elcome to 2012's first edition of Building on a Budget. Today, I'd like to dive head first into one of the least-explored available constructed formats on Magic Online. Innistrad Block Constructed is still in its infancy. Normally, single-set block constructed formats become stale quickly. Innistrad, however, is very different: the set offers a depth that makes the Constructed format diverse with room for innovation, despite having such a small card pool to work with. Block Constructed is one of the best ways to start playing Constructed on Magic Online, as acquiring the cards for a tier-one deck is usually very simple, and Innistrad Block Constructed will only become more interesting as more sets are added to the mix. Dark Ascension previews are right around the corner, but today I'd like to revisit my preview card from Innistrad.
Splinterfright | Art by Eric Deschamps
Splinterfright was a bit of an oddity when I first previewed it last fall. I didn't have knowledge of the majority of Innistrad and I wasn't sure if it was powerful enough for sixty-card decks. Now, with full knowledge of Innistrad, we're able to build a Splinterfright deck that maximizes the value of all of Splinterfright's abilities.
I first became interested in Innistrad Block Constructed by watching my friend Chris compete in daily events with his Red-White Aggro deck. The format was refreshing and new, and a place where I could be competitive with some very strange kinds of decks.
Initially, I played Chris's red-white deck while I got a feel for the other decks in the format. I found myself playing a lot of mirror matches with the occasional mono-red deck or Bloodgift Demon control deck thrown into the mix.
I wanted to build a deck that punished players for relying too heavily on burn spells. I wanted big creatures and inevitability. I built a green-blue Splinterfright deck and played a few games with it. I did exceptionally well against the red-white decks and the mono-red decks. Gnaw to the Bone was usually enough to buy me a lot of time while I set up a lethal Splinterfright or Kessig Cagebreakers. However, during this period the Bloodgift Demon control decks became a lot more popular. Some of these decks started packing Olivia Voldaren and I found myself losing a lot of my matches to the control decks.
I was lucky enough to play a mirror match during this time and noticed that my opponent was splashing black for Spider Spawning.
I needed an answer to the bombs of the format and decided it was time to play a few copies of Sever the Bloodline between my main deck and sideboard. Playing black also gave me access to Spider Spawning, which gives the deck a tremendous amount of time to get frighteningly large.
I played some games with the initial green-blue-black version of the deck and had a lot more success. I still wasn't entirely confident with the deck, but I was able to find the glue that could hold it all together when I added a few copies of Unburial Rites. I was already playing Avacyn's Pilgrim and a bunch of Shimmering Grottos, so the mana wasn't really an issue. Being able to mill into a Kessig Cagebreakers is definitely worth the potential trouble with your mana.
I'll explain all the card choices before we get to the games.
Armored Skaab is perfect in the current metagame. There are a lot of inexpensive creatures that will be stopped in their tracks by an early Armored Skaab. Armored Skaab's real power lies in its enter-the-battlefield trigger. On average, you'll be hitting 1.6 creatures, and there's enough flashback in the deck to turn this into a somewhat reliable source of card advantage. Remember to cast your Armored Skaab before combat when you have a Splinterfright or Boneyard Wurm you can attack with. It may seem obvious, but you've probably trained yourself to cast spells after combat and it's important to remember special circumstances.
Boneyard Wurm and Splinterfright get very large in this deck. These cards are underpowered in your opening hand, but they progressively get better. Don't be afraid to mulligan hands with too many of these. Remember, they're excellent topdecks but poor cards in the opener.
Kessig Cagebreakers is your primary win condition. It's not unusual to attack for 20 damage or more with a single swing from these gentlemen. There are many games where you already have a Splinterfright or Boneyard Wurm that's dominating the battlefield and you have to decide whether or not you want to cast your Kessig Cagebreakers. My advice in these situations is to play cautiously when your opponent has a control deck with access to Blasphemous Act. In post-boarded games you might need to worry about Blasphemous Act from all decks with red, so play accordingly.
Avacyn's Pilgrim is a bit lackluster here, but the deck wants to maximize its creature count and Avacyn's Pilgrim lets you cheat on your mana base a bit. The deck's mana makes it difficult to cast Avacyn's Pilgrim on the first turn, but the acceleration is relevant for at least the first five turns of the game.
Deranged Assistant is everything you want in this deck. It accelerates your mana and gives you a huge advantage by dumping more cards into your graveyard.
