Friday, May 20, 2016

Marath, Will of the Wild

Creatures

Marath, Will of the Wild

Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
Archangel of Thune
Dragonmaster Outcast
Flametongue Kavu
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Spitebellows
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Bloom Tender
Scavenging Ooze
Wood Elves
Wirewood Savage
Eternal Witness
Managorger Hydra
Champion of Lambholt
Forgotten Ancient
Bloodspore Thrinax
Indrik Stomphowler
Garruk’s Packleader
Kalonian Hydra
Nacatl War-Pride
Rampaging Baloths
World-Spine Wurm
Qasali Pridemage
Voice of Resurgence
Knotvine Mystic
Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
Omnath, Voice of Resurgence
Godsire


Spells

Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Rootborn Defenses
Wrath of God
Cathars’ Crusade
Devout Invocation
Flameshadow Conjuring
Reforge the Soul
Blasphemous Act
Hardened Scales
Cultivate
Arachnogenesis
Elemental Bond
Tempt with Discovery
Parallel Lives
Second Harvest
Greater Good
Doubling Season
Shamanic Revelation
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Ezuri’s Predation
Boros Charm
Aura Mutation
Artifact Mutation
Glare of Subdual
Mirari’s Wake
Skullclamp
Basilisk Collar
Sol Ring
Selesnya Signet
Gruul Signet
Boros Signet


Lands

Mana base is mostly the usual suspects – duals, shocks, fetchs, etc… I’m only missing an Arid Mesa, so running 20x of the best duals I can find. Beyond that, the actual interesting lands are:
Command Tower
Opal Palace
Jungle Shrine
Gaea’s Cradle
Llanowar Reborn
Temple of the False God
Contested Cliffs
Gavony Township
Grove of the Guardian
And finally, rounding out the lands with 3x of each basic.



Umm, right, so… where do I begin with this deck? There’s so much going on here, but the one thing that ties it all together (or most of it, at least) is the commander himself, Marath, so I guess we should start with him.

Marath is a Beast, so I have a little bit of a Beast tribal theme. I’ve got Wirewood Savage and just enough creatures with the Beast subtype to make him a worthwhile investment. The real payoff, though is when we get to cast an Ezuri’s Predation or Rampaging Baloths with the Savage in play.

Marath is an Elemental, so I also have the faintest hints of an Elemental theme, though this particular theme has taken some cuts recently. Omnath, Locus of Rage is really the main payoff card here. But it’s worth remembering that the tokens Marath makes are Elementals, as are those made my Voice of Resurgence and we have a few incidentally-good Elementals like Spitebellows.

Marath makes and cares about +1/+1 counters, so I have cards like Hardened Scales and Kalonian Hydra to support that as a theme. The +1/+1 counter theme is actually one of the headliners, whereas most of the other themes are supporting roles.

Marath makes and cares about creatures tokens, so the other headlining theme is, of course, tokens. However, at the time I started fiddling with Marath, I was sick of the typical token deck strategy of just barfing out as many 1/1 Saprolings and 0/1 plants as possible. Most token decks focus on quantity, but I wanted to focus on quality instead. There are still a handful of things that make 1/1’s but by default my token producers start at 3/3 and go up from there.

Which brings me to the first theme that isn’t directly tied to Marath – Populate. This is another theme that has, over time, been largely reduced in focus, but is still relevant due to a few of the best cards remaining in the deck. The C13 decks wherein Marath made his debut were printed just about a year after Return to Ravnica came out, but at that point I still had yet to use the Populate mechanic outside of jamming the occasional Rootborn Defenses as a hedge against sweepers. So when I was first experimenting with the Marath precon, one of the first things I did was build a Populate subtheme into it. I think I’m down to only three populate cards now, but they’re the best of the bunch – Trostani, Rootborn Defenses and, oddly, Scion of Vitu-Ghazi. The first two are obviously fantastic, while the Scion is… better than you’d think, but not exactly an all-star. Still, it’s been good enough to survive several rounds of changes.

So, there are a whole lot of themes at play here, but the surprising thing is how well the all come together. Most decks would just fall apart with so many different thing shoe-horned into them, but with this deck, I find all the various pieces overlap well enough that the synergies come through more often than not. Occasionally I have cause to be sad that the tokens made by Kazuul are Ogres and not Beasts or Elementals, but usually that doesn’t actually matter.

There are a lot of cards that bridge two or more themes by having cross-synergy. Doubling Season would be the prime example – it works with both our +1/+1 counters theme and our tokens theme (obvious, I know, everyone knows what Doubling Season does by now). Of course the deck works best when it gets to exploit multiple lines of synergy at once, but it works surprisingly well when it’s just doing one thing at a time.  Sometimes it plays the token angle well enough that the counters theme barely matters, or vice versa.

But when it’s firing on all cylinders and your disparate themes start to cross-synergize, holy crap is this deck fun. It’s a very Timmy-ish deck, and boy does it hate to see a dedicated control deck at the table. You really need to have a fast, aggressive start and enough gas to stay one step ahead of their answers. Which is definitely doable but is not always going to happen. It is also possible to play a long, grindy game and out-attrition an opponent but again that isn’t the ideal scenario for this deck. It’s doable, but isn’t what the deck primarily was built to do. Clearly, the primary function of the deck is to just pound peoples’ faces with Angels, Beasts, Ogres and Elementals. And when not faced with overwhelming amounts of disruption, it’s pretty effective at carrying out that mission.

There are a few cards that are recent additions and still unproven: Managorger Hydra, Bloodspore Thrinax, Arachnogenesis, Ezuri’s Predation, Flameshadow Conjuring and Second Harvest. Managorger is kind of a generic card, but replaced the seemingly-great Ivy Lane Denizen. Denizen somehow managed to always cost one mana more than it needed to, to be good. I’m pretty sure I’d have loved the card at 3, but at 4 mana it was just uncastable garbage 99% of the time. I don’t know why, but it just worked out that way. I don’t remember what all the other cards replaced. I know Academy Rector was in the deck because Wake, Doubling Season and Cathars’ Crusade are fantastic targets, but I needed her more for other decks. And I probably had slightly more ramp at one point. I’m also missing a Wheel of Fortune, again due to having more decks that need it than I have copies of it.

The one card I’m basically certain will turn out to be a lasting addition is Ezuri’s Predation. I’ve only cast it once so far in this deck, but it won the game on the spot that time, and it’s been solid in other decks that aren’t even as well-equipped to abuse it as this one. The two I’m least confident about are the Thrinax and Second Harvest. Harvest is so new I have only played one or two games since adding it and I have yet to even draw it. The Thrinax I’ve drawn a couple of times and not wanted to cast it. Either I didn’t have anything to sac because I was behind, or I was so far ahead that it was unnecessary and win-more. I can see an argument that Second Harvest will play much the same – either it’s do-nothing or win-more, but I think there’s a reasonable chance it could work out. Finally, I know Fires of Yavimaya was in the deck and it’s absence here is actually an accidental oversight – I wouldn’t have cut it on purpose, I just missed it when I was rebuilding the deck (I had deconstructed it for a while before recently rebuilding it from scratch).

Flameshadow Conjuring mainly got added because of one of my favorite interactions in the deck: Kiki-Jiki + Trostani. With those two legends in play, I can use Kiki-Jiki to make a token copy of whatever my best non-legendary creature is. That token copy is going to die at end of turn, of course, but with Trostani, I can Populate and get a second token copy of that creature – and this one won’t die EOT! The Magical Christmasland scenario is, and I have actually gotten to pull this off once, is to have that creature be Godsire. Back when I pulled this off, I even had Fires in play. So, cast Godsire, who is hasted up thanks to Fires. Gain 8. Target Godsire with Kiki, gain another 8, two Godsires in play. Activate Trostani to populate the Godsire token copy, gain another 8, now have three Godsires. Move to attack, declare all three Godsires attacking, allow my opponent to declare blocks, then tap the three Godsires to make three 8/8 beasts, gain another 24. That’s 48 life gained, and EOT I sac one of the Godsires, so I still have five 8/8’s in play. This actually happened in a real game. Anyway, Flameshadow is basically a worse, second copy of Kiki-Jiki.

Trostani is also really good at gaining tons of life, which isn’t something the deck has a lot of, but mostly she just helps me not die, and occasionally triggers the hell out of Archangel of Thune (more of that cross-theme synergy!). I actually have considered adding an Essence Warden/Soul Warden package, but I don’t know if that’s really worth doing. I don’t know if the life gain thing is that relevant most games.

Hardened Scales is probably my favorite card in the deck. With Scales in play, you can basically pay 1 mana to put a +1/+1 counter on Marath. Pay X, Marath gets X counters. It’s pretty ridiculous, frankly. With the help of Gaea’s Cradle (also ridiculous), I’ve had Marath go from a 3/3 to a 17/17 in two turns, and that’s because I was doing other things with my mana as well.

Cathars Crusade, while being an infamously-nutso card in its own right, has some sweet applications here. Marath can now generate a number of 1/1 elemental tokens limited only by the mana you have available, without ever depleting his own counters. Oh and each counter you make grows all the ones that came before it, too. So that’s nice.

If you ever get Crusade and Scales out at the same time, beg your opponent to concede so you don’t have to do the bookkeeping. That’s actually one of the biggest downsides to this deck – putting tokens on counters is a nightmare when you usually use dice to represent both. It’s definitely worth having actual paper tokens for tokens and just stick to using dice for counters. Even then, though, doing all the math can be cumbersome. SO MANY TRIGGERS!

