Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Journey into Nyx EDH Set Review, Part 2: Blue

We're back for part two of the EDH set review for Journey into Nyx. As usual, we're looking at Blue for the second installment. Here we go!

Blue

I don't like Strive much. It's basically Multikicker and rather expensive to boot. This is one of the few that might see some play. Could be fun.
 I like this guy. He's a Starfish. That taps to Scry 1. Janky but cool. I want to play him somewhere.
Nifty. Should see play. Definitely going in my Melek deck.
I really like this card, or I would if it cost 5 at any rate. It's not terrible, but for six mana, Blue Mages can do better.
Turrible.
Neat, but hard to use effectively. Find a way to jump through the requisite hoops easily and reliably and you've got yourself a fine little card. 
Nope.
Heh heh heh. Nads.
I so totally didn't understand this card at first. Oh! It's a 1/1 Flyer (not bad) or a bad Control Magic (bad). Meh.
Probably a combo piece somewhere, but terrible beyond that.
Funny, but probably not playable. 
Definitely very playable, but I'm not sure it's good outside of mono-Blue. Maybe?
"Here, you can have mine, I ain't usin' it"
--Me
Turdsville.
Worst Phyrexian Arena ever? Eh, it's a fine card. I like how Flash breaks the symmetry slightly, giving you the opportunity to get the first draw off it, unlike Howling Mine. Still, not great in most decks.
Ugh. Crap Mythic is crap.
Meh. I mean, I like it... but it doesn't actually DO anything.
Jank.






















So, it turns out Blue is pretty terrible this set as well. There are definitely cards that will work really well in one very specific deck type, but overall, there is not a lot to love here. Oh well.

Journey Into Nyx EDH Set Review, Part 1: White

Welcome back, folks. Another Magic set, another review. That's right, we're back to the original EDH set review here at The Command Zone. Journey to Nyx, the final set in the Theros block, is nearly upon us. So, let's not waste any more time, shall we?

White

To fragile to offer any real protection in EDH. Better off with Ivory Mask if you want this sort of effect.
 Playable, but not great. GAAIV decks will probably want this, but they also tend to play lots of sweepers.
 Cool card. Not really EDH material, but it could get played in GW token decks with Gaea's Cradle.
Neat. Kinda durdly, but a somewhat splashy effect with Flash might make the cut in some aggro decks.
I love me some Doublestrike, but this, like most Strive cards, is way to expensive to really be that good.
 LOL.
Very playable as a utility card. If you have lots of Gods running around your meta, this is a sure thing. If not, you may be better off with Return to Dust for the card advantage, but this could be a Sunforger package card.
Oblivion Ring is strictly better because of the loop hole where you could perma-exile something, and it didn't get much play.
 Very interesting. No doubt a solid pick for Echantress decks. Might also be playable in pillowfort decks with lots of Propaganda-like enchantments.
A bit overcosted, but fine. Definitely good enough to low-powered or very casual groups. I'd rather have Oblation if you're looking for tuck. Would definitely play in Giants Tribal.
Meh.
Jank.
Great reprint from Alliances. Solid removal spell. Of course it's competing with Swords/Path and it doesn't quite measure up. But it's still good.
Wow. That's quite a Mythic there. Still not as good as the Swords of Stuff and Junk, but I have to say this is pretty sexy. Don't really know where to put this, in terms of EDH. It's kind of a generic Good Stuff piece of equipment, which I am fine with, but as good as the abilities are, they don't really scream "Put me in Deck Y!"

But it's a solid card, and should get played SOMEWHERE.
 Meh,
 Mediocre at best, but possibly playable in the right deck.
Again, I really love me some Double Strike, but I'd have to be pretty hard up for choices to play this. I'd draft the shit out of it, though.



















That's it for White. Very underwhelming, in my opinion. Godsend is uber-sexy but doesn't really call out to be played in any specific archetype. More of a good stuff filler card, but a really good one at that. Beyond that, we get a couple of solid removal/utility spells and not much else.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Born of the Gods: Top 10 Cards for EDH

Greetings, folks.

   I am deeply sorry that I have been such an inattentive author as of late. I will spare you the same old excuses and just tell you up front that I don’t expect things to improve much in the immediate future, but there is now possibly some sort of light at the end of this shit-tunnel. Gods willing, I will be  back to regular form within the next six months, but no guarantees.

   In the meantime, though, I do owe you all a set review for BNG. Problem is, I don’t have the time or inclination to do the full review the way I normally do it. Overall I think Born of the Gods kinda sucks as a set. But it does have a handful of cards that transcend the mediocre quality of the set, and so I feel like the best way to handle this set is via the classic Top 10 format.

   So without further preamble, here are my picks for the Top 10 EDH cards in Born of the Gods.


10. Kiora, the Crashing Wave

   I don’t know what’s more disappointing: Kiora’s card itself, or the mere fact that her card was disappointing. If that doesn’t make any sense, let me give some context. Kiora was introduced as a character a few years back in the Duels of the Planeswalkers games. There was a U/G deck that needed a Planeswalker avatar to represent the deck, but no U/G ‘Walker existed so they just made up Kiora for that game’s purposes. But somehow she became a fan favorite and people have been eagerly anticipating the day Kiora would be given an actual Magic card for years. So I’d be disappointed in the world’s first U/G P-walker regardless, but the fact that it was, specifically, Kiora Atua adds insult to the injury. Yet, despite all this, here she is on my Top 10 list, albeit as the low fish on the totem pole. That she made the cut says more about the quality of the set overall than it does about her own playability. My chief complaints are that her starting loyalty is too low by one, and her +1 will protect her from one threat... while half a dozen others will beat her down. I don’t like her, but I am not too blind to realize she’ll just get played anyway, no matter what.


 9. Brimaz, King of Oreskos

   Honesly this guy is clearly better suited to a 60-card format. He’s almost certainly not the best option for a Mono-White General, but neither is he likely to be a terrible choice. As aggressively as he is costed, in EDH he is still very likely to get in one attack – two at the very most – before he’s suddenly outclassed by everything else on the board and becomes yet another dumb chumpblocker. But, I have already figured out that he can be a solid creature in the right decks. The fact that my Derevi and Aurelia decks will be thrilled to welcome Brimaz into the fold put the lie to my original evaluation that he’s strictly not EDH material. He’s not universally playable, but he definitely has his niches.


 8. Archetype of Aggression

   I feel like everyone else is betting on the wrong horse in this race. For some reason, all the attention has been going to the ridiculously-overcosted members of this cycle, the green one in particular, but also the blue and black ones to some extent. With those, you are likely running them largely for their static effects, and the body is an almost trivial “bonus” tacked on to justify the exorbitant CMC’s, but here’s the rub: those mediocre bodies attached actually represent liability. How would you feel if you tapped out one turn, spending all 8 of your hard-earned mana to cast the green Archetype, hoping to protect your team, only to have the very next player cast a Wrath of God? Pretty crappy, right? Now, I know what you’re going to say – that argument can be made about a LOT of creatures and there are hundreds of them that would fail this test, but would still be worth running… true. But here’s part two of the test. Say there is no Wrath, and the Archetype survives a turn cycle. Now you have what is, essentially a fraking CRAW WURM that you paid 8 mana for. Good luck actually attacking with it. Still feel good about spending infinity mana on a Craw Wurm? If so, I really want to play with your group because free wins. But anyway, back to the Red guy. Trample is definitely a thing in EDH, and unlike most of his cycle-mates, this little guy has a very low opportunity cost, AND  a decently-sized body. I’d still rather just have this effect as a 3-mana Enchantment, but wasting three mana on something that dies to a Wrath with zero impact is just SO drastically different from wasting eight mana or even six. (NOTE - I will concede this point: Tooth and Nail for Avacyn + Archetype of Endurance is definitely a legit play. Wouldn’t dis you for that.)


 7. Courser of Kruphix

   Up front, I’m just going to tell you I realize I may be way off base with this one. There’s a tiny chance I’m undervaluing it, and, I think, a significantly higher chance that I’m overestimating it. I am certain it will wind up somewhere on the “playable” side of the spectrum. It clearly is not garbage. But I have no idea exactly where on that spectrum it will finally land. It’s going to be either better than I think or worse than I think – zero chance it’s exactly as good as I think.

 
6. Fated Return

   Ugh, as much as I hate the idea of paying freakin’ SEVEN mana for an up-jumped Zombify, I can’t ignore the facts: for two or three mana above what you’re used to paying, you get Indestructible either way, plus your choice of either Scry 2 or Instant speed. This card faces some strong competition – Beacon of Unrest, Obzedat’s Aid, Puppeteer Clique, and a whole host of additional contenders. Not to mention mass-reanimation like Living Death or Rise of the Dark Realms. Still, I can’t help but picture the dead baddie from Die Hard 1 with the words “Now I have an Indestructible Consecrated Sphinx HO HO HO” painted on his shirt with his own blood, and I realize that despite my own possibly misguided biases this card is totally going to get played.


 5. Ephara, God of the Polis

   Persistent card-drawing engines will always be a thing in EDH. I like that this particular engine tries to persuade you away from the standard U/W control thing and go a more creature-centric route. Ephara will be phenomenal in the right decks, of which there are likely plenty, but might have a hard time fitting into the standard U/W models – which, in a way, is to her credit, but realistically it will have some impact on her playability. Verdict is still out on this, but I’m willing to be she’ll also make a decent General for U/W that won’t make your playgroup want to drink cyanide.


4. Fated Retribution

   It is on some levels a boring pick, as Sweepers are not particularly fun, but a very necessary element of the format nonetheless. But it has been a long time indeed since we had an Instant-speed Wrath effect. Rout is a fantastic EDH card and always has been. This card, I feel, compares favorably. There are a lot of times I’d probably rather have Rout, but the pull of Scry 2 and the bonus Planeswalker-murdering addendum will pull me in favor of this card a considerable amount of the time. Honestly the ONLY downside I can think of to this card is that, from now on, passing with 7 mana open will be telegraphing the play SO hard, no one will ever be caught by surprise (unless they’re drunk or not paying any attention).


