Saturday, November 29, 2014
Every once in a while, I rework an old deck. I try to avoid making lots of little changes here and there because it's too easy for a deck to morph into an entirely different deck one card at a time. I call it "the curse of goodstuff," where the deck stops being what you intended it to be and turns into a pile of the best cards in whatever colors you are running.
It's been about a year since I reworked my blue / black Commander deck. In a previous post, I touched on what's changed about the deck and how this rebuild will give the deck a new focus. Let's go through the cards and see what we see.
You can view the current list here. Keep in mind that the list is current as of this post, but may change in the future if I rework the deck again. Who knows what crazy new cards they will print?
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind is the guy this deck is built around. He's the mastermind, after all. Thematically, I don't like that the guy who lives his life in shadow is sitting out in the open in the command zone, though. Wrexial also works here as Commander if you want to switch things up.
I have a tendency to go creature-lite in Commander. They are just so vulnerable to removal! On a first draft of almost any deck, I end up with 10-12 creatures that make the cut. It works, but it doesn't feel like Commander. To keep things real, I shoot for around 30 creatures, but usually end up somewhere just over 20.
Bloodgift Demon: He's big, he flies, and he draws cards. If there's one thing I hate, it's not drawing enough cards. You are going to see a lot of things to solve that problem as we go through the deck.
Bone Shredder: Due to his low casting cost, he can come out early to take out a utility creature. He flies for evasion. And, his "echo" cost ensures that I can put him in my graveyard if I need to. This gives him some synergy with the support cards you'll see later.
Burnished Hart: Colorless ramp on a creature!
Consuming Aberration: This guy is an all-star in this deck. He mills for something I am doing anyway (casting spells), his mill hits everyone at the same time, and he gets big. Real big. There are several cool interactions with this guy in this deck. And he's reasonably costed at 5.
Dimir Doppelganger: It's a Dimir card that can eat Eldrazi. This turns off problem graveyard creatures and is reusable. Besides exiling the creature, which is pretty useful, it also copies the creature. Lots of potential here.
Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief: When trying to jam as many creatures into the deck as possible, I find that Drana does a nice impression of a removal spell. She can be quite a beater if you have the mana for it.
Dreamborn Muse: Frankly, this isn't a good card. It's here (along with some other cards) because it is on theme. Without cards like this, it becomes an exercise in putting the best blue and black cards together and calling it a deck. Look, it's 4 mana (two of which are blue) for a 2/2 creature. For that kind of mana, the creature better do something great. This one doesn't. Your opponents can play around it by simply casting spells. They are probably going to do that anyway. Besides, milling someone does one of two things. It either doesn't do much because it changes nothing to put a card from a library into a graveyard. Or, it helps out your opponent who now has access to reanimation, flashback, or dredge.
Duskmantle Guildmage: Similar to Dreamborn Muse, this is a little creature that is here because he is squarely on theme. He is mercifully easy to cast at only 2 mana, and potentially has a relevant ability. Keep in mind that this isn't a combo deck. There are a couple cards in here that make him lethal, but with only one tutor it's not about assembling the combo.
Geth, Lord of the Vault: This guy does some heavy lifting. Milling and taking creatures? You got it. He can also snag artifacts.
Gilded Drake: Here, take this. You're gonna love it.
Grave Titan: A beast of a zombie.
Graveborn Muse: Must draw more cards.
Guiltfeeder: On theme. In theory, he has the potential to be devastating. In practice, he never is. 5 mana for a creature is a lot. Heck, Grave Titan is only 6 mana!
Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker: On theme. If he connects, he does what we need him to do by filling up the 'yard. I have only occasionally gotten through with him, though.
Nemesis of Reason: Also on theme. At the same cost as Mirko, Nemesis gives the guaranteed 10 card mill. This is usually a better bet.
Phyrexian Metamorph: A creature that's a little of everything.
Reassembling Skeleton: A returning blocker is super-handy.
Sangromancer: An early Sangromancer is enough for a boost of life when the inevitable first sweeper gets thrown down. She's not enough of a threat to draw targeted removal, so she's usually around when someone decides to kill everything. Gaining 20-30 life is typical.
Sepulchral Primordial: On theme, but 7 mana is a lot. In fact, it's the top end for this deck. This primordial has the potential to be very swingy if dropped at the right time. Chaining into other "enters the battlefield" creature triggers can be game-breaking.
Sheoldred, Whispering One: Strong all-around creature that gives us mileage out of our own milled and dead creatures while giving Lazav something to copy as your opponents squirm when selecting sacrifice victims.
Solemn Simulacrum: Colorless ramp on a creature!
Thassa, God of the Sea: I like the indestructible Scry 1, but the real reason she is here is to hand out "unblockable." Many of the creatures here aren't going to survive combat because they aren't big enough. Thassa solves that problem. Connecting with Mirko gets the ball rolling. And an unblockable Consuming Aberration is usually game over.
Wrexial, the Risen Deep: Also makes a good Commander for this deck. Is on theme. Lets you cast stuff from your opponents graveyards. Basically, he kicks ass. His arms are made out of spaghetti.
