The War Report: The Master Thief

I’ve been wanting to build a mono-black deck for some time now. Mainly I wanted an excuse to purchase some of the cards that are excellent in the color, like Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to name a couple. I also already have mono-red (Krenko), mono-white (Sram) and mono-green (Yisan) covered. I’ll eventually get around to making a mono-blue deck as well but for now that’s on the to-do list. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of commanders in mono-black that rank high on the tier list, and those ended up being ones that I wasn’t overly interested in. One commander that I’ve always found intriguing and eventually decided to make my mono-black commander is Gonti, Lord of Luxury:

Gonti is a 2/3 for 4 mana with deathtouch. That alone is pretty decent, but his ETB trigger allows you to look at the top four cards of any opponent’s library and choose one to exile, which you can then cast at will and use any color of mana to cast it. So basically every time Gonti hits the battlefield I get to steal something from an opponent and don’t have to worry what color it is. That’s a great ability and though I’ve used Gonti in other decks to add some spice, I felt like he was good enough to build a whole deck around. So what’s our goal? Mainly we want to abuse Gonti’s ability as much as possible, which means adding ways to recur him, bounce him back to our hand to use again, and we’re going for being able to make big mana to spend on X spells to finish out games. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that black can really make a shitload of mana:

Most of the big mana producers are lands, but most would only really be effective in a mono-black deck, mainly because they rely on having basic swamps or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to make all of your lands into swamps. Cabal Coffers is the best example, as you pay 2 colorless mana and tap it to gain black mana equal to the number of swamps you control. Clearly these two cards play well together. Cabal Stronghold is a new version of the same concept, though it costs 3 mana to use the ability and only gives you mana equal to the number of basic swamps you control, so Urborg’s ability doesn’t help it out. It’s still nice redundancy, as is Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx which gives mana in the color of your choosing equal to your devotion of that color. I’ve also added Crypt of Agadeem which gives more mana equal to the number of black creatures in the graveyard. Further redundancy comes from Magus of the Coffers and Nirkana Revenant, which both mimic Cabal Coffers in creature form. Lastly, each time a creature dies with Black Market on the board = a counter on the enchantment. You’ll get black mana for each counter on it during each precombat main phase. If you get a few of these on the board you can make some crazy amounts of mana! But what are we using the mana for?

These are the main three spells we’ll want to target when we can make explosive amounts of mana, though being able to make a bunch of mana can be helpful in other ways. Torment of Hailfire probably won’t end a game but it’s painful to have to go through the process multiple times. Exsanguinate is a finisher for sure, as you do damage to all opponents and gain a ton of life in the process. Lastly, a new Dominaria card, Josu Vess costs quite a bit to kick, but when you do pay the kicker you get 8 2/2’s with menace along with Josu himself who is a 4/5 with menace as well. Outside of making big mana and having some finishers, your main goal will be to abuse black’s ability to recur creatures, and abuse their ETB abilities to try and control the board state, along with stealing people’s stuff! Here’s some of the best ETB creatures I’ve included:

You’ll see that the main theme here is removal on creatures, either by forcing opponents to sacrifice their creatures or being able to destroy targets. Disciple of Bolas will make you sacrifice your own creature but lets you draw cards and gain life. Gray Merchant of Asphodel can do some big chunks of damage if you have the devotion, and Abhorrent Overlord and Grave Titan create tokens on entry. Lastly, a new Dominaria card called Torgaar Famine Incarnate causes an opponent to lose half their life at least and will definitely slow down life gain decks. The best news is that these creatures can be further exploited by using sacrifice outlets to then bring them back from the grave yard to use again and again. Let’s look at how we can do so:

Graveyard recursion is pretty damn strong in black. Cards like Oversold Cemetery and Palace Siege will get you a card from your graveyard back to your hand each upkeep. Sheoldred will do the same but also makes opponents sacrifice creatures in the process. Hell’s Caretaker and Whisper will both allow you to sacrifice creatures to bring others back, and others here will return others to the battlefield just off of their ETB. Mikaeus is great in this deck because most of the creatures are non-human so they’ll get +1/+1 along with undying so if they do go the graveyard they come right back and the ETB’s will trigger again. Another trick is to bounce your own creatures, using things like Skull Collector and Erratic Portal. One forces you to return creatures to your hand each upkeep, the other is a paid ability so you can say target Gonti, returning him to your hand and then play him again to get another ETB trigger. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Otherwise I’ve added fun things like the cards above. Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat will help to do some chip damage as you’re sacrificing creatures or forcing your opponents to. You can force your opponents to do so with cards like Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact. I’ve also included Panharmonicon and Strionic Resonator so we can double up on some of our ETB’s and that’s about it. I’ve added a bunch of spot removal spells and a few board wipes along with some decent mana rocks to help things along. That’s about all there is to the deck but I think it will be a fun one to pilot!