 3. Xenagos, God of Revels

   Had I wrote this two weeks ago, I would have ranked Ephara above Xenagos. But with time and experience on my side, I have to say I think Xenny the Party God is the more generically powerful and widely-playable of the two. Ephara is simply amazing in the right deck, but is both more specific to certain archetypes and less explosively powerful than Xenagos. On the flip side, Xenagos is more likely to induce groans and eye-rolls after people get used to seeing him all the time (and, likely, seeing players start dropping to random one-shot kills immediately thereafter). He is simultaneously awesome and powerful and obvious and boring. I’m definitely rebuilding my Stonebrow “Trample Matters” deck with Xenagos at the helm… we’ll see how that goes.


 2. Scry Lands

   Okay, I’m cheating a bit, as this is three cards combined, and also they’re boring old lands, but honestly I’ve been much more impressed with these Scry duals than I ever expected. I mean, they’re not the second coming of the ABUR duals or anything like that, obviously. But when they were spoiled, I was initially disappointed. Then I accepted them as decent but not exciting. Now I’m snap jamming them into every deck I can. As much as I dislike loading up on ETBF-tapped lands, the presence of one of these in an opening hand is almost always a welcome sight, and they really are helping smooth out some iffy draws more frequently than I thought possible in a 100-card singleton format. I didn’t want to admit it, but these are actually pretty good.


 1. Karametra, God of Harvests

   Usually the #1 pick is the place to hedge or equivocate. It’s often very difficult to say, definitively, that THIS is the card that will make the most impact on the format. In this case, however, this was by far the easiest card to both pick and place on the list. I have little doubt that in, say, two years time, Karametra will be the card from BNG still getting the most play. Now, to hedge a bit, I will concede that Fated Retribution, being a single color and thus playable in more decks overall, might actually be more common by some degree, but is essentially just another sweeper effect, and won’t actually change the format in any noticeable way. Karametra basically spawns a new deck type for WG, and is a powerful supplemental effect for virtually any W/G or W/G/x deck that plays some number of creatures and lands.


Worth Mentioning:
   • I think all of the Fated cards are playable; it’s just the White and Black ones that are clear Top 10 material. I’ve got the Green one in Marath already, and I am loving it there. The Red one is a terrific pick for Melek decks, and the Blue one doesn’t fit in any of my decks but I have already seen it popping up in lists online.

   • There are two commons that have potential as well. Satyr Wayfinder is a compelling choice for Karador decks, while Peregrination is not quite up to par in my opinion – I’m just not convinced it’s worth paying 1 more mana to add Scry 1 to my Cultivates – but I am not willing to rule it out entirely. At the very least it might fit into some Intet or Maelstrom Wanderer decks that are both ramp-hungry and care about top-of-library tricks.

   • The other two Gods, the ones that didn’t make Top 10 are both playable, but highly niche cards. Acceptable where they make sense, but not stellar even in those cases.

   • Acolytes Reward is going to be very limited as to the number of decks in which it can function, but it’s a pretty cool card for those few decks.

   • Skyreaping may fail to pan out, but it seems like a potentially potent anti-Flying tool.

   • Hero’s Podium is a Legendary Coat of Legendary Arms. For your Legends.

   • Spirit of the Labyrinth sort-of-but-not-really hoses Consecrated Sphinx. Um, you’re in White, though, so I’d say Swords/Path are better ways to hose the Sphinx. No, I like Spirit for a different reason: Nekusar. Sure, a Nekusar deck is likely to be packing plenty of ways to answer the Spirit, but the point is the deck pretty much HAS to answer it, or it just rolls over and dies.

   • There is a 1/1 with Trample in this set. It’s called Charging Badger. Is this awesome? Y/N (Spoiler: Y)



Worth Disparaging:
   • How infuriating is Chromanticore? While I understand and accept the reason why it couldn’t be Legendary, that doesn’t make it any less of a failure than the Nephilim.

   • Meanwhile, Champion of Stray Souls continues to get buzz despite being a terrible card. Don’t get me wrong, I totally dig what the card does (at least in theory), but it costs ALL of the mana to use this thing. Not only that, it requires very specific board-states as well. You need A) upwards of three hundred and forty-seven mana, B) creatures in play worth sacrificing, C) creatures in your graveyard worth bringing back and D) for your opponents to be THE WORST EVER at threat assessment. Any two of those requirements might be doable, three is a stretch but worth trying for just to see, but getting all four of those stars to align just so you can make a play that is, on the whole, likely to be strictly worse than casting Rise of the Dark Realms? LOLWUT.

   • Astral Cornucopia seems legit, until you realize that it’s basically worse than what you’re already using. At the three-mana mark Coalition Relic, Chromatic Lantern and Darksteel Ingot are all strictly better (and, yes, I’m actually using the phrase correctly here). At six mana, well, there aren’t really any comparable cards to shame it with, but it definitely sucks. From there it becomes a NINE MANA Gilded Lotus. WTF? Let’s be honest folks. This card IS Manalith. A RARE Manalith. Utter bullshit.

   • Whims of the Fates? HA HA HA HA… No.

   Well, folks, that’s it for today. Sorry it took so long. Hopefully I’ll be more timely with the next update, but again, I can’t make any promises. I will assure you that I am still around and I have not abandoned or given up on this blog, I just don’t have room for it, mentally, at the moment.

   Oh, and if you’re wondering why I covered 4 of the 5 new Commander 2013 decks, but never got around to the 5th one… well, part of that is just me never getting around to it. But also I just don’t really like the Grixis deck much. I don’t like Jeleva anywhere near enough to put in the necessary work to make that pile work, so I went the easy route and converted the deck to Nekusar. If you want to know how that went, look up literally any Nekusar list on the internet. They’re all pretty much the same. He’s kinda fun to play, but fairly miserable to play against. Also it’s a total glass-cannon deck. Very powerful yet fragile, and easily disrupted. Hell, it basically loses to itself a fair amount just by being clunky and prone to drawing things in the wrong order. In short I am not happy with the deck so far, and I don’t want to publish anything that I don’t actually endorse as being fun or worth your time. I think there is a theoretical Nekusar list out there that is worth talking about and worth playing, but whatever it is, it ain’t what I built. I’ll keep working on it, and if I ever have a breakthrough with it, I will finally do that last article to wrap it all up.

So, until next time (whenever that turns out to be),
Enjoy!


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Updating Evasive Maneuvers

After a bit of a delay, I'm finally ready to dig into the next Commander 2013 deck. This time out, we're going to be taking a look at the Bant deck, Evasive Maneuvers, led by the wonderful new Legendary Bird Wizard, Derevi, Empyrial Tactician.

Derevi is deceptively awesome. Well, maybe not so deceptively. Maybe the fact that she is a Bird Wizard tipped you off. But I was initially skeptical of her power-level due to her small stats. She had a cool set of abilities, but I figured once she was on the battlefield she'd be less than stellar.

Basically, I thought she was a legendary Pestermite with a gimmicky Command Zone ability to justify her Legendy-ness. Boy was I wrong.

I still haven't completely solved the puzzle that this deck presents, and I will continue to tweak and improve it as I play, but the list I'm using is definitely beyond the rough draft stage now, and is performing quite well so far.

But before we get to my updated list, let's start at the beginning, with the unmodified list.

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

Acidic Slime
Aerie Mystics
Angel of Finality
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Bane of Progress
Deceiver Exarch
Diviner Spirit
Djinn of Infinite Deceits
Dungeon Geists
Farhaven Elf
Fiend Hunter
Flickerwisp
Hada Spy Patrol
Karmic Guide
Kazandu Tuskcaller
Lu Xun, Scholar General
Mirror Entity
Mistmeadow Witch
Murkfiend Liege
Phantom Nantuko
Pilgrim's Eye
Roon of the Hidden Realm
Rubinia Soulsinger
Selesnya Guildmage
Skyward Eye Prophets
Stonecloaker
Thornwind Faeries
Winged Coatl
Wonder

Aethermage's Touch
Arcane Denial
Azorius Keyrune
Basalt Monolith
Blue Sun's Zenith
Borrowing 100,000 Arrows
Conjurer's Closet
Control Magic
Curse of Inertia
Curse of Predation
Curse of the Forsaken
Darksteel Ingot
Darksteel Mutation
Flickerform
Kirtar's Wrath
Krosan Grip
Leafdrake Roost
Leonin Bladetrap
Presence of Gond
Restore
Selesnya Charm
Selesnya Signet
Simic Signet
Sol Ring
Surveyor's Scope
Swiftfoot Boots
Sword of the Paruns
Tempt with Glory
Thousand-Year Elixir
Thunderstaff
Unexpectedly Absent
Wash Out

Azorius Chancery
Azorius Guildgate
Bant Panorama
Command Tower
Evolving Wilds
Faerie Conclave
Forest x6
Island x7
Opal Palace
Plains x7
Rupture Spire
Saltcrusted Steppe
Seaside Citadel
Secluded Steppe
Sejiri Refuge
Selesnya Guildgate
Selesnya Sanctuary
Simic Guildgate
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse
Transguild Promenade

This list is, like all preconstructed decks, a little rough around the edges. But, it does play surprisingly well. Better, at least, than it looks on paper. That's because Derevi opens up a lot of cute little interactions and synergies that aren't apparent until you play the deck and discover them through gameplay.

There is some synergy between Derevi's tap/untap theme and the alternate new Legend, Roon of the Hidden Realm, who inspires more of a flicker/blink theme. But, ultimately I found that trying to cater to both themes was too divisive and unstable, despite the seeming overlap in synergy. Since I wanted to focus on Derevi and not Roon (for now), I decided to mostly sideline the blink subtheme, save for a few key cards.

Once again, before making any changes, I'm going to rate all the cards in the stock list, giving each a grade of either PASS, FAIL, or NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. If you read the last two Updating... articles, you'll know the drill.

There are a few cards that turn out to be quite strong. The following cards get the grade of PASS and are worth keeping around as you spruce up the list:

Acidic Slime
Angel of Finality
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Dungeon Geists
Fiend Hunter
Karmic Guide
Mirror Entity
Mistmeadow Witch
Murkfiend Liege
Stonecloaker
Winged Coatl
Curse of Predation
Darksteel Ingot
Krosan Grip
Sol Ring
Unexpectedly Absent

This next batch of cards have been graded NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. They're not outright bad, and could stay in the deck, but have more powerful or reliable alternatives that are generally better. Or, they are solid cards, but just don't fit the deck's overall strategy well enough and dilute the theme despite being good.

