Friday, February 26, 2016

Sen Triplets

I should start by explaining that I’m not a speculator or anything like that, but I do tend to follow Magic finance trends, just so I know what’s going on and don’t screw myself over on a trade or buy something that’s overpriced and on the decline. And, occasionally, I even get the chance to get out in front of a spike. It’s very rare, because I’m honestly not clever enough to see them coming, usually, but this is one of those rare moments when I did see it. Roughly one hour after the EDH Rules Committee posted the most recent update, announcing the removal of Rule #4 entirely from the format, I was on tcgplayer.com buying myself a foil copy of Sen Triplets. I paid $30 for the foil and by that Friday they were sitting at $70 or more. Eventually they settled down a bit and are now about $65 but that’s still more than twice the price before the announcement. 

So, why did the removal of Rule #4 tip me off to this potential spike? Well, Rule #4 was the rule that said you could only produce colored mana if that color was in your commander’s color identity. Running City of Brass in “normal” Magic means you can make all five colors, but in EDH, you are limited to the colors of your own deck. So for instance, in a Sen Triplets deck, cards like Chromatic Lantern and City of Brass still are capable of only producing White, Blue or Black mana. Attempting to tap Chromatic Lantern for, say, Green would result in a colorless mana being added to your mana pool instead. This made Sen Triplets, in my opinion at least, a fairly unplayable commander. Obviously, it could be a metagame call – if Green and Red are by some measure the least represented colors in your playgroup’s meta, Triplets could work fine, but if you see any reasonable amount of Green/Red/X decks, you’re likely to have a bad time.

But the removal of Rule #4 changes that. Now, if you are playing against a Gruul deck and manage to snag a Forest from their hand, you can use that Forest to cast their Green spells. And Chromatic Lantern now makes casting any card of any color almost trivial. All of this means Sen Triplets are now much more functional and open-ended than before. You stand a reasonable chance of being able to hijack your opponents’ spells no matter what colors are being played. Now, lest I take credit not due to me, I should say that I was hardly alone in figuring this out – the RC’s announcement specifically called out Sen Triplets as one example of a card that would benefit from the removal of Rule #4, but the way in which they did so really seemed to underplay the effect. Actually, a lot of people online seemed to think this made Triplets “a little bit better” but I felt the difference would be more pronounced.

And, honestly, I had been meaning to acquire a Sen Triplets for a while. It’s just one of those cards I would have sworn I already owned a copy or two of, but one day I realized that somehow I actually owned zero copies, and had intended to rectify that. However the price tag was already a bit high for a card that I didn’t really have any high expectations for using. It was just a cool card with a cool, unique effect, so I wanted at least one just in case. Well, the “just in case” scenario dropped in my lap suddenly, but I hadn’t yet procured my just-in-case copy so it just seemed like a now-or-never sort of deal. I opted for now, and pulled the trigger as quickly as I could and I’m certainly glad I did. 

Anyway, I figured I’d give them a try and build a deck around them, and take some comfort in the expectation that, if the deck turned out to be a dud or I just didn’t like it much, I could probably flip the card for a small profit.

I haven’t played the deck all that much, yet, but so far I’m definitely digging it. Here’s the current list:

CREATURES

Sen Triplets

Ethersworn Canonist
Sanctum Guardian
Leonin Abunas
Chief Engineer
Etherium Sculptor
Trinket Mage
Master of Etherium
Temporal Adept
Muzzio, Visionary Adept
Faerie Mechanist
Phyrexian Metamorph
Master Transmuter
Arcum Dagsson
Vedalken Archmage
Sharding Sphinx
Consecrated Sphinx
Oblivion Sower
Baleful Strix
Glassdust Hulk
Sphinx Summoner
Sharuum the Hegemon
Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Spellskite
Metalworker
Junk Diver
Solemn Simulacrum
Lodestone Golem
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Duplicant
Soul of New Phyrexia
Wurmcoil Engine
Myr Battlesphere

SPELLS

Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Return to Dust
Wrath of God
Scourglass
Open the Vaults
Cyclonic Rift
Fabricate
Thirst for Knowledge
Foresee
Aetherize
Thopter Spy Network
Tezzeret the Seeker
Demonic Tutor
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Sol Ring
Thought Vessel
Azorius Signet
Dimir Signet
Orzhov Signet
Fellwar Stone
Lightning Greaves
Commander’s Sphere
Chromatic Lantern
Coalition Relic
Temple Bell
Oblivion Stone
Mycosynth Lattice
Darksteel Forge

LANDS

21x Dual Lands of various type
Command Tower
City of Brass
Forbidden Orchard
Reflecting Pool
Vesuva
Kor Haven
Temple of the False God
Reliquary Tower
3x Plains
3x Island
3x Swamp


As you can see, we are an Artifact deck, with a lot of the usual suspects, but initially that’s not what I set out to build. It just sort of grew organically from the needs of the deck, and my not wanting to build a generic Esper Control deck. Which is what this deck was starting to look like, before I changed tracks and went full-on Artifacts. But I still didn’t want this to feel like a Sharuum deck that’s just playing the wrong commander. I really wanted Triplets to be the centerpiece of the deck, so I didn’t initially want to go this route, but somehow I ended up here anyway.

