Friday, November 25, 2011

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost!

So, I was at the inlaws for Turkey Day yesterday, watching Ghostbusters on VH1 when I realized I never got around to posting my 6th and final decklist in the last round of deck-building. I came up with a Ghost Council list that turned out to be pretty okay.

The initial design for the deck came about as a result of my love for contrast. In illustration, there's no sharper contrast than between black and white. That has always had an aesthetic appeal to me, for whatever reason. And ever since the Orzhov guild debuted in Guildpact, White/Black has been my favorite color pair in Magic.

What I love most about the W/B pairing, is that in Magic, White and Black are the most opposite of any two colors, while simultaneously being the most similar! This duality of one color being almost the negative image of the other, is fascinating. In the mechanical terms of the game, it simply means I get to have a lot of redundancy. Playing Wrath of God and Damnation in the same deck is as poetic as it is powerful. Having Grave Pact and Martyr's Bonds is also a huge boon.

Mechanically, the deck's primary themes are Life and Death - in other words, removal and reanimation. I'd hoped to make the deck excel at killing opposing creatures, while reanimating the best of them to serve the Church of Orzhova. Also, I tried to run as many W/B pairs like Wrath + Damnation as I could squeeze in. Decree of Justice + Decree of Pain, Elesh Norn and Sheoldred, Profane Command with Austere Command. Whenever there was a Black analog or just a part of a cycle, I tried to include both.

Of course, I made plenty of concessions to "good stuff", utility and other necessities, so the deck looks and plays much less... thematically, than most of my other recent builds, but I'm okay with that. The theme is there, it's just not as dominant. It was simply a necessary concession to make, if I wanted the deck to perform.

Oh, and because it plays so well with the Ghost and the Grave Pact effects, there's a little bit of a token theme as well. Without further preamble, here's the list:


Ghost Council of Orzhova

Serra Ascendant
Weathered Wayfarer
Suture Priest
Mentor of the Meek
Academy Rector
Emeria Angel
Hero of the Bladehold
Karmic Guide
Sun Titan
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Reassembling Skeleton
Fleshbag Marauder
Pawn of Ulamog
Falkenrath Noble
Graveborn Muse
Puppeteer Clique
Phyrexian Plagelord
Bloodgift Demon
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Grave Titan
Butcher of Malakir
Sheoldred, Whispering One

Divinity of Pride
Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter
Angel of Despair

Solemn Simulacrum


Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Land Tax
Luminarch Ascension
Wrath of God
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Martyr's Bond
Martial Coup
Decree of Justice

Vampiric Tutor
Phyrexian Reclamation
Demonic Tutor
Phyrexian Arena
Barter in Blood
Grave Pact
Unburial Rites
Beacon of Unrest
Sorin Markov
Decree of Pain
Profane Command

Debtors' Knell

Sol Ring
Expedition Map
Orzhov Signet
Sword of Light and Shadow
Sword of Fire and Ice
Scroll Rack
Mimic Vat


New Benalia
Leechridden Swamp
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Bojuka Bog
Cabal Coffers
Phyrexian Tower
Volrath's Stronghold
Temple of the False God
High Market
Kor Haven
Isolated Chapel
Marsh Flats
Godless Shrine
Orzhov Basilica
Fetid Heath
Caves of Koilos
Tainted Field
Command Tower
Terramorphic Expanse
Plains x9
Swamp x9

There really isn't a whole lot to say here. Most of the choices should be self-explanatory.

I will say that Falkenrath Noble and Suture Priest were mostly just attempts to metagame slightlly against a variety of token strategies in my group. I have at least one Ghave deck and a Rhys the Redeemed deck that I square of against quite often. Since both decks push the token strategy way, WAY harder than this deck does, I needed something to give me a bit of an edge. I'm also looking for room for a Massacre Wurm.

The rest of the deck is pretty much dedicated to killing things, reanimating things, making lots of little things, or just drawing cards to keep me from losing steam. I was losing to grindy control decks that would eventually but inevitably out-card-advantage me, so I upped the draw to pretty much the maximum for these colors.

I've got the classic Land Tax + Scroll Rack engine, the modern classic Skullclamp + Bloodghast (or Reassembling Skeleton) engine, and the all-stars Phyrexian Arena, Graveborn Muse, Bloodgift Demon and my new favorite: Mentor of the Meek. The only things I didn't find room for were Promise of Power and Mind's Eye.

Other forms of card advantage include: Mimic Vat, Geth Lord of the Vault, and the pair of Planeswalkers. I've already won a game thanks to Sorin Markov's giving me some reach when I was in topdeck mode. In fact Sorin has actually been far better in t his deck than any other so far, for me. In other decks he would almost always come down, drop an opponent to 10, then die. Not bad, really, but in this deck I've actually managed to make his +2 work to great effect, and I've actually had his loyalty up to 10+ a time or two!