Bane of Progress
Deceiver Exarch
Farhaven Elf
Flickerwisp
Roon of the Hidden Realm
Rubinia Soulsinger
Selesnya Guildmage
Wonder
Arcane Denial
Blue Sun's Zenith
Conjurer's Closet
Darksteel Mutation
Kirtar's Wrath
Swiftfoot Boots
Basalt Monolith
Signets/Keyrunes

And the final batch of cards is, of course, the group labelled as FAIL - cards that are just plain bad and you should be very eager to replace as soon as possible.

Aerie Mystics
Diviner Spirit
Djinn of Infinite Deceits
Hada Spy Patrol
Kazandu Tuskcaller
Lu Xun, Scholar General
Phantom Nantuko
Pilgrim's Eye
Skyward Eye Prophets
Thornwind Fairies
Aethermage's Touch
Borrowing 100,000 Arrows
Control Magic
Curse of Intertia
Curse of the Forsaken
Flickerform
Leafdrake Roost
Leonin Bladetrap
Presence of Gond
Restore
Selesnya Charm
Surveyor's Scope
Sword of the Paruns
Tempt with Glory
Thousand-Year Elixer
Thunderstaff
Washout


So there's the rundown on the deck's starting lineup. Before we start with the changes, I want to outline my overall vision for the deck. After playing the deck unmodified a few times, the direction I decided was most natural for us to go, was to push for more small, cheap evasive attackers to maximize on Derevi's combat damage trigger. Using cards like Edric or Coastal Piracy to refill our hands was also critical.

The ideal average turn for the Derevi deck I wanted was something like this: Tap out to play a couple dudes; Swing with some guys; use Derevi triggers to untap a bunch of lands, and draw a bunch of cards off Edric/Piracy/Bident; use the newly untapped lands to play MORE guys. Next turn would be: Attack with even more guys, getting even more untap and draw triggers, casting even more guys post-combat, etc.

I also wanted to work in a lot of synergies and cute tricks. For example, cast a T2 Bloom Tender, cast T3 Derevi, target Bloom Tender with the untap trigger, tap BT in response for GWU, untap BT, tap BT again for GWU and have a GGWWUU floating on Turn 3, AFTER casting our General!

In short, the deck is just full of little tricks of synergy, many of which make board states far more complicated and tricky to play around for your opponents. You will almost always have multiple lines of play with this deck, which makes it fairly complicated and tricky for you to play as well. But that's a big part of the appeal and fun!

So we'll start, as usual, but addressing the straight-up 1-for-1 card swaps, where we replace a mediocre card with another card that is generally just a better version of the card we're replacing.


Conjurer's Closet --> Venser the Sojourner
This was a versatility upgrade. Venser can do pretty much the exact same job as the Closet for the same converted mana cost. However he can do a whole lot of extra things that Closet can't, for zero extra mana. He can return stolen permanent back to your control. He can protect your MVP creature from a Wrath (your own, at least). And the one thing that really makes him special here is making your whole army unblockable for a turn.

Skyward Eye Prophets --> Arcanis, the Omnipotent
I had a lot more fun than I'd ever have expected spamming the Skyward Eye with a bunch of Derevi's untap triggers all at once for massive value and card advantage. But as nice as the putting-a-land-into-play bonus was, every time I did this trick, I was really just wanted to draw an ass load of cards. Well, Arcanis is a thing. And he does draw an ass load of cards.

Basalt Monolith --> Chromatic Lantern
One thing I realized was that making colored mana was generally far, far more valuable than making a whole ton of colorless mana. It was cute, with the Monolith, but I almost never had a use for all that colorless. So the ultimate color-fixer comes in to ensure I always have the right mana for the job.

Flickerwisp --> Restoration Angel
For one more mana you get Flash and +0/+3, both tremendous upsides. The downside is that you can't flicker an opponent's blocker or anything like that, but I found that 9 times out of 10 I was using Flickerwisp on my own guys, so that downside seems minimal compared to the upside Flash brings.

Wash Out --> Cyclonic Rift
This was actually earmarked for Aetherize, a more closely comparable card. But due to some sort of miscalculation or mixup on my end, it wound up with Rift in the slot instead. This is what Bob Ross would call "a happy accident". Rift is really, reallly good so I haven't "corrected" this "error". But I do still want Aetherize in here somewhere...

Control Magic --> Treachery
What's that you say? Need a steal-your-guy effect that actually fits the tap/untap theme? Well, our judges would accept Volition Reins, but the #1 answer is of course, Treachery.

Hada Spy Patrol --> Invisible Stalker
LOL, I guess I could pay upwards of a hundred mana to get a unblockable Shroud guy... or I could pay two mana and get an unblockable Hexproof guy. You do the math.

Selesnya Charm, Darksteel Mutation --> Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile
The "versatility" of the Charm is a trap: it's only ever worth casting for the removal mode, but the removal mode doesn't hit Consecrated Sphinx (or a lot of other really scary things that don't have 5 power. Seriously, you'd be surprised how often that matters!). Mutation is cute for negating a scary general, but an opponent casting an Akroma's Vengeance or similar at the right time = an empty board except for the scary thing you tried to get rid of via the Mutation.

Blue Sun's Zenith --> Sphinx's Revelation
They're almost the same card, but one gains you a bunch of life. The shuffle-back-in effect is nice on the Zenith, of course, but I'd rather have it in the 'yard where I can E. Witness it anyways.

Kirtar's Wrath --> Elspeth Sun's Champion
Elspeth's -3 ability is damn near a Plague Wind in this deck. And making soliders en masse every turn is also pretty relevant.

That's about it for the 1-for-1 upgrades. There are more, but some of them make more sense if I address them in packages, so you can see the synergies I'm trying to build towards.

As usual, one of the first things I like to do is optimize my mana base, and ramp strategy. I won't talk about individual land choices until the end, but I knew from experience with my Edric deck, which has a similar approach to this deck, that we were going to want to "ramp" primarily by drawing extra lands, and making extra land drops via Exploration type effects.

So in a fit of contrarian experimentalism, I decided to up the land count to 40, cut all the mana rocks except Sol Ring and Chromatic Lantern, and most of the other ramp as well. I then added in Exploration, and Oracle of Mul Daya for starters. This wasn't quite reliable enough, so I threw in a Coiling Oracle (value snake!) as well. Then I broke another rule of mine: I normally hate "mana dorks" in EDH, but there were two cards that seemed like the reward would be worth the risk. Noble Hierarch is always solid, even without a real Exalted theme. But the real prize is Bloom Tender, which as I described above, can be pretty explosive.

OUT: Azorius Keyrune, Selesnya Signet, Simic Signet, Farhaven Elf, Restore, Explorer's Scope, Darksteel Ingot
IN: 2x Lands, Exploration, Oracle of Mul Daya, Coiling Oracle, Noble Hierarch, Bloom Tender

Next up, I wanted all of the Coastal Piracy-like effects I could find... turns out there aren't too many of them. Three bad cards come out for three good cards that draw us more cards!

OUT: Diviner Spirit, Thousand Year Elixir, Sword of the Paruns
IN: Edric, Spymaster of Trest; Coastal Piracy; Bident of Thassa

I can't always have an Edric effect in play every game, so I needed a bit of supplemental card draw.

OUT: Borrowing 100,000 Arrows; Lu Xun, Scholar General; Curse of the Forsaken
IN: Deep Analysis, Cold-Eyed Selkie, Mentor of the Meek

Borrowing 100k was never reliable and was basically EXACTLY Divination. I never could draw more than 2 cards off it. Deep Analysis is a boring old standby, but it's GOOD and has served me well in many decks in the past. Lu Xun is fine, but Selkie is cheaper, has almost as good an evasion ability, and can potentially draw more than one card at a time (Exatled, +1/+1 counters, etc.). And Curse was a do-nothing waste of a slot, while Mentor is a subtle but potented card advantage machine. He's almost never going to be the scariest thing on the board, but if unanswered he will draw tons of cards.

Rhystic Study has a very serious shot at being slotted in as well, but I never could find room for it.

Next up, I knew right away this deck was going to want Opposition and probably Glare of Subdual as well. I managed not to fit Glare in, sadly, but Opposition is front and center.

OUT: Thunderstaff
IN: Opposition

I really liked Azami in this deck already, and wanted to make her even more useful. Plus with Opposition now involved, I wanted to explore some of the "tap for value" cards from Lorwyn. In the end I only found two that I really wanted to play, but both are pretty freakin' awesome.

OUT: Presence of Gond, Thornwind Faeries
IN: Stonybrook Schoolmaster, Surgespanner

Props to my buddy Chad for suggesting the Surgespanner. I'm pretty sure he expected me to laugh at him and call him a scrub and mock his newbish deckbuilding skills... but I pretty much fell in love with the idea right off the bat. This also led me to the Schoolmaster, which also makes me cackle with glee when it works. Both cards work with Azami by virtue of being Wizards, so they let me draw cards WHILE DOING OTHER THINGS! Schoolmaster just churns out more Wizards, which in turn lets me draw more or tap more things, while the 'spanner lets me bounce permanents while drawing or tapping things! Either of these two cards combined with either Azami or Opposition gives me a serious value-boner.

There are a few more merfolk with the "whenever this beomes tapped" technology - Fallowsage draws more cards, and Grimoire Thief exiles your opponent's library 3 cards at a time, but neither felt strictly worth it to me.

I've seen Derevi lists that go hard with stuff like Winter Orb. That's powerful, I agree, but I didn't want to be quite that mean. I did, however, make the slightest nod to that strategy.

OUT: Roon of the Hidden Realm, Leonin Bladetrap
IN: Imposing Sovereign, Stoic Angel

Both of these cards are fairly critical in slowing down other aggressive decks, and making your Opposition locks even easier to keep pinned down. I also want to include Blind Obedience, but I couldn't find room, but I also have it in a bunch of decks already, too.

I have a few other cards in mind to help abuse the hell out of Opposition...

OUT: Selesnya Guildmage, Murkfiend Liege, Leafdrake Roost
IN: Emeria Angel, Prophet of Kruphix, Nature's Will

Nature's Will came about because I kept getting into situations where, after attacking with Derevi and a bunch of guys, I had to choose between untapping all my guys so they'd be ready to Opposition down some enemy threats, OR untapping my lands to cast more guys. I often felt like I needed to do both, but had to chose. Nature's Will eliminates that choice. (Sword of Feast and Famine will do much the same, of course). I've only stuck the Will once so far, but it was everything I dreamed it could be and more. Emeria Angel is just an "army in a can" but has synergy with our Exploration/Oracle of Mul Daya plan. Propeht of Krupix is, well... probably the single most scary card in the deck. It enables so much more than just Opposition. Wow.

