The War Report: Arachnophobia

At some point or another I traded a friend for Ishkanah, Grafwidow. I have yet to build a Golgari deck, and for whatever reason this commander spoke to me more so than the ones on offer. Part of this is due to the fact that I already have a Meren in my playgroup and though I was also interested in building Slimefoot, I also have a Ghave deck in the playgroup so both of those were sort of off limits. Golgari decks tend to focus on sacrifice and recursion, but Ishkanah doesn’t really focus on either. Instead, she’s basically the go-to commander to lead Spider heavy decks due to her abilities. Let’s take a look:

This spider queen has a solid 3/5 body and Reach like most spiders, which means that she can inherently block creatures with flying and has the ability to withstand a fair amount of damage. She also has a Delirium trigger, where if you have four card types in your graveyard, she also creates three spider tokens as an ETB. Lastly, for a whopping 7 mana you can drain a single opponent for one life per spider you control. Unfortunately she doesn’t give spiders anything else, but this does mean that you can potentially finish someone off given enough spiders and a low life total. With this is mind, let’s look at the spiders and spider related cards I’ve included in the deck:

Generally speaking, most of the spiders in the game are vanilla creatures with more toughness than power and though they all have reach they don’t usually do much else. I’ve found some of the better ones and included them here, some with vigilance or deathtouch or other special abilities. Otherwise, the only other cards in the deck that have anything to do with spiders are Arachnogenesis and Spider Spawning, both of which create some extra tokens for us. Spiders are similar to walls in the fact that they have high toughness, so I’ve added Assault Formation to the mix as well, which will allow most of the spiders to hit for 5+ damage rather than 3 or less. I have included several creatures that aren’t part of the tribe but should synergize well:

Most of the rest of these creatures are insects or have something to do with insects. I’m looking for extra tokens to use as sacrifice fodder and to go wide. Some of these creatures also have some form of recursion baked in, or double as sacrifice outlets. We mainly want to be able to sacrifice and recur various creatures with ETB effects, but also make a ton of tokens in the process while allowing our bigger threats to be potential finishers. Here’s the other support cards that will help with these processes:

Here we have some card draw that also fills up your graveyard (for later recursion), a couple of win-cons in Beastmaster Ascension and Triumph of the Hordes (go wide decks will love the power boost + infect). Bow of Nylea provides deathtouch to all attacking creatures, so your lowly 1/1 tokens can take out huge blockers. Otherwise it’s a bunch of recursion (outside of the creature based recursion already included). Lastly, Dictate of Erebos will help you thin out the board as you can sacrifice little tokens to any outlet you happen to have and force your opponents to sacrifice their actual creatures. Win/win.

I’ve also included a small removal package consisting of Beast Within and similar cards. There are a couple of tutors like Green Sun’s Zenith and Diabolic Tutor, but this is a budget build ($161 at the time of this writing) so I didn’t include any single card that’s over $10. It’s not going to be as competitive as a Meren deck, but the flavor is there and that’s important too.

The War Report: PING!

The Prerelease for Guilds of Ravnica starts this weekend, and I plan to attend on Sunday to try and get my hands on some sweet new cards. When we first started seeing spoilers for the set, one of the new legendary creatures stood out to me as something I’d want to build, and I shared that build for Lazav recently. Afterwards, I took another look at the legendary creatures in the set and decided that I also wanted to brew something up for the new Niv-Mizzet, Parun. You might ask why, considering I already have a Locust God deck that does similar things, and one of the old Niv-Mizzets is already in that decklist. Let’s look at the similarities between these cards, and why I think the new Niv-Mizzet deserves his own deck:

The Locust God, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and Niv-Mizzet, Parun all have three things in common. They’re Izzet, they have flying, and they want you to draw cards. However, each does something that is unique as well. Locust God wants to draw cards to create hasty 1/1 fliers. He can loot for 4 cmc, and is basically immortal, as he is returned to your hand any time he dies (so he avoids commander tax). The OG Niv-Mizzet still wants to draw cards, but so that he can do 1 damage to any target. He can be tapped to draw a card and get this result. The new Niv-Mizzet however, has some interesting features. Firstly, he can’t be countered, so you don’t have to worry about that form of removal. Second, he has the same ability as the OG Niv-Mizzet, in that drawing cards allows you to ping for 1 damage each. However, he also draws cards off of each instant and sorcery spell cast. This means in a spell-slinging deck, you get double value. Let’s say you play a wheel, you’ll draw a card off the cast trigger and do a damage, so the wheel replaces itself, but then you discard all cards in hand and typically draw the same amount so you’ll do that much more damage as that spell resolves. Guess what else we can do? Storm!