One of my favorite aspects of Ghost Council as a General is that I pretty much only ever have to cast him once per game. Maybe twice. But that fucker is one hard-to-kill sonofabitch!


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

From Rhys to Jenara: CommanderCast Crossover Special!

(Today's article is part of the CommanderCast crossover month, and is brought to you by 'Line in the Sand' columnist Brionne, aka Fork of Doom. Enjoy!)

It's Crossover Month at CommanderCast. Luckily my crossover partner already had an article in mind. One of his friends wants some suggestions for his current deck. The whole experience has been especially enjoyable for me, because I got the opportunity to write something a little different from my normal material. I'm the “community issues” girl, so deck doctoring is something I only get to do in my local community.

The deck in question is Rhys the Redeemed tokens. The deck’s pilot wants to try adding a third color. He's tried Ghave, and now wants to explore the possibility of adding either red or blue. I'm much more familiar with blue than red, so I opted for trying Jenara, Asura of War. My normal tactics of helping people with a deck won't work, because I've never met the player in question. I know that he has a bit of a budget (no Mana Drain here), and that he wants to keep the token theme. With that bit of guidance in mind, I'm going to do my best to lay out some suggestions for some Bant token beatdown.

I chose Jenara to be the general because, let's be honest, none of the Bant generals really contribute to a token theme. Jenara is a great beater, she's cheap, and plays well with Doubling Season, so she seems like the best choice. The addition of blue gives this deck one highly important thing—draw power. G/W tokens are great, but adding blue helps keep your hand stocked, which in turn helps keep pressure on the board. No more running out of fuel or getting blown out by a wrath.

This is the current decklist:

Rhys the Redeemed

Soul Warden
Mentor of the Meek
Twilight Drover
Geist-Honored Monk
Sun Titan

Essence Warden
Elder of Laurels
Sporeback Troll
Prized Unicorn
Ant Queen
Acidic Slime
Seedborn Muse
Hornet Queen
Woodfall Primus

Selesnaya Guildmage
Juniper Order Ranger
Phantom Nishoba
Chorus of the Conclave

Adaptive Automaton

Elspeth, Knight Errant
Garruk Wildspeaker

Sensei's Divining Top
Minion Reflector
Lightning Greaves
Whispersilk Cloak
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sol Ring
Everflowing Chalice

Tangible Virtue
Sacred Mesa
Words of Wilding
Beastmaster Ascension
Raking Canopy
Parallel Lives
Defense of the Heart
Doubling Season
Perilous Forays
Mana Reflection

Armadillo Cloak
Glare of Subdual
Priviledged Position
Pollenbright Wings

Hour of Reckoning
Gaea's Blessing
Nature's Spiral
Reap and Sow
Gelatinous Genesis

Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Worldly Tutor
Strength in Numbers
Chord of Calling
Eladamri's Call

Command Tower
Elfhame Palace
Sunpetal Grove
Stirring Wildwood
Saltcrusted Steppe
Temple Garden
Selesnaya Sanctuary
Razorverge Thicket
Oran-Reif, the Vastwood
Reliquary Tower
Plains x8
Forest x16

The Subtractive Method

In order to make room for a third color, some cuts will have to be made. Here's what I felt were the weakest cards in the deck:

Geist-Honored Monk: She does make tokens, and can get huge, but has no evasion.

Elder of Laurels: He's amazing when you have a board full of tokens, but I'd rather add another token producer.

Sporeback Troll: He works well with Jenara and Doubling Season, but is simply too much of a mana investment for such a small effect.

Skullmulcher: When you're in G/W, having any drawpower is good. The addition of blue just opens up too many better options.

Phantom Nishoba: Phantom Nishoba is awesome, but he has no synergy with the deck, other than Doubling Season. This deck values more smaller bodies over one big one.

Adaptive Automation: There are many tokens that share the same creature type, but an unconditional anthem would be much better.

Lightning Greaves: Yes, boots are always good with Jenara. However, the deck needs to worry more about wraths than spot removal.

Whispersilk Cloak, Sword of Feast and Famine: Once again, great with Jenara. This deck just needs a way to make all its creatures bigger more than it needs to buff its general.

Everflowing Chalice: With the green-based ramp, I feel like mana rocks that aren't Sol Ring are unnecessary.

Tangible Virtue: Like Adaptation Automation, this would be better as an anthem effect for all creatures.

Sacred Mesa: This can make a lot of tokens, but only in a late-game situation with tons of excess mana available. It's a dead draw early game.

Words of Wilding: Although blue will give this deck more draw power, I don't like the idea of trading cards for 2/2 bears.

Raking Canopy: Jenara can handle just about anything that flies.

Armadillo Cloak: It's awesome, but also comes with the downside of all auras.