Let me walk you through my thought processes. Sen Triplets tells us that we want to be casting our opponents spells, right? So obviously we need to make our mana base as flexible as possible so that we can cast those spells regardless of what colors our opponents happen to be running. First order of business, then, is getting those rainbow-lands and rainbow-rocks - Forbidden Orchard, Fellwar Stone and the almighty Chromatic Lantern. My #1 priority is being able to generate the right colors of mana to cast whatever I want from a hijacked hand.

My next thought is that my opponents may try to counteract my game plan a number of ways, and one such method is by casting their best stuff as quickly as they can. If they can empty their hand before I get Triplets online, I’m not likely to get much value out of my commander. So the mana rocks are not just about fixing my colors, they are also there to help me cast Triplets as quickly as possible, to shorten the window of opportunity my opponents have to dump their best stuff.

Next on my list of priorities is protecting my commander. Greaves, Leonin Abunas and Darksteel Forge all contribute to the goal of making Triplets harder to kill. All the mana rocks help me ramp up my mana production to keep recasting Triplets in the event  I can’t protect them well enough.  You’ll notice that I’ve now identified three completely different ways in which the mana rocks help us with our main game plan – help us cast Triplets faster so we can start jacking spells before our opponents dump their hands, help us re-cast Triplets in the event of their untimely demise, and help us cast our opponents spells when we do manage to stick our commander.

So at this point, I know I’m running a lot of mana rocks and a few things that protect or recur artifacts, but beyond that I’m not at all sure what I’m doing. After some thought, I realize that in addition to protecting Sen Triplets, I should also be looking to protect myself. Fortunately Esper colors offer us pretty much the pinnacle of all removal in the format, so I started pulling out things that would hopefully keep me alive. Removal, basically. But I quickly became bored just looking at the pile of cards I pulled out. It was the most generic-looking pile of Esper Control staples ever. I loved a  lot of the cards – Sphinx’s Revelation, Decree of Pain, Ghostly Prison? Classics! But together in one place, it just looked like a slog of super-obvious staples that would effectively guarantee games would last forever. Yawn.

I still had concerns about what to do about the things my opponents were able to cast, though. I spent some time thinking about a  “bounce” theme, where I could use bounce effects to return permanents on the battlefield to the hand of whomever my Triplets had hijacked, so that I could then cast that thing. That might be okay for a 1v1 deck but after some fiddling and theorizing I came to the conclusion this approach would be weak and slow in a 4-way game. I’d have to split my mana between paying for these bounce effects AND casting spells from hijacked hands. Even with all the rocks, that felt a bit janky to me. I kept Temporal Adept and of course Rift, but otherwise I moved away from this idea.

Finally, I remembered I’d been wanting to play Muzzio in something for a good, long while and decided he interacted pretty well with all the mana rocks and other incidental artifacts I was planning to run, and so I just embraced the artifacts plan after all. An additional benefit to this is that it provides us with a relatively strong game plan to fall back on in the event the Triplets plan goes belly up. If we find ourselves unable to rely on casting our opponents’ own spells to use against them we want our deck to have spells capable of winning, and Esper Artifacts are certainly capable of putting up a fight on their own.

There are of course a lot of other ideas I had at various points, but ultimately didn’t make it in. I considered a few cards like Annex and Vedalken Plotter to gank lands already in play. Similarly, I also considered running more Clones and Control Magics to copy or steal things that get cast. And I also gave some serious thought to running a small number of tax/prison effects, not really to completely lock my opponents out of the game, as that is not my style, but just enough to slow them down a bit, just to ensure that once I have Triplets online, they’ll still have things in their hand worth hijacking. I would at least love to find a slot for Grand Arbiter Agustin IV, and maybe Kismet/Frozen Aether, but I mainly avoided this tactic just because they aren’t particularly fun to play against and I’m already slightly worried about the kind of hate this deck could bring.

I think all of these ideas are very viable, maybe not as primary themes, but at least as small subthemes. But ultimately, I had very little room for cute, techy choices, as the artifacts theme is extremely deep and I had a very hard time just fitting THAT stuff in, let alone finding room for things that would dilute that theme and make stuff like Muzzio and Kuldotha Forgemaster less viable. Even with the list above, I still feel like there is just a bit too much tension between conflicting goals, but overall it seems to have played well enough that the tension is acceptable. Mostly I just wanted to make the rest of the deck as innocuous and palatable as possible, because my group has a bit of a thing against getting their own spells and creatures used against them. Understandable.

Anyway, I can definitely see myself going down that road, were social contract issues not such an obstacle. Such a build would likely include most of the following:

Aura of Silence
Kismet
Frozen Aether
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Bribery
Treachery
Knowledge Exploitation
Praetor’s Grasp
Clever Impersonator
Rite of Replication
Annex
Herald of Leshrac (I welcome any excuse to run this guy!)
Vedalken Plotter
Remand
Memory Lapse
Propaganda
Ghostly Prison
… and probably a handful or two of other, similar effects of this variety. The rest of the deck would basically be a mix of lands, mana rocks and removal.

And if I really, really wanted to be a dick, I could see this possibly working out as a “Stax” deck with stuff like Descent into Madness and the O.G., Smokestack. Just full-on lock people out of casting stuff, while I just freely take what I want from their hands. Clearly, I didn’t want to go this route, because I like my friends, but I think it could be done. In the end, I did get to include Lodestone Golem and Ethersworn Canonist because they synergize well with our Artifact theme while hopefully slowing down everyone else’s development without being completely oppressive.