Getting back on track, another thing I particularly enjoy is being able to run Aura Mutation and Artifact Mutation together. Adding in Glare of Subdual is just gravy. Even though this deck largely eschews 1/1 tokens, the two Mutation spells are just fantastic utility. I love Return to Dust and Krosan Grip, but these are just more thematic and synergistic. Speaking of Glare of Subdual, I’m actually not sure I’ll keep it in the deck too much longer – not because it’s bad, but because it’s almost too good. Occasionally it’s a bit of a dud, but more often than not it is downright oppressive. Sort of like Opposition, it’s more-busted cousin. I figured since Glare couldn’t mana-lock someone the way Opposition does it’d be a lot more palatable, but so far in games I’ve played it’s either been oppressive or irrelevant with little to no middle ground.

Tempt with Discovery is basically there for Cradle. If I weren’t running Gaea’s Cradle, I’d almost certainly give this slot to Skyshroud Claim or Kodama’s Reach. I’d actually like to have one of those two in the deck already, but alas, no room until I figure out what isn’t working, and even then I’m pretty sure I’d add something like Fires of Yavimaya or Wheel of Fortune first.

Other notable utility spells include Bloom Tender in the ramp package, and Shamanic Revelation in our suite of draw spells. I’ve talked up Revelation a good deal before, but honestly, the card is just SO good. I mean, yeah, it sucks to topdeck one right after an opponent Wraths your board, but that has proven to be such a corner case that I barely consider it a downside. I did outright lose one game because I waited one turn too long to pull the trigger, but that was me being greedy. It’s seriously one of the best draw spells in green there is. Meanwhile Bloom Tender is just a must-run for me in any deck where I have a three-color commander that costs three mana. Going T2 Bloom Tender into T3 Marath + any three-mana spell is sweet. Untapping on T4 with six or seven mana is also very sweet.

Basilisk Collar is just to give Marath deathtouch so he can just ping creatures to death. It’s not strictly necessary – I’ve found it to be fairly easy to just naturally get Marath up to enough counters to kill most things that need killing, but occasionally you see a 57/57 Kresh or something absurd, and deathtouch just makes Marath vastly more efficient at removing threats. At one point I also had Bow of Nyela in the list, as it puts counters on Marath as well as giving him Deathtouch (when attacking) but it somehow didn’t do enough and wound up getting cut.

Beyond that, I think just about everything else in the list should be pretty self-explanatory. I just want to shout out Devout Invocation and Nacatl War-Pride, a couple of janky-ass cards that basically no  one plays. However both have literally won me games in this deck.


As far as cards I might include, I’ve already mentioned a few that were cut or overlooked, with the big three being Fires, Rector and Wheel. But the draw package in Green has gotten better the last couple of years, so I’m not particularly missing Wheel. If I had a spare one, I’d run it, but I think the deck gets by fine without it. Other cards I would at least consider for inclusion:

Twilight Drover
Ogre Battledriver
Warstorm Surge
Vigor
Cryptolith Rites
Eldrazi Monument
Chandra Flamecaller
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Inspiring Call
Evolutionary Leap
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Aura Shards (I friggin’ hate this card, so I refuse to run it on principal)
Pathbreaker Ibex
Chord of Calling
Beast Within


Well, folks, that’s all I’ve got for today. Enjoy!


Monday, May 9, 2016

Geth, Lord of the Vault

Creatures

Geth, Lord of the Vault

Soldevi Adnate
Skirsdag High Priest
Fleshbag Marauder
Grim Haruspex
Vampire Nighthawk
Dimir House Guard
Slum Reaper
Disciple of Bolas
Crypt Ghast
Erebos, God of the Dead
Liliana’s Shade
Phyrexian Obliterator
Shriekmaw
Demon of Wailing Agonies
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Bloodgift Demon
Puppeteer Clique
Archfiend of Depravity
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Nirkana Revenant
Massacre Wurm
Mikaeus the Unhallowed
Reaper from the Abyss
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Overseer of the Damned
Sepulchral Primordial
Burnished Hart
Solemn Simulacrum

Spells

Demonic Tutor
Sign in Blood
Read the Bones
Toxic Deluge
Sudden Spoiling
Phyrexian Arena
Tendrils of Corruption
Damnation
Mutilate
Barter in Blood
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Dark Petition
Living Death
Promise of Power
Beacon of Unrest
Deadly Tempest
Ever After
Behold the Beyond
Decree of Pain
Wake the Dead
Dread Summons
Profane Command
Sol Ring
Expedition Map
Jet Medallion
Mindcrank
Lightning Greaves
Sword of the Animist
Unstable Obelisk
Hedron Archive
Lashwrithe
Gauntlet of Power
Caged Sun

Lands

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Bojuka Bog
Leechridden Swamp
Cabal Coffers
Crypt of Agadeem
Nykthos, Shrine to Nix
Polluted Mire
Barren Moor
Temple of the False God
Reliquary Tower
Volrath’s Stronghold
Phyrexian Tower
26x Swamp


Well, I’m finally back with a new decklist to talk about. Actually this one isn’t entirely new – it’s very similar to my upgrade to the Commander 2014 Ob Nixilis deck. Back when I was tinkering around with the C14 precon, I wound up settling on a list that featured a bit of a “Swamps Matter” theme, which led to things like Cabal Coffers and Caged Sun evolving that theme into more of a general “Big Mana” theme. It’s not quite a ramp deck, per se, but it is close enough in how it plays – it seeks to leverage a massive mana advantage to overwhelm the table with large threats, bountiful removal, and card advantage.

Under Ob Nixilis’s command, though, the deck had a hard time actually leveraging all that mana it could make. I frequently found myself in situations where I could produce more mana than all three of my opponents combined, but I couldn’t reliably ensure that I had big, back-breaking plays to make with all that mana. I also just had a hard time getting ahead on card advantage.

Eventually I realized that the issue was my Commander choice. I was able to pull of the Big Mana game plan quite reliably, so I needed an equally reliable outlet for all that mana - my commander needed to be a mana sink, and preferably one that generated some form of card advantage. The three options I settled on eventually were Drana, Kalastria Highborn; Geth, Lord of the Vault and Erebos, God of the Dead. Drana was a repeatable removal engine and a credible win-con all in one package, Geth was similarly multi-functional, while Erebos was a little more one-dimensional but represented straight-up card draw and was a good foil to Oloro, who was really popular in my group for a while.

I went with Erebos primarily because I’m a sucker for his card-drawing power, and the aforementioned popularity of Oloro at that time. Erebos was marginally better than Ob Nixilis, and he did successfully provide the desired outlet for spending my mana and generating card advantage, but the problem was that the deck was a bit slow and clunky in the early turns, and if there was even one aggressive player in the game, by the time I had Erebos and huge amounts of mana, I tended to have very low amounts of life. The heavy control elements were very good at helping me stabilize and survive… eventually. But, not quickly enough that I had tons of life to cash in for cards.

So, this being the third attempt to make this deck work, I have now opted for Geth. I’ve long been a fan of Geth, but I actually kind of over-played him for the first couple of years he was in print. I ran him in EVERYTHING! So, I figured instead of shoe-horning him into a bunch of decks, I’d just give him command of his own deck. He does all the things I want – provides a sink for the massive amounts of mana  I will be producing, generates card advantage, and serves as a suitable win-condition (he is fairly capable of both General Damage kills and milling someone out).

Once I decided to go with Geth for this outing, I started out by reconstructing the basic framework of the previous iterations – all the “Swamps Matters” and “Big Mana” stuff was first and foremost. Then it was just a matter of rounding out the rest of the deck with removal, utility and big, scary monsters.

Whereas the earlier version under Ob Nixilis had a slight bias toward the Demon creature type, for flavor and theme reasons, with this build I kept only those demons I really, really liked and replaced the rest with more generically good cards. So, yeah, it is a little good-stuff-y, but I’m fine with that. The cool thing about a deck like this is that it really doesn’t make a huge difference what you use for the heavy hitters; it’s much more important that you just get the balance right between things that help you set up your big mana plan, and things to do once you have your big mana online. For example, there’s no real overwhelming reason why you’d want to run specifically Sheoldred and Sepulchral Primordial as your 7-drops, they just happen to be the ones I prefer. But all that really matters is that you have the right number of 7-drops and that they are similarly high-impact, powerful cards worth spending that 7 mana on.

And I’m not at all certain three 7-drop creatures is the right number, either. It feels close to correct, but I do tend to get a higher % of top-heavy opening hands than I’m completely comfortable with. Point being, how greedy you can afford to be with the top-end of your curve depends a lot on how fast your metagame is and your mulligan policies. Right now my meta is a tad on the slow side and we have very forgiving mulligan rules, so I can afford to be a little greedy here, but I am careful not to exploit that freedom… if I have to mulligan 10 times before every single game, that’s a real problem.

So I’m still in the process of massaging the numbers to get them just right – to where I can easily and quickly get a decent opening 7 with enough early action to survive to the late game, BUT also enough late-game bombs that I don’t peter out. It really sucks being 12 turns into the game, sitting on 30 mana, and just top-decking things like Hero’s Downfall and Burnished Hart turn after turn, but it also sucks keeping a sketchy hand and then drawing nothing but 6 and 7 mana bombs the first four turns of the game. Where I’m at now, with this list, is that I feel like it needs some more work, but it is playable in its current state.