Harmonize: When the deck was G/W this was amazing, but the addition of blue just gives better draw power.

Strength in Numbers: It's only a blow-out if you have a board full of creatures.

The Additive Method

With the cuts out of the way, it's time to make some additions. They fall into three categories: token production/buffing, draw power, and miscellaneous utility.

Token Producers/Buffing

Kamahl, Fist of Krosa: Overrun on a body. Also wrath insurance. Nobody wants to lose lands.

Gaea's Anthem: Replaces Tangible Virtue, since it makes all creatures bigger.

Decree of Justice, Leafdrake Roost, Rite of Replication, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Mirror-Sigil Sargent, Rhys the Redeemed, Sharding Sphinx, Notorius Throng: All of these are great token producers, and this decks needs all the dudes it can get. Notorius Throng does bother me from a flavor standpoint (the tokens are black), but more than doubling your amount of dudes in one turn seems great.

Draw Power

Shared Discovery: There is no way that this won't be Ancestral Recall in this deck.

Coastal Piracy: Assuming you don't go overboard drawing cards, this is a great way to refill you hand using the deck's most abundant resource.

Honden of Seeing Winds: A pet card of mine. Having an Arena that doesn't cost you a life every turn is great, as is a one-time mana investment to draw what can be a good amount of cards.

Opportunity: This would be Blue Sun's Zenith, but sometimes even the most expensive three color mana bases have a hard time producing UUU. I didn't want to put unnecessary strain on a budget mana base.

Miscellaneous Utility

Supply//Demand: One half is a tutor, and the other half makes tokens.

Bant Charm: Mostly to take care of those pesky generals.

Wargate: I'm not much one for auto-includes, but Wargate is such great utility that I can't ever bring myself to pass up putting it in a deck.

As for the mana base, adding a few U/W and U/G duals, along with a Seaside Citadel and a Treva's Ruins would probably do the trick.

 More Power!!

I thought about adding a countermagic suite, but I know that a lot of people dislike countermagic. If that isn't the case with deck, then a few counterspells (Hinder, Counterspell, and Spell Crumple come to mind) would be great, to keep from being blown out by a wrath. Some other cards I thought about but couldn't find room for are:

Mirari's Wake
Triumph of the Hordes
Centaur Glade
Ajani Goldmane
Aura Mutation
Caller of the Claw
Fresh Meat
One Dozen Eyes
Parallel Evolution
Rampaging Baloths
Sprout Swarm
White Sun's Zenith
Blue Sun's Zenith/Stroke of Genius

That's my take on making this Rhys deck into Jenara. It was really fun looking for all the token-related cards, as I've never tried making a token deck. I tried to make sure all my cards choices were budget and from newer sets. For a look at the red draft of this deck, head over to CommanderCast to see DarkThaumaturge's take on Rith the Awakener.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Don't F*** with The Mimeoplasm!

First of all, let me preface this post by stating for the record that I do still prefer Damia, Sage of Stone for this color scheme. Unfortunately, so does everyone else in my group. I was a little sad to see the Mimeoplasm getting no love from my playgroup, not to mention it was becoming difficult to play my own Damia deck due to her increased popularity amongst the other members of my group. But, just because I like Damia more, that doesn’t mean I don’t think The Mimeoplasm is straight up gangsta. It’s really just that Damia says “draw lots of cards” in her text box, which always gets me. I’m a sucker for card-drawing engines.

Anyway, disclaimer aside, I figured it was time for me to unleash the Legendary Ooze on my group so they could see what the other GUB Legend is capable of.

As the players in my group have already seen me playing GUB with Damia, and even Vorosh before her, I really wanted to find a way to make this deck different from its predecessors. There was simply no getting around running some of the staples from those past builds, like the Genesis + Evoke Creatures engine, Rite of Replication (duh!) and a handful of other typical GUB Good-Stuff spells.

One of the first things I hit upon when trying to establish the decks identity was the “Graveyard Matters” aspect of The Mimeoplasm. Obviously my chosen General likes to have things in various graveyards to eat.  This leads to some pretty easy logical choices – Buried Alive and Life’s Finale, for example. Graveyards tend to fill up with creatures over a long EDH game, but helping the cause along where possible is not a bad idea.

Another card that likes graveyards to be full is Necrotic Ooze. Once I started thinking about cards like Life’s Finale in conjunction with Necrotic Ooze, I knew exactly where I wanted the deck to go. While graveyard abuse is nothing new or groundbreaking, I’ve never really made use of Necrotic Ooze before, so now was my perfect chance.

Initially, I also wanted to go “all creatures” with the deck, to further distinguish it from my past GUB decks, but that didn’t really pan out. For one thing, not being able to play Rite of Replication was a huge deal breaker, but I also realized there were some cards that this deck just needed to play. I settled on running a maximum of 20 non-creature spells, allowing room for up to 42 Creatures in the deck – the most I’ve ever played in an EDH deck! My hope is that such a creature-saturated deck will still feel different enough that it will have its own identity.

