Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stalwart Unity: 10 Essential Additions

Hopefully you all know the drill by now, so let's get down to business! Today we're looking at critical additions to Stalwart Unity, the group hug style deck, led by Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis (I'm never going to not need to look at the card to remember those names and spell them correctly). 

Like before, we need to do a bit of analysis to understand the deck's goals and themes, in order to know what would be an essential addition.

Unfortunately, I'm not much of a fan of group hug. I've dabbled now and then, but overall I'm just not the type of player who really enjoys group hug for group hug's sake. Now, a deck that has slight group-hug leanings but is more of a political deck with a clear goal of winning and a legitimate path to victory, but tries to earn goodwill throughout the game as a means of survival? Okay, I'm good with that, but those sorts of decks usually only work once or twice before your playgroup learns not to trust geeks bearing gifts.

Stalwart Unity seems to be one of those decks. It plays very defensively, and politically. It wants to earn goodwill through cards like Edric, Howling Mine, and Kynaios and Tiro themselves, but also pillow-forts pretty heavily to hedge against opponents who aren't in the mood to be bribed. But the deck has a few nasty surprised for the late game, chief among them Treacherous Terrain. There are a lot of group-ramp cards in the deck to help ensure that your opponents will all have lots of lands. Once everyone has more lands in play than they have life, this spell becomes an instant-win spell. Even if it doesn't just straight up murder everyone, it is still likely to represent a MASSIVE amount of damage for eight mana.

Problem is, a spell like this (or Insurrection, which is another common win-con for group hug) lose their surprise factor really quickly. Opponents will know you are going to draw into it sooner or later and will be planning for it right from the get-go. They may be willing to give the appearance of accepting your generous gifts but are secretly planning something to trump your inevitable power play, or they just go right for your throat, aiming to kill you before you can cast whatever big I Win spell you're building toward.

Edric has been thus far the closes thing to "group hug" I've been able to find success with, and honestly Edric is about the only actual hug card in the deck. Point being, though, that people like drawing cards and will often accept such a bribe even when they see through the ruse. They may not buy your cover story about being a harmless non-threat, but they'll pretend to buy it as long as drawing cards is advantageous for them.

So, for a political group hug to actually win, it needs to ensure that whatever political angle it wields will be something opponents will actually be enticed by. It needs to have a viable win condition. And, it needs for opponents to continue to be willing to play ball with the deck's politics even after they've seen the win-con in action. Above all else, you can't expect people to keep falling for the same trick over and over; past that very first game where no one is quite sure what you're up to, a group hug has to be able to play an HONEST game. Your plan is now transparent: can you still win?

And since this deck is a preconstructed deck where the vast majority of players are going to know the decklist, this deck already loses the element of surprise. Everyone is going to know about Rubblehulk, Treacherous Terrain, Psychosis Crawler, and Reverse the Sands, and whatever else this deck has that passes for a win condition. They're not going to buy the "I'm a harmless  group hug, no threat to anyone" act, right off the bat. They will know the deck can win, and likely how it will aim to win. The deck has to play an honest, transparent game - a true nightmare for any politician, right?

So what do we do to make sure we can still win even though everyone is going to know what we're up to? How do we get our opponents to take our bait even when they see the trap coming?

I am not sure I can answer this question extremely well with only 10 cards to work with, but if those are our constraints, I'm going to have start by hugging just a little bit harder.

Well of Ideas
Horn of Greed

As I said above, I'm not a huge fan of typical group huggery like Howling Mine/Font of Mythos style cards.  The main sticking point is that everyone else gets to benefit first. How many times have you cast Font of Mythos or Howlnig Mine only to have it be destroyed before you ever got a single card off it? I have had it happen to me, and seen it happen to others more times than I can count. But, as expensive as it is, I like Well of Ideas for how it gets around this weakness. You draw first, and you get one more card per turn than everyone else. If it fails to make it all the way around to your next turn, it still kinda sucks paying essential 2x retail for a Divination, but hey, at least you also got a removal spell out of someone's hand. Horn of Greed doesn't exactly synergize directly with Kynaios and Tiro but it is, yet again, the kind of group hug card I can stomach, as you can often cast it before you make your land drop and still get first dibs.