The War Report: Dominaria Spoiled

Magic Open House for Dominaria is this weekend, and that means that spoilers have been coming out over the course of the month. Prerelease is the following weekend, and I’ve already preordered a box of Dominaria, so I will be able to pick it up at that point. The official release is the weekend after, and I assume these cards will be making their way in to Magic Arena soon as well. Since spoilers are complete by now, I thought that I’d offer some of my thoughts on some of the great cards that are coming, and show off some of those that I’m looking forward to the most (through the EDH lens of course). This has become a thing around here, so I’m sure you understand where this is going. Let’s get started!

Multi-color:

The Planes walkers for this set are clearly Teferi and Chandra with a showing by Jaya as well. Teferi is busted in some of his other forms, but these ones are so-so. Probably decent for superfriends, and his oath definitely goes in that style deck. Nearly all of these creatures could be a commander in their own right, but I feel like most will slot into decks that I already have built (or have brewed). The simic merfolk will slot right into Kumena, for instance. The Orzhov Vampire will love to hang out with Edgar Markov, and though I won’t use all of these cards in decks at the moment, most are pretty good additions to particular deck styles, so I wanted to showcase them. I know if I pull any of these they will either see play or be traded away for other cards that I need, but I’m impressed with amount of Legendary creatures that are in this set, along with most of them being pretty powerful in their own right.

White:

Besides the new Historic keyword, we’ve also got Sagas, which are a legendary enchantment type. They do a series of things for multiple turns, and there are only a few that I find useful, one being the Fall of the Thran, mainly because it’s an Armageddon but you’ll get some land back (particularly good if you can remove opponent’s graveyards from play before they get the land back). There’s finally an Angel lord, and I’ll slot that right into Kaalia. Danitha also will slot right into Sram since she fills a void for making equipment and auras cheaper and that’s something a Voltron commander wants. There are some great cards here that can potentially beef up a number of decks out there.

Blue:

There are probably more blue cards that I could showcase but these were the few that really stood out. I’m finally building an Inalla deck (from the C17 precon) because of the dean above — he’s basically a Panharmonicon on legs that interacts with Wizards, and wizard tribal works best with Inalla. There a couple new counterspells here as well that are pretty decent, and the Master Wizard is great for spellslinger decks!

Black:

More goodies for black, including more removal and a pretty decent Saga. I’m really loving the Demonlord for kaalia and the Knight is a potentially awesome commander, particularly due to one of the lands coming out in this set helping mono black make big mana which you’ll need for that kicker cost. Otherwise there’s some good card draw and value for the color in this set.

Red:

Red is typically pretty meh regardless of the set, but that Chandra isn’t bad, and I’m seeing some good Goblin options for Krenko. The Chainwhirler is a nice board wipe on a stick (against token decks) while the Squee reprint is a nice addition as he doesn’t really ever die. Sure he doesn’t do much else but he can help recover from wipes. Also a new version of lightning bold for Wizard decks is pretty good too.

Green:

I wasn’t too impressed with the options in green in Dominaria. There are some interesting cards but nothing that makes me want to create a new brew and nothing that really slots into decks I build. However, green has been ramping in power for the last few sets so perhaps it’s time it took the back burner for a while. Multani is good in landfall decks, and a new Naturalize that also nets you a land on the battlefield is pretty much a new staple.

Artifacts/Lands:

There are some awesome artifacts in this set, I’ve highlighted some of the best here. A reprint of Gilded Lotus is a nice boon and will likely bring the price of this staple down a bit. A new Mox is also important for decks that need artifact ramp. I love that new wall, and will throw it in my janky wall deck. The blad and the Weatherlight are both going in Sram for me, and both are very good in that regard. I’m also happy to see them reprint more of the “have” lands, another set of those is good for budget mana bases. Lastly, Cabal Stronghold is a great addition to any mono black deck — it’s not as good as Cabal Coffers, but it’s still definitely worth a slot and I’m going to try and brew something in the color after I get my hands on the new cards.

