Friday, May 25, 2018

Battlebond EDH Set Review

Wow, folks. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted anything at all here, hasn’t it? So much so, I expect it will be another hot minute before anyone realizes I’ve even resumed posting. Lack of both time and interest are the culprits. I’ve been playing Magic pretty regularly though not nearly as often as usual, but the real problem was that I just wasn’t building much. It’s hard to write for a very deckbuilding-oriented blog when you lose interest in building. Turns out, having roughly 30 decks all built at once kind of taps you out, both mentally and in actual card availability. But I recently dismantled every last deck I had together, re-sorted my collection, updated my trade binder and overall just wiped the slate totally clean so I can resume building and experimenting again.

Dominaria was a huge boon to EDH players, and while this is not a Dominaria review I just have to say that that set did a lot to pique my interest in Magic again. Luckily I had a brief moment of financial freedom and was able to purchase a significant amount of the set – something I have not been able to do in years, which also has contributed to my declined interests, I must admit. I like the shiny new toys – can’t help it. Anyway, as cool as Dominaria was and still is… Battlebond is the even newer, even shinier thing these days, and just to spoil things right away the set looks abso-friggin-lutely amazing.

Now, the set is designed primarily around the format Two-Headed Giant, which is a way of playing Magic that I couldn’t give less of a shit about. I mean, if the other three people in my regular playgroup wind up itching to try it I’m totally down, but it is not something I care strongly about either way. I’m much more of free-for-all, one-man-standing kind of player. But I’ll try anything once, so long as it doesn’t involve a rotating, standard-only card pool (looking at you, Brawl). As much as I am easily distracted by new things, my love of EDH is almost entirely due to the ability to play Magic’s Greatest Hits. Even though Magic designs SEEMS to be on a bit of a renaissance as of late, I still think there was a golden period of Magic design that we’ll probably never see the likes of which again.

Anywho, I will now cut this preamble short and move on to the actual set review. This one is going to be, as you might expect, different from my old card-by-card reviews. Those are tiresome to make and probably tiresome to read, honestly. I will definitely be calling out individual cards here and there, but this will be a more holistic review, focusing on broader themes like mechanics and reprints and commanders, etc.

Mechanics - Partner with...

As mentioned above, Battlebond is geared toward 2HG play so it has some wonky team-based mechanics that, sadly, may not translate to FFA games all that well. But first off, we have one that suits Commander just fine – “Partner with”. This is a twist on the Partner mechanic introduced in whichever Commander set had the four-color theme. 2016? Man I have lost track of things. Anyway, these new partner cards can only partner up with a specific other card, spelled out by the card text. And in some cases they aren’t even Legends! Weird, but okay. For EDH purposes, we probably care most about the ones that are Legends. “Partner with…” is a pretty cool mechanic but I’m on the fence about it being a net positive for EDH. The cool thing about 2016’s partners was playing mix and match to create all kinds of cool color combinations and finding ways to make two disparate and different commanders synergize together. Partner with on the other hand removes the exploration and experimentation aspect, making the choice for you right at the outset. In exchange for giving up that flexibility these new partners seem to have been slightly bumped up in power level, or at least synergy.

Ultimately, what this means is, using these new partners in Commander means you effectively start each game with not just one but TWO extra cards in your hand, effectively, and this time they are two cards that are explicitly designed to be used together and thus have inherent synergy together. Back when the original partners were revealed there was a lot of concern about the power level of the partner ability due to this extra card advantage. However the individual partners wound up largely being kinda “meh” on their own, meaning they really roughly equaled one normal commander in value only when paired up. Of course a couple of them wound up being, if not inherently broken, then certainly breakable.

Looking at Battlebond’s Legendary partners, I still don’t see any single one that I think would ever be used as a solo commander. They all feel just slightly sub-par – not terrible on their own but still not quite good enough to use without their partner. This is good news – can you imagine if, say, Rafiq were just already as good as he is but he ALSO let you start with a second card in your command zone? Ugh. If we ever start getting partner commanders that are good enough ON THEIR OWN that having a partner is literally just a value-add for free, that will be a huge problem for the format. But luckily we aren’t there now. I think probably Pir and Toothy are the closest we’re getting this time around. This pairing seems to have some pretty absurd synergy and they curve perfectly. But their base stats and the way their abilities are divided up mean neither of them are quite compelling enough to use sans the other. But when paired up they are, at least on paper, pretty ridiculous. What saves them more than anything is that they aren’t really playing in new space for U/G. I think they may well be the best option to date for a Simic +1/+1 counter deck, that is a well-explored archetype already. These new partners are just giving it a bump but not enough of one to break anything. On the other hand, U/G is already one of, if not THE, best color pairs for value and card advantage, so that PLUS the fact that Toothy has built-in, raw card draw may lend some real credibility to that previously mentioned fear of having TWO extra cards available at all times.

The other Partner pairs all seem powerful in their own rights, but are built around sort of janky-er themes. Will and Rowan Kenrith, for instance, will look cool as hell having two Planeswalkers in your command zone, but they both cost six mana and are in a color pair not known for being super great at ramp. Add to that the fact that Planeswalkers are going to be much harder to defend in FFA games than they would in the 2HG format they were designed for, and suddenly they don’t seem to be all that impressive. Then there is a pair, also in Izzet colors, that are designed around the gimmick of coinflippin, which seems like the most annoying deck – in casual at least – ever. Like, if you play this deck, expect to be the active player roughly 75% of the total time your group is playing, as you endlessly fiddle about with coinflips and dice rolls.

Ultimately, Partner with is cool, though perhaps not as cool as the more open-ended version of Partner, and I feel the cards presented here are very unlikely to become oppressively powerful, though I would keep an eye on Pir/Toothy as the most likely breakouts.

Mechanics - Assist;  "Friend or Foe"

Moving on, we have Assist and Friend or Foe. Covering these two together because they are the two mechanics that are least likely to translate to FFA formats. Assist allows for another player – any player – to help you cast your spell by paying some or all of the colorless portion of the mana cast. So if a spell cost 6W then any player can pitch in on the 6 colorless. You’re always on the hook for the colored mana portion of the cost. The problem is, all the Assist cards are just overpriced variants on existing cards, with the idea that you’ll always have a teammate to help pay the extra cost. But in FFA EDH games, you’re going to have to be seriously adept at politicking to get help casting Assist spells. The real kicker is, if someone is especially willing to help you cast something, that is almost always a sure sign that what you’re trying to do is going to benefit them even more than you realize or hope for.

I think, probably, the Assist spell most likely to succeed in any degree in EDH is Play of the Game, which exiles all non-land permanents for a hefty eight mana. But a frequent scenario in multiplayer Magic is when one player gets ahead and develops a scary enough board that the rest of the table kind of bands together to knock them down a peg or two. “Does anyone have a Wrath?”, said in a slightly panicked tone, should be a very familiar refrain to any EDH veteran. Well, now you can respond with “yes, but I’m going to need you all to help me pay for it”. The fact that is exiles rather destroys may however work against you in that EDH players are, usually, a bit more willing to let their stuff go to their graveyards than they are to see them sent to exile. Ironically being a “destroy” effect would make this card weaker overall, but probably a lot easier to get assistance with the, um, Assist ability.

Meanwhile the “Friend or Foe” cards even less likely to work well in FFA games. There is a corner case for using them in Group Hug decks, of course. One of the biggest complaints I and many, many other EDH players have with the Group Hug archetype is the overwhelming prevalence of such decks to inadvertently hand one player the game, aka kingmaking. The cool thing about Friend or Foe is, you can use them to reward all of the other players, but leave out the one who is furthest ahead, thereby slightly mitigating your tendencies toward kingmaking. However I don’t think the Friend or Foe cards reach neither the quantity nor quality for them to have this much of a noticeable impact on the archetype. But I really don’t see them getting any use outside of group hug, though they might get VERY sparing use in heavily political decks that aren’t quite at the same level of group hug. In short they are even worse versions of the Offering cycle from an earlier Commander set

Support also makes a comeback in this set, but it is not new and is not a great mechanic in EDH. Too low-impact. Obviously if you’re building along a heavy +1/+1 counter theme there may be one or two Support cards you might consider but most are unlikely to make the cut. I will say, however, that Generous Patron looks downright sick in a Hapatra deck! Whew.

Reprints galore!

Somehow Wizards has managed to jam pack this set with some absolutely amazing reprints, making this set feel more like a Masters set than most Masters sets. Green in particular seems to have been showered with gifts. Doubling Season at mythic feels just a little bit cash-grabby but honestly it literally IS a mythical card at this point. If Sol Ring is the flagship, iconic card of EDH, then Doubling Season is probably the equivalent icon for all kitchen table casual Magic. It is quite possibly the most beloved casual card in the game. I think people will be happy enough that it was reprinted at all to not mind it’s mythic rarity too much. But let’s not stop there – Green mages also get new lines of access to Greater Good, Seedborn Muse, Vigor and Skyshroud Claim. All of these are staples of the format or at least should be after this set. Sure there are some dudes – no one was clamoring for a Magus of the Candelabra reprint – but almost all of the green reprints are solid picks.

Other colors don’t fare to badly either. White gets Land Tax and Kor Spiritdancer, both absolutely excellent choices given their scarcity/price points. One of the biggest missteps of the set, though, is the decision to reprint Swords to Plowshares for the roughly 23rd time, whilst Path to Exile continues to creep up in price. This is extremely frustrating to me, as it highlights WotC’s tendency to reprint one card into absolute oblivion while letting a very similar but equally widely played card languish without a significant printing for years. BALANCE THIS SHIT OUT WOTC! Anwyay, StP ain’t a terrible reprint it’s just an unnecessary one, which is made to feel terrible when the slot could have easily gone to a reprint that IS highly needed. But we can forgive them this one sin in light of the amazing work they did elsewhere in this set!

