The War Report: Death Rattle

Shortly after the arrival of Ravnica: Allegiance, I spoke about some of the new legendary creatures I was really excited for. Two of them were from color pairings that I’ve made multiple decks around, so I instead focused on the new Rakdos general Judith, along with the Gruul warleader. Admittedly, those look like fun decks to pilot and I am excited to build them — they definitely fall somewhere outside of my normal wheelhouse, and I love that about this game. Recently I was finally able to purchase some packs of the newest Magic: The Gathering set, and managed to get my hands on a copy of the new Teysa, and I rather enjoy her design.

She’s a 2/4 for 4, which isn’t a bad body alone for the cost, allowing you to avoid smaller burn spells. Teysa has two lines of rules text, and though they are both going to be relevant in my particular build, there is one portion that I want to focus more of our energy on. Teysa is the Panharmonicon of death triggers, much like Naban was the Panharmonicon for Wizards. She’ll double triggered abilities from creatures dying, and this can be a powerful effect however you should probably run a fairly creature-heavy build. I have done so, and first up I’d like to talk about some of our best death triggers:

Death Triggers:

It makes sense to add not only creatures who do something when they die, but also to include some creatures that do damage when other creatures die. Let’s look at our commander’s second line of text: Creature tokens you control have vigilance and lifelink. May I remind you that Orzhov as a guild loves to create spirit creature tokens, which are typically 1/1’s with flying. Now they’ll have vigilance and lifelink, and if they die, creatures like Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat will do not one, but two points of damage and will heal you for more beyond the lifelink. I think this has the potential to be potent given enough tokens, so I’ve included several creatures who create tokens when they die. Elenda is probably the most note-worthy. I’ve also included ways to create more ramp in the form of Pitiless Plunderer, Pawn of Ulamog and Sifter of Skulls. They’ll create mana rocks/dorks for us when creatures die. All of these creatures have some great triggers that our commander can double, so I’d recommend you take a closer look.

Supporting Cast:

Not all of our creatures have death triggers, but they still serve our overall purpose. Here we have a selection of creatures that can remove other problems, give us some recursion for our sac outlets, and can even tutor for other creatures. There’s some card draw with Mentor of the Meek, and a Reassembling Skeleton can be used over and over to create a loop if you have one of those above mana producers and a Zulaport Cutthroat along with a sac outlet. I’m also really digging the idea of Elesh Norn buffing my creatures and destroying opponent’s token strategies, but it will also stack with another new card that I’ll talk about later.

Removal Package:

I’ve included a pretty standard Orzhov removal package, with some single target and board wipes in a variety of flavors. We want to be able to blow up permanents of all types, be it by destroying or exiling. Check the cards for more specifics.

Everything Else:

Some additional ramp and card draw was included with Land Tax, Black Market and Smothering Tithe. They are all sort of dependent on the board state but they will help to keep you from falling too far behind. As I mentioned earlier, I’m also running Ethereal Absolution to combo with Elesh Norn for a nice -3/-3 to opponents’ creatures and +3/+3 to my own, and it has a mana sink for your Black Market built in, allowing you to exile problematic cards from graveyards while creating more spirit tokens. Lastly, I’ve included two alternate win conditions, both of which are pretty situational and probably won’t work. Still, with all of the lifelink and ways to gain life I figure Approach of the Second Sun is a potential win con for stalled out games. Revel in Riches can potentially go off too, if I can get a loop going with the appropriate cards out, or just happen to luck into that many treasures. I think it could happen, but it’s one of those random things that won’t happen too often.

You can see the full decklist here.

TWR: The Off-Beat Spellslinger

Keeping with the guilds theme I’ve had going for a while now, I decided that this time I would brew up a deck around the Azorius guild. However, I didn’t really want to build a deck around their new leader from Ravnica: Allegiance, so instead I picked another Azorius commander that I’ve had in my collection for quite some time and always wanted to build around. That commander is, Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper.

Noyan is a 4/4 for 5 CMC, which doesn’t sound all that great at first, but he comes with an interesting ability that fits two archetypes that I’ve never really brewed around. Those things things are a spellslinger deck, and a lands-matter deck. I guess I have brewed a spellslinger deck with Kess, but I never ended up building it, instead slotting her into my Inalla Wizard Tribal Deck. I definitely haven’t made a lands-matter deck before, let alone one where your lands are your primary creatures. You see, every time you cast an instant or sorcery spell with Noyan on the board, you are able to put three +1/+1 counters on one of your lands, making it a 3/3 elemental creature with haste. Theoretically this means that you can out of nowhere make an army of man-lands and swing in for a ton of damage on those that are unsuspecting. There are some other creatures we’ve included as well that can help with this game plan, but also can be ways to make an army of tokens too. Let’s look at the deck’s staples first:

