Monday, June 20, 2011

Lunch Counter: Ghave Deck Tech

   Today, I want to take a look at the Counter Punch decklist, headed up by the wonderful Ghave, Guru of Spores. The Counter Punch deck didn’t really look to pack much “punch” when the decklist was first revealed. It was light on amazing reprints, aside from Skullclamp, and it seemed like other decks got the cream of the crop among the brand new spells.

   Upon actually playing the deck, I realized that looks were deceiving. It’s actually a rather strong deck, due in part to an excellent General. Ghave is far better and more interesting than I assumed he would be. While he would be an ideal General for a Thallid deck, he’s more open ended than that. He’s “build around me” but there are many ways he can be built around. Before we get started, let’s go over the official list one more time…

1  Aquastrand Spider
1  Celestial Force
1  Chorus of the Conclave
1  Dark Hatchling
1  Deadly Recluse
1  Fertilid
1  Golgari Guildmage
1  Hornet Queen
1  Karador, Ghost Chieftain
1  Monk Realist
1  Nantuko Husk
1  Penumbra Spider
1  Sakura-Tribe Elder
1  Scavenging Ooze
1  Selesnya Evangel
1  Selesnya Guildmage
1  Shriekmaw
1  Sigil Captain
1  Spawnwrithe
1  Spike Feeder
1  Squallmonger
1  Symbiotic Wurm
1  Teneb, the Harvester
1  Vampire Nighthawk
1  Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
1  Yavimaya Elder

1  Acorn Catapult
1  Afterlife
1  Alliance of Arms
1  Attrition
1  Aura Shards
1  Awakening Zone
1  Bestial Menace
1  Cobra Trap
1  Cultivate
1  Darksteel Ingot
1  Death Mutation
1  Doom Blade
1  Fists of Ironwood
1  Footbottom Feast
1  Golgari Signet
1  Harmonize
1  Hex
1  Hour of Reckoning
1  Lightning Greaves
1  Mortify
1  Necrogenesis
1  Nemesis Trap
1  Oblivion Ring
1  Orzhov Signet
1  Selesnya Signet
1  Skullclamp
1  Sol Ring
1  Soul Snare
1  Storm Herd
1  Syphon Flesh
1  Tribute to the Wild
1  Vow of Duty
1  Vow of Malice
1  Vow of Wildness

1  Barren Moor
1  Command Tower
1  Evolving Wilds
10  Forest
1  Golgari Rot Farm
1  Orzhov Basilica
8  Plains
1  Rupture Spire
1  Secluded Steppe
1  Selesnya Sanctuary
8  Swamp
1  Temple of the False God
1  Tranquil Thicket
1  Vivid Grove
1  Vivid Marsh
1  Vivid Meadow

WotC gave us a good starting point, but despite the fact that this deck does play better than I assumed it would, it definitely does need some help. There are some really obvious inclusions missing and we can start with those.

Doubling Season is probably the most obvious choice here. The interaction between that card and Ghave are just the nuts. With Doubling Season in play, Ghave comes in as a 10/10, and for 1 mana, you can make two saprolings. For two more, you can sac those tokens to put FOUR counters on Ghave (or any other creature). So Ghave basically grows by +4/+4 for every three mana spent.

Ghave himself acts as a sacrifice outlet, and other cards like Attrition and Vish Kal play the role of sac-outlet-with-benefits as well. From here, we want to maximize those benefits, making the cost of sacrificing creatures really pay off. Grave Pact is an obvious place to start, as is the new Martyr’s Bond. Both work to control the board as you toss unneeded tokens into the bin. Finally, I suggest adding Fecundity. Yes, it helps your opponents too, but trust me – you’ll draw FAR more cards with it than they will. And while Skullclamp is very good, it also will draw immediate removal; Fecundity is much less likely to earn the ire of your opponents.

Finally, Mirari’s Wake is a no-brainer. This is a mana-hungry deck and it makes lots of little 1/1 guys. Wake is excellent at increasing mana production AND making your 1/1 critters into a more significant threat. Yeah, it’s slightly anti-synergystic with Skullclamp, but it hardly matters when your General is a sac outlet. Also if anyone is foolish enough to let you have Skullclamp and Wake out at the same time without killing either of them, you’re winning anyway.

+ Grave Pact
+ Doubling Season
+ Fecundity
+ Martyr’s Bond
+ Mirari’s Wake

Hmm… when I see this many Enchantments and I’m in White, the one card I always turn to is Academy Rector. Rector is going to be a clutch here, as she fetches up Doubling Season or any of the other Enchantments I just listed. I don’t see you going for Fecundity over the others, but still…

Oddly, this is one deck where Greater Good and Momentus Fall don’t really appeal to me. They’re usually must-runs in any green deck, but we’re not really playing the usual Teneb game here. There are few fatties you’d really want to sac to those, and 1/1 tokens really play poorly with Greater Good. But, we have Harmonize, Skullclamp and Fecundity for draw. One additional draw spell that might be fun/good is Collective Unconscious.