Now we need a few more evasive beats.

OUT: Aerie Mystics, Kazandu Tuskcaller, Phantom Nantuko, Pilgrim's Eye
IN: Soltari Visionary, Jhessian Infiltrator, Daxos of Meletis, True-Name Nemesis

Visionary and Daxos have extra value in their combat-damage abilities, while Infiltrator and Visionary are just all but guaranteed to connect reliably and often.

Next up are a trio of cards that help our guys get through the red zone unscathed.

OUT: Arcane Denial, Curse of Inertia, Tempt with Glory
IN: Frontline Medic, Champion of Lambholt, Bow of Nylea

Champion can easily just make your whole team unblockable, but requires you to build up to that point. Frontline Medic doesn't add any evasion, but helps the team survive by making them Indestructible - so if you just have more guys than an opponent, you can bum rush him without suffering attrition. And Bow of Nylea just makes it so your opponents really don't want to block most of the time, and if they do, you're probably secretly happy with whatever trades they wind up making.


Now I have three more non-Creature spells to add. Mirari's Wake is obviously impressive, but the +1/+1 bonus is more relevant here than usual because of the small default size of our creatures. Spear of Heliod comes in for the same reason - an Anthem with an Upside is welcome, and we already had two of the three God-Weapons so why not complete the cycle? Finally, Primeval Bounty is an experimental pick that, in theory, applies a free value-added bonus to nearly every play we make.

OUT:  Flickerform, Swiftfoot Boots, Aethermage's Touch
IN: Mirari's Wake, Spear of Heliod, Primeval Bounty

That leaves us with five more creature cards to include.

OUT: Wonder, Rubinia Soulsinger, Deceiver Exarch, Djinn of Infinite Deceits, Bane of Progress,
IN: Eternal Witness, Azorius Justiciar, Reveillark, Master Biomancer, Fauna Shaman

Eternal Witness is "duh good stuff", but really good with Venser. Similarly Azorius Justiciar is imminently blink-able, but also fine as a one-shot. Reveillark is a necessary concession to the fact that this deck HATES Wrath effects, but my group eschews countermagic, so I needed some other countermeasure. Fauna Shaman is primarily to find Edric first, then whatever utility dude I need afterwards. And finally, Master Biomancer - aka Bill Nye the Science Guy - is a fun way to turn my weenie army into a more formidable fighting force.

That's it for the main deck, but we still need to retool the mana base.

This is the one deck where I felt the colored mana requirements were stringent enough that I needed to break out the big guns. I included the three ABUR Duals in my build, as well as the Shadowmoor filter lands, along with the usual suspects. If you don't have them, no worries.

The more "techy" lands I included are: Gavony Township, Alchemist's Refuge, Reliquary Tower and Thawing Glaciers. Nothing to revelatory or ingenious here. Flash is good. Pumping my army is good. not discarding all those cards I draw off Coastal Piracy is good. The cutest bit is Thawing Glaciers. Once you've gotten a good attack set up, you can have all your Derevi triggers target the Glaciers and just use it multiple times in one turn. It can easily put you 3 or 4 lands ahead with one good attack, but once you get the engine going it's hard to stop. Just make sure to keep your basic land count fairly high, so you can exploit this properly.

Defensive lands like Maze of Ith and Kor Haven are also really good here, but I didn't have any available copies to include. Plus, too many colorless lands can really hurt.

The Worldwake manlands were also strong contenders, losing out only because I wanted to keep my Basic count high for the Thawing Glaciers trick, but more bodies is always welcome in this deck, which lives or dies on being able to quickly amass attackers.

Putting all this together, we arrive at the following list:

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician

Imposing Sovereign
Mentor of the Meek
Stonybook Schoolmaster
Frontline Medic
Stonecloaker
Mirror Entity
Soltari Visionary
Fiend Hunter
Angel of Finality
Restoration Angel
Emeria Angel
Azorius Justiciar
Reveillark
Karmic Guide
Invisible Stalker
True-Name Nemesis
Surgespanner
Dungeon Geists
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Arcanis, the Omnipotent
Noble Hierarch
Fauna Shaman
Bloom Tender
Eternal Witness
Champion of Lambholt
Oracle of Mul Daya
Acidic Slime
Mistmeadow Witch
Coiling Oracle
Jhessian Infiltrator
Daxos of Meletis
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Winged Coatl
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Master Biomancer
Stoic Angel
Prophet of Kruphix

Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Unexpectedly Absent
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Cyclonic Rift
Deep Analysis
Opposition
Coastal Piracy
Bident of Thassa
Treachery
Exploration
Curse of Predation
Krosan Grip
Bow of Nylea
Nature's Will
Primeval Bounty
Mirari's Wake
Venser, the Sojourner
Sphinx's Revelation
Sol Ring
Spear of Heliod
Chromatic Lantern

Tundra
Savannah
Tropical Island
Hallowed Fountain
Temple Garden
Breeding Pool
Glacial Fortress
Sunpetal Grove
Hinterland Harbor
Mystic Gate
Wooded Bastion
Flooded Grove
Misty Rainforest
Azorius Chancery
Selesnya Sanctuary
Simic Growth Chamber
Reflecting Pool
Command Tower
Seaside Citadel
Evolving WildsTemple of the False God
Gavony Township
Alchemist's Refuge
Thawing Glaciers
Reliquary Tower
Faerie Conclave
Plains x5
Island x5
Forest x4 


Now, this is the list I'm currently running. It's very good and very fun, but it's far from ideal. Let me talk about some the of the issues you might experience.

First off, the deck relies heavily on sticking an persistent card-drawing engine early; be it Edric, Piracy, Bident, Mentor, Azami or Arcanis, if you don't get one of these online and start stocking up on cards before the first Wrath happens, you'll be in trouble. So, finding these cards is a priority. I really only have Fauna Shaman as a way to get Edric, but that's not enough, really. Some things I've considered to help out are:
Survival of the Fittest
Birthing Pod
Wargate
Eladamri's Call
Worldly Tutor
Enlightened Tutor

Speaking of Wrath effects, those are one of the biggest banes of this deck. There are a LOT of cards in this deck that are good because they have really great synergy, but are TERRIBLE to top-deck into with an empty board and empty hand. If you have a board of Lands and nothing in hand, and draw Stonybrook Schoolmaster, you'll be sad. Now, my group doesn't sanction countermagic, so I have to look elsewhere for anti-Wrath measures. Some options I need to consider but haven't yet tried are:
Dauntless Escort
Rootborn Defenses
Ghostway
Faith's Reward
Eldrazi Monument
Sun Titan
Marshal's Anthem

Still speaking of sweepers, I don't have any, save Elspeth. One card I would absolutely be running, if I owned a copy is Retribution of the Meek, which is the card Elpleth's -3 ability is based on. In this deck it would b damn near a 3-mana Plague Wind!

Also, Curse of the Swine is really, really tempting here, as another potential one-sided sweeper of sorts. Austere Command is a possibility as well, but I'm not sold on it yet.

Another thing that just makes life absolutely miserable for this deck is the Propaganda effect. One of these hitting the board slows us down to a crawl, but seeing multiple effects stack up makes winning impossible without an answer. If you see these types of "pillow fort" cards in your group, BE PREPARED TO DEAL WITH THEM. Krosan Grip and Soltari Visionary are there already, but I also might want:

Qasali Pridemage
Return to Dust
Trygon Pedator
Aura Shards
Calming Verse

(I really like Calming Verse! Secret tech!)

Aggro decks that are fast, but have bigger average creature sizes than you could be a problem. You really need Opposition to win this race, so adding Glare of Subdual will help, and you might also consider Sleep and similar effects as well.

Blinding Angel is also super awesome against Aggro. And I already mentiond Blind Obedience, but that's still something I would love to include.

One other issue, not as bad as the previous concerns, but still worth noting, is that sometimes this deck can take over a game and dominate the board... with tiny creatures. This means it often takes several turns to win once you've established your dominance, which of course gives your opponents all the more time to draw an out. The deck needs more decisive ways to just pack the game up once you start to pull ahead.

A lot of people like Derevi as a Voltron General, which makes sense, but isn't right for my build. However, I would definitely condone using Sword of Feast and Famine, either way.

I also like Beastmaster Ascension a lot, but haven't bothered slotting it in. Basically anything that mass-pumps your army is golden. I kept Mirror Entity for this reason (plus he is tech with Azami - turn your whole team to 1/1 Wizards to draw a ton!), but  Biomass Mutation is another solid possible choice. It's a one-shot version of Mirror Entity, but it's an Instant so has surprise on it's side.

Finally, the last thing I want to bring up is my mana strategy. I am absolutely certain that the Exploration/Oracle package is great, and I want those two cards in the deck no matter what. But I'm not sure 40 lands and no mana rocks is right or not. I have been screwed by mana flood a few times, and I'm looking to minimize this impact. I have a few ways I could go.

One, I could cut two lands and something else and add back in the three Signets. Signets are great, and undervalued, I feel. Of course, if your playgroup loves talking about how Vandalblast and Bane of Progress are the best cards ever, you might want to avoid these. But my group is pretty gentlemanly about going after mana. We avoid it where possible, and try not to cripple players outright when we do pop mana rocks or lands.

Another option is to just add a Trade Routes and/or Scroll Rack to cycle away excess lands. I like this route, but if I go this way I really want BOTH cards, and I don't think I have an available Scroll Rack right now. I'd have to cannibalize it from another deck.

I also probably should look into adding an Azusa, Lost but Seeking. But, I'm pretty sure I only own one copy, which is in my Edric deck, and there's no way in hell it's coming out of that deck. I'll have to track one down, because I don't get an early Oracle/Exploration nearly often as I'd like to.

I could also just cut two lands and something else for the boring but proven package of Sakura-Tribe Elder, Wood Elves and Kodama's Reach (or Cultivate). I'm not a fan of this route even though it's probably the most reliably consistent way to go, and it has the benefit of upping my creature count slightly.

Maintaining a high creature count in this deck is of paramount importance, by the way. I would absolutely NOT go below 36 creatures, and striving to hit 40 is advisable.