Let's talk Artifacts:
Bonehoard: Does a good approximation of a creature. Is on theme. Makes almost any creature scary when the ball gets rolling.
Chromatic Lantern: The deck is color-intensive with lots of double-blue or double-black. You can ramp with something else, but this is the ultimate color fixer.
Lightning Greaves: Whispersilk Cloak is a contender for this slot, but the greaves are a solid piece of equipment. Jury is still out.
Memory Jar: Love it! You can drop the jar for immediate mill or hold it back to set up a sweet turn later. Can be recycled with Academy Ruins or Beacon of Unrest for more fun.
Mesmeric Orb: This card mills hard. Played early, it eats away as people are generally tapping out to ramp. Played later, you can catch someone after a big turn where they are taped out with a ton of permanents. Oh, and take that guy with Seedborn Muse out.
Mind Stone: Ramp that turns into a new card when you need it.
Mindcrank: Yes, it combos with Duskmantle Guildmage. No, that's not the point. It's actually not that great of a card since it doesn't do much on its own and milling for the sake of milling is pretty pointless. But, it's on theme and has some synergy with the deck. Plus the casting cost is low, so it's easy to support.
Oblivion Stone: Because sometimes, starting over is the only option.
Sensei's Divining Top: It's here because it's good.
Sol Ring: Ditto.
Strionic Resonator: There are enough triggered abilities around to make this work. It's usually overkill, but overkill can make for some memorable moments. The casting cost is low enough to support it.
Sword of Body and Mind: Not the best sword, but the one that is on theme. The 2/2 green wolf tokens are a little awkward, but the milling for 10 is right where we need it to be.
Thran Dynamo: The deck is color-intensive. Gilded Lotus or Dimir Signet would work here, too.
It's Sorcery time:
Beacon of Unrest: At 5 mana, this spell does exactly what we want it to do. By the time we are casting this, there should be at least one juicy creature or artifact in a graveyard somewhere. The reason I like this particular reanimation spell is that the artifact mode is a nice add-on and the target sticks around with no "if" clauses. In other words, you just get the thing you get. No funny business with enchantments that can be targeted, color changing effects, minus counters, or any of that.
Black Sun's Zenith: There are too many indestructible creatures running around to look over this sweeper. Plus, it can come out early to take out utility creatures or later to sweep the table.
Bribery: Clearly one of the "good stuff" blue cards, but on theme. Dimir would totally bribe Ulamog. The question is, what do you get for the Eldrazi that has everything?
Damnation: I'm trying to keep the sweeper count low in this deck. I don't think the Dimir win by outright killing everything repeatedly. That said, having access to a few sweepers can keep everything from spiraling out of control or grinding to a halt. Damnation is great at what it does, but it is also super expensive. Life's Finale may be a better choice here.
Demonic Tutor: There are lots of good tutors in blue and black. I am purposefully trying to keep this particular line of play in check by running only this one.
Mind Grind: Not a great card, but clearly on theme. It eats up a lot of mana and doesn't do much on its own. Having Lazav in play makes running this card interesting, but it tends to sit in my hand.
Ponder: While I may not be running more than one tutor, I am running some deck manipulation. The main reason is that I hate missing land drops. Ponder is a spectacular deck fixer.
Telemin Performance: Also not a great card, but on theme. I would rather have Mind Control (or Control Magic!) most of the time, but Telemin Performance is more fun here. Plus, it gives you the creature with no funny business. Still waiting for the day that I rip something good with this.
Traumatize: More on theme goodness. Are you seeing a pattern here? The deck is carrying quite a few cards that would be better as other things. Consecrated Sphinx anyone? But, smacking half of a library is pretty awesome in the right situation.
Yawgmoth's Will: There are a lot of different ways to reuse a card in you graveyard. It's just that Yawg's Will is probably the best card we have access to in this deck. Because I'm not running an insane cantrip mana combo extravaganza, I would say that YW is simply "solid" here instead of "bonkers."
Onto the Enchantments:
Bloodchief Ascension: If your opponents allow you to turn this on, they deserve what's coming to them.
Diabolic Servitude: Good, reusable reanimator to get some extra mileage out of your own creatures after they die or due to self-milling. Stitch Together is also fun because it doesn't have that pesky enchantment / exile problem. Whip of Erebos works in this slot, too.
Mystic Remora: An early remora will almost certainly result in an avalanche of cards. Even mid-game the fish does a lot of work. The only time I don't want to draw this is when I am already behind on the table and by then I'm in trouble anyway.
Necropotence: Super broken card, but I fear not drawing cards so much that I will run it here. This isn't a combo deck or a hard control deck and I have limited ways to gain life. I'm not saying that Necro is a fair card. If you want fair, try Underworld Connections. Erebos himself or Greed is fine here, too.
Oversold Cemetery: Originally on my list due to lots of self-milling. I toned the self-milling down some, but many of my creatures have a good enters the battlefield ability that I'd like to reuse. It's like drawing a card every turn, except that its only creatures.You get to pick the creature you want from your graveyard though, which is nice.
Phyrexian Arena: More cards!