Spellslinger Staples:

These cards are those that are typically included in most spellslinger decks. However, most spellslinger decks are usually different colors, namely Izzet or Grixis (but other combos exist). Azorius decks are typically more control based, but we have to go with our commander’s strengths, so this is how we’re going to roll. Baral, Primal Amulet and Jace’s Sanctum will lower the cost of our spells which is always a boon. We can make armies of token creatures with Murmuring Mystic, Talrand, and Docent of Perfection just by casting spells. Metallurgic Summonings will also get us tokens by casting spells, but their power/toughness will equal the CMC of the spell cast. Lastly, Inexorable Tide can make our man-lands even bigger given the proliferate mechanic. Cast some spells and make all of your land’s +1/+1 bigger for each. One of the biggest issues we’ll have is needing more lands to throw counters on, as well as keep casting spells. So let’s look at how we can ramp in these colors:

Ramp:

Land Tax and Weathered Wayfarer are arguably the best ramp available in white. Both will get you extra lands every turn. Knight of the White Orchid and Gift of Estates are a little more restrictive, but if played at the right time they’ll get you more lands, but only plains. Solemn Simulacrum gives us some ramp and card draw for a fair price. Now that we know we’ll have plenty of ways to ramp and benefit from casting spells, let’s look at our spells themselves.

Spells:
Card Selection:

Blue is great at card draw and card selection. These cards will allow us to look at chunks of our library and get to what we need faster. There are some that also allow us to shuffle if we really need to shake things up a bit.

Removal:

Any good control deck should have various forms of removal, and I’ve tried to cover the gamut. In some cases we’re using staples like Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares. In other cases we’re using some different cards that I wouldn’t normally play, but they work in this deck. Destroying non-land permanents (board wipes) are great for this deck as you’ll be able to destroy all the creatures on the board that your opponents control, but you’ll still have your lands. Of course you’ll need to have some counterspells handy so that you can avoid other player’s board wipes or pesky cards like Jokulhaups or Armageddon which will absolutely do you in.

Other Utility:

I’ve included a small counterspell package, along with some cards that will proliferate or support for more counter shenanigans, along with ways to take extra turns. A couple of decent tutors for enchantments/spells, and a couple of other tricks like To Arms! and Unity of Purpose which will effectively untap all of our lands if timed properly. Mirrorweave is one I look forward to playing in particular, especially when someone drops a nice Dragon/Angel/Demon that isn’t legendary and I can then make all of my lands into big beaters for a turn.

Extra Protection:

One thing we’ll want to avoid is our lands being destroyed while in creature form (or in general). Sacred Ground and Terra Eternal help with this immensely. The former will bounce any land that hits the graveyard back to play, and the latter makes our lands indestructible. Diplomatic Immunity is extra protection for Noyan, giving him Hexproof.

Man-Lands:

This last category are actual man-lands. These are cards that can be turned into creatures for a cost. I’ve included these because not only will they tap for mana, but they can also turn into chump blockers in a pinch, and it’s more desirable to lose these than our 3/3 elementals for the most part. They can also be beefed up with Noyan if we want to go that route.

I’m not thinking this is the strongest strategy for competitive playgroups, but I think it could be a fun to play build that can get out of hand if not put in check. The thought of having either a ton of tokens to swing for tons of damage or alternatively being able to make a bunch of lands pretty big to kill someone with sounds like a blast.

TWR: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Spells!

Despite the fact that there are a few of other guilds from Ravnica: Allegiance that I’m more excited about (Orzhov, Simic, Azorius) I’ve chosen the other two to brew around, mainly because I didn’t have a Rakdos (which I brewed last week with Judith) or Gruul decklist in my collection of brews. As such, I’m sure you can guess which guild I’m building around this week. If you said Gruul, you deserve a cookie! Let’s look at our new Commander that we’ll be building around:

Nikya of the Old Ways is an interesting brew-around. A 5/5 for 5 CMC, she has a solid body. She also has two interesting abilities — one that is a hindrance and the other which is a boon. Cards like Zendikar Resurgent have been around for a long time and mana doubling isn’t something new, but having this ability stapled onto our commander is a great way to exploit it. The downside is her other line of text, which reads “You can’t cast noncreature spells.” This is why I’ve called the deck “We don’t need no stinkin’ spells” because I’ve built around this hindrance to the best of my ability. What this means is that we need to find ways to do things with our creatures that we would normally do with spells. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t include a small amount of spells, artifacts and enchantments, because there will be times when our commander isn’t out yet, or perhaps gets killed off enough times that we can’t afford the commander tax. Since our creatures are going to be doing multiple things, let’s break them up into categories to wrap our heads around this.

