Tuesday, July 10, 2012

DotP Decks: The Obedient Dead

I’m back with my third deck update for the Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 series. I previously did Odric’s Peacekeepers, and before that Chandra’s Born of Flame deck. This time, I’m going Black, with Liliana’s deck: The Obedient Dead. Ooh, scary.

We’ll start off, as usual, with the original DotP decklist, with unlocks, as it appears in-game.

1x Xathrid Gorgon
2x Bloodhunter Bat
2x Veilborn Ghoul
2x Liliana’s Shade
2x Blister Beetle
2x Fume Spitter
2x Liliana’s Specter
1x Rune-Scarred Demon
1x Vampire Nighthawk
2x Warpath Ghoul

3x Murder
2x Crippling Blight
2x Public Execution
1x Corrupt
1x Innocent Blood
2x Jet Medallion
1x Last Kiss
1x Mire’s Toll
1x Rise from the Grave
2x Sign in Blood
1x Tendrils of Corruption
1x Underworld Dreams

25x Swamp

Well, for a starting point, this deck is all over the map. A little bit of discard, a little bit of reanimation, a lot of board control, and a fairly eclectic smattering of creatures with disparate abilities and functions. I’ve played the deck enough on the game to know that everything here plays a role. However, some choices are just too niche to be synergistic with the rest of the deck, or are specific foils to other decks within the DotP game. The lone Underworld Dreams? Absolutely worthless, unless you’re playing against Jace’s mill deck full of Howling Mines and such.

While the deck makes some sense in the context of the DotP game, outside of that game’s very limited environment, the lack of any true synergy or a clear, defining theme makes it a fairly weak and uninteresting deck. The problem with decks like this one is that how you need to play the deck changes along two axes: what your opponent does, and what you draw.

You see, how this deck is built, it can have two very different types of draws: It can draw beatdown with early stuff like Nantuko Shades and 1-for-1 removal like Murder. You just make a dude, use the removal to clear blockers and smash face every turn. Or, it can draw into a more control-ish, grindy game plan.

For instance, say you’re playing this deck against the Odric white weenie deck. Ideally, you’re going to want to play the control deck, not the beat down. You’re going to play early, cheap creatures that you will happily trade with or even chump block if need be. You want to force the white weenie deck to overextend as much as possible, then wipe the board with a Mutilate or Infest, then rely on Tendrils and Corrupt to gain back the early life you lost while further controlling the board. Your opponent should be nearly out of resources by then, so you can get a head by dropping one big bomb like Rune-Scarred Demon or Nightmare.

However, you might find that all you draw is one-for-one answers like Murder early on, which are virtually useless against the white deck’s Captain’s Calls, Attended Knights and Geist-Honored Monks.

So, how you NEED to play the deck is influenced by two factors, neither of which are within your ability to control. When you draw what you need against the right sort of deck, you’ll absolutely dominate your opponent. But, when you draw the wrong game plan against the wrong style of deck, you will never stand a chance.

This is true for all decks, to an extent, but a deck with higher levels of synergy and adaptability minimizes the effects of those variables, making the luck of the draw much less important to the outcome of the game. Lucky topdecks will always be a thing in Magic, but this particular deck relies on them much, much more than most of the other decks in DotP 2013.

So, that is one of the most urgent things I want to address when revamping this deck for Kitchen Table play. I want to keep the dual game plan of being able to play both beatdown and control where needed, but minimize the amount by which luck dictates our game play. I will do this by trying to improve the synergy and adaptability of the deck. That’s a tricky order, because those two goals can often work against each other : usually, the more synergistic a deck becomes the less it wants to alter or adapt its main path to victory.

Luckily for me, the Obedient Dead decklist has just the right theme we need already built into the deck: Swamps. More specifically, “swamps matter”. The three standout cards in this deck are: Nightmare, Corrupt and Tendrils of Corruption. They aren’t the standouts because they’re the most powerful – they’re the standouts for being the clearest example of what the deck actually wants to do. It wants to play a lot of Swamps and scalable effects that get better the more Swamps you have. This is a broad theme, and there are a lot of cards in Black that fit either the Swamp/Control or Swamp/Beatdown avenue.

Usually I talk about the changes I make, and why, then post the finished deck at the end. This time I think I’ll post my revised decklist first, then talk about it.

2x Nantuko Shade
4x Liliana’s Specter
4x Liliana’s Shade
4x Korlash, Heir to Backblade
1x Disciple of Bolas
1x Nightmare
1x Mikaeus the Unhallowed
1x  Rune-Scarred Demon

2x Innocent Blood
2x Jet Medallion
1x Oversold Cemetery
1x Phyrexian Arena
2x Murder
1x Infest
1x Mutilate
1x Liliana of the Dark Realms
1x Syphon Mind
2x Tendrils of Corruption
2x Beacon of Unrest
1x Exsanguinate
1x Lashwrithe
1x Caged Sun

1x Cabal Coffers
22x Swamp

So, what’s going on here? First, let’s break down the “Swamps Matter” stuff.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade is one of the most impressive creatures in the deck. He offers a large body for a great CMC, scales in power as the game goes on, and offers a rare (in Black) way to ramp out more Swamps.

Lashwrithe is a good way to turn any creature into a Nightmare. Especially useful when you draw a late-game Liliana’s Specter or something small like that.

Liliana of the Dark Realms herself, of course, is a perfect fit. I’d use a cheaper iteration of Liliana, but this version is the best fit thematically and mechanically.

Mutilate, Tendrils of Corruption and Nightmare all stay in. I’d love to have 2x or even 3x Mutilate, but couldn’t find room. If you can’t afford a Liliana of the Dark Realms, I’d suggest adding another Mutilate in her slot.