Another idea I had was to include some symmetrical draw effects - Howling Mine and friends. Keep your opponents’ hands full, so you’ll always have goodies to pilfer with your Triplets. This also seemed like a plan that had a high potential to backfire, so I kept only Temple Bell as it only works when I want it to, making it the least risky. No one’s going to fall for the “group hug” fa├žade when you’re playing Sen Triplets!

In the end, I tried to make it so almost every card in the deck either serve the primary Sen Triplets plan, the secondary Artifacts plan, or where possible bridge the gap by serving both plans. And as I said earlier, I still feel like there is a lot of room for improvement, yet it seems to be “close enough” for the time being. So far, my limited experiences with the deck have been largely encouraging. I want to keep experimenting with the artifact angle and see if I can continue to blend the various themes more to improve the overall synergy within the deck further.

I can also see myself eventually abandoning most of the artifacts-matter theme in favor of exploring some of the other ideas I’ve talked about. It’s a strong theme, but one where it’s fairly difficult to walk that line between strong and oppressive, especially when using cards like Arcum Dagsson, Mycosynth Lattice, and other well-worn combo pieces. I’ve gone to some lengths to keep this deck from doing some of the dirtier things typical Sharuum and Arcum Dagsson decks are known for, but we have no control over what our opponents are putting into their decks, so if we happen to target an opponent who reveals a Nevinyrral’s Disk in their hand, suddenly we have the potential to assemble the old Lattice/Disk/Forge lock, which is undesired.

The artifact theme is one that allows us to run some great cards like Tezzeret, Master Transmuter and Thopter Spy Network, while simultaneously encouraging us to run more questionable things like Etherium Sculptor and Sanctum Gargoyle. I mean, I definitely feel those inclusions have merit, given the nature of the deck, but they aren’t great cards, in a vacuum. I’d love to start trimming things like Glassdust Hulk and Faerie Mechanist in favor of better, more impactful cards, but those are actually important pieces of the deck’s overall game plan. To put it another way, I like that this is a deck that has a strong Open the Vaults plan, but at the same time I dislike that part of that plan involves some rather unimpressive cards. It’s odd because I usually like it when synergies come together to make an ordinarily mediocre card into something actually playable, but in this case I’m not sure my synergies are quite strong enough to make stuff like Chief Engineer truly good, or if they’ll only prove to be good when things are already going well for the deck.  

I also worry slightly about things like Darksteel Forge overshadowing our commander in terms of importance to our game plans – like, do games where Forge never makes an appearance just go horribly for me? Do I need to include even more ways to ensure Forge hits play? Does winning or losing come down to weather Forge gets answered or not? There are a few cards like this – Kuldotha Forgemaster, Master Transmuter, Tezzeret Agent of Bolas… all of these seem potentially powerful enough that once they’re in play they could become far more important to me than Sen Triplets. It’s not that we need or want our commander to be essential to our plans, or to be the absolute best plan we have at all times. I just don’t want the deck to be so powerful on its own that the Triplets basically wind up being relegated to Plan B or Plan C and that we rarely cast them in most games.

And, finally, I am concerned about how viable this deck will continue to be once people have gotten used to playing against it. Will they grow to hate it more and start to put more and more pressure on me, to the point where I get hated out of every game, or will they simply learn how to play around it to the point where they don’t have to hate me out, but can shut me down without needing to gang up on me? Or, going the other direction, will I tweak the deck enough to reach the point where the deck is truly an obnoxious, oppressive nightmare to play against? So while the deck seems “fine” as it stands now, it feels to me like the kind of thing that can go sour quickly, either by being too good, too annoying or just not good enough at all.

I need to make it a point to play this deck a lot more in the near future so I can start to answer some of these questions. If any of you readers have any experience with trying to make Sen Triplets work in a social/casual atmosphere, I’d certainly welcome any feedback or advice. But more importantly, I think I just need a lot more play experience with this pile to get a true estimation of its capabilities and deficits. Some decks require a lot more fine-tuning and reconfiguring than others, and this feels like one of those decks; fortunately the deck is fun enough right out of the gates that I think I’m up to the challenge.

Before I sign off for the day, I just want to tease a few other decks I have (potentially) coming down the pipeline. I have been on a bit of a deck-building frenzy lately and I still have quite a few more decks to write up, though I will say that some of them are largely untested and may prove to be disappointments.

Maelstrom Wanderer – I didn’t want to just rebuild my old “Good Stuff” MW deck, so I tried to give this one more of a theme: Dragons! That’s right, it’s Temur Dragon Tribal. It’s probably literally impossible for me to beat a Karrthus deck, but otherwise I’m pretty sure this deck is great. Only played one game so far, and I won it without casting Maelstrom Wanderer even once.

Geth, Lord of the Vault – My third attempt at a “Big Mana Black” deck, very similar to the my take on the Commander 2014 Ob Nixilis deck, but after trying a few approaches I think Geth is the best option to command this deck. I previously tried this with Erebos, but I didn’t really like that one too much, so I never posted it here.

Yisan, the Wandering Bard – I had a couple of games where I got to enjoy having Yisan and Prophet of Kruphix in play at the same time, in a Surrak Dragonclaw deck I was experimenting with for a while. When Prophet got banned, I decided to make this deck, using Seedborn Muse and Yeva, Nature’s Herald to fill the Prophet role. I’m not yet sure if this deck is unplayable garbage or utterly broken and game-wrecking. Pretty sure it’s one or the other.