Blue gets another marquee reprint in True Name Nemesis. And I doubt anyone is going to complain about pulling one from a pack, this card isn’t actually all that good in commander. Yeah I’d run it in Rafiq or a U/G merfolk deck just ‘cause but really it just isn’t nearly the staple in our format as it is in Legacy. But hey, we can probably trade them for lots of good EDH cards anyway. The real appeal of it seeing print here is that it will now have a foil printing! These foils are going to be ASTRONOMICALLY expensive I am certain – see foil version of Queen Marchesa, Dack Fayden and Leovold for example. Yikes!

Sower of Temptation and Tidespout Tyrant are fine choices. Nowhere near as great as Seedborn and Greater Good… but fine. Tidespout even comes with a serious art upgrade.

Black gets Nirkana Revenant and Diabolic Intent as it’s best reprints. Again, these are good, solid picks. Nyxithid is less exciting but even that card somehow had crept up in price to way above bulk where it should be. Diabolic Intent wasn’t too pricey itself though it’s foil version had earned itself a sizeable price tag, so hopefully the new, BETTER ART version will be cheaper in foil.

Red, unfortunately, seems to have been shafted pretty hard in the reprint department, getting Magmatic Force, Chain Lightning and War’s Toll as it’s “standouts” if you can call them that. War’s Toll actually kinda hit the mark as it was inexplicably a $5 card, and is actually good in a certain breed of controlling red deck. We can be thankful we didn’t get yet another Comet Storm at mythic, but of all the colors Red clearly fares the worst. But that’s actually pretty typical for Red anyway. Oh well.

Actually, I may have spoken too soon. It is possible the multicolor section is just as underwhelming. Apocalypse Hydra is super lame, but at least it’s rare and not mythic this time. Gwafa and Evil Twin are pretty “meh” as well. Nothing stellar at uncommon either.

The artifact portion of the set brings us Mind’s Eye (with the bad but still better than before Commander’s Arsenal artwork), and Mycosynth Lattice. Not as awe inspiring as Kor Spiritdancer or Doubling Season to be sure, but good, playable cards just the same. At lower rarity, Spectral Searchlight and Genesis Chamber are okay-ish but not terribly compelling.

All in all, Battlebond largely nails the reprint selection with a surprisingly high killer/filler ratio. As annoyed as I may be about the Path to Exile snub I can only commend Wizards for delivering such an exciting batch of reprints overall.

Shiny New Toys

Now let’s check out the new cards. We’ve already talked about the partner legends, and some of the new Assist and “friend or foe” cards, so we will skip those unless something juicy pops up. That doesn’t leave a ton of cardage to cover with all those other groups weeded out, so now we can do the old card-by-card review thing.

Arena Rector - Kicking things off with a bang, we have a phenomenal mythic that is sure to see a ton of play. Academy Rector is, unfortunately, a Reserve List card and thus cannot be reprinted, but here we have a clear homage, updated for modern sensibilities. This is literally an Academy Rector for Planeswalkers instead of enchantments. Automatic staple in any deck with a high-value target for her to fetch up.

Brightling - White finally gets it’s Morphling variant and for once WotC finally decides not to adhere to the strict 5-mana price point, making this possibly the best Morphling wannabe since the original. NOT likely to be an EDH all-start but should see a smattering of play in agressive white decks.

Together Forever - Probably gets played in any Abzan or Selesnya +1/+1 counter deck as reasonable protection against sweepers. Probably gets cut later on for a far more efficient answer to sweepers such as Heroic Intervention or something.

Fumble - Well that’s a downer for Voltron player not lucky enough to draw their Swiftfoot Boots in time. Very niche, but also very powerful when it is relevant.

Arcane Artisan - Would have made a very cool build-around commander if it were Legendary but alas… still this probably fits the “more cool than powerful” sweet spot for many casual EDH fans. A nice high-risk, high-reward card for blue mages wanting to do something a little more fun than the typical Blue shtick.

Game Plan - an Assist card I didn’t call out previously, this one might see fringe play simply because even a bad Wheel of Fortune is bound to make it into a deck here and there. Don’t kid yourself though - if you stick this in a Nekusar deck, NO ONE is ever going to help you with the Assist cost, ya big jerk!

Spellseeker - Yeah this one is going to get a ton of play. And yeah it’s going to just fetch up Cyclonic Rift virtually every time. But who knows, someday, someone is going to tutor up a different spell with it and we’ll all be stunned. Should note, this also plays well with Panharmonicon - meaning you can get Rift ‘cause duh AND get something fun too!

Archfiend of Despair - Kind of a crap mythic, but still kinda cool. Probably sees some light duty action in decks that can bypass it’s whopping eight mana price tag - Kaalia maybe, or Shadowborn Apostle decks. Would love to see this thing’s rules text on a cheaper enchantment but doubt that’ll happen anytime soon.

Stunning Reversal - This one seems more applicable. It’s highly conditional and will suck balls to draw it early on in a game where you are nowhere near death. But still, the chance to cheat death and even draw a shitload of cards before going down in flames is exciting. Pulling of a Hail Mary win after casting this will make for some of those legendary stories the format is known for.

Thrilling Encore - I’m sure there will be a segment of the crowd pooping on this. It is, after all, a five-mana instant that isn’t Blue and therefore isn’t in the one color most capable of holding up five mana for multiple turns. And it does close to nothing or even literal nothing outside of turns where a lot of things die all at once. But I disagree - Black is exceptionally good at playing the Big Mana game, and is exceptionally good at making lots of things die all at once. This is not going to hit Cyclonic Rift levels of staple-hood but it sure as shit ought to make the cut in a high % of Black decks overall.

Bonus Round - Fork (or more accurately Reverberate) for every subsequent spell you can manges to cast in a turn, this is almost certainly on the radar of every Izzet spells/combo deck player out there. Likely nowhere near good enough for high-tier competitive combo decks, but almost certainly good enough for regular, casual combo decks. Expect to see this in all manner of U/R “spellslinger” decks.

Najeela, the Blade-Blossom - Jank, but awesome jank. Anyone looking to try out 5-color Warrior tribal need look no further. This ain’t a card for me, but I still love that it exists and I hope to play against an Najeela deck in the near future. I’m pretty sure some folks out there are already brewing some sort of combo deck a la Food Chain Tazri but whatever. You do you, folks.

Stolen Strategy - I’ve seen this likened to a Red Phyrexian Arena but I’m not sure it’s quite that, but it does certainly do the persistent, slow trickle of card advantage thing, and in a color that badly needs help in that department. Seems destined for minor-staple status as Red players will often just take whatever they can get in the card draw department.

Bramble Sovereign - Holy balls this is nutso. At first it seems like the mono-green half of Riku on it’s own which would be really good, but it’s actually better than that! And worse, sort of, too. Worse simply because it isn’t a Legend and therefore can be reliably accessed via command zone. But it’s better because it doesn’t just copy your own creatures, but rather ANY creature hitting play! Damn. I see absolutely no reason this should not immediately become a staple in Green decks across the format. Combine with the reprinted Seedborn Muse and suddenly the entire table is going to have serious issues casting creatures.

Grothama, All-Devouring - Honestly I am not quite sure what the heck this thing is up to. I don’t know if it’s terrible or actually secretly awesome, but it is at the very least quite interesting. I’ll be very interested in seeing what kind of brews other, better deckbuilders come up with for this guy.

Generous Patron - Already mentioned it but this card seems bonkers for Hapatra decks, or I suppose, any other deck that is more about putting counters on other people’s stuff. But I especially love this for Hapatra for a few reasons. Sure, it can draw an absurd number of cards, but that part was obvious. But in Hapatra the Support ability is actually also likely to be very handy. A lot of times Hapatra winds up forced to put a counter or two on Hapatra herself to get the snake-ball rolling. But being a 2/2 this is likely to be awkward - we don’t want to kill our commander! Giving her even a +1/+1 boost is often going to be enough to mitigate this issue. And luckily, at three mana, the Patron comes down right after Hapatra herself, right on curve. They could not have designed a more perfectly-fitting card for that deck.

Archon of Valor’s Reach - I guess this will probably see play. I would prefer it in UW, which are more traditionally the colors in which one is expected to be a bit of a dick. Anyway, the real problem is, it’s going to be tough to choose just the right option to prevent this from getting killed right away. People don’t like being told they can’t play their stuff and react pretty decisively to such things.

Last One Standing - Oh look, it’s the card “Brawl” from Hearthstone! Neat! Seriously, though this is not at all terrible for 3 mana. Even if the randomly-chosen creature is the one you most hoped to be rid of, chances are, killing everything else for such a discounted cost will be a worthy consolation prize. And there is a pretty good chance you’ll still have mana left for a follow up play. I have a feeling I’ll be sleeving this up often.

Sentinel Tower - Seems like a worse version of Aetherflux Reservoir for Storm decks. And, unlike the Reservoir, this doesn’t really do much outside of Storm decks and/or spellslinger decks. At least the lifegain aspect of Aetherflux made it relevant to other archetypes like Oloro or Karlov. Kind of a disappointing card overall.

Victory Chimes - NOT a disappointing card, this little mana rock has some real potential in EDH. Any deck that has a heavy focus on instant-speed, reactive cards will have to at least consider this. Of course it doesn’t mana-fix so the more colors you are playing the less viable this becomes. But for mono- and two-color decks that want to have mana up on their opponents’ turns I expect this to hit the mark nicely.

Finally, we come to the dual land cycle introduced in Battlebond. Personally I am pretty unimpressed with these lands. It’s not that every new land cycle has to be fetchable - i.e. having the basic land types such as “Forest Plains” a la the RAV shocklands or the ABUR duals - but in this case, it does hurt. They just don’t stack up well to many other cycles, not just the higher-priced lands.

Probably their closest competitors are the “check lands” - Sunpetal Grove or Isolated Chapel for example. In two-color decks, I think you’d be happy to run both, of course. Even with all the really good lands - fetches, shocks, OG duals, etc, most two-color decks still wind up running way more basics than they’d like, so just dumping a basic for one of these seems fine.

And if you are trying to build, say, three-color mana bases on a tighter budget, these should also be perfectly fine. In these regards the biggest strike against this cycle is really just that it is only the allied pairs. If they ever finish the cycle to include the enemy colors, that would be a boon to newer or more budget oriented players.