Overall I think this set is better than the Ixalan block by a mile. Despite enjoying that set and seeing Dinosaurs and Pirates becoming viable tribes and also enjoying the new Merfolk and Vampires, it just wasn’t all that exciting. This set excites me and sort of resets the EDH meta a bit, and I look forward to opening up the box when the time comes to see what I get. I’ll try and do a post about that when the time comes similar to the post that I made back when I bought a box of Aether Revolt. Until then, happy gaming all!

TWR: Commander League

The LGS I have been going to in recent months for Commander events has recently changed up their format. Since the beginning of this month they are calling it the “Commander League” and rather than getting prizes at the end of that particular day, they are now tallying points up throughout the month and awarding prizes at the end. Also, instead of three round events, they are having a couple of rounds starting at different times on both Fridays and Sundays. Instead of paying an $8 buy-in there is now a $5 per round fee, so essentially the shopkeeper is making money hand over fist and will only really pay out one person at the end. At least that’s the gist of it, I’m not sure if there are prizes for 2nd or 3rd place, or if there are any participation packs for others. I know that he’s got some sort of Unstable art poster as a prize, but otherwise who knows. My roommate and I have been cool with paying the nominal fee just to have others to play with, so we’ll likely pop in again, but so far we have only participated the one day, this past Sunday.

We showed up at 2pm when things were supposed to start, but unfortunately no one else had shown up to that point. It seems he was having the store championship for Rivals of Ixalan, so the people that were there were present for that. The 2nd round of EDH games was due to start at 3:30, so we decided to go get some lunch and come back. When we arrived the second time, the two guys we played with the first time we attended one of these events were there, so we managed to have a four player round. The round was supposed to go for 80 minutes, and we took it to time, but during the last few rounds I was able to win the game, so that was good. Here were our commanders for the event:

My roommate ran with Meren, I played Zur, and the other two were running Sen Triplets and Arcanis. I was impressed by the player who was using Arcanis, he managed to have great ramp, excellent card draw and did some tricky things during the round, including eliminating my roommate from the game. After that, I was able to eliminate him and then finish of the Sen Triplets player. It was a blast and I was glad that even though it took me a while to get going I was able to win this game with a life total of 64! It’s not even a lifegain deck but that’s just the way it worked out.

We played another round for fun, this time I played my Simic Merfolk deck and my roommate played this new Joira deck that technically isn’t even legal to play yet, as he had a couple proxies in it that are from the new Dominaria set that has yet to release. We allowed it anyway, and it turned out to be a pretty potent deck, though he was once again eliminated by the Arcanis player. We ended up scooping soon thereafter as the shopkeeper needed to close down for the day.

Overall it was a fun experience once again, though I’m not sure how many times we’ll be able to go over the course of the month. It seems like if you’re someone who can go every Friday and Sunday you’d have an unfair advantage over those who can only go a couple of times a month. I hope there is some sort of consolation prize, because otherwise it’s just throwing money away to play with randoms. I’ll report back with more details once I figure that bit out. Rumor has it that the member of our playgroup that moved away might come for a visit this month, so that would be a nice change of pace — playing at home with friends is always more fun.

The War Report: Free Hugs

Each time I feature a deck in this series I try to either stay relevant to current releases (i.e. building a deck around a new legendary creature that was a recent release, (think things like Locust God or Temmet) or showcase a new style of build (like building a life gain or spellslinger deck). In this edition of The War Report I wanted to take a look at a new brew I’ve thrown together in the style of “Group Hug.” Typically Group Hug decks tend to feature a general that has some sort of ability that benefits your opponents. This sounds counter-intuitive, but I assure you that you can use this false sense of security that you’re giving to your opponents to your advantage. The idea behind Group Hug decks is that your opponents won’t want to eliminate you first, mainly because you are providing them with some sort of benefit — be it card draw, donating permanents or the like. Because of this, many people don’t feel like Group Hug decks can be very competitive and in truth I felt the same way, but I figured that there had to be a way to win out of nowhere, especially if I empower my enemies and they leave me alone long enough. Let’s take a look at our general so you can get a taste of what I mean:

There are several commanders that have been labelled as group hug generals, and Selvala is one of them. She ended up being the one I chose because I not only enjoy her ability but I also see the potential for combos using her. She’s also an Elf, so an Elf tribal subtheme is present as well. Her ability, Parley means that each time I tap her, everyone reveals the top card of their library, gets to draw a card as well, and I get green mana and life for each nonland card revealed. So clearly, I benefit the most, but I’m giving card draw to everyone and for that they will likely leave me alone for a while. This will give us time to establish our board state.