Creatures that Tutor:

Since we’re running a creature heavy deck, we’ll want to be able to tutor out answers for particular problems. Fauna Shaman, Fierce Empath and Brutalizer Exarch will all do so, but each has its own prerequisites to do so. I’ve also included some creatures that will ramp us a bit by tutoring out lands. They have to be basics unfortunately, but extra ramp will always do us some good, particularly when we have a commander that doubles up our mana (and that Hydra will be bigger the more land we have on the battlefield!).

Creatures with Card Draw/Selection:

These creatures should help us with card draw, since we don’t have a bunch of options otherwise. Beast Whisperer will draw us a card everytime we cast a creature, so that’s great replacement value. The Heartwood Storyteller will get us cards whenever anyone casts noncreature spells, but our other two opponents will benefit from this too. We’re hoping that our additional mana sources will help to offset this fact. Tireless Tracker gets us clues on land fall, and clues get us more card draw. Finally, Magus of the Wheel is Wheel of Fortune on legs, and will let us dump our hands (also potentially screwing up our opponents too). Genesis Hydra and Silhana Wayfinder have ETB’s where we can look at cards from our library and then put creatures/lands onto the battlefield so that’s some nice selection. Vizier of the Menagerie is also a nice way to cast creatures off the top of your library without having to worry about having the specific mana colors needed.

Mana Dorks/Other Ramp:

I’ve added three mana dorks that aren’t the norm (usually it’s Elvish Mystic and Birds of Paradise). Zhur-Taa Druid feels better he does some damage along the way, and the Somberwald Sage adds three mana to cast creatures which we want. The Shaman of Forgotten Ways is also a mana dork, but I really worked him into the deck for his other ability — he’s basically Biorhythm on legs. That’s a banned EDH card (and one that I own) that lowers life totals to the amount of creatures each player controls, so we should be able to do this with enough creatures out to end the game, hopefully. Otherwise we have cards like Mina and Denn and Azusa that allow us to play extra lands on our turns. Regal Behemoth is also a mana doubler as long as we are the Monarch, and monarchy itself provides some extra card draw, so bonus. Radha gives us some mana for attacking, which should happen a bunch in this deck, and the Courser allows us to play lands off the top of our library. All around good stuff that should ensure we are always ahead in the land and mana departments.

Creature based Removal:

Pretty straight-forward here, we have some creatures that will kill artifacts, enchantments, lands or just permanents in general. Molder Slug is particularly evil, forcing players to sac artifacts every turn — this does affect you too, but you don’t have many in the deck so it shouldn’t matter.

Other Utility:

This is pretty much a catch-all catergory for the rest of the creatures in the deck. First off we have a couple more Hydras that are great mana sinks for all that extra mana we should be producing. Another Hydra here will capitalize off of the spells everyone will be casting. I’ve included the three Incarnations that we can slot into this deck, Anger, Brawn and Genesis. The first two will give our creatures Haste and Trample respectively as long as they are in our graveyards, the latter will allow us to recur creatures every turn as long as it’s in the yard. The Cat Snake can’t be countered and makes our creature spells uncounterable (so everyone will have to use other forms of removal). Temur Sabertooth is in the deck so that in those cases when we need to get rid of our commander in order to cast noncreature spells, we can bounce her to our hand and avoid commander tax. Seedborn Muse is just value, so is Ruric Thar because he penalizes noncreature spell casts by pinging for 6 damage for each cast. Lastly, Avenger of Zendikar, Pathbreaker Ibex and End-Raze Forerunners are potential game winners and are some of the most expensive creatures in the deck.

Here’s the short list of spells, artifacts and enchantments that I’ve included to round out the deck:

As you can see, there’s not a bunch here. When it comes to artifacts, we’re only running Sol Ring and three Gruul rocks. Enchantments are limited to a couple of cards that give haste (or riot which is basically the same thing), Abundance which is more card selection, Zendikar Resurgent for more mana doubling, and a “screw the blue players” card in Monsoon. For spells it’s a mix of more selection, removal, ramp and card draw. Pretty standard stuff and it all fits in line with what we’re trying to do.

I’m not sure how competitive this deck might be but it looks like fun. You can check the full decklist here. I’ve always enjoyed making decks around brand new commanders. What do you think?

TWR: Judith Aristocrats

With Ravnica Allegiance fully spoiled, we’ve seen a handful of new legendary creatures emerge, and there are a couple of those that I felt were deserving of their own decks. Some look to be better in the 99 of existing decks as well, but I’m going to focus on one of the new legendary creatures in particular today: Judith, the Scourge Diva.