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant – So far the only deck from my experiment with standard-legal EDH experiment to make the jump, successfully, to unrestricted EDH. Zombie tokens, self-mill and lots of removal and card draw! What’s not to love?

Marath, Will of the Wild – This is actually a rebuild from an old variation, but I realized recently that I never actually wrote anything about my take on Marath after the C13 decks came out. Marath was actually one of the harder decks from that series to figure out, and took me quite a while to get the deck to perform the way I wanted it to, but once I finally did, it quickly became a favorite of mine.

Edric, Spymaster of Trest – Sorry to disappoint all you Ezuri fans out there but I just never could solve the issues that were plaguing the Ezuri deck, and honestly when it comes down to it, a commander that draws me lots of cards is almost always going to beat out a commander that doesn’t. I won’t likely be writing a new article for this deck as it’s basically just an overhaul and update of my old Edric list, which you can find in the sidebar. I’ll just update that list soonish.

Stonebrow, Krosan Hero – My Angry Omnath build was successful, but it got really old, really fast. Meanwhile Stoney B has had a ton of goodies printed for him since I last had this deck sleeved up.

And I have plans to, in the near future, rebuild and revamp Wrexial, Karador, Rafiq, Aurelia and Prossh. Those are all pretty well-tread paths, but after trying new things in those colors, I am ready to go back to the tried and true favorites.

By my count, that leaves the following color combinations left for me to figure out:

Mono-white
Azorius (WU)
Rakdos (BR)
Izzet (UR)
Mardu (WBR)
Jeskai (RWU)

Of those, the only one I’m possibly close to pinning down may be Jeskai. I’ve been continuing to try and refine my attempt at a standard-legal Narset into a “real” EDH deck that is powerful enough to be worth playing, but doesn’t do the degenerate things many Narset decks are known for. So far it’s proving a difficult line to walk, finding that gray area in between oppressive and unplayable, but I think there’s a chance I could get there.


Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Feldon, Mono-Red Reanimator

I’ve long maintained a belief – justifiable, in my opinion – that mono-red was the second worst color or color combination you could play in EDH. The worst being mono-white, of course. Maybe that’s not entirely fair – maybe those colors are just the worst for my preferred playstyles, or worst for my particular metagame. I don’t know. The issue with both colors, of course, largely revolves around questions of card advantage and late-game reach.

You know me – I love the grind;  I love to bury my opponents in an inexorable flood of card advantage. I hate running out of cards, running out of things to do. I really hate being in top deck mode. My early experiences with mono-red and mono-white decks definitely tended more toward my being ground out, rather than me doing the grinding. Boo-urns.

While I have yet to find a mono-white deck that doesn’t flat-out require Skullclamp to function, red decks have, meanwhile, been given some nice tools to shore up those weaknesses. Red slowly got better and better, it just took me a while to notice. I tried to make Daretti work – a Planeswalker commander that casts  Faithless Looting and Trash for Treasure seems pretty sweet. Daretti set up his Trading Post and declared himself the new mayor of Value Town. Problem there was, he didn’t do much but durdle around with artifacts for value. Occasionally you got the T4 Myr Battlesphere and ride that to a slow, awkward victory, but usually you just produced a few threats, one at a time, and had them eat removal. Then you ran out of gas as Daretti got trampled into the mud.

So Daretti was good at getting value engines going and could do some fun things, but I had a lot of trouble finding ways to win games that were reliable and effective, yet not anti-fun. Blightsteel Colossus, Lattice + Vandalblast, etc. were effective and functional but royally piss off people, meanwhile stuff like Myr Battlesphere and Hoard-Smelter Dragon are sociable enough, but hardly reliable, in my experience.

I’ve seen Daretti decks get there, for sure. It’s not a terrible deck by any means, it’s just that the deck requires you to play a little too rough for my tastes to have any real shot at an acceptable win %. Plus, even for me, the value train has to lead somewhere, but I felt like with Daretti I was just grinding value, not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. Amusing for a while, but not fun enough to keep me interested for long.

Enter Feldon of the Third Path, mono-red necromancer, newly-elected Mayor of Value Town.

CREATURES

Feldon of the Third Path

Goblin Welder
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
Magus of the Wheel
Tuktuk the Explorer
Dualcaster Mage
Flametongue Kavu
Anger
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Mindclaw Shaman
Zealous Conscripts
Siege-Gang Commander
Hoarding Dragon
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Spitebellows
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Dragon Mage
Tyrant’s Familiar
Molten Primordial
Chancellor of the Forge
Bogardan Hellkite

Junk Diver
Burnished Hart
Solemn Simulacrum
Wurmcoil Engine
Duplicant
Scuttling Doom Engine
Sandstone Oracle
Myr Battlesphere
Bosh, Iron Golem
It That Betrays


SPELLS

Faithless Looting
Gamble
Tormenting Voice
Wild Guess
Mizzium Mortars
Wheel of Fortune
Chaos Warp
Daretti, Scrap Savant
Sneak Attack
Wild Ricochet
Volcanic Offering
Reforge the Soul
Scrap Mastery
Blasphemous Act

Skullclamp
Lightning Greaves
Illusionist’s Bracers
Blade of Selves
Loxodon Warhammer
Sol Ring
Ruby Medallion
Thought Vessel
Anvil of Bogardan
Strionic Resonator
Commander’s Sphere
Rings of Brighthearth
Hedron Archive
Trading Post
Pryomancer’s Goggles
Alhammarret’s Archive
Caged Sun