It also helps that this deck does make quite a few card-choices that I wouldn’t have made with any other GUB build – for example, I chose to run Arcanis, the Omnipotent over Consecrated Sphinx. HUH?! That’s right. Simply put, Arcanis plays well with Necrotic Ooze, and Expiriment Kraj, while the Sphinx does not.

There are, of course, plenty of creatures in the deck that do not have an activated ability for the Oozes to copy, but I believe there are around 20 that do. Where possible, I favored activated abilities over static or triggered ones (such as with the Sphinx vs Arcanis conundrum). But I didn’t want the deck to rely entirely on having Necrotic Ooze in play with a full graveyard, so I built the deck to function along different axes depending on how my opponents react to my various strategies.

The deck will clearly have a weakness to graveyard hate, so I did my best to shore up that weakness as best I could. I think it will still have game even with up to 40 to 50 percent of the deck exiled, but it all depends on WHAT get’s nuked, of course… but enough preamble, let’s see the deck!

The Mimeoplasm

Dreamscape Artist
Phyrexian Metamorph
Arcanis the Omnipotent

Death's Shadow
Disciple of Griselbrand
Fleshbag Marauder
Dimir House Guard
Necrotic Ooze
Hell's Caretaker
Corpse Connoisseur
Puppeteer Clique
Kagemaro, First to Suffer
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Vengeful Pharaoh
Geth, Lord of the Vault
Avatar of Woe
Spirit of the Night

Sakura-Tribe Elder
Fauna Shaman
Wood Elves
Eternal Witness
Chameleon Colossus
Seedborn Muse
Acidic Slime
Silklash Spider
Primeval Titan

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Expiriment Kraj
Wrexial, the Risen Deep
Sisters of Stone Death

Mindless Automaton
Solemn Simulacrum


Rite of Replication

Diabolic Intent
Buried Alive
Living Death
Life's Finale

Beast Within
Birthing Pod
Greater Good
Creeping Rennaissance

Sol Ring
Coalition Relic
Mimic Vat
Grimoire of the Dead
Lightning Greaves
Sword of Vengeance
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Light and Shadow


Breeding Pool
Overgrown Tomb
Watery Grave
Evolving Wilds
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Flooded Grove
Sunken Ruins
Twilight Mire
Dimir Acqueduct
Simic Growth Chamber
Golgari Rot Farm
Drowned Catacomb
Hinterland Harbor
Woodland Cemetary
Llanowar Wastes
Underground River
Yavimaya Coast
Hall of the Bandit Lord
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Volrath's Stronghold
Command Tower
Reflecting Pool
Temple of the False God
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Reliquary Tower
Island x3
Swamp x3
Forest x4

Edited 11/14/01:
- Genesis
- Damnation
- High Market
+ Sword of Feast and Famine
+ Sword of Light and Shadow
+ Hall of the Bandit Lord

Explanation: The cuts were due to lack of cards, and I had to prioritize. For instance, I had three decks calling for Damnation, but only two copies of the card. Someone had to give up their Damnation for something else. Same story with Genesis; that was an easy swap, I just put in Sword of Light and Shadow as it fulfills much the same role. Plus after I got all my decks built I realized I had 75% of my Swords of Stuff and Junk sitting there not in decks, and I couldn't have that!

Hall of the Bandit Lord makes a good fit for the deck, I feel, because it can enable a Haste-y Mimeoplasm one-shot kill. It was also really good with Wrexial, and he's in this deck as well.
The non-Creature selection was tough. I had about 30 cards that I really, REALLY wanted to include, but I was firmly committed to keeping the non-creature count as low as possible, and it turned out 20 was the bottom limit. I’d have been happier with 15, but that meant leaving out some pretty crucial cards. Of course, this led to some pretty fierce competition for slots in the non-creature category, and made for some agonizingly tough decisions on my part as to what to leave out. I’m still iffy on a couple items, but for the most part I think the strength of my choices will speak for themselves. Nonetheless, I will discuss them briefly.

First, the graveyard fuel: Intuition, Buried Alive, Life’s Finale and Greater Good were all primarily chosen for their ability to fill graveyards quickly. Other cards that have different primary functions, but have a secondary effect of adding to the graveyards include: Grimoire of the Dead, Birthing Pod, Diabolic Intent, and of course Damnation. You can see where I chose cards that had a “drawback” or additional “cost” of discarding or sacrificing something, but the deck’s core strategy can easily turn those costs and drawbacks into a benefit, rather than a hindrance.