This seems an appropriate place to segue into specific card choices. The core of the deck does not have a lot of room for moving things around. You start with your lands, and because of things like Coffers and the mana-doubling artifacts, you want a Basic-heavy land base. Of course you need Coffers and it’s cousins – Nykthos and Crypt of Agadeem. Actually, Crypt is still in a trial period. I have yet to see it perform even remotely as well as Coffers or Nykthos, but neither have I seen it be completely terrible. Coming in tapped has yet to screw me at a critical time and the fact that it always, at minimum, taps for B has actually been very helpful a time or two, so it hasn’t yet given me a reason to cut it, but it also hasn’t proven essential. Nykthos and Coffers, however, are 100% essential.

The other lands are largely a matter of preference and availability. Obviously Volrath’s Stronghold and Phyrexian Tower are great, but they’re more “run ‘em if you got ‘em” cards – strongly recommended, but not so important I’d shell out for them if I didn’t already have them. Everything else is probably pretty self-explanatory. The only things I’m  missing that I’d like to have are Blighted Fen and Mortuary Mire. I’m pretty light on BFZ stuff, so I don’t have extras of these lying around at the moment. I’ve been tempted to try Lake of the Dead but it seems a bit too high-risk, especially if you don’t have an extra Crucible of Worlds to jam, and I do not. The other problem is the anti-synergy between Lake and cards like Tendrils of Corruption which reward you for having as many Swamps in play as you can get.

Next you want some ways to get Swamps into play, preferably ahead of schedule. I don’t do a lot of innovating in this category – tried and true staples like Solemn Simulacrum and Burnished Hart do the best work here, but I’ve been fairly happy with Liliana’s Shade and Lili of the Dark Realms herself. They only put Swamps into your hand, but that’s been acceptable most of the time. Sword of the Animist is a very new addition to this deck but I’ve played it elsewhere, and have constantly been impressed by this little equipment. Expedition Map is primarily to find Coffers or Urbog, depending on the situation. I try to wait until I’ve drawn one of those two, then use Map to find its mate. Failing that, I will happily get Nykthos if I feel like my Devotion count is going to stay high enough.

The next step is to add as many mana-doubling effects as you can. I dislike Doubling Cube, personally, so I passed on that one. And I don’t have an Extraplanar Lens free, but I’d absolutely run it if I did have an extra copy. Note that, if you do run Lens, you should seriously consider using the old Snow Basic trick to avoid helping your opponents who might be running Swamps. Actually, since I’m running Gauntlet of Power, I should be doing the same already, but I don’t think I have quite enough Snow-Covered Swamps and honestly I just figured I would be better able to exploit the mana boost than my opponents most of the time.

I also don’t like Magus of the Coffers. He’s too fragile and almost always dies before I can get a single mana out of him. For some reason I just have better luck with Crypt Ghast and Nirkana Revenant. Often I can wait to cast them until I have more lands, so that I can cast them and then get value out of them in the same turn, but even when I tap out for them, I tend to have good luck in untapping at least once with them in play.

At this point half our deck is basically comprised of Swamps, ways to get more Swamps, and things that make our Swamps better. Since we care about Swamps so much already, why not add some other things that care about Swamps? There are a lot of “number of Swamps you control” cards, and I’m not running as many as I’d like to. The big one that I’m missing is Corrupt, which was honestly just an accidental oversight, but by the time I realized I’d forgotten it, I couldn’t figure out what to cut.

Nightmare really is not good enough to run, but Korlash probably is, I just left him out for space reasons. Obviously Liliana of the Dark Realms was already included on the basis of getting more Swamps but her -2 also rewards you for having them. Her Ultimate, like most ‘walkers is only going to happen in Magical Christmas Land, but if/when it does, it’s pretty sweet.

Nightmare Incursion is pretty good, and I’d certainly consider it, but it’s a card that I’ve had used against me a few times and I can’t in good conscience use a card that I so dislike having used against me, so I opted out. Mutilate is pretty darn close to a second copy of Damnation most of the time, and occasionally it’s even better - you’ll have one or two creatures big enough to survive the Mutilate, while leaving your opponents with nothing.

In the equipment category, we have Lashwrithe and its ancestor Nightmare Lash. The old school version, Nightmare Lash is serviceable, but fortunately the newer Living Weapon variant is better in just about every way. You could feasibly run both, but I’m satisfied with just the superior version, leaving Nightmare Lash on the cutting room floor.

That about does it for the “Swamps matter” portion of the deck. The rest of the deck is just filled out with early game utility and removal and late-game bombs to mop up with and spend our ridiculous mana on. Personally, I have an aversion to just winning out of nowhere off a topdecked Exsanguinate… I mean, I actually used to be a huge fan of that card, but I’ve gotten that “Oops, I win” draw so many times that now it bores me to tears to even think about. Technically I can still do that with Profane Command, but it only hits one player, so I’m not just going to kill the whole table suddenly. The other X-spells I have are Wake the Dead and Dread Summons. Wake the Dead has proven effective numerous times, while Dread Summons seems good, but I’ve yet to see it in action.

Also worth considering: Black Sun’s Zenith. If Dread Summons doesn’t pan out in the long run, there’s a good chance it’ll be replaced by the Zenith.

As I’ve already discussed, most of the high-end stuff is just whatever “good stuff” I happen to like playing, and seems powerful enough to get some work done. The majority of these cards are largely interchangeable, and there are a TON of expensive Black spells and creatures to choose from. Here are just a few spells CMC 6 and up that are very playable, but aren’t in my list currently:

Grave Titan
Harvester of Souls
Xathrid Demon
Lord of the Void
Butcher of Malakir
Necromantic Selection
Rise of the Dark Realms
Rune-Scarred Demon
Grave Betrayal

This is a really small sampling of things that actually were in the deck in one if it’s incarnations; there are plenty of options, and this isn’t even taking into account the 4- and 5- drops,  many of which are equally as flexible.

That said, I do want to call out some probably-underrated or overlooked cards that have been very good to me so far:

Soldevi Adnate – Pretty often she just sac’s herself, but that extra bit of mana can really make a big difference, especially if it helps accelerate you to something like Caged Sun which gives you a more permanent boost to your mana. I also like sac’ing something big to her and using that mana to cast a sweeper, if I’m in a position where I have to do so. This lets me use my lands to cast more threats post-Wrath.

Demon of Wailing Agonies – Not exactly an MVP, but still better than you’d expect. Consistently performs well, but not so powerful that people panic when you cast him. The kind of card opponents will often overlook or incorrectly assess, even as it’s beating them down because, well, at least it’s not Sheoldred, right?

 Archfiend of Depravity – This is a tiny bit meta-specific because I do see a lot of decks trying to go wide in my group, but even against decks that aren’t necessarily trying to build huge armies, this is surprisingly effective. Definitely has exceeded my expectations so far.

Massacre Wurm – Again, somewhat of a meta-call, but this guy is why I’m running Sudden Spoiling. Against tokens or decks like Edric, it’s a blowout, but with Spoiling in the mix it can be just as devastating to Mayael and other big, stompy monsters.

Reaper from the Abyss – This guy kills a LOT of shit. Just, like, all the time. Killing. I don’t even care that his trigger is mandatory and occasionally I’m forced to kill one of my own dudes. Always thought this guy was kinda jank, but he really is legit goodness.

I think, for the most part, my spells are a little more obvious and self-explanatory. Nothing to revelatory there, I think. Ever After is obviously a new addition as is Enter the Beyond. Haven’t cast Enter yet, and only cast Ever After once… but it was getting back a Sheoldred and a Kokusho, so that’s pretty great for a debut. We’ll see if it holds up long-term. Enter the Beyond just seemed cool and it replaced Increasing Ambition, which also tutors for three cards, but costs a billion more mana. Triple Demonic Tutor seems horribly broken, but I don’t really have any insta-win combos to fetch up.

I’ve already discussed my choice of X spells, so I’ll skip those. I do see one issue with my board-sweeping package. For some reason I’m running Deadly Tempest, which is actually a very nice card to have, and it’s pretty well-suited to my meta (again, I see a lot of decks going wide at the moment), but the real issue is that I’m NOT running Life’s Finale. If you look up Geth on EDHREC, there are only two cards in his “Signature Cards” category – Mindcrank and Life’s Finale. I am running the ‘crank, of course, but I totally forgot Life’s Finale was a card, despite running it all the time in Wrexial. If you don’t have a Damnation or Toxic Deluge and those are out of budget, I could see an argument for running both Finale and Tempest, but I don’t feel like I can justify two six-mana Wraths, and of the two Life’s Finale is just way more synergistic.

As far as Planeswalkers, the only one I’ve got at the moment is Lili, but I’d certainly be happy to find room for an Ob Nixilis Reignited. He kills stuff and draws cards, which is basically what this deck wants to do, so he’d be a shoo-in, if I had a copy available. I may figure out which deck I have my one copy in, and see if I can move him to this one, actually.

Spot removal is fine, but I’d love to find room for a Hero’s Downfall.