Fevered Visions
Luminarch Ascension

Time for a couple more win conditions. Okay, sure Fevered Visions is a 20-turn clock by itself, but it doles out damage in a slow enough pace to hopefully never be the scariest thing.  That's one of the keys to playing a political deck that is transparently trying to win despite being group hug - threats that fly under the radar. Luminarch Ascension is kind of odd in that it's the type of card that tends to make people want to attack you, but on the other hand this deck has a TON of pillowfort and can likely defend itself well enough. Plus, once the Ascension is active, attacking you becomes less important because, well, it's too late to stop it at that point. So maybe you don't run this out T2 and pray - hold off just a bit until you have at least a bit of a defense established. As for Insurrection, eh, I really wish I could have come up with something a little more clever, but the best tool is often the right tool. If I had more space to work with, I'd endeavor to come up with a really good way to NOT use Insurrection, but if you are looking for cards that win the game on their own, this is one of them.

Dulcet Sirens
Illusionist's Gambit

Despite our best efforts, there will be times when an opponent just isn't in the mood for politics and decides to try and take us out before A) we cast Treacherous Terrain or B) one of their opponents gets too far ahead from our hug effects. The deck already has a lot of defensive spells in case this happens, but I think we need more. Dulcet Sirens I like because it's one few cards (maybe the only one?) that not only forces an attack, but lets you choose WHO they attack. Most "Creatures must attack if able" cards only remove the choice of whether or not to attack but leave the choice of WHO to attack, and since people dislike being forced to make plays they'd rather not make, they often choose to attack whoever played the "must attack" card out of spite. Sirens gets around that. Illusionist's Gambit is also just one of my favorite cards in this class, as it not only saves our butts, but also tends to cost an opponent some life as well. This is another way the political hug deck can win - if opponents don't want to play your game of "fight each other, leave me alone" you can just force the issue. And I tend to like Aetherize nearly as much as the Gambit. Mainly because it's a card that people will often hold back from attacking you just for simple fear of the card.

Congregation at Dawn

So, one of the more perplexing inclusions in this deck is Lurking Predators. It's a great card, but the stock list only has 17 creatures in it, making it pretty terrible for this  particular deck. Well, one way to address this peculiar deck construction choice is to play Congregation at Dawn. The best move here is to wait for the opponent who is immediately to your left to cast a spell on their turn, then cast Congregation in response, with the Lurking trigger on the stack. Whatever you put on top, you're guaranteed to get. Then you get to put two other creatures under that one, so everyone else is going to know you're going to hit off the next to spells as well. If someone is holding a Wrath this may not work out so well, but if they aren't this will either be great value or great tempo, as the next two players may damn well choose to not cast a thing just to avoid giving you free creatures.

Tempt With Reflections

I wanted to include more Offerings/Tempting Offer/Join Forces cards for political reasons, but this is the only one I could find room for on our list of 10. I'm not sure this is the best one, hands down, but it seemed like a good fit. We're light on creatures overall, so copying even 1 or 2 of the best creatures on the battlefield should be solid.

Well, this one was actually pretty easy to get down to 10. I had a few other cards I'd have liked to add, but ultimately none of them felt "essential", so I didn't have a hard time cutting the list down. This'll probably be the only deck where I don't agonize over the decisions! Probably because this is the deck farthest afield from my normal play styles and preferences. I am still very much looking forward to playing the deck - the commanders, Kynaios and Tiro, are solid value and I love drawing extra cards, so I may find them quite a bit more interesting than the typical hug deck.

I'm sure I missed a ton of really good stuff, probably even better than my 10 selections above, so please let me know in the comments how badly I botched this one!



  1. I wanted to include Tempt with Reflections but the card copies a creature you control so you can't get value out of the rest of the board. It is especially bad given all of the legendaries in our deck :/

    1. You've got a great point, there. Looking at the creatures in the stock decklist, there are only a few good targets for Tempt with Reflections. Psychosis Crawler, Horizon Chimera, and Windborn Muse are about the only ones that really do much in multiples. Sorry about that!

      I guess I really meant it when I said this group hug stuff was just way out of my element!

  2. I don't necessarily agree with the idea that the deck loses it's effect after the first game. You opponents need to be greatly naive to fall for the "i'm just here to help".
    There's no need for such feeble strategy either. I'm planning on being bluntly honest: I'll try to kill you, like everyone else. The only difference is that meanwhile, my mechanics may also benefit you. In the very end, it will come to you versus me, but meanwhile, from all your enemies, i'm the only one ramping your game. All of us are threats, but I'm the only one helping you in the process. Not attacking me it's only the most logical alternative always u_u.

    I do have a blue heart, so maybe convincing people of stuff is engrained in my veins. I love this deck, it allows for easier and sneakier manipulation :P.