The Perfect Storm:

You’ll notice, the only card listed above that even has the word “storm” on it is the new one from GRN, Thousand-Year Storm. This isn’t actually a storm build. However, in a sense it is. Thousand-Year Storm enables a quasi-storm build because it allows you to copy any instant or sorcery you cast and pick new targets. I’ve included a bunch of other spells and creatures that do the same thing. The idea here is to continuously copy spells like your wheels and continuously cycle through the deck, while pinging your opponents to death with Niv-Mizzet (both versions), Psychosis Crawler, Electrostatic Field or Guttersnipe. We’ve also included token generators like Talrand, Young Pyromancer and the new Murmering Mystic so you have some blockers but if you go off enough you might be able to end a game with them too.

Wheels + Pings:

I’ve included a comprehensive package of wheels, minus the original Wheel of Fortune because it’s super expensive. Most of these will target opponents too, so that you can disrupt their gameplan. Teferi’s Puzzle Box is probably the most fun, particularly if you can get a few of your creatures out that will ping for damage each turn.

Recursion:

I didn’t want to put a ton of recursion into the deck as we mostly want to sling spells, but we’re able to get some extra value by recurring them, so here’s a few ways to do so. Why not get an extra use out of a wheel or copy another spell?

Ways to win:

Besides wanting to wheel and ping everyone to death naturally throughout the game, we have a few finishers here to seal the deal. Because wheels can self mill you to death, I’ve included Laboratory Maniac as a fail safe. I’ve also included the Isochron Scepter/Dramatic Reversal combo and a suite of rocks that will help it go off. Paradox Engine can help with this as well, since it will untap things as you are casting all of those cheap spells. If you can generate the infinite mana, you can use Blue Sun’s Zenith or Stroke of Genius to cause an opponent to draw their library. Alternatively, you can use Pull From Tomorrow to finish off your own library with Lab Man on the board. Comet Storm will allow you to kill everyone at once give infinite mana. Omniscience is there just to make casting easier for when you get your wheels in motion, and a kicked Rite of Replication targeting Psychosis Crawler or any of the token generators should help seal a game.

Other tools:

Otherwise we have some nice tools that are on color. Consecrated Sphinx gets you more card draw, Chaos Warp is good removal, and Propaganda will help to protect you in early game skirmishes. I’ve also included nearly all of the mana rocks that can be sacrificed for card draw, which may or may not come in handy but I believe that it will. Overall I think it looks like a solid deck and though it is similar to Locust God, it wants to win in different ways, and I like that. I’ll report back after the Prerelease on my performance and lucky pulls! Til then!

The War Report: Lazav Toolbox

As is the norm around here, when a new set for Magic: The Gathering comes out I try to be on top of spoilers and in turn, brews that can come up with those new sets. There are several new legendary creatures coming with Guilds of Ravnica, and one of those immediately stood out as something that I knew I’d want to build around. I own a copy of the original Lazav, who came out in Guildpact (I think?) and he was always a character I enjoyed the look of. He definitely does Dimir things, in that he can copy creatures that are headed to opponent’s graveyards and become them, whether they are a lowly 1/1 or a massive Eldrazi. He also had hexproof, so getting rid of him was tricky. The new version of Lazav is a similar design, but also a bit different. Take a look:

A 1/3 body for two mana (Dimir). I like where this is going. His ETB makes use of the new keyword, Surveil, which allows you to look at the top card of your library and then either put it back or put it into your graveyard. His activated ability costs X, which is equal to the CMC of the creature in your own graveyard that is copied, and he gets all the cards characteristics, from P/T to it’s rules text, along with remaining a legendary creature and it keeps Lazav’s ability, so you can copy something else at any time. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break things down into what we should focus on when building a Lazav, the Multifarious deck.