A quick word about Death Mutation: Yes, it’s on-theme, and yes when I cast it this weekend it was pretty powerful. Still, eight friggin' mana for sorcery speed removal that still has the non-Black restriction is just bad. I’d rather have Vindicate or even Putrefy than this POS.

+ Academy Rector
+ Collective Unconscious
+ Putrefy
+ Vindicate

At this point, I’m tempted to suggest Asceticism and/or Privileged Position… either is a fine card and would be great in the deck, but I don’t want to overload our deck with expensive Enchantments that don’t actually produce any threat or card advantage. If you’re missing one of the first five I listed, you could easily find a slot for one of these alternate suggestions. Debtors' Knell is also pretty good if you’re running Academy Rector, but you’re still going to want to find Doubling Season most of the time, and Teneb/Karador both do a pretty good reanimation job.

Thinking along the lines of a +1/+1 counter theme, you might not be surprised to see a minor Persist package. Kitchen Finks, Puppeteer Clique and Woodfall Primus all get a LOT more attractive when you have a General that can both sac them AND remove their -1/-1 counter! With Finks and Ghave out, you can basically pay 2 mana to gain two life and have the Finks still be a 3/2. Now imagine Woodfall Primus instead… yeah.

Secret Tech: Here’s one Persist card that you might not have thought of right away: Caldron of Souls. Typically, I find this card to be severely underpowered, but here, it seems like a natural fit. It is basically impossible for your opponents to kill Ghave when you have this on the board and 1 mana open. If they Wrath or otherwise destroy him, you simply tap the Cauldron and he comes back with four +1/+1 counters instead of 5. If they go for a Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile, you just tap the Cauldron, pay 1 to sac Ghave to himself, and even though he comes back their targeted removal doesn’t recognize him as the same target and fizzles!

Since we’re playing with a Persist theme, we might want to make room for a Juniper Order Ranger, the long-time BFF to persist guys everywhere. In fact I think JOR is almost strictly better than Sigil Captain, as he works with ALL your guys, not just the tokens and 1/1s.

+ Kitchen Finks
+ Puppeteer Clique
+ Woodfall Primus
+ Cauldron of Souls
+ Juniper Order Ranger

Well, that’s quite a few additions. Let’s see what we can cut to make room. I don’t want to cut the brand-new stuff if I can help it. They were printed specifically with EDH in mind, so I want to give them all plenty of time to prove themselves and see how they play. I like the Vow cycle quite a bit already, and this deck doesn’t have any of the new counterspells. The one thing I just can’t live with is Celestial Force, which I have moved out of this deck and into the Zedruu deck for now – that way I can still play with the card, but in a deck that can make some use out of it.

- Oblivion Ring
- Footbottom Feast
- Alliance of Arms
- Cobra Trap
- Death Mutation
- Tribute to the Wild
- Deadly Recluse
- Monk Realist
- Squall Monger
- Selesnaya Evangel
- Sigil Captain
- Spike Feeder
- Penumbra Spider
- Spawnwrithe

Alliance of Arms will also be moved to a different deck. It’s not that it’s not GOOD here, but really we just don’t need to be the one casting it – if someone else casts it, we still get tokens! Tribute to the Wild also wasn’t doing it for me. Every time I had it in hand I really desperately needed to kill a Mirari or a Phyrexian Metamorph, but instead my opponents wound up sacrificing a Signet or something meaningless. I realize I’ve also cut the deck’s flying defenses down from mediocre to non-existant. But honestly, do we really want cards like Deadly Recluse? I do like Vampire Nighthawk enough to try and leave him around. There is a pretty good chance he can grow much larger than 2/3.

So, we will try to find a way to fit in a bit more anti-Flying defenses. Usually, the best way to do this is to run stuff with Flying, like Akroma or something. I need Akroma for Kaalia, though. One card I love is Silklash Spider. Not many creatures can block Akroma and walk away, but Silky gets it done. And when he’s sick of blocking, you can just tap out and kill everything.

Plummet is really good too. I’ll probably swap out Doom Blade (a card that was VERY poor all weekend long, for me) for a Plummet.

Secret Tech: Twilight Drover. I don’t really have much to say – once you read the card you’ll see why he’s a good fit. Where else are you going to use him?