Dream Twist is very powerful here. It's important to note its usefulness as a combat trick. I like casting 3/3 Splinterfrights or Boneyard Wurms with a blue mana open against red decks. Your opponent will be happy to cash in a Brimstone Volley, but if you're lucky and hit a creature with Dream Twist you've essentially countered the burn spell and probably gained more virtual card advantage in the process.
Gnaw to the Bone is important in a format full of aggressive decks that intend to finish you off with burn spells. You'll gain a lot of life with this and it will usually make your opponent reconsider an aggressive game plan.
Sever the Bloodline is a necessary one-of in this deck. You're likely to mill it eventually and it provides an out to cards that can be very difficult to compete with in the late game, like Olivia Voldaren.
Mulch is another way to cheat on mana that actually produces virtual card advantage in the process. You're usually only hitting one land with your Mulch, but it's important to get some creatures in your graveyard to turn on your Splinterfrights, Boneyard Wurms, and Kessig Cagebreakers.
Spider Spawning is a powerful tool that makes it extremely difficult to profitably attack your life total. A lot of decks will fold to your first casting of this spell. It's like a Kessig Cagebreakers that doesn't need to attack.
Unburial Rites is a great way to re-buy your Kessig Cagebreakers or Splinterfright once you've run out of gas. The flashback is a free splash thanks to Avacyn's Pilgrim and Shimmering Grotto.
Here's the decklist once we put it all together.
I'd like to share a few of my matches so you can get a feel for how games usually play out.
I won the roll and mulliganed down to six. I kept Hinterland Harbor, Island, Deranged Assistant, Armored Skaab, Dream Twist, and Spider Spawning. I played my Hinterland Harbor and passed the turn. My opponent played a Plains, cast Champion of the Parish, and passed the turn. I drew a Gnaw to the Bone, cast Deranged Assistant, and passed the turn. My opponent cast an Elite Inquisitor, attacked for 2, and passed the turn. I drew a Woodland Cemetery, tapped my Deranged Assistant, milled a Kessig Cagebreakers, and cast Armored Skaab, flipping two more creatures and an Unburial Rites. My opponent attacked me for 2 with Elite Inquisitor, played a third land, and passed the turn. I drew a Boneyard Wurm, tapped Deranged Assistant and milled a Splinterfright, cast Boneyard Wurm, and passed the turn. My opponent cast a Midnight Haunting during my endstep. My opponent attacked with Elite Inquisitor, which I blocked with my Boneyard Wurm, and both Spirits, then cast Rally the Peasants with the intention of killing my Wurm and dealing me 6 points in the air. I cast a Dream Twist, targeting myself, and flipped another creature to save my Wurm and kill my opponent's Inquisitor. I drew Mulch and cast it, revealing a creature, a Shimmering Grotto, a Forest, and a Spider Spawning. I played the Forest and cast Gnaw to the Bone, gaining 12 life, then attacked for 6 before passing the turn. My opponent played a fourth land and cast Instigator Gang. I drew a Forest, played Shimmering Grotto, attacked for 6, milled the final copy of Spider Spawning with Deranged Assistant, and cast Spider Spawning for six tokens. My opponent conceded.
Sideboarding: –1 Sever the Bloodline, –3 Spider Spawning, +2 Gnaw to the Bone, +2 Ranger's Guile
I kept Forest, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Mulch, Splinterfright, Splinterfright, Gnaw to the Bone, and Ranger's Guile. I played my Forest and cast Avacyn's Pilgrim. My opponent cast a Doomed Traveler and passed the turn back. I drew a Dream Twist, cast Mulch, milling a Boneyard Wurm and an Avacyn's Pilgrim and putting Hinterland Harbor and Woodland Cemetery into my hand. I played the Hinterland Harbor and passed the turn. My opponent attacked for 1 and cast Cloistered Youth. I cast Dream Twist targeting myself during my opponent's endstep and flipped two more creatures. I drew Unburial Rites, played my land, and cast Splinterfright before passing the turn. My opponent flipped the Cloistered Youth and attacked with both creatures. I blocked Cloistered Youth and it got binned. My opponent tried for a morbid Brimstone Volley on the Splinterfright, but I had Ranger's Guile at the ready. I milled another creature and a Gnaw to the Bone with Splinterfright, drew and played a Forest, used the flashback on Dream Twist and milled another creature, attacked with Splinterfright, cast another Splinterfright, and passed the turn. My opponent played a fourth land and passed the turn. I milled three creatures with the Splinterfright triggers, drew an Island, and attacked with both Splinterfrights. My opponent died.
