The Cutting Room Floor: Theme Deck: Raiders of the Lost Deck
“Snakes…I hate snakes!”
In honor of the 85th Annual Academy Awards, we’re going to dive into one of the more forgotten aspects of Magic: theme decks, but more specifically, we’re going to dive into the realm of film-based theme decks. As ironic as it may seem, there are actually thousands of cards that frighteningly coincide with the movies, be it their art or title. One of my all-time favorite films happens to be the 1981 Spielberg classic, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which was nominated for multiple Academy Awards including “Best Picture.” So sit back, relax and grab your popcorn because we’re going to take a thrilling adventure with arguably the greatest action hero of all time: Indiana Jones!
[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]
Dr. Indiana Jones
No Indiana Jones-themed deck would be complete without the famed Argivian Archaeologist. The flavor here just reeks of everything we need: the old artwork, an archaeologist sifting through the sands of time and the remarkable bonus of being able to retrieve priceless artifacts that have been long since gone. From a service-related standpoint, Argivian Archaeologist does lots of nifty things here in this deck which we’ll come to find later as we cover more ground.
One of the coolest things about this card aside from its rich flavor is the fact that it comes from Antiquities. One of the most powerful sets ever printed. You have to remember that back in 1994 a card like Argivian Archaeologist was incredibly powerful. Spot-removal wasn’t as widely used as it is today save for cards like Lightning Bolt, Fireball and Swords to Plowshares. Retrieving an already-used Black Lotus was incredibly powerful and not something to have been taken lightly. In fact, the Archaeologist at one point fetched a forty-plus dollar price tag and was actually considered on par with cards like Mishra’s Workshop and other freshly-minted rares at the time.
So simply put: if we’re building a “Raiders”-themed deck and need an Indiana Jones, there are few cards that match both the flavor in the title and ability of a card than that of Argivian Archaeologist.
Indy’s Famous Whip
Seriously, was there any doubt here? Indy’s bullwhip is about as famous as the legendary protagonist himself. Bullwhip is and of itself actually a neat little card in a theme deck like this and feels more like a modern-day Equipment than anything else. Be that as it may, this card is actually quite useful. There is an overabundance of creatures these days that people love to power out, that only have a toughness of one. So being able to do one point of damage to said creature can be really useful as a form of permanent-based removal.
There is little more to be said about the forgotten Bullwhip from a competitive standpoint. However, Indiana Jones needs his whip and this is exactly what we’re looking for!
I remember when this card was printed and I cracked a foil one from a pack of Scourge. I seriously couldn’t believe what I was seeing; it was like being thrust back into the days of Arabian Nights or some other early expansion that was based on legend or folklore. While the history of the Ark of the Covenant is obviously more religious than anything else, the simple fact they (Wizards) printed such a card is just plain awesome. This card was made to be played in a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme deck. As the title suggests, this is the card that drives our hero to achieve the pinnacle of his journey – to locate and find the Ark of the Covenant before the dreaded Nazi army finds it first for “alternative” purposes.
The Ark is actually not that bad of a card as we’re continuing the trend of trying to glue this theme deck together with a variety of scattered pieces to tell a story. So for only two colorless mana and three to activate, we have a land-destruction mechanism at our disposal. But this is no ordinary land-destruction card. You see, the Ark of Blight destroys basic lands just as much as it destroys non-basic lands which can be relevant in some situations. Once our hero in the Argivian Archaeologist has the opportunity to harness the power of the Ark (which cinematically was inconceivable), he can begin retrieving it in the late game and continuously destroy an opponent’s lands until their resources are all but gone.
This is actually one of the more powerful cards in this deck. Land destruction in any capacity has the potential to win games, and Indiana will surely have his hands full tackling this artifact’s full potential.
