The Videogame Corner: Secret of Mana

Everyone knows bucket lists. That amount of things that you either want to do at some point in your life, or that others urge you to do. Chances of ever doing all the things that are you find in that collection of activities are slim; but sometimes, perhaps due to pure chance, you manage to actually tick one of the boxes. Cue this article’s game: Since I already downloaded the Super Nintendo emulator to give “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” a spin, both playing through it and writing an article about the game afterwards, I saw no reason not to give other games from the Super Nintendo a go. There are quite a few candidates on that console which are well worth playing; but to get a little bit of a nostalgia trip out of the experience, I decided to go with “Secret of Mana”. Just like “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”, I only ever played parts of the game and did not finish it due to not owning the console and therefore not having the option of simply turning the TV on and continuing the journey. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the afternoons at my friend’s house and playing the game with him. For a past me, “Secret of Mana” was a crazy good title with interactive fighting, various impressive monsters, and a magic system that was unlocked by finding mana sprites, the artworks of which I adore to this day. So, to relive those memories of mine, here is my article about “Secret of Mana”.

First off, “Secret of Mana” was not just a game I liked when I first played it; which was years after the initial release. The game sold out in Japan back in 1993, and while the franchise was pretty much unknown at the time it arrived in the US, “Secret of Mana” also managed to sell quite well overseas. Needless to say, this is one of those timeless classics from about 30 years ago, with a graphic style that keeps it playable even nowadays while the entire package of sound, graphics, world-building, and gameplay made it one of the games that introduced this new sort of Role-Playing game to a wider public. “Secret of Mana” ticked all the boxes: The story is interesting enough to keep the player entertained and seeing through its conclusion is one of the major driving points that hooks anyone in front of the TV. The graphics were not only pretty but also well-implemented into the world with fantastic looking scenery like the “Pure Lands”. “Secret of Mana” also introduced some newish features like a change in perspective called “Mode 7”, which is active whenever the party rides the dragon on the overworld, which made it look like 3-D. The soundtrack from Hiroki Kikuta helps to build the atmosphere and invokes a lot of emotions, a well-made piece of the whole experience. Just to name one example, there is a noticeable soundtrack change in the “Kakkara Village” when helping them overcome the drought they are suffering from, a shift from relative despair to joyous relief. All these points are still true in 2021, although I have to admit that I seemed to have been blinded by a bit of nostalgia before; as is so often the case. I played through the entire game for the first time as I have been writing this article and while “Secret of Mana” is still a good game, I would refrain from calling it a great one due to various design choices I lacked the critical view for about 20 years ago.

Introducing the “Mantis Ant”, the first boss of the game, and the tutorial for boss fights overall. It also potentially serves as a stressful example for some of the blunders in the fighting system.

You start the game as “Randi”, an orphan that was brought to Popoi Village years ago and was left under the supervision of the village elder. At the start of the game, he and two of his friends are exploring the region around the waterfall near the village, even though they were explicitly told that the area is off-limits. While crossing a tree log bridge, Randi loses his footing and plummets down the waterfall. He stays unharmed despite the fall, but due to the foliage in that area being especially obstructive, he does need some sort of cutting implement; which is when he sees a sword that is stuck in a rock for some odd reason. He pulls the rusty piece of metal out of the rock, which causes a flash of blinding light and a few eruptions to take place. Despite all that, he has a sword in hand and therefore the ticket back to his village, but he was forced to not only take care of the shrubbery but also some monsters that seemed to appear out of nowhere. Back in the village, it becomes clear why that was the case: The sword was the seal that kept the mana flow intact and all the monsters at bay, and by releasing it from the stone that very seal was broken. Before any further steps can be discussed, a sinkhole opens up which contains the first boss battle of the game. But even after defeating the mantis and saving the village from further harm, Randi is exiled for his deeds. However, after talking to the wandering knight Jema it becomes clear that there is a greater mission at hand: The balance must be restored, and as the current holder of the sword Randi is the one to do it. But what starts as a small journey to restore some protective magic becomes the mission to save the world from impending doom, since evil powers are at work to use the forces of mana for their purposes.

Since “Secret of Mana” is regarded as one of the all-time classics from the Super Nintendo era, I would like to compare its exploration and item-finding with another Super Nintendo title. In the aforementioned “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past”, which I have written about some while ago, I praised the game for its exploration aspect. Going out of your way to find a hidden cave will pretty much always end up with you finding something useful, ranging from more rubies (the game’s currency) to even major items like the “Magic Cape”. Also, you have various ways to interact with your surroundings since you can both lift and destroy obstacles. In theory, “Secret of Mana” functions similarly: Bushes need to be cut down with a sword, certain rocks can be crushed with an axe, and a whip can allow you to pass over crevices. Furthermore, you can also find chests with weapon orbs in them; however, this is where the similarities end. Sure, there are interactible objects, but vases, bookshelves, barrels, crates, and the like only exist as decor and cannot be destroyed or looted. And any time you need to cut down obstacles or use other means to get further, it only really serves the purpose of leading you forward on a very linear path. That, however, stifles exploration since there is rarely anything to find if you go into houses in villages that are neither an inn nor a shop, and in dungeons this means that you either find enemies in dead-end rooms or absolutely nothing at all. Furthermore, even if there is a treasure chest that spawned due to killing an enemy, you can still be tricked by the various traps those chests can have instead of passable loot. This starts with rather harmless traps like poison spikes or sleep gas, but do not be fooled since they will but a chance for doom traps or mimics into the roll, and while the former only kills one character encountering a mimic on lower levels can mean a game over there and then. In “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” I opened everything and interacted with all I could see due to the game encouraging me to do so; in “Secret of Mana”, I did not even open enemy treasure chests anymore later in the game due to the chance of being tricked being so much higher than gaining anything worthwhile.

But in all fairness, “Secret of Mana” is not an Action-Adventure and more of a Role-Playing Game. Treasure chests are the self-explanatory way to show you where to find items and even way younger RPGs might not give you the ability to destroy your surroundings for more loot. The emphasis in “Secret of Mana” is not on exploration but on the battle, and there are quite a few things to say about the battle system at hand. First of all, the enemy variety is quite nice. Sure, you encounter various models with different colors and higher stats multiple times throughout the game, but they all have their own unique attack animations, and seeing a turtle warrior transforming itself into a hotrod for its attack or a mushroom enemy breakdancing into my party still looks cool decades later. Unfortunately, what aged less well is how you fight those monsters. Since you start only with a sword, the only thing you can do at the beginning is waiting for the percentage at the bottom of your life gauge to go up to 100%. You can attack earlier than that and there are reasons to do so, but the damage from an attack that is not fully charged is often single-digit. The first change to that pattern comes when you used one of your weapons often enough to level it up, which allows you to overcharge the attack up to the number of levels you have with the weapon you currently use. If the level is one, you can hold the attack button to fill another gauge after the 100% are through, which goes up to eight with enough time, commitment, and weapon orbs. Releasing such an attack will change the animation and deal more damage upon contact with an enemy; which is where my problem starts. You see, if you know fighting games or titles like “Dark Souls”, there is something called invulnerability frames, which protect you from opposing attacks while doing certain animations. In theory, I could charge the powerful attack, then strike for massive damage. This is still the case in the game, however, I can be stopped from connecting with the opponent by the tiniest attack animation; and depending on the enemy, they will attack me automatically with pinpoint accuracy since I am moving closer to them. This can mean up to 15 seconds of slow-walking and charging without the ability to do anything only to swing and miss due to opposing evasion, the enemy attacking me before I land the strike, or me doing nothing wrong but still missing due to wonky hitboxes.

Nearly impossible with only weapon attacks, an absolute push-over if you use magic.

But while this seems trivial with normal enemies, it becomes crucial in boss fights. Depending on what it is you are fighting against, using normal weaponry is beyond stupid. The opposition might not stay on screen, they can jump to places you cannot reach, they might take zero damage from attacking them with weapons, they simply dodge due to that stat being high, or they stunlock you with spell/skill-combinations and therefore forbid any movement. In fact, if you look into online guides on GameFAQ and the like, they will regularly mention that certain bosses are next to impossible to kill with standard weaponry. The solution to that problem is magic: Over the course of the game, you will meet Primm and Popoi, both becoming permanent companions with the ability to cast spells. They differ in spellcasting though, since Primm is almost entirely equipped with a supporting magic set, while Popoi gains the offensive magic to fight enemies with. The usage of magic and the various things you can do with it is cool, and I will talk about that in a second, but you will notice how incredibly important it becomes when fighting opponents like the “Spiky Tiger” that the witch Elinee summons against you or the “Fire Gigas” that guards the Earth Palace. Just to stay with my examples: The “Spiky Tiger”, or whatever it is called, will use its high movement to attack you and can roll up into a ball to roll you over. The stage is too small to dodge effectively, while also having platforms at the side that you cannot reach and that will give the Tiger the perfect spot to blast you from with skills. When it jumps back onto the stage, it does so via an attack, it can roll around which does a lot of damage, it can stunlock party members by gnawing them, it is just a hard boss that is almost impossible to defeat with weapons. The “Fire Gigas” is even worse: It can teleport around, but the worst thing about it is that it can stunlock your characters with a combination of fire spells and skills, which always hit and leave your character unable to move or react to anything it does. The solution in both cases is spamming water magic, “Freeze” to be exact, which with a little timing can be fired off so effectively that you can stunlock the opponent yourself.

Magic becomes crucially important early in the game, but it takes some time for you to have enough resources to use it without constantly worrying about the MP costs.

However, while that sounds like a great tool, it is not helpful for the gameplay. Doing this magic loop requires you to constantly open a series of menus, which distracts the game flow quite a bit and even cuts off the music regularly. Furthermore, you need sufficient MP to do that, and in the early stages of the game, where you have hardly any MP to work with, making use of a spells during a dungeon feels wasteful since you cannot use it against the boss of the dungeon. You can heal MP via “Faerie Walnuts”, but those are incredibly expensive at the start of the game, which is where those critical enemies I just mentioned are introduced, and you constantly waste massive amounts of MP since those “Faerie Walnut” heal for 50 MP, while you have probably about 15 maximum MP after using a little bit of magic. There is no other option than using this item or going to heal in an inn for a very long time, which is unfortunate since it makes magic way less accessible than it should be in my opinion. There are so many options to use: Primm gains a spell to make the weapon attribute anything but dark (since only Popoi gets to use dark magic), which increases the weapon damage against certain enemies while also being able to inflict one of the various ailments in the game. I hardly used those spells since I needed to keep enough MP for “Cure Water”, the heal spell, and “Remedy”, this game’s version of the status ailment remover. Using “Balloon” to make the enemy unable to move would have been helpful in some scenarios, but meh, too expensive since I need to think about the rest of the dungeon due to being unable to heal in it. Buff spells like “Speed Up” are probably also interesting to experiment with, but also flew under the radar due to the magic problem. And this is only the support mage: In the case of Popoi, there are various enemies that you can strike down with just one spell, but casting such spells against them is a bad move since you have fewer mana reserves for the bosses, which sometimes can only be effectively defeated by using magic as mentioned earlier. Popoi does solve this problem later in the game by gaining “Absorb Magic” via the mana sprite “Luna”, but before that point, you need to be acutely aware of the fact that you might not make it through the boss fight when casting a spell during the dungeon phase. This is especially bad since there are various caster-type enemies that you cannot defeat by using normal weapons, which means that you have the choice of either wasting MP against them or just running past them. Needless to say that I chose to go with “flight” more than “fight” in such encounters.

Oh, meaningless NPC talk, how much did I miss you… not.

The formula of the game worked well back in the day, but it did not age quite as gracefully as other titles. The dialogues, for example, are limited to a text box that only allows for three lines of text; and with a word count that is regulated harder than that of a Twitter tweet, there is not as much storytelling available as I would like to see. “Secret of Mana” also has various NPCs that have nothing meaningful to say, but needed to say something anyway, which leads to some characters sticking to a “Hello.”, which is not helpful in terms of anything. Again, I might be overly critical about that, but I would rather have fewer people running around in the streets than having them spout meaningless filler. Oh, and talking about NPCs: Since you have a party of three characters and only have control over one at a time, you are forced to have two computer-controlled characters accompanying you. The menu for each character has a grid on which you can place the character in terms of aggressiveness and spacing, which works rather well in combat; except for when it does not. My computer-controlled friends oftentimes decided to get stuck between three enemies and getting the life kicked out of them, which was avoidable in most scenarios but causes unnecessary stress and damage. However, the NPCs are terrible when you try to get through a passage quickly without fighting the opponents, which is often the case due to you not wanting to waste resources. In such scenarios, you either have to go into the menu for each character and put them to flee, which will still cause them to get stuck on terrain, or try to get past the opposition with what feels like two dogs you can barely hold back that try to chase some stray cat.

This screenshot captures the game perfectly: Well-made, but with visible cracks.

Reading all this might make you think that I hated the game, but quite the opposite is true: I think “Secret of Mana” is a good game, and while that does not necessarily mean anything, lots of people agree. The world-building is very nice, the story is good regarding the limitations in text, the spritework is solid, and many more factors make this a game worth remembering and playing; especially if there is an interest in a retrospective of what the Super Nintendo had to offer. The gameplay, however, is lacking. There are some nice ideas there as well, do not get me wrong. Some enemies can use the elemental weapon spells on your party to nullify the damage they take from them since they are immune to the element, which is a strategically cool touch. There are various weapons to choose from and they all play differently, from the melee versions like the ax and the sword to the ranged options like throwing spears, a bow, or a whip. Also, since you can level both weapons and spells, you can sort of create your very own setup and get creative with various strategies. Fighting your way through the countless enemies is its own reward of sorts since that is what the game is about. And, not to forget, the game supported multiplayer back in the day, so you could play with up to two additional players each taking control over one of the party members, which was a blast despite being constantly interrupted by spell casting menuing.

Weirdly enough, there is a remake for “Secret of Mana” in which all the points I have criticized in this article could have been addressed; but they decided to update the graphics and leave the gameplay mostly untouched. This was noted by the community and reflects on the rating of the game on sites like Metacritic. Also, it is a remake for 40€, which is a lot to ask for if your remaster does not fix glaring issues that you could take care of today but which could not be fixed as easily in 1993. However, the remake would not be what I would suggest you play if you want to experience the game for yourself. If you want a hardcopy, I found cartridges for about 25€ online, which is not that bad; but I would suggest using an emulator and giving the game a whirl that way since it is certainly a timeless and well-loved classic that just happens to be a little rough around the edges.

