Friday, May 27, 2011

Deck Doctor: Teneb, the Harvester

Today I'm going to try something new. Well, new to this blog, anyway. The concept of a "deck doctor" is not new at all, in Magic. It's one of the most popular aspects of many online Magic communities. The Decklists forum of the EDH boards, is like a Triage center for your EDH list, with anyone and everyone putting in their two cents. Often, this produces amazing results, because you have a lot of people, with different levels of experiance and different perspectives all clamoring to give you the best advice they can muster.

While I certainly have been on both sides of that fence numerous times, the "Deck Doctor" approach also has appeal, because, as the old saying goes, "too many cooks can spoil the soup". Sometimes getting 15 different opinion will result in your deck being pulled in 15 different ways, which can be a disaster.

The downside in going to only one person for all your advise is, that while that person might be consistent, they won't always have the best possible background or experience to give you solid advice. However, right now I feel I'm the most qualified to step up for this challenge.

Why? Well, let me tell you. I'm doing an overhaul on a deck that I'm familiar with... because I built it! A few months back, I put together a rather janky Teneb build for a buddy of mine with a small-ish card pool and some pretty tough restrictions on what he had access to. Fortunately Teneb is a resilient and powerful General, and it's pretty damn tough to make any Teneb build utterly unplayable. Futhermore, I am familiar with his cardpool, and so I have a pretty good idea of what cards are going to be out of his reach - Vindicate, for example, sitting at $30 is not something he would shell out for.

I was proud of how the deck turned out, given what I had to work with, and I was able to find some hidden gems and major EDH staples in his collection. The deck performs adequately, from what I've seen of it, but it definitely is not an optimal build. Not by a long shot.

So, first let me present the decklist as he's currently playing it - he has made some changes to the build I initially provided. Some were definite improvements, others might be debatable...

Teneb, the Harvester

Spearbreaker Behemoth
Bane of the Living
Thrun, the Last Troll
Qasali Pridemage
Creakwood Liege
Yosei, the Morning Star
Exalted Angel
Wood Elves
Nezumi Graverobber
Vulturous Zombie
Necrotic Ooze
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Woodfall Primus
Grave Titan
Acidic Slime
Phantom Nishoba
Puppeteer Clique
Sabertooth Nishoba
Krosan Tusker
Angel of Despair
Carnifex Demon
Yavimaya Elder
Dimir House Guard

Elspeth, Knight Errant

Primal Command
Austere Command
Profane Command
Kodama's Reach
Diabolic Intent
Terashi's Grasp
Explosive Vegetation
Wrath of God
Day of Judgment
Beacon of Unrest
Temporal Extortion

Tel-Jilad Justice
Doom Blade
Eladamri's Call
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares

Orzhov Signet
Selesnya Signet
Golgari Signet
Citanul Flute
Lightning Greaves
Sword of Body and Mind
Behemoth Sledge

Wild Pair
Doubling Season
Debtor's Knell
Mana Reflection
Shield of the Oversoul
Marshal's Anthem

Tranquil Thicket
Godless Shrine
Overgrown Tomb
Stirring Wildwood
Kor Haven
Caves of Koilos
Golgari Rot Farm
Vivid Marsh
Elfhame Palace
Temple Garden
Murmuring Bosk
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Selesnya Sanctuary
Llanowar Wastes
Terramorphic Expanse
Bojuka Bog
Phyrexian Tower
Orzhov Basilica
Volrath's Stroghold
Forest x5
Swamp x5
Plains x5

Okay, so what is going on with this list? First, we have a surprisingly good amount of desirable EDH-worthy spells, such as Yosei and Debtor's Knell. The creature base is a bit light for my taste, though he has enough ways to recur his threats (or even his opponents') that it's not a deal breaker. It's also running a very risky mana base, at only 35 lands I'm surprise he's not getting mana screw issues more often but he says "no".

Regardless, I am going to try to bumb the land count up to 36 and add one or two more mana fixers a la Cultivate. Just to be safe! Aslo I will defnitely be bumping up the creature count a bit.

There are some noticable absentees, though, that we will do our best to cover. Tooth and Nail, Eternal Witness, Pernicious Deed, Vindicate - these are all things that are very critical, and if we can't get those exact cards, we need to make sure the deck has something similar to fill those holes.