But if you are like me and like your mana base to be as near perfect as possible, these just aren’t ever going to make the cut when stacked up against the likes of the Shadowmoor filters and the Ravnica bouncelands. Again, IF they end up printing the enemy half of the cycle down the road I can see these MAYBE replacing the check lands, IF we’re still running those at that point.

Closing

This has been a rather glowing review and I honestly think the set deserves all the praise it's getting from all corners of the player base. But there are always downsides. In addition to the Path to Exile thing which I have harped on plenty already, I am also pretty disappointed with some of the flavor and aesthetics of this set.

Some of the artwork is pretty bad - Will and Rowan for instance look like the bad Planeswalkers from those Planeswalker-themed decks they've been doing recently. You know, the ones with really janky versions of whatever 'Walkers are in the main set? Those are usually pretty terrible, power-wise but also seem to near-universally have vastly inferior artwork. That's the feel I get from Will and Rowan - their illustrations look like middling DeviantArt pieces.

And as much as I dig Pir and Toothy for their mechanics, I really despise how they look like they belong in a silver-bordered Un-set. WAY to cartoonish and silly for proper Magic, IMO. But really it's not even that so much as the whole setting just feels drastically off-brand for the Magic IP.

Wizards has usually been VERY protective of the Magic IP, so much so that they have adamantly shot-down suggestions of crossovers between Magic and other WotC-owned IPs such as Dungeons and Dragons.

But the world of Battlebond feels very much like a departure from that stance. It is the least Magic-y set ever printed, IMO and much of the art and visual identity strikes me as far more science fiction than fantasy. Yeah you can point to plenty of examples of actual magic use on many cards, but look at the lands, especially the duals. The W/U and R/G ones definitely look like the belong in the Magic multiverse but the other three absolutely do not feel like they are even from the same game.

Even other high-tec/sci-fi-esque sets like Mirrodin or Kaladesh still manage to capture the distinctive feel and look of being a plane within the Magic setting - just more metallic and technological than other planes. But whatever plane Battlebond is set in just doesn't fit the same way. As much as I love the set otherwise, it is one of the ugliest and most garish sets in recent memory.

Some of the artwork is spectacular of course - I really dig the overall look of the Azra race, and in particular the new illustration for Diabolic Intent is a real stunner. Eh, but I've been bitching about the art direction of MtG for quite a while now and I still pretty much hate it. It has reached the point where you can truly no longer call it "art" anymore - it is just "illustration" now. I miss the creativity of old-school art. Sometimes it was ugly but at least it was distinct and you could tell one artist's style from another's.

But we all gotta have something to bitch about, and if the worst complaint I can muster is a tired old rant about the art and flavor then I guess that's actually a pretty good sign.

So, if anyone is out there actually reading this, what cards are YOU looking forward too? Are you brewing new decks with Battlebond commanders, or just soaking up all the reprint value for your existing decks? I barely touched on any commons or uncommons, so did I miss any hidden gems at the lower rarities? Let me know in the comments!

Enjoy

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Aether Revolt - Top 10 EDH Cards



Greetings, folks. Sorry for the long silence, but I’ve had writer’s block lately. And by writer’s block, I mean I’ve been binge-watching Supernatural, playing Settlers of Catan, and generally just playing far, far less Magic than I’d like to, but right now it’s just not my #1 focus. That said I’ve got a lot of unfinished projects in the works, some farther along than others. I have also just been having a hard time writing lately, independently of any distractions. I’ve began, then scrapped, about three previous attempts at an EDH set review for Aether Revolt. So I finally decided this would be a good time to fall back to the trusty ol’ Top 10 format.

I think one of the problems with doing a broader set review this time was that, while there are a LOT of EDH-playable cards in Aether Revolt,  most of them are only good in specific archetypes – so I was just spending a lot of time saying things like “obviously good in artifact decks”, or “obviously good in +1/+1 counter decks”. If you are playing one or both of those two archetypes, you are probably very excited about this set. If you are not, well, luckily there are still some more generically-good cards as well!

Wouldn’t be much of a Top 10 list if I didn’t cheat by throwing out a few Honorable Mentions, so let’s start there.

Metallic Mimic
Dark Intimations
Ajani Unyielding

These are all pretty good and might make the Top 10 of a lesser set, but Aether Revolt is actually a deceptively strong set loaded with sweet cards. First up is Metallic Mimic, which is just a good Tribal option. That he gives +1/+1 counters instead of the usual “anthem” effect common to most tribal lords gives the Mimic some extra utility. For one thing, if the Mimic dies, the existing +1/+1 counters on your creatures stick around. And of course he synergizes with any effects that care about +1/+1 counters, everything from Hardened Scales to Rage Forger. If you are running a tribal deck and need a cheap lord, you might want this. If you’re running tribal AND have some +1/+1 counter synergies, you definitely want this.

Next up, we have Dark Intimations. This is another card that seems really strong in the right decks, but is pretty limited in what those decks are. In short, it wants to be run in any Grixis deck that is also running Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. Of course we are almost certainly getting a new version of Nicol Bolas in the next block, so this card’s stock may go up if the new Bolas is any good. But for now it’s just a decent card you’ll probably happily play in decks that happen to be running Bolas already.

Ajani Unyielding is a bit tough to pin down. He’s got a respectable if not exciting +2, and his “Swords to Plowshares” -2 is great. His ultimate is pretty unexciting, basically requiring you to already be way ahead in either creatures or planeswalkers for it to do much. A lot of ‘walker Ultimates feel “win more” but in reality many of them also can also help you catch back up when you’re behind. This Ajani’s ultimate is very unlikely to matter if your behind and will very likely be truly win-more if you’re not. But really it comes down to the bane of all 6-mana planeswalkers: being compared to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The six-mana Elspeth is pretty much the gold-standard of 6-drop planeswalkers in EDH. In a broader sense, I don’t think Ajani compares all that well to Elspeth, but of course if you’re going deep on the Superfriends plan, you are clearly running Ajani anyway.

With our honorable mentions out of the way, let’s move on to the proper Top Ten.

10. Planar Bridge – Yes it’s insanely expensive, which is why it barely squeaks onto the list rather than topping it, but I think there are a lot of decks that can very reasonably afford the cost, and virtually no decks wouldn’t want this effects, were cost not an obstacle. I’m mainly thinking of mono-color decks here. For starters, most mono-color EDH decks are loaded with mana-doublers like Caged Sun or Extraplanar Lens, as well as busted lands like Gaea’s Cradle, Cabal Coffers, or Nykthos. Green decks in particular seem well-poised to abuse the Bridge with commanders like Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. Indeed, 8 mana per turn will be downright trivial to many decks. Adding to that, many mono-color decks lack tutors or at least can only tutor for certain things. Being able to tutor any PERMANENT in your deck directly into play, at instant speed will be an insanely valuable ability to some decks, as this will feel very much out-of-color for them. But, yes, at the end of the day this does cost a TON of mana, and so only decks that are very effective at setting up broken mana production will really be able to make great use of this.

9. Winding Constrictor – One of those niche cards I spoke of, but a very good one nonetheless. A 2/3 for two mana is already a good rate, though the body is still virtually insignificant in EDH terms. But that ability is what we’re really after. This goes in virtually anything that cares about counters. Atraxa, Varolz, Ghave, etc. It works with Poision and Experience counters. It cuts the clock from Darksteel Reactor fully in half. Has fun synergy with any charge-counter based mana rocks like Coalition Relic or Everflowing Chalice. Sadly, though, it does not work with Planeswalkers. Well, maybe that’s a good thing, actually.

8. Inspiring Statuary – Another niche card in that it needs to be in decks with a very high number of artifacts that aren’t just mana rocks, but also needs a lot of non-artifact spells for it to be of use. But most artifact-centric decks do tend to run a lot of non-artifact spells, and so this is probably very strong in any artifact deck that isn’t just mono-brown. By itself the statue basically reads “Tap: Add 1 to your mana pool. Only use this mana to cast non-artifact spells”. That’s not good enough to run if that was all it did, but that’s its WORST CASE state. Once you have even a single other “do nothing” artifact like, say, Alhammaret’s Archive in play, it starts to really pay dividends. Being able to tap an army of thopter tokens or myr tokens for 1 colorless can be very powerful.

7. Heroic Intervention – Mono-green Boros Charm? Sure, we’ll take it! Actually the additional utility of granting Hexproof should not be overlooked. Obviously you still want try to use this in response to a sweeper for maximum value, but saving a single critical permanent from spot removal can sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing. There really isn’t too much more to say about this card – if you’re in green and you’re playing the sort of deck that has to really respect a Wrath of God, then you probably want this in your deck. And most green decks do tend to run out a lot of creatures.

6. Lifecrafter’s Bestiary – Speaking of green decks running out creatures... In some decks this will be largely inferior to Elemental Bond, but at the same time, I have seen and played quite a few green decks that were too low to the ground to reliably trigger Bond. If you’re running out a lot of Elvish Mystics and other small-fry critters, you’ll probably want this. That said, I’d still be inclined to run the Bestiary in decks alongside Elemental Bond because frankly there is no such thing as too much card draw. At this point I think Green might be better at drawing cards than Blue! And I don’t see that as a bad thing. Oh, and I should mention the upkeep Scry is not to be disregarded. It’s a small thing, but it’s still actually very good to have.

5. Sram, Senior Edificer – The sole Legendary creature to make the list, not because Sram is the best in a vacuum, but because he’s a mono-White legend that says “Draw a card” in his text box. He’s great in the 99 of any white or boros Equipment list, probably decent in Rafiq or any other aura or equipment –based voltron decks, and most importantly he has tremendous potential to make mono-white decks actually good in EDH. Not, like, COMPETITIVE good, but, like, not a joke even at kitchen tables. Cheap draw in your command zone is always fun to have, in any color, but White clearly needed this the most.

4. Trophy Mage – This uncommon is so good, I could see her being #2 or even #1 on this list, were the set not so ridiculously good. At first glances she may not seem that great, but just do a Gatherer search for 3-mana artifacts and see for yourself how many good-to-amazing targets there are for this chick. Just the selection of equipment alone is enough to ensure she’d see play. Then you add all the mana rocks at three, and she gets really enticing. Finally, throw in all the amazing stuff like Oblivion Stone, Crucible of Worlds, Mimic Vat or Vedalken Shakles and honestly I’m starting to think she’s actually just plain better than Trinket Mage. Absolutely a fantastic card.