Elfball:

It’s not a term everyone uses, but typically if you are playing a package of mana dorks like this, it’s called an Elfball. There are a variety of Elves here that provide one or two green mana by tapping, or have land tutoring ETB triggers. Two of them do some untapping for us, and a couple provide green mana per elf you control. There is one lone monk in there that isn’t an elf, but he can tap for white mana and that might be needed as well, as this is a G/W deck. This is the biggest part of our mana base, though I have included a healthy amount of lands along with some rocks that will help too, but many of our combos depend on these little Elves to get things done. Before we get to the combo section of this article though, first let’s look at some of the other group hug mechanics:

Group Hug:

Since we’re building Selvala in a Group Hug fashion, I wanted to make sure to include some cards that not only benefit me, but benefit others. There are many throughout Magic’s history but some of these cards I’d never play under other circumstances. Howling Mine and Horn of Greed are one thing, they just provide extra card draw for everyone and I can live with that. Cards like Hunted Wumpus or Iwamori of the Open Fist are harder to swallow — these allow people to play cards for free from their hand when I cast them. Granted, I am getting large creatures for a low mana cost but I’m also benefiting the rest of the board and don’t look forward to seeing someone get an Emrakul for free if you know what I mean. Other cards allow me and opponents to get creature tokens, or ramp a bit, etc. These cards aren’t here to win me the game, they are here to help keep people off of my back since I’m helping them out so much so that I can develop my gameplan. To win with this particular group hug deck, there are a number of combos and other ways, which I’ll go over now.

Combos:

So, with any of the above Elves, and a minimum of 3 other mana dorks on the board, you can equip either Sword of the Paruns or Umbral Mantle to one of the big mana elves and essentially tap and untap at will to make infinite mana.

This combo is a little more convoluted, but still will produce infinite mana. You need an Elf that produces 3+ mana like the Archdruid here (and having enough Elves out at the time), which you will tap, then use Mirror Entity’s ability to turn your Wirewood Symbiote into an Elf. Return it to your hand with its ability (as it is now an Elf) to untap your Archdruid, which you can then tap to cast the Symbiote and rinse/repeat. So you can make infinite mana, but what are you going to use it for? And also, what if you can’t get all the pieces together quick enough for it to matter? I’ve included other win-cons in the deck as well, so let’s take a look at those.

Win Cons:

With infinite mana, we can win a game outright by throwing a bunch of mana into a Hurricane or Squall Line, though you will have to have more life than all of your opponents to do so. Via combat, we can use Beastmaster Ascension, Triumph of the Hordes and Ezuri’s ability to beef up our forces and do tons of damage. Alternatively, since we are gaining life often, we might flash in a Felidar Sovereign the turn before ours so that during our upkeep we win the game with a life total of 40 or more (more on how to flash him in later). Lastly, if we have a bunch of mana dorks out, we don’t really need land to cast spells, so a well timed Armageddon will wipe out everyone’s ability to respond to what we’re doing. Worst case scenario, if we can make a ton of mana we might be able to make an army of 4/4 Angels to do our dirty work with Luminarch Ascension.

Other Shenanigans:

These cards are the utility backbone of the deck. Giving all of my creatures haste is great for speeding up ramp, and there are some more untapping shenanigans as well. I added Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist because I actually wanted to build a deck around her, but find that she’s a good pillowfort tool in these colors. I’m sure I can find a way to keep her tapped and protect myself. Lastly, being able to flash in cards like Felidar Sovereign is important so I’ve added the Veldaken Orrery. This deck looks to be fun and unassuming but can theoretically pack a punch. Selvala is a Tier 2 general, so I think I should be able to find some consistency with her. I will report back once I’ve tested this one out!