Arabian Nights is one of the perfect sets to draw inspiration for a deck like the one we’re working on today. Through his adventures in trying to locate the Ark’s whereabouts, Indiana Jones certainly had to contend with some obstacles along the way. Enter Erg Raiders from Arabian Nights – a perfectly suitable choice to represent the restless raiders trying to stop Dr. Jones dead in his tracks while procuring the Ark for their own dastardly reasons. Erg Raiders is a card that a lot of folks seem to remember, and for good reason: it’s one of the more powerful creatures (or “weenies,” if you prefer) to ever see competitive play during the 1990s.
At the cost of a colorless and a black mana, we get a solid 2/3 creature that yearns to attack each turn, hence the title of the card. If you forget or decide on passing to attack with the Raiders, you’ll deal yourself two damage. A small price to pay for a reasonably good creature. Some of the most memorable scenes from the film involved Indiana and his battles with the forces of evil, from an improvised gunshot at an oversized foe to outracing the “Schutzstaffel,” or “SS” if you prefer.
The term “Raiders” within the context of the movie is relatively ambiguous, as there are seemingly multiple parties involved in securing the Ark, but as time progresses Indiana Jones begins to cease to desire achieving the ultimate prize for his own personal gain instead preventing it from falling into the wrong hands, hence the incredible journey he faces in doing so. The Erg Raiders are a force of darkness infused with power and toughness compared to its cost, and if hitting the table early can pose a serious threat to an opponent not able to stop a repeated assault.
“I Hate Snakes!”
You can throw anything you want at our protagonist: bullets, knives… anything. But at the end of the day, there’s only one thing he fears more than anything in this world, and that’s snakes. What better card to parallel the images of the movie than Visions’ very own Snake Basket! There was once a time and place where this card was actually quite good, especially in old “Type II” decks from the Mirage era. Snake Basket generates 1/1 tokens at the cost of a mana each, but its use comes at the cost of sacrifice. So if you’re going to make snakes, you’d better do it and get the most bang for your buck.
There are so many memorable images of Indiana Jones and his ophidiophobic tendencies in the film, from freaking out by a giant Python slithering on his lap in a plane to sheer terror when seeing thousands of highly poisonous asps while unearthing an ancient underground temple. Snakes are an important aspect of the Jones legend, and here we can make plenty of snakes with Snake Basket!
Let’s not forget that Snake Basket also doubles for the multitude of baskets found in the rustling bazaar when Indiana is trying to locate Marion, his female companion who has it out for Indy for past heartbreak. There is a wonderfully fun scene where he tries locating her hiding in a basket carried by the bad guys while hundreds of folks are passing through with their own twine baskets making it virtually impossible to find her. Regardless, the Snake Basket here will generate plenty of nasty critters to give our opponent lots of jitters!
The Desert Chase
The desert is as big a part of the Indiana Jones films as any of the characters themselves. In Raiders, Indiana has a long trek across desert area in Egypt while befriending truly wonderful characters like the hilarious, yet wise Sallah along the way. In fact, one of the best lines from the movie is spoken by Sallah once Indy arrives out in the desert:
“Indy, something troubles me: the Ark. If it is there at Tanis, then it is something that man was not meant to disturb. Death has always surrounded it; it is not of this Earth.”
Desert is a card that is clear-cut in its design and what it is intended on doing, which is to say kill creatures. Tapping for mana is always important, but the extra added bonus of being able to knock off those pesky critters can be really helpful. Desert also has some nice, unexpected synergy with the Bullwhip, as together they can knock off threats once they hit the table or start attacking. Few creatures can stop two points of damage coming their way, and Desert does it without having to worry about casting any spells.
In order for our hero to finish his quest, he’s going to have to ride his adventure out into the mysterious, yet dangerous desert into the hottest of days and coolest of nights. As the sand rises from its eerily resting state, the perilous, rugged landscape will bury foes deep into the ground – perhaps forever.