I’m pretty happy overall with my Tutor and Draw packages, but notably I am missing Vampiric Tutor. To add it, though, I’d have to cut one of the bigger ones like Enter the Beyond or maybe Dark Petition, but I really like those and want to give them a chance to sink or swim on their own merits. I’m also not completely sold on Grim Haruspex here. She’s fine, but hasn’t been as reliably effective as I’d hoped. Could easily just become an Underworld Connections or something like that.

(NOTE: I wrote this over the course of a few days, and during that time, I actually did make a few changes - Deadly Tempest was cut in favor of Life's Finale and Grim Haruspex did indeed become Underworld Connections. I also wasn't super happy with Sidisi in this build, so I swapped her out for a Wretched Confluence because I want to give that card another chance. It seems good, but I had been unhappy with it in other decks. I probably should have put in Vampiric Tutor - cutting an iffy five-mana tutor for basically the king of tutors makes sense, but I just happened to see the Confluence and thought "why the hell not?". Finally, I cut Erebos in favor of Hero's Downfall, which was a tough choice to make because I hate cutting card draw, but I have had a few games where Erebos was dead, or at best, underwhelming.)

Beacon of Unrest is possibly unnecessary, but it's been a pet card of mine for a long, long time and you have to admit it's hella on-theme. But, I have been wanting to find a spot for Corrupt, so this might be the place, I don't know. I haven't actually drawn Beacon in just about forever, so I don't actually know if it's good in this deck or not.

Finally, gotta give a shout out to my boy, Hedron Archive. I think I've said this at least once before, maybe more, but I'm jamming the Archive into SO many decks lately, and I'm pretty darn happy with it in just about every deck I put it in. I think I have 8 or 9 spread out among the 15 decks I currently have, and there are only 1 or 2 where I actually cut the Archive after adding it.

Anyway, that's about it for the Geth deck. I plan to try and smooth out the draws and get it a little more balanced and consistent, but it IS a big-mana deck so occasionally drawing lots of top-end cards is just going to happen. And, sorry about the delay in posting - no promises, but I'll try to have a minimum of one decklist per week until I'm caught up with all my current decks.

Enjoy. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Update

Hey all, sorry for the sudden silence, again. Just got hit with a double whammy of work suddenly picking up and getting very busy, AND a resurgence in my depression and anxiety issues. And, to make matters worse, some of the last few decks I wrote about, like Feldon and the MW dragons deck, all collectively decided to have TERRIBLE runs of luck and I was losing SO badly that I had to seriously question whether those decks were actually any good at all, and my initially-good experiences were just "first time playing the deck" luck. Combined with my generally depressed state, it pretty much soured my enthusiasm for building and writing about my decks. Once again I felt like I had lost my touch as a deckbuilder and was churning out garbage.

Well, turns out I was just having a run of shitty luck, running out the wrong decks at the wrong time so my matchups were always awful, and I was keeping very iffy hands most of the time. I tend to try to "stress test" decks by being very conservative with my mulligans so that I can gauge how greedy/risky I can afford to be with each deck. So, I learned that the Feldon deck is acutally a pretty good deck, but it is definitely as draw-dependent as I feared. Fortunately it's relatively easy to get an acceptable keep with our group's "mull to 7 until you get something decent" rule, but I'd be very worried about playing that deck in an environment with "real" mulligans.

My Geth deck, which I have yet to post, really had a terrible run for several weeks, but since then I played two games with it - one I absolutely dominated, and the other it did perfectly well, but ultimately lost a VERY close race. I can certainly handle losing close games. I love close games. But games where I don't get to play Magic at all due to being completely shut out are miserable. I had a couple weekends of the latter CONSISTENTLY happening and it just killed my momentum. I stopped brewing and building, stopped caring about the decks I'd already brewed, etc.

But the bad luck streak appears to be mostly over. I have one new deck I just sleeved up - The Gitrog Monster. I'm sure I'll talk about that one eventually, but honestly, if you've seen a Gitrog deck already, mine's probably not going to be that unique or interesting. I'm sure I'll eventually go back to Meren or Savra - they're both more my style, but Gitrog is a very fun, very cool detour for now.

Shadows of Innistrad has also gotten me itching to rebuild my old Aurelia deck. I like Kalemne a good deal more than I thought I would, but she's just a tad too linear and commander-focused. I kind of hate it when I have a grip full of 6 of 7 good, playable cards, but just casting my commander just trumps those cards 99% of the time. Aurelia is very similar on paper, but the way the deck plays, the cards in your hand just matter way more.

But, again, I have just felt despondent and unmotivated. Hopefully, I can just tweak those decks that have been underperforming and get them back up to where I'm excited to play them and to share them with you. Until then I might be a little quiet here on the ol' blog, and sorry for that, but I just can't put up a list and say "look at this awesome deck, you should build it, even though it can't beat decks made entirely of leftover draft commons".

(I've also gotten re-obsessed with Minecraft. SUCH a time sink, that game!)


Friday, March 11, 2016

Temur Dragons

Alrighty, folks, I’ve got another list for you today. This one is sort of a Dragon Tribal list, in the Temur colors, led by my dear friend, Maelstrom Wanderer. Before I get into talking about this deck, let’s just go straight to the list.

CREATURES

Maelstrom Wanderer

Clever Impersonator
Mulldrifter
Icefall Regent
Keiga, the Tide Star
Quicksilver Dragon
Dragonmaster Outcast
Dragon Whisperer
Flametongue Kavu
Shaman of the Great Hunt
Thunderbreak Regent
Stormbreath Dragon
Thundermaw Hellkite
Scourge of Valkas
Spitebellows
Scourge of the Throne
Tyrant’s Familiar
Balefire Dragon
Utvara Hellkite
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Bloom Tender
Reclamation Sage
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Eternal Witness
Temur Sabertooth
Destructor Dragon
Foe-Razer Regent
Coiling Oracle
Surrak Dragonclaw
Savage Ventmaw
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Progenitor Mimic
Dragon Broodmother
Intet, the Dreamer
Atarka, World Render
Dragonlord Atarka

SPELLS

Dragon Tempest
Descent of the Dragons
Epic Confrontation
Savage Punch
Kodama’s Reach
Cultivate
Frontier Siege
Skyshroud Claim
Greater Good
Verdant Confluence
Mana Reflection
See the Unwritten
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Zendikar Resurgent
Tooth and Nail
Temur Ascendency
Unexpected Results
Sarkhan Vol
Sarkhan Unbroken
Sol Ring
Izzet Signet
Gruul Signet
Simic Signet
Coalition Relic
Hedron Archive
Crystal Shard

LANDS

Volcanic Island
Taiga
Tropical Island
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Breeding Pool
Sulfur Falls
Rootbound Crag
Hinterland Harbor
Cascade Bluffs
Fire-Lit Thicket
Flooded Grove
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Mystery
Izzet Boilerworks
Gruul Turf
Simic Growth Chamber
Reflecting Pool
Frontier Bivouac
Command Tower
Evolving Wilds
Desolate Lighthouse
Alchemist’s Refuge
Temple of the False God
High Market

And, I’m still not ready to delve into this list quite yet. First I want to talk about a topic that I have only barely touched upon before: Theme. That is, how I approach and view thematically-built decks. The term “theme deck” means different things to different players, and the above list represents what I consider to be a theme deck. But to many, this would barely qualify, if at all.

Let me back up a bit. I have, for a very, VERY long time been a devotee of the Bauhaus school of art, specifically their chief philosophical approach to art: form follows function. *Note: this phrase was actually coined by an American architect, Louis Sullivan, and often incorrectly attributed to the Bauhaus school, but though they did not coin the term, the works of the Bauhaus sure as hell exemplify that ideal in every way possible.

The Bauhaus combined craft with art. They were involved in fine art – that is, art for art’s sake, or decorative art. You know, paintings, pictures, that sort of thing. But they are more known for their functional art – everything from architecture to furniture to typography and font design. To explain what form “follows function means” in practice, let’s use the example of a chair. Now, in some circles it was thought that aesthetics were the ultimate ideal and if you were setting out to make a chair, your primary goal above all else was to make it beautiful. If the chair turned out to be uncomfortable, impractical or unable to support the weight of a full-grown human, then no big deal. As long as it was pretty to look at, you could sit it in a corner and call it “art”.

The Bauhaus took the opposite approach. First you had to make sure the chair fulfilled its functional purpose as a chair. It had to support the weight of someone sitting in it and had to be comfortable (but this was 1920’s Germany, so “comfortable” was defined quite differently than you or I might define it) to sit in. In short, a chair had to be useful as a chair first, and “pretty” second. A font that was eye-catching and flashy but not easy to read was absolutely worthless as a font. Now, I’m not actually a tremendous fan of the minimalist, modernist aesthetic this line of thinking produced, overall. A typical Bauhaus chair tends to be pretty ugly, in my opinion. But I absolutely admire and often live by the sentiment, nonetheless. For me, form must always follow function. My wife loves interior design and is constantly re-decorating our house. But I am constantly veto-ing some ideas she has on the grounds that they aren’t practical -
sure that thing would LOOK good over there in that corner, but I USE that thing and it’s going to be very impractical if it’s way over there!”