Living Death is simply a card that thrives in a deck like this, while Rite of Replication, Bribery and Asceticism are more generic “good-stuff” inclusions. Asceticism is one of the few cards I’m not 100% sure deserves it’s slot, but I think it deserves the chance to prove itself. There’s a list of extremely powerful stuff waiting in the wings if it doesn’t perform. It’s such a strong card against targeted removal and some mass removal that I think it’s going to work out in the end.

Sword of Vengeance is an odd pick over the various “protection” Swords, but Haste and Trample are two of the best keywords to enable one-hit kills with the Mimeoplasm, so along with the Power boost, Sword of Vengeance actually seems like a better choice. I definitely would love to have a couple of the pro-Swords in there as well, but for now this one gets the nod.

Creeping Renaissance was a card I was rather cool on when I did my Innistrad set review, and I wouldn’t say my opinion has changed since then. It’s just that with such a high creature count, Creeping Renaissance naming “creature” is too awesome-sounding to pass up. If anything it might prove to be “win-more” and I’ll find myself not needing to cast it, but for now I’d rather have it and not need it, than the other way around.

Mimic Vat should be a no-brainer. It’s already one of the best EDH cards in the Scars block, and should basically be in every deck ever. Here it actually manages to be right in line with the deck’s strategies.

Finally, we have two of the best possible mana-rocks in the game: Sol Ring and Coalition Relic. I’d be happy to include a Darksteel Ingot as well, but I can’t find room right now. Maybe later.

Two cards I really want to find room for are Twilight’s Call and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I have a feeling Creeping Renaissance might lose its slot to Twilight’s Call, while I have no idea what could come out for Jace.  

As for the creature base, well… roughly half were chosen for having a cool activated ability that Necrotic Ooze or Kraj might want to copy, the other half are either finishers or utility, chosen for being awesome targets for The Mimeoplasm – after all I needed to make him relevant too!

The best cards are those that fulfill two or more roles. For instance, Fauna Shaman plays three critical roles: She helps fill my graveyard with creatures for my oozes to copy, she finds Necrotic Ooze itself, and she has an ability that the Ooze can copy, once she’s dead! She’s a perfect card to tie all my various themes and strategies together. I came very close to including Green Sun’s Zenith as one more way of finding Fauna Shaman, but I think the deck will prove reliable enough without it.

Wrexial made the cut because I’m so light on Instants and Sorceries, and Wrexial is a way for me to cheat on my answer count by using my opponents’ spent spells. I considered Memory Plunder as well, but it’s not a creature, so that was out.

In the end, I wound up cutting quite a few cards that seemed cool on their own, but I realized that they enabled various infinite combos. Bloom Tender, for example, led to an infinite mana combo via Necrotic Ooze. If I had the Ooze in play, with Morphling and Bloom Tender in the graveyard, and any other permantent that was Green and/or Blue, I had infinite mana. I don’t know what I’d do with all that mana, but I was uncomfortable with having any sort of infinite combo in the deck, so Bloom Tender got cut.

I don’t think there’s much else that would require explanation, so that’s a wrap for this one. One more deck to post and my deckbuilding project will be complete.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Quick Update - Trade List

Over to the right, you'll see a link called "Thaum's Trade Binder". I thought it might be helpful to advertise what I've got available at the moment... it will be updated regularly, as I make trades. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Decklist: The Spies of Edric

Well, there's still a bit of tuning I want to do before I sleeve this up, but I'd say it's 98% complete at this point. This is one of the more unusual decks I've built recently, considering some of the huge bombs that got cut from the list...

Theme/Strategy: The theme is, obviously, "Spies, Subterfuge, and Sneakiness", and the strategy follows from there. I.E. I keep a low profile, don't make big plays or aggressive moves. I play the diplomat as long as I can, keeping my threat profile low. I play effects that let me peak at my opponents' hands and libraries so I know what they're scheming. Then, I begin scheming, while trying to look like I'm not doing much.

Edric's mentor?

The path to victory will be difficult. I will need to persuade my opponents to kill each other off instead of me, while trying not to LOOK like that's what I'm up to. Then, hopefully when it's down to me and one other guy I have enough card advantage to pull off a win. Most likely, via Rite of Replication on something scary.

The Cards

It was important to me to get the "Master of Spies" feel of the theme across mechanically, while still making a deck that would actually function. If I had zero chance of winning, what would be the point? To that end I tried to marry theme to function as much as possible and keep the weaker "theme" cards to a minimum...

In the end I cut nearly all of the purely "good stuff" inclusions, which may prove to have weakened the deck a bit too much, but I didn't want to risk dropping things like Consecrated Spinx or Mimic Vat and suddenly make myself a target! We'll see how it goes after playtesting, but there is a list at the end of stuff that got cut, in case I need to "power up" the deck a tad.

Oh, right... the cards:

The Spies
Edric is the Spymaster, and as such he needs a cadre of spies to be master of...