My buddy Chad uses Looter il-Kor in his Derevi deck, and that seems like a good option too. It's a small, cheap, evasive attacker, which this deck already wants, and it can loot away excess lands if we draw too many. I've long been a fan of Looter il-Kor but he fell of my radar at some point. I should look into reintroducing him to my repertoire.
 

Closing thoughts

So, as you can see, I've built a deck with a really strong proactive game plan, but in interest of trying as many new and cool things as possible I have skimped somewhat on the reactionary capabilities and this has left some glaring weaknesses. I think those weaknesses are easily addressed, though, once you get past wanting to use all the cooler, more proactive cards you can cram in.

I mentioned earlier how Prophet of Kruphix is one of the most powerful cards in the deck, and aside from Derevi herself, it might actually be the single best thing this deck can do. To that end, adding Leyline of Anticipation and Seedborn Muse may well be worth looking into.

By the way, everyone knows Seedborn Muse by now, but remember that Awakening and Quest for Renewal also exist (Quest only untaps creatures, but it's close enough). And remember, that these effects stack, so each one you cast gives you more and more use out of your Opposition.

You're probably tired of me putting it into every single deck, but I really need a damn Mulldrifter in here. Perhaps I can cut Deep Analysis for it? Dunno. Value Fish just HAS to come in somewhere.

Finally, I just wanted to highlight two more cards my friend Chad picked for his Derevi build that I wish I had thought of first: Aven Mindcensor, and Sun Quan, Lord of Wu. I don't think my build could support another six-drop, but Sun Quan has wrecked my shit a couple of times already so I know he's legit. And Aven Mindcensor is well-known and respected already, but in this deck, he's especially fun because HE'S A BIRD WIZARD! Tribal theme, GO!

As always, I highly encourage you to leave your own suggestions and tech choices in the comments below, and if you have some creative solutions to the deck's weaknesses I've laid out, I definitely want to hear those!

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Updating Eternal Bargain

Welcome, readers, to the second article in my series of updates to the Commander 2013 preconstructed decks. This time we're going to be working on the Esper deck, Eternal Bargan, helmed by Oloro, Ageless Ascetic.

This deck is really good, and fun to play. Oloro seems to be quite a strong General, but doesn't reach the same levels of degeneracy that Prossh does if pushed too hard. Then again, maybe I'm just not pushing in the right directions.

Anyway, for now, I am content to build to the obvious strengths of the new Generals, rather than looking for the most esoteric possible way to build these decks. I encourage exploration and experimentation, and creativity above all, but these articles are meant to be an entry point, not the definitive end point.

So what does the deck do? Take a look at the decklist:


Oloro, Ageless Ascetic

Ajani's Pridemate
Augury Adept
Azorius Herald
Disciple of Griselbrand
Diviner Spirit
Divinity of Pride
Filigree Angel
Hooded Horror
Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon"
Marrow Bats
Myr Battlesphere
Phyrexian Delver
Phyrexian Gargantua
Raven Familiar
Razor Hippogriff
Serene Master
Serra Avatar
Sharding Sphinx
Sharuum the Hegemon
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Stormscape Battlemage
Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Tidal Force
Tidehollow Strix
Tower Gargoyle
Vizkopa Guildmage
Wall of Reverence

Act of Authority
Brilliant Plan
Cradle of Vitality
Crawlspace
Curse of Inertia
Curse of Shallow Graves
Curse of the Forsaken
Darksteel Mutation
Death Grasp
Deep Analysis
Dromar's Charm
Famine
Greed
Lim-Dûl's Vault
Nevinyrral's Disk
Nihil Spellbomb
Obelisk of Esper
Order of Succession
Phyrexian Reclamation
Pristine Talisman
Reckless Spite
Sanguine Bond
Sol Ring
Spinal Embrace
Sun Droplet
Survival Cache
Swiftfoot Boots
Tempt with Immortality
Thopter Foundry
Toxic Deluge
Well of Lost Dreams

Arcane Sanctum
Azorius Chancery
Azorius Guildgate
Barren Moor
Command Tower
Dimir Guildgate
Esper Panorama
Evolving Wilds
Island
Jwar Isle Refuge
Lonely Sandbar
Opal Palace
Orzhov Basilica
Orzhov Guildgate
Plains
Rupture Spire
Springjack Pasture
Swamp
Temple of the False God
Transguild Promenade

 Unlike some of WotC's other premade decks, including a couple of the C13 decks, the intent and purpose of this deck should be readily apparent just from looking at this list. Oloro gains life and, when in play, turns that life into life-drain and card draw. Other cards in the deck clearly play off this and turn the incidental life gain into other forms of value, such as life loss, +1/+1 counters, more card draw, etc. There's also a small theme of paying life for stuff, like Toxic Deluge or Phyrexian Reclamation.

Then there's the artifact theme that was clearly forced in to make Sydri less of a dud in this deck. She's cool, but making her work distracts too much from what Oloro wants to do. The tension between these two themes pulls the deck too strongly in differing directions.

But what's not apparent until you play the deck is how well the synergies work. Even the silly-looking Sun Droplet is actually a good deal more playable than you'd think. And Pristine Talisman? Laughably bad, until you realize that, with Oloro in play it's actually a 3-mana Artifact that reads: "Tap: Gain 1 life, each opponent loses one life, and you draw a card." That's actually insanely good value.

And that's what Oloro is all about: turning an incidental and normally irrelevant thing like gaining a point or two of life here and there into value, card advantage and even a win condition outright. And it's great because you are slowly, subtly winning the game or at least taking control of it in such small increments, it tends to fly well under your opponent's threat-detection radar until it's too late.

This is what I mostly tried to keep in mind as I tuned up this deck. Of course a few no-so-subtle blunt instruments of doom made it in as welll...

As with the last update article, I'll start by dissecting the starting decklist, and categorizing all the cards into three classes. Once again, those are PASS, FAIL and NEEDS IMPROVEMENT.

Cards that fall into the PASS category are those that I highly recommend keeping in the deck. For this deck, the following cards get a grade of PASS:

Augury Adept
Divinity of Pride
Serra Avatar
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Vizkopa Guildmage
Wall of Reverance
Cradle of Vitality
Crawlspace
Death Grasp
Deep Analysis
Lim-Dul's Vault
Phyrexian Reclamation
Pristine Talisman
Reckless Spite
Sanguine Bond
Sol Ring
Sun Droplet
Swiftfoot Boots
Toxic Deluge
Well of Lost Dreams

The NEEDS IMPROVEMENT category contains those cards that are acceptable but not ideal; you won't mind playing them if you must, but there are generally better options available. For this deck, those cards are:

Ajani's Pridemate
Azorius Herald
Disciple of Griselbrand
Myr Battlesphere
Phyrexian Delver
Phyrexian Gargantua
Raven Familiar
Razor Hippogriff
Sharuum the Hegemon
Tidehollow Strix
Curse of the Forsaken
Darksteel Mutation
Greed
Nihil Spellbomb
Obelisk of Esper
Spinal Embrace
Survival Cache
Swiftfoot Boots

And finally, we have the cards that receive a FAIL mark for being terrible or in some cases just unfortunately non-synergistic enough to just be a dud. Those cards are:

Diviner Spirit
Filigree Angel
Hooded Horror
Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon"
Marrow Bats
Serene Master
Sharding Sphinx
Sydri, Galvanic Genius
Tidal Force
Tower Gargoyle
Act of Authority
Brilliant Plan
Curse of Shallow Graves
Curse of Inertia
Dromar's Charm
Famine
Nevinyrral's Disk
Order of Succession
Tempt with Immortality
Thopter Foundry

The number of cards in this deck that at least hit the not-completely-garbage mark is actually quite impressive. It's a well-thought-out deck for a precon. And a few of the FAIL cards, like Tempt with Immortality and Sydri, Galvanic Genius are actually pretty good cards overall, they just don't fit well enough into THIS deck to be worth keeping.

Unlike with Prossh, there weren't very many really obvious direct upgrades, but there were a few. We'll get those out of the way first.

Greed --> Erebos
This one is simple enough. Erebos is an indestructible Greed that ultimately draws you more cards for the same amount of mana and half as much life. And every once in a while (but probably not super-often in this deck), he becomes a 5/7 beatstick too. That's a shitload of upside for only one more mana in the casting cost.

Tidehollow Strix --> Baleful Strix
What's better? +1/+0 or Draw a card?

Raven Familiar --> Mulldrifter
Honestly, I'd run both but my General is a card-drawing engine too, so I don't want to overdo it. Really this one is just a matter of preference, but I think Drifty McMulls is just slightly better value overall. It could go either way, really.

Brilliant Plan --> Sphinx's Revelation
This should require little explanation. Kind of a big "duh", really.

Tempt with Immortality --> Beacon of Unrest
Same CMC, but way more versatile and open-ended. Just all around more reliable and powerful

Phyrexian Delver --> Obzedat's Aid
Turns out recurring artifacts is actually a little more desirable than just recurring creatures, for this deck. Also, any planeswalkers you might add get value from this upgrade.

Act of Authority --> Return to Dust
The problem with Act of Authority in this deck is that we're always going to have more juicy targets than our opponents, and while we might really, really want to get rid of that Doubling Season, we can guarantee that our Well of Lost Dreams is going to be toast shortly thereafter. 

Now that we've gotten the 1 for 1 upgrades covered, one of the first things I'll address is the ramp package. Probably, this is no surprise. Standard MO for EDH improvments is to make sure you can reliably cast your spells. Otherwise, what's the point?

OUT: 1x Land, Thopter Foundry, Tower Gargoyle
IN: Solemn Simulacrum, Land Tax, Orzhov Keyrune

40 Lands still seems to high, but we need to hit those land drops, so for now it'll do. Land Tax is super obvious, and Orzhov Keyrune might be overly cute, but Solemn Simulacrum is so undeniably perfect for this deck... meanwhile Tower Gargoyle is a 4 CMC dude that does literally nothing. Thopter Foundry is cool for a more Artifact-centric build, but we don't have enough expendable Artifacts right now.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, we want to explore the decks main themes a bit and add a sampling of cards that either gain us life, or turn that life gain into a resource we can use, or add more value to the life gain. Bonus points for finding cards that do both!