TWR: Dominaria, Legendary Focus and Brawl

The next main set coming out for Magic: The Gathering is simply called Dominaria. The original plane from the beginnings of MTG, we have finally come full circle back to where it all began. Spoilers for the set were “accidentally” released a bit early, but we’re now in the official spoiler season for the set, and with it there have been some themes revealed and other special announcements.

The set releases on April 27th, featuring 269 new cards with a heavy focus on the Legendary super-type. Traditionally the word Legendary appears in front of the type of card you are playing with, and 99% of the existing Legendary cards are either Creatures or Planeswalkers (as the new legendary Planeswalker rules errated all existing Planeswalkers to be legendary). There are some legendary lands and artifacts, but that was the extent of it. This is important to EDH players like myself, as Legendary Creatures are the only ones able to be the Commander of your decks. With Dominaria, there was promised to be at least one Legendary card per pack, though they also added some additional types, like Legendary Spells. They have also added a new keyword called Historic, which now affects several types of cards. Legendary cards, artifacts and another new type of enchantment called a Saga. Sagas are like most enchantments, they are paid for and hit the board until they are dealt with, but they have an ETB trigger, then upkeep triggers that do different things. It was also announced that pre-orders for booster boxes have started, and the price is very tempting at $85 a box. The Buy-a-Box promo this time around is also an exclusive, meaning you can’t get the promo card anywhere else, which is a first. Here’s the card:

It’s not the most amazing card ever, but it is a new commander in boros which is sadly under-represented in most cases. I like the ability to make spells have lifelink, and I think I might actually brew a deck for these minotaurs. The added bonus of being able to Lighting Bolt creatures or players every time you gain life from a spell is nice too.

Another recent announcement had to do with a new format that Wizards is trying to start up. It’s called “Brawl” and it’s an EDH variant. Normally I get excited when I read about EDH variants but most of them are officially supported by Wizards, and thus they don’t get cards printed specifically for them. Kitchen table rules are a thing though, so we’re seeing Wizards themselves trying to add their own twist on the format. Here’s the rule breakdown:

  • Each player’s deck is exactly 60 cards. Other than basic lands, no card may appear in a deck more than once. Each card must be legal in the Standard format; cards banned in the Standard format can’t be played in the Brawl variant.
  • Before the game begins, each player designates one legendary creature or planeswalker card in their deck as their commander. This card begins the game in the command zone and the other 59 cards are shuffled up.
  • The mana symbols that appear on your commander dictate what cards may be in your deck. Mana symbols that don’t appear on your commander can’t be in the deck. For example, if the Dominaria card Firesong and Sunspeaker is your commander, your cards may have R, W, both, or neither, but no B, G, or U symbols may appear anywhere in your deck. This includes the card’s text box as well as its mana cost; for example, Pride Sovereign from the Hour of Devastation set can’t be in your deck if your commander has only G in its cost and rules text.
  • Each player begins the game at 30 life rather than 20. If you’re playing a multiplayer game (which we recommend for Brawl!), each player draws seven cards again on their first mulligan and the player who plays first draws a card on their first turn.
  • As long as your commander is in the command zone, you may cast it from there. Doing so costs an additional two mana for each time you have cast the card this way this game.
  • If your commander is countered or leaves the battlefield, you may put it back into the command zone instead of putting it anywhere else it would go.
  • The Brawl variant has no other rules for playing, winning, or losing the game. Have fun!

Here’s what I like about it: You can use normal everyday Planeswalkers as commanders for your Brawl decks. Under normal EDH rules you can only use the ones that have “this Planeswalker may be used as your commander” as your general. I’d actually be for this change in normal EDH myself, as there are a ton of Planeswalkers that are all Legendary now and that would open up a slew of new commander options.

Here’s what I don’t like: Everything else. Having a limited card pool just like Standard sucks. I moved away from Standard because I didn’t like the fact that you couldn’t play with the 25 years worth of cards that are out there. I also don’t like decks that are sub-100 cards. These decks will be 60 cards, and that’s not enough in my opinion. I’m even more turned off by the decks you build for pre-release events that are only 40 cards. I also think that this could potentially fracture not only the EDH crowd but also the Standard crowd… I mean we have a shitload of formats already I don’t think we need more. You can see the whole Brawl article here, but that’s my two cents.