Rhystic Study: Even more cards!
Treachery: On theme, in the sense that I imagine Dimir would use both Bribery and Treachery to get what they want. Also nice that both of these cards are really damn good.
The Instant crowd:
Brainstorm: Super good. Not super expensive. Run this over a land.
Cyclonic Rift: A lopsided and wacky finisher with a useful mini-mode. Shows up in every deck that can support it for a reason.
Fact or Fiction: I find the splitting process interesting. It's a good way to learn about the people you are playing the game with. It's also nice that it fills your hand and 'yard, at instant speed, for only 4 mana.
Hinder: One of two total counterspells that I am running. I like the "put on bottom" effect, but I'd rather run plain ol' counterspell at one less mana. Why run this instead? It feel more in keeping with Commander. Plus, locking certain commanders out of the game by tucking them can be good.
Spell Crumple: The other counter I'm running. It's similar to Hinder.
Thirst for Knowledge: Crazy stuff. Draws cards, fills the 'yard, instant speed and only 3 mana? Sign me up!
Jace, Memory Adept: I originally had lots of planeswalkers in here, including all of the Jaces. Now, it's just this one. I didn't feel like trying to defend a bunch of 'walkers. And this one is clearly on theme. If you aren't running this Jace in this deck, where else do you run it?
Karn Liberated: One of the two ways I have to deal with the weaknesses in blue and black, Karn the fixer. Tell Karn your problems and he takes care of them. I've had people cast sweepers into a board with Karn up. Unless you experience it first hand, I guess it's easy to miss. Karn can dominate a game.
I'm not going to list all the lands here and explain why Command Tower is good. My basic rules of thumb for the mana base is to have a little more land than I need and to avoid lands that come into play tapped. I do have a few cycling lands here that come into play tapped, but that's because the deck maxes out at 7 mana. Mid-to-late game, pitching lands to draw cards is so very sweet.
Note: I'm on the fence about pulling Underground Sea because a person shouldn't feel like he is going to get mugged just to make two colors of mana with no drawback.
Other utility lands include the one-two punch of Volrath's Stronghold and Academy Ruins, Rogue's Passage (so useful), and Maze of Ith.
Friday, November 7, 2014
I hear Duskmantle is nice this time of year.
According to my notes, it's been over a year since I put Mirko in charge of Lazav's deck, but the deck is much older than that. Things have changed since then. New cards are available, notably Nekusar and Phenax, but more on that later.
There's something darkly appealing about the color combination of Blue / Black, so I decided to take another look at the deck. I'm really digging the 75% approach to Commander, so that's in the deckbuilding mix now.
The original concept for the deck was to win the way that Nekusar now wins: it looks like I'm trying to mill you, but really I'm going to kill you with draw or discard damage. Cards like Liliana's Caress coupled with cards like Windfall can create some major and sudden damage at the table. It felt like a very Dimir thing to do, misdirecting attention and then unleashing sudden death. Turns out that Nekusar does it better. He is a mini-combo all by himself, plus the addition of Red gives us access to even more "wheels," including the original Draw 7.
The original back-up concept for the deck was to win the way that Phenax now wins: mill your opponents out of cards. It's a long way to go in a 100 card format, especially with multiple opponents. Phenax is much better at this plan. You can play a defensive game around creatures with high toughness and then drop the Phenax bomb for big milling. Eater of the Dead breaks Phenax wide open.
In other words, the two main themes of the original deck are now outclassed by newer cards. What to do?
Before we get to that, let's take a quick look at the color pie.
Magic is brilliant, in part, because of the idea that not every color can do everything that every color can do. Because the colors have a different "feel," the game not only maintains a thematic elegance, but it also forces deckbuilders and players to make difficult choices. It's those choices that keeps the game interesting.
The color pie is a way of describing the differences between the colors. In this case, take a look at how the colors deal with the graveyard. In general, every color does something with the graveyard, but each with its own flavor or perspective.
White brings back enchantments.
Red swaps artifacts.
Green brings back anything.
Black brings back creatures.
Blue brings back spells.
There are exceptions of course, but that's the general feel for each color. Things get interesting when two colors combine. The two-color combinations have a different flavor or perspective on the graveyard. Here are two examples.
The Golgari guild is Green / Black. This color combination has a strong preference for using its own graveyard. When the Golgari graveyard fills up, it's a scary thing.
The Dimir guild is Blue / Black. This color combination has a strong preference for using its opponents' graveyards. The more cards you have in the graveyards across the table from you, the more options you have to wreak havoc.
In other words, Golgari wants to run cards like Grisly Salvage to fill up its own graveyard. Dimir wants to run cards like Mind Grind to fill up its opponents' graveyards.
Dimir is all about secrets and misdirection. The ruse is that it seems like Dimir wants to mill you out of cards. The truth is, Dimir just wants to fill your graveyard up to start using it against you.
This is the new concept for my Dimir State of Mind Deck. I'm still working on the card choices, but the theme is there. Milling to get the ball rolling is usually enough to give me something to work with. From there, we'll see what kinds of tricks I can pull out of my hat (and out of your graveyard).