Thran Utopia #18: The great submersion

A few days ago, I finally finished BioShock 2. It was a game I bought about a year ago when I saw what I thought was a very good deal on a special edition with a book full of beautiful concept art. I later learned that this ‘very good deal’ could be had everywhere, and that I could’ve bought it later for the same price. The game ended up at the end of a long queue of games. Luckily, playing it was, much like playing the first game, a very memorable experience. The novelty of Rapture had worn off a bit,  but the grim atmosphere and sceneries where still there. The effect Rapture had on me is what inspired me to write the following.

Midnight Magic

I woke up in the middle of the night. An idea bounced around in my head and I knew I had to write it down. Most of the times, you don’t remember exactly what you came up with the next morning, but you do know it was something. Determined to not let that happen, I crawled out of bed, grabbed a notebook and a pen, and wrote three words at the top of the page.

BioShock theme deck

The games I tend to play on consoles are what I like to call immersive games. They suck you in , either by storyline, setting, or relation to the main character. The first game that did this to me was Fallout 3. It was the prospect of a world after a nuclear war that spoke to me, since it is something that you could easily see happening somewhere in the future.

BioShock was on a similar level. In the game, you wander around in an underwater world called Rapture, a city built on the bottom of the see. People where lured there with promises of perfection, using gene tonics and plasmids to change their genetics. Little did they know how it would turn out, instead turning them into monsters, even mindless ones at times. The game has a very cohesive sixties-theme, which is something I can really get behind. Nothing was spared to give the player the full immersive treatment, which is why this game (and Fallout) worked so well for me.

Anyway, that’s a long enough introduction. Let’s get crackin’ buildin’.

Finding fitting cards

The idea of a deck inspired by <name here> is to play a deck that is first of all thematic. You look for cards that kind of replace iconic events, people and places of <name here>. This means you have to analyse the game, to strip it down to its essentials if you will, and try to create your own interpretation that kind of plays well. The theme is superior to playability, but as someone who likes to win, I will try to fuse the importance of both thematic fit and playability together. Let’s start by identifying the pillars of the whole BioShock experience.

Splicing / splicers
Splicing is the art of using gene topics and plasmids to genetically enhance oneself. Splicers are the common people of Rapture, seen in varying states of deterioration. They use a substance called ADAM to do this (found in slugs on the bottom of the ocean), but a side effect is mental instability.

Relating this to Magic, the first thing that comes to mind are the Splicers from New Phyrexia. The name is fitting, and so are the creatures themselves: they create Golems, who they infuse with various abilities. They are a perfect fit. Another good fit is the graft mechanic from Dissension, which gives creatures +1/+1 counters when they enter the battlefield. This isn’t as good a thematical fit as the splicers, but it still works. The best part about graft is the synergy with splicers. Plus, there are grafters like Helium Squirter who give abilities! Let’s try to keep the grafters as much human as possible, to further enhance the flavor. This is why Licids, for example, where considered and dismissed. They feel too alien for BioShock.

Little Sisters
The researchers down in Rapture use little girls called Little Sisters to gather and harvest ADAM. This makes them vulnerable, which is why they use Big Daddies (more on these later) to protect them.

Not wanting to venture into silver-bordered-land for Little Girl, the closest thing I could come up with where the Rusalka’s from Guildpact. There is one crucial difference, though: Rusalka’s are spirits of deceased girls who haunt the place of their demise. It’s hard to fully justify using Rusalka’s as Little Sisters, but I’m going to do it based on the fact that they are little and innocent girls, in a world and function they did not foresee nor deserve. Plus, you can see the sacrificing of creatures as draining them of ADAM, too! And a Drowned Rusalka is pretty much the best you’re gonna get here.

Big Daddies
The Sisters are protected by their Big Daddies, humans who are genetically engineered to protect the little ones without question or choice. They are so heavily manipulated that you cannot call them human any more. In the games, especially the first one, every time you hear their moan, you get the shivers. Big Daddies don’t go down without a serious fight.

We need a card that embodies the hard-to-beat nature of the Big Daddies. Since it’s no longer what you can call human, we should look for artifacts. Just looking at artifact creatures sorted by converted mana cost, I knew I had my match when I came across Sundering Titan. At first I didn’t really see the connection – until I saw the art. Check out his left hand- err… utensil. Combine this with his tough butt and fearsome ability and boom! – not really a home run, but a decent run along a few bases.

Big Sisters
In BioShock 2, the Daddies are joined by Big Sisters. They are grown-up Little Sisters who gather girls to become Little Sisters. It’s hard to find these gals in Magic cards. We need a female character (there’s no search parameter for that) who is, again, tough to kill. Given her suit, I was looking for an artifact creature when I came across Sphinx of the Steel Wind, basically Akroma in an artifact shell – Achroma. Why not play Akroma? She is swift and deadly, just like a Big Sister. I’m glad I don’t have to branch out to black, which would seem like the first color you’d start to search for a Big Sister.

Minor themes
Then we have the minor themes of the game; elements that aren’t as omnipresent as the above. Although I have to be careful here not to spoil storyline elements to those of you who have not played the game but would like to.

For example, Memnarch does a very passable impression of the dictatorial overseer who rules all. He steels artifacts forever, and with Xenograft, they will fit in with your army of Golems.

Another key point of BioShock is that you customize your character the way you want to. In a way, you’re a shapeshifter. Phyrexian Metamorph fits like a glove, since he has the same needle the Little Sisters are equipped with. Other options for creatures that change themselves based on what you need are Cryptoplasm and Primal Plasma, both sought out because their name contains ‘plasm’.