LANDS

Valakut, Molten Pinnacle
Great Furnace
Darksteel Citadel
Smoldering Crater
Forgotten Cave
Temple of the False God
Myriad Landscape
Kher Keep
Phyrexia’s Core
High Market
Flamekin Village
26 Mountain

So, what have we got here? First and foremost, this deck wants to be a fairly traditional reanimator deck – you use stuff like Faithless Looting and the like to get some big, fun things into your graveyard, and then as early as possible, Feldon starts reanimating things. Of course this plain isn’t foolproof for a number of reasons, so there are of course alternative lines of play. You can always just use your mana rocks to ramp into hardcasting things, then using Feldon more as the backup plan for when things inevitably get blown up. And, finally, as a “Plan C” we’re a Scrap Mastery deck as well – if reanimating things one at a time doesn’t get the job done, reanimating a lot of things might do the trick.

Going for the reanimation win, there are multiple lines. It that Betrays is pretty much a winning line all by itself.  Purphoros plus token-producers, especially Chancellor, is our out to things like Aetherize or pillowfort decks that make swinging with creatures difficult. Molten Primordial, Bogardan Hellkite, Scuttling Doom Engine are all strong finishers when you can just repeatedly make token copies and swing with them every turn.

Valakut can help you punch through blockers and, if things get really desperate, just go straight to the dome.

Gaining card advantage is pretty easy with this deck. There’s outright draw in the form of Wheel of Fortune and it’s descendants. Getting a Magus of the Wheel into the ‘yard early for Feldon to recur can rapidly accelerate the Scrap Mastery plan. Hoarding Dragon, a card I have pretty much loathed up until the moment I built this deck and goldfished it, is actually an MVP, being able to tutor up multiple artifacts over the course of a game, thanks to Feldon. It’s best if you have a sac outlet handy, to prevent Exile-based removal from ruining your plans.

Alhammarret’s Archive makes your draw spells better, while Pyromancer’s Goggles or Dualcaster Mage can copy them. Dualcaster Mage and Wild Ricochet can lead to some late-game blowouts but during the early game they’re still fantastic when used to copy an opponent’s card draw or ramp spell.

Of course, Feldon himself is a form of card advantage, since his “reanimation” ability doesn’t actually put the real creature card into play, rather just makes a token facsimile of it. So you can use him to get basically unlimited rebuys on any ETBF trigger you might want, from Solemn Simulacrum to Spitebellows.  One of the problems of this deck, though, is having blockers. Since Feldon is best when used proactively/offensively, but the tokens he makes are short-lived, creatures that leave behind more lasting reminders of their brief existence are highly valuable – Wurmcoil Engine is the poster-wurm for this category – has considerable impact while it’s in play, and leaves behind some very useful tokens when it dies. If you need fodder to chump block flying threats, Pia and Kiran’s thopters can help.

I also want to talk a bit about this little trio of artifacts: Strionic Resonator, Rings of Brightheart and Illusionist’s Bracers. These guys have some amazing interactions that are a big part of what motivated me to build this deck. Obviously, Rings and Bracers let you double-up on Feldon’s activated ability, recurring two things a turn, instead of one. But the beauty is, they have triggered abilities themselves, so the Resonator can copy those triggers for even more fun. However, it’s usually best to use the Resonator instead to copy the ETBF or Dies triggers of whatever you’re brining back. Or, if you really want to get shit poppin’, try copying Blade of Selves’ myriad trigger!

So Strionic Resonator is an activated ability that copies triggered abilities, and Rings of Brighthearth has a triggered ability that copies activated abilities! This creates some interesting and slightly mind-bending feedback loops of copying copies that copy copies, but fortunately they both require mana to use and Resonator taps itself, so at least the way I have it built, they don’t go infinite. They probably can, but I have no idea how that’d work. For me it’s just about getting more and more value.

Bracers and Rings also work really well with a few other very important cards – Kiki-Jiki, Goblin Welder, and Bosh are all great targets for Bracers, while those guys plus Daretti, Trading Post and Sneak Attack are great at enabling Rings of Brighthearth. I can definitely see scenarios where you might even Rings a Myriad Landscape or Burnished Hart. As for Resonator… well this deck is just loaded with triggered abilities; too many to count.

Another thing I like about this deck is that I can run Gamble with very little fear. Typically, I foresee being perfectly happy if I wind up discarding the thing I tutored up. So far my most frequent targets for Gamble are either Faithless Looting or Hoarding Dragon. I’m sure there will come a day when I have to make a desperate Gamble for Scrap Mastery and then make a sad face when I immediately discard said Scrap Mastery, but overall, you’re likely to be in good shape regardless of what winds up getting pitched.

As for the deck’s weak points, we’ve already talked about how it doesn’t play the most robust defensive game. You can of course use Feldon’s ability in response to attacks and get emergency blockers, and you definitely should do that if you have no alternative. But this deck really wants to use its graveyard for offence, and rely more on spells in hand for defense. Obviously we’ve got a few gems in Blasphemous Act, Mizzium Mortars, Chaos Warp, and Volcanic Offering. FTK and Spitebellows also do good work here. So far, though, I feel like your best defense is a good offense – if someone starts getting a little bellicose, you can usually just pummel them relentlessly with your token copies, since they’re going to die anyway EOT. You don’t care so much about attacking profitably, you just want your opponents to have to make costly blocks. Eventually you’ll likely grind ‘em down and they won’t be able to put forth much aggression.