My opponent won the roll and I kept Hinterland Harbor, Shimmering Grotto, Woodland Cemetery, Mulch, Armored Skaab, Kessig Cagebreakers, and Splinterfright. My opponent played a Woodland Cemetery and passed the turn. I drew a Deranged Assistant, played Hinterland Harbor, and passed the turn back. My opponent played a Shimmering Grotto and passed the turn. I drew a Spider Spawning, played Shimmering Grotto, cast Deranged Assistant, and passed the turn, but my opponent cast a Geistflame to kill my assistant on my endstep. My opponent played Traveler's Amulet and sacrificed it, finding a Mountain, then passed the turn. I drew and played a Forest, then cast Armored Skaab. I milled Sever the Bloodline, two lands, and a Splinterfright. My opponent played a fourth land and cast Garruk Relentless, made a Wolf, and passed the turn. I drew Dream Twist, played my land, cast Splinterfright, and passed the turn. My opponent attempted to use Garruk's fight ability on Splinterfright and I responded by casting Dream Twist on myself. I milled a whopping three creatures and my opponent binned Garruk. My opponent cast Bloodgift Demon and passed the turn. I milled a Spider Spawning and a Gnaw to the Bone, drew a Kessig Cagebreakers, cast Mulch to mill two creatures and find two lands, attacked with Splinterfright, and used the flashback on Dream Twist to flip another creature. My opponent took 8. My opponent went down to 12 from the Bloodgift Demon, attacked for 5 in the air, and cast Blasphemous Act. I drew Dream Twist, played my land, cast Kessig Cagebreakers, and passed the turn. My opponent cast Sever the Bloodline, targeting the Kessig Cagebreakers, and in response I cast Dream Twist, targeting myself and milling Gnaw to the Bone and two lands. I drew a Forest, played it, and used the flashback on Spider Spawning. My opponent cast Blasphemous Act. I drew a Spider Spawning, flashbacked my Dream Twist on myself, and cast Spider Spawning. My opponent drew and conceded.
Sideboarding: –2 Gnaw to the Bone, –3 Spider Spawning, +2 Ranger's Guile, +3 Sever the Bloodline
I mulliganed to five and kept Forest, Shimmering Grotto, Mulch, Mulch, and Kessig Cagebreakers. My opponent played a Mountain and passed the turn. I drew a Splinterfright, played my Forest, and passed the turn back. My opponent played a Swamp and passed the turn. I drew a Dream Twist and cast Mulch, dropping four creatures into my graveyard, then passed the turn. My opponent played a third land and cast a Traveler's Amulet before passing. I drew Sever the Bloodline and cast Mulch, milling a Sever the Bloodline and putting two Hinterland Harbors and a Woodland Cemetery in my hand. I played the Hinterland Harbor and passed the turn, with my opponent cracking the amulet on my endstep. My opponent played a fourth land and cast Olivia Voldaren. I milled myself with Dream Twist on my opponent's endstep and revealed Unburial Rites, a land, and an Avacyn's Pilgrim. I played Woodland Cemetery and cast Sever the Bloodline, targeting Olivia. My opponent played a fifth land and cast Curse of Death's Hold (see why I sided out the Spider Spawnings? ^_^). I drew a Ranger's Guile, cast Splinterfright, played my land, and passed the turn. My opponent attempted to Sever the Bloodline my Splinterfright but I had Ranger's Guile. I milled another Unburial Rites and a Kessig Cagebreakers with Splinterfright, drew a Shimmering Grotto, and attacked with Splinterfright. I had two Kessig Cagebreakers in my yard and two Unburial Rites, so I decided to force my opponent to have a Blasphemous Act. I flashbacked the Unburial Rites targeting Kessig Cagebreakers. My opponent didn't have the Blasphemous act and was forced to concede to the massive amount of damage I was threatening.
The deck performs very well in the current Innistrad Block Constructed metagame. If you're looking to get into Constructed on Magic Online, this is a great deck to start with. The deck is very well positioned right now and a good pilot should be able to steer it to victory in well over 50% of matches played.
Be sure to hit the forums with ideas for upcoming columns.