3. Baral’s Expertise – I could easily see this card and my #2 pick swapping places, and almost hedged by calling this a tie. But ultimately I settled on this being my #3 pick simply because it doesn’t draw cards (well, it can, if you cast a draw spell off it, but you get the point). At any rate, this is just a phenomenal tempo/control card. Bounce three opposing threats, then get a four-drop spell for free? Insane value, especially if you just Winfall or Wheel of Fortune so those threats you just bounced don’t get to come right back. Personally I’d be just thrilled to get a Deep Analysis or a Hedron Archive off this, but honestly virtually ANY spell + the Expertise’s main effect is going to be solid value.

2. Rishkar’s Expertise – You can easily draw three to five cards reliably off this Expertise, which for six mana wouldn’t be that great, but once you add the free five-drop into the mix and you’d easily be coming out a head even if this is “just” a Harmonize. And in many green decks, that free five-drop is likely to be a significant threat. Or a Seedborn Muse, the best five-drop in green! Yeah, any card that both helps you dig for Seedborn Muse, then lets you cast her if you find her seems good to me. But as we all know I love to draw cards. Casting stuff for free is just a great bonus. Like Baral’s Expertise above it just seems ridiculously easy to get way more than six-mana worth of value out of this card. Six mana is not cheap, but I still think this is going to feel very undercosted much of the time.

1. Paradox Engine – And here we have just the nuttiest card in the set, hands down. At first I was thinking this might not be that bonkers outside of an actual combo, but after slotting it into a couple of decks and playing around with it, I realized how utterly wrong I was. Of course it doesn’t just go into any ol’ deck and suddenly turn broken, but if you have more than a smattering of mana-rocks, this is going to be good. Once you add in any other valuable tap effects… holy shit. I’ve already goldfished more than one game where I was able to effectively draw more or less my entire deck without actually going infinite. It does absurd things with Cryptolith Rite and a Cryptbreaker. It does absurd things with Selvala (either version, but especially the mono-green one). It just does absurd things. It is indisputably the most powerful and most breakable card in the set. I can absolutely envision a future where this gets banned, though I don’t necessarily think it will come to that. More likely, I think it will get a ton of play, but over time those players like myself and my group who do not like to combo off will just slowly weed it out of one deck after another until it sees little to no play anymore.

All in all, I think Aether Revolt is a mostly a strong set, with several very impactful cards at the top of the curve. Artifact decks and +1/+1 counter decks are the biggest winners, with an absolute crapload of playable, but for there’s a little something for just about everyone. On the other hand, Red got shafted even more than usual, getting two mythics to the other colors’ one each, yet still somehow coming off as the worst color by a mile. Sure either of Red’s mythics could see a smattering of play here and there, but the regular rares are almost entirely crap-tier. Red got the worst legend in the cycle in Kari Zev (though she is hella cool, flavor-wise, I’ll be the first to admit), and similarly the red Expertise is the worst of that cycle (for EDH at least).

Another downside of the set is that a disproportionate number of the set’s playables are concentrated in the mythic/rare level, with very few commons and uncommons making much of a splash (though the few that do make the cut are above par). I mean, that sounds pretty typical of any set, right? Rares and mythics are usually better than uncommon, I agree. But most sets have a pretty good spread, at least at uncommon, of utility cards I could at least conceivably play. Aether revolt even has a cycle of 10 two-color uncommons which out to have produces some really gems, but of those only Winding Constrictor seems destined for heavy play, and only two or three others seem worthy of niche play.  That said, we did get Trophy Mage so I can’t complain too much. So ultimately this is a set with a few number of desirable cards overall, but those cards you will want, you’re likely to want very badly and in multiple copies.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Free Hugs: Update

So I was actually able to build and play the list in my last update, the group hug deck. Got in a total of 4 games, and managed to win 2 of them (one win was possibly undeserved as one player scooping out of frustration clenched my victory, though as I was resolving a Vicious Shadows when that player scooped, it seems pretty likely I'd have come out ahead anyway. Vicious Shadows is not exactly a "fair" Magic card!).

More importantly, the games I lost were pretty fun and epic, too. I like the way group hug plays when you're actually using it as a strategy for winning, rather than simply propelling whoever gets luckiest or has the best deck to an easy victory. That said, there were times when I felt like I was helping out one player more than the others, so a BIT more spot-removal and other utility to keep things relatively fair and balanced might be in order.

Oh, and there were a few more changes I made after the first game or two...

1. Cut Arcane Denial for Gaea's Blessing. This change was inspired by my realization that playing Oath of Druids in a deck with only about 20 creatures is not actually brilliant. I managed to make myself quite sad almost every time I resolved an Oath trigger, milling away lots of goodies. Blessing is essential if you're keeping Oath but running a low creature count. I'd also consider Elixir of Immortality as well (in case you draw Blessing, as I did once).

2. Couldn't find the Mystifying Maze that I recommended adding in the last post (I know I have a few of them, but for some reason just couldn't locate any), so I put in Alchemist's Refuge instead. Well, that was a very fortuitous happenstance, as it turns out flashing in Group Hug stuff like Heartbeat of Spring so you get to benefit first is actually really good. No matter what version of this deck you build, the Refuge is almost certainly one of the best lands you can have. Run it!

3. Cut Prismatic Geoscope for Well of Ideas. After a few games I just really wanted more draw, but I still didn't want to add back in Howling Mine or something like Font of Mythos. Then I remembered Well of Ideas was in my Essential Additions post, yet I didn't add it! Oops! Well, turns out my instincts were good on that point, because it played really well once I slotted it in. Wasn't sure what to cut for it, but Geoscope showed up a few times and was never very good for me. I either badly needed to cast other things and couldn't afford to take a turn off to play a ETBF-tapped, five mana, do-nothing mana rock, or I had tons of mana already and it just didn't matter.

Another issue I had was in the early game, not having quite enough mana. I figured their would be enough ramp, plus our commander enabling extra land drops, but most of the games I played had some tense early turns where I was praying for either land or a cheap ramp spell (another reason I cut the Geoscope - the only times I ever WANTED to draw ramp was when I was stuck on 3 or 4 lands).

I did have one game where I got to play Kynaios and Tiro on turn two thanks to a T1 Burgeoning and having a bounceland in hand. That was actually a game I lost, though, believe it or not!

Anyway, cutting two lands seemed like a great idea at the time, but I was having trouble getting enough land to have a natural land drop each turn AND have a land to play off K&T. That said, most of the time I'd still rather be drawing actual gas and not just barfing lands to no real effect.

All things considered, though, I did enjoy the deck quite a bit and found it fun to play, despite normally hating group hug decks. I think gearing the deck toward actually wanting to win some games and not just enable others to win is a big improvement, for me at least. It's never going to be my favorite deck to play and it's certainly not going to win a ton of games, but I like it well enough to keep around.

EDIT: Update to my update - I just realized I missed Alliance of Arms. You see, I somehow mistakenly believed it was already in the pre-constructed list to begin with, but obviously that is not true. Alliance of Arms definitely needs to be in the deck as well. I am not sure what to cut, but it 100% for sure has to go in. Sorry!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Free Hugs

Sorry for the delay in posting, folks, but you know how the holidays can be – full of food, family and… stress. Anyway, I was planning to write up either Saskia or Ydris next, but got distracted when I finally got inspiration for the group hug deck, Stalwart Unity, led by Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis.

This one remained a conundrum to me up until the moment something suddenly clicked. And I’m not sure my solution is actually a viable one. I haven’t yet had the chance to test this out, so this write up is a lot more theoretical than I’d like. But whatever, it’s the thing I’m most excited about and I want to get my ideas down on paper before I move on to something else and forget! So, on we plow.

Let’s just start with the original list…

Creatures

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

Veteran Explorer
Humble Defector
Hushwing Gryff
Orzhov Advokist
Chasm Skulker
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer
Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist
Selvala, Explorer Returned
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Akroan Horse
Selfless Squire
Windborn Muse
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
Horizon Chimera
Zedruu the Greathearted
Psychosis Crawler
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus
Realm Seekers
Rubblehulk
Progenitor Mimic
Blazing Archon

Spells

Minds Aglow
Collective Voyage
Swords to Plowshares
Swan Song
Arcane Denial
Benefactor's Draught
Evolutionary Escalation
Oath of Druids
Hoofprints of the Stag
Cultivate
Kodama's Reach
Beast Within
Oblation
Ghostly Prison
Propaganda
Rites of Flourishing
Entrapment Maneuver
Tempt with Discovery
Reins of Power
Wave of Reckoning
Sphere of Safety
Migratory Route
Sylvan Reclamation
Seeds of Renewal
Lurking Predators
Reverse the Sands
Treacherous Terrain
Blasphemous Act
Sol Ring
Empyrial Plate
Howling Mine
Commander's Sphere
Temple Bell
Assault Suit
Prismatic Geoscope
Venser's Journal
Keening Stone

Lands

Ash Barrens
Azorius Chancery
Command Tower
Evolving Wilds
Exotic Orchard
Forbidden Orchard
Frontier Bivouac
Gruul Turf
Homeward Path
Izzet Boilerworks
Jungle Shrine
Krosan Verge
Myriad Landscape
Mystic Monastery
Opal Palace
Rupture Spire
Seaside Citadel
Selesnya Sanctuary
Terramorphic Expanse
Transguild Promenade
Plains x5
Island x5
Mountain x5
Forest x5

So, yeah, a fairly typical group hug deck, though a bit unfocused as these precons tend to be, and with a few legit win-cons. As I’ve said before I’m not a fan of pure group hug decks; I’ve tried them before of course, but eventually decided the archetype was not for me. But I always prefer to stay true to the intentions behind these precons as much as I can. If I were to go in a radically different direction with one of these decks, as I have occasionally done in the past, it’d be this one. But I kinda liked some of what this deck hinted at, in that it’s group hug with an actual plan to win.