The frequency of use should directly correlate to its ease of use – if it’s something that is used every single day or multiple times a day, then it’s “place” should be out in the open and within reach. Take a TV Remote or a toothbrush for example – two items that, in the average household are very likely to be used on an extremely frequent basis. Declaring that the remote control should go into a basket, which in turn is shut away in one of the entertainment center’s cabinets is fine and dandy, but who the hell is actually going to put it there? And if my toothbrush is not someplace where I can reach for it while standing at the bathroom sink, but rather I have to open a cabinet or drawer or, heaven forbid, bend down to find it, then I’m likely to just stop brushing my teeth entirely. It’s not that I’m lazy… well, I am, but this particular point would still be true even if I weren’t… but I just think, at a functional level it is just insane to put something you use constantly in a place that is not extremely easy to access. However, if you rarely use something, or if it is strictly decorative and serves no other function, then where you put hardly matters.

Basically it comes down to the question “If I put this item in this place, will accessing this item from this place be of sufficient effort or annoyance that it will actively dissuade me from using this item?” If I feel that the answer is “Yes, if I put this item here, then I am pretty sure I will begin to use this item less frequently than I currently do.” If that item is something important – like, again, a toothbrush or remote control, or maybe a piece of exercise equipment then a “yes” answer to that question is simply unacceptable and putting that object in the proposed place is equally unacceptable. Example: I bought a stair-stepper so that I could get some exercise without having to go outside and get all hot and sweaty or subject myself to airborne allergens. I could just put it in front of the TV and let my mind atrophy instead of my muscles, for a change. But there was no good place to store the thing when I wasn’t using it. My wife kept putting it in increasingly more obscure and hard to reach spots, because it was, to be honest, and ugly-ass piece of plastic and rubber and was a bit of an eyesore. But the problem was, this was something I was already hard-pressed to find motivation to use, because I hate exercise. But as it grew progressively harder and harder for me to access the tool, the less and less diligent I was in using it. On the flip side, I often use this trick when I am using something too much. For example, if I buy a bag of candy and I find I’m eating it too quickly I will put the candy in a dish with a lid and then put that dish in a cabinet. Now, to get candy I have to open both the cabinet containing the dish and the dish itself. This increases the level of effort to get the candy enough that I will probably just forget the candy even exists for the rest of eternity, and, problem solved!

But what on earth does this have to do with Magic?

Well, when it comes to theme decks, there are basically two schools of thought – theme follows function and vice versa. Theme is basically aesthetical deckbuilding. The more you devote your attention toward theme, the less functional the deck becomes. We’ve all seen those really crazy theme decks like “nothing but old people in the art”, or a Marvel Comics deck where every creature represents a specific superhero or comic book character, and all the spells represent specific powers they use. And then there are those tribal decks where every last creature HAS to be that one creature type. Decks like this are, to me, a lot like a chair that is ridiculously ornate and beautiful but terribly uncomfortable and thus largely useless as chair. I have to ask, if all you wanted was a pretty-to-look at chair, why didn’t you just paint a picture of a pretty chair? Why did you have to make an actual chair that cannot be used, practically, as a chair? But, getting back to Magic… what is a deck’s purpose? A deck of Magic cards has exactly one purpose: to play and (try to) win a game of Magic. Everything else is secondary to that purpose.

But those theme decks that are such slaves to their theme that the abandon all pretense of function are like a chair that can’t be sat in, or, you know at your grandma’s house how she has all these towels hanging up in the bathroom, but some of them are for actually drying your hands but others are never, ever to be used as towels?  Yeah, those. Towels that cannot be used to dry things, candles that are never lit but just gather dust for years, and couches with plastic covers over the cushions just piss me off. You are robing that thing of it’s very purpose! And theme decks that are unwilling to make concessions to playability are basically the same thing.

Now, that all said, taking my view to the extreme will often lead to the kind of staple-laden Good Stuff builds that I used to be prone to building. I have definitely allowed my creative pendulum to swing more toward the thematic side of the spectrum of late, and I definitely get tired of 50% of my slots in every list going towards “auto-includes”. Point is, taking either view too far to one side or the other is just bad Magic. You end up will a “cool in concept” deck that is terrible, or a really good deck that wins a lot but is boring as shit to look at, talk about or play.

There is, as with all things, a happy medium and I’m trying to find that sweet spot where my decks have some individuality and offer a variety of card choices, but still manage to actually hold their own as decks one would actually want to play and possibly win a few games with.

All of this is just to explain why, when I call this a “dragon tribal” list and you see a Mulldrifter and an Eternal Witness and your first impulse is to take me to task for those “boring old good-stuff cards” or scorn some my choices for being “off theme”…. well, frankly, I don’t want to hear it. I want this deck to actually win games, sir and/or ma’am. I want this deck to be fun to play, and having at least a plausible chance at winning is a firm requirement for a deck to be fun, to me.

Anyway, right now my approach to thematic building could best be described thusly: I tend to start out at like 99% pure theme, then slowly add in “good” cards until the deck feels like it works. That’s a bit oversimplified, but it suffices. For this deck, actually, it’s actually pretty close to how I actually built it. I started with about 2x as many dragon and dragon-related cards, but every deck needs certain things – ramp, draw, removal. There aren’t a lot of dragons that draw cards, basically only one that ramps, and a few expensive ones that double as removal. So, for the deck to actually work as a Magic deck, it needs stuff like Wood Elves, Mulldrifter and Spitebellows, to do the things that Dragons just don’t do well, or at all.

If you really, really wanted to go fully tribal – no creatures except those with Dragon on their type line – you could cheat and run all your utility stuff as spells. But ultimately, that is a distinction without a difference. If I literally just replaced Wood Elves with Rampant Growth, Mulldrifter with Deep Analysis and so on, until all my utility spells were non-creatures, and all my creatures were Dragons, how is that actually better, even thematically? If I’m not replacing Wood Elves with a DRAGON, then is Wood Elves actually diluting the theme in any way? And how does Wood Elves ruin the theme, but Cultivate doesn’t?

Ultimately these questions and arguments are interesting to ponder, but mean little to me – I’m going to run whatever I think will make my deck work, period, end of story.

So, moving on, how does this deck work? Excellent question! I’m glad I asked me that.

Skipping ahead to the end, I’d say beating down with dragons is probably very obviously this deck’s main objective. And, to me, that is all that is required of a “theme”. It doesn’t matter how many cards you run “on theme” or what creature types you include. The theme is nothing more than what the deck wants to DO and how well it supports DOING that thing. So rather than focus an trivialities like how many dragons do you need to run before you can call it a dragon deck, let’s just ask a more practical question – does the deck produce lots of dragons and does its main path to victory involve swinging with lots of dragons? Yes it does, Other Barry, yes it does!

Now, superficially, this deck looks a lot like my old Maelstrom Wanderer deck. But it’s really quite different. My old MW list, if it could be said to have a theme at all (a stretch even I wouldn’t make), it would be a “Maelstrom Wanderer” theme. That list’s main goal was to cast MW as fast and as often as possible. Everything in the deck was in service to this goal, to some degree. Utlimately the deck just wanted to 1) ramp into MW, 2) cascade into good stuff 3) repeat until opponents are mush.  There was a very tiny subtheme of top-deck manipulation so I could set up my cascades instead of cascading blindly. Mostly, though, it was ramp and generically-good bombs.

With this list, though, MW is really a secondary plan. He’s there to provide card advantage if we fall behind, or put the final nail in the coffin when we’re ahead. But he supports the dragons. In fact, the very first game I played with this list, I won without ever casting MW at all. My old list basically had NO plan other than to cast MW so this would have been virtually impossible. Here, MW is still insanely powerful, but he isn’t the central focus of the deck and he isn’t always basically the single best thing you can be doing at any given moment. In other respects, though, this does still do a lot of typical MW things. Largely, it revolves around ramping into bombs, powering out massive threats and gaining overwhelming card advantage and sometimes bombarding your opponents with “free” Tooth and Nails, etc. It’s still Battlecruiser Magic at its finest, but most of our battlecruisers happen to be dragons, and as such, there’s actually a fair amount of synergy  here.

While most of our dragons are just dragons – big flyers with some abilities, some have tribal synergies. Utvara Hellkite is probably the pinnacle of dragon synergy. The more dragons you have, the more dragons it makes. Simple, but effective. Then there’s Scourge of Valkas and Dragon Tempest, for some synergistic face-murdering. Atarka gives the whole team Double Strike, which is insane, by the way, and we get to run a couple of versions of Sarkhan, the ultimate dragon fan-boy.

I especially like Scourge of Valkas and Dragon Tempest because they require a critical mass of dragons to be effective. This, in turn, encourages us to play more… questionable… dragons, like Quicksliver Dragon, Dragon Broodmother, etc. over more generic-but-way-better cards. Basically they keep us from drifting too far into the good-stuff realm. Now, in the past, I’m the type of player that would immediately question the “wisdom” of stacking your deck with janky dragons just to make Scourge/Tempest playable, being fairly questionable themselves, especially. But, again, I’m trying to lean more toward theme these days, and so far Scourge of Valkas, at least, has proven powerful enough that he more than makes up for a few weaksauce dragons.

Oh, and one more note about running non-Dragon utility guys… if we didn’t have a bunch of little dorks in the deck, we’d have no reason to run Descent of the Dragons, which is an awesome card. I think this card alone justifies the “cheat” in running off-tribe creatures, because those creatures can become dragons later.