OUT: Azorius Herald, Diviner Spirit, Hooded Horror, Marrow Bats, Tidal Force, Sharding Sphinx
IN:  Serra Ascendant, Rhox Faithmender, Archangel of Thune, Vampire Nighthawk, Drogskol Reaver, Wurmcoil Engine

Out come six relatively terrible cards, and in come 6 rather more useful ones. Archangel of Thune hit that sweet spot of being life gain cards, but also do something super in addition to gaining life. And their synergy with Oloro is gravy. Faithmender just doubles down on the lifegain, which is cute but not exactly necessary. I like it. And Nighthawk just makes a more convincing blocker than Marrow Bats. Wurmcoil Engine is obviously good, but also plays really well with the Trading Post we're about to add... Oh, we're not done yet...

OUT:  Disciple of Griselbrand, Kongming, Curse of the Forsaken, Swiftfoot Boots, Order of Succession
IN: Blood Artist, Obzedat Ghost Council, Chalice of Life, Sword of Light and Shadow, Trading Post
Blood Artist and Obzedat are on-theme ways to kill our opponents by slowly bleeding them dry. Chalice of Life is hilariously techy and surprisingly effective, and bleeds opponents dry rather less slowly. Sword is pretty obvious good stuff, but happens to be on-theme and quite useful. Trading Post is in because, well, it makes Goats, gains life and recurs artifacts. All of which are useful to varying degrees. It's a surprisingly versatile engine of value and cute tricks.

Another thing Oloro seems to be clamoring for is an Extort package. I was disappointed in the offerings we had - there were some gems, but not as many as I'd hoped. Here's the scoop:

OUT: Curse of Shallow Graves, Serene Master, Phyrexian Gargantua
IN: Blind Obedience, Tithe Drinker, Treasury Thrull

More useless junk gone. Blind Obedience and the Thrull were the first and most obvious choices for Extort. I wanted Pontiff of Blight but didn't feel he'd actually work for my build all that well and was a bit too expensive besides. Crypt Ghast is awesome, but not so much in a three-color deck. I'd have to shoehorn in an Urborg+Expedition Map package to suppport it. Finally I wanted one cheap, expendable Extort dork and Tithe Drinker beat Kingpin's Pet on grounds of being 1 mana cheaper and having WAY sexier art (a subjective statement, I know, but if you happen to disagree, please keep it to yourself!).

WotC, please print more Extort cards, ASAP!

Next we need to bolster our staying-alive powers. Gaining all the life ever won't save us from dying to General Damage for one thing. I want this deck to feel fairly control-ish, so the removal suite is going to be pretty extensive. Actually I want it to be even bigger, but for now I have too many ideas competing for space. First I want some utility creatures to take advantage of our Phyrexian Reclamation tech.

OUT: Razor Hippogriff, Spinal Embrace, Stormscape Battlemage, Sydri Galvanic Genius, Famine
IN: Windborn Muse, Duplicant, Shriekmaw, Fleshbag Marauder, Kagemaro

We have three black creatures that scale upward in devastation. Shriekmaw for precision, Fleshbag for the 3-for-1 value play, and Kagemaro for a "nuke from orbit" option. Muse takes a more political tack, which can be valuable, and Duplicant shuts down recursion on problematic creatures while being highly recurrable himself.

I like Spinal Embrace a lot, and it's certainly worth keeping if you have room. I just had to cut it, but it kind of hurt to do so. The other stuff was definitely not hard to cut.

But we're not done with the control elements. We've got more removal on the way.

OUT: Darksteel Mutation, Dromar's Charm, Deep Analysis, Nevinyrral's Disk, Myr Battlesphere
IN: Swords to Plowshares, Vindicate, Curse of Swine, Merciless Eviction, Spine of Ish Sah

A few things... first I picked Swords over Path mainly because their may come a time when I want to Swords my own Serra Avatar with Sanguine Bond on the battlefield. You know, for the lulz. Second, I love Deep Analysis, but I feel card draw is well covered, and "Hamnation" is just way too good to pass up. Third, I know I don't have enough ways to sacrific Artifacts to make Spine really good, but getting a loop going via Trading Post isn't that hard to do. Still it's an area of improvement for me to look into. Anyway, Vindicate and Merciless Eviction are generic, but amazing at what they do.

That gets us down to the last three changes I want to make before we overhaul the Lands.

OUT: Survival Cache, Curse of Inertia, Filigree Angel
IN: Demonic Tutor, Phyrexian Metamorph, Magister Sphinx

Cache is cute, but Tutor just cuts to the chase. I'm getting Trading Post quite often, but there are truthfully a ton of good targets for this. Metamorph's ability to copy Artifacts as well as Creatures will be far more useful and relevant here than normal, making him much more techy than his usual generic good stuff status. Magister Sphix is another ubiquitous staple folks get tired of seeing, but he's here for a very specific reason. It's actually kind of hard to Extort someone to death from 30 or 40 life... Magister Sphinx makes their slow, painful bleed-out less slow but more painful. It's a dick move in some circles, but with this deck, you're rarely ever going to play the Sphinx and then one-shot them the same or next turn.

We're almost through, now; we just have to spruce up the mana base a bit.

Mostly this involves the usual suspects: Better dual lands, etc. But there are a few utility lands that we want to include.

The Springjack Pasture included is a little slow and clunky, but I've found it to be useful in a pinch and it has good synergy with the Trading Post we added. I've actually played a game where my opponent and I had fought for control of goat-based resources for several turns and my managing to untap with more goats than him was a critical turning point in the game. It was quite hilarious.

Anyway, I'd keep it, but your mileage may vary.

The one land that jumped out at me as being the most urgent to add ASAP while playing the deck was Academy Ruins. Even though we have shied away from an "Artifacts matter" theme, we still managed to actually increase the number of high-profile Artifacts in the deck. Sharuum is a great one-shot way to recur them when they get blown up, but we want the Ruins as a persistent and repeatable way to keep our Trading Posts and Wells of Lost Dreams coming back for more value. And, as a Land with a cheap activation the opportunity cost is extremely low, which is a huge benefit.

Two other important lands I have added are: Vault of the Archangel and Ancient Tomb. I like the Ancient Tomb here because we have a high density of colorless cards so it shouldn't color-screw us like it might in some decks, and the 2 damage it deals is practically meaningless with Oloro doing his thing. It's basically another copy of Temple of the False God, but doesn't suck to drop on Turn 2.

Vault of the Archangel might seem a bit redundant or pointless. After all, this deck isn't really that concerned with creatures and beating down, and a lot of the creatures we DO have already have lifelink. And, sometimes it will sit there all game and never do anything besides tapping for 1. But this deck is highly defensive and Vault can be a really potent "Rattlesnake" with just a few expendable creatures out. Just threatening the Deathtouch + Lifelink combination for your blockers is often enough to ward off attackers. I also like it as a way to give Serra Avatar Lifelink, which gets out of hand REAL fast.

One thing I have not yet been able to do, but will be doing soon enough, and I definitely recommend, is adding a High Market. It's a small bit of utility but saving your guys from Control Magic effects, while possibly triggering Oloro is solid. I recommend cutting the Opal Palace for it, as the Palace just doesn't do much here. Making Oloro bigger is sometimes useful, but we have Cradle of Vitality for that. In general, though, I almost never want to spend the extra mana on the Palace to get a few counters for Oloro. There are just more important ways to spend that mana most of the time.

Finally, the Guildgates are a bit of a liability in this deck. It's a slow deck that likes to take it's time, so they aren't a huge weakness, but they can be a bit of a stumbling block now and then. I'd recommend swapping those out too, but I haven't gotten around to that either. The old Core Set painlands (Adarkar Wastes and the like) are a good pick as the damage they inflict will hardly be felt in this deck. The Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands are always great, but are less great if you have a bunch of colorless-only lands. The Odyssey filter lands are a fine option as well.

And that about wraps it up for now. The decklist I'm currently working with after all the above changes looks like this:

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic

Serra Ascendant
Ajani's Pridemate
Wall of Reverance
Rhox Faithmender
Windborn Muse
Archangel of Thune
Serra Avatar
Phyrexian Metamorph
Mulldrifter
Blood Artist
Fleshbag Marauder
Vampire Nighthawk
Erebos, God of the Dead
Shriekmaw
Kagemaro, First to Suffer
Baleful Strix
Vizkopa Guildmage
Tithe Drinker
Augury Adept
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Divinity of Pride
Treasury Thrull
Sharuum the Hegemon
Drogskol Reaver
Magister Sphinx
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Solemn Simulacrum
Duplicant
Wurmcoil Engine

Swords to Plowshares
Land Tax
Blind Obedience
Cradle of Vitality
Return to Dust
Curse of the Swine
Phyrexian Reclamation
Demonic Tutor
Toxic Deluge
Reckless Spite
Beacon of Unrest
Sanguine Bond
Lim-Dul's Vault
Vindicate
Obzedat's Aid
Merciless Eviction
Death Grasp
Sphinx's Revelation
Sol Ring
Nihil Spellbomb
Sun Droplet
Pristine Talisman
Obelisk of Esper
Crawlspace
Orzhov Keyrune
Chalice of Life
Sword of Light and Shadow
Trading Post
Well of Lost Dreams
Spine of Ish Sah

Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Isolated Chapel
Sejiri Refuge
Jwar Isle Refuge
Azorius Chancery
Dimir Aqueduct
Orzhov Basilica
Azorius Guildgate
Dimir Guildgate
Orzhov Guildgate
Command Tower
Arcane Sanctum
Opal Palace
Evolving Wilds
Academy Ruins
Vault of the Archangel
Ancient Tomb
Temple of the False God
Springjack Pasture
Secluded Steppe
Lonely Sandbar
Barren Moor
Plains x 5
Island x4
Swamp x5

So that's the deck. There are many ways to focus the build, and I didn't want to be too narrow with mine. Instead of going full-bore on any one theme, I wanted to include a little of everything. You could push it further in whichever direction suits you, be it Pillow Fort or heavy Control, or even more Aggro. You could let the life cushion from Oloro be your primary defense, and just beat down with Archangel of Thune and an army of pumped-up guys.