The idea of living weapon can be stretched so that it fits here, too. A Little Sister gathers ADAM off of dead bodies. In other words, once you die, you are reused. Sounds like living weapon to me! While I’m doing equipment, I want to make sure to include Argentum Armor, the cardboard form of the Big Daddy suit.

The last thing I want to touch upon here is the Vita Chamber. While I found it hard to find a perfect match, I was content to stick with Simic Growth Chamber and Rejuvenation Chamber, which are matches as far as the name goes.

I want to stop comparing cards and game aspects here. You could go further until you reach a microscopic level, and that’s perfectly fine. You could also set about creating a deck that works in the first place, and is flavorful only secundary. This means making concessions based on flavor instead of power, which is the opposite of what I’m doing here today. To each his own, and where you stop dissecting the metaphor is entirely up to you. Just have fun!

Welcome to Rapture

Instead of the usual deck dissection you know me for, I want to give the deck first and explain myself afterwards. I’ll do this to emphasize that playability takes a back seat to flavor.

4 Bant Panorama

2 Forest

6 Island

6 Plains
4 Seaside Citadel
2 Simic Growth Chamber

For the lands, even for the lands, I managed to cram in some flavor. Seaside Citadel only needs a decent flooding to become like Rapture! And for the basic lands, I chose Mirrodin ones, since Mirrodin, just like Rapture, was artificially created to become something it didn’t quite turn out to be.

1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

The Big Sister. I like just one, not because it’s expensive, but to maintain that exclusiveness. I suppose it’s legendary, so you can’t have more than one out, but still. Principles!

3 Blade Splicer

Despite being rare, I envision this mana-wise cheap splicer to be the major population of my Rapture.

2 Cytoplast Manipulator

Many inhabitants of Rapture are at times mind-controlled to destroy the player. This card does the same and it grafts, so it fits like a glove here.

2 Drowned Rusalka

The Little Sisters. I stuck with two, again to maintain a bit of uniqueness. In the game you don’t see too many Little Sisters running around, neither should you here.

1 Experiment Kraj

No explanation here: when you play BioShock 2, you’ll find out who this is. Another homerun on both the thematical and mechanical fronts.

2 Master Splicer
1 Maul Splicer
2 Sensor Splicer
3 Vital Splicer
2 Wing Splicer

Just some more splicers, all the non-rare ones.

1 Memnarch

The maniacal overseer, ruling all and submitting all who oppose. Perfect. And just like Akroma, just one copy and legendary, to preserve uniqueness.

1 Novijen Sages

Another grafter. Not the most powerful card, but I’ll take it.

1 Phyrexian Metamorph

It can become any creature, and it does so with a creepy-looking Little Sister-esque needle. This was the only one of the creatures with a variable body that made it in, due to lack of space.

2 Solemn Simulacrum

In M12 printed as a Golem (which it already was for a while thanks to errata), so it can benefit from eveything your Splicers share with him. The acceleration is no slouch, either.

1 Sundering Titan

Big Daddy, now also a Golem. Score.

1 Argentum Armor

The Big Daddy Suit. I’m taking suggestions for a well-suited replacement for his drill!

1 Bonehoard
1 Flayer Husk

Just two equipments here, since I have too much good stuff I want to cram in here. Bonehoard seems the most flavorful: you literally use every dead creature to become a better one yourself, which fits with the ADAM-connection I made up.

3 Contagion Clasp

Ah, my personal concession. With all those counters running amok, I couldn’t resist. Plus, I find the whole idea behind proliferate to have some parallels to the way plasmids improve (or decompose) persons.

2 Everflowing Chalice

A gameplay concession, Chalice allows me to do stuff earlier, because I have a high curve. Also, counters.

1 Rejuvenation Chamber

The aforementioned Vita Chamber. I had to cram one in, and proliferate made that inclusion not bad at all.

2 Xenograft

In line with the whole unification of Rapture, Xenograft turns everyone into a Golem, which makes the Splicers much better. As luck would have it, we run quite the number of ’em.

Counting it all up, we arrive at this decklist:

Flavor/Rapture Submersion
Lands (24)
4 Bant Panorama
2 Forest
6 Island
6 Plains
4 Seaside Citadel
2 Simic Growth Chamber

Creatures (27)
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
3 Blade Splicer
2 Cytoplast Manipulator
2 Drowned Rusalka
1 Experiment Kraj
2 Master Splicer
1 Maul Splicer
1 Memnarch
1 Novijen Sages
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Sensor Splicer
2 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sundering Titan
3 Vital Splicer
2 Wing Splicer

Other spells (9)
1 Argentum Armor
1 Bonehoard
3 Contagion Clasp
2 Everflowing Chalice
1 Flayer Husk
1 Rejuvenation Chamber
2 Xenograft

I was surprised that I was able to find a deck that to me captured the feel of BioShock for so far that was possible. And the great thing is, this is just a start. There is infinite customisation, and I’m not just talking about everything beyond BioShock. Even within the game there is more to explore. This is in part thanks to the relative depth of the BioShock games, but moreso thanks to the evergrowing catalogue of cardboard. I hope you liked this and am curious for any theme decks you might have concocted. See you in seven!

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Posted on July 29, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. If you’re willing to throw in a bit of black (or just small life loss, considering you’re running Rejuvenation Chamber) I think Pith Driller would make a perfect Big Daddy. Suit him up with Argentum Armor and he starts to ooze flavor. And the ability to proliferate his -1/-1 counter is a small bonus.

  2. Pith Driller came up during my brainstorming but I dismissed it because it’s a smaller guy, but when you suit him up with Argentum Armor, he becomes almost a carbon copy of a Big Daddy. And I hadn’t even thought of the possibilities of proliferating his -1/-1 counter. If I were to build the deck again, I’d be sure to include Pith Daddy, thanks!

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