Nightmare could easily come out, but it’s nice having a Flying version of Korlash just in case…

Caged Sun is not strictly for Swamps, but it should be pretty clear why this is here. Actually, there’s probably one use that isn’t apparent: I disliked the interaction of casting Mutilate while something like Korlash or Nightmare was in play. You see, by virtue of their similar mechanic – counting Swamps I control – my Mutilates would ALWAYS be just big enough to kill my Korlash/Nightmares. With Caged Sun in play, my swamp-counting creatures will always be one point of toughness better than my Mutilate!

Oh, it also helps fuel a game-ending Exsanguinate, but you probably already had that part figured out.

Finally, Liliana’s Shade and Liliana herself find Swamps, which is important. Duh.

Now, on to the control suite:

Liliana’s Specter and a single Syphon Mind provide the limited hand-control. Specters are mostly in for the aggro match-up, as they eat away at resources (cards in hand) while speed-bumping their attackers (hopefully trading, but chump-ing is not out of the question).

Murder, Infest, Mutilate, Tendrils of Corruption and Innocent Blood all provide various ways and means to eliminate creatures. I’d love to just run 3x Mutilate and 4x Tendrils, but the deck is already rather clogged at the 4-mana spot, and is sorely hurting for early game plays. How best to use these various options depends on what else is going on of course, but in short, you pretty much always want your Innocent Bloods to be 3-for-1’s and Murders should usually be used on things that are above and beyond what your Tendrils/Mutilate are likely to handle. If someone manages to sneak out a 6/6 before you’ve hit 4 Swamps, that’s the time to use a Murder instead!

Infest should be an out against fast hordes of tokens or weenies, but you only have one, so try to wait on using it until the player in question is almost out of cards in hand.

So, we can control the board, and make our Swamps matter… but how do we win?

Well, Korlash, Nightmare and the various Shades can all beat down quite effectively. Call this “Plan A”. Lashwrithe also counts as a way to turn any creature into a Nightmare. It’s especially satisfying to Equip an actual Nightmare with it!

Exsanguinate for a brazillion mana is probably “Plan B”. Caged Sun, Liliana’s Ultimate or Korlash’s Grandeur ability all help to accelerate your mana production to lethality.

“Plan C” is to reanimate something big and beat face. I went with Beacon of Unrest instead of Rise from the Grave because it’s more versatile, more powerful and resuseable.

One of my favorite bits of synergy in the deck is with Mikaeus, Disciple of Bolas, Beaon of Unrest, and Rune-Scarred Demon. It’s not quite a “combo” but any group of three of these cards all interact in various ways to give you a lot of card advantage. Sacing things to Disciple while Mikaeus is out is cool. Disciple’s draw lets you dig for Beacons after you shuffle them. Rune-Scarred Demon lets you just go get it directly.

Once you’ve assembled this engine of value, the lifegain, card draw and tutoring should pretty much ensure victory. Once you’ve gotten what you need from your own deck, turn those Beacons on your opponents’ graveyards!

Another cute synergy is with Korlash and Oversold Cemetery. Stick the Cemetery, Grandeur a Korlash or two, then every turn you basically get a free Skyshroud Claim. You should have pretty much all of your Swamps in play in a few short turns. You just have to find a way to get 4 dudes into your Graveyard, but trust me, that's not hard to accomplish.

Finally, Phyrexian Arena rounds out our “good stuff” by providing some much-needed draw. I’d rather have one Arena in my deck over two mediocre Sign in Bloods any day. Bloodgift Demon is an acceptable stand-in as well.

I seriously considered adding a Filth to the list, but I didn’t really have enough ways to get it into the graveyard reliably, outside of it dying in combat. It’s still probably worth at least considering – the deck makes some huge guys, but they mostly lack evasion. A singleton Loxodon Warhammer would also probably go a long way, too. Both are worth a look.

Finally, our mana package remains mostly Basic Swamps, but it’s almost a blasphemy to build a “Swamps matter” deck without at least one Cabal Coffers. With the insane amount of mana this can produce, I felt safe cutting the total land count back to 23. If you find yourself getting stuck on 3 or 4 lands, you might add one more Swamp to the mix, but I think 22 should do well enough.

Well, that’s the deck. I’d still like to beef up the removal, and maybe the draw, but I think this is a much better starting place than the in-game deck was, especially for Multiplayer outside of the confines of the DotP game.


As if you didn’t already know… Planar deck time!

These picks were mostly super-obvious, btw, but here goes:

The Forth Sphere – Super obvious; also super useful.
The Dark Barony – Even more super obvious.

Furnace Layer – Sorta obvious, but can backfire now and then.
Lair of the Ashen Idol – Almost a second copy of The Fourth Sphere.
Murasa – Um, more Swamps, please! MORE!
Turri Island – Our creatures basically start at 4 mana, so… yeah.
Onakke Catacombs – Mostly for flavor, but giving our guys Deathtouch actually makes for great defense early game.
Raven’s Run – Kinda weak, but like the Catacombs, it makes our blockers scarier to attack into early on.
Mutual Epiphany – Goes against the discard, but that’s fine. We likely need the draw badly enough.
Reality Shaping – Sometimes this will suck, but sometimes, you’ll have Rune-Scarred Demon in play on Turn 2!



  1. Pretty cool write up. I just thought I'd mention here (I think others have pointed it out as well) that you're missing the blue segment of your M13 review - at least, it's not showing up here. Just a heads up.

    1. Thanks for the heads up, but for some reason I am seeing it just fine, and another reader has even commented on it. Don't know why it would show up for some users and not others, but when I do my usual "set review portal" it will have links to all the posts in the review, so you should be able to get to it from that. I will try to get the portal up tonight!