Budget Deckbuilding: Transference

Another Wednesday, another Preconstructed Deck. This time, we take a look at the last remaining deck that was released with Darksteel, a mono-Blue Artifact deck called “Transference”. Let’s get straight into it, because there is actually quite a lot to say about it:

Creatures (30):

4x Arcbound Worker (1)
2x Arcbound Stinger (2)
1x Spincrusher (2)
3x Neurok Familiar (1U)
2x Vedalken Engineer (1U)
1x Neurok Transmuter (2U)
2x Arcbound Crusher (4)
2x Arcbound Hybrid (4)
1x Arcbound Reclaimer (4)
2x Cobalt Golem (4)
1x Dross Scorpion (4)
1x Juggernaut (4)
2x Rust Elemental (4)
1x Voltaic Construct (4)
2x Arcbound Bruiser (5)
1x Arcbound Fiend (6)
1x Spire Golem (6)
1x Arcbound Lancer (7)

Spells (7):

2x Skullclamp (1)
1x Reshape (XU)
2x Echoing Truth (1U)
1x Dragon Blood (3)
1x Ur-Golem’s Eye (4)

Lands (23):

21x Island
2x Seat of the Synod

Of course, WotC gives us an idea of what to do with the cardboard in question. Here is what they decided the strategy of this deck might be:

What’s the next best thing to creatures that can’t be destroyed? How about creatures that pass along their power and toughness when they’re destroyed? The “Transference” deck explores the Darksteel set’s modular ability. It runs plenty of Arcbound creatures, all of which have modular, plus there’s a little blue for faster mana (that’s right, blue for mana!) and some other zany tricks. Drop the Arcbound creatures, send them into battle, and you’ll have an 11/11 flier in no time. Some of the interesting plays in this deck involve eliminating your own creatures to make your fliers bigger. Rust Elemental in particular is a doozy. Have no fear when playing this 4/4 flier, because the Arcbound creatures turn its drawback into a feature. Sacrifice an Arcbound creature to the Elemental and drop those counters right on it. Attack. Repeat as necessary. But just in case “Ol’ Rusty” gets out of control, a nifty blue sorcery called Reshape can simply mold it into a whole new artifact. Another keen ploy is to play Reshape on your Arcbound creature and put its counters onto something with a little more “get-through,” such as Spincrusher. Use Neurok Transmuter to spread a little card-type love around. The Transmuter can protect your key artifacts from being destroyed by removing their “artifactness.” Then it can turn around and let you put +1/+1 counters on your blue creatures. Go team! Some simple but effective improvements would help tune this deck. Check out Arcbound Overseer and Arcbound Ravager when looking for new creatures to generate those valuable +1/+1 counters. Spice things up in the air by changing out the Cobalt Golems for their distant cousins, Spire Golems. This deck runs only two Vedalken Engineers, a lynchpin of the Arcbound-Rust Elemental combo threat. Consider replacing Ur-Golem’s Eye with an additional Engineer. The modular ability is exciting in combination with anything that sacrifices creatures as a cost. Just be sure you have an artifact creature with some kind of evasion waiting to get the counters. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have losing creatures.

Darksteel “Transference” Theme Deck Product Description

After three disappointing Preconstructed Decks, here is one that I can actually see working. But before I, well, reveal what the actual strategy of the deck is, let us take a look at what WotC thinks is what you have to do. Arcbound is not the worst keyword to build a deck with, even though the cards that feature it are mostly boring. However, the marketing blurb has an interesting idea of what cards to emphasise: “Rust Elemental” is absolutely terrible, regardless of whether you have an Artifact to sacrifice or not. Sure, 4/4 Flying for four colorless mana is nice, but I can rather play cards like “Qumulox“, “Broodstar“, or “Somber Hoverguard” if I desperately need an Artifact-friendly Flyer, while there are good cards like “Krark-Clan Ironworks” (which is terribly expensive nowadays for good reason) or “Spawning Pit” to sacrifice your Artifacts into. The text further mentions that you can simply play “Reshape” to get rid of “Rust Elemental” if you do not need it around anymore, which is questionable. “Reshape” is a solid card and definitely works with the strategy at hand, but with only one copy it would be a rather inconsistent out to the problems “Rust Elemental” might cause. But other than the part with that rather problematic Flyer, I am totally on board with the strategy that WotC has thought about: “Spincrusher” might seem like an odd choice, but becomes a decent Aggro option if you can produce the necessary +1/+1 counters since it can hardly do that on its own. I was against “Neurok Transmuter” at first, but the fact that you can change the Artifact status of cards is actually synergetic: Transform your Blue Creatures into Artifacts and they can be sacrificed for effects while alternatively gaining the +1/+1 counters from a Modular Creature. Or un-artifice one of your Artifacts to protect it against Artifact removal like “Naturalize” on reaction. “Neurok Transmuter” is definitely not the best card in the deck and a gimmick at only one copy, but one that I could see working.

Some of the changes the text provides are still rather questionable: “Arcbound Ravager” is the obvious choice, but costs quite a lot nowadays, which eliminates the card as a budget option. “Arcbound Overseer” is less costly money-wise, but quite expensive in terms of mana for a whopping eight colorless that are not changed by Affinity, etc. Changing out the copies of “Cobalt Golem” is definitely the right move since they are terrible, but I would not go with more copies of “Spire Golem” either, since it is definitely not worth the mana most of the time and in a deck that wants to interact with Artifacts might not even get as cheap due to Artifact Lands not counting as “Islands“. Please do not consider taking out the two “Vedalken Engineer” as the blurb said, and rather upgrade to four to have the option of gaining cheap mana more often. Instead of using “Ur-Golem’s Eye“, which I would play in addition to the “Vedalken Engineers“, you should consider getting the straight upgrade in form of “Hedron Archive“. Granted, the card did not exist back in the day, so WotC is not at fault here, but I would still like to name the option. Finally, the last sentence in the text is absolutely correct: Modular is interesting in combination with anything that can sacrifice the Modular Creatures. Boosting an “Atog” would also boost some other Artifact Creature alongside it, since it receives the +1/+1 counters, and that basically works in any color for little mana. Black? Easy: “Carrion Feeder“. You can even transform the guy into an Artifact via “Neurok Transmuter” to give him the counters from the stuff you sacrifice. Blue? Well, “Drowned Rusalka” comes to mind, or “Sage of Lat-Nam“. Also, if you want to get some singles, “Mask of the Mimic” could be crazy good: Sacrifice a Modular Creature, put the +1/+1 counters on it on another creature, then gain the same Creature again for just one blue mana. Since it is an Instant, you could also use the card if it would leave the field without distributing its counters, for example when it would be bounced.

Surprisingly, the marketing text for “Transference” leaves out one major strategy altogether, and in this particular case the card in question is both a blessing and a curse for the deck: “Skullclamp“. The idea is very simple: “Arcbound Worker” dies immediately after being equipped, which is one +1/+1 counter for an Atrifact Creature you control as well as two cards you are allowed to draw. Every other Modular Creature can be equipped aswell, giving them a boost in power while making it more likely that they will not survive the encounter with the opposing creature, die, and then transfer their counters onto the next in line while netting you another two cards. Brilliant, right? Now, there are both good and bad news regarding “Skullclamp“. The bad news is that you are not allowed to play the card anymore, due to “Skullclamp” being banned in both “Modern” and “Legacy” format, and therefore only being playable in “Vintage” and “Commander”. You can still use it in Casuals, but be aware of the fact that people can and probably will call you out for using the card, and for good reason since “Skullclamp” is absolutely not okay regardless of what deck it is part of. However, the good news is that the card is not only an actual money-card that is worth a pretty penny, but the deck also comes with two copies, meaning more earnings. But more on that later.

Even without “Skullclamp“, you can make some wild plays with this deck. To name an example, I never realized how good the effect of “Arcbound Crusher” actually is. Yes, starting with Modular 1 for four mana is expensive as well as fairly dangerous since the opponent can simply ping it immediately after entering the battlefield to crush your dreams of one hell of a Creature. But not everyone has removal on standby to kill it instantly, which is where the card becomes good: It gains an +1/+1 counter whenever an Artifact enters the battlefield, which is huge if you have a strategy available to maximise the potential. “Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle” could make serious progress in White, playing “Retract” in a right Artifact Affinity deck could cause it to become a 10/10 without any difficulty with “Frogmite” and “Myr Enforcer” being additional targets for the massive amount of +1/+1 counters while “Thoughtcast” fetches more cards to play, even Green has silly options like “Belt of Giant Strength” that gets ever cheaper and can then be equipped to “Arcbound Crusher” which already comes with Trample, “Skyclave Pick-Axe” as a cheap power-boost (who would not want to play multiple Artifact Lands per turn via “Summer Bloom“?), or “Fractal Harness” as an alternate finisher with various “Arcbound” Creatures? Destroying your own Artifacts for bonus effects, then retrieving the cards with the aptly named “Arcbound Reclaimer“? Adding “Ancient Stirrings” to the deck to either retrieve the card you put back on top or to fetch any other Artifact from the pile for only one mana? There are so many options that I might even make another decklist featuring the “Arcbounds”, since they might seem weak but some of them could fill some promising niches.

So, the deck is playable and a good start to have in whatever direction you might want to go. Adding cheap cards is no big deal since you have the entire color pool at your disposal with the “Arcbounds” all being colorless Artifacts, and as long as you stay with the basic idea of using +1/+1 counters in the way the deck intended there are multiple creative takes this 60-card deck can shape into. But how does “Transference” look from a money-making standpoint? Well, you see the two pictures above, with Cardmarket asking for 21.00€ – 25.00€ as normal prices, while the Ebay result obviously costs tons more again at around 56.00€. For that, we get the two copies of “Skullclamp“, which should cost about 4€ per piece due to being the Darksteel print, “Reshape” for about 0.20€, while “Arcbound Reclaimer” should net about 0.10€. The two “Seat of the Synod” add some more cents, but overall it can be said that you will not make money with the deck by reselling the card if you pay the prices above. Fortunately, the deck idea is still solid and the cards are cheap to pick up, which makes at least the overall idea of “Transference” an interesting starting point for deckbuilding. And hey, if you see this deck lying around somewhere for a tenner, you now know that it is worth that money.

Archetype Analysis: Sunavalon/Sunvine/Sunseed

Last updated: 08.01.2022

Sometimes things are not as they seem. You take a look at some 0 ATK monster cards with weird, out-of-place effects, only to think that there can hardly be a strategy in using the semi-newest adaptation of some plant life that was used in the Yugioh “Vrains” anime. Well, to err is human, so my apologies to the “Sunavalon” archetype, which I will take a look at in this article. With even Yugitubers not knowing what to list them as, not knowing whether they are actually capable of beatdown or just a Control deck, debating whether the deck is capable of competing with the meta or just some casual deckbuilding exercise, and people leaving out certain cards that others play at maximum capacity, there is one thing that I can say with certainty: This might be a controversial, but certainly not a boring archetype. So, let us sow the seeds for some one-card combos.

Disclaimer: None of the information given by me is set in stone. Having an open mind in deck building and including creative ideas is always helpful, if only to further understand the playstyle and strategy of the deck you are about to build. There are probably choices that I list which can be labled as debatable, but no platform I know of gives a broad overview over both the archetypes and all the card choices, so I aimed to do just that. I will try to keep this page (as well as the other ones, once they are made) up-to-date, so if any reader feels like I skipped some amazing tech choice or a crucial card, just drop me a note and I will add the missing information if necessary. Furthermore, I use a number of sources for ideas and information, so a list with links that I deem useful is attached to the end of the page and credit is given whenever I can point to a source to do so.

The archetype commonly referred to as “Sunavalon” actually consists of three groups: The “Sunseed”, which contain three low-level monsters, the “Sunvine” which consist of one Main Deck monsters aswell as various Extra Deck monsters and Spell cards, and the eponymous “Sunavalon”, which make up the biggest part of the Extra Deck while also featuring one Trap card. The monsters themselves are all Earth Plants and all have stats below the 1000 threshold, while also coming with a number of defensively-minded effects like healing life points, mitigating damage, preventing attacks, or disallowing certain monsters as attack targets. However, do not be fooled by their weak-looking appearance, since “Sunavalon” is quite a potent combo deck with various tools to choose from and a number of options to go for that are not stalling-related at all. But before we go into further detail here, let us take a look at the cards:

Archetype:

SunseedGeniusLoci-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunseed Genius Loci
Level/Rank: 1
ATK/DEF: 0/600
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

In the beginning, there was a Normal Plant monster. In this particular case, the monster in question is “Sunseed Genius Loci”, a Level 1 Earth Plant Normal monster with 0/600 as its stats. Now, I know what you are thinking: This is a bad card. And technically, you are right. But “Sunavalon” has bigger plans than simply using Effect monsters to get the ball rolling, so this Level 1 Normal monster is crucial for the gameplan of the entire archetype. One of their most important searchers in form of “Sunavalon Dryas” only searches when Link Summoned using “Sunseed Genius Loci” as Link material. Both “Sunvine Gardna” and “Sunvine Thrasher” need a Plant Normal monster as Link material, “Sunseed Shadow” can Special Summon itself with a Plant Normal monster on the field, “Sunseed Twin” can revive a Plant Normal monster, etc. Over the course of the archetype, you will realise that this card is a centerpiece of “Sunavalon” and should be treated as such, regardless of how weird that might seem. And, since “Sunseed Genius Loci” is a Normal monster, there are tons more generic support options you can opt to use: Search via “Painful Decision“, Special Summon one copy via “Unexpected Dai“, or use your Normal Summon to gain two copies via “Rescue Rabbit“.

Recommended copies: 3
“Sunseed Genius Loci” enables certain cards and has tons of interactions in its archetype, all reasons that make it a solid three-off.

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Name: “Sunseed Shadow
Level/Rank: 1
ATK/DEF: 0/400
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

After the seed itself, we get the shadow of the seed … whatever that means. “Sunseed Shadow” is a Level 1 Earth Plant monster with 0/400 and comes with two effects. First off, if you control a Plant Normal monster (aka “Sunseed Genius Loci“) you can Special Summon “Sunseed Shadow” from your hand. Furthermore, you can banish “Sunseed Shadow” from your graveyard, then target on linked Link-2 or lower “Sunavalon” or “Sunvine” monster you control, then Special Summon one monster with the same name from your Extra Deck, but it has its effects negated, and you cannot Special Summon non-Plant monsters for the rest of the turn. Both effects of “Sunseed Shadow” come with a hard “once per turn”-clause attached. The first effect is nice since having free monsters on the field in a Link spam deck means having more materials to work with; but the effect actually mostly exists so you get “Sunseed Shadow” in the graveyard for effect number two. With “Sunavalon Dryas“, “Sunavalon Dryades“, “Sunavalon Daphne“, “Sunvine Gardna“, “Sunvine Healer“, and “Sunvine Thrasher” all being potential targets for the effect, there is certainly room to play for. Now, I am aware that some of those options are worse than others, but that is stuff for the “Playstyle/Combos” section, since I would have to mention to many tiny details to keep in mind for it to make sense here. For now, just keep in mind that “Sunseed Shadow” is a potentially free summon that can fetch Link monsters for board building and Link climbing purposes.