Infiltrator il-Kor
Invisible Stalker
Thada Adel, Acquisitor
Silhana Ledgewalker
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Jhessian Infiltrator

These creatures were chosen because they are sneaky. They're all small - 1/1's or 2/2's, so as not to come across to aggressive or alarming. They all have some form of evasion, to help slip past my opponents' defenses.

The Saboteurs
Spies don't just sneak in and out for no reason. Sometimes they sabotage the opponent is small, subtle ways... I chose creatures with combat damage abilities for this group (some of the Spies count toward this group as well).

Rootwater Thief
Ohran Viper
Trygon Predator
Walker of Secret Ways
Sigil of Sleep
One With Nature
Rootwater Thief and Walker of Secret Ways allow me peeks at hands or libraries. Sigil of Sleep and One With Nature let me promote one of the vanilla "spy" creatures to "saboteur" if need be.

Hand-peek effects

Vendilion Clique
Spy Network
Glasses of Urza
Along with Walker of Secret Ways, these were the best effects I could find. Glasses will be critical, I think, as the only repeatable effect... Spy Network was the only one-shot I settled on because, it's awesome and it's called Spy Network!

Library-peek effects
Knowing what my opponents are capable of is important.

Knowledge Exploitation
My one rule here: Whatever I nab with Bribery, Acquire or KE cannot be used against the opponent I took it from. Unless they're the only opponent left, or they back-stab me.

Masters of Disguise
Some spies ply their trade, not by being sneaky, but through the art of disguise, masquerading as someone or something else to accomplish their mission. "Clone" variants and the Morph ability represent this theme mechanically.

Phyrexian Metamorph
Body Double
Vesuvan Shapeshifter

One of those is a shapeshifter AND has Morph! I wanted more, but most were two expensive or of questionable playability. I should note that Hystrodon also has morph...

Spy Gadgets
The best spies always have cool gadgets like laser-watches or laser-ties or laser-knives or something like that. There is a severe shortage in lasers-hidden-in-ordinary-objects in Magic, but there are a few items every spy on the go must have.

Explorer's Scope
Lightning Greaves
Cloak and Dagger
Whispersilk Cloak
Pretty standard fare, really.

Attack Someone Else!
The primary advantage to Edric's ability is that he encourages opponents, through positive reinforcement, to attack each other instead of you. Sometimes the reward of drawing a card might not be enough. These cards represent Edric's political adeptness at manipulating his enemies into doing his bidding - i.e. killing OTHER enemies.

Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Constant Mists
Vow of Wildness
Vow of Flight
This will be Edric's principle function - warding off attacks and rewarding my opponents for killing each other. Constant Mists fits this role simply for having Buyback - usually once an opponent walks into a Constant Mists once, he'll look elsewhere, at least until he can find a way to make you discard it.

Quick Reflexes and Decisive Action
A spy does not gather intel on his enemies for the hell of it. He must be ready to use the gathered intel to defend himself, or to promote his own schemes.

Mystic Snake
Winged Coatl
Cryptic Command
Beast Within
Krosan Grip

Other Stuff
This category is all function, no theme. It's a small concession to making the deck actually playable. Treachery is pretty on-theme, though. The world of Espionage is filled with turncoats and double-crossers.

Acidic Slime
Rite of Replication
Fauna Shaman
Trinket Mage
Green Sun's Zenith
Coiling Oracle
Wood Elves
Primeval Titan
Sol Ring
Simic Signet

Lands (36 total):
Breeding Pool
Misty Rainforest
Evolving Wilds
Flooded Grove
Simic Growth Chamber
Hinterland Harbor
Yavimaya Coast
Halimar Depths
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
Moonring Island
Mistifying Maze
Riptide Laboratory
Lonely Sandbar
Tranquil Thicket
Reliquary Tower
Island x10
Forest x10

That's where I'm at with it right now, and I'm mostly happy with this list. That said, there are a few cards that I cut, or overlooked that might get added later.


Also considering:
Psychic Surgery
Spin into Myth
Arm With Aether
Lay Bare

That's all for now. I have two more ideas I'm working on and once those two lists are finalized, I'll be ready to build. My plan is to assemble a total of 6 new decks all at once, so it should be pretty epic!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Theme vs. Power - Developing Your Deck Ideas

I've been vaguely interested in an Edric, Spymaster of Trest deck for quite some time now. However, multiple attempts at developing a deck around Edric have always faltered and fallen by the wayside. I just assumed this was because perhaps I didn't find him as interesting as I thought, or just didn't think the card selection in U/G was on par with what, say, a Blue/Black/Green deck would offer.

Today, though, I had something of a revelation. I was browsing the EDH forums looking at every Edric decklist posted since Obsidiandice's first development thread right after he was spoiled, and was jotting down various cards and ideas from each one - anything that caught my eye and didn't seem too terrible.

