Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Doctor Strange and the Infinity Gauntlet

This is my Jodah/Fist of Suns list. It is probably a fairly standard Jodah list, with lots of huge bombs and various ways to cheat 'em out. But it's a really fun deck, and it also happens to need some fine-tuning. After mulling it over a while, I figured I might as well write up a post on it, as that might help me collect and organize my thoughts on how best to improve its performance.

I'll start by sharing the list as it currently stands, then walk through some of the problems and how we might solve them.


Commander: Jodah, Archmage Eternal.

Academy Rector
Angel of the Dire Hour
Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Consecrated Sphinx
Diluvian Primordial
Myojin of Seeing Winds
Fleshbag Marauder
Merciless Executioner
Sheoldred, Whispering One
Etali, Primal Storm
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Bloom Tender
Reclamation Sage
Seedborn Muse
Rashmi, Eternities Crafter
Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Angel of Despair
Maelstrom Wanderer
Ashen Rider
Zacama, Primal Calamity
Solemn Simulacrum
Ramos, Dragon Engine


Swords to Plowshares
Path to Exile
Wrath of God
Deep Analysis
Leyline of Anticipation
Baral's Expertise
Time Spiral
Mind's Dilation
Animatou's Augury
Read the Bones
Painful Truths
Toxic Deluge
Unburial Rites
Sunbird's Invocation
Star of Exctinction
Kodama's Reach
Zendikar's Resurgence
Tooth and Nail
Abzan Charm
Bring to Light
Sylvan Library
Mirari's Wake
Maelstrom Nexus
Primeval's Glorius Rebirth
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Lightning Greaves
Fist of Suns
Vedalken Orrery
 Sol Ring
Thought Vessel
Fellwar Stone
Chromatic Lantern
Coalition Relic
Prismatic Geoscope


10x Rev Duals (Tundra, etc.)
10x Shocklands (Hallowed Fountain, etc.)
5x Ally-colored Fetchlands (Flooded Strand)
Command Tower
Mana Confluence
Exotic Orchard
Reflecting Pool
Rootbound Crag
Sunpetal Grove
Hinterland Harbor
Plains x1
Island x1
Swamp x1
Montain x1
Forest x1

So, that's the list I've most recently been working with. And it's done pretty well so far, but it certainly has a few kinks to iron out. Before we get to troubleshooting, however, let's talk a little more about the deck itself.

One of the things that was clear to me right off the bat is, we need perfect mana, hence the extravagantly expensive mana base. Ramp is also key - not only is it a part of our "Plan A" which is to ramp into Jodah and start Fisting out threats as early as possible, but it's also a critical part of "Plan B" which is to just hardcast our bombs (for when Jodah just dies over and over).

It is not enough to just hit RWU and cast Jodah, of course - we also need to hit B and G to start Fisting things. By the way if that terminology makes you uncomfortable, I bid you simply get your mind out of the gutter, you perv. I am merely referring to the card Fist of Suns, which is basically Jodah but in Artifact form.

Sticking a Fist of Suns is often preferable to Jodah, as it can dodge removal a little easier. Rest assured though, both will be high priority targets if your opponents do have removal.

Anyway, the key to successful Fisting is to hit WUBRG as often as possible, as reliably possible, and as quickly as possible. We're perfectly happy hitting all five colors on turn five, but if we can hit them all on turn four some percentage of the time, so much the better.

This is one area where I feel the deck needs some attention, as my ramp suite is not optimal, but we'll get to that shortly.

Another key aspect of a Jodah deck that I realized early on was that being able to Fist things at instant speed would be a huge plus. For much of the early to mid game, this is a cast-one-thing-per-turn deck. Even if we aren't paying full retail for our high-CMC bombs, we're still only going to be able to drop them one at a time for the first half of the game.

This means a single removal spell from an opponent can be a HUGE tempo loss. This might not be the end of the world in a slower multiplayer setting but it's still a problem. One solution to this issue is to cast things at instant speed, often at the End of Turn step of the opponent passing to us.

But that's not all; combining something like Vedalken Orrery with a Seedborn Muse effect can often let us cast things during each opponent's turn - those of you who played a lot of Prophet of Kruphix before she got banned will pick up on this principal.