Recommended copies: 0-3
“Sunseed Shadow” is setup fodder for your plays. Playing it really comes down to whether you like the card/deem it useful, or whether you would rather use the deckspace for something else. I have seen some older lists that play three copies, while more recent builds were more in the 0-1 direction, so I would say that this is a preference card.

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Name: “Sunvine Maiden
Level/Rank: 1
ATK/DEF: 0/0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Next up is “Sunvine Maiden”, a Level 1 Earth Plant monster with 0/0 as its stats. “Sunvine Maiden”, just like “Sunseed Shadow“, comes with two effects: First off, when your opponent activates either a card or an effect that targets a Plant monster you control that was Summoned from the Extra Deck, you can, as a Quick Effect, Special Summon “Sunvine Maiden” from your hand and negate the targeting effect; this effect of “Sunvine Maiden” can only be used once per turn. Furthermore, “Sunvine Maiden” comes with a static effect that prohibits your opponent from targeting “Sunavalon” and “Sunvine” Spell/Trap cards you control. The first effect is rather nice, since your entire board will consist of Plant monsters you summoned from the Extra Deck, giving “Sunvine Maiden” a whole lot of opportunities to protect something. And since “Sunvine Maiden” is Special Summoned instead of simply being discarded, her second effect also goes live, further protecting any copies of “Sunvine Cross Breed“, “Sunvine Shrine“, or “Sunavalon Bloom” you have on your field from targeting effects; with “Sunavalon Bloom” being the most important card she can protect due to the one-sided “Skill Drain” effect on your finished board. Now, having a 0/0 monster on the field is pretty suboptimal during the Battle Phase, but the archetype does work with that aswell: Taking battle damage in “Sunavalon” means that you are allowed to summon more monsters while healing the lost life points back due to the effects of “Sunavalon Dryas“, “Sunavalon Dryades“, and “Sunavalon Dryanome“, with the last one even having the option of negating the attack altogether.

Recommended copies: 0-1
“Sunvine Maiden” is protection for both front and backrow, but is not necessarily needed once the board is assembled. The effects are good, but due to not being mandatory and them might ending up as dead draws, you only need to run one, or potentially none at all.

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Name: “Sunseed Twin
Level/Rank: 2
ATK/DEF: 0/800
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

The step into Level 2 also marks the end of “Sunavalon” Main Deck monsters, since we go straight into dark-blue cardboard in a brief moment. However, first we have to take a look at “Sunseed Twin”, a Level 2 Earth Plant monster with 0/800 as its stats. “Sunseed Twin” is yet another card that has to rectify its existence solely via its effects, which are as follows: If “Sunseed Twin” is either Normal Summoned or Special Summoned while you control a “Sunavalon” Link Monster, you can target one Level 4 or lower Plant-Type Normal Monster in your graveyard and Special Summon it. Furthermore, you can banish both “Sunseed Twin” from your graveyard and one Link Monster you control, if you have two Link Monsters with the same name in the graveyard, and then Special Summon one of those two monsters. Both effects of “Sunseed Twin” can only be used once per turn. “Sunseed Twin” is, and I have to foreshadow this information, another combo enabler/combo piece in “Sunavalon”. The first effect will mostly trigger due to Special Summoning “Sunseed Twin” via “Sunvine Sowing“, in which case it directly revives a previously used “Sunseed Genius Loci” in addition to everything else going on. The second effect might seem overly specific and quite costly, but “Sunavalon” can make use of it by reviving a copy of “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, of which you use two during the standard combo anyway, and make her search effect go live again since that effect only has a soft “once per turn”-clause attached to it.

Recommended copies: 1-2
“Sunseed Twin” serves both as an option to get “Sunseed Genius Loci” back onto the field, as well as a combo extender during your plays. The card is searchable via “Sunseed Sowing” and pretty useful overall, which makes it a solid pick at one to two copies.

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Name: “Sunavalon Dryas
Level/Rank: Link-1
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Since the “Sunavalon” archetype clearly thrives in using Link monsters, it is high time we get to talk about them. Let us start with the small tree in form of “Sunavalon Dryas”: It is a Link-1 Earth Plant monster with 0 ATK with a Link Arrow straight down that needs a Level 4 or lower Plant monster to be summoned. However, you normally want to use “Sunseed Genius Loci” to summon “Sunavalon Dryas” due to its first effect: If this card is Link Summoned in the Extra Monster Zone using “Sunseed Genius Loci” as material, you can add one “Sunseed” Spell/Trap from your deck to your hand. With both “Sunvine Sowing” and “Sunvine Shrine” as summon helpers, there are useful targets available that you can fetch with this effect. But there is more: “Sunavalon Dryas” cannot be targeted for attacks, but still allows your opponent to attack you directly. However, once per turn, if you take either battle or effect damage, you can gain as many life points as you have lost through the effect or battle, then Special Summon one “Sunvine” monster from your Extra Deck. There are three targets to summon with this effect that we are going to talk about right after “Sunavalon Dryas”, but it is clear that this direct attacking thing is more of a trap for your opponent to run in to than an opportunity: You take absolutely no damage in the end (unless the damage is enough to kill you), and end up with another Link monster that brings its own number of effects.

Recommended copies: 3
“Sunavalon Dryas” is crucially important to any combo a “Sunavalon” deck wants to do, since it is the best monster to point downwards and therefore open up the Main Monster Zones for Link Summons, while also providing additional resources as a Link-1. Most decks run three copies at all times, and for good reason.

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Name: “Sunvine Gardna
Level/Rank: Link-1
ATK/DEF: 600
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

The first of the “Sunvine” Link monsters is “Sunvine Gardna”, a Link-1 Earth Plant with 600 ATK. “Sunvine Gardna” sets a trend that all “Sunvine” Link monsters follow, which is that they need one Plant Normal monster to be Link Summoned, making “Sunseed Genius Loci” that little bit more important. “Sunvine Gardna” also comes with quite a few effects: First off, if a “Sunavalon” Link monster you control leaves the field by a card effect, destroy “Sunvine Gardna”. Well, that’s a drawback that seemingly has no reason to be there. However, “Gardna” does have beneficial effects too: When an attack is declared that involves “Sunvine Gardna” while it is linked to a “Sunavalon” monster as well as an opposing monster, you can halve the damage you take from that battle instead. Lastly, when “Sunvine Gardna” is destroyed in battle, End the Battle Phase right after the Damage Step. So, “Sunvine Gardna” is an enabler for the effect of “Sunavalon Dryas” (and some of the bigger trees) as well as a defense tool if the opponent decides to attack it. Unfortunately, making a Link-1 monster to run into an opposing monster in order to trigger a Special Summon from the deck and then end the own Battle Phase immediately is not quite as good as one might think. There are also other problems: You will probably not have “Sunavalon Dryas” on the field at the end of your combo, and the only other of the trees that would still need to the help of “Sunvine Gardna” is “Sunavalon Dryades“, which cannot be linked to “Sunvine Gardna” due to its Link Arrows. “Sunavalon Dryanome” could simply negate the attack if push comes to shove, and I cannot imagine any scenario in which you would want to have “Sunvine Gardna” behind “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” more than “Sunvine Thrasher“. “Sunvine Gardna” only seems to be reasonable when the opponent stopped your combo so hard that the only option you can still build is “Sunavalon Dryas” in the Extra Monster Zone and “Sunvine Gardna” behind it to protect yourself from impending doom via beatdown; and even in that scenario both cards immediately succumb to removal of any form pointed at “Sunavalon Dryas” since “Sunvine Gardna” will be destroyed alongside it via its first effect.

Recommended copies: 0
“Sunvine Gardna” is a weird defense option that the deck does not really need. You either manage to build a board that has no space for “Sunvine Gardna”, or you fail to build such a board in which case “Sunvine Gardna” cannot help you anymore. Run zero.

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Name: “Sunvine Healer
Level/Rank: Link-1
ATK/DEF: 600
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Moving on, we have another Link-1 “Sunvine” monster in “Sunvine Healer”. With 600 ATK, she continues the trend of “Sunavalon” cards having low stats, but that is not what she is there for. “Sunvine Healer” asks for one Plant-Type Normal monster as Link material, which again makes “Sunseed Genius Loci” more important, and has the same effect as “Sunvine Gardna” that will automatically destroy “Sunvine Healer” if a “Sunavalon” Link monster you control leaves the field due to a card effect. “Sunvine Healer’s” effect text continues as follows: You can target one “Sunavalon” Link monster on the field, then gain life points equal to its Link Rating times 300, meaning that you can heal anything from 300 life points targeting “Sunavalon Dryas” up to 1200 by using “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” as the target of the effect. Lastly, when your Plant Link monster inflicts battle damage to the opponent, you can gain 600 life points. Rarely a card follows its name in function as much as “Sunvine Healer”, since that is all she does. However, while the life point gain itself is not that crazy, “Sunvine Healer” is a solid card to work with for what she enables: Aside from cushioning the blow from the (direct) attacks and the damage you will probably take, she allows “Aromage Laurel” to be Special Summoned by increasing your life points just enough for you to have more than the opponent turn one, and can trigger the effects of both “Aromaseraphy Jasmine” and “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram“. It would be silly to assume that “Sunvine Healer” stays on the field long enough to make use or her last effect, but she has a solid role as a combo tool in “Sunavalon”.

Recommended copies: 1-2
While life point gain itself technically does not move you closer to victory, there are enough effects available to the “Sunavalon” archetype to make good use of the healing “Sunvine Healer” provides. As such, she is probably a good fit for the Extra Deck at one to two copies.

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Name: “Sunvine Thrasher
Level/Rank: Link-1
ATK/DEF: 800
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Part three of the “Sunvine” Link monsters comes in form of “Sunvine Thrasher”, and here we have a card that is very much unexpected in the trend “Sunavalon” was going at so far. “Sunvine Thrasher” is a Link-1 Earth Plant monster with 800 ATK, requires a Plant Normal monster as Link material to be summoned (shoutouts to “Sunseed Genius Loci“), and comes with the same self-destruction effect that occurs on “Sunvine Gardna” and “Sunvine Healer” if a “Sunavalon” Link Monster you control leaves the field by a card effect. So far everything is normal, but the effects after that are quite interesting: If “Sunvine Thrasher” is Special Summoned, you can target one “Sunavalon” Link Monster on the field, and make “Sunvine Thrasher” gain ATK equal to the targeted card’s Link Rating times 800. Furthermore, when “Sunvine Thrasher” destroys an opponent’s monster by battle and sends it to the graveyard, you can Special Summon that monster to a zone a Link monster points to, but negate its effects. A beatstick in “Sunavalon” was about the last thing I was expecting, but the card is very much welcome for various reasons. First of all, if you go down your normal route of summoning “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay“, targeting it with “Sunvine Thrasher” makes it a 4000 ATK beater, which is solid for any deck and even more so for a deck that so far peaked on 600 ATK otherwise. There are other combos that make “Sunvine Thrasher” even more crazy, but I will scratch the surface of what is possible there in the “Playstyle/Combos” section to prevent repetition; what I can tell you though is that “Sunvine Thrasher” provides the “Sunavalon” archetype with a going-second option, something that they lacked so far (and would lack in general without this card), which is definitely worth playing the card for.

Recommended copies: 1-2
“Sunvine Thrasher” is the surprising beatstick out of nowhere, but I am not complaining about its existence. “Sunavalon” definitely thrives going first, but since that is a coin-toss decision you will have to go second quite often, and for those scenarios having a solid beater that steals the opposing monsters “Goyo”-style is very nice. I would recommend one to two copies.

SunavalonDryades-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Dryades
Level/Rank: Link-2
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Remember “Sunavalon Dryas“? Well, here is its upgrade … of sorts. Its name is “Sunavalon Dryades”, it is a Link-2 Earth Plant monster with 0 ATK, and it does need two Plant monsters of which one must by a “Sunavalon” Link monster as Link material for its summon. Effect-wise, it has the same clause like “Sunavalon Dryas” that states that it cannot be targeted for attacks, but does not prevent the opponent from simply attacking directly. Another effect that it has from “Sunavalon Dryas” is that if you take battle or effect damage, you can gain that much life points and then Special Summon one “Sunvine” monster from your Extra Deck; however, on “Sunavalon Dryades”, you can use this effect twice per turn instead of “Sunavalon Dryas” once per turn. Now, I said that it is an upgrade, and it was clearly designed as such with the bigger tree in the picture, on additional Link Arrow, the effect being able to trigger twice, and it technically even requiring “Sunavalon Dryas” as material (unless you want to senselessly throw higher Link Monsters in form of Link-2, Link-3, or Link-4 monsters down the drain). However, it is really not: The helpful Link Arrow of “Sunavalon Dryas“, which points straight down, was transformed into one pointing down-left and one pointing down-right, which is terrible whenever something is supposed to link, or at least, point to it. Also, remember that “Sunavalon Dryas” had a search effect? Where exactly is that reflected on “Sunavalon Dryades”? It did not have to search again, that is not what I am saying, but the Link-1, the Link-3, and the Link-4 “Tree” all come with their own unique effects, while the Link-2 in form of “Sunavalon Dryades” simply does not. To add insult to injury, there is a Link-2 Plant-Type monster that provides so much more for “Sunavalon”, and it is called “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, a card that is easier to summon due to only needing any two Plant-Type monsters, has the same Link Arrows, does have a decent ATK value, and comes with two highly useful effects that “Sunavalon Dryades” could only dream of. Yeah, this one is not worth the effort.

Recommended copies: 0
“Sunavalon Dryades” is simply “Sunavalon Dryas” in bigger, but not really better. It is severely outclassed by “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, and due to not being needed as Link material for anything in the archetype normally clocks in at zero copies.