I’m also trying to avoid running almost all mono-red Dragons. So I could easily cut, say, Quicksilver Dragon for almost any red dragon and it’d probably be at least a slight upgrade. But there are so few blue or green dragons, and I really wanted this to be a TEMUR dragon deck, not a virtual mono-red deck splashing green for some ramp and blue for Keiga. So, again, I am certainly making some power-level concessions to theme, but at the same time, I am careful to make those concessions intelligently and within reason. I don’t love playing Destructor Dragon over Indrik Stomphowler, but at least I’m not completely forgoing my ability to kill a Mirari’s Wake or Nevinyrral’s Disk. And, again, cutting the weaker Dragon cards for better non-Dragons weakens not only my theme, but also my synergy.

Which is not a new concept – cards that are weak in a vacuum can become strong enough to be playable when they have particular synergies with other cards in your deck. I’ve been playing EDH for about 10 years, almost, now, and I don’t think I have EVER included Soul Warden in and EDH deck until I built Karlov a few weeks ago. Now, suddenly, almost any hand with a Soul Warden in it, I snap keep. So I’m still light years away from building that deck where every card has to have someone slouching in a chair in the artwork. I’m not building drawf tribal, and I’m not building a “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” theme deck. My themes still have at least some synergistic, strategic or mechanical through-line guiding them.

As for the list above, I’m pretty happy with it so far, but as always I try to talk about flaws or weaknesses, as I see them. First of all, I think you’re about 5% to beat any Karrthus deck. Your only real hope is to sandbag a clone effect, wait until they jam Karrthus, pray to God you survive that first onslaught, and then try to get them with that clone. Protip: when the legend rule happens, sac the clone, so you keep their original Karrthus.

Second, I am very unsure how this deck would perform outside of groups that use the Gis Mulligan. For those that don’t know, that means you basically just mulligan to 7 until you get something playable. DO NOT ABUSE THIS. My playgroup also happens to be my closest circle of friends, so we have ample reason to trust each other, and ample reason not to abuse said trust. It’s pretty easy to get a hand of three lands, three 6-drops and an 8-drop or something absurdly terrible along those lines. I really haven’t had to lean too heavily on our generous mulligan policies, but it could be an issue in groups with “real” mulligan rules. And, for the record, I think it would be very scummy to use the Gis Mulligan as a crutch, so don’t think I built this deck to take advantage – it just worked out that way. Even though I can get away with it, I am still trying to tune the deck a bit better so that if I were forced to use “real” mulligans, I wouldn’t be completely screwed.

Third, everyone HATES Maelstrom Wanderer. Well, not me, I friggin’ love him, but everyone not playing Maelstrom Wanderer hates him. He’s absurdly overpowered. That’s a big reason I built this deck the way I did. It’s theme-y, not too good-stuff-y. Dragons are awesome! Everyone loves dragons! It plays janky cards, but makes up for weak card choices with overall strong synergy. And it isn’t built in such a way that all you ever do is cast MW over and over. It actually has a real game plan. That all said, MW is so stupid good that people will probably try to kill you before you hit 8 mana just in case. This version definitely hasn’t drawn the same level of hate my old MW list did, but I’ve still been playing it very sparingly, very cautiously. If it continues to do as well as it has so far, it’ll probably start to get hated on again. My old list had no trouble being the archenemy and could easily handle a 3-on-1 game, but I’m not so sure this version is as resilient. It’s possible that this deck is in that terrible place that all decks hate to be: good enough to draw hate, but not quite good enough to handle it!

As for specific card choices, there’s certainly a lot of room for customization. I only have one clear dud in Garruk, Caller of Beasts. He was a holdover from my previous Temur build, a Surrak deck, but so far I haven’t liked him much. I actually don’t want to draw 3 or 4 giant, expensive dragons every turn, as it turns out. And most of them don’t have green in their CI and cannot be cheated into play with his -3. Finally, the one and only time I have ever gotten his emblem was in this deck and I still managed to lose that game.

Another dud (sort of) is Foe-Razer Regent. The only reason this guy hasn’t been performing, though is because he doesn’t have his BFF, Gruul Ragebeast. I cut Ragebeast because I was trying to minimize the off-theme stuff, but without him, the Regent is not stellar. I did include a few fight-based spells but that has not been enough to really kick Regent into gear.

So, I’ve been considering cutting Garruk for Ragebeast, which makes sense and is a fair swap. However, I really think what I want in Garruk’s place is… Elvish Piper. Okay, Elvish Piper is one of those “noob” cards – you know, the kind new players gravitate toward and insist on playing constantly even when you explain to them, rationally, why it’s not good, but eventually you realize they are just going to have to find out the hard way. We all played Elvish Piper decks at one point, and we all eventually realized the error of our ways and abandoned those decks.

But, while playing this deck, I have had numerous situations come up where I thought “I really with this Garruk was an Elvish Piper right now”. Okay, I say numerous, really it was like two or three times, but the fact that Elvish Piper popped into my head at all, let alone THREE separate times, is not something I can just ignore. It’s probably as janky now as it has ever been, but at the same time, I think this might be its moment to shine, finally! Basically of the times I have had Garruk in play his -3 was the most relevant, or would have been if it didn’t specify “green” creatures. Elvish Piper does exactly what I want Garruk to do, but without that green-only restriction. Plus, MW gives him haste, so he’s likely to get at least one activation before biting it.

Yeah, so I think I have convinced myself. Gonna cut Garruk in favor of Elvish Piper (God, I still can’t believe I just typed that!), and try to find something else for Gruul Ragebeast, but I’d rather not cut a dragon for it, obviously.

Other questionable things:

Dragon Broodmother. A fine card in the right deck, but this deck just doesn’t make use of her abilities particularly well; not a lot of fodder for Devour, no token or counter synergies to speak of. Could easily be replaced with another, better dragon.

Same is true of Quicksilver Dragon, though, honestly, this guy isn’t all that bad. It just sucks that he’s the only Morph so it won’t take long before your opponents will always know exactly what your face-down guy is. Good news, though, is they likely won’t be all that afraid of it. I am just partial to him because he’s a semi-playable Dragon in mono-blue.

Verdant Confluence. Exceptional when you cascade into it, but less so when you have to cast it. My expectation was having lots of dead dragons and this thing getting them all back for me, or maybe a Temur Ascendency or Dragon Tempest. It’s also perfectly fine if you have nothing better to do than triple-Rampant-Growth, as this deck is very, very capable of using mana. You basically can’t have too much mana. Actually that brings me to a point in favor of keeping Confluence – Mana Reflection and Zendikar Resurgent are huge, HUGE targets for removal, but they’re also very worth getting back if you can. One might question having both of those enchantments, but they’re so damn good the redundancy is warranted. Plus, like I said, they’re huge removal bait, so the first one you cast is very likely to die. Hopefully the second one sticks.

I’m not 100% sold on Bloom Tender in this deck. She’s awesome, usually, but I tend to run her in decks with very cheap commanders like Darevi, Marath or Anafenza, so I can go, T2 Bloom Tender, T3 cast commander, and on turn 4 have 6 or 7 mana to do… whatever. This deck, there seems to be a higher chance of Bloom Tender just tapping for G until turn 5 or 6 or so. But, thus far, she hasn’t given me any clear reason to cut her, so these are just speculative concerns for now.

And finally, Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a card I just kinda threw in ‘cause I had one. I probably have another card that would be better here, and I probably have other decks that want Nissa more, but until I figure out where she’d be better served and what should replace her, she seems to be a perfectly fine inclusion. A bit on the good-stuff side, sure, and not particularly thematic, but acceptable. Perhaps I ought to try Dragonspeaker Shaman instead?

Obviously the specific dragons you run are highly customizable. The ones I consider absolute must-haves are: Keiga, Utvara Hellkite, Scourge of Valkas, both Atarkas, Thunderbreak Regent, Stormbreath Dragon, Scourge of the Throne, Thundermaw Hellkite, Tyrant’s Familiar, and Balefire Dragon. All of these have been extremely high performers, with Utvara and Valkas being the decks most reliable and effective win-conditions. The utility dragons, Destructor Dragon and Icefall Regent have actually been quite good, as well, but not complete bombs. All the other dragons in my list are just the result of my wanting to have a broad and diverse selection of colors and abilities. I didn’t want just a bunch of red dragons with damage and attacking abilities. I’ve yet to see Intet, Niv-Mizzet or Broodmother do anything spectacular, but the potential is there.

There are a lot of dragon-themed cards that aren’t dragons, too – stuff like Crucible of Fire, Day of Dragons, etc. but I didn’t include most of those because they just didn’t seem good. Crucible came the closest, but ultimately felt win-more. Day of Dragons just makes me nervous because it says “Sacrifice all dragons you control” which could backfire quite easily. Also turning my actual dragons into vanilla 5/5 dragons seems boring and lame.  Death By Dragons is just dumb unless you’re playing Karrthus, which we aren’t. I kinda just forgot about Sarkhan's Triumph which probably should be in the deck somewhere, but once I noticed I'd overlooked it, I then realized I didn't really need it much. There aren't many "silver bullet" dragons, but I guess being able to find the really good ones when I want them is okay.

Finally, to keep the focus on Dragons and not make the deck too Maelstrom-Wanderer-centric, I cut pretty much ALL of the library manipulation. So when you do cascade x2, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be doing it blind. There’s enough beef in here that that’s okay, but it does slightly disincentivize being on the MW plan all the time. Usually you’ll want to prioritize casting stuff from your hand, and only fall back on MW when you run out of better options. The downside is you sometimes get stuck with a bunch of big, hard-to-cast things in your hand, and that slows you down a bit. But it was still an important concession to theme, and the downside is not crippling, so far at least.