Oh, another aspect of the deck I want to touch on is the "value enchantment" package. It started with Mirari's Wake and Zendikar Resurgent - the two "mana doubling" enchantments. I included those as potential solutions to the whole "only Fisting one thing a turn" problem - if we can make WUBRG, then with either of those on the Battlefield, we can make double-WUBRG! Zendikar Resurgent also has built-in draw, which is great.

With those in the deck, I immediately looked at Academy Rector for inclusion. But I wasn't sure it was worth running the Old Bitch just for those two cards (okay it probably still would have been, but...), so I looked for more big, expensive value-generating Enchantments we could include as possible targets for Rector to fetch.

Well, it's pretty damn difficult for me to build a five-color deck without running Maelstrom Nexus, and that fits the bill of hard-to-cast value enchantment. Mind's Dilation and Sunbird's Invocation are also poster-children for that category of cards. Those three, plus the aforementioned Wake and Resurgent round out the package. We also have Leyline of Anticipation for when we really need to give everything we do Flash.

This is only a few cards, but cheating just one of these out with Rector can generate serious value if it sticks. We don't want to go overboard here, but there are certainly other high-CMC Enchantments that might be fun to cheat into play. We may come back to this topic as well.

In addition to the value Enchantments, we also have a small subset of creatures that function similarly. Maelstrom Wanderer has Cascade x2, so that's great value. And with all the high-CMC cards in the deck we maximize our chances of hitting something big and splashy and not just mana rocks or utility dorks. Rashmi is pseudo-Cascade and works especially well with the Seedborn/Orrery tech. Etali and Diluvian Primordial give us value by letting us cast our opponents' stuff, scaling upwards the more opponents we have as well.

Basically the general idea is, we cast things (often at a discount thanks to Jodah/Fist) and those things in turn let us cast other things, often for free. I'd consider Stolen Strategy in this regard, but that requires you to actually pay the mana costs. Boo-urns.

I think that about does it for the deck tech - the rest of the list is pretty clearly either cheap utility stuff and expensive bombs. Oh, but before I forget: many of you probably know this, but in case you don't - casting Painful Truths for WUBRG off Jodah/Fist let's you "overpay" and draw FIVE cards! You lose five life as well, but still... it's a cute piece of tech I enjoy and I looked for other ways we could take advantage of that little trick, but Painful Truths was, in my opinion, the only truly compelling use case. Oh well.

And with that, I think we can get on to the troubleshooting phase.

I already mentioned the ramp suite was not quite up to snuff, but there are a few other small areas of improvement I have noticed while playing the deck. But let's go ahead and get the ramp situation sorted out as it's probably one of the most key elements of the deck's early game plan.

The astute reader will likely have taken notice that the list above only contains five Basic Lands - one of each type. But the deck also contains the following cards: Sakura-Tribe Elder, Solemn Simulacrum, Kodama's Reach and Cultivate. These are all exceptional cards on their own, of course, but the four ramp cards combine to fetch up a grand total of SIX basic lands - a problem of math, you can see, since six is greater than five. I have had multiple games where I managed to draw one or more of these ramp cards after fully depleting my library of all Basic Lands. Ouch!

Add to all of that the fact that Basic-only ramp is much less valuable in this particular deck; we would rather have ramp that can get us dual lands where possible, and you can start to see where I'm coming from on this not being the ideal ramp package. Luckily there are some great alternatives that can serve us better.

But while we're on the topic of sub-optimal ramp, let's also take a look at our mana rock selection. On this portion I think I got a lot closer. Sol Ring and Thought Vessel produce colorless mana, and sure, sometimes you might find yourself needing colored mana more, but they are good enough overall that I have found them well worth running. You might disagree on Vessel in particular, but I have had many games where I was quite glad to have it. But Prismatic Geoscope, on the other hand, has been nothing but a disappointment. I had high hopes for it, as it should essentially be a Gilded Lotus that taps for WUBRG. That seems great on paper, but that damned "enters the battlefield tapped" clause just ruins it every time. I have just hated this card every time I've drawn it.

So which ramp cards would be better in this deck? I've always been a big fan of the Signets but I don't think they'll work here. I think our best bet is to go with green ramp that finds non-basic lands. And the cheaper, the better. I want to keep STE because it's a good early blocker as well as a super-cheap ramp piece, and I have also gotten great mileage out of Reach/Cultivate when drawn early. It's only after I've drawn/ramped my Basics out that they become dead, useless draws. I also like to have a mix of spells and creatures for various reasons.