SunavalonDaphne-LIOV-EN-C-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Daphne
Level/Rank: Link-2
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

The other Link-2 in “Sunavalon” is “Sunavalon Daphne”. “Sunavalon Daphne” stays true to the “Sunavalon” profile, being an Earth Plant monster with 0 ATK, but only asks for any two Plant-Type monsters as Link material for its summon. Like the other “Sunavalon” Link monsters we have seen so far, “Sunavalon Daphne” cannot be targeted for attacks, but in turn does not keep the opponent from simply attacking directly. However, “Sunavalon Daphne” does have a unique effect: You can tribute one monster, then target two Plant-Type Link monsters in your graveyard, except for copies of “Sunavalon Daphne”, and return them to the Extra Deck; but you can only use this effect of “Sunavalon Daphne” once per turn. This is the archetypal recovery option: In an archetype like “Sunavalon”, which manages to go through at least ten of its fifteen Extra Deck cards in a single combo, you might want to have some recovery for longevity. But as is always the case with cards that help with long-play (or turn three options in this case), playing “Sunavalon Daphne” is really something that is up to the player. Do you find yourself negated into oblivion and need some extra resources to rebuild? Then “Sunavalon Daphne” might be an option for you. If you do not suffer the fate of going out of steam due to the lack of cards in the Extra Deck, you might aswell skip her.

Recommended copies: 0-2
“Sunavalon Daphne” is, at least in my opinion, a classic preference choice. Some players like to have a plan B, while others put their money on it working the first time and not really being able to rebuild anyway if the strategy fails. There is no wrong or right answer to that question, simply play how many of “Sunavalon Daphne” you deem necessary and/or useful; just do not go up to three, since that seems rather pointless.

SunavalonDryanome-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Dryanome
Level/Rank: Link-3
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Oh joy, the “Tree” has leveled up again. After the small tree “Sunavalon Dryas” cemented its position as one of the main playstarters in the deck, and the middle tree in form of “Sunavalon Dryades” has shown that it has no role in the deck whatsoever, we come to the Link-3 monster “Sunavalon Dryanome”. “Sunavalon Dryanome” is immediately more playable due to simply asking for 2+ Plant monsters as material for its Link Summon, which could include “Sunavalon Dryades” as a matter of fact, but probably are made up of various better cards instead. Other than that, it is mostly just another upgrade: “Sunavalon Dryanome” cannot be targeted for attacks, but does not prevent the opponent from attacking directly instead, which is an effect that all Link Monsters with the “Sunavalon” moniker shared so far. “Sunavalon Dryanome” also triggers if you take battle or effect damage, healing you for the amount and then Special Summoning one “Sunvine” monster from the Extra Deck, but true to its nature as the number three it can use this effect thrice per turn. It does come with a unique effect though: Once per turn, when a monster this card points to is target for an attack, you can negate the attack, and if you do, move that monster into another of your Main Monster Zones. So yes, “Sunavalon Dryanome” is just the “Big Tree”, but due to its protection effect being able to trigger in three Main Monster Zones potentially, it does add that little bit extra that could make it playable. Do you need it for its normal purpose? Not that often, to be honest. But it is a potential option to ensure your survival if the opponent has a massive board, since it can negate all that damage on its own, while summoning “Sunvines” from the Extra Deck to hinder the advance of the opposing monster line-up further.

Recommended copies: 0-1
“Sunavalon Dryanome” is certainly better than its predecessor and it will keep you alive as long as the opponent only uses battles as their means of removal, but due to better options being available for the combo strategy and Extra Deck in “Sunavalon” being extremely tight, I would suggest zero to one copy of the card.

SunavalonMelias-LIOV-EN-SR-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Melias
Level/Rank: Link-3
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Just like in the Link-2 department, there is also one other Link-3 “Sunavalon” monster besides “Sunavalon Dryanome“, which is called “Sunavalon Melias”. It is an Earth Plant monster with 0 ATK as usual, and to Link Summon “Sunavalon Melias” you need to use 2+ Plant monsters as material, of which at least one must be a Link monster; which seems expensive at first, but is really easy to provide since you normally get rid of “Sunavalon Dryas” or “Aromaseraphy Jasmine” anyway after they have used their effects. The effects of “Sunavalon Melias” are as follows: If “Sunavalon Melias” is Link Summoned, you can Special Summon one “Sunseed Genius Loci” from your graveyard, which automatically sets you up for the Link Summon of the Link-4 “Benghalancer the Resurgent“, and with a detour over “Sunavalon Dryas” even for “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay“. “Sunavalon Melias” features the same effect all the “Sunavalon” Links have, meaning that it cannot be targeted for attacks, but does not keep your opponent from attacking you directly. Going into unique effects again, “Sunavalon Melias” allows you, once per turn, to target one “Sunvine” Link Monster you control that “Sunavalon Melias” points to, and this turn the “Sunvine” Link Monster can attack a number of times each Battle Phase up to the number of “Sunavalon” Link Monsters you currently control. The revival effect comes in really handy, since both Link-4 Plant monsters you use in “Sunavalon” can be accessed by simply going into “Sunavalon Melias”, making it a fine combo tool. However, for turn two plays the last effect becomes very interesting: Since “Sunvine Thrasher” becomes 3200 ATK with “Sunavalon Melias” on the field alone, giving it additional attacks can be quite nasty. I will, just as I did when talking about “Sunvine Thrasher“, direct your attention to the “Playstyle/Combos” section of the article, but it is needless to say that “Sunavalon Melias” is another piece in the plant-based puzzle that is “Sunavalon”.

Recommended copies: 2-3
“Sunavalon Melias” is both a solid monster to go into for more materials, the main monster to use to go into “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay“, as well as a potential enabler for “Sunvine Thrasher” beatdown. As such, the ratio should be at two to three copies.

SunavalonDryatrentiay-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay
Level/Rank: Link-4
ATK/DEF: 0
Attribute/Type: Earth Plant

Finally, after three stages of “Trees”, we reach the end of the line with “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay”. The giant “Tree” is a Link-4 Earth Plant monster with 0 ATK, and needs 2+ Link Monsters as Link material to be summoned. If “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” is Link Summoned, you can add one “Sunavalon” Spell/Trap from your deck to your hand. Then, just as all the other “Sunavalon” Link Monsters, it cannot be targeted for attacks but does not keep your opponent from attacking you directly; however, unlike the other “Sunavalon” Link Monsters “Dryatrentiay” can also not be destroyed by the opposing card effects. Lastly, once per turn, you can tribute one Link Monster “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” is pointing to and destroy any number of cards the opponent controls up to the Link Rating of the tributed monster. Since “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” is the largest of the “Sunavalon” monsters you can summon, it actually does provide a decent amount of helpful effects. The search effect is somewhat strange at the current point, since there is only one “Sunavalon” Spell/Trap card in the game, which is “Sunavalon Bloom“. This obviously means that the card always searches the same target; however, I am not holding that against it since “Sunavalon Bloom” is quite nice to have and easy to trigger since the necessary Link-4 is already on the field. The destruction immunity is certainly nice, and due to the end board normally also featuring “Benghalancer the Resurgent“, you can technically tribute a Link-4 for the last effect of “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” to clear a lot of the opposing board. It also happens to be the only way to get “Sunvine Thrasher” to 4000 ATK to name just another interaction, which makes the last “Tree” a good one to go into.

Recommended copies: 1
“Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” is pretty much required for the final board and provides destruction as well as effect negation via the searched “Sunavalon Bloom“. You do not really need multiples of this card, since you probably will not summon them at any point in time, but one copy seems totally reasonable.

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Name: “Sunvine Cross Breed
Type: Continous Spell

The first card to look at in the “Sunavalon” backrow is “Sunvine Cross Breed”. It is a Continuous Spell that allows you to tribute one Link monster to target one other Plant monster in your graveyard, Special Summon that targeted monster, but its effects are negated. Also, the effect of “Sunvine Cross Breed” can only be used once per turn. This is not the best start one could have imagined for the “Sunavalon” Spell line-up, but there are ways to make use of the card: Since you can tribute any Link monster, you can tribute a Link-1 monster in form of either “Sunvine Gardna“, “Sunvine Healer“, “Sunvine Thrasher“, or “Sunavalon Dryas” to revive a higher Link monster like “Sunavalon Melias” after you used it for the summon “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” or “Benghalancer the Resurgent“. Also, you can also use “Sunvine Cross Breed” to recover from a negate against the most basic play the “Sunavalon” archetype can do: Summon “Sunseed Genius Loci“, then Link Summon “Sunavalon Dryas” using the “Sunseed” as a Link material. Since the Link Summon of “Sunavalon Dryas” triggers a search effect, the opponent can, and probably will, throw “Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring” against it. Play “Sunvine Cross Breed” after they negated the effect, tribute “Sunavalon Dryas” to revive “Sunseed Genius Loci“, then Link Summon another “Sunavalon Dryas” using that “Sunseed” as material with the effects of the second one completely intact. At first I thought that it would be possible to tribute one of the Link-1 monsters to revive a monster that simply proves to be helpful due to its effect, like “Mardel, Generaider Boss of Light“, “Lonefire Blossom“, or “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, but since the revived monster has its effects negated there is little sense in reviving them. Now, after reading all this, you might think: “That is all very specific, isn’t it?”, and I would agree. However, it allows a deck that starts all its plays with a one-card combo anyway to recover from negation. Instead of simply being stopped entirely by losing the effect of “Sunavalon Dryas“, you can rebuild your board like nothing happened by simply having one of the three copies of “Sunvine Cross Breed” in the other four cards in your hand, making it an option that might seem weird but actually helps the deck overall.

Recommended copies: 3
“Sunvine Cross Breed” is an interesting card that can allow for a few plays to be made, but while it mostly provides a bonus to already functioning combos when used as a combo extender, it can allow the deck to rebuild after an early negate. For consistency reasons, it is probably best to run three, since you want to see a copy in your starting hand without searching for it.

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Name: “Sunvine Sowing
Type: Normal Spell

A real ray of sunshine to “Sunavalon” players everywhere comes with “Sunvine Sowing”. This Normal Spell card allows you to Special Summon one “Sunseed” monster from your deck, and afterwards you take 1000 damage. Also, if you control no “Sunavalon” Link monsters, you can only Special Summon “Sunseed Genius Loci” using the effect of “Sunvine Sowing”, and for the rest of the turn after this card resolves, you cannot Special Summon any monsters from the Extra Deck, except for Plant-Type monsters. “Sunvine Sowing” also has a second effect, which you can activate if a Plant Link monster you control would be destroyed by battle or an opponent’s card effect, in which case you can banish “Sunvine Sowing” from your graveyard to save it instead. Lastly, you can only activate one “Sunvine Sowing” per turn. This is a fantastic card for various reasons: In the worst case scenario, “Sunvine Sowing” can serve as another starter that fetches you “Sunseed Genius Loci“, and therefore all you need to do your combo(s). However, it gets more interesting if you have “Sunavalon Dryas” on the field, since this not only allows you to Special Summon “Sunseed Shadow” and “Sunseed Twin“, with “Sunseed Twin” being able to revive the the previously used “Sunseed Genius Loci” as a bonus when Special Summoned, but also gives you yet another monster in form of a “Sunvine” Link monster due to you taking 1000 damage, which are also healed immediately. And you should have access to this in pretty much any scenario you can encounter in “Sunavalon”: Summon “Sunseed Genius Loci” in any way, Link Summon “Sunavalon Dryas” using “Sunseed Genius Loci” as Link material, which then allows you to search for a “Sunvine” Spell/Trap card which obviously include “Sunvine Sowing”; and at that point you have all you need to make the most out of the card. The secondary effect is less important, but still very much appreciated since it can technically stop your “Sunvine” monsters from blowing up when the “Sunavalon” Link gets hit with removal, since you can simply stop the removal effect against the “Sunavalon” monster by banishing “Sunvine Sowing”.

Recommended copies: 3
“Sunvine Sowing” is crazy good support, both due to its effects being useful and appreciated, and due the fact that the design team did a solid job making it interact with the archetype in various ways. I would recommend running three copies.

SunvineShrine-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunvine Shrine
Type: Continuous Spell

The last Spell card in “Sunavalon” is “Sunvine Shrine”, a Continuous Spell. “Sunvine Shrine” is quite different having two requirements to even be activated, since you need to send a card from your hand to the graveyard while you control a “Sunavalon” Link monster. Furthermore, it comes with a restriction that disallows you to Special Summon monsters from the Extra Deck, unless the monster(s) in question are Plant-Type. For all that, “Sunvine Shrine” allows you, once per turn during your Main Phase, to Special Summon one Level 4 or lower Plant Normal Monster from the graveyard. Furthermore, once per turn during the opposing End Phase, you can send the face-up “Sunvine Shrine” to the graveyard, then target one Continous Trap in your graveyard and Set it into the backrow. “Sunvine Shrine” is what I would call convoluted: It asks you to send a card to the graveyard in order to activate it, but you can use that as graveyard setup for cards like “World Carrotweight Champion“, “Rose Girl“, or “Spore“. You need to control a “Sunavalon” Link Monster, but since you probably searched the card using “Sunavalon Dryas” you basically have that requirement box ticked. The fact that you cannot Special Summon non-Plant-Type monsters from the Extra Deck is a total non-issue, since you only run Plant-Type monsters in the Extra Deck even with the engines in mind. The Plant Normal Monster revive is obviously meant for “Sunseed Genius Loci” and therefore worth running for that effect alone since you need that seed around. And lastly, the effect of switching itself against a Continuous Trap allows you to recycle “Sunavalon Bloom“, but nothing keeps you from using completely different Trap cards with that effect. All in all, “Sunvine Shrine” does way more good than harm to the deck and is therefore worth running.

Recommended copies: 1-2
“Sunvine Shrine” is yet another piece of the puzzle: Searchable via “Sunavalon Dryas“, brings graveyard setup for your various Plant-Type monsters, Special Summons “Sunseed Genius Loci“, and can even reuse Trap cards if you want to. Since it is searchable, I would suggest running one to two copies.

SunavalonBloom-GFTP-EN-UR-1E.png

Name: “Sunavalon Bloom
Type: Continuous Trap

For the last card in the “Sunavalon” archetype, we have a Trap: “Sunavalon Bloom”. “Bloom” is a Continuous Trap that continues the rather weird trend of “Sunavalon” to have weird restrictions. Upon activation, if you control a Link-4 or higher Plant-Type monster when this effect resolves, negate the effect of all face-up monsters the opponent controls. Furthermore, during damage calculation, if your Plant Link monster battles, you can activate the second effect of “Sunavalon Bloom” to give it ATK equal to the combined ATK of monsters it currently points to until the end of the turn. The card effect also states that these effect stay live even if “Sunavalon Bloom” leaves the field, but you can only activate the second effect of “Sunavalon Bloom” once per turn, and you can also only activate one “Sunavalon Bloom” per turn. The “Sunavalon” archetype has not been that straightforward, but “Sunavalon Bloom” is surprisingly easy to understand: “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” is a Link-4 Plant monster that searches a “Sunavalon” Spell/Trap card when summoned. During the time of writing, there is no other target for that search effect than “Sunavalon Bloom”, meaning you can either search this card or none. Since you already have the required Link-4 Plant on the field, you can activate the card to turn off the effects of the opposing monsters when required, and if you play “Sunvine Thrasher“, you can turn “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” into a 4000+ ATK monster with the second effect. All this means that “Sunavalon Bloom” is a dead card without either “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” or the other Link-4 Plant option in form of “Benghalancer the Resurgent“, but it is a very solid card to run in “Sunavalon” in general due to you aiming to reach those monsters anyway and getting the card without going out of your way to fetch it.