The one really big advantage going Jund instead of Temur has, aside from Karrthus himself (which is mighty), is access to something like Living Death or Twilight’s Call. The lack of a mass-reanimation spell really stings, especially when we end up forced to discard a bunch of dragons to Greater Good, or get hit with multiple Wrath effects in a game. But despite all that, my admittedly-limited experience with this deck has given me the distinct impression that this deck is actually noticeably better than the Karrthus verison (against most of the deck in my meta, at least, other than the fact that we probably auto-lose 9 out of 10 games to the Karrthus deck. That’s probably down to MW being a far stronger commander, and this version just having better card advantage options.

And that pretty well covers everything I can think of in regards to this list, so I guess I’ll end it here. Enjoy!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sen Triplets

I should start by explaining that I’m not a speculator or anything like that, but I do tend to follow Magic finance trends, just so I know what’s going on and don’t screw myself over on a trade or buy something that’s overpriced and on the decline. And, occasionally, I even get the chance to get out in front of a spike. It’s very rare, because I’m honestly not clever enough to see them coming, usually, but this is one of those rare moments when I did see it. Roughly one hour after the EDH Rules Committee posted the most recent update, announcing the removal of Rule #4 entirely from the format, I was on tcgplayer.com buying myself a foil copy of Sen Triplets. I paid $30 for the foil and by that Friday they were sitting at $70 or more. Eventually they settled down a bit and are now about $65 but that’s still more than twice the price before the announcement. 

So, why did the removal of Rule #4 tip me off to this potential spike? Well, Rule #4 was the rule that said you could only produce colored mana if that color was in your commander’s color identity. Running City of Brass in “normal” Magic means you can make all five colors, but in EDH, you are limited to the colors of your own deck. So for instance, in a Sen Triplets deck, cards like Chromatic Lantern and City of Brass still are capable of only producing White, Blue or Black mana. Attempting to tap Chromatic Lantern for, say, Green would result in a colorless mana being added to your mana pool instead. This made Sen Triplets, in my opinion at least, a fairly unplayable commander. Obviously, it could be a metagame call – if Green and Red are by some measure the least represented colors in your playgroup’s meta, Triplets could work fine, but if you see any reasonable amount of Green/Red/X decks, you’re likely to have a bad time.

But the removal of Rule #4 changes that. Now, if you are playing against a Gruul deck and manage to snag a Forest from their hand, you can use that Forest to cast their Green spells. And Chromatic Lantern now makes casting any card of any color almost trivial. All of this means Sen Triplets are now much more functional and open-ended than before. You stand a reasonable chance of being able to hijack your opponents’ spells no matter what colors are being played. Now, lest I take credit not due to me, I should say that I was hardly alone in figuring this out – the RC’s announcement specifically called out Sen Triplets as one example of a card that would benefit from the removal of Rule #4, but the way in which they did so really seemed to underplay the effect. Actually, a lot of people online seemed to think this made Triplets “a little bit better” but I felt the difference would be more pronounced.

And, honestly, I had been meaning to acquire a Sen Triplets for a while. It’s just one of those cards I would have sworn I already owned a copy or two of, but one day I realized that somehow I actually owned zero copies, and had intended to rectify that. However the price tag was already a bit high for a card that I didn’t really have any high expectations for using. It was just a cool card with a cool, unique effect, so I wanted at least one just in case. Well, the “just in case” scenario dropped in my lap suddenly, but I hadn’t yet procured my just-in-case copy so it just seemed like a now-or-never sort of deal. I opted for now, and pulled the trigger as quickly as I could and I’m certainly glad I did. 

Anyway, I figured I’d give them a try and build a deck around them, and take some comfort in the expectation that, if the deck turned out to be a dud or I just didn’t like it much, I could probably flip the card for a small profit.

I haven’t played the deck all that much, yet, but so far I’m definitely digging it. Here’s the current list:

CREATURES

Sen Triplets

Ethersworn Canonist
Sanctum Guardian
Leonin Abunas
Chief Engineer
Etherium Sculptor
Trinket Mage
Master of Etherium
Temporal Adept
Muzzio, Visionary Adept
Faerie Mechanist
Phyrexian Metamorph
Master Transmuter
Arcum Dagsson
Vedalken Archmage
Sharding Sphinx
Consecrated Sphinx
Oblivion Sower
Baleful Strix
Glassdust Hulk
Sphinx Summoner
Sharuum the Hegemon
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Spellskite
Metalworker
Junk Diver
Solemn Simulacrum
Lodestone Golem
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Duplicant
Soul of New Phyrexia
Wurmcoil Engine
Myr Battlesphere

SPELLS

Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Return to Dust
Wrath of God
Scourglass
Open the Vaults
Cyclonic Rift
Fabricate
Thirst for Knowledge
Foresee
Aetherize
Thopter Spy Network
Tezzeret the Seeker
Demonic Tutor
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Sol Ring
Thought Vessel
Azorius Signet
Dimir Signet
Orzhov Signet
Fellwar Stone
Lightning Greaves
Commander’s Sphere
Chromatic Lantern
Coalition Relic
Temple Bell
Oblivion Stone
Mycosynth Lattice
Darksteel Forge

LANDS

21x Dual Lands of various type
Command Tower
City of Brass
Forbidden Orchard
Reflecting Pool
Vesuva
Kor Haven
Temple of the False God
Reliquary Tower
3x Plains
3x Island
3x Swamp


As you can see, we are an Artifact deck, with a lot of the usual suspects, but initially that’s not what I set out to build. It just sort of grew organically from the needs of the deck, and my not wanting to build a generic Esper Control deck. Which is what this deck was starting to look like, before I changed tracks and went full-on Artifacts. But I still didn’t want this to feel like a Sharuum deck that’s just playing the wrong commander. I really wanted Triplets to be the centerpiece of the deck, so I didn’t initially want to go this route, but somehow I ended up here anyway.

Let me walk you through my thought processes. Sen Triplets tells us that we want to be casting our opponents spells, right? So obviously we need to make our mana base as flexible as possible so that we can cast those spells regardless of what colors our opponents happen to be running. First order of business, then, is getting those rainbow-lands and rainbow-rocks - Forbidden Orchard, Fellwar Stone and the almighty Chromatic Lantern. My #1 priority is being able to generate the right colors of mana to cast whatever I want from a hijacked hand.

My next thought is that my opponents may try to counteract my game plan a number of ways, and one such method is by casting their best stuff as quickly as they can. If they can empty their hand before I get Triplets online, I’m not likely to get much value out of my commander. So the mana rocks are not just about fixing my colors, they are also there to help me cast Triplets as quickly as possible, to shorten the window of opportunity my opponents have to dump their best stuff.

Next on my list of priorities is protecting my commander. Greaves, Leonin Abunas and Darksteel Forge all contribute to the goal of making Triplets harder to kill. All the mana rocks help me ramp up my mana production to keep recasting Triplets in the event  I can’t protect them well enough.  You’ll notice that I’ve now identified three completely different ways in which the mana rocks help us with our main game plan – help us cast Triplets faster so we can start jacking spells before our opponents dump their hands, help us re-cast Triplets in the event of their untimely demise, and help us cast our opponents spells when we do manage to stick our commander.

So at this point, I know I’m running a lot of mana rocks and a few things that protect or recur artifacts, but beyond that I’m not at all sure what I’m doing. After some thought, I realize that in addition to protecting Sen Triplets, I should also be looking to protect myself. Fortunately Esper colors offer us pretty much the pinnacle of all removal in the format, so I started pulling out things that would hopefully keep me alive. Removal, basically. But I quickly became bored just looking at the pile of cards I pulled out. It was the most generic-looking pile of Esper Control staples ever. I loved a  lot of the cards – Sphinx’s Revelation, Decree of Pain, Ghostly Prison? Classics! But together in one place, it just looked like a slog of super-obvious staples that would effectively guarantee games would last forever. Yawn.

I still had concerns about what to do about the things my opponents were able to cast, though. I spent some time thinking about a  “bounce” theme, where I could use bounce effects to return permanents on the battlefield to the hand of whomever my Triplets had hijacked, so that I could then cast that thing. That might be okay for a 1v1 deck but after some fiddling and theorizing I came to the conclusion this approach would be weak and slow in a 4-way game. I’d have to split my mana between paying for these bounce effects AND casting spells from hijacked hands. Even with all the rocks, that felt a bit janky to me. I kept Temporal Adept and of course Rift, but otherwise I moved away from this idea.

Finally, I remembered I’d been wanting to play Muzzio in something for a good, long while and decided he interacted pretty well with all the mana rocks and other incidental artifacts I was planning to run, and so I just embraced the artifacts plan after all. An additional benefit to this is that it provides us with a relatively strong game plan to fall back on in the event the Triplets plan goes belly up. If we find ourselves unable to rely on casting our opponents’ own spells to use against them we want our deck to have spells capable of winning, and Esper Artifacts are certainly capable of putting up a fight on their own.