There are two reasons why I chose to brew a deck around this particular creature. The first, is because I haven’t really brewed a proper Rakdos deck before. There was that Grenzo budget build I put down on paper but never actually built, so I’m not going to count that one. The second reason I decided to roll with Judith is because she lends herself quite readily to an “aristocrats” theme, which typically revolves around sacrificing creatures to drain out your opponents (among other variations). Let’s take a look at her abilities. She’s a 2/2 for 3 CMC which is in “hate bear” territory (this card would also be a solid add to Alesha and Marchesa Decks (both of which I have)). She buffs our creature’s power by 1 each, but that’s not really a big deal. What really matters here is her second ability, which reads “Whenever a nontoken creature you control dies, Judith deals 1 damage to any target.” It would have been nice if that line of text didn’t contain the word “nontoken” but it is still powerful, particularly because you’re able to target anything with this ability. So this means we want to sacrifice creatures often and bring them back from the graveyard to make loops if possible. Here are some creatures that can make these loops possible:

Recursion Loop Creatures:

With Reassembling Skeleton, for instance, you can sacrifice him to your favorite sac outlet, and for the low cost of 1B, you can bring him back to the battlefield to do it again. With Phyrexian Altar you’ll only need one colorless mana to do this. If you have Ashnod’s Altar you’ll instead need to come up with the black mana to recur. There are ways around these mana limitations, but we’ll get to that later. Each of the above creatures can be brought back from the graveyard to the battlefield once particular requirements are met, and it’s not difficult to do so. As long as we have one of these creatures, a sacrifice outlet and our commander on the board, we can theoretically ping players to death, but it will take some time. Speaking of sac outlets, let’s get to those:

Sacrifice Outlets:

These are the majority of the sac outlets I’ve included in the deck. The two Altars I mentioned in the last section, along with Viscera Seer (allows us to Scry), Yahenni (gives himself indestructible), Sadistic Hypnotist (causes an opponent to discard two cards), and Attrition (allows us to destroy target nonblack creature). There are also two lands that help us out, Phyrexian Tower (gives BB) and High Market (gain 1 life). When you need a sac outlet, this many packed into the deck should assure you can find one quickly. But is it enough to just rely on our commander and sac outlets to win games? I think we need some added insurance.

Death Triggers:

Each of these cards has a trigger on the death of one of our creatures. So when we sacrifice something with our commander on the board, we get extra value, and if she has been killed off and we can’t afford the commander tax, some of these cards will do similar things. Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat and Vindictive Vampire will all drain our opponents when creatures die, along with gaining us some life. Grim Haurspex and Harvester of Souls will both draw us cards on deal. Pawn of Ulamog and Pitiless Plunderer will get us tokens to sac for mana (and can aid in those mana costs for our loop creatures from earlier. Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos will cause our opponents to sacrifice creatures when we do, and can be basically board wipes for us. Lastly, Black Market can get us some serious mana, but it will have to be used each turn before combat (which shouldn’t be a problem).

Cannon Fodder:

Despite the fact that Judith wants nontoken creatures to die, there’s no reason why we can’t use other token creatures to feed our altars and make us some extra mana! These three cards were added to the deck to do just that, because each will create tokens for us to use for mana. I didn’t want to include too many of this style of card but a few seems just right.

Other Recursion:

Because not all of our creatures can be recurred from the graveyard so easily, I’ve added some redundancy here. Balthor and Garna can single-handedly bring back a swathe of creatures at once, which Whisper is good in conjunction with the cannon fodder above. Sac two tokens and return a creature directly to the battlefield (and if it’s a token producer, even better!). Mikaeus is a great card that will give nearly everything in this deck undying, so expect him to be a target. Palace Siege will recur once a turn, and Phyrexian Reclamation can do multiple creatures in a turn provide you have the mana (and life) but each will only get those cards back to your hand, so it’s sort of slow (still welcome).

Other Fun Stuff:

This last section is some “good stuff” in these colors. The couple of bits of equipment that give deathtouch are meant from Judith, as her pings can kill anything with one damage. Nim Deathmantle is great for graveyard shenanigans and this is well documented. I added Mogis because he forces more damage or sacrifice down opponent’s throats and that felt on theme. Captive Audience is a new card that is simply fucked and I can’t wait to use it. I also added Sower of Discord just as a nice way to ping two opponents at once instead of just one, so it should help to speed things up, particularly if you get a loop going.

So that’s that. I’ve added a pretty standard Rakdos removal package (the new Bedevil, Terminate, Dreadbore, Hero’s Downfall, etc) otherwise. I think it will be a fairly decent build but nothing top tier. What do you guys think? What new legendaries are you excited from from the new set?