Recommended copies: 1
“Sunavalon Bloom” is a highly specific card, but one that can do wonders on your completed board. Since you can search it during your normal combo route (and have no other targets for the search effect of “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” anyway), I would suggest running one copy to search for and Set.

With the “Brave Token” engine being on the horizon and providing negates for every deck under the sun, and the “Therions” archetype bringing generic Plant-Type support in form of “Therions’ “Lily” Borea“, there is room for “Sunavalon” to evolve further in the months to come. As soon as the cards are out in the TCG and it shows whether they provide something worthwhile for the deck, they will featured here. However, there are already some archetypes that can provide helpful tools to the “Sunavalons”:

“Aroma”:
The “Aroma” archetype brings a lot of things to the party that “Sunavalon” wants. They are mostly Plant-Type, which is great for synergy with “Sunavalon”, and since “Sunvine Healer” can actually heal your life points, it will increase your life points enough to have more than the opponent when going first, which will allow you to Special Summon “Aromage Laurel” from your hand using its own effect. “Aromaseraphy Angelica” can be used for another heal effect, which will trigger the upcoming cards, or can be Special Summoned from the graveyard for more Link material. “Aromaseraphy Jasmine” can really benefit the deck, since she can summon options like “Mardel, Generaider Boss of Light” or other cards you might need straight from the deck for the low cost of tributing a Plant-Type monster, while she also searches when you gain life points. The search effect also just comes with a soft-“once per turn”, meaning you can use multiple copies for searching or revive them to reuse the effect. “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram” is also a solid option for the final board: Since she searches for one of the “Winds” cards, you can choose to search for “Blessed Winds“, set it to your field, activate it during your opponent’s turn to gain some life points, and therefore trigger the effect of “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram” which destroys an opposing card. Obviously, should the game take longer than the opposing turn that follows and tests your board, you can also used “Blessed Winds” as setup for your graveyard, which will give you life points and therefore trigger both “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram’s” destruction effect or “Aromaseraphy Jasmine’s” search, while you can also simply revive “Aroma” monsters at the cost of 1000 life points to work with.

“Rikka”:
Another Plant-Type engine that shows promise in “Sunavalon” is “Rikka”; and thankfully enough, the engine is neither xenophobic due to working with Plants instead of “Rikka” monsters specifically, nor incredibly big, so you can fit it in other existing builds. “Rikka Petal” can occupy the Normal Summon, since you should have plenty ways to get “Sunseed Genius Loci” per Special Summon, and serves as the “Rikka” searcher. By searching “Snowdrop the Rikka Fairy“, you already have “Rikka Petal” as tribute for the effect, which will set up “Rikka Petal’s” revive effect during the opposing End Phase. “Snowdrop the Rikka Fairy” will also bring another Plant-Type monster from the hand into the game, which can be virtually anything since the deck is (almost) exclusively Plant-Type, which also makes the drawback of the effect a non-factor. Changing the levels of your monsters to Level 8 by simply targeting “Snowdrop the Rikka Fairy” with her own effect also allows you to summon “Teardrop the Rikka Queen“, who brings a Quick Effect tribute effect against the opponent with her for more board control. Talking about board control, you can also opt to play “Mudan the Rikka Fairy“, which enables you to search for “Rikka Sheet” to Set for your final board, which in turn provides one effect negation/monster steal.

Further useful cards:

Main Deck monsters:

Angel Trumpeter“:
If you look for more Plant-Type Normal monsters to run for some reason, I would suggest going for “Angel Trumpeter”. The card has solid stats, since it is Level 4 there might be some Rank 4 Xyz monster to make use of, and it also happens to be a Tuner which opens up more possibilities in deckbuilding.

Blackwing – Zephyros the Elite“:
“Blackwing – Zephyros the Elite” does two things that can turn out to be great in “Sunavalon”: He can revive himself, which technically means more Link material to work with, and he inflicts damage to the player, which in turn triggers “Sunavalon Dryas” and the bigger trees for Special Summons straight from the deck. Unfortunately, “Zephyros” needs to bounce a card, which can be tricky with “Sunvine Shrine“, the only Continuous Spell you will have access to early in the combo, if you do not have the resources or want to setup certain cards, and the fact that he is a Winged Beast makes him almost completely useless for Link Summons in “Sunavalon”, since they need Plant-Type monsters. Still, if you have something to use “Zephyros” for in the end, like tributing him for the effect of “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, he might be worth running.

Draconnet“:
Another way to get “Sunseed Genius Loci” on the field. Normal Summon “Draconnet”, Special Summon “Sunseed Genius Loci” via the effect of “Draconnet”, proceed to combo. Not the option people are running nowadays, but it did, and technically still does, its job. Also, “Draconnet” is searchable via “Cynet Mining“, which would improve the card’s consistency.

Evil Thorn“:
This does not seem to be the most popular option anymore, but since there is synergy I might aswell list it. Get “Evil Thorn” on the field, which will probably happen via Normal Summon, use the effect to tribute it, burn the opponent for 300 damage, then get two more “Evil Thorns” to work with, which will lower the opponent far enough to make “Aromage Laurel” Special Summonable. Use the two “Evil Thorn” for “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“, then tribute “Aromage Laurel” using her effect to Special Summon a Plant-Type monster from your deck, gain 500 life points via “Aromage Laurel” hitting the graveyard, which in turn triggers the search effect of “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“. I can see that drawing into two “Evil Thorn” can be a death sentence for the combo, but I wanted to list the option anyway and it might pay off in some scenarios.

Lonefire Blossom“:
The Plant-Type summon helper. Since “Lonefire Blossom” can basically fetch any monster card in the Main Deck, some “Sunavalon” decks use the card for further consistency.

Mardel, Generaider Boss of Light“:
A useful extender that is normally summoned using the effect of “Aromaseraphy Jasmine“. Being able to search any Main Deck Plant monster is a solid feat and unlike “Lonefire Blossom” “Mardel” stays around to be used as Link material.

Rescue Rabbit“:
If you have a spare Normal Summon and want more copies of “Sunseed Genius Loci” on the field, why not go for “Rescue Rabbit”? Summon it, banish it, search two Normal monsters to summon to the field. This is definitely the variant that is more prone to negates since you lose both your Normal Summon and a card starting the combo with it, but you also get more resources using it. The choice is up to you.

Rose Girl“:
Since you are constantly sending Plant-Type monsters to the graveyard and have a field full of them, you should be able to use “Rose Girl” as an additional body that you can recycle if you want to.

Spore“:
“Spore” is mostly part of the Synchro materials used to summon “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram“, due to the easy Special Summon mechanic it offers as well as the ability to change its level.

World Carrotweight Champion“:
A revivable Plant monster that can be used for both setup due to the discard requirement and is mostly used as Synchro material for “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram” alongside “Spore“, which is normally the card you discard for the revival effect of “World Carrotweight Champion”.

Spell cards:

One for One“:
More searching for “Sunseed Genius Loci“. Technically, you can also search “Sunseed Shadow” and “Sunvine Maiden” with it, but realistically you only need the Normal monster.

Painful Decision“:
A very solid searcher for “Sunseed Genius Loci“. Nor only do you get to add one copy to your hand, you also get to “Foolish Burial” one copy to the graveyard, which can be revived using “Sunavalon Melias“.

Unexpected Dai“:
A way to summon “Sunseed Genius Loci” straight from the deck, which not only leaves your Normal Summon intact but also increases the deck’s consistency by a fair bit.

Where Arf Thou?“:
Yet another way to search for “Sunseed Genius Loci“, although it could also be used to search “Sunseed Shadow“, “Sunvine Maiden“, “Rikka Petal“, “Spore“, or “Aromage Laurel” from your deck. The 2000 damage you would take from the effect if you did not Normal Summon the searched monster are also not that tragic, since you could simply heal it back with the “Trees” and get a “Sunvine” Link monster for free.

Trap cards:

None currently.

Extra Deck monsters:

Benghalancer the Resurgent“:
“Benghalancer” is the one big Link Monster you go into aside from “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay“. You mostly need this guy for his bounce effect as board control, but having the option of using Link Monsters in the graveyard to revive is actually pretty nice when it occurs, since “Sunavalon” should have no problem paying that cost.

Playstyle/Combos:

“You can make literally anything as long as it says “plant” on it.”

– Quote from the “Sunavalon” Discord Channel

For anyone that has no idea about what “Sunavalon” is supposed to do as a deck, it might come as a surprise seeing that this many 0 ATK monsters can actually form a solid strategy. And first appearances are deceiving in this case: “Sunavalon Dryas“, “Sunavalon Dryades“, and “Sunavalon Dryanome” all cushion opposing attacks and burn, “Sunvine Gardna” lowers battle damage, and “Sunvine Healer” heals just like her name implies. All of those cards make it seem like the deck is meant to be played defensively. In addition to that, “Sunavalon” makes use of a vanilla monster, namely “Sunseed Genius Loci“, which causes further confusion due to not exactly being the preferred card type to work with in the game.

“Sunavalon” started in an interesting position, since players were unsure of whether to call it a Control or an Aggro deck. With the starting knowledge and little combo labing being done, there was the “Tree” climbing into “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay“, which has to search “Sunavalon Bloom” and therefore works in a more Control-oriented manner. However, with “Sunvine Thrasher” being a card that can actually cause serious hurt to the opponent, the focus could switch to Beatdown, simply assuming that every line would try to make the most out of a 4000 ATK beater. However, it is safe to say that after people sat down and analyzed the deck in its entirety, we ended up with a strong Combo deck that can build a very impressive board but has some severe weaknesses to overcome in order to get there. We will talk about the “Weaknesses” part later, for now let us see what the deck can actually do.

I can only assume that Konami wanted players to use all of the “Trees” to do the Link climbing. The combo in question is showcased in “dpYGO’s” video about “Sunavalon”, and goes as follows, assuming that you already Normal Summoned “Sunseed Genius Loci” and Special Summoned “Sunseed Shadow” to the field:

At the time when the video was released, this was a perfectly solid analysis of what you were supposed to do with the “Sunavalon” archetype. However, with the card pool that is currently available to “Sunavalon” the deck is perfectly capable of performing one-card combos with insane pay-off. All you need to start the madness is “Sunseed Genius Loci“, the archetypal Normal Monster, since it is required as Link material for “Sunavalon Dryas” in order to search a “Sunvine” Spell/Trap card, which will extend the combo further. The following example is from the “example-combos”-channel on the “Sunavalon” Discord Channel, and aims to build a solid endboard using “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram” as the rather unique part of the combo. Here it goes:

This combo, apart from being very long, sets you up with a Quick Effect bounce due to “Benghalancer the Resurgent“, a board clear with “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” tributing “Benghalancer the Resurgent” for its effect for four destructions, “Aromaseraphy Sweet Marjoram” with a reactionary destruction effect that can be triggered with “Blessed Winds“, an effect negation/monster steal via “Rikka Sheet“, and a one-sided “Skill Drain” in form of “Sunavalon Bloom“. Keep in mind that this was built using only one “Sunseed Genius Loci” in your hand that you then Normal Summoned. With cards like “Unexpected Dai“, just to name one example, it is possible to leave the Normal Summon intact and due even other combo routes or have something to fall back upon should the opponent decide to negate a crucial part of your combo line. Instead of going for the “Aroma” engine, you could decide to work with the “Rikkas”, which would result in a “Teardrop the Rikka Queen“. But as the starting quote said, you can have basically whatever you want to go for, as long as it is Plant-Type.

The aforementioned combo, however, is something that you would go for when you get the first turn, since you set up tons of board control to keep the opponent in check with. As I have mentioned before when talking about “Sunvine Thrasher” and “Sunavalon Melias“, there is also a strategy going second, allowing you to rack up enough fighting power to simply blow away unexpecting opponents. I am going to refer to one of the “Sunavalon” Discord Channel combos again, since they went to great lengths making them accessable to many players that show interest in the deck. The following combo was more of a thought experiment than something you would go for in a normal game, since it takes on the challenge of allowing “Sunvine Thrasher” to attack six times in one turn. However, this shows that you can tweak the combo to still have enough damage output to make it dangerous, while still having ample resources to work with since you only use one card as the starter again:

I want to make two things clear: As number one, this is, as mentioned before, not a combo recommended for normal play, since you have to run quite a few cards specifically to make that boards possible, which in turn would make your deck worse than the normal version that is run at the moment. And number two being the info that I did not come up with those combos, and cannot imagine thinking about them even if I sat down in front of all the cards for hours, so kudos to the crafty people doing all the labing and the players in the Discord channel keeping the discussion alive and spreading information. Back to the combo in question, you clearly do not need to attack six times using “Sunvine Thrasher“, but it certainly shows what is possible. “Sunavalon Melias” will come up eventually during your combo to allow for the bonus attacks, and if you decided to go into “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” you can not only set the ATK to 4000 instead of 3200, but you will also have access to “Sunavalon Bloom“, which has a secondary effect allowing “Sunavalon Dryatrentiay” to copy the massive ATK when necessary. And keep in mind that you gain control over the monsters that “Sunvine Thrasher” runs over in battle, meaning more attackers and therefore more damage, likely resulting in a victory.

So, “Sunavalon”, despite its seriously weird card pool, is a strong combo deck that can make various different boards using basically anything that you could label with “Plant Goodstuff”. If unimpeded, the strategy can make frankly ridiculous combos happen, which is exactly why so many of the cards have seemingly random drawbacks attached to them. The lack of hard “once per turn”-clauses on many of the cards leads to “Infernity”-esque reusing of cards in the archetype, which also means that you need to have a lot of game experience using “Sunavalon” to react to given situations and still build your board through opposing negates and destruction effects.