The Holy Spirits
Few people can forget the horrifying imagery once the Ark of the Covenant was unscrupulously opened for all to see. Our heroes may have been smart enough to shut their eyes once this happened, but the restless foes basking in the glory of their prize weren’t as intelligent. Once the Ark’s gold-plated cover was removed, a terrifying array of spirits began tormenting the evildoers and making them pay for their treachery. Aside from Indy and Marion, everyone else who bore witness to this event was sucked directly into the Ark’s open core – with the lid slamming shut falling from the heavens after having been blasted to the sky.
Enter Wall of Souls. Here we have one of the better defenders in Magic’s storied history. There are few creatures that can match its reasonably effective toughness of four, and if they try their controllers will be met with damage directly back at their face the equivalent of what the Wall sustains, a perfect punishment for the treachery undertaken by an army of the wicked.
This is a card that feels absolutely perfect in filling the role of the Holy Spirits that rise from the recesses of the Ark once opened. One could make a case for other cards similar in artistic nature, but the fact that this particular card appears to be engulfing a foe in angry spirits with the ability to make a player pay for having attacked you makes this the perfect candidate for a Raiders of the Lost Ark themed deck. Wall of Souls is just an awesome defender and few players will simply just walk into an easy block knowing they’ll take damage in return.
Sure enough, there are plenty of booby traps in the Indiana Jones trilogy to go around. These traps are actually some of the most important and spine-tingling aspects of all the films, from Indy running from giant boulders to diving through quick-slicing blades. Indy’s attempt to locate rare artifacts is always hampered by some highly deceptive traps that the uneducated and unaware would fall victim to, but not him. The Argivian Archaeologist for all intents and purposes has the ability to retrieve Booby Traps in the event they’re used and damage is dealt, quite nifty!
Booby Trap, while costly at six mana, can be a perfectly suitable casual card based on what it does. If we’re looking to simply deal damage and we know the tendencies of our opponent based on historical card choices, then Booby Trap can be an effective way to gauge what to name in the event they reveal a card that you’ve named. Conversely, Booby Trap can be its own win-condition if enough damage has already been dealt.
But come on, what Raiders-themed deck can you build without Booby Trap, seriously?!
Riding in the Desert
That’s right, folks it’s Camel. Now I know that most of you reading this will probably scoff, as Camel itself is probably even bad in a casual-based game, but that’s beside the point. We’re already at a point where we’ve built a deck with Bullwhip and Ark of Blight, so we have to go all out here. One of the biggest transportation methods of riding along in the desert is obviously the camel, and here we want to maximize full flavor in our theme deck by using the ultra-obsolete critter to carry our protagonist through the difficult terrain.
Just remember: if you decide to attack in a band with the Archaeologist and the Camel, rest assured no damage will be done to you by any opposing Deserts. It could happen.
The Staff of Ra
Indy’s initial travels in search of the Ark brought him to Nepal where he needed to procure the head to the infamous Staff of Ra, which contained a golden medallion with a jewel-encrusted center that when placed on a stick measuring a very specific length and inserted into a point in the Well of Souls will reflect a beam of light onto the resting place of the Ark as the sun passes through the jewel. This incredibly important artifact not only enables the Argivian Archaeologist to locate the Ark, but in turn creates a serious dilemma for the competing SS: the headpiece is the only item that will allow its possessor to locate the Ark.
Once Hitler’s assigned band of searchers fail in procuring the headpiece, they must create a replica that has a very precise inscription on it that they are unaware of and subsequently makes them dig in the wrong area while trying to locate the Ark.
The Staff of Domination is very important in a similar fashion not only thematically but strategically here. It has everything we need while trying to win a game, from gaining life to drawing cards. Once this card hits the table, rest assured it can be incredibly potent if enough mana is readily available. If there is one card that can compare to the significance and potency of the Staff of Ra, the Staff of Domination is it.
“Shut Your Eyes, Marion!”
Chaos – mass chaos. That’s exactly what happens when the Holy Spirits of the Ark unleash their punishment on the armies of darkness. Fire and Brimstone is the perfect spell to match forces with the holy nature of the situation, and few other cards can match both flavor and power in terms of what we’re trying to achieve from a cinematic standpoint.