One of my favorite little details about this list is how you bait everyone with free lands, then punish them for it later with Treacherous Terrain. This is the one deck where that card makes complete sense, in that it directly benefits from our commander’s ability and all the other ramp-for-everyone cards in the list. The best part is, even if your opponents see the trap, and refuse to take the bait, then you’re just turning all those symmetrical ramp cards into asymmetrical ones that benefit just you. So they either take the bait and get punished later, or you get to pull way, way ahead.

I like that Sophie’s Choice aspect: take the gifts I offer, or don’t; if you do, you get punished later, but if you don’t I get to pull way ahead. Unfortunately it’s still pretty hard to find exactly the right pairings of cards – for this plan to work you need two things: cards that give everyone a resource (including yourself), and cards that punish people for having a lot of that resource. I was having trouble coming up with ideas – I could find ways to give people resources, but not ways to punish them, or vice versa. Not having access to Black is a big factor, as it’s the #1 color for “punishment” effects.

I also like the idea of pairing cards like Edric and Gahiji with cards like Alliance of Arms, and backing those up with stuff like Propaganda. As long as everyone is fighting each other, it’s good for you, but it’s also good for them. Of course giving everyone free lands and card draw is a risky move that could backfire easily. So, again, you want to punish your opponents for greedily accepting your gifts. Let them have their fun, but be ready and able to drop the hammer if need be.

So after some brainstorming on my own, and a good bit of help from the folks over at the official EDH forums, I finally solidified my idea. Again, I still don’t know how well it’ll actually work, but this is probably about as good as it’s going to get if I’m forcing myself to work within the archetype of group hug. Let’s start this time by talking about what we want to add.

First of all we want to supplement the Alliance of Arms plan by adding more effects that give everybody tokens.

Sylvan Offering
Tempt with Vengeance
Benevolent Offering
Curse of the Swine
Genesis  Chamber
Hunted Phantasm
Hunted Dragon
Hunted Troll

And because this is EDH and we either go big or go home, let’s add Primal Vigor and Parallel Lives as well.

I like the interaction between the Hunted creatures and Oath of Druids. We let our opponents get ahead by giving them tokens, and that lets us take more advantage of the Oath than they will. Parallel Lives means we’ll be getting more mileage out of cards like Sylvan Offering, while Primal Vigor lets everyone reap double the benefits. Which one is better for our strategy will depend on a number of factors, but it’ll be important to not just run those out without a plan. Hunted Lammasu got left out for being kinda boring and only making one token. Curse of the Swine is really just more of a removal spell, but will have other possible interactions we’ll cover later.

Next up we need to make sure our opponents don’t just turn on us and kill us with all these tokens:

Gahiji, Honored One
Soul Warden
Essence Warden
Fumigate

Gahiji compliments Edric in the politics department by making it more profitable or enticing to attack someone other than us. Soul Warden and Essence Warden obviously just gain us craploads of life so we can weather a few storms if need be. There’s already a pretty solid suite of pillow-fort in the deck, via the likes of Propaganda and company, so we’ll obviously be leaving those intact. Fumigate is just an emergency out if we start to go for our plan but something goes wrong and we need to hit the release valve.

Now here’s where I start to reveal a little bit of my true intentions. Next up we need to add:

Suture Priest
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Vicious Shadows
Insurrection

Yeah. See, we really are group hug, but I want to win games with this deck, dammit. Sure there’s a minor bit of anti-synergy here, in that if you play out one of these before you cast Tempt with Vengeance, you aren’t likely to get any takers, but the other mass-token producers aren’t really optional. They’re going to get tokens whether they want them or not. Vicious Shadows should often just end games immediately. I wanted to include a sac outlet like Goblin Bombardment or similar, but couldn’t find room. Still, it’s no trick getting stuff to die in EDH, so we can just wing it. Insurrection is a gimme. Boring, but clearly too on-point for what we’re doing to ignore.

Now we need to ensure we have lots of mana to cast things like Sylvan Offering or Alliance of Arms for huge amounts (thereby creating a reliable kill with Purpohros, for instance).

Keeper of Progenitus
Heartbeat of Spring
Mana Flare

Oh man these things are risky! But what’s the difference if we’re already playing stuff like Collective Voyage? We’re already committed to giving people extra lands, so might as well. The hope here is, we’ll be better equipped to exploit all this extra mana than they will, which brings me to the next batch of cards…

Sphinx’s Revelation
Comet Storm
(plus the other x-spells already mentioned)

Those mana doublers are there to service what is quite a high count of x-spells. In addition to the two above we also have Mind’s Aglow, Alliance of Arms, Sylvan Offering, Tempt with Vengeance, Collective Voyage, and to some extend Curse of the Swine. So we make lots of mana, draw lots of cards and create lots of tokens. Hopefully we find a way to translate all of that into a win. Simple, no?

To ensure we stay ahead or at least caught up in the mana race, and to help our little Treacherous Terrain trap along, we need a few helpers.

Burgeoning
Exploration
Horn of Greed

Nice little feedback loop with our commander, we draw extra cards to play extra lands, and play extra lands to draw extra cards. Plus Horn of Greed helps our plan of being a group hug deck superficially, while helping along are actual plans as well.

There’s one last card I want to add just for the hell of it, because why the hell not:

Warp World

Now, usually a “serious” Warp World deck wants to ensure it has far, far more permanents than anyone else, so that when it resolves, they stand a very high chance of coming out WAY ahead. There are certainly ways we could do that. For instance, if we cast a huge Tempt with Vengeance and no one wants to take us up on that offer for fear of a Vicious Shadows or because we have Suture Priest of the board, we could easily pull miles ahead in the permanent department, fueling a Warp World that is very favorable for us. Or we can just cast it on a massively cluttered board and say “screw it, let’s just see what happens”. There was a very strong argument for leaving this out and including something like, say, Invoke the Firemind or Clan Defiance, but the idea seemed far too fun to disregard. It may get cut later if I find it backfires too often or causes groans among the other players.

So these are all the cards I could actually find room for. There are other cards I wanted to add, of course, and those include:

Intellectual Offering
Invoke the Firemind
Clan Defiance
Seed the Land
Echoing Courage
Arachnogenesis
Mogg Infestation
March of Souls
Skullclamp
Crown of Doom

But alas, I could not find room for all of those. It’s possible I should be running something from the above list instead of Primal Vigor and Parallel Lives, I don’t know. It’s also possible the correct package for my mana-doubling section would be Academy Rector, Mirari’s Wake and Mana Reflection, but I don’t think I have any copies of any of those three cards not already in decks! Plus, we do want to function as an actual group hug deck, so being selfish with our things is probably not the way to go.

By the way that brings me to a critical point. Typically you see group hug come in two flavors: decks that actually ARE group hug and just want to help everyone out indiscriminately, and decks that pretend to be group hug but have a nasty surprise waiting at the end. The problem with the former is that they often ruin games by playing “kingmaker” and rather than help everyone equally, they just propel one player in particular to a steamroll victory. The problem with the latter is that they are like movies with big twists as the end – they work once based on the surprise factor, but on repeat viewings you see the twist coming and it no longer works. Once people know you have a knife up your sleeve to backstab them with, they just use your “gifts” to kill you first.

Now, my hope is that I have avoided falling into either of those camps. I’m not out to play kingmaker, I want to win games myself. But I’m not trying to surprise anyone with “gotcha!” cards. I fully expect that my opponents will be fully expecting cards like Insurrection, Treacherous Terrain and Vicious Shadows to bite them in the ass, but if I’ve done this right, it won’t matter that they see the trap coming. They either play right into it, or let me get way, way ahead and I just beat them above-board with superior mana and armies of tokens.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about cuts. We need to dump quite a bit of the original list to make room for all these new goodies, so what gets thrown out?

Let’s start with the easy part. 40 lands is too much. We have lots of ramp and draw anyway, so we’re going to be hitting land drops, I’m pretty confident. Let’s cut the atrocious Transguild Promenade +Rupture Spire duo in favor of cards that, hopefully, don’t suck balls. Actually I’m pretty confident nothing we’ve added will suck as badly as these two turds.

Creature-wise we can lose the following:

Hushwing Gryff
Orzhov Advokist
Chasm Skulker
Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer
Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa
Horizon Chimera
Zedruu the Greathearted
Psychosis Crawler
Kraum, Ludevic's Opus
Realm Seekers
Rubblehulk

Hushwing Gryff is an obnoxious card that I despise playing with or against, so out it goes. Orzhov Advokist was needed for another deck (Queen Marchesa), and it doesn’t really do much here anyway. Chasm Skulker would certainly have been a respectable card to keep around, but Ydris, the deck with all the Wheel effects, wanted it more, so… cut! Gwafa just doesn’t have nearly enough gold coins in his pouch to bribe all the masses of tokens we’ll be handing out, so he’s out. Sidar Kondo actually seemed worth keeping as he could do some cool things with Edric and an army of 1/1’s but was a casualty of theme. He’s one card I might try to squeeze back in if the overall plan works out but needs tweaking. Horizon Chimera is just “meh” and we’ll gain far more life off the Wardens. Zedruu does virtually nothing in this list. Psyhosis Crawler, like Chasm Skulker just makes me think “why the f*** aren’t you in the Ydris deck?!” so he gets cut just so he can move to that deck. Kraum has zero synergy so out he goes. Realm Seekers was fine, but mostly just a generically-huge thing. Boring, so… gone. Rubblehulk came very close to not getting cut, as I did like the idea of one-shotting someone with our 2/8 commander, but ultimately he was just another big, generic thing that didn’t contribute much to the synergy of the deck.