There are of course a lot of other ideas I had at various points, but ultimately didn’t make it in. I considered a few cards like Annex and Vedalken Plotter to gank lands already in play. Similarly, I also considered running more Clones and Control Magics to copy or steal things that get cast. And I also gave some serious thought to running a small number of tax/prison effects, not really to completely lock my opponents out of the game, as that is not my style, but just enough to slow them down a bit, just to ensure that once I have Triplets online, they’ll still have things in their hand worth hijacking. I would at least love to find a slot for Grand Arbiter Agustin IV, and maybe Kismet/Frozen Aether, but I mainly avoided this tactic just because they aren’t particularly fun to play against and I’m already slightly worried about the kind of hate this deck could bring.

I think all of these ideas are very viable, maybe not as primary themes, but at least as small subthemes. But ultimately, I had very little room for cute, techy choices, as the artifacts theme is extremely deep and I had a very hard time just fitting THAT stuff in, let alone finding room for things that would dilute that theme and make stuff like Muzzio and Kuldotha Forgemaster less viable. Even with the list above, I still feel like there is just a bit too much tension between conflicting goals, but overall it seems to have played well enough that the tension is acceptable. Mostly I just wanted to make the rest of the deck as innocuous and palatable as possible, because my group has a bit of a thing against getting their own spells and creatures used against them. Understandable.

Anyway, I can definitely see myself going down that road, were social contract issues not such an obstacle. Such a build would likely include most of the following:

Aura of Silence
Kismet
Frozen Aether
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Bribery
Treachery
Knowledge Exploitation
Praetor’s Grasp
Clever Impersonator
Rite of Replication
Annex
Herald of Leshrac (I welcome any excuse to run this guy!)
Vedalken Plotter
Remand
Memory Lapse
Propaganda
Ghostly Prison
… and probably a handful or two of other, similar effects of this variety. The rest of the deck would basically be a mix of lands, mana rocks and removal.

And if I really, really wanted to be a dick, I could see this possibly working out as a “Stax” deck with stuff like Descent into Madness and the O.G., Smokestack. Just full-on lock people out of casting stuff, while I just freely take what I want from their hands. Clearly, I didn’t want to go this route, because I like my friends, but I think it could be done. In the end, I did get to include Lodestone Golem and Ethersworn Canonist because they synergize well with our Artifact theme while hopefully slowing down everyone else’s development without being completely oppressive.

Another idea I had was to include some symmetrical draw effects - Howling Mine and friends. Keep your opponents’ hands full, so you’ll always have goodies to pilfer with your Triplets. This also seemed like a plan that had a high potential to backfire, so I kept only Temple Bell as it only works when I want it to, making it the least risky. No one’s going to fall for the “group hug” fa├žade when you’re playing Sen Triplets!

In the end, I tried to make it so almost every card in the deck either serve the primary Sen Triplets plan, the secondary Artifacts plan, or where possible bridge the gap by serving both plans. And as I said earlier, I still feel like there is a lot of room for improvement, yet it seems to be “close enough” for the time being. So far, my limited experiences with the deck have been largely encouraging. I want to keep experimenting with the artifact angle and see if I can continue to blend the various themes more to improve the overall synergy within the deck further.

I can also see myself eventually abandoning most of the artifacts-matter theme in favor of exploring some of the other ideas I’ve talked about. It’s a strong theme, but one where it’s fairly difficult to walk that line between strong and oppressive, especially when using cards like Arcum Dagsson, Mycosynth Lattice, and other well-worn combo pieces. I’ve gone to some lengths to keep this deck from doing some of the dirtier things typical Sharuum and Arcum Dagsson decks are known for, but we have no control over what our opponents are putting into their decks, so if we happen to target an opponent who reveals a Nevinyrral’s Disk in their hand, suddenly we have the potential to assemble the old Lattice/Disk/Forge lock, which is undesired.

The artifact theme is one that allows us to run some great cards like Tezzeret, Master Transmuter and Thopter Spy Network, while simultaneously encouraging us to run more questionable things like Etherium Sculptor and Sanctum Gargoyle. I mean, I definitely feel those inclusions have merit, given the nature of the deck, but they aren’t great cards, in a vacuum. I’d love to start trimming things like Glassdust Hulk and Faerie Mechanist in favor of better, more impactful cards, but those are actually important pieces of the deck’s overall game plan. To put it another way, I like that this is a deck that has a strong Open the Vaults plan, but at the same time I dislike that part of that plan involves some rather unimpressive cards. It’s odd because I usually like it when synergies come together to make an ordinarily mediocre card into something actually playable, but in this case I’m not sure my synergies are quite strong enough to make stuff like Chief Engineer truly good, or if they’ll only prove to be good when things are already going well for the deck.  

I also worry slightly about things like Darksteel Forge overshadowing our commander in terms of importance to our game plans – like, do games where Forge never makes an appearance just go horribly for me? Do I need to include even more ways to ensure Forge hits play? Does winning or losing come down to weather Forge gets answered or not? There are a few cards like this – Kuldotha Forgemaster, Master Transmuter, Tezzeret Agent of Bolas… all of these seem potentially powerful enough that once they’re in play they could become far more important to me than Sen Triplets. It’s not that we need or want our commander to be essential to our plans, or to be the absolute best plan we have at all times. I just don’t want the deck to be so powerful on its own that the Triplets basically wind up being relegated to Plan B or Plan C and that we rarely cast them in most games.

And, finally, I am concerned about how viable this deck will continue to be once people have gotten used to playing against it. Will they grow to hate it more and start to put more and more pressure on me, to the point where I get hated out of every game, or will they simply learn how to play around it to the point where they don’t have to hate me out, but can shut me down without needing to gang up on me? Or, going the other direction, will I tweak the deck enough to reach the point where the deck is truly an obnoxious, oppressive nightmare to play against? So while the deck seems “fine” as it stands now, it feels to me like the kind of thing that can go sour quickly, either by being too good, too annoying or just not good enough at all.

I need to make it a point to play this deck a lot more in the near future so I can start to answer some of these questions. If any of you readers have any experience with trying to make Sen Triplets work in a social/casual atmosphere, I’d certainly welcome any feedback or advice. But more importantly, I think I just need a lot more play experience with this pile to get a true estimation of its capabilities and deficits. Some decks require a lot more fine-tuning and reconfiguring than others, and this feels like one of those decks; fortunately the deck is fun enough right out of the gates that I think I’m up to the challenge.

Before I sign off for the day, I just want to tease a few other decks I have (potentially) coming down the pipeline. I have been on a bit of a deck-building frenzy lately and I still have quite a few more decks to write up, though I will say that some of them are largely untested and may prove to be disappointments.

Maelstrom Wanderer – I didn’t want to just rebuild my old “Good Stuff” MW deck, so I tried to give this one more of a theme: Dragons! That’s right, it’s Temur Dragon Tribal. It’s probably literally impossible for me to beat a Karrthus deck, but otherwise I’m pretty sure this deck is great. Only played one game so far, and I won it without casting Maelstrom Wanderer even once.

Geth, Lord of the Vault – My third attempt at a “Big Mana Black” deck, very similar to the my take on the Commander 2014 Ob Nixilis deck, but after trying a few approaches I think Geth is the best option to command this deck. I previously tried this with Erebos, but I didn’t really like that one too much, so I never posted it here.

Yisan, the Wandering Bard – I had a couple of games where I got to enjoy having Yisan and Prophet of Kruphix in play at the same time, in a Surrak Dragonclaw deck I was experimenting with for a while. When Prophet got banned, I decided to make this deck, using Seedborn Muse and Yeva, Nature’s Herald to fill the Prophet role. I’m not yet sure if this deck is unplayable garbage or utterly broken and game-wrecking. Pretty sure it’s one or the other.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant – So far the only deck from my experiment with standard-legal EDH experiment to make the jump, successfully, to unrestricted EDH. Zombie tokens, self-mill and lots of removal and card draw! What’s not to love?

Marath, Will of the Wild – This is actually a rebuild from an old variation, but I realized recently that I never actually wrote anything about my take on Marath after the C13 decks came out. Marath was actually one of the harder decks from that series to figure out, and took me quite a while to get the deck to perform the way I wanted it to, but once I finally did, it quickly became a favorite of mine.

Edric, Spymaster of Trest – Sorry to disappoint all you Ezuri fans out there but I just never could solve the issues that were plaguing the Ezuri deck, and honestly when it comes down to it, a commander that draws me lots of cards is almost always going to beat out a commander that doesn’t. I won’t likely be writing a new article for this deck as it’s basically just an overhaul and update of my old Edric list, which you can find in the sidebar. I’ll just update that list soonish.

Stonebrow, Krosan Hero – My Angry Omnath build was successful, but it got really old, really fast. Meanwhile Stoney B has had a ton of goodies printed for him since I last had this deck sleeved up.

And I have plans to, in the near future, rebuild and revamp Wrexial, Karador, Rafiq, Aurelia and Prossh. Those are all pretty well-tread paths, but after trying new things in those colors, I am ready to go back to the tried and true favorites.

By my count, that leaves the following color combinations left for me to figure out:

Mono-white
Azorius (WU)
Rakdos (BR)
Izzet (UR)
Mardu (WBR)
Jeskai (RWU)

Of those, the only one I’m possibly close to pinning down may be Jeskai. I’ve been continuing to try and refine my attempt at a standard-legal Narset into a “real” EDH deck that is powerful enough to be worth playing, but doesn’t do the degenerate things many Narset decks are known for. So far it’s proving a difficult line to walk, finding that gray area in between oppressive and unplayable, but I think there’s a chance I could get there.


Enjoy!