ey all! It's another Wednesday, meaning another edition of From the Lab and three or four decks for those Johnnies out there to ponder and mull over.
Since taking over the column, I've noticed an increasingly disturbing trend in the weekly schedule. For some strange, unfathomable reason, I find myself getting pumped for theme weeks. I mean, they're festive, they're card-restrictive, and numerous other Johnny-ish adjectives. Consequently, non-theme weeks just don't do it for me. I even tried to psyche myself into thinking it was Non-Theme Week Week, but to no avail. Basically, theme weeks get me amped, while blank weeks leave me cramped.
Do not fret, loyal deck-builders! While I must confess I'm excited for Next Week, today's fill of decks should do your synergy-appetite justice. In building today's decks, I looked for cards from the previous shard theme weeks that I previously overlooked, that I received intriguing email about, or that just hit me with a different light. So, consider it House of Commons / Grixis / Naya Week. It'll make me feel better.
Before we dive in, I'd like to quickly address the epic tale of Bob, which was discussed last Wednesday (and probably told around many a campfire since). I had a lot of fun writing this article, and I received many emails containing positive feedback. Since the reader response was greater than usual, I'd just like to throw this question out there for those on the forums or regular email senders: Should I do a column similar to last week's sometime in the future? Note that I have no idea when this would be. Someone (probably a smart someone) once said, "Let them eat cake." Although I'm at a loss for how to make Magic-related cake (there's probably some demonic recipe for it courtesy of Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar), I'd certainly be willing to, so speak up!
Duel Decks: Banewasps vs. Blowflies
As I mentioned during the House of Commons article a couple weeks back, one of the hardest cards to place in a deck was Banewasp Affliction. Now, I understand that each and every set must have its respective runt of the litter, but this Aura makes Burden of Greed look at least average. Accursed Centaur at least has some graveyard shenanigans twirling 'round it (and I'm not even going to mention the beloved Chimney Imp, who, let's face it, was an all-star anyway.) Even Zephyr Spirit is amazing tech against a Banewasp Affliction, since it bounces away the pesky enchantment.
Fortunately, a well-loved tradition of From the Lab is building a viable deck around the worst common in the set, a treatment that all the stinkers from the previous paragraphs have undergone. The golden dream for a Banewasp Affliction is to be cast on a creature with a high toughness, so that when the large-bottomed creature eventually kicks the bucket, your opponent will lose a decent chunk of life. What makes the card stink worse than Wario on a showerless weekend is that burning away a high-toughness creature is pretty hard. Plus, it's not like your opponent will conveniently be playing Treefolk.dec for you. In a nutshell, Banewasp Affliction isn't too snazzy.
Since I've been on a Standard kick lately, I decided to keep the trend running and build a Banewasp Affliction deck using Standard-legal cards (as funny as a Banewasp Affliction + Conclave's Blessing deck would be.) One of my favorite deck-building moments is where a bunch of generally bad cards team up with a simply underlooked card to create great synergy, and that's basically what happened here. The Tenth Edition cycle of Weavers never stood out to me until I was combing Standard for suitable cards to beef up my banewasps and stumbled upon Spirit Weaver. Provided your opponent has green or blue creatures (and that's not a problem at all with the Scarecrosoft Painter himself, Scuttlemutt), Spirit Weaver can perform reverse-Firebreathing on an Afflicted creature for the following engine: ": Target player loses 1 life." And that's not even counting the toughness it had to start with!
Burrenton Shield-Bearers finally becomes playable outside of Limited in this deck. Who says you have to target your own creatures with its ability? Another big spell here is Righteousness. Seriously. It's the biggest toughness raiser for the lowest amount of mana available, and when your many deathtouch creatures swing in, a surprise Righteousness on an Afflicted blocker is horribly startling. Kithkin Shielddare works similarly as well. An alternate method is simply to play Righteousness on your own blocking creature (like you're supposed to), hopefully killing an Afflicted creature on the other side of the board.
To recycle used Banewasp Afflictions, I turned to fellow fifteenth pick Mine Excavation. Besides returning Afflictions to your hand, you can grab spent Executioner's Capsules. This artifact provides another way to kill Afflicted creatures besides blocking or combat-oriented scenarios. I was having some colored mana struggles, so I went with Elsewhere Flasks, which can be excavated for extra cards, and the right lands to play those spells.
The thing that gets me about this deck is that very few cards in it are individually decent. Apparently, mixing together unplayable cards makes for a kooky casual deck.
The Scuttlemutts are workhorses in this deck: They accelerate your mana, change the color of black creatures (for the Executioner's Capsules), and allow you to reliably activate Spirit Weaver and conspire Mine Excavation.
If you wanted, you could add green for a number of card selections. Wren's Run Vanquisher is obviously the best deathtoucher in Standard right now, and the seven Elves in the deck can help you play it. Doran, the Siege Tower would be very interesting here as well. Finally, to add to the theme of bad commons becoming playable, Hunt Down forces your opponent to block, opening up windows for Righteousness and Kithkin Shielddare. This, however, might just be the best deck ever for Heal the Scars. (Weed Strangle gets an honorable mention too.)
A card I wanted to talk about during Grixis week was Prince of Thralls, but the space wasn't there. The Flesh Prince has a very interesting ability that's unfortunately packaged with a 7/7 body. Why is that unfortunate? Simply put, I could fiddle around with gaining control of permanents or making my opponent lose lots of life all day long, but it's far easier to just lock the deadbolt for 7 thrice. If you have the opportunity to smash face Scaled Wurm style, be my guest. If you want to take advantage of the Prince's Endless Whispers ability, though, the rest of this deck is devoted to that.
If there's any big combo with Prince of Thralls, it's with demonic buddy Rakdos the Defiler. Both are beefy Demons, to be sure, but think about it. First of, by simply being a Demon, Prince of Thralls mutes Rakdos's first ability a bit. The big kicker is Rakdos's combat damage ability, which results in a mass sacrifice of permanents for your opponent. With the Prince in play, you'll gain control of half of his or her non-Demon permanents, unless of course your opponent wishes to pay life. Directly coming off of a meaty 7-point hit from Rakdos, the latter option won't be chosen that often.
Both of these Demons can easily be found with Blood Speaker, a remnant from the Demon-Ogre collaboration from Kamigawa block. Now, with Blood Speaker, I'm happy to unveil a combo that I've saved for about a year. If there's any creature that Deathrender wants to be equipped to, it's the Speaker. Think about it: a 'rendered Blood Speaker will sacrifice itself to find a Demon and put it in your hand. This isn't a case of cost followed by effect; the sacrifice and the search are all part of one effect. That means that Deathrender will trigger and pop that Demon right into play. This triggers the newly dead Speaker's other ability and returns it to your hand, ready for more Deathrender shenanigans.
Deathrender is also a prime way to cheat Demons into play, with or without the Speaker, as long as you have quick, self-sacrificing creatures. Plagued Rusalka, Mogg War Marshal, and Marsh Flitter form the backbone of the 'Rending troops. You're also going to want fodder for the Rakdos Riteknife, which can perform a similar function to its namesake when sacrificed. Hopefully Prince of Thralls gets Deathrendered into play at that time!
Now let's talk Demons. With all the tokens you're making, Woebringer Demon can eat up the board. (Archdemon of Unx, despite its shiny newness, was left out due to its mana cost.) Ghostly Changeling is cheesy, but it's cheap and you'll never sacrifice it to Rakdos.
Magnetic Theft begged for inclusion after goldfishing a couple times. It basically lowers equip costs by one in this deck, but sometimes you're stressed for mana. Godo, Bandit Warlord fetches both weapons, and it's hilarious to have him untap Ghostly Changeling.
Unleash the 'Ultimate'
To stem the flow of creative juices for today, here's two zany reader-submitted decks that are based around the Ultimatums, the insanely powerful spells divided amongst the five shards. I've received a lot of email about the Ultimatums, and judging from these emails, Titanic Ultimatum is the most ultimate of the lot.
It's a good thing we've got Christian M.-H. continuing to build decks, then. The dandy deck-builder from Denmark has been a steady contributor of Johnny goodness over the years, so I was delighted to have him email me about his deck, which focused on flipping over a Titanic Ultimatum from a Windbrisk Heights. Tokens ran amok by the sides of Elspeth, Knight-Errant, who can make all your critters indestructible forever (at least according to a recent Rules Corner).
The one snippet I altered from Christian's deck was Orcish Librarian. Christian wanted to use the book-munching Orc to set up a Titantic Ultimatum for the hideaway land. However, seeing as the rest of the deck was in Standard, and that Orcish Librarian isn't exactly the best library-setter-upper in Extended (even with the recent departure of Sensei's Divining Top), I'm guessing the Librarian was a casualty in transit from Time Spiral block to our current Standard. I myself keep thinking "Pandemonium!" whenever I build a deck, so it looks like we both suffer from "timeshifted" withdrawal.
In place of the Orcish Librarian, I (somewhat sadly) added Lash Out. The deck lacked a true removal spell, and while clash isn't the best for library stacking, at least if you clash into an Ultimatum and you have Windbrisk Heights in hand, you're good to go. I also shaved an Elspeth and a land for two copies of Liliana Vess, mainly for better tutoring power.
Feel free to add Furystoke Giant. In Extended, you could go with Orcish Librarian as intended, and I'd suggest Hour of Reckoning for some unfair board sweeps, like when you grab all the little houses on Monopoly.
This next deck goes a little wackier. Scratch that, actually, because you've just entered the wackiest territory of the column.
What foolhardiness do I speak of? Only a creation I received via email from Bohromir, who suggests playing not one, not two, not even three, but four or five Ultimatums in the same deck.
The main method of this deck is Windbrisk Heights again. The twist is to add all of the zero-cost creatures ever made to allow you to go off on turn two. But—well, I'll let Bohromir explain it:
All you would need for a turn-two win is one fifth of your zero casting cost creatures, a Windbrisk Heights, and a Plains. When you consider that almost all of the Ultimatums work for this, it's actually a neat idea. A Brilliant Ultimatum should let you wheel into another Ultimatum. A Clarion Ultimatum will grab another Windbrisk Heights so you can re-combo next turn. Cruel Ultimatum is a massive swing in itself. Titanic Ultimatum wins the game. Violent Ultimatum is a good reset button.
Get it? By playing 16 Ultimatums, you're all but guaranteed to land one on the hideaway land. By playing 20 Ornitopter-esque creatures, you can fulfill Windbrisk Heights' requirement quickly and easily. I've played the deck, and it's fun. Wheeling into more Ultimatums with Brilliant Ultimatum is so thrilling it's not even funny. The Clarion Ultimatum trick mentioned above is just as evil as it looks, and of course, turn-two Titanics are run of the mill. Here's a slightly modified version of Bohromir's deck:
The Ultimatum Showdown
I'm going to try an experiment as my closing sentence for this column. If people like it, I'll continue it. Basically, I'll take a piece of flavor text from one of the cards I used in the article, and just quote that. Let me know what you think!
"Kobolds are harmless." –Bearand the Bold, epitaph