From our spells, we will be dropping:

Swan Song
Benefactor's Draught
Evolutionary Escalation
Hoofprints of the Stag
Entrapment Maneuver
Wave of Reckoning
Migratory Route
Lurking Predators
Reverse the Sands
Empyrial Plate
Howling Mine
Assault Suit
Venser's Journal
Keening Stone

I dislike countermagic in general, so Swan Song was an easy cut (kept Arcane Denial, for now, just because it’s a good political counterspell). Benefactor’s Draught is a card I just don’t like much, despite having never cast it. Evolutionary Escalation was needed for a different deck (Marath). Hoofprints of the Stag is a bit slow and clunky, and doesn’t fit the deck we’re building well. Entrapment Maneuver is pretty mediocre. Wave of Reckoning was originally supposed to stay in, but then I remembered Fumigate just got printed and that seemed like a much better option. Migratory Route is painfully underwhelming and not on theme, so it’s an easy cut. Lurking Predators was a card that didn’t make a lick of sense to begin with, as the deck only has about 22 creatures to start with. And since I’m pretty sure my build is going to have even fewer creatures, it definitely seems terrible. Easy cut. Reverse the Sands is cute, but no real synergy or way to ensure it will win us any games. Empyrial Plate is generic beatdown, which is not what this deck is about. Assult Suit is much the same. Venser’s Journal seems superfluous as we’re not likely to have massive hands, and we have plenty of lifegain elsewhere. Keening Stone was a bad win-con that wasn’t likely to ever pan out even with our mana-doublers. Howling Mine only gets cut because I like Horn of Greed much, much better in this deck.

Overall there were a few painful cuts (Sidar Kondo, Chasm Skulker) but overall, nothing we cut feels essential to me. What I am slightly concerned about is that with our additions we didn’t really beef up our defensive capabilities or interaction much. It is possible that, over time, I will slowly have to beef up our pillow fort cards, and throw in more combat hosers like Arachnogenesis and Aetherize. As I explained in my Atraxa article, I prefer to err on the side of theme/synergy and then add good stuff and utility over time as I get a feel for the deck’s weaknesses.

But before we put the list all back together, we have one last section to take a look at - the mana base.

We’ve already cut the two worst lands in the list in favor of non-land stuff, getting us down to a healthy 38 lands. But there’s still more to do. Firstly, Opal Palace strikes me as a do-nothing card in this list. We don’t really care about casting our commander with a bunch of counters on it, and it isn’t great at just being a mana fixing land. I think we easily ditch this in favor of Kor Haven. I would also accept Mystifying Maze here, but not Maze of Ith because Maze of Ith should always count as a spell, not a land.

I also don’t like Myriad Landscape much, as how often are we going to want to get two of the same Basic? We’re better off with Blighted Woodland, which costs more to use, but can get two different basics.

Of course the inclusion of Krosan Verge makes me really want Shocklands (or ABUR duals if you got ‘em). I recommend going with, at minimum: Hallowed Fountain, Sacred Foundry, Stomping Ground and Breeding Pool. This way you have a Plains and Forest each that come with one of the other two colors. To make room for these 4 duals I’d just cut one of each Basic.

Finally, I want to try and reducer our ETBF tapped land count. I like the tri-lands and the Ravnican bouncelands, so they get to stay. This means Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic are out. With Krosan Verge and Blighted Woodland, plus all the spells that fetch basics, I don’t mind getting rid of these at all. We’ll just replace then with Mana Confluence and Reflecting Pool.

I’m comfortable stopping here with the changes to the mana base, but of course if you have the duals at hand, you can always go further. The important thing here is not to get carried away with the nonbasics. Remember, we need a lot of basic lands in our deck for stuff like Collective Voyage to be beneficial to us. But 16 is probably a sufficiently high number. I certainly wouldn’t go below 12 and even that might be too few. Hard to say without testing first, though.

With that done, we are now ready to put it all together into a final list! Behold:

Creatures

Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis

Essence Warden
Soul Warden
Veteran Explorer
Suture Priest
Humble Defector
Hunted Phantasm
Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist
Selvala, Explorer Returned
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Hunted Troll
Keeper of Progenitus
Akroan Horse
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Selfless Squire
Windborn Muse
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Hunted Dragon
Gahiji, Honored One
Progenitor Mimic
Blazing Archon

Spells

Burgeoning
Exploration
Minds Aglow
Collective Voyage
Swords to Plowshares
Arcane Denial
Oath of Druids
Cultivate
Kodama's Reach
Beast Within
Oblation
Ghostly Prison
Propaganda
Mana Flare
Heartbeat of Spring
Rites of Flourishing
Benevolent Offering
Tempt with Discovery
Parallel Lives
Reins of Power
Sphere of Safety
Fumigate
Primal Vigor
Sylvan Reclamation
Seeds of Renewal
Vicious Shadows
Warp World
Treacherous Terrain
Insurrection
Blasphemous Act
Sylvan Offering
Tempt With Vengeance
Comet Storm
Curse of Swine
Sphinx's Revelation
Sol Ring
Genesis Chamber
Commander's Sphere
Horn of Greed
Temple Bell
Prismatic Geoscope

Lands

Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Breeding Pool
Azorius Chancery
Gruul Turf
Selesnya Sanctuary
Izzet Boilerworks
Command Tower
Mana Confluence
Reflecting Pool
Homeward Path
Exotic Orchard
Forbidden Orchard
Frontier Bivouac
Jungle Shrine
Mystic Monastery
Seaside Citadel
Krosan Verge
Blighted Woodland
Kor Haven
Ash Barrens
Plains x4
Island x4
Mountain x4
Forest x4

One idea that didn’t make it into the final list, sadly, was a Repercussion plan, where we give everyone a bazillion tokens, drop Repercussion, then cast Blasphemous Act, Wave or Reckoning or something along those lines. But for that to not kill us and just draw the game, we’d need a sac outlet to ditch our creatures or something like Mark of Asylum to prevent the damage. Soulfire Grandmaster would also likely play a big role in this version, but it seemed a bit too unreliable even for me. That said, there is certainly an argument for Soulfire Grandmaster in the final version as well. We have lots of spells we’d like to buy back, and the mana doublers to enable that. So, yeah, Buyback Monk is definitely a card I’d like to fit in somewhere down the road.

In the meantime, since I don’t have any actual playtesting experience to help me further refine and improve this list, I just have to call it done, for now.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Gentleman's Guide to Breeding Lethality

Time to kick off our in-depth look at each Commander 2016 deck in detail, and this time we’re starting things off with the big one: Atraxa, or as her decklist is entitled, Breed Lethality.

Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is the default commander for this list, and I’ll be sticking with the defaults for all 5 decks this time around. I’m just contrarian enough that most years I wind up going with one of the alternate choices on 1 deck out of 5, but this year we got a bunch of Partners as our alternates and very few of those options interest me. So for once I’m sticking to the face commanders.

Atraxa herself is an impressive gal with a veritable cornucopia of keywords, but the one that seems to have everyone’s attention is “proliferate”. Not that flying, vigilance, deathtouch and lifelink aren’t all great to have, especially all at once, but they hardly suggest a solid “build around me” theme the way proliferate does. Now, if we want to play devil’s advocate and say we want to focus on that top row of keywords instead of proliferate, I’d wager we could do that. Atraxa would make an imposing Voltron commander for sure, though she lacks the most coveted of all Voltron keywords: hexproof. Nonetheless, I can see Atraxa being quite formidable at the head of either an Equipment-based or Aura-based Voltron deck. You could even make the proliferate ability relevant with equipment like Ring of Kalonia or Umezawa’s Jitte. Or you could just put various Swords of Power and Value on her and win with hard-to-stop General Damage kills. Or could you imagine Atraxa wearing a bunch of the “Deity” enchantments from Shadowmoor (think Shield of the Oversoul, Steel of the Godhead, etc.)?  Yeah, I think a Bant-plus-Black Enchantress deck could be viable.

But we aren’t trying to be all Hipster and have the most outside-the-box Atraxa deck ever, right? What’s the point of having ignoring the coolest keyword in our commander’s text box? If we’re playing Atraxa, you can bet we want to be proliferating a lot of counters. The only real question is what kind of counters we’re going to be proliferating. Going by EDHREC’s statistics, I’d say it’s clear that the most overwhelmingly popular answer to this question is “loyalty counters” – as in Planeswalker counters. Yep, Atraxa Superfriends is pretty much the Meren Stax or Nekusar Wheels of this year’s crop of commander decks. All the cool kids are using Deepglow Skate to ultimate like five Planeswalkers in a single turn. I’m pretty sure I’ll get around to building that version someday, but for now I want to stick with the original deck’s default theme: +1/+1 counters.

Literally the night before Atraxa was spoiled, I had dismantled my Karador deck with the aim of rebuilding it as Anafenza and giving +1/+1 counter Abzan one last shot before I gave up and went back to Karador for good. Then the next day, Atraxa appears. That night I sleeved Karador right back up, made a few minor tweaks, and called it a day. So now instead of waffling back and forth between Abzan counters and Simic counters, I can just mash the two together!

Other popular options include Energy counters and Poison counters. I dislike poison (as does my playgroup) and I don’t feel like Energy is quite well-supported enough to carry a deck on its own.

Let’s go ahead and take a look at the starting list for Breed Lethality as it is, straight out of the box.

Creatures

Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice

Thrummingbird
Festercreep
Scavenging Ooze
Abzan Falconer
Orzhov Advokist
Tuskguard Captain
Necroplasm
Champion of Lambholt
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Vorel of the Hull Clade
Crystalline Crawler
Custodi Soulbinders
Forgotten Ancient
Bane of the Living
Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker
Corpsejack Menace
Fathom Mage
Master Biomancer
Elite Scaleguard
Reveillark
Deepglow Skate
Kalonian Hydra
Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper
Vulturous Zombie
Juniper Order Ranger
Ghave, Guru of Spores
Enduring Scalelord

Spells

Hardened Scales
Disdainful Stroke
Solidarity of Heroes
Brave the Sands
Manifold Insights
Grip of Phyresis
Inspiring Call
Mortify
Putrefy
Duelist's Heritage
Bred for the Hunt
Languish
Citadel Siege
Tezzeret's Gambit
Ancient Excavation
Mirrorweave
Migratory Route
Sylvan Reclamation
Cathars' Crusade
Merciless Eviction
Spitting Image
Sublime Exhalation
Duneblast
Treasure Cruise
Sol Ring
Fellwar Stone
Golgari Signet
Orzhov Signet
Simic Signet
Commander's Sphere
Darksteel Ingot
Cauldron of Souls
Astral Cornucopia

Lands

Arcane Sanctum
Ash Barrens
Azorius Chancery
Command Tower
Darkwater Catacombs
Dreadship Reef
Evolving Wilds
Exotic Orchard
Golgari Rot Farm
Murmuring Bosk
Opal Palace
Opulent Palace
Sandsteppe Citadel
Seaside Citadel
Sungrass Prairie
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse
Underground River
Plains x5
Island x4
Swamp x5
Forest x7

So, as you can see, we have a handful of cards that deal with +1/+1 counters, plus a couple of other types of random counters thrown in here and there. Much of the deck is devoted to generic utility stuff and off-theme jank like Grip of Phyresis or Brave the Sands. Overall, though the creature portion of the deck is mostly on point, and the mana situation looks acceptable.