Weaknesses/Counters:

“Sunavalon”, even though they can make seemingly endless combos using a single vanilla monster, can be stopped by various options. The deck really like to go first, so if you get the first turn, you might have a good chance of assembling a board that can counter their plays in various ways. Since the deck is able to Special Summon like there is no tomorrow, they are completely stopped by cards that prohibit doing so. The non-Earth “Barrier Statues” come to mind, “Archlord Kristya“, “Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo“, “Jowgen the Spiritualist“, “Vanity’s Fiend“, and many more cards that simply stop Special Summoning are also toxic for the strategy. Another weakness that “Sunavalon” shares with quite a lot of decks are handtraps: Using “Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring” can be critical, although the “Sunavalon” decks now run plenty starters to make one negate not that much of a deal; the same is true for “Ghost Belle & Haunted House“. “Droll & Lock Bird” is pretty devastating, as is “Nibiru, the Primal Being” since “Sunavalon” cannot build up to anything to stop the card before summon number five and will have to rebuild which whatever they have left in hand or set up in the graveyard.

“Sunavalon” makes extensive use of the graveyard to reuse resources multiple times, so prohibiting graveyard usage is also a possible way to stop the deck. “Necrovalley” can work as much as “Abyss Dweller“, while simply banishing the cards via “Dimensional Fissure“, “Macro Cosmos“, or “Masked HERO Dark Law” can do the same damage. But even less obvious cards like “Cosmic Cyclone” can be fatal when used at the right time, since they can theoretically stop the deck at crucial moments. Since a whole lot of the cards that “Sunavalon” will use require Plant-Type monsters or even lock you into summoning them, there is some damage you can do by changing their Type. “Zombie World“, just to name one popular example, can certainly damage the combo potential of the deck, since it will be locked out of playing anything due to not featuring any Plant-Type monsters anymore. But the worst you can probably do to “Sunavalon” is using blowouts affecting the entire field, like “Dark Ruler No More” or “Evenly Matched“, since the deck has no natural out against them while losing basically everything they assembled over the length of the combo.

Videos:

Sunavalon Combos + Decklist post-BODE (August 2021):
A combo compilation made from the “Sunavalon” combos you can find on the “Sunavalon” Discord Channel. As with every combo deck, I would deem it crucial to understand what your combos can look like before you can adapt to situations like the opponent negating crucial parts of it. The video above delivers a solid starting point to gain some combo knowledge and is therefore a solid watch in my opinion.

Articles:

The “Sunavalon” Discord Channel:
The “Sunavalon” part of the community you can find on Discord not only has an open ear for questions, but the channels are already filled with tons of info that might be useful to learn “Sunavalon” and improve your ability to play them. I can only urge you to visit their channel, since it contains tons of tips, example combos, and ready-made decklists to work with.

Yugipedia “Sunavalon” article:
The pictures in this article come, as usual, from Yugipedia. The “Sunavalon” article itself lists some of the necessary options, but is really short overall.

Sample Decklist (January 2022):

This is a “Sunavalon” list that I would personally play. I knowingly avoided saying that I came up with this build, because I did not: The aforementioned “Sunavalon” Discord Channel provides sample decklists for various builds, including an “Aroma” decklist like that one above. That does not mean I simply copied their decisions: Reading through the Discord for hours convinced me that this build is very solid, and even got me to put in three “Sunvine Cross Breed“, which I deemed a failure of a card at an earlier stage in writing the article. And in all honesty, the players in the Discord have put in some many hours more than I can possibly spent with the deck that they really have a view for what works in the deck and what does not. Feel free to change the list in whatever way you deem reasonable, the only thing I can truely tell you is that the Extra Deck space is pretty much non-existent since you need most of the options that are listed up there. Also, I decided to fit in three copies of “Dark Ruler No More” instead of three “Forbidden Droplet“; I am aware that they have different tasks to fulfill, but paying 60€+ for one copy, yet alone three, was not an option that I would consider.

Budget Deckbuilding: Mind Swarm

Another week, another deck to look at. This time: Part three of the Preconstructed Decks from Darksteel, a mono-Black Aggro deck the name “Mind Swarm”. After the disappointments that were “Master Blaster” and “Swarm and Slam”, I sincerely hope that “Mind Swarm” gives us some bang for the buck. I mean, WotC did it in the very same block, with a mono-White Equip deck and an Artifact Affinity deck, both being solid ideas and builds that are only held back by sellers wanting an awful lot of money for them nowadays. But enough of that, we are here for “Mind Blast”, so here is the list in question:

Creatures (20):

4x Leaden Myr (2)
3x Grimclaw Bats (1B)
1x Slith Bloodletter (BB)
1x Nim Replica (3)
3x Chittering Rats (1BB)
2x Emissary of Despair (1BB)
1x Scavenging Scarab (3B)
1x Clockwork Vorrac (5)
3x Dross Golem (5)
1x Mephitic Ooze (4B)

Spells (19):

1x Bonesplitter (1)
1x Leonin Bola (1)
1x Leonin Scimitar (1)
2x Specter’s Shroud (2)
2x Terror (1B)
3x Wrench Mind (BB)
1x Skeleton Shard (3)
1x Pulse of the Dross (1BB)
2x Relic Bane (1BB)
2x Geth’s Grimoire (4)
1x Essence Drain (4B)
2x Murderous Spoils (5B)

Lands (21):

17x Swamp
4x Vault of Whispers

And, since you should already know the drill, here is the usual text from WotC that comes with every single one of the Preconstructed Decks:

The “Mind Swarm” deck is fun to play because it has multiple paths to victory. At heart it’s a black weenie deck that tries to quickly reduce your opponent’s life total with aggressive flying creatures. It includes several excellent pieces of Equipment to enhance these creatures. But “Mind Swarm” also features a strong discard theme, and you can use these “hand destruction” cards to disrupt your opponents’ game plans before they get going. Geth’s Grimoire combines very well with these effects–every time you force opponents to discard a card, you get to draw a card. If you hit them with Wrench Mind, you may even be able to draw two cards! For the midgame, the deck has a number of decent creature-removal spells. In general, save these for any creature that can stop your fliers from getting through (as opposed to, say, an annoying ground-pounder). It’s fine to trade damage with your opponent. Use Leonin Bola to tap potential blockers or to stop opposing monsters from attacking you. If you have multiple untapped creatures and enough mana, you can even use Leonin Bola to tap multiple creatures in a turn; after one creature throws it, just pass it on for another creature to use. A couple of cards excel in the long game. Relic Bane is a great source of long-term damage. Be sure to play it on an artifact that you won’t use another spell to destroy–or an indestructible artifact. Skeleton Shard is a great way to recycle your creatures late in the game. “Mind Swarm” is designed to play well against other Mirrodin-block decks, with many cards that work well against artifacts. If you come up against opponents playing very few artifacts, you can tune the deck a bit by removing Relic Bane and Emissary of Despair. Potential replacements include any creature with an evasion ability such as fear or flying. More creature removal, or even more discard effects if your opponent is playing a very slow deck, are also good additions. Whether you’re squeezing with discards or flooding with weenies, the “Mind Swarm” deck can find a way to make life difficult for your opponents.

Darksteel “Mind Swarm” Theme Deck Product Description

When I read “multiple paths to victory”, I get very unpleasant flashbacks to the “Master Blaster” deck I featured two weeks prior. There are strategies in which an emergency plan can help and work, but I might have a certain bias against people thinking that their deck needs to be a Aggro/Control/Mill/Burn deck. Fortunately, “Mind Swarm” covers two strategies that can actually work hand in hand: Low-cost creatures to support an Aggro strategy paired with discard. See, the old-school discard deck was basically an Aggro deck, since even a single “Hypnotic Specter” puts a ten-turn clock onto your opponent. “Mind Swarm” delivers slithers of a solid deck: Three copies of “Wrench Mind” is pretty good, and if you want to play it there are certainly ways to make the two “Geth’s Grimoire” workable. “Terror” is a solid staple, despite the fact that “Doom Blade” is better and also pretty cheap. “Chittering Rats” is quite solid actually, since it can slow down the opponent by quite a lot. “Dross Golem” is one of the better Affinity golems since it goes even in costs with only two “Swamps” on the field. And the “Emissary of Despair” might be very specific since it only really serves a purpose against Artifact decks, but in this case I would approve of playing the card since it can make quite an impact if the effect triggers. Even the “Skeleton Shard” can be helpful, giving you back resources from your graveyard and therefore giving the deck options for the later stages of the game in which normal discard decks would struggle.

Unfortunately, WotC threw in some bullshit to keep the deck from really shining. “Scavenging Scarab” is a non-sensical card regardless of what scenario you encounter it in, “Essence Drain” is too expensive and does not really support the strategy, four copies of “Leaden Myr” might be nice to have but not in an Aggro-oriented deck without Artifact focus, “Nim Replica” is as bad as the “Replicas” get, “Murderous Spoils” is terrible in almost every situation, and “Relic Bane” is exactly the Artifact-focussed cardboard that you do not need in your deck all the time. Fortunately, the deck is rather easy to fix: More discard which can come in any form from “Cry of Contrition” to , some “Specter” if you can get your hands on them, “Liliana’s Caress” if you have the money, and maybe some other black-colored options to support the Aggro route which can be anything from “Vampire Nighthawk“, over classics like “Dauthi Slayer“, up to something completely different if you like. The strategy is tried, tested, and undoubtably works.

The question at hand is therefore a different one: Do you really need this deck to build a decent Black Aggro deck, which potentially also works with discard? The answer is no. You can pick up various singles that support the strategy for decent money; and you will need to do so, since the “Mind Swarm” deck does not really give enough cards to work with. Why not include “Necrogen Spellbomb” into the decklist? It is a cheap artifact, it can discard, you have an emergency draw option. Instead we are blessed with such pearls as “Mephitic Ooze“, which is not only too expensive for what it does but an ill fit for the strategy at hand. Five mana is a lot in Black Aggro/Discard and since it does not have any evasion it needs to be equipped or otherwise supported to get going; with what little power you can provide it with, since the number of Artifacts in the deck is certainly not sufficient to make it a powerful beater. This is even more true for rubbish like “Clockwork Vorrac“, which could push some damage through due to having Trample, but is a terrible card nonetheless. Bottom-line is that the deck clashes with some of its own strategies. It is not as badly designed as “Master Blaster”, but certainly bad enough to be noticeable. What am I meant to do with only one “Leonin Bola“, and who do I equip that thing to in an Aggro deck? Why do we run four “Vault of Whispers” if “Dross Golem” does not get cheaper for them? And if the reason is boosting “Mephitic Ooze“, why do we not drop “Dross Golem” entirely while also having up to four copies “Darksteel Citadel” to further boost the stats? Sure, it only produces colorless mana, but that is hardly an issue in a mono-colored deck, and it would further increase the number of Artifacts. By the same token, why not include “Nim Lasher” or “Nim Shrieker“, which are boosted in the same manner?

When I typed the deck name into Ebay for this article’s search, instead of only one or two actual offers after scrolling there were three results right at the top, all of which I included into the gallery above. Now, Cardmarket sellers offer the deck for 20 – 30€, which is still expensive but seems reasonable in comparision to the prices you find on Ebay. Ignore the postage for now, since two of the sellers were located in Australia, but the prices for the deck alone seem crazy high. I found a similar price level for the “Bait and Bludgeon”-deck from Mirrodin, but unlike “Mind Blast” there was the idea of a well-oiled Artifact Affinity deck, giving the player a solid card base to work with. That is not the case with “Mind Blast”: “Pulse of the Dross” averages at 0.18€, which is pretty low for a rare, while “Mephitic Ooze” only goes for around 0.15€ on average. Sure, four copies of “Vault of Whispers” are nice to have, and “Geth’s Grimoire” had a price trend of 0.77€ at the time of writing, but other than that there is nothing in the list that would explain the high prices; especially not the one for the opened and damaged package. If you want my opinion, I would not pay more than 10€ for the deck, since it does work but only barely. If you do not care about the card values but would rather focus on the playability, I can only say that you would probably be better off buying singles. Sure, the “Mind Blast” deck has some helpful cards, but you would need to buy so many cards for it to run smooth anyway that I would rather start from scratch.

The Videogame Corner: Spore

The “backlog” is a term that wakes all kinds of emotions in gamers. I am aware of the fact that more things that can create a backlog than just video games, but in times of Steam, GOG.com, and various other platforms handing out really good games for little money, there is simply the urge is to buy. However, having the time to play all those shiny titles is a completely different matter. I do have a sizeable backlog of games that I would, could, and probably should tackle at some point, but after I decided to write what’s on my mind about the various games I played so far, things got more complicated. Sure, I could simply talk about the games I played in the past for memory, but as I always say “Nostalgia is one hell of a drug.” So, I re-play those games that I finished years ago to refresh my knowledge about them while reliving the good times I had with them; or crushing any positive feelings I harbored for them due to finally having taken off the rose-tinted glasses and expecting more from certain titles that I had a jolly good time with back in the day.

If you, dear reader, now think “Stalk, stop talking nonsense, and get to the point.”, … well, then you are probably right. Long story short: Since my aforementioned backlog was basically extended to whatever I played in the past and would like to write an article about, there are several games that I deemed done that suddenly plop up on the To-do-list again. One such title was “Spore”, a god-game/simulation/real-time strategy/action adventure-genre mix that was crazy ambitious back in the day and still crazy in general in present times. You create your own creature, from being nothing more than a cell up to conquering the planet you live on and engaging in interstellar travel and exploration. Imagine “Empire Earth”, but you make your own creature, you have more of a timeframe to play through, and instead of playing a strategy game (at least for most of the time), you play a simulation in which you can change, form and evolve the creature and the assets later down the road in various creative ways. “Spore” is definitely a unique experience, however, it certainly has its ups and downs. Fortunately, the game is divided into five stages that I can go through and structure the article with, so let’s talk “Spore”:

Swim, eat, survive; an example of how to make the introduction for a game both interesting, fun to play, and easy to understand.

The first stage in “Spore” is the Cell Stage, where you play your species-to-be on a microbiologic level. The Cell Stage is a charming start that has an actual impact on your creation in the on-coming stage since you pretty much decide what your species will eat later on by setting the path on a cellular level. But let’s start at the beginning: You start your journey into “Spore” as a cell that cannot do anything at the start apart from moving and eating. By consuming specks of food you gain DNA, which you can use to “evolve” your cell with the various upgrades you can find. The logic is as simple as it would be in actual nature, just way faster: You attach whatever you deem helpful for the survival of your creature since its basic function is to eat and procreate. If you choose to be a herbivore, your targets are small green flakes swimming around in the primordial soup. Since you do not want to interact with the other creatures, but they mostly want to eat you, some basic defenses are in order. Whether you apply spikes to your body as a deterrent, produce electricity like an eel, or simply have a small speed boost in form of fins to flee the predator is completely up to you. However, if you crave the meat of other beings, you can choose to be a carnivore, in which case you can decide to consume the red specks wobbling around or hunt down other cells as your prey. Apart from your jaws that can be used to bite the opponent, some of the same functions that are helpful for the herbivores can help you hunt down your food. More speed due to fins means you can catch up with other cells easier, while the same spikes that protect the squishy bodies can be used to inflict damage when placed more … aggressively.

