive, so the Royal Assassin trick does have a place in many match-ups. It won’t be enough to deal with a huge token army, however.
Regardless, the key for this deck is messing with your opponent’s lands. If you can completely Swampify a non-black color from a three-color deck, for example, you may be able to pull off the upset win. Expect some rage quits with this one!