Failing that, there’s a touch of lifegain – Wurmcoil, again, is one of the all-stars of this deck, and Loxodon Warhammer is surprisingly good too.

An early Tuktuk is actually pretty good for fending off a few turns worth of attacks. And if you draw decently, you can always just hardcast something beefy and intimidating. Typically, if I hit six mana, I will almost always just cast Wurmcoil or Scuttling Doom Engine, given the option to do so.

The big bogeyman, though, for any graveyard-based deck, is always the Tormod’s Crypt effect. Crypt, Bojuka Bog, Nihil Spellbomb. Anafenza. REST IN PEACE. Oh, god, do we dread seeing Rest in Peace! That said, I’ve been up against a few Bojuka Bogs already and so far my opinion is that GY hate is definitely, absolutely something you should respect, but if you respect it, you don’t need to fear it. RIP is really about the only thing that truly just hoses us, because we basically only have Chaos Warp to answer it. I mean, we could get lucky and Wild Ricochet an opponent’s Disenchant or something, but realisitically, Rest in Peace means we are 100% on the “hardcast everything” plan, which honestly isn’t  a great spot for us.

That’s not to say it’s unwinnable, but it definitely puts us at a disadvantage, barring some lucky draws. But the most common forms of GY hate that I see are the one-shot effects like Bog and Crypt. Those hurt, but again, you just need to play around them and keep them in mind. I’ve successfully played through them more than once, so they’re not the end of the world.

Beyond that, I’m not yet sure what else this deck might fear. I don’t have to worry about the combo boogeyman in my meta, so maybe that’s a big one, I don’t know. I’d be pretty nervous going up against a really fast aggro deck like Rafiq, probably. I really just need more experience to know for sure.

As for potential changes or notable exclusions, I only have a few other cards that I really want to include. Warstorm Surge is one such card. While some people might consider it win-more, I heartily disagree. That said, I haven’t been able to find room for it, so I guess it’s not essential, but I feel removal-light and Surge can definitely double as both removal engine and win-condition. I’m also very close to cutting Ruby Medallion in favor of Mind Stone. Medallion doesn’t help much with casting Artifacts and I also like self-sacrificing artifacts for Scrap Mastery purposes. Going back to that removal thing, I actually had Incite Rebellion in the deck at one point, and reluctantly cut it for something, don’t remember what, but it was something critical.

I considered Sword of Light and Shadow as a way to rebuy dead guys if we get priced out of Feldon or something, but so far that seems too niche and unlikely to pay dividends. Meanwhile, I am missing a much bigger piece of tech in Sundial of the Infinite. Reason being, I just don’t own one, and haven’t felt the need to go find one. However it is a cute piece of tech and does help with that “no blockers” problem. If I just happen to stumble across one at an LGS or in trade binder, I’ll happily snatch it up, but again, I just don’t feel like I’m crippling the deck by not having it.

I tested Knollspine Dragon, but too often I found that I had no way to deal damage prior to reanimating him, so I was unable to get value of his draw ability reliably. So I swapped him out for Dragon Mage and have been happier with that. Finally, I looked at Kurkesh, Onnake Ancient for a good long while, but ultimately I just felt he was sorta “meh” since a lot of our key activated abilities are on non-artifact permanents.


Well, that’s about all I have for today. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Karlov, Ghostface Killa

Hello, everyone! Back with a new decklist. Things took a bit of an unexpected turn, since I was pretty sure I was on the Ayli plan for W/B but I just happened to come across a list posted by Nick Wolf on the PucaTrade website - LINK! – and for whatever reason Nick’s article just got me hyped about building a Karlov deck. Plus I have just run into a bit of a financial snag and while a foil Ayli is not particularly expensive, I just haven’t been able to swing it (and I refuse to settle for a non-foil, when the foil is actually quite reasonable. I’m being picky, I know).

Anyway, I looked at the list and read Nick’s write-up and just got inspired. I figured I’d give Uncle Ghosty a trial run until I could get my hands on an Ayli. Turns out Karlov is a lot more legit than I gave him credit for. Now, to be fair, I always did think he was very playable, I just didn’t find him INTERESTING – however, what I didn’t realize was that, built properly, this deck is a synergy machine. One of my biggest complaints about my own previous attempts at building Orzhov decks has been that they tend toward rando goodstuff and lack greatly in synergy and clear thematic lines of play.

This deck solves that problem SO HARD. Almost everything in the deck is a piece of a larger puzzle. There are still a handful of good stuff cards that just need to be there, but the key cards almost all work together. Everything either gains life, triggers off of gaining life, or lets us use our life total as a resource. Before we go any further, let’s just get that list up:

CREATURES

Karlov of the Ghost Council

Soul Warden
Soul's Attendant
Mother of Runes
Serra Ascendant
Suture Priest
Nyx-Fleece Ram
Auriok Champion
Wall of Reverence
Rhox Faithmender
Sunscorch Regent
Archangel of Thune
Sun Titan
Blood Artist
Vampire Nighthawk
Crypt Ghast
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Pontiff of Blight
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Tithe Drinker
Blood Baron of Vizkopa
Obzedat, Ghost Council
Divinity of Pride
Solemn Simulacrum
Wurmcoil Engine