  • Graveyard matters. Surveil is a great tool for getting cards into your graveyard.
  • Looting. There are a bunch of great cards in blue that allow us to draw cards and then discard cards, filling our hand and our graveyard simultaneously.
  • Targets. We want things that Lazav will benefit from copying, but also that aren’t too expensive, as our goal is to throw things into the yard and then copy them with Lazav.
  • Tutors. Not in the traditional sense, we want the cards that throw things into our graveyard.
  • Recursion. When you’re focused on filling your yard with cards, we’ll also want to bring some of them back, and there’s plenty of ways to do this.

So these are our subthemes. Let’s take a look at what I’ve included in my initial build:

Surveillance:

Besides Lazav himself, these cards all have the Surveil keyword and should compliment the rest of the deck’s build. Doom Whisperer is a great body along with a self-milling machine. You should be able to churn through to find what you want rather quickly with him. Enhanced Surveillance will also help as it lets you look at two additional cards when you surveil. Mission Briefing is some recursion along with having the keyword, and Notion Rain surveils and draws you some cards at the same time. Nightveil Sprite surveils on combat trigger, and can easily be copied if you want Lazav to get some extra surveillance in. Lastly, though he doesn’t have the keyword, Taigam basically does the same thing, getting you a card to your hand and two in the graveyard each upkeep. Next up, other loot cards that will synergize to help fill our graveyard.

Looting:

There are a ton of options when it comes to looting, which is a term to describe mostly symmetrical draw/discard cards. From creatures like Looter il-Kor to Wharf Infiltrator, they’ll get you a card and you can discard something juicy for Lazav to target in the graveyard. Windfall and Jace’s Archivist will dump your hand, the table’s hand and you get to draw a bunch of cards. Ancient Excavation will do the same to just you. Generally, these cards will help you to churn through your library to get the cards you want into the graveyard.

Tutors: 

There are only three tutors here, and they are Demonic, Vampiric, or Mystical. The reason being is that we don’t really want to cast most of these cards from hand, particularly the high CMC ones. We want to target creatures from our library and dump them into the yard for Lazav to copy. Entomb and Buried Alive work best, but Dimir House Guard can be transmuted to pull out a couple of our creatures as well.

Recursion:

Recursion is pretty straightforward in this deck. Oversold Cemetery and Sheoldred will get you a creature back each turn. Whisper and the Doomed Necromancer require sacrifice to recur, and the other spells can help you get cards back in a variety of ways. These are best used when a creature has an ETB that you can exploit over and over like Ravenous Chupacabra or Fleshbag Marauder. Also a nice way to get something back someone used a spell to remove.

Select Targets:

A cool thing to note when using Lazav’s ability: when a card reads “when ____ enters the battlefield” or “when ____ comes into play” you don’t have to resolve those effects. Lazav is copying something, and thereby not entering the battlefield, so you can avoid some nasty side effects and get big creatures on the cheap as long as he copies them from the graveyard. So cards like Leveler, Hunted Horror, Hunted Phantasm, Eater of days, and Nyxathid don’t have any downside despite being big creatures and costing a small CMC. You can also target the Vector Asp to get its ability to have infect, Invisible Stalker to gain hexproof and unblockable, etc. Keep in mind, you can copy an unblockable ability, then after the declare blockers step, copy a bigger creature and still get in unblocked. It’s a nice trick.

One Win Con:

Besides poking people down with commander damage or infect, here’s a pretty solid win-con. You need Necrotic Ooze to either be on the battlefield or copy it with Lazav. It/he then gains all activated abilities of all creatures in all graveyards. Then, you’ll want Bloodline Keeper and Grimgrin in the graveyard so that you can activate BK’s tap ability to create a vampire token. You can then activate Grimgrin’s sac outlet to sacrifice the token, untapping the Ooze/Lazav and gaining a +1/+1 counter. You can literally do this infinite times, then copy an unblockable effect and boom. Game over.

There are some other odds and ends I didn’t discuss here, but you can check out the full deck list over here.