After doing this research and looking back over all my notes and scribblings, I finally realized why I could never get the deck off the ground before. The deck had no identity. No theme. Nothing compelling to guide and inform the construction process, nothing to give the deck a clear goal or path to victory. It’s basically just “play blue and green stuff that doesn’t suck” and hope a plan forms mid-game. But, the deck needs an identity, or else it’s just kinda boring. Not to mention it makes it really hard to build the deck, because frankly Green and Blue both have about a million cards that could be considered “good in EDH”. It seems an impossible task to sift through that many cards and cherry-pick the best of the best without some underlying structure to inform the selection process.

A “theme” can be just about anything, and it can be as specific or as vague as you need it to be – the important part is just to HAVE one to begin with. It’s important to know what you want the deck to DO, before you can decide how best to make the deck do it. For example, if you want your Edric deck to be as aggressive and fast as possible, you’re probably going to go with Infect as a major theme. Cheap evasive creatures will be a second, but closely-related, theme. From there you have a clear, concise idea to build around, and when you run out of thematic cards, you can go ahead and fill the blanks in with miscellaneous “good stuff”.

Or, maybe you want to model the deck after the UG Ramp decks of Standard back in the days of Zendikar when Explore, Treasure Hunt, and Prime Time all lead up to a back-breaking Avenger of Zendikar. Ramp is certainly a proven archetype in EDH, so that’s a solid game plan, too.

Maybe you just want to make Edric your primary win-condition by voltron-ing him up with equipment or auras. I’d say you’re in sub-optimal colors for that, but if you can make it work, God bless you!

Either way, the important part is having a theme or a purpose or some kind of plan to follow. Otherwise your deck is just an incohesive collection of cards that might be good on their own, but don’t really function together quite the way you want them to. The deck will be harder to build because the power level of some cards will be next to impossible to weigh in a vacuum, and there isn’t enough synergy to weigh them in context of the deck.

The exact amount of “theme” you need and the allowances you can make for random “good stuff” will vary greatly from deck to deck, depending on the colors and abilities of your general. I’m of the opinion that Blue/Black/Red is a pretty phenomenal color scheme for a deck that’s mostly just good stuff with only the barest hint of a theme tying them together. The sheer strength of your card selection in those colors is such that you can get by with only the minimal amount of synergy – you just have to avoid any glaring anti-synergistic combinations and you’ll probably win more than a few games off the strength of your individual cards. My Thraximundar deck was basically 90% “good stuff” with the only real “themes” being “board control to clear the way for Thraximundar” and “exploit the graveyard as a back-up plan”.

On the flip side, my Rafiq deck is one of my favorite decks of all time simply because it’s one of the most thoroughly synergistic decks I’ve managed to assemble, and while the list actually allows for quite a bit of variance in its “good stuff” selections, the core of the deck is so fundamentally synergistic that virtually every non-land card I draw feels like part of some little mini-combo.

Both decks were powerful and played very well. They played quite differently, but it would be rather difficult for me to weigh one against the other.

With Thraximundar, I chose cards primarily based on raw power alone, only avoiding cards that I found un-fun, too mean, or just too at-odds with the rest of the deck’s cards. Other than that, I made little to no concessions to theme over power. If it was good, it was in the deck. Cards only ever got cut for being too weak or being outstripped by a new card. It was just a collection of powerful effects, and true, they would occasionally produce surprisingly subtle effects and little synergies would emerge now and then, but most of that was by chance rather than design. Yet the deck still functioned as desired, playing smoothly and cohesively far more often than not. The game plan was remarkably simple most of the time – try to get Thraximundar out and swinging, keep blockers out of his way and if you drew something powerful and relevant, cast it! It didn’t really NEED anything more concrete or complicated.

With Rafiq, I went the other route – I chose many cards for theme rather than stand-alone power. Giltspire Avenger is probably the single worst card in the deck, yet I have never been able to cut it, because it does have Exalted, and thus even when it’s tap ability fails to do anything of use, the Exalted bonus does often prove quite relevant in pumping Rafiq or some other attacker. Sure, I’m not running EVERY Exalted card in print – some are just too underpowered, but Giltspire Avenger is a perfect example of hitting that sweet-spot where it’s a weak card on its own but it adds JUST ENOUGH synergy that the way the deck plays overall makes the Avenger better than he seems at first glance. It’s like a well-oiled, finely-tuned machine and the Avenger is just one tiny cog in the intricate workings of that machine. It’s not the most important cog, by far, yet it’s still making a significant contribution to that machine’s operation. Removing that one tiny cog won’t disable the machine – at most it’d lead to a very small drop it it’s efficiency… but the fact that the machine runs even .0001% better WITH that piece than it would without is all you need to justify that cog’s role in the grand scheme.