SPELLS

Enlightened Tutor
Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Steelshaper's Gift
Land Tax
Blind Obedience
Recumbent Bliss
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Faith's Fetters
Cradle of Vitality
Return to Dust
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Demonic Tutor
Vampiric Rites
Phyrexian Arena
Necropotence
Whip of Erebos
Damnation
Exquisite Blood
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Gift of Orzhova
Mortify
Vindicate
Utter End
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Merciless Eviction
Sol Ring
Skullclamp
Orzhov Signet
Scroll Rack
Pristine Talisman
Chalice of Life
Lightning Greaves
Umezawa's Jitte
Sword of Fire and Ice
Sword of War and Peace
Sword of Light and Shadow
Loxodon Warhammer
Well of Lost Dreams

LANDS

High Market
Vault of the Archangel
Shizo, Death's Storehouse
Godless Shrine
Blighted Steppe
Tainted Field
Marsh Flats
Kabira Crossroads
Scoured Barrens
Caves of Koilos
Opal Palace
Seraph Sanctuary
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Cabal Coffers
Radiant Fountain
Fetid Heath
Isolated Chapel
Command Tower
Homeward Path
Orzhov Basilica
Ghost Quarter
7 Plains
8 Swamp


It’s kinda tough to compare Ayli and Karlov, despite multiple similarities. Each has different strengths and lend toward different deckbuilding approaches.

Karlov’s advantages are:

• He hits harder and grows to ridiculous sizes quickly and effortlessly
• Doesn’t require sac fodder to use his removal ability
• Doesn’t require a minimum life total to use his removal ability

So, unlike Ayli he can still exile things even if you are at one life, and have no other creatures in play. However, Ayli has some of her own advantages:

• Deathtouch makes her a good rattlesnake despite small stats
• Can exile anything (except lands) making her removal more versatile
• Less stringent mana requirements to activate
• Is a sac outlet

It’s still hard to objectively call one better than the other, because they lend themselves toward differing archetypes. Both play in the same domain, but Karlov is a much more aggressive strategy, where your primary plan is to beat face quickly and relentlessly, using the lifegain and removal angles simply as a means to keep the path clear for your assault. Meanwhile, Ayli wants to play a longer, grindier control game. With Karlov, you don’t really care much about making tokens, or having lots of creatures, except insofar as you want to be triggering those Soul Wardens often, but with Ayli going wide is a MUST, because she’s usesless without plenty of sacrificial fodder to exploit.

But beyond these fairly obvious insights, I don’t have enough real experience with Ayli to go much more in-depth on her. So I’ll just stick to the actual deck we’re discussing – Karlov. One thing I like about this deck is that, while it is very much a “life gain” deck, it’s not the durdly kind where you just gain a huge amount of life and make everyone work extra hard to kill you. No, the life gain aspect is a critical component, but it’s a means to an end, not and end in itself. The end is, you get Karlov huge, murder everything that stands in his way, and relentlessly pummel your opponents. At least that’s what you hope will happen…

And so far it seems to be pretty effective at auctioning its stated goals. It can’t beat Titania in a head to head match up, and it can’t beat Ayli with a Sword of Light and Shadow plus Eight and a Half Tails backing her up. Against heavy control decks, it’s a toss-up. If they have a lot of cheap, fast removal, you’re probably in some real trouble, but if they have little early interaction and are hoping for a few turns to “set up” you stand a reasonable chance of racing them.

One thing I dislike about this deck is that, despite my efforts to bolster the card draw, it goes hellbent really, really easy due to the aggressive, low curve. This means it’s very easy to overextend into a Wrath and then be left with nothing. But, there are a couple of mitigating factors that make this less of a blowout than usual. First, Karlov is super-duper cheap and takes a few deaths before recasting him becomes problematic. Second, this deck does tend to have better topdecks, on average, due to the crazy high amount of synergy. Many decks would consider drawing a Soul’s Attendant past turn eight a dead draw, but that’s not necessarily the case here.

And while we can’t be assured of drawing into it every game, this is a great Necropotence vehicle, and having that in play pretty much means you never have to worry about draw again, so long as you have life to spend (which should basically never be an issue). But mostly we just have to rely on the heavy synergy of the deck to ensure that most of our topdecks are live draws. They might not be what you need – for instance when you’re staring down something holding a Sword of Light and Shadow, anything that isn’t an answer to that problem is probably not what you want – but it’s unlikely to be a total blank, either.

As for the list itself, I stayed very true to the formula of Nick’s list, but changed a few things up based on personal preference, and/or fixing a few of his (seeming) oversights.

Here are a few cuts:

Erebos, God of the Dead – since I’m not shying away from playing Necropotence, this felt like an inferior choice. But more importanty, I’m very skeptical that running a card that hoses lifegain in a lifegain deck. If Erebos were to be copied or stolen, it basically shuts off our entire deck. Seemed wise NOT to give our opponents an easy out to our own strategy.

Debt to the Deathless and Sanguine Bond – I dislike winning with X-spells, just because they tend to feel like they invalidate almost everything that happened up to that point – you can be having a nice, back-and-forth match that is quite fun, then suddenly, oops, I just top-decked Exsanguinate and now we have to stop playing because I win. I’m not trying to judge those who do play them, it’s just that in my experience winning off a big X-spell is really no more fun than losing to a big X-spell. Similarly, I don’t like the combo win of just casting two five-mana enchantments. Sure it’s a “fair” combo, and can be interacted with, but still boring to me.

Felidar Sovereign – I once put Win Cat in my Rafiq deck. The very first game I played with it in my deck, I won on Turn 5. Took it out after a few more games, and haven’t missed it once. More like Boring Cat.