And in general, I want to lower the overall CMC average of our ramp package where possible.

Given all of these considerations and taking them all into account, here are the requisite changes being made:

Prismatic Geoscope ---> Skyshroud Claim
Solemn Simulacrum ---> Wood Elves
Kodama's Reach ---> Farseek

Each spell being cut is being replaced by something cheaper by one mana, so we have succeeded in the goal of lowering our ramp CMC. Solemn is being replaced by Wood Elves, so we're not losing any bodies suitable for blocking early attackers. Losing the draw effect from Sad Robot is trivial in comparison to the value that Wood Elves brings in being cheaper and allowing us to ramp into a dual land. And while Kodama's Reach is great even in this deck, I don't think we need both it and Cultivate, so it loses out to Farseek as another two-mana ramp spell - and 2 CMC is a critical enough point that I felt like Nature's Lore also warranted consideration. If I find the ramp needs further massaging in the future, Lore might come in but for now I think the three swaps above will suffice.

So what else is not working with this list? Well there are a few cards that aren't performing quite as well as I'd hoped and even if I wind up not cutting some of them, I want to at least examine them and see if there is opportunity for improvement.

The first is Primeval's Glorious Rebirth. This card was better in earlier iterations, as the deck had a higher number of legendary permanents. It wasn't a tremendous amount, as I only cut a few in total, but it was just enough so that I have started to find Rebirth a dead draw some of the time. Occasionally it is still an utterly backbreaking play, but it is somewhere between dead and underwhelming much more of the time. Assuming we want to keep this slot as some kind of reanimation effect, we have a few other options that may serve us better. Rise of the Dark Realms is certainly one big, splashy version. I think I am even more partial to Debtor's Knell, as Academy Rector gives us another way to cheat it out aside from just Fisting it. I mentioned we might round out the Rector value enchantment suite, so this might be a prime opportunity to do so. However, I have also seen quite a few Jodah decks are running Muldrotha but I haven't managed to fit him into mine - so he's another option I must look at.

Bring to Light hasn't been terrible by any means, but as it already costs five mana anyway, the Fist/Jodah trick I mentioned in regards to Painful Truths does not apply here. But while I have gotten good value out of Bring to Light so far, each time I cast it I pass by several spells that I wish I could get, but can't. I also keep forgetting it can't get Enchantments and many times Mirari's Wake is the #1 thing I really want to fetch up. But here I'm not sure if the call is to cut Bring to Light or just improve the selection of things it can find.

Before we get into that little conundrum, I am going to address another card that is under-performing for similar reasons. Baral's Expertise is a great card, but in a deck with such a high number of high CMC cards, I have often failed to capitalize on the "free spell" portion of the card. And when I do get to drop something for free it's almost always a mana rock or ramp spell. Not terrible value by any means, and the tempo play of bouncing three things is quite good on it's own. But if we're going to just write off the whole free spell rider, then surely there is a more impactful thing we can play instead.

Finally, I'm less and less sure about Rashmi being in the list as I play the deck. She's certainly good - and when you manage to build your own Prophet of Krupix with Seedborm+Orrery/Leyline, she's REALLY good. But that ideal scenario comes up far to infrequently, so most of the time she's just kinda okay. Just okay isn't really what we're looking for, so I think we have to consider giving her the boot as well.

There are also some newer inclusions that I have yet to really get a chance to test since I've added them in. Animatou's Augury and Star of Extinction are two such cards. I have high hopes for them both but as of yet do not have any games under my belt with those. Also, I had at some point inexplicably cut Consecrated Sphinx, but quickly came to my senses and put it back in after a few games wherein I needed card draw.

Back to the matter at hand, we have four cards that are at least possibly getting replaced: Rashmi, Rebirth, Bring to Light, and Baral's Expertise. And I have two possible inclusions in mind already in Debtor's Knell and Muldrotha. But I honestly don't really know what I want for the other slots!