Drawing the line between theme and power is probably one of the toughest aspects of EDH deck-building to get right. More often than not, there is no clear answer; you just have to let play-testing sort it all out. I started out the Rafiq deck by playing literally EVERY card in print with the Exalted ability. Obviously some got cut quickly, like Sighted-Caste Sorcerer. Other stuck around a while but eventually revealed themselves to be too weak for their thematic contributions to make up for their deficiencies – Rhox Bodyguard being a prime example. Eventually I came to realize that despite not having Exalted, Loxodon Heirarch was just so much better than the Rhino that the deck as a whole benefited more from the Elephant despite the fact that I was diluting the theme. Giltspire Avenger, on the other hand, lands just on the other side, where his power level in a vacuum might be under the curve, yet cutting him in favor of a more powerful but non-Exalted-having card would dilute the theme too much and the deck would actually be worse off!

So, from this we can extrapolate two things:
1.       Sacrificing thematic cards for more powerful cards can, ironically, weaken a deck by diluting its primary game plan with off-theme or non-synergystic cards that seem better in a vacuum.
2.       The opposite of #1 is equally true: sacrificing raw power for thematic cards is also just as capable of weakening a deck, if the card’s contribution to synergy is less than its contribution to average powerlevel.

It’s usually easier to tell when #2 is happening. When you play a Rafiq deck and you’re disappointed every single time you draw Court Archers, you know you have a case where you’re letting the theme dilute the power. Recognizing when power is diluting the theme is a bit trickier to identify in most cases. I’m hard pressed to find a good example, but I think Planeswalkers provide the most immediately relatable example: take Jace, the Mind Sculptor for instance. Say you throw him into your Blue/Green deck. Jace is obviously an insanely powerful card in his own right, and can be quite good in EDH – no surprise, right? But how many people run him, only to find that every single time they cast him, they use is 0 ability to brainstorm once, then find that he get’s wiped of the face of the table before their next chance to use him. Is he worth running, then?

Well, most people would argue that Brainstorm itself is a pretty mediocre card for most EDH decks, and most of the folks who do run it have pretty flimsy justifications for it.  If it’s that unpopular as a 1 mana instant, how many fans do you suppose Brainstorm would have it were a 4-mana sorcery? Yeah, probably somewhere in the ballpark of ZERO!

So you might be operating under the assumption that your deck is stronger because you’re running Jace the Mind Sculptor, but stop and think about it: Is he really that good, or are you just running a 4-mana, sorcery-speed Brainstorm? 

Bringing this all back to the matter at hand – Edric, Spymaster of Trest – I realized that the several aborted attempts I’d made before all failed to coalesce into anything with a unifying theme, or a recognizable game plan. I realized that with something like Thraximundar, who is about as subtle as a concrete cinder block through your window, simply throwing a deck full of powerful stuff in those colors behind a dominatingly powerful general was all the strategy or theme that deck required, but Edric was a beast far more subtle and clever, and as such needed more subtlety and cleverness in the deck he’s meant to command.

I haven’t yet sorted out precisely what this means for the development of the deck, but it does give me a good starting point: Spies. Edric is the SpyMASTER of Trest. Meaning, he has some number of other spies at his beck and call, ready to venture out into the world and gather information for their Spymaster. This thought lead me to the new idea I have that will guide the development and construction of the deck: Spying. I want to spy on my opponents and barter and broker what I learn on my path to a subtle, sneaky victory. Creatures like Jhessian Infiltrator will certainly fit the theme, but also cards that let me look through my opponent’s libraries. Extract, Bribery, Knowledge Exploitation jump to mind. Rogues as a creature type could provide a small tribal sub-theme.

My goal is to have this deck become my go-to whenever I am playing with a new batch of players, or when someone in my regular group shows up with a new deck. “Oh! I know what you’re up to! Better make friends with the spy master, or he’ll divulge your naughty schemes to your enemies!”

Now I have something to guide the deck’s construction, and how I want it to play. There will certainly be plenty of room for some miscellaneous good-stuff at the end, but I’ll have a core to build around that gives shape and structure to the rest of the deck around it, which will make it easier to build and to play the deck, while giving it more of an identity – it’s not just an Blue/Green deck, it’s a SPY deck!

Hopefully these insights will help illustrate the importance of the roles that theme and synergy play in the EDH format… not just that it’s important to have a theme, but to realize when the theme becomes more of a hindrance than a helper. And that sometimes, just sometimes, the only theme a deck needs is “More Power!”. Finding the right balance between the two is the key to making each deck you build successful and fun. Of course what counts as a “success” also varies from player to player, but that’s a whole different article…

Well, with these profound thoughts guiding me, I shall begin developing the Edric deck at once, and with a little luck I shall have a list ready to post in a few days. Until then, best of luck to all you EDH deckbuilding geniuses out there.