I always like to include a list of alternate suggestions, and things I considered but couldn't fit in. So here are some of those ideas:

Angelic Accord
Necropotence
Ghostly Prison/Propaganda
Pontiff of Blight
Scholar of Athreos
Open the Vaults
Exsanguinate/Debt to the Deathless
Bloodchief Ascension
Etherwrought Page
Suture Priest
Circle of Affliction
Hatred
Moonlight Bargain
Righteous Aura
Luminarch Ascension
Dread
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Miren, the Moaning Well

Hopefully this article will give you some ideas and help get you started on your own Oloro, Ageless Ascetic deck. Let me know in the comments if you have any secret tech to share, or if I just missed something really obvious.

Enjoy!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Updating Power Hungry

Howdy, folks. Today I'm finally getting around to posting my first Commander 2013 improvement article. We are, to my own suprise, going to be starting with Power Hungry, the Jund deck, led by Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. I picked this one to start with because I wanted to share a little anecdote about my playtesting.

So, this is my very first "goldfish" game after sleeving up the changes I will outline below. The following creatures were attacking:
A 74/72 Thromok the Insatiable
A 7/5 Prossh
An 8/6 Reaper from the Abyss
and sixteen 2/1 Kobolds.

This was Turn 7.

And I had misplayed the turn before, wasting some mana. Because of this, Grave Pact was in my hand and not on the Battlefield.

Anyway, for your reference, here's the original decklist prior to any changes:


Prossh, Skyraider of Kher

Brooding Saurian
Capricious Efreet
Charnelhoard Wurm
Deathbringer Thoctar
Deepfire Elemental
Elvish Skysweeper
Endless Cockroaches
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Fell Shepherd
Goblin Sharpshooter
Golgari Guildmage
Hooded Horror
Hua Tuo, Honored Physician
Hunted Troll
Inferno Titan
Jade Mage
Ophiomancer
Quagmire Druid
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Scarland Thrinax
Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper
Shattergang Brothers
Silklash Spider
Sprouting Thrinax
Stalking Vengeance
Stronghold Assassin
Terra Ravager
Viscera Seer
Walker of the Grove
Wight of Precinct Six

Armillary Sphere
Blood Rites
Carnage Altar
Curse of Chaos
Curse of Predation
Curse of Shallow Graves
Dirge of Dread
Fecundity
Foster
Furnace Celebration
Goblin Bombardment
Jar of Eyeballs
Jund Charm
Mass Mutiny
Night Soil
Obelisk of Jund
Plague Boiler
Primal Vigor
Reincarnation
Restore
Rough // Tumble
Sol Ring
Spine of Ish Sah
Spoils of Victory
Sudden Demise
Swiftfoot Boots
Tempt with Vengeance
Tooth and Claw
Vile Requiem
Widespread Panic

Akoum Refuge
Command Tower
Evolving Wilds
Forest x7
Golgari Guildgate
Golgari Rot Farm
Grim Backwoods
Gruul Guildgate
Jund Panorama
Kazandu Refuge
Khalni Garden
Kher Keep
Llanowar Reborn
Mountain x7
Opal Palace
Rakdos Guildgate
Rupture Spire
Savage Lands
Swamp x6
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse
Vivid Grove

Okay, before we get into the changes I made to my own version, I'm going to run down the list and group all of the cards into three categories: PASS, FAIL and NEEDS IMPROVEMENT. Those titles should be pretty self-explanatory, but I'll explain a bit more below.

PASS - These cards are good enough to keep in the deck more or less unconditionally. Obviously going with some really outside-the-box theme might alter the usefulness, but in a general sense these cards should provide power or utility on par with "constructed" EDH decks. The following cards receive a grade of PASS for this deck:

Sakura-Tribe Elder
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Shattergang Brothers
Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper
Deathbringer Thoctar
Goblin Bombardment
Sudden Demise
Fecundity
Reincarnation
Foster
Sol Ring
Kher Keep

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT - This category represents the selection of cards that are perhaps not the best possible option but are servicable enough that you could keep them if you don't have better options, or if you just like the card a lot. They won't noticably weaken your deck unless your deck is just filled with these. I'm a big fan of running some subpar options in almost any deck, because beating someone with a card that isn't the most obvious card ever is fun! But if your entire deck is middle-tier, then you probably won't get that chance very often.

Charnelhoard Wurm
Fell Shepherd
Goblin Sharpshooter
Hua Tuo, Honored Physician
Inferno Titan
Ophiomancer
Sprouting Thrinax
Scarland Thrinax
Silklash Spider
Stalking Vengeance
Viscera Seer
Furnace Celebration
Mass Mutiny
Night Soil
Obelisk of Jund
Primal Vigor
Restore
Spoils of Victory
Swiftfoot Boots
Tempt with Vengeance
Tooth and Claw

FAIL - These are the cards that just plain suck and will almost always serve to dilute the power of your deck, rarely justifying their inclusion, if ever. They usually lack any synergy with your overall deck, or provide such a weak effect that they will just never pull their weight. This list is where you should start first, when making improvements.

Brooding Saurian
Capricious Efreet
Deepfire Elemental
Elvish Skysweeper
Endless Cockroaches
Golgari Guildmage
Hooded Horror
Hunted Troll
Jade Mage
Quagmire Druid
Stalking Vengeance
Stronghold Assassin
Terra Ravager
Walker of the Grove
Wight of Precinct Six
Armillary Sphere
Blood Rites
Carnage Altar
Curse of Chaos
Curse of Predation
Curse of Shallow Graves
Dirge of Dread
Jar of Eyeballs
Jund Charm
Plague Boiler
Rough // Tumble
Spine of Ish Sah
Vile Requiem
Widespread Panic

Now, some of these cards on the FAIL list, you might be saying "But, wait, this card is playable in EDH!". That might be true. Many of these cards I do see played in the format. Brooding Saurion, for example, is a fine EDH card. It's just a little too conditional in this deck, and often times it will just be a generic 4/4 for four mana, which is just flat-out something this deck doesn't care about. Then we have stuff like Armillary Sphere, which I'm fine playing in Grixis, but in a color scheme that involves green? Green has access to SO many ramp spells, there is just NO justification for resorting to such a mediocre card.

In short, about half of the cards on the FAIL list would be upgraded to NEEDS IMPROVEMENT or maybe even PASS if we were in different colors, or there wasn't a variety of cards that all severely outclass the card in question.

So, now we can get to the actual changes.

My first thought for Power Hungry, based on the name of the deck and the mechanical themes contained within, I really thought this deck wanted a Devour theme (as in the Jund keyword mechanic). However, once I got started on the changes, I discovered two things: One, there was a distinct lack of Devour cards that were really worth playing, and two, that approach required even more deck space for Devour enablers and jamming all of those things in just took up too much room.

In the end, a few Devour cards made it in, as well as a fair number of ways to enable the mechanic, but only because sacrificing tokens for value was a strong enough theme even before we got to the Devour cards.

Anyway, the easiest first place to start fixing the deck up is to look for cards where we can just do a straight "upgrade" - putting in a card that fulfills the same basic purpose, but is just a better overall card to do it. Occasionally we might even get the coveted "strictly better", but most of the time these will just be "almost always better".

Golgari Guildmage --> Korozda Guildmage - Here's a good example. GG is expensive and clunky to use, and doesn't really line up with the mechanical themes of the deck. KG on the other hand is slightly cheaper to use, and his abilities have better synergy. His second ability is the one we usually want, but the first can help Prossh get through blockers for a lethal strike.

Jade Mage --> Skirsdag High Priest - This one is a bit unintuitive at first glance, but I knew I wanted a really cheap token producer like Jade Mage, but one that was less mana-intensive. In playtesting the deck before changes, I could just NEVER afford to make tokens with the Mage, and if I was making tokens that always meant my hand was utterly terrible and I was desperate. Not a good sign for a card. SHP comes in at the same CMC, makes much bigger tokens, and requires no additional mana investment. You'll be surprised how easy it is to activate this guy with Prossh at your General.

Viscera Seer --> Reaper of the Wilds - Yes, it's a pretty steep jump in mana cost, but the benefits are worth it. First, the Seer requires you to choose between sac-ing to Scry or sac-ing to pump Prossh or get some other value. You almost always have a more powerful sac-for-value effect on the table meaning you never want to use the Seer. Reaper on the other hand, just adds the Scry value to your other sac effects. So you can sac to Prossh and still get the Srcy bonus tacked on.

Fell Shepherd --> Phyrexian Plaguelord - A painful change, I admit. I really wanted the Shepherd to be good, and perhaps he will be, but not in this deck. Plaguelord does much of the same job but at a much more efficient price. True he doesn't have the recursion aspect to offer, but I was never once able to trigger Fell Shepherd's recursion ability so I don't see that as a real loss.

Carnage Altar -- > Greater Good - Much less mana, draws way more cards. Yeah, you don't get anywhere sacrificing tokens to Greater Good, but it's still a huge improvement regardless.

Stronghold Assassin --> Attrition - Bascially, Attrition offers two things the Assassin doesn't: survives Wrath of God, and can be activated several times a turn rather than just once.

Plague Boiler --> Gaze of Granite - This should actually be Pernicious Deed, but even I don't have enough of those lying around so Gaze of Granite it is. Yes, it's more mana, but it is still less clunky to use.

Primal Vigor --> Doubling Season - Some of you will run both. If your the only token deck, that's fine, go for it. But I see things like Ghave or Rite of Replication far to often for me to feel safe using Primal Vigor.

Wight of Precinct Six --> Blood Artist - Wight gets value from dead creatures. Blood Artist gets value from dying creatues. And the life drain aspect seems way more valuable than just a generically large guy with no evasion or abilities.

Jar of Eyeballs --> Skullclamp - The designers of these decks sure had some funny notions about card advantage. At least they got Fecundity right, but still...

Deepfire Elemental --> Reaper from the Abyss - I mentioned earlier about triggering Morbid really easily in this deck... Reaper will kill a LOT of shit for you. Sometimes he'll kill your own guys, as he doesn't have the word "may" anywhere in his text. That's okay, though. You've got plenty of fodder.

Vicious Shadows --> Stalking Vengeance - I really wanted to have both in the deck, but the mana curve just wouldn't support it. Of the two, the Enchantment is by far the more explosive of the two and will just win out of nowhere quite easily. The main argument for running Vengeance instead is that Shadows might be TOO good and too easy.

Rough//Tumble --> Chain Reaction - This was going to be Scourge of Kher Ridge for obvious reasons of both mechanical and flavor varieties. But again I had mana concerns and when I remembered Chain Reaction existed, I had to give it a shot.

