And I'm back with another list, this time for Ghave, Guru of Spores. I've long been of the opinion that Token decks are, usually, pretty weak in EDH. I've played against a few Rhys the Redeemed decks in my time, and to be perfectly frank, I found them rather easy to defeat.
Counterpunch changes all that, though. Ghave is a powerhouse at churning out tokens and grinding out incremental advantages over the course of a game, and the benefits of having access to Black gives us a lot of important tools that Rhys had to do without. Grave Pact and Attrition, for example, are huge bombs that Ghave is in a unique position to exploit.
Ghave makes tokens very cheaply and efficiently, and just as cheaply converts them into +1/+1 counters where needed most. One of the first and most basic applications of Ghave's abilities is to attack with multiple creatures and, once blockers are declared, use Ghave to move as many +1/+1 counters as possible onto something that didn't get blocked.
But, one of the greatest joys of playing this deck was discovering the multitudes of less-obvious applications. For example, you can put counters on an opponent's creatures when they attack another opponent, making their attack suddenly lethal... I once enabled my Edric, Spymaster of Trest opponent to kill another opponent with General Damage by putting 13 or so counters on Edric. No one was expecting to die to 21 General Damage from Edric, but I made it happen, surprising the hell out of the Edric player and the player being attacked! Watch out, though cause you can't take the counters off of a creature you don't control, even if Ghave put them there.
I don't want to spoil all the fun, though, because that's half the fun of playing this deck... so I'll jut get to the list.
Ghave, Guru of Spores
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobyte
Avenger of Zendikar
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
Knight of the Reliquary
Juniper Order Ranger
Teneb, the Harvester
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Karador, Ghost Chieftan
Spells and Stuff
Hour of Reckoning
Barter in Blood
Glare of Subdual
Crime // Punishment
Blade of the Bloodchief
38 Lands, including the following:
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Ok, first let's get to the elephant in the room, shall we? Doubling Season should have been in this deck. The casual-only Enchantment has seen ZERO competitive play (to the best of my knowledge), but has reached asinine prices due solely to it's huge popularity with the kitchen-table crowd. It's such a damn good card that interacts with a million different things, so it makes sense that it should be one of the most sought-after casual cards in the Ravnica block. But it also would have made sense for WotC to toss us a bone and reprint it in this deck. Alas, they did not, so we must manage on our own. Fortunately I picked up a few when they were about $5 a pop. But, folks, lemme say this: whatever price they command today, if your serious about playing a Ghave deck, PAY IT. It will be worth it.
Moving on, let's talk about parity. Ghave is very cheap and efficient at what he does, but without some outside help, he can't generate a profit of resources. He can turn creatures into counters and counters into creatures, but he needs help to generate more than what he starts with. Doubling Season is just one of the tools that can help Ghave start producing at a profit. For every counter you remove, you get two tokens, one of which you can sac to get two +1/+1 counters. Viola! for 2 colorless mana you just magically gave Ghave an extra +1/+1 counter and made a 1/1 token. Thusly, you can turn every mana you spend into a counter or a token without ever running out of counters or tokens to sacrifice.
Next to Doubling Season, Blade of the Bloodcheif is probably the next best option. Equipping the Guru with this little Blade lets him turn one creature into two +1/+1 counters, but it doesn't work the other way around. Other such cards include: Druidic Satchel, Acorn Catapult, Awakening Zone, Ajani Goldmane, Juniper Order Range, Skullbriar, Vigor, Forgotten Ancient, Emeria Angel, and Twilight Drover. All of these are capable of generating tokens or counters without having to convert one into the other, so combined with Ghave and a sizeable quantity of mana, can generate counters or tokens at a profit. If left unanswered you will continuously generate more and more creatures that will grow and grow.
The real fun is when you get two or three of these incremental-advantage engines going at once - your army will grow exponentially. Some of the options about are a bit slow or unwieldy, but they all have their individual niches where they're quite useful.
Turning those resources into cards is also a neat trick. Reprocess, Skullclamp and Mindless Automaton are good examples of how to achieve this.
Speaking of mana... Gaea's Cradle is easily the second most important card in my list, next to Doubling Season (and not counting Ghave, as he's a gimme). Gaea's Cradle is one of those cards that can single-handedly dominate a game. Well, not single-handedly, I guess - all it does is make mana, so you need something to DO with that mana... but once the Cradle gets rolling it is VERY difficult to stop Ghave from completely dominating the table.
If you're willing to shell out some serious cash to make the deck really sing for you, Gaea's Cradle should be either #1 or #2 on your list, possibly above Doubling Season, but I'm leaning slightly toward the Enchantment, myself.
Academy Rector is pretty clutch, too, since two of the absolute best cards in the deck are Grave Pact and Doubling Season - she'll fetch whichever of those you need most (and, how convenient! Ghave has a built-in sacrifice ability!), and if you're lucky enough to draw both of those targets, she also gets Martyr's Bond or Glare of Subdual.
Phyrexian Plaguelord is a fucking HOUSE. That is all.
Primeval Titan and Knight of the Reliquary... both are such amazing cards in their own right, but here they pretty much exist to find Gaea's Cradle, and once you have the Cradle, their really kinda "meh". Oh, but if you find your Cradle getting popped with Acidic Slimes or Vindicates too often, throw in Mistviel Plains to keep putting Cradle into your library so that KotR or Prime Time can keep digging it back out for you.
Skullbriar is pretty sweet in this deck. I like to use him as a cache for my counters in case of Wrath. Just use all available mana to put as many +1/+1 counters on him as possible, then if you have a reanimation spell or Karador or something, you can bring him back with all of those counters stored safely away with him.
The last card I want to address is Fecundity. I know this effect is "symmetrical" in that your opponents get to draw cards when their dudes bite it. But trust me on this: you will draw 10 times as many cards as any of your opponents ever will. You just wouldn't believe how many times you'll sac a token for some other effect - getting to draw a card on top of that effect is just too damn good. Fecundity might help your opponents out a little here and there - honestly just enough that it might even buy you a little bit of political favor. But by the end of the game, you should be miles ahead in card advantage - enough so that what little help your opponents get off your Fecundity, you will still be so far ahead it won't matter.
Oh, almost forgot - if your group is fine with Infect cards, try Triumph of the Hordes for OMG WIN OUT OF NOWHERE!
Well, that's all for Ghave. Next up I think it'll be Jor Kadeen, but I haven't made my mind up.