Zuran Orb – Might be fine in strictly 1v1 play, but a terribly-risky all-in strategy for multiplayer. And if you just wanted to slow-roll it, sac’ing a land only every once in a while, why wouldn’t you just play something like Ajani’s Mantra? At any rate, just seems to be begging for the blow-out.

Batterskull – Too expensive. Never been a fan.

Whispersilk Cloak and Darksteel Plate – Both of these have their uses, but here they just kinda feel like noob cards. They don’t really directly serve our strategy, just help keep Karlov alive, is all. I think Greaves and Swords of Protection and Value do much, much better jobs.

Black Market – With no X-spell wins, what are we spending all that black mana on? Nothing much. Even with a single Debt to the Deathless in Nick’s list, I really don’t see what this card is supposed to do? Our curve is very, very low. The only other mana dump I see is if you have Pontiff of Blight and a bunch of creatures out.

Drana’s Emissary – Was really just a toss-up between this an Tithe Drinker. I went with the Drinker because I like the art slightly better, it’s one mana cheaper and can potentially provide more than one trigger per turn. Ultimately I’d happily run both, but couldn’t fit both.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor – I kept the Lord of Innistrad version because it’s generally better, but I can definitely see why you might run both. I’ve already considered swapping LOI out for this one, just to see which one is better more often.

Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath – Again, I kinda just picked the version that was more generically good, but I get why this version made sense. Like with Sorins, I could definitely see the argument for running both, or running this one over the Reignited incarnation.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim – The whole reason I built Karlov was because I don’t have an Ayli yet, so obviously this was a cut.

Coalition Relic and Orzhov Keyrune – This doesn’t strike me as a deck that really needs relic, and the Keyrune is just too expensive despite its synergy. Sol Ring and Orzhov Signet are both just better, IMO.

So, what did I add to replace these cuts? I already mentioned Necropotence, which is easily one of the best cards in the deck. I also already told you about Tithe Drinker, Orzhov Signet and Sol Ring.

Beyond that, I supplemented the mana and draw packages with some old favorites. I put in the lovely Scroll Rack + Land Tax engine. Both cards are pretty good on their own, but fantastic together. Threw in a Solemn Simulacrum too, because, well, he’s pretty good.

Added and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, because her +1 is great with Karlov and any soul warden variant, while her -3 is a great conditional sweeper. A lot of the times it’ll be far more devastating to your oppoents than to you.

Any white deck with 2 or 3 important echantments should have an Academy Rector, so she’s in.

Running Swords, but not Path makes no sense to me, so it’s in.

Recumbent Bliss is, possibly, a too-cute bit of tech, but I like it enough to give it a try. We’ll see. But it’s basically an Ajani’s Mantra attached to a Pacifism.

Threw in  Vampiric Rites, reasoning that it is a lifegain card and draws cards, and both are things we want to be doing. Similarly, Well of Lost Dreams is a “gimme” for any lifegain deck that seeks to improve its card-drawing capabilities.

Was very surprised not to see Auriok Champion and Rhox Faithmender in the original list, so I clearly had to add them in, but so far I’m not actually sure I need Faithmender. Having lifelink has only be a tiny bit relevant, and Karlov doesn’t actually care about how much life you gain, but rather how often you can gain it. So I’m pretty iffy on this guy, despite thinking he was a must-run. Auriok Champion, though, is definitely essential – almost any variant on Soul Warden can do some real work here.

The most egregious of all was the exclusion of Cradle of Vitality. It’s often been an underperformer in other lifegain-focused decks, but when our commander very specifically wants lots of counters placed on him, this just makes too much sense. Every time you gain life, Karlov puts counters on himself, but if you have some mana to spare he just gets even more counters. Combine with Serra Ascendant for maximum efficacy.

I think that’s about it for the changes. I might have overlooked one or two minor ones, as I am going partially off memory, but I definitely covered anything significant.

There are a few additional cards I’d really love to squeeze in somehow. Retreat to Hagra was actually supposed to remain from Nick’s list, but I couldn’t find my one copy and I wasn’t so in love with the card to begin with that I wanted to spend a lot of time digging for it. But it’s not terrible – I think the deathtouch trigger is likely to be nearly as relevant as the life gain option, but I don’t think this card is a critical component – just a “nice to have” if you have the room for it.

More important is Toxic Deluge. This is definitely a card I am positive I want, but all my copies are in decks. I’m pretty sure I have at least one deck that is running it “just because” and can live without it. As soon as I have time to examine my other decks and find out which one(s) have a superfluous Deluge, I’m yanking it out for Karlov. It can easily pay the life cost, and it should be fairly easy to time it so I can kill what needs killin’ but at the very least keep Karlov alive.

Some lists play more “Spirit Link” cards, such as Spirit Loop, etc. I can see the value in that – giving Karlov himself lifelink is sweet, but I prefer to rely mostly on Sword of Light and Shadow, Jitte and Gift of Orzhova for this. However I can support the idea of adding in a few more ways to lifelink him up. But black and white enchantments tend not to play well with Sword of Light and Shadow, so that’s something to be aware of.

Sadly, I haven’t played the deck quite enough to have any further insights. If I uncover anything drastic in the future, I’ll be sure to share it, but the deck seems extremely solid already, so I expect the future will more likely hold minor, incremental tweaks to shore up weak spots or address specific metagame concerns.