Okay, that's about it for the 1-for-1 upgrades. Let's get to the bulk fixes now. We'll start with the Ramp as that's one of the most critical aspects of this deck. It is quite mana hungry, as you'll find out playing it. The ramp included just doesn't cut it.

We'll be keeping Sakura-Tribe Elder and Sol Ring for sure, but gutting the rest.

OUT: 1 land, Spoils of Victory, Restore, Obelisk of Jund, Armillary Sphere
IN: Wood Elves, Yavimaya Elder, Awakening Zone, Coalition Relic, Skyshroud Claim

We want to cut some of the spell-based ramp for creature-based ramp because, duh. You can't sac Spoils of Victory to Prossh can you? Yavimaya Elder is such a perfect fit it's a wonder they didn't include it to begin with. I like Coalition Relic over Obelisk of Jund because, well, it is strictly better, but in a more specific sense it can enable a turn-four Prossh if you hit that 4th land.

I would also consider Seedguide Ash, especially if you're playing all the ABUR duals and RAV shocklands. I didn't add him myself mainly because I was getting stuck on 4 mana most of the time and didn't want to rely on a 5-drop to solve that problem.

I also want to find two things to cut for Ashnod's Altar and Pawn of Ulamog. Both provide some huge mana bonuses but I don't necessarily count them as "ramp" for the fact that they are incredibly difficult to rely on in the early game. They both work best later on, after you've already built up a considerable board presence, but have the potential to propel you for the mid-game phase to the rain-doom-upon-thine-enemies phase in a single turn.

OUT: Endless Cockroaches, Swiftfoot Boots
IN: Pawn of Ulamog, Ashnod's Altar

Next up, we've got the Devour Package.

OUT: Capricious Efreet, Hooded Horror, Inferno Titan, Hunted Troll
IN: Mycoloth, Dragon Broodmother, Thromok the Insatiable, Preyseizer Dragon

These were the four best Devour cards in my opinion. So I just cut generic dorks that were in the same CMC range and viola! Instant Devour subtheme. Sure, it's little more than a cursory nod to the mechanic but each of these four cards can have tremendous impact on the game so not much more is needed, I feel.

Now we need a few more cards to enable Devour and other sacrifice mechanics.

OUT: Brooding Saurion, Terra Ravager, Silklash Spider, Walker of the Grove, Charnelhoard Wurm, Spine of Ish Sah
IN: Creekwood Liege, Mitotic Slime, Sporemound, Chancellor of the Forge, Symbiotic Wurm, Artifact Mutation

As much as I like Charnelhoard Wurm, I want tokens, not a regrowth effect. Walker makes one big token, which is less valuable than the many small tokens approach. Brooding Suarion and Terra Raveger lack any kind of synergy and while I am a big fan of Silklash Spider it too doesn't really do what this particular deck asks of it.

I also considered Deranged Hermit, and a few others. Also, shoehorning in a Krenko-fueled goblin subtheme would not be out of the question.

Next up, we need some more ways to make creating lots of tokens and/or sacrificing lots of tokens do something valuable for us. If there is one thing Magic players love it's "value". #value #twoforone #yolo #swag #420

OUT: Vile Requiem, Tooth and Claw, Tempt with Vengeance, Mass Mutiny, Widespread Panic, Blood Rites, Dirge of Dread
IN: Grave Pact, Black Market, Sadistic Hypnotist, Xenagos the Reveler, Ogre Battledriver, Furystoke Giant, Purphoros God of the Forge

This is mostly just some generic stuff that wasn't good enough, replaced by some stuff that is downright amazing. Purphoros, Grave Pact and Xenagos are particularly nasty. Ogre Battledriver is there becuase once in a while "getting value" from your tokens just means smashing face, and we needed something to make 0/1 Koblods at least a little deadly. Black Market might be one "massive mana engine" too many but this was the first deck I've had where it was appropriate so I wanted to try it out. Furystoke Giant is subtly better than he appears. You're never going to have enough tokens to just dome 3 opponents and win, but you can usually kill every creature that isn't yours.

And, finally, we get to the generic utility and "good stuff" section.

OUT:  Jund Charm, All 3 Curses, Quagmire Druid, Ophiomancer, Elvish Skysweeper
IN: Diabolic Intent, Demonic Tutor, Eternal Witness, Fires of Yavimaya, Dread Return, Torrent of Souls, Maelstrom Pulse

Sure, Demonic Tutor and Eternal Witness are boring picks, but they're really really good, which is why they are in almost every deck, which is why their boring. So as yawn-worthy as they may be they are still absolutely worth having. Period. Fires is another haste enabler which is quite relevant in this deck. Diabolic Intent is just another Demonic Tutor but cutely on-them with the sacrifice part. Dread Return and Torrent of Souls are probably the two best possible options for our reanimation needs. Torrent also has the benefit of turning our 1/1 and 0/1 tokens into semi-capable attackers. Maelstrom Pulse is just our one-stop shop for all our spot removal needs.

The Mana Base

The last step is overhauling the mana base for the deck. It's not terrible as-is, but stuff like Rupture Spire and Jund Panorama just have to go. The Guildgates are pretty terrible here, too. They are fine in slower decks, but here they slow us down too much. And we have some demanding mana requirements, like the trip-B's on Grave Pact and such, so we really want a robust mana base for this deck.

First, add as many duals as you can, starting with the Shocklands and ABUR duals. If you add those, then you obviously want the Core/INN "checklands". I would also VERY highly prioritize the Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands, because those will really help you hit those Grave Pact type of stringent color requirements. The more the better, but make sure you have enough basics that all your ramp spells will work!

Obviously, you want to keep Kher Keep. It even says so right in the name. You won't use it that often, but it's best to have just in case.

Gaea's Cradle should be a no-brainer if you have one. If not see if you can pick up a gold-border one for cheap. Yes it IS a real Magic card. It's just not tournament legal, but since when do EDH players play tournaments?

Reflecting Pool (or City of Brass for a cheaper alternative), Reliquary Tower and Bojuka Bog round out my land package. Tower is a must because Greater Good, Fecundity and Skullclamp will get out of hand wildly in some games.

Putting it all together, we get the following final (for now) list:

Prossh, Skyraider of Kher

Skirsdag High Priest
Blood Artist
Pawn of Ulamog
Disciple of Bolas
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Sadistic Hypnotist
Phyrexian Plaguelord
Reaper from the Abyss
Goblin Sharpshooter
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Ogre Battledriver
Furystoke Giant
Preyseizer Dragon
Chancellor of the Forge
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Wood Elves
Eternal Witness
Yavimaya Elder
Mitotic Slime
Mycoloth
Sporemound
Symbiotic Wurm
Korozda Guildmage
Sprouting Thrinax
Scarland Thrinax
Creekwood Liege
Reaper of the Wilds
Shattergang Brothers
Sek'Kuar, Deathkeeper
Thromok the Insatiable
Deathbringer Thoctar
Dragon Broodmother

Diabolic Intent
Demonic Tutor
Attrition
Dread Return
Grave Pact
Black Market
Goblin Bombardment
Furnace Celebration
Chain Reaction
Vicious Shadows
Sudden Demise
Night Soil
Fecundity
Awakening Zone
Reincarnation
Skyshroud Claim
Greater Good
Foster
Doubling Season
Artifact Mutation
Fires of Yavimaya
Maelstrom Pulse
Xenagos, the Reveler
Torrent of Souls
Gaze of Granite
Skullclamp
Sol Ring
Coalition Relic
Ashnod's Altar

Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Dragonskull Summit
Rootbound Crag
Woodland Cemetery
Graven Cairns
Fire-Lit Thicket
Twilight Mire
Akoum Refuge
Kazandu Refuge
Rakdos Carnarium
Gruul Turf
Golgari Rot Farm
Savage Lands
Command Tower
Reflecting Pool
Bojuka Bog
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Gaea's Cradle
Kher Keep
Temple of the False God
Reliquary Tower
Swamp x4
Mountain x5
Forest x5

And, that's the list I'm rolling with currently. Still haven't been able to get any real multiplayer testing done, but 1v1 results show the deck to be... well I'm trying to think of a word with more positive connotations, but "oppressive" keeps coming to mind. I actually think Prossh will be a lot like Maelstrom Wanderer - the format as a whole can handle him, but he's going to be a real problem for some groups.

Astute readers will likely have noticed that, cumulatively, my changes have increased the average mana cost by some margin, and that is true. But even with that slight upward trend in the mana curve, I still get mana-screwed far less often than I did with the stock list, and the lower-cost spells that I CAN play at 4 or less mana are much more impactful, making the occasional mana-screw a little less of a disaster. But overall the ramp is much more robust and reliable, which definitely helps support the top-end stuff we want to be doing.

Some cards I considered but didn't find room for:

Dark Prophecy
Beastmaster Ascension
Grim Feast
Decree of Pain
Parallel Lives
Deranged Hermit
Avenger of Zendikar
Blasphemous Act
Survival of the Fittest
Phyrexian Reclamation
Barter in Blood
Acidic Slime
Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
Scavenging Ooze
Anger
Genesis

And, really that's just scratching the surfact. The card pool for this kind of build is actually very deep and there is a lot of room for personal touches and pet cards. Even I managed to find room for some janky stuff like Sporemound and Korozda Guildmage, knowing uber-powerful stuff like Purphoros and Grave Pact will pick up the slack.

The good thing about Prossh is, unlike something like Maelstrom Wanderer, his inherent power level can be reigned in somewhat by nixing the most powerful and abusive support spells. If I were to depower the above list a bit to make it a little more casual, I'd cut Purphoros, Sadistic Hypnotist and Vicious Shadows for sure, and depending on the metagame, maybe Grave Pact as well. Those seem to be the 4 main "back breaker" spells, and without them the deck would still be really good but not quite as scary.

One last note: I put Furnace Celebration on the NEEDS IMPROVEMENT list, but if you happen to add Ashnod's Alter as I have done (another one you might trim if the deck proves too overwhelming for you individual playgroup), then Furnace Celebration gets upgraded to PASS, as the synergy between those two cards is quite delightful. The Alter both triggers AND pays for the Celebration turning every token you make into a free shock. Quite nifty indeed.

Leave your suggestions in the comments below! I'm especially interested in any "secret tech" ideas that have good synergy with the deck themes, or even random "good stuff" that is more on-theme in this deck than it might be in other decks (like Decree of Pain, for instance).

Enjoy!