Thoughts on Stormbound

My mobile game kick continues this month with another title I’ve found quite likable: Stormbound — developed by Paladin Studios and published by Kongregate (which has hosted a ton of these bite-sized indie games over the years). This particular title grabbed my attention because it features some deckbuilding but also has some turn-based strategy mixed in. These sort of hybrid genres have been becoming more commonplace, but it takes the right mixture of elements to keep things engaging, and Stormbound manages to pull this off. You’ll start the game with a tutorial that explains the basics.

The battlefield is pictured above. This grid is where all the action takes place. Your base is the bottom triangle with the 10 on it, while the enemy’s base is the top triangle. Your goal is to summon creatures on your side of the battlefield and have them make the journey to the enemy’s base, eventually entering and destroying it. Your minions (and spells) come from cards, and you’ll only have a few when you start off. As you beat the tutorial and the game’s campaign levels, you’ll open more cards from different factions and be able customize your deck. Each minion will have different strength (number on the left of the card) and movement (on the right). Some have other abilities that trigger based on certain game states, like doing 2 damage to an adjacent enemy or giving strength to a friendly. The strength of a unit is represented by the number of soldiers that occupy that unit’s square, while the movement stat applies the turn you play the card: if it says 1, then the unit will immediately move to the square ahead of it, attacking enemies too if they happen to be there.

After the tutorial the campaign lies in wait to be tackled. There are four factions consisting of four levels each, so it’s not a very lengthy campaign, but each level you beat will give you some additional cards. After that, it’s up to you to battle against other players and finish daily quests to earn gold to buy more cards. Of course, this means there are microtransactions as well, but they don’t seem to be necessary to win some matches and make some progress.

Gold is the earned in-game currency, while rubies are the RMT. You can buy some single cards and books (essentially packs) for gold, and other options require the rubies but it doesn’t seem too exploitative. I don’t intend to spend any money on it, but it’s still something I like to cover when I talk about mobile titles.

At this point I’ve opened up a handful of cards from each of the factions, beaten a couple of the campaign chapters, and won a couple of PvP fights. Each faction has some uniqueness to them, but they feel fairly balanced. I haven’t done much with the initial deck given, as I don’t have enough faction cards to devote to just one. It’s unclear how much you can mix and match between them either. In the campaign I’ve used nothing but the neutral cards that I’ve opened up, and of course you only face one faction at a time so there aren’t cards from other factions mixed in from what I can tell. Perhaps you can use a mix of neutral and faction cards, but it’s not likely that you can use multiple factions at once. Either way, I’ll find what works and stick with it.

At this point I’m still in the learning stages, but I have enjoyed the gameplay enough to keep going. I’m surprised because usually I can’t find mobile games that appeal to me on a long term — in the past couple of years I’ve only really played Clash Royale, but now I’ve got four titles I’m playing simultaneously and daily. Either that means the quality of mobile games has improved lately, or maybe I’m just finally giving them a chance. Whatever the case I’m glad to have found a few titles that I take with me everywhere I go.

The War Report: Zombies 3.0

I’ve had a strange relationship with the new Commander 2018 product. My initial impressions were that the were a mostly crap product. This is still a bit true, as many of the precon exclusive cards were lackluster, there were no good high dollar reprints and much of each deck is chaff that won’t see play. There were the new commanders though, and those are usually worth having to brew around. I’m just focusing on the Esper and Bant precons at this point, and have already built Yuriko, Estrid and Tuvasa, though I have come around to deck ideas for both Yennett and Varina, the latter which we will be covering today. It’s funny because I went from considering not even buying these precons to actually wanting three of them to wanting to build a ton of decks out of them. Varina was written off by my immediately, but having more time to think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that this should be my Zombie deck version 3.0. The first Zombie tribal EDH deck I build used Gisa and Geralf at the helm, then when the Scarab God released I changed to him (but kept G&G in the 99) and now I’m adding another color and keeping both the prior commanders in the 99 of the deck. But that’s not all, this is a heavily modified version of my last decklist with Scarab God at the helm. About a 50/50 split of cards from the prior build and cards I do not own (yet). Let’s take a look at our General and then see how things have changed.