One of the things I often end up doing is playing a bit of musical chairs with the new cards in these decks. Meaning, there will often be cards in one deck that seem to make more sense in a different deck. For instance, Duelist’s Heritage is a card I would much rather have over in Saskia’s deck, while for some odd reason, that deck got a copy of Evolutionary Escalation, but this deck – the one that cares about +1/+1 counters – didn’t! So I often start by looking at what we can do just by making a few swaps between the decks themselves, without introducing cards from outside the set.

First, let’s single out the newly-printed cards within this deck.

Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper
Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Orzhov Advokist
Crystalline Crawler
Deepglow Skate
Manifold Insights
Grip of Phyresis
Duelist's Heritage
Ancient Excavation
Migratory Route
Sylvan Reclamation
Sublime Exhalation
Ash Barrens

Of the alternate commanders, Ikra Shidiqi’s lifegain is nice to have, but she has virtually no synergy or mechanical relevance to this deck whatsoever, with very few creatures having particularly high Toughness stats. Ishai fairs a little better, as she is thematically relevant, in that she does deal with +1/+1 counters. However, all she does is grow and fly, which isn’t particularly exciting. Reyan is the best of the three, giving us the ability to redistribute counters as our creatures die.

Orzhov Advokist is a bit cutesy but I’ve been happy with how it plays and I’m very hesitant to cut anything that gets counters onto Atraxa directly. Crystaline Crawler is surprisingly powerful, and has already contributed to some of the most broken turns I’ve taken with this deck. Deepglow Skate is obviously an MVP as well. Manifold Insights is a card I like, and would happily keep around, but really it could be any generic draw spell for purposes of this deck. Grip of Phyresis is strictly a metagame call: if you keep getting beat up by equipment, keep it; otherwise, ditch it immediately. Duelist’s Heritage is way too off-theme and belongs more in Saskia anyway. Ancient Excavation is another generic draw spell I like a lot but doesn’t specifically need to be in this deck for any reason, and could become some other draw spell. Migratory Route will basically always be landcycled, as it does virtually nothing in this deck. Sylvan Reclamation is an exceptional card; though not on-theme, I’d likely keep it based on strength and utility alone. Sublime Exhalation I seriously dislike, and especially in this deck. Finally, Ash Barrens is an unassuming little card but I’ve been really impressed with it in these decks. If you have the duals available to build a “perfect” mana base, I doubt you’d need it, but for anything less than the most dual-laden decks, I’d keep it around.

So we are for sure keeping: Reyhan, Deepglow Skate, Crystalline Crawler, Sylvan Reclamation and Orzhov Advokist, Ash Barrens.
And we are cutting: Ikra Shidiqi, Duelist’s Heritage, Sublime Exhalation, Migratory Route, and Grip of Phyresis.
Cards we’d like to keep but could cut if we needed to: Ishai, Ancient Excavation, Manifold Insights.

Moving on to the remainder of the deck, what else can we cut easily? From the creature section, I’d start by removing:

Festercreep
Necroplasm
Custodi Soulbinders
Bane of the Living
Enduring Scalelord
Vulturous Zombie

Festercreep is a card that I like in theory but it just doesn’t do what it does efficiently or reliably enough. However I have to jump ahead a bit here, and mention the interaction with Mirrorweave. You see, if you target a creature that is normally a 0/0 but has counters on it, like Festercreep for instance, all other creatures in play will become a copy of that creature, but won’t get the +1/+1 counters on them. So, basically, everything that is not receiving a buff from either a +1/+1 counter on it or an “anthem” effect like Always Watching will die. Against many decks, this gives Mirrorweave the potential to kill everything except our own creatures, even indestructible ones. So, while I do recommend cutting Festercreep due to its low power level, we really want to watch our count of 0/0 creatures, or else we will have to cut Mirrorweave too! I’d like to keep the ‘Weave around if possible, so when we go looking to add stuff in, we’ll have to try to add back in a few more 0/0 creatures to keep that Mirrorweave option viable.

Anyway, moving on. Necroplasm is kinda like Festercreep in that it does what it does too inefficiently. On top of that, if often comes with too much collateral damage to our own board as well. In theory, Atraxa’s proliferate trigger should let you fiddle with the numbers to blunt the impact to our own permanents but in reality that just doesn’t play out. It’s a terrible card. Cut it! Following that theme, Custodi Soulbinders is also cut for power level reasons. It’s just too low-impact and that activated ability is overcosted. We aren’t a token deck anyway. Bane of the Living is off-theme and as the only morph in the deck, it will never have the “gotcha!” value that it is supposed to have. Enduring Scalelord returns us back to the land of “On theme but too weak”. As does Vulturous Zombie. I actually do like the plant zombie, as it at least has flying… but assuming we’re keeping Ishai (and that’s no guarantee) we don’t really need or want to generic flyers that just get bigger and don’t really do anything else. We want more out of our synergies than simply large attackers.

I’m on the fence about Reveillark, Vorel of the Hull Clade and Ghave. Reveillark is off-theme but it’s actually really good in this deck as it can get back almost anything. Remember, Ghave may be a 5/5 in play, but in the graveyard he’s a 0/0. Speaking of Ghave the only reasons I’m iffy on him is that I’m just not sure how good he is outside of being a commander, as I’ve never really seen him in the 99 of a deck before; also, as I mentioned, we aren’t a token deck either. Still he’s probably good enough I should keep him around. Finally, Vorel feels really win-more to me. I feel like he’s only ever going to be really good when we’re already way ahead. That said, I did use him to double up Crystalline Crawler counters a few times and that always led to big, flashy plays. So he probably deserves a chance to prove himself a bit more.

I can also see an argument for cutting the Outlast guys – Abzan Falconer and Tuskguard Captain. I’ve been happy with them so far, but they are certainly not the highest-performing creatures left in the list. I’d keep them for now, but after a round or two of upgrades they should be near the bottom of the list in terms of power.

Now for the spells. And remember, we’ve already made cuts from the newly-printed subset of cards, so I’m just looking at the reprint portion here.

Disdainful Stroke
Brave the Sands
Spitting Image
Treasure Cruise
Merciless Eviction
Cauldron of Souls
Duneblast

Starting off, I’m throwing out almost anything that is off theme. I mean, it’s fine to keep Mortify and Putrefy because A) we need some interaction, and B) they’re really strong cards. It’s unfeasible to say we aren’t going to have any generic utility in this deck. It’s just that if we’re going to have it, we want the best options. Cards like Disdainful Stroke and Merciless Eviction do not, in my opinion, represent the best options available to us. Spitting Image gets cut because, as I keep saying, we are not a token deck. Brave the Sand is very subpar; I can’t think of any EDH deck I’d run that in. Treasure Cruise is a perplexing inclusion, as we aren’t set up to Delve reliably. Cauldron of Souls is also kinda iffy; I get why it’s in there, but I don’t think it’ll ever really work out that way. If you’re wondering, the idea is, in theory, that it makes our creatures unkillable. You give them all persist, they come back with -1/-1 counters, but all the +1/+1 counter stuff will negate those counters so we can keep persisting our guys ad infinitum. Yeah, right! Way too cute, even for me. Duneblast is also kinda painful. Sure we get to keep Atraxa or whatever our best creature is, but still. This deck just can’t afford to spend a billion mana killing our own team. We can do better.

Other cards that we might cut, but just as easily might keep include: Solidarity of Heroes (was on the chopping block immediately, but was surprisingly good in actual play, earning itself a reprieve), Languish (again, has played better than expected, but still don’t love it), Mirrorweave (as I mentioned above, it depends on how many 0/0’s we wind up with to make the sweeper play feasible), Commander’s Sphere (a fine mana rock, sure, but is it the best option?), and Darksteel Ingot (ditto).

And, frankly, you could easily replace Mortify/Putrefy with any number of equally-generic removal. Swords/Path, Krosan Grip, Return to Dust, etc., the list goes on. But swapping one generic utility spell for another generic utility spell is boring, so I’ll just say “season to taste” here. If you have extra Path to Exiles, I’d certainly try to squeeze it in somewhere. Whatever.

So now that we’ve identified what we don’t want in the deck, let’s talk about what we do want in the deck. Here’s a quick wish-list:

Noble Hierarch
Mikeaus, the Lunarch
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Armorcraft Judge
Ezuri, Claw of Progress
Spike Weaver
Etched Oracle
Altered Ego
Cultivator of Blades
Sunscorch Regent
Archangel of Thune
Verdurous Gearhulk
Primeval Protector

Retribution of the Ancients
Pentad Prism
Evolutionary Escalation
Toxic Deluge
Sultai Charm
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Doubling Season
Inexorable Tide
Tempt with Glory

Honestly, the card pool for +1/+1 counter shenanigans is so deep that I’m sure you call could come up with a list of cards of similar length but sharing only a few cards in common. I mean, maybe Abzan Ascendency is better than Tempt with Glory, and maybe we should be running Abzan Charm, not Sultai Charm. I’m just basing this off playing a handful of games and noting what I saw as inherent weaknesses. Notably, I had trouble drawing cards, and trouble getting counters on lots of permanents. I kept passing the turn with Atraxa in play and nothing to proliferate, and I kept running out of gas. Both are pretty notable faults with a deck like this.