- Hex
- Afterlife
+ Silklash Spider
+ Twilight Drover

One thing this deck needs is a way to get back spent guys. We don’t want to push a heavy reanimation theme, as that would step on Karador’s and Teneb’s toes, and at that point we should be running one of them as our General. But I have one spell in mind: Vigor Mortis. I’ve always enjoyed that card, as an almost-strictly-better Zombify. It has the bonus that the +1/+1 counter actually matters. Miraculous Recovery is an Instant-speed reanimation spell that puts a +1/+1 counter on the creature, so that’s up for consideration as well. I’ll just stick to Vigor Mortis, for now.

Oh, speaking of Vigor and +1/+1 counters… Vigor. Yeah!

And finally, what would any Token-Rock deck be without Phyrexian Plaguelord?

-Nantuko Husk
- Fists of Ironwood
- Bestial Menace
+ Vigor Mortis
+ Phyrexian Plaguelord
+ Vigor

All that’s left now is to wrap up the Lands. The one thing I was worried about with these decks was the mana base. I am pleased and surprised to report that they play pretty smoothly as-is, but obviously a smattering of dual lands couldn’t hurt. You don’t need me to tell you that, though. I’ll just skip to the “utility” lands you might consider. Gaea’s Cradle is an obvious starting point, but pricey. It’s not necessary, but it’ll help a lot if you have one. Phyrexian Tower is a fine choice, and so is Volrath’s Stronghold. Kor Haven is great at defense, as is Mystifying Maze.

Llanowar Reborn is a great way to put an extra +1/+1 counter somewhere, but the really exciting land, at least for me, is Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. +1/+1 Counters for everyone?! Sign me up! Combined with Doubling Season, Oran Rief is downright amazing. Oh, and it’s another way to abuse your Persist guys.

So that’s the direction I’m heading in right now. I have some ideas that I haven’t worked in yet, either because I don’t have the cards or don’t have the room (until I test further to see what doesn’t work out).

Further ideas for exploration:

Planeswalkers: The deck would benefit from having a planeswalker or two. Garruk is an excellent go-to, but the main one I am interested in is Elspeth Tirel. I don’t own a copy of the new Elspeth, but I might have to get one, just for this deck. Even the original (and mostly superior) Elspeth is fine here, especially if you get Doubling Season out first.

Avenger of Zendikar is a big fat DUH here, and so is his BFF Primeval Titan. I’d throw both in anywhere I could fit them, but they actually MAKE SENSE here, as the deck has a legitimate need for obsene amounts of mana and the Avenger is totally on-theme here and has great synergy with the deck. Both cards are so good they are playable without any inherent synergy with your deck, but when they actually do fit the deck this well you don’t feel like a dick for playing them.

If you do manage to add Prime Time, you could probably get away with running Emeria, and definitely the good ol’ Urborg/Coffers dream-team. Just make sure you actually have enough plains to truly support Emeria. It’s often risky/do-nothing in a 3-color deck, but if you keep the Plains count high enough (and remember – Godless Shrine, Temple Garden and the ABUR Duals count!) you should be able to make it work.

On the janky side of things, Mitotic Slime, Ant Queen and Beacon of Creation could all be role-players here. Martial Coup is a fantastic on-theme Wrath effect, and Deranged Hermit plays nicely with Acorn Catapult.

Glare of Subdual could be a potent addition as well.

Yosei the Morning Star is an all-star in any deck with a sac-outlet for a General, but is best when you have reliable ways to recur him. That said, some folks don’t really like Yosei-locks, and I totally get that! Just keep it in mind if you do include him, that people might frown upon such a thing.

There’s not much in the way of Equipment – Greaves is all you get. And really, I didn’t feel like this deck NEEDED Equipment that badly. However, few decks get worse for having a few pieces of Equipment. The Swords of Stuff and Junk are always fantastic, but I’d like to be a bit more… creative with my choices. Sword of Feast and Famine gets the nod, if you do want at least one Sword.

But one thing I have my eye on is Blade of the Bloodchief. Nevermind that there are only two vampires in the deck, just put this guy on your general then start churning tokens like a madman. Though, you wouldn’t be a scrub, in my mind, if you wanted to add a couple more vamps to the mix – Butcher of Malakir is great, and even Drana could work out quite nicely. But trust me, when you play this deck a LOT of creatures die, so the Blade can easily turn even a Vampire Nighthawk into the biggest threat on the board. If you manage to Equip it to Vish Kal… oh wow!

Another cool piece of steel is Deathrender. Stick it on any token, then sac it to drop a Vigor, or a Hornet Queen, or whatever. I got a free Selesnya Guildmage one turn, and while that seems horrible, it proved VERY relevant in the particular situation I was in!