For 1 and Esper, we get a 4/4 Zombie Wizard that lets us loot for every attacking Zombie each turn. As a bonus, we also gain that much life. With her second ability you can pay 2 mana and exile two cards from our graveyard to create a 2/2 tapped Zombie token. In my prior Scarab God build, I already had some token strategy, some sacrificing, some lords and anything that really had zombie flavor. It was basically a “Zombie Goodstuff” deck, but it was never overly competitive. I feel like the shenanigans can get way more out of hand with Varina, as it should be easy for us to fill up our hand with cards due to producing a bunch of zombie tokens and then attacking with them, and when we discard things we don’t need, we get extra value by exiling those cards to make more tokens. With a mixture of sacrificing and hand manipulation we can include some graveyard tricks and get value out of cards that aren’t doing anything for us at that moment. We’ll be able to churn through our deck efficiently and should be able to find our game breaking cards rather quickly. Let’s look at our token strategy first:

Token Strategy:

Anointed Procession is quite possible the single most important white card we’ve added to the mix, as it will do some amazing things. Have it on the board and cast an Army of the Damned? How’s 26 2/2’s sound? Attack with Grave Titan and get four instead of two. Sacrifice a big creature with Ghoulcaller Gisa to get double that creature’s power’s worth of tokens. You see where this is going. There’s a fair mix of token generating spells and creatures here, along with one Planeswalker that not only gives us Zombies but is also a one sided board wipe. Aven Wind Guide is one of the only non-Zombie creatures included in my list, but it does have the Embalm keyword, so it can come back as a Zombie when it dies, and it gives all of your tokens flying and vigilance, nice! Another special note for Lich Lord of Unx, he has a nice damage + mill effect for a minimal amount of mana that could be a finisher under the right circumstances. Lastly, Zombie Infestation is sort of redundancy with our commander, but instead of exiling from our graveyard we’ll discard two cards to create a Zombie token, which we can then exile to create another and if you have procession out… well you get the picture.

Lords:

Any self respecting tribal deck should have a number of lords included in it, and I think Zombies might have the most. There are five here that give all zombies +1/+1, and most have other subtext that also provides evasion, life drain or recursion. Undead Warchief both cheapens casting costs for Zombies but also gives +2/+1 to them, and the OG Zombie Master gives our creatures swampwalk and regeneration. There is a creature that was included in the deck called Zombie Trailblazer that will change opponent’s lands into swamps so you can swing unhindered.

Drain Effects:

Besides creating a ton of tokens and swinging for the win, we have a subtheme where we drain the life from our opponents just for having our creatures changing zones. In some cases, a Zombie enters the battlefield and we drain opponent’s life and gain some in return. In other cases each opponent loses life when a Zombie dies. Shepherd of Rot taps to drain life from everyone for each Zombie you control (including you, but lifelink should help). The Merchant counts your devotion to black and then drains and gives you life. Besides some of our creatures I’ve already covered (and a couple I didn’t) that have sacrifice outlets, there’s also Ashnod’s Altar and Altar of Dementia which give us mana and mill opponents respectively. There’s also a fun card in Call to the Grave that forces each player to sacrifice a non-Zombie creature each upkeep, and since we mostly have Zombies we will be unscathed. Ditto Kindred Dominance naming Zombies.

Other Utility:

These cards all support our main themes. Casting Approach of the Second Sun and then digging it back out should be quick and easy — that’s a win. After draining everyone through the course of a game, you can finish them with a well played Exsanguinate — that’s a win. Rooftop Storm makes your Zombies free, Reconnaissance can pull your creatures out of combat so they don’t die but you’ll still get the card draw. Oversold Cemetery will get you back the cards you’re discarding to Cryptbreaker or your commander. Gravecrawler is value and be cast over and over again in a single turn if you have another zombie, and that can drain people out, especially with Rooftop Storm. There’s some other recursion here along with Fatestitcher for some untapping action, Vesper Ghoul for some extra mana, and Blood Scrivener will help us with more card draw if we end up dumping our hands into our library. Overall I think the synergies here will work much better than my prior builds and I can’t wait to test this out! You can see the full decklist here.