Now, sadly, we have more cards to add than what we’ve cut so far, so it looks like we’ll have to make further cuts to get everything we want, or maybe give up a few of the cards on our wish list. We have 18 cuts solidified and 22 potential additions. So we need 4 more cuts to make this work. Since we’re adding in a couple of mana producers in the form of Noble Hierarch and Pentad Prism, I’m fine going ahead and cutting Darksteel Ingot and Commander’s Sphere. I would suggest Bloom Tender in lieu of Noble Hierarch if you don’t have the one-drop at hand. And you could make the case for cutting Fellwar Stone for the Prism, keeping one of the three-drop rocks. This is pretty subjective, so I’ll just say cut your two least-favorite mana rocks for Noble and Prism and be done with it.

I’m also happy replacing either Mortify or Putrefy with Sultai Charm (or Abzan Charm). Actually, you know what? Let’s just scrap both two-color removal spells and throw in both three-color Charms. Done! Still leaves us with one more cuts, though. Of the cards I was on the fence about, or could take or leave, I think Manifold Insights is the card I’m happiest to cut, as I could easily slot it into another deck and we’ve beefed up our draw package enough to not need it.

Now that that’s done, we need to talk about the land situation.

The deck starts with a surprisingly solid mana base, but obviously some improvements can be made. I don’t think we need 39 lands, especially with the more robust draw suite we’ve added. I think we can safely cut 1 down to 38, so that opens up one more slot for a business spell. We’ll put that on hold for later, though. Looking through the lands, the one that jumps out to me as something we can cut is Temple of the False God. Look, I’m a big fan of TotFG and I probably run it far more than I should in decks that it shouldn’t be in. I’m aware of all the risks inherent to the card, but usually I feel the rewards far outweigh the risks. Not this time, though. Having Temple in my opening hand is almost always an automatic mulligan. Having a four-color deck with a commander that costs nothing but colored mana… it’s just too risky. So, out with Temple.

I’ve also had multiple games where I drew too many Forests. Plus I’m the type of guy who just likes to even things out, so I’d go -1 Forest, +1 Island. We are, I believe, upping the number of blue mana symbols in the deck after all.

Next, I want to cut one more Forest in favor of a Vivid Grove. I don’t want to run all the Vivids – too many tapped lands will slow us down to a crawl – but Green is our most important color, so if we’re going to run one, this would be it.  

Finally, we’ll just cut one of each basic, plus Terramorphic Expanse to make room for the following: Saltcrusted Steppe, Mana Confluence, Llanowar Wastes, Reflecting Pool, and Hinterland Harbor. I’m not going all-out with the mana bases on these decks, as I simply don’t have the duals to do so. Remember, I have 24 other EDH decks sleeved up. But ultimately I feel like the starting lists have pretty good mana already. They’re budget mana bases, but they get the job done. Obviously if you have the better duals (Shocks, Fetches, ABUR duals, etc) you’ll use those. But I feel that these lists really only need minor improvements to be acceptable, and going all-out won’t make that big of a difference overall.

So, to my specific choices… I wanted Saltcrusted Steppe as the mirror to the Dreadship Reef already in the deck. Might as well cover all four of our colors with storage lands, right? Llanowar Wastes and Hinterland Harbor were chosen just because they were G/x duals that don’t come into play tapped (not always, at least). Mana Confluence (or City of Brass, if you prefer) is just another Command Tower, virtually. With Atraxa’s lifelink, we’ll rarely notice the life loss from Confluence.And of course, Gavony Township is the ultimate +1/+1 counter land. Oran Reif and Novijen are also worth looking at, but neither one comes close to Township; they're each far too restrictive for my tastes.

Putting it all together, we get this:

Creatures

Atraxa, Praetors' Voice

Noble Hierarch
Mikeaus, the Lunarch
Thrummingbird
Scavenging Ooze
Abzan Falconer
Orzhov Advokist
Tuskguard Captain
Champion of Lambholt
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Reyhan, Last of the Abzan
Vorel of the Hull Clade
Crystalline Crawler
Etched Oracle
Forgotten Ancient
Armorcraft Judge
Spike Weaver
Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker
Corpsejack Menace
Fathom Mage
Ezuri, Claw of Progress
Master Biomancer
Altered Ego
Elite Scaleguard
Reveillark
Cultivator of Blades
Sunscorch Regent
Archangel of Thune
Verdurous Gearhulk
Deepglow Skate
Kalonian Hydra
Juniper Order Ranger
Ghave, Guru of Spores
Primeval Protector

Spells

Hardened Scales
Retribution of the Ancients
Solidarity of Heroes
Evolutionary Escalation
Cyclonic Rift
Inspiring Call
Toxic Deluge
Sultai Charm
Abzan Charm
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Bred for the Hunt
Languish
Citadel Siege
Tezzeret's Gambit
Ancient Excavation
Mirrorweave
Sylvan Reclamation
Cathars' Crusade
Inexorable Tide
Doubling Season
Tempt with Glory
Sol Ring
Fellwar Stone
Pentad Prism
Golgari Signet
Orzhov Signet
Simic Signet
Astral Cornucopia

Lands

Arcane Sanctum
Ash Barrens
Azorius Chancery
Command Tower
Darkwater Catacombs
Dreadship Reef
Evolving Wilds
Exotic Orchard
Gavony Township
Golgari Rot Farm
Hinterland Harbor
Llanowar Wastes
Mana Confluence
Murmuring Bosk
Opal Palace
Opulent Palace
Saltcrusted Steppe
Sandsteppe Citadel
Seaside Citadel
Sungrass Prairie
Underground River
Vivid Grove
Plains x4
Island x4
Swamp x4
Forest x4

Now, we’ve got the matter of that one land slot we freed up for a spell. What do we want to add in to plug that hole? Well, my first inclination when cutting a land is to add either ramp or draw, but I feel like we’re covered in both categories. Looking at the stuff we cut and the stuff we added, I feel like we have pretty solid utility/removal as well, though we could always use more. I can certainly see adding a Beast Within or some other random spot removal as a good way to go. But, I am also reminded that we just cut quite a few sweepers and only added back in the Toxic Deluge. I’m still very loathe to blow up our own side of the board, but luckily we’re playing Blue, so we don’t have to worry about that. Yep, the final addition goes to none other than Cyclonic Rift. I can almost hear you all rolling your eyes, but hear me out.

One thing I’ve learned from playing this deck is that it does NOT like to start over from scratch with its board state. It takes time to build up a critical mass of counters, and even if you can just dump your hand post-Wrath, you’re still a long way from where you were. You lose all those turns of proliferation. Therefore, it is very, VERY valuable to have “sweepers” that don’t impact us. Toxic Deluge will occasionally have collateral damage, but most of the time it should leave all our important stuff intact. Rift is even better at this, as it will literally never impact our side of the battlefield, at least not directly.

So, add Cyclonic Rift to the above list, and there you go, our full 100 is done. At this time, I feel I should remind my dear readers of my current approach to deckbuilding. I used to be a hardcore Good Stuff aficionado, but lately I’ve been far more interested in exploring themes. Mechanical themes, not flavor ones, but still… Point is, I tend to forsake boring stuff like spot removal in favor of just doing what the deck wants to do as hard as I can. However, few decks can reliably operate effectively without good interaction. As good as our plan may be, we’ll always have a risk of being trumped by an opponent with an even bigger, better plan. We need removal, we need card draw, we need ramp and sweepers. All of these things are very necessary but they get in the way of fun stuff.

My current philosophy is to build in as much of the mechanical theme as possible – in this case +1/+1 counters – and then slowly increase the good stuff and utility until the deck works. I feel like this list is awesome at doing stuff with +1/+1 counters, but probably a bit lacking in the “stop my opponents from winning” department. It’ll take some playtesting to know where the right balance is, exactly, but I’d rather err on the side of theme to start with. I’m sure I will eventually add in some more boring stuff to make the deck win better, but for now I am satisfied at just doing the +1/+1 counter theme as well as possible, and worrying about the rest later.

So, there you have it, folks. That's my take on Breed Lethality. There is a LOT of room for you to do your own thing with it. For instance, I've seen some lists taking advantage of the Modular ability to do silly thinks with Arcbound creatures. Other keywords to look out for include: Outlast, Bolster, Support, Graft, Evolve and Scavenge, to name a few. There's also Amplify, Devour and Monstrosity as well.

I should note, as well, that I do not build "budget" decks. I use the cards available to me. I am lucky enough to have some expensive cards at my disposal, might as well use 'em, right? That said, it should almost always be possible to make budget substitutions if you want or need to. For instance, if you don't have Noble Hierarch's lying around, you could always use Bloom Tender. If even Bloom Tender is too rich for your blood, try Gyre Sage or Birds of Paradise. If you want a budget alternative to Archangel of Thune, that's a wee bit tougher as there's nothing that quite matches what she does... but you could make do with pretty much any flyer that cares about +1/+1 counters. Maybe just put Vulturous Zombie back in, in her place. Heck, I would not mock anyone for running High Sentinels of Arashin. Point is, almost anything you run is going to lose that sweet synergy with Sunscorch Regent, but as long as it's on theme, it doesn't really matter.

I don't know what to tell ya if you don't have a Doubling Season, though. I guess it technically isn't necessary, but there's nothing that can really stand in for it (screw Primal Vigor, that card is GARBAGE).

Of course there are always cards I try to fit in and can't find room for. In this case, the list is too long to mention every card I considered, but some of the ones I gave more serious thought to include: Mer-Ek Nightblade, Primeval Bounty, Verdant Confluence, either Anafenza, Dromoka the Eternal, Mindless Automaton, Contagion Engine, Chasm Skulker, Fertilid and Hangarback Walker.

Another thing I considered was throwing in Odric so the whole team can capitalize on Atraxa's keyword salad, but ultimately discarded that idea as too silly... but who knows, maybe you can make it work?

Finally, one other Planeswalker I considered was Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. He distributes +1/+1 counters, sort of draws cards, and has one of the least-scary ultimates ever, so doesn't always draw tons of hate.

Well, folks, that's all I have. Hope you enjoyed this look at Atraxa, and the Breed Lethality deck. Let me know in the comments what cards you have added to your build.

Enjoy!