Even when I was writing this part, I thought that it did not sound like you can do hours of it due to the lack of … well, something original to do. And thankfully, Maxis was aware of that: The Cell Stage can be cleared in about 10 minutes, which is fine as a start and serves as a solid introduction into some of the gameplay mechanics to come. Gaining points to evolve your creature to your liking is something that you first encounter in the Cell Stage and the choice of options to customize are fairly limited exactly because new players need to get a feel for what is in store for them. The Cell Stage introduces the first few parts to emerge out of the water with and, as mentioned before, sets the course for what your creature is capable of eating once it arrives on land. You can choose to let your creature become an omnivore by switching the mouths through the various iterations your cell will go through, or simply attaching multiple mouths to eat with to one cell, but it is perfectly possible to let your creature only have one possible food source and still play without any problems. In my opinion, the Cell Stage was a fine introduction to the game and sparked interest for the things to come.

Pretty much every early Creature Stage creation looks like some dong on legs, but soon they will evolve into something completely different.

The real meat of the game is, at least in my opinion, the Creature Stage. After your cell evolved to have some legs, it moved out of the water to continue living on land, but that brings its fair share of difficulties to overcome. After the Cell Stage, you gain some final points and can make your creature somewhat functional, albeit knowing that the start will be rocky. Your body parts now all gain new abilities, which you will need to do the two major options “Spore” gives you when it comes to other species: Befriend or hunt. Both solutions do work and you can decide to never harm any creature in the creature stage if you do not want to. For that, you can do some basic rituals to show the other that you mean no harm. The options for that are singing, dancing, posing, or charming. Each of those interactions can have a level from 1 to 5 depending on how good your body part is in that area. For example, to allow your creature to sing it needs any mouth component, but to have a high-level ability certain mouths are better than others. Feet are required to dance, arms are needed for posing, and you can only use charm if your creature has fur, feathers, or something else to put on show. The process of befriending whatever creature you have in front of you just comes down to imitating the action they use and meeting their “expectation level”. Doing so will give you DNA, which you can then use to create new features for the next generation, while your being becomes ever more intelligent and crafty.

Obviously, if there is a way to befriend other species, you can also be rather unfriendly to them. For that, you have the option of battling whatever sad creature encounters you. Again, you have four abilities, but rather than using them in conjunction with something, you can just activate them at the most opportune moment and deal damage to your target. If your creature has every ability available, it will be able to bite, charge, strike, and spit. Bite is a rather weak attack that comes with a short cooldown and can therefore be spammed; however, you need a mouth component to bite anything. Charge allows your creature to run in the direction of the target at full speed and stun it upon impact, and it is granted by feet as well as horns. Strike is a high-damaging attack with a long cooldown that can hit multiple targets, which needs arms or spikes to be unlocked. And finally, Spit is a ranged attack that deals damage over time while also stopping charging creatures, and is granted by special glands you can buy for your creature. With that arsenal, you can fight various species, bring them to extinction, and gain some precious DNA to upgrade your creature with in the process.

Now, I already mentioned that I liked the Creature Stage the most and that comes down to the crazy variety of monsters you can make in the creature creator. Maxis did a good job when it comes to the number of creature parts in the game since you not only have enough material to do incredibly wacky stuff with but the creator is also easy enough to understand that pretty much any player can get into creating their monsters immediately. There are a few things to keep in mind when building creatures, mainly that you have a certain limit of parts you are allowed to use and that there is a maximum for both thinness and thickness of body parts; but other than that you can go wild. This is also the one mode that makes me re-install the game just to have half an hour of fun designing some monstrosity before I de-install the game again. The creature creation in “Spore” was just its best feature, since it’s easy to understand and fun to work with. I can remember booting up “Spore” with my friends and just making some doofus of an animal, which was not only great fun but probably still works in 2021 despite the age of the game. Unfortunately, the game was not designed for you to stay in the creature stage indefinitely, since you will run out of tasks to do and therefore progress into the next stage of the game.

My species, the “Assimilus”, during the Tribal Stage. I decided to go with an attire best described as “a wooden mask and some foilage strapped to the belly”.

The so-called “Tribal Stage” comes right after your creature developed enough brainpower to form the earliest stages of civilization. A new window opens in which you are tasked to give some clothing to whatever species you created and right after that you find yourself with a small base and the task to gather food. In the Tribal Stage, instead of DNA, you use food to buy upgrades. New upgrades for your base? Food. Getting a new baby in the tribe to grow your numbers? Food. I would list more things to buy with food here, but that is basically it. The Tribal Stage just consists of you gathering enough nourishment to keep the bellies of your creatures full and to upgrade both your tribe and the base to whatever level you want or need. But this stage does not only revolve around your battle against starvation: Other species also managed to gain enough intelligence to form tribes, and they must be befriended or annihilated, exactly like in the Creature Stage. This time around both war and peace can be brought by the usage of tools, which means musical instruments for the peace-loving species, while weapons can bring down foes and their buildings alike if you consider war as an option. And that is all you need to know about the Tribal Stage: It ends as soon as you finished interacting with five other tribes, but whether this was done peacefully, by war, or a mix of the two options is completely up to you. I dislike the Tribal Stage since there is so little to do: There is food in abundance, so I never really struggle to keep my tribe alive even at maximum capacity, and going to war with the other tribes can be as easy as equipping the entire tribe with weapons and then catching the opposing tribe off-guard by picking some hunting party as my target. Granted, there is the option of increasing the difficulty, so maybe the Tribal Stage becomes challenging when played on “Hard”, but in my opinion, this is just busywork with little impact overall.

One of my many cities in the Civilization Stage. Building a lot of assets for your nation is fun, but playing the actual mode runs out of steam quickly.

After the disappointment that is the Tribal Stage, our self-made species grows even more intelligent, which brings us to the Civilization Stage. If you liked creating things in the creature creator, hold on tight because we have to create an entire army of assets for their city. Starting with the center building, there are houses, factories, and entertainment buildings to design with the newly introduced building creator. Also, we need military vehicles on the land, the sea, and in the skies, adding even more things to create with the aptly called vehicle creator. And we need all those things because the game introduces yet another resource we need to farm: Spice. In fact, the Civilization Stage could be best described with “Spice Wars”, since that is basically what you are going to do for the entire phase. The entire map is full of Spice geysers, which our military vehicles can claim for our civilization and therefore gain us more resources to build more vehicles and buildings to be more efficient in gaining Spice, which in turn gives us more resources to work with, et cetera ad nauseam. The only forces that are stopping the player from simply taking over the entire planet and therefore all the Spice reserves are other civilizations trying to do the same. They will try to increase their Spice production as well, which stands in opposition to you controlling all the resources, which means that you can either ally the other nation(s) or blast them off the map. That system sounds familiar, right? In the Civilization Stage, you can ally others by making them gifts or opting to buy their cities, which in the end might even cause them to acknowledge your power and ask to join your empire out of free will. The more explosive option is to go at war with your military vehicles, which you can further support by simply sending bombs to the opposing city as a persuasive tool that just so happens to also flatten buildings quite well. And that is it, basically. If you like to create your own little nation, you will probably spend quite some time in the creation tools, but the gameplay of the stage itself feels lacking. Click a vehicle, order it to attack, retreat when receiving too much damage, and eventually the city is conquered. But the Civilization Stage is just another prelude to probably the longest stage the game has to offer.

Aside from tanks and boats, you will also have to create airplanes. It is certainly possible to do crazy builds, but after being asked to design about six different things in a row I couldn’t be bothered anymore.

The final frontier can be conquered in the Space Stage; and since the player has to be in the phase for the rest of the game time, they fluffed up the content in this particular stage. At the start of the Space Stage, you get to build yet another vehicle in form of a spacecraft that allows you to travel the rest of the universe. All of the sudden, the game mode changes from you being the god-like player that steers his creatures to a scenario in which you play a single space cadet of your nation. You get the glorious mission of flying the first spacecraft your nation has produced, and since there seem to be intelligent lifeforms out in the vast nothingness, you get to find and contact them to create bridges between the races. You eventually get to find other lifeforms, at which point you come to the age-old question of “friend or foe”. You can be a warmonger and start new conquests on a galactic level, you can trade with the other planets and gain more resources that way. On top of that, you have a scanning tool that allows you to analyze unknown flora and fauna and add them to the Sporepedia. Using Colony-kits, you can colonize planets to farm more Spice, which can be turned into more Sporebucks, which can be turned into more everything else, which in turn can be used to farm more Spice, you already know the drill. At this point, I have a confession to make: I have never completed the Space Stage of “Spore”; in fact, I have never even managed to play that stage for longer than half an hour before closing the game due to massive boredom. “Spore” was brilliant for the creature creator, and I am pretty sure that many other people that played the game would agree. The Space Stage is so far away from that fun mode of designing creatures that it did not even feel like I was playing the same game anymore. Instead, I am now flying a spaceship, aggressively scrolling with the mouse wheel to leave and enter solar spaces and planet atmospheres, working on completing some in-game achievement system that rewards me new titles whenever I did something but never feeling right, meaningful, or even fun. Reaching Space in Spore is normally the end of my journey, since at that point I probably wasted about one and a half hours of game time in the Tribal and Civilization Stages, waiting for a part of the game that I look forward to even less.

This is not how your journey in “Spore” has to go. In fact, I am sure that there are just as many people that like flying through space and doing something completely different as there are people that wished the entire game would be content for the Creature Stage. However, it is not like Maxis did not know what they had created, since they were clearly aware of how good the creature editor was: The “Spore” trial version that is offered on the Spore website consists of only the creature creator and nothing more, which means that they had high hopes in that thing alone to win people over. The creator was even used for 2011’s “Darkspore“, in which players could use a slightly altered version of the creature creator to make their player character. “Spore” received two DLCs for exactly those the strongest two stages of the game: More parts to make your creatures with are available in the “Creepy & Cute Parts Pack“, and more content for the Space Stage with the “Galactic Adventures” DLC. But all of this is just bonus info. The matter at hand is: Is “Spore” worth buying? If you want my answer, it would be yes. The game goes for 1.99€ on Steam during sales, which is honestly a good enough price for the Creature Stage alone. I am currently at over 20 hours of playtime, just because I find myself re-installing the game, having a little fun with it, binning it again, and then repeating that process a year later. “Spore” was a new concept back in 2008, and even nowadays there is not really anything quite like it available, so if you want to have some fun time creating your own species and seeing them thrive throughout the ages, give “Spore” a try.

Budget Deckbuilding: Swarm and Slam

Yet another article featuring one of the Preconstructed Decks from the Mirrodin block? Sure, there are quite a few decks still available that I want to cover, so this time we take a look at the second deck that came out together with Darksteel, the White/Green “Swarm and Slam”. I still try to forget the clusterfuck that was the “Master Blaster” deck, so the only way to go is up, right? Well, we will see. Here is the list:

Creatures (18):

2x Viridian Shaman (2G)
2x Tel-Jilad Outrider (3G)
2x Infested Roothold (4G)
1x Tel-Jilad Archers (4G)
2x Tangle Spider (4GG)
2x Pteron Ghost (1W)
4x Gold Myr (2)
3x Tangle Golem (7)

Spells (18):

4x Echoing Courage (1G)
1x Pulse of the Tangle (1GG)
2x One Dozen Eyes (5G)
1x Purge (1W)
2x Raise the Alarm (1W)
1x Test of Faith (1W)
1x Arrest (2W)
1x Stir the Pride (4W)
2x Spawning Pit (2)
1x Thunderstaff (3)
1x Wirefly Hive (3)
1x Myr Matrix (5)

Lands (24):

16x Forest
8x Plains

And here is the usual marketing blurb that tries to tell us what we are to do with the sixty cards in the box after purchase:

The “Swarm & Slam” deck wins by bringing out lots of creatures, then making them too tough to handle. Once you get started, you’ll never stop producing creatures–except to improve on them. If you get a little time to build up, you’ll have an overwhelming force. The key card in the “Swarm & Slam” deck is Echoing Courage, since many of your cards create multiple creatures with the same name. A single Echoing Courage turns six 1/1 Insects into 18 damage headed straight at your opponent. For a really nasty surprise, play Raise the Alarm and then Echoing Courage. You suddenly go from no blockers to a pair of 3/3 Soldiers, ready and waiting to chew up your opponent’s attackers. A late-game Stir the Pride can be devastating. Giving your multitude +2/+2 and the ability to gain life for you makes for a huge swing. This deck has several creatures with protection from artifacts, so if possible, save your artifact-removal spells for noncreature artifacts. Because you have many cards–including Stir the PrideInfested RootholdWirefly HiveSpawning Pit, and Myr Matrix–that help you pull ahead in long games, don’t trade damage early in the game. Instead sit back on defense and be willing to trade creatures. In the long run, you’ll have many more resources than your opponent. You just need to have the time to play out all your cards. If you’re upgrading this deck, try to select creatures that have the abilities you want. For example, instead of tossing in a Deconstruct, add more Viridian Shamans to make Echoing CourageSpawning PitThunderstaff, and Stir the Pride even more effective. The “Swarm & Slam” deck can be weak against flying creatures, so adding more Tel-Jilad Archers or even a Silklash Spider or two from the Onslaught set might be beneficial. And in the Mirrodin environment, it never hurts to have even more artifact removal.

Darksteel “Swarm and Slam” Theme Deck Product Description

“Swarm and Slam” is a Token deck, that is blatantly clear. Lots of cards in the deck create Tokens, most of the Creatures in the deck are filling roles that the tokens cannot take care off, and you will find various field-wide stat-boosts to push with after accruing enough fighting power in token form. However, “Swarm and Slam” takes a rather, I guess you could call it interesting approach to the entire token-producing strategy: They produce whatever is available. “One Dozen Eyes” can make “Beast Token” and “Insect Token”, which is shared by “Pulse of the Tangle” making more “Beast Token”, while “Infested Roothold” produces more “Insect Token”. “Raise the Alarm” produces “Soldier Tokens”, “Wirefly Hive” makes “Wirefly Tokens”, “Spawning Pit” gives you access to “Spawn Tokens”, and “Myr Martix” adds yet another Token variant with “Myr Tokens”. That means you have one strategy that makes six different Token variants, which all come with different names, which in turn makes “Echoing Courage“, the quote “key card” a lot more ineffective. The most unfortunate part is that while the “Beast Token”-part is somewhat acceptable, they really do not benefit that much from the four copies of “Echoing Courage” due to starting out with high stats already, which is why you cannot produce them in bulk. On the flipside, the “Insect Tokens” can reach the number count necessary to make something out of the field-wide boost that a “Echoing Courage” would provide, but the cards giving you the Tokens are quite frankly bad. “Raise the Alarm” is a good card, but an odd inclusion due to not helping the strategy as much, “Myr Matrix” seems to be in there for shits and giggles, and “Spawning Pit” is not exactly a bad card but does not help the strategy in any way. And then there is “Wirefly Hive“, which costs me six mana to even produce one 3/3 Flyer with a fifty-fifty chance, while potentially blowing up any “Wirefly Tokens” I already have for the cheap price of three mana.