Some of the cards I really like in this deck are Wild Pair, Necrotic Ooze, and Creakwood Liege. Wild Pair really gets my blood pumping, and I want to maximize its potential for sure. Doubling Season is a really neat card, but it doesn't actually do a whole lot here. Blowing Elspeth's ultimate as soon as you cast her, and a few other cute tricks is all it provides. Alas, I hate telling him to cut a $20 card he traded like heck for, so I'd rather find a way to maximize Doubling Season's use as well.

Here is a list of everything I would like to add, in an ideal world:

Eternal Witness
Fauna Shaman
Fleshbag Marauder
Indrik Stomphowler
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Massacre Wurm
Avenger of Zendikar
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobyte
Sheoldred, the Whispering One

Garruk Wildspeaker
Living Death
Life's Finale
Tooth and Nail
Worldly Tutor
Congregation at Dawn
Sudden Spoiling
Momentous Fall
Birthing Pod
Mimic Vat
Grave Pact
Greater Good
Lurking Predators

There are two cards I would LOVE to add, in order to make Doubling Season pull its weight: Garruk Wildspeaker Avenger of Zendikar. I'm not sure, though, if these two cards are within reach for my friend. I'll have to come back and revist these cards once I know for sure.

Optimizing around Wild Pair should prove much easier and budget-friendly. All we need is to make sure every creature in the deck has at least one valid Wild Pair target. There are a couple that do not, like Exalted Angel... no other creature in the deck has a combined P/T total of nine, so if we can't find a mate for her, she'll go!

Here is one of the most exciting Wild Pair interactions, for me, is Massacre Wurm + Elesh Norn. It doesn't even matter which order they hit, casting one of those two automatically gets you the other creature, giving one opponent -4/-4 to all his creatures, and he will lose 2 life for every creature you kill this way.

Quick aside: Another phenomenal card that has excellent synergy with Massacre Wurm and Elesh Norn is Sudden Spoiling, so that card is a MUST for the deck.

Wild Pair is a neat way to gain card advantage and cheat creatures into play for free. Another Green Enchantment that does a good Sneak Attack impression is Lurking Predators. LP can be a bit of a liability in a deck with so few creatures, so we'll work on upping the creature count to help, but more importantly, we can play a few extra cards to help. I'm thinking Worldly Tutor and Congregation at Dawn will help greatly in this regard. Congregation is especially exciting to me: Imagine passing the turn, and in response to the first spell your next opponent cast, you Congregation 3 fatties to the top of your deck. This guarantees that you'll hit the next three times anyone but you tried to play a spell. After the first opponent, though, the other two players may very well pass their turns without casting anything, knowing you'll hit paydirt if they do!

Either way, it's win/win, because if no one casts any spells to "cheat" you out of your free guys, well, you just Time Walked the table, more or less, for WGG. Seems good.

Birthing Pod - I firmly belive this is the best EDH card since Mimic Vat (oh, and it has great synergy with that card, too!). It's like a bad Survival of the Fittest, but even a bad Survival is still pretty fucking good.  Still, it makes sense that if we can make the Sacrifice of a creature work for us a little, it maket the Pod that much better.

I just mentioned Mimic Vat, and that is certainly a great way to continue making use of a Creature sac'ed to the Pod. If you can get the Pod and the Vat working together, you will quickly generate some sick card advantage.

Grave Pact is another card I always look at when something has "Sacrifice a Creature" as part of its rules text. I love Grave Pact to an irrational extent, but here I think it actually make a lot of sense. If we are going to run Pact, the next thing I want is Fleshbag Marauder. This is a terrific early-game defensive creature, and keeps a fast-start from wrecking you too quickly. Grave Pact + Fleshbag Marauder is basically a three-mana Barter in Blood that doesn't hit you. I like it! And in playing against this deck a few times, one of the weaknesses of the deck seemed to be not having enough to do early game. Most games, the only spells this deck would cast before hitting 6 mana were ramp spells. He needs a bit more early removal for fast decks like Rafiq.

Furthermore, since this deck is playing around a reanimation strategy, he really needs to have as many of his utility cards be creature-based so that he can recur them more effectively. For example, in this deck, I would rather have Indrik Stomphowler over Tel-jilad Justice. Scry 2 is a sweet bonus, but Stomphowler is far more versatile AND is easier to recur multiple times.

For this reason I'd also add Shriekmaw. It shores up early defense nicely but can come back for an encore performance later on, if needed.

Teneb is notoriously tricky to play. His ability is powerful enough that everyone at the table is going to know exactly what you're up to and what the stakes are if they let him deal combat damage. And that is his primary weakness - if you can block him, kill him or otherwise prevent him from dealing combat damage to a player, you shut him down completely. He's just a big dumb 6/6 Flyer at this point.

The problem is that a deck like this needs to be able to rely on the graveyard as a resource in order to win, so some less "iffy" graveyard manipulation is in order. He's already got Clique and Beacon, two fantastic cards that certainly belong here. I would like to add a bit more redundancy though. Geth, Lord of the Vault has been a juggernaut for me lately and I cannot overstate his awesomeness. Sheoldred is the new kid on the block, but she does a pretty darn good Reya Dawnbringer impression. She'll die on the spot 99% of the time, probably, but when she sticks, she will win games like a champ.

Fauna Shaman's role should be pretty obvious. I know for sure Survival of the Fittest is way over-budget and out of reach for this deck, so we'll go with the cheaper, worse version that is still really fucking good.

A nice compliment to Wild Pair in the "free creature" department is Lurking Predators. I played around with this card a bit when it first came out, and I just didn't have much luck with it. I had one game where I was just ripping dude after dude after dude, but every other game after that, either the Enchantment would be destroyed on the spot or I would just miss, miss and miss... and then it would get blown up.

However, there are ways to improve your "luck" with the card. Blue has the best and most ways to do this, but that doesn't mean we can't do it with our colors. Liliana Vess and Vampiric Tutor are great, but I'm pretty sure they aren't available to us, so we'll look elsewhere. Worldly Tutor and Congregation at Dawn seem like appealing options that are definitely within our grasp. Even if he doesn't have them, I am postive I have a spare copy of each I can part with.

Congregation at Dawn is extremely exciting to me, because it can basically perform a Time Walk on the table. If you end your turn by casting it and stacking the top of your deck with three big, fat threats you might just scare all of your opponents into wasting their turns saying "land, go." On the other hand, if they aren't willing to let you get away with a Time Walk for WGG, then you just get up to three free creatures Just hope the last guy before your turn doesn't have a Wrath!

Oh, and Congregation at Dawn is an Instant so you can just wait and respond to the first spell your opponent casts and effectively guarantee that you will hit that first creature for sure.

I'm really surprised not to see Living Death in his list. I'm pretty sure he has one. If so we will try to squeeze it in. I'm actually starting to hate that card, but I think it fits this deck well and should be played here if possible.

Momentous Fall is just a really good draw spell, as is Greater Good. We will try to fit one or both of these in, if they are available to us. I know I cannot part with any of my own copies of these, but I'd bet we can find at least a Momentous Fall at the local store.

I think that pretty much covers everything we want to add. As for what to cut, that's a bit tricky. Here's some of the stuff that's definitely on the chopping block:

Yavimay Elder (A fine card in it's own right, but we gotta make room for Witness).

Band of the Living (this has never done anything impressive, and somehow never lives to un-Morph).

Canifex Demon (Cute trick, but doesn't really have the impact you'd expect).

Krosan Tusker (always seems good on paper, but is almost always lackluster in practice)

Explosive Vegitation (If this were Skyshroud Claim, it'd stay. As it stands, I think Cultivate is the better choice)

Temporal Extortion (This just adds nothing to the purpose of this deck, and is a pretty bad card)

Primal Command (A good card, but there just isn't room for it)

Tel-Jilad Justice (As stated, I'd rather have Stomphowler)

Doom Blade (Replace with Shriekmaw and/or Fleshbag Marauder)

Citanul Flute (in favor of Birthing Pod)

Bonehoard (Creatures equipped with this somehow NEVER get through for damage)

Marshal's Anthem (I haven't seen this perform for him, and it hasn't performed for me either)

So, obviously we are adding more than we are cutting at this point. But I know that we're not going to be able to add everything I want to add. I will simply have to wait and see what we can get our hands on, and then we'll go from there. Sometimes not getting one card will help me make other cuts - for instance, if we can't get a Lurking Predators for the deck, Worldly Tutor and Congregation at Dawn don't really need to go in either.

So, I have a battle plan in mind, and with that I will work with my friend to see what his collection will support, and what his budget and trade-fodder can afford to acquire. I already know I can easily trade some of this stuff to him, and other cards can be found for a buck or two at our local store. Some, like Tooth and Nail or Avenger of Zendikar might be a pipe-dream at this point.


  1. For what it's worth, I'm eager to hear how the tweaking of the Teneb deck went. :)

  2. It went well. We managed to power up the deck quite a bit, but obviously not every idea made the final cut.

    Now, though, we're all about the new Commander decks, so he's kinda put Teneb on the back burner for a while.