This is a true rarity for me - I almost always have more cards I want to put into a deck than will fit, and I also almost always know what I want for a replacement when a card doesn't wind up working out. But for once, I am not certain - I do think that I probably want to keep the same function for each slot - a big reanimation spell, a defensive/interactive spell, a value generator and a tutor of some kind. But those aren't set in stone either.

These situations are pretty rare, but when they occur I have a couple of quick and easy sources of inspiration - and the visual spoilers for the newest couple of Magic sets. I'm pretty much always a few sets (or more) behind on my Magic collecting these days, and even further behind in actually updating my decks. It's kind of a miracle that I have something as recent as Animatou's Augury in this deck but nothing else is anywhere near that current, so we can definitely scope out M19 and Guilds of Ravnica for ideas.

But let's start with EDHREC, simply because if I find something there I am much more likely to have the card or cards on hand already. M19 and Ravnica are sets I have not yet caught up on.

... And I'm back. After scouring EDHREC's page for Jodah for several minutes, I am coming back empty-handed. There are plenty of good, powerful cards I am not using such as Expropriate, Elesh Norn or the Eldrazi titans. But I want fun stuff, not make-my-friends-hate-me stuff. Swarm Intellegence is another one of those high-cost value enchantments I love, but I don't think I have quite as many instants and sorceries as you'd need to really make that one work for you. And it actually kinda feels win-more. Animatou's Augury and Tooth and Nail are already pretty back-breaking without needing to double up on them.

So I turned instead to those recent sets that I have not yet had much of a chance to collect from and play with. M19 offered up a couple of possible choices in Chaos Wand and Vaevictus Asmadi. The Wand is a bit iffy, but there are lots of times, I tap for WUBRG to Fist something into play, but then have 3 or 4 mana left over - not enough to Fist another spell, nor enough to cast any of the big, expensive things still in my hand. Wand lets us use that leftover mana, and is on the theme of stealing our opponents' stuff and casting it for free (well, four generic mana in this case). But hitting sweepers is gonna feel REAL bad when it happens, so the Wand is maybe not my first choice.

Vaevictus doesn't get much of a cost savings from being Fisted, but his mass-Chaos Warp effect is pretty sweet in a deck this loaded with high-value bombs. But some of those bombs are Instants or Sorceries, so he could whiff a higher-than-desired percentage of the time.

Guilds of Ravnica didn't yield too many results either. Thief of Sanity could be a suitable replacement for Rashmi - it's cheaper, flies and gets good value off successfully connecting with an opponent. But it also doesn't let us cast what we steal for free - not a deal breaker but also enough to keep it from being an automatic inclusion. Knight of Autumn and Plaguecrafter are basically strictly-better upgrades to Reclamation Sage and Fleshbag Marauder respectively, by the way - but those weren't cards we really needed to upgrade! Just something worth noting for later, nonetheless.

Battlebond has virtually nothing we want here, and Commander 19 already gave us it's best goodie in Aminatou's Augury. Except that Windgrace's Judgement might be a really good replacement for Baral's Expertise - they're both five-cost spells that answer three things. Since we're rarely getting any value from the "cast a free four-mana spell" rider, it's essentially straight upgrade from a Sorcery-speed "bounce three" to an Instant-speed "destroy three". Seems good.

And since I had so few other things jump out at me, let's go ahead and just decide now to replace Primeval's Glorious Rebirth with Debtor's Kneel and give the Rector something else to pick from.

That leaves us with Rashmi and Bring to Light left to worry about. Bring to Light is unique enough that it could be just about anything, and as such it is hard to know what in the heck to replace it with. But as it happens, the card most closely resembles a Tutor. Sure it let's you cast whatever you tutor up for free, right there on the spot. But it's also restricted by CMC and card type. Remember, I frequently lament not being able to get Wake with it. So maybe it should just be an actual tutor - Demonic Tutor maybe? Yeah, I think that'll do nicely. It's cheap enough we could sometimes still cast what we tutor for right away, but even when not it often sets up really strong plays for the following turn. And unlike Bring to Light it has the corner case use of being able to tutor up a land if we're desperate for one. It's a bit boring, but probably the best functionally-similar option we have.

As for Rashmi, I could leave her and give her more of a chance to prove her worth. Or she could easily give way to either Vaevictus or Muldrotha. This last choice is one I have not yet made up my mind on, and will continue to mull it over.

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