TWR: The Year In MTG 2018

2018 was a good year for Magic: The Gathering. There were some ups and downs as far as product releases went, as well as ups and downs with my playtime. In January our playgroup sort of disbanded. During 2017, we had a solid three players and an occasional fourth, but by the end of the year we were down to just us three again. At the beginning of 2018 our third moved to Las Vegas, so it was just my roommate and I most of the time. We played quite a few times throughout the year, but 1v1 Commander games just aren’t the same. As such, we made sure to hit up Pre-Release events and also attended a few Commander based events at one of the local game stores. Despite having moved out of state, our third managed to come down to visit us a couple of times and we had all day shenanigans, and of course we saw him at the GP.

The biggest events were covered in detail below, with my favorites being the Battlebond Weekend along with Grand Prix Las Vegas.

Live Events:

Rivals of Ixalan Pre-Release
Commander Event
Commander Event #2
Commander League
Selling Cards
MTG Arena
Battlebond Preview Weekend
Grand Prix Las Vegas
Guilds of Ravnica Pre-Release
Playing at Home

When I’m not actually playing MTG, I spend a good chunk of time creating new brews. Some of these decks come to fruition and others were built just for the sake of seeing what I could come up with. I do a lot of the leg work for this blog — I create a build and then it generates a blog post, and then I don’t think about the deck ever again. In other cases, I’ve written about decks that I had already built and how I’ve improved them, or about decks that I’m super excited to build. My latest completed deck from this list is Zombies 3.0, where my original Zombie deck led by Gisa & Geralf (Dimir [Blue/Black]) was later transformed into a Scarab God (also Dimir) deck and has finally been changed into a Varina (Esper [Blue/Black/White]) deck. I received the final cards needed in the mail this week and now it’s ready to test out. Anyhow, here is a list of the builds I came up with over the year:

Custom Brews:

Dinosaur Tribal – Completed and adjusted since this point.
Oloro Pillowfort – In progress.
Reaper King – Retired.
Kess, Spellslinger – Never built, Kess was put into Inalla.
Prossh Food Chain – In progress.
Selvala Group Hug – Playable, but needs upgrades.
Gonti Theft – Never built.
Boros Goodstuff – Never built.
Budget Knight Tribal – In progress.
Inalla Wizard Tribal – In progress.
Jodah and Friends – Completed and tuned.
Monk Voltron – Completed.
Budget Grenzo – Never built.
WUBRG Warriors – In progress.
Atraxa Infect – In progress.
Doran Defender Tribal – Completed.
Izzet Chaos – Never built.
5-Color Spirits – Never built.
Bolas Flipwalker – In progress.
Mono Blue Mill – Never built.
Ninja Tribal – In progress.
Tuvasa Enchantress – In progress.
Zur Tier 1 Build – Completed. Technically still need a Marsh Flats and Mana Crypt.
Estrid Stax – In progress.
Tawnos Artifacts Matter – Playable, but needs upgrades.
Zombies 3.0 – Completed.
Lazav Toolbox – In progress.
Niv-Mizzet Wheels – In progress.
Arachnophobia – In progress.
Karador Tier Build – In progress.
Daxos 3.0 – In progress.
Aminatou Blink – In progress.

As you can see, that’s a bunch of decks but very few are actually being played. That’s because I spent most of my disposable cash this year on making Zur a true Tier 1 deck, and as such his price tag is around $900 alone. All of the “in progress” decks also are in varying states of completion, as I do have a bunch of cards for quite a few of them. That’s how Tawnos and Selvala ended up “playable,” because I just threw in stuff I had lying around, despite not being exactly how I want them. The decks that are listed as “never built” were those that I thought about and could become decks in the future but I decided to cut down on the amount I was trying to build at one time. I typically focus on one deck at a time, but when sets like Ultimate Masters release and have cards that I need for multiple decks I will filter them into the appropriate ones. New standard sets oftentimes contain cards that I can use in these brews as well, so they will be adjusted accordingly. Whatever the case, I clearly spent a lot of time on the hobby this year, and I don’t see that stopping in the future.

I’ve done a little research and found a local game store that does have EDH nights on Thursdays in the town that I’m moving to. So I should be able to find a new playgroup there (fingers crossed). Also, my sister and her boyfriend have been playing EDH for a little while now and also know about their local spots, though they are about a 45 minute drive from where I am, so I won’t be going that way as often. Perhaps I’ll be able to convince them to come to my house on occasion.

I’m looking forward to what 2019 brings to the Magic side of my life.