For five mana, we have what is a white instant-damage spell, to my knowledge the only of such a thing to exist in the game to this very day. Emanating from The Dark back in 1994, Fire and Brimstone will punish all with a thrashing of biblical proportions, four damage to each player. It can act as a nice finisher when life totals are falling short and you need to get that final blow in.
Artistically speaking, this is what it’s all about. We’ve seen what the Ark can do, and this parallels that perfectly.
Summing up the Ark’s punishment for treachery is the immeasurable Wrath of God. There is little more to be said about what happens once the Ark is opened, and there is no other card that is the equivalent that matches what happens both in the film and probably in reality if that were to occur. The evil raiders in search of the Ark for their twisted agenda faced what could only be described as the wrath of God, and here we have what is probably one of the most iconic cards in the entire game’s history included in a deck that utilizes it to the perfect essence in conjunction with the movie.
Next Stop, Cairo!
One of the most iconic images of any Indiana Jones movie is the live-action map tracking Indy as he goes from country to country. Expedition Map is not only useful in and of itself, but it also is a really cool addition to the Jones theme going on here and matches the travelling hero’s expedition perfectly – fetching out any land in the deck that can be of use.
Digging in Tanis
Taking into account what Raiders mentioned about the supposed “lost” city of Tanis and its historical references, allow me to explain a bit. Tanis (as the movie depicted) was a city in ancient Egypt that, during the 6th century AD was buried by a sandstorm and “wiped clean by the wrath of God,” as Indy’s colleague Marcus described it. This is entirely based on fiction as the city of Tanis in no known archaeological-scientific hypothesis has ever been known to house the lost Ark of the Covenant. That being said, however, Tanis is an important part of the Raiders legend and is represented thematically with Invasion’s Archaeological Dig.
An archaeologist loves to search for lost artifacts, and that is no truer in a deck based on the film we’ve discussed. This land fits the theme beautifully and is actually quite useful, as it not only taps for a colorless mana but can be sacrificed to obtain any color we need to cast our key spells.
The Argivian Archaeologist’s quest to seek lost treasures is clearly indicated by his art and ability, and with Archaeological Dig he can secure those treasures at any cost.
The Well of Lost Souls
In his searches to locate the Ark, Indiana Jones with his companions found their way to the dreaded Well of the Lost Souls. It was here they found the Ark and made the bold attempt to remove it from its dwelling. Frightening as that prospect of seeing something so mythic may be, it is all the more frightening with the amount of ancient artistry, booby traps and angry reptiles prepared to kill anything in their sights.
Ancient Tomb, while being a fixture in competitive decks, has a great place here in this particular deck. It can even power out Bullwhip and the Staff early on and enables some serious advantages early on where a casual theme deck generally lags. Indiana Jones would have it no other way, as he must enter this terrifying chamber to secure the Ark once and for all.
Whew! Okay, so we have plenty of cards here to work with here in addition to some other cards fitting the theme of the movie that haven’t all been listed. With that in mind, let’s look and see what a sample “Raiders of the Lost Ark” theme deck looks like!
And so Indiana Jones and his comrades ride into the sunset one final time. With this weekend’s 85th Academy Awards, I thought it would be kind of cool to look back at one of the most beloved action heroes of all time and parallel it with a really cool theme deck. I think there’s a lot missing in competitive Magic as far as having fun goes, and sometimes you just need to let loose and do just that: have fun!
Mysteriously, there are some neat synergies in this deck that most theme decks comprised of cards spanning twenty years tend not to have which is actually kind of weird when you think about it. And so I bid you farewell with a quote from the legendary Indiana Jones that should resonate with you should you decide to take “Raiders” for a spin at the kitchen table, or if you dare, the NELC this weekend!
“This site also demonstrates one of the great dangers of archaeology; not to life and limb, although that does sometimes take place.”