The text from WotC also has some weird ideas of how the game works. The idea of using both “Raise the Alarm” and “Echoing Courage” is cute, but four mana and two cards for two 3/3 Creatures without any further qualities seems mediocre at best. They mention “Stir the Pride“, which potentially works even though I find it overpriced, but the notion of going into the long game due to having cards like “Spawning Pit“, “Wirefly Hive“, and “Myr Matrix” is nonsensical: The opponent will have put you in your place long before they run out of all their resources, and even then cards like “Wirefly Hive” can backfire spectacularly and ruin your board. And the solution making “Echoing Courage” less useful due to diluting the deck with horseshit token production is obviously having more “Viridian Shaman“, a card that you can only have four copies of at maximum rather than going with one sort of Token and making a sheer endless army to boost with the effect. Oh, and the fact that the deck has trouble with Flyers is certainly solved by adding more “Tel-Jilad Archers“, frankly one of the worst commons from Darksteel. And there are so many things wrong with the “Swarm and Slam” deck that I have not mentioned so far, here are a few examples: Why play “Tangle Golem” in a two-colored deck, which will require your to also use “Plains” and therefore make the card slower, potentially more expensive, and overall just less effective? What is the reason for running “Pteron Ghost“? The deck does not work with Flyers, you do not have enough copies to make “Echoing Courage” worthwhile, and there are no Artifacts that would require the card sacrificing itself for? Why run an entire playset of “Gold Myr” if the deck is mostly Green and has a Land distribution of 2/3 “Forests” to 1/3 “Plains“? I mean, sure, they gain +1/+1 via “Myr Matrix” but that is hardly a reason to play that many. Why are some of the potentially helpful cards only available at one copy? I do not want to wait drawing an “Arrest” out of a pile of about 40-50ish cards, while “Test of Faith” could be nice at more copies but is unreliable at one?

The “Swarm and Slam” deck is painful to go through, since it has the perfect base for a Token deck. White and Green are perfect Token colors and would be further supported in Ravnica, City of Guilds with a long list of incredibly useful cards. “Glare of Subdual” can lock the opponent down completely if you have enough Creature Tokens available, “Hour of Reckoning” can work as a “Wrath of God” alternative, “Twilight Drover” brings in “Spirit Tokens” but actually does something else while providing that option, “Sundering Vitae” works as a “Naturalize” that you can potentially play without paying any mana for it in Token decks, and “Scion of the Wild” can actually provide a solid beater when a lot of Tokens are available. Those are only a few of the available option, since there are sheer endless ways to build effective Token decks. And lots of solutions to fit aswell: You have problems with Flying Creatures? Then do not play “Tel-Jilad Archers” and go for “Raking Canopy” instead. Granted, that card did not exist back during Darksteel times, but even cards like “Wing Snare” are better and more cost-effective in most situations.

Which brings us to the usual question: Is the deck worth buying? Well, as you can see, the box goes for at least 20€, at least considering what my short search on the internet brought up. The two rares certainly not value cards, with “Pulse of the Tangle” averaging 0.22€ on Cardmarket, and “Myr Matrix” going for 0.88€ in price trend. Surprisingly, “Spawning Pit” has the card with the highest price trend at the time of writing with 0.97€, which with two copies in the deck is at least something; but no other card is that rare that it would make the deck worth buying. On a player level, “Swarm and Slam” provides a rather badly-made Token deck that understands the potential of “Echoing Courage” (even featuring the card on the cover) but fails to set up a structure that make it really shine. Personally, I would not pay more than 8€ for a box, and rather opt to buy a playset of “Echoing Courage” online for pennies and work with it in another build.

The Videogame Corner: Torchlight

I am no stranger to Action Role-Playing Games. In fact, I played quite a few, from classics such as “Diablo” and the “Dungeon Siege” games, to newer titles like “Grim Dawn”. ARPGs are certainly not for everyone, but if you like tinkering with builds, learning how skills and stats change the gameplay, and simply grinding to gain more loot, experience and money, then you probably like games from this genre. And if you have not played it yet, here is a recommendation to try: “Torchlight”. The “Torchlight” series has three titles at the time of writing and was some fresh input in a genre in which every game still is labeled as a “Diablo clone”; just like every FPS was called a “Doom clone” for years. In fact, I can say right from the start that “Torchlight”, regardless of which of the installments you choose to play, does not provide any revolutionary new ideas and concepts. However, it still serves as a solid ARPG that proves what players are looking for when going for the genre, while also handing the players some quality of life-improvements that make things run smoother.

Since I am just throwing out terms like “ARPG” or “Diablo clone” like nobody’s business, I will explain what I am talking about real quick: “Torchlight” is an Action Role-Playing game in which you take the control of a character, equip them, and then slaughter thousands of monsters for the promise of better equip and to move closer to whatever goal you have in game. The “Diablo” games, particularly “Diablo 2”, made a fine job introducing monster slaying in such a manner as a fun passtime, hence the name “Diablo clone”. But in fairness, there are distinct differences between the various games that receive that moniker, and I would say that it does not matter what people call the game if it is fun to play. Tinkering with your build to pick the right skills, find the best equipment, and even learning how to position yourself, how many enemies you can take at once or when to best use your abilities is exactly what makes people sink hours upon hours into games of this genre. So, how does “Torchlight” actually fare?

Let’s start with the story, since it does not provide that much to talk about in “Torchlight”. The entire game takes place in a town named “Torchlight”, a mining community in which a mineral named “Ember” was discovered. Having access to that mineral is not that much of a blessing for the small town, since it not only draws the attention of monsters, but also seems to be corruptable for some reason; and said corruption can affect humans and cloud their minds with dark thoughts. Exactly that happens to Master Alric, who upon his corruption does everything he can to help an ancient evil named Ordrak gain power. The story quests are given to you by Alric’s former student Syl, who pretends to help in the matter but ultimately only shows up whenever you open a new portal, gives you the new task, and run off again. And in all honesty, that is all I can tell you about the story. Sure, there are snippets of information whenever you enter a new area, but there is not more to talk about than an evil monster corrupting people for god knows what reason. But, in all fairness, this is one of those so-called “Diablo clones”, so the main focus is not the story but the gameplay. Also, while the story is lackluster, the design decisions were pretty sound. “Torchlight” is more cartoony than some other titles like “Diablo”, “Grim Dawn” or “Path of Exile”, and the game already shows signs of using an interesting steampunk look in a otherwise medieval world.

The three classes/characters you can choose from. “Torchlight” uses the basic formula of melee (topside), ranged (down-left) and magic (down-right) to differentiate the character choices.

Like in any other role-playing game, we first need a character to steer through the hordes of monsters we are about to face. “Torchlight” makes the choice rather easy, since there are only three characters to choose from: The “Alchemist”, the “Destroyer”, or the “Vanquisher”. The “Alchemist” is the magic option, the “Destroyer” is the melee/tank way to play, and the “Vanquisher” is supposed to be used as the ranged character. Every single one of them comes with three unique skill tree in which you can level at your leisure, with certain skills further down in the skill trees only becoming available with a certain level. The skill can be grouped into passive skills that provide some bonus permanently without the need of being activated and active skills that either inflict damage to targets or provide bonuses for your character or weaken the opposition. All of the characters share certain skills, like the “Spell Mastery” skills that passively improve the potency of any skill you use in that Spell class, but other than that there is a variety of abilities available that invite of experimentation. At least, that is what I would say, but since you cannot reset skill points investing into the wrong skill can be wasteful; and the option of resetting the points is only available per mods, which come with their own problems. I often try out how good my auto-attack is in ARPGs, since I like to play with a minimum of skills but lots of auras and passives, and I can say that my melee dude inflicted so much more damage using skills that hitting the opponent normally is not an option to take.

The comparision with “Grim Dawn” might seem unfair due to it coming out seven years after “Torchlight”, but in that game you can actually simply smack the opponent with your weapon without the need of being forced to level damage skills. “Torchlight” does provide a solution for the “Destroyer” in form of the skill “Devastate”, which drains insane amounts of mana unless you do not hold the button but simply click it like a secondary auto-attack. With enough mana regeneration and the “Haste VI” spell active, you can simply bulldoze through the enemy lines for insane damage while still being faster than you would normally be. Also, it is nice to see that Runic Games did not simply make the melee guy unable to cast spells, since there are genuinely good options the use if you want to actively use spells on the “Destroyer”. An aura that slows down enemies around you can improve your chances of survival, lowering the requirements for equipment while increasing your armor can give you the stats you need to go for damage and still not succumb that easily when under fire. “Spectral Decay” is the skill you need if you want some really insane damage, while skills like “Stampede” can be used with just one skill point as a movement tool as well as a fully-leveled skill to deal damage with. This is just the “Destroyer”, since I played him for most of the game. The “Vanquisher” brings the usual ranged setup of improve ranged attacks and the ability to set up traps to put into the enemy path, while the “Alchemist” brings devastating magic and more summons than the other two. The characters and the variety that comes with using them are certainly the main reasons to play the game, which is good since you are going to be stuck with them for some time. Just do not expect to go completely crazy, since you are still stuck in the three skill tree-setup.

My “Destroyer” at the height of his career. Grinding the game to level 100 is completely optional though and not something most people bother(ed) to do.

The monster fighting takes place in the various dungeons you can enter over the course of the game. The main story dungeon underneath the town is 35 levels deep, with the endboss waiting at the final level. However, there is a sort of endless dungeon that seems to be well over 100 levels deep. I only played that one into the 70s, so I cannot vouch for how endless the thing actually is, but it should provide enough grinding opportunity for anyone willing to do so. On top of that, there are maps that you can buy which open up small dungeons, there are side quests that can lead you into more of those mini-areas, and sometimes you will even run into so-called “Phase Beasts”, which open portals upon their demise. With that many areas, surely you should have plenty to do in the game, right? Well, yes and no: If you want to go for the achievements with maximum fame and maximum levels, you will end up running more areas, but other than that there is really no reason to visit the additional dungeons due to their repetitiveness. All the areas you can find in any area of the game can be seen in the main quest dungeon, there are no additional areas, features, or even just events that would make exploration worthwhile, interesting, or fun. In fact, I could swear that some of the maps I visited during the endless dungeon were exact copies of areas that I visited during the main quest dungeon run, which is frankly just lazy.

Monsters to fight against come in various shapes and sizes. The Pygmy enemies come in great number and spread out when one of their members dies to limit the damage to the entire group, spiders can spit webs to drastically decrease your movement speed, dwarves can give buffs to their brethren, there are goblin minigun-mechs that can deal damage very quickly, etc. Some enemies can transform minions into other monsters, others can revive them, while some just use a club and hit real hard. One area features enemies that will run in your direction and then explode for massive damage, which forces you to completely change your approach as a melee character since you either need to focus that guy before he explodes or trigger him and then run to safety in the middle of the fight.There is variety there, and while you will learn their patterns at some point, Runic Games did a good job of making encounters varied enough to keep them engaging. And going for risks is rewarded: The bosses you encounter not only give lots of experience at any point of the game but also give you fame, an alternate level system that gives you more skill points to distribute. All this shows that they understood what makes such games fun, and I would say that they nailed the combat in all its facets.

My pet as a goblin. There are quite a few transformations for your sidekick, with mods increasing the amount even further. Not even transforming into the endboss is off-limits with the help of mods.

“Torchlight” does come with a few features that were quite new at the time of its release. Anyone who played “Diablo” or “Diablo 2” knows how catastrophic the inventory management is in those games. Well, “Torchlight” is aware of that issue and introduces pets: Unlike what you would normally assume when hearing the word “pet”, your little supportive critters can attack, cast spells, come with their own inventory, and can even be sent to the town to sell whatever loot you want to sell while you stay in the dungeon to farm. Combine all this with the fishing mini-game that allows you to gain fish to transform your pet into various monsters you encounter over the course of the game. Granted, pets will never reach your character’s level of damage, nor will they prevent that you have full inventories from time to time, but they are a certainly a good implementation. I also liked the Spell system, in which you simply need to find the spell you want to use and learn it. You have four of those generic spell slots, and unlearning spells is as easy as one button press, which allows you to stay flexible.

Now, “Torchlight” has some issues … and quite a few are due to its age. While it is by no means the oldest game that I featured on my blog so far, it suffers from a few interesting to bizarre problems. “Torchlight”, despite the fact that it is a ARPG available during times when playing online was completely normal, has no multiplayer feature whatsoever. So, if you want to give the entire series a try with some friends, you are basically forced to skip the first installment. A rather odd issue that I encountered was modding: Steam does reward you with achievements for having mods active, but the game has no community workshop to allow you easy access to mods. Instead, you have to browse the internet for mods, which would be fine if the two major sites did not spring up with antivirus warnings when I wanted to enter them. Modding “Torchlight” therefore comes down to you deciding whether you want to take the risk of losing data or gaining problems simply for adding content to your game, or if you would rather play the entire thing vanilla. The game also suffers from not being that original anymore: Back in 2009 “Torchlight” was probably a solid timewaster, but with the amount of options available in 2022 (and probably beyond) there is really not that much reason to seek the game out, unless you want to witness it for completionist reasons like I did.

In conclusion, “Torchlight” is not a bad game. It promises hack-and-slay gameplay, loot-finding, and dungeon-crawling. And it delivers on that promise, just not in a very engaging or interesting way. The game was a necessary stepping stone for “Torchlight 2” in which they kept good ideas like the pet system while expanding on the game in other directions. I would not recommend buying the game at full price, but in fairness Runic Games did release the title for 20$ back in 2009 which was a fair price to pay. I personally got the game while it was on sale for 2,99€ and while it did border on becoming boring at some points I think that the price was appropriate for what the game delivered. Overall, it was a solid experience, but not something that I would seek out again since there are various options that do the same job, but better (including “Torchlight 2”).