Finally, I want to go full-scrub for a moment and suggest Konda’s Banner. Two to cast, two to Equip and it basically gives every creature in your deck at least +1/+1. Okay, so maybe that is too janky even for me.

The Lieges from Shadowmoor/Eventide are interesting – there isn’t much to really do with Wilt-Leaf Liege, sadly, and I’d expect Deathbringer to under-perform, though he’s possibly worth trying. But oddly the Creakwood Liege seems the most appropriate here. He makes tokens and pumps almost any other token you could make (only the Twilight Drover’s wouldn’t get the bonus). He also keeps your general alive as a 2/2 if you use up all his +1/+1 counters somehow. Plus, like almost everything else these days, Creakwood is great with Doubling Season.

Speaking of Shadowmoor, Shield of the Oversoul is worth a glance, but if you’re really just after the Indestructible ability, maybe Darksteel Plate is a better choice (though more expensive, of course). Or, you could go with Eldrazi Monument. You shouldn’t have too much trouble cranking out tokens to feed it every upkeep, and it makes your whole army Indestructible.

Akroma’s Memorial and of course the ever-ubiquitous Coat of Arms can certainly help you win games on the spot. Other insta-win type cards include Triumph of the Hordes, Overrun or Overwhelming Stampede.

If you want to play up the Saproling theme a bit more, without going Thallid (don’t; Thallids are terrible), you could slot in Verdeloth the Ancient and Nemata, Grove Guardian. I personally wouldn’t go this route unless I was also doing the Primeval Titan thing to get Cradle/Coffers/Urborg level mana. If you do THAT, Genesis Wave starts to look highly appealing, if you weren’t already running it.

This is a rare Green deck that does not seem to want Tooth and Nail, but it’s not a bad idea to just T&N Butcher of Malakir and Vish Kal out onto a board full of tokens. That said, I’d probably just go for a Eladamri's Call or Primal Command for creature-tutoring. Defense of the Heart is another perfectly acceptable alternative.

Geth, Lord of the Vault and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobyte also seem like they’d be great in this deck, though Geth does push the reanimation a little hard. Elesh Norn is more tempting and keeps us out of Teneb’s domain.

Birthing Pod could be playable, but this is not the absolute best place for it – you are usually going to want to sac a Token, but that doesn’t help since there are no compelling 1-mana guys to play, unless you somehow wind up with Soul Warden in the deck. Still, I put the Pod in my build anyway, and it was pretty key to getting Butcher of Malakir onto the board once. Dunno if it’s truly the right deck for it, but if you at least keep Karador in the deck and maybe one or two other reanimators like Vigor Mortis, it could easily be worth it.

The deck’s low-ish mana curve makes Sun Titan pretty appealing, and all the 0/0 cards like Fertilid and Aquastrand Spider could enable Reveillark foolishness. Reveillark + Hornet Queen also seems really funny.

Well, that’s about it for me, but I think I’ve clearly demonstrated that there is a LOT of room to optimize and individualize a Ghave deck without making it look like “a Teneb deck with the wrong General”. While the two decks will share some staple utility cards, the meat of the decks could and should look very different. WBG Reanimator is fun but overplayed, but if you want to keep your Mortify/Putrefy/Vindicate package but do something different, Ghave should be right up your alley.


  1. Agreed on Deathrender. In the right deck, it almost doesn't matter what you are putting into play with it. Sometimes the biggest benefit is the instant speed!

  2. No interest in Ajani Goldmane for this one then? His -1 ability is dirty in a deck like this in terms of keeping the pressure on, and with all those tokens you're generating, it suddenly gets a whole bunch more awesome.

    I also run a Plaguemaw Beast in mine, which is just a nice little sac bonus.

    Also with Innistrad out now, Mikaeus the Lunarch seems like a no brainer, and Parallel Lives and Army of the Damned are kinda OK too.

  3. Yeah, I missed Ajani Goldmane's awesomeness when I wrote this, but he made it into the deck shortly after. He is damn good in this deck.

    Mikaeus also went in the moment I got a From The Vaults: Legends set.

  4. I really feel this deck is one of the more underrated ones (several months later, Devour for Power, Heavenly Inferno and Mirror Mastery are out of stock while Counterpunch molders on the shelves). New cards from Innistrad make this deck shine even more: Parallel Lives (Cast Storm Herd and cackle maniacally) and Gutter Grime. Unburial Rites also works well as a two-use reanimator, if you want to play up that side.

  5. I agree. The only big weakness of the deck out-of-the-box is the lack of card draw. But Ghave is one of the strongest generals of the set. The built-in sac effect, plus making tokens at instant-speed is just insanely good.