here's a scene in most superhero plots where you can tell that the villain has finally figured out what makes the protagonist tick—and is about to take that to his advantage. It's discovered that the hero's goodie-goodie heart has a weak spot: his friends and family. You can see the twinge of a sneer on Norman Osborne's face as he hears that Peter Parker's love interest is Mary-Jane, and you can just feel he's scheming how to capture her.
And then you have the scene. You know the one. The scene where the hero has to choose. The ultimatum. Which will it be, Spider-Man? The woman you love, or this tram car full of innocent kids pleading for their lives?
This is how the Dimir operate. They're always looking for the buttons to push to make others squirm.
So I ask you, then. Which will you save, Planeswalker—your creature, or your cards?
So, where does this card fit?
This is the kind of card you can play in aggressive or midrange decks against other creature decks, for starters. In those kind of matchups, it's often an attrition battle, and whether you're stealing a creature or making your opponent lose his or her hand while you cackle and draw more cards, you're going to be in pretty good shape.
What kind of creature decks do you want it against most? Well, Soul Ransom is especially good against green creature decks. They seldom have good ways to recoup cards, and then compound the problem by trading cards for speed by ramping early with mana Elves and Farseeks. When one plays its Thragtusk, you might just be able to outright steal it—and even if it can pay the Ransom it will often be with two very precious cards.
The other kind of deck I want to play a card like this in is a control deck. After killing off creature after creature, cards like Thragtusk can slow you down by presenting a tricky-to-remove threat. Soul Ransom not only removes that threat, but puts you in the driver's seat as you threaten to beat down with a 5/3.
And best of all, if your opponent chooses to pay the ransom—as he or she might—you can rig the bargain even further in your favor by using an instant-speed removal spell to kill the Thragtusk in response—giving you the 3/3 token, the extra two cards, and clearing away your opponent's Thragtusk. Now that's value!
And, of course, even against non-Thragtusk creatures it's still mighty good. When you're trading cards with your opponent for turns on end, this is just the card you want for that last creature—especially if you're busy searching for a Sphinx's Revelation.
So, what kind of deck am I going to look at today? Well, today we're going to take a glance at the latter of the two options: a control deck! Let's have a glance at this post-Gatecrash Standard submission:
Angelica's Nicol Control
All right, a Grixis (UBR) control deck (with a touch of white thanks to some artifact mana)—this seems like a fantastic place to feature Soul Ransom! Let's take a deeper look...
The Battle Plan
Like most control decks, this deck seeks to spend its early game responding to your threats, using any gaps in the action to draw cards. Cheap removal spells like Izzet Charm and Pillar of Flame keep cheap creatures at bay. (And in the case of Pillar of Flame, keeps cards like Gravecrawler or Geralf's Messenger from coming back.)
However, rather than focus on the traditional aspects of a control deck, I'd like to look at a couple elements that make this deck unique.
The first is the Gilded Lotus mana engine. Gilded Lotus skips you straight from five to eight mana, letting you cast some pretty powerful spells on turn six. Nicol Bolas might just end up on the battlefield! But most importantly here is what I actually view as a pretty underrated control card in current Standard: Rakdos's Return!
Everyone is relying on Sphinx's Revelation right now—and for good reason. However, the way those control decks tend to play out is they cast a bunch of spells, keeping one or two cards in their hand—one of which is a Revelation—then they untap, Revelation for four or five, find another Revelation not long after, and gain an upper hand on the game that is difficult to overcome.
However, what if you just cast Rakdos's Return and make them discard their Revelation while their hand is still a couple cards? Even if they have the mana untapped to cast it for a few more cards, a full-power Return should still nail all of the cards out of their hand. I expect Rakdos's Return to see more play as Standard continues.
The other interesting engine here is the new Gatecrash card, Call of the Nightwing.
It may not look like much in a control deck... until you realize that you can immediately encode onto the token you make. So for , you end up with a 1/1 that replicates itself every time it deals damage. When your opponent is busy gnashing teeth trying to get out from under your removal spells, this is the kind of engine that can really get out of hand. Additionally, since this deck is Grixis, instead of white-blue based, it isn't clearing its own creatures with Supreme Verdict either.
Is that the kind of card this deck wants? Well, it's certainly worth talking about. The largest question is if there will be space for it.
And on that note, let's begin taking a look at all the individual cards!
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius; Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker; and Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
Gisela's white mana symbols might look a little strange at first, but with Gilded Lotus it makes it a cinch. So, really, it all comes down to which victory conditions you want to play.
I do believe that seven big victory cards is too many in a deck like this. You will seldom need more than one or two, and so you never want to draw multiples of them early.
I also don't think you need as many creatures/big Planeswalkers in this deck for another reason: you will just win off of incremental damage a lot of the time. With Rakdos's Return and Bonfire of the Damned in the deck, over the course of the game the opponent will pretty easily be dealt 10+ points of incidental damage from those spells. At that point, you can even start looking at setting up a lethal Rakdos's Return and never even casting a creature!
Now, I think you definitely still want some permanents with one or more numbers in the bottom right hand corner so you have a way to beat people who play Thragtusk six times, and also just to close out some games in a reasonable fashion. However, I would look at reducing these numbers.
The one I would like to keep two copies of is Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, since he deals with permanent types this deck otherwise struggles with and can't just be Murdered. (Bolas can be Detention Sphered, but I recommend trying to land a Rakdos's Return first if you can.) He's not that much harder to cast since Gilded Lotus curves into him perfectly.
After that, I'm going to split the other two one-and-one. They are both good in different ways at different times, and I'd rather draw one of each than two of either.
As mentioned above, fast mana is a huge boon for this deck. It can propel your hands into fueling huge Rakdos's Returns or Planeswalkers.
Out of these two, I actually don't think the Lanterns are that necessary. I feel fine using the loti to support one Gisela, and a Manalith doesn't really interest me. Occasionally, you can curve Lantern into Lotus into Bolas, but that kind of blowout draw isn't worth playing Lantern for.
Lotus, on the other hand, is a card I want to add a copy of. Four is a little excessive because if your opening hand has multiples then you're going to be in for a slow draw, but I want to cast one on turn five whenever I can. Three is the number I'd like.
Izzet Charm has a great range of versatility: dealing with small guys, helping you filter through cards, or protecting your big spells from countermagic. It's not usually the kind of card I want to draw a ton of (especially since its card-filtering mode isn't something I want to do more than once if I can help it) but it's definitely a card I'd like to play in a deck like this. I would prefer three over four just because I want to vary up the range of removal.
Dealing with Gravecrawler—especially in a deck relying on pinpoint removal—is extraordinarily important. This isn't a card I'm crazy about, and there are a lot of matchups where it's weak, but I would like two copies so I can aim to dig for one to help reduce the Gravecrawler issue in the long game.
I'll revisit this principle once I start adding cards, but I should note that in control decks like this one I like to vary up my removal and have a wide suite of answers. I would rather draw two different pieces of removal than two of the same one most of the time. That way, if you're facing a variety of threats you have a better chance of finding the optimal removal spell for it. Pillar is one card I want in that larger array.
These are some of the primary card-drawing spells in this deck. It's crucial that this control deck has enough card drawing—especially since it doesn't have access to Sphinx's Revelation. (You could play Revelation theoretically off of the artifact mana—but I would want four Revelations and that's stretching a little too far.)
Think Twice is a nice way to smooth out your draw early on, and I don't mind playing a couple. It's not the kind of card I want to play a ton of, but it's important to still have some action if you don't need to kill a creature on the second and third turns, and Think Twice accomplishes that admirably.
Forbidden Alchemy can help you dig a little deeper and find a specific card, which is a nice benefit in a deck that's shaping up to have a wide variety of cards. When you're trying to set up for something like Rakdos's Return, it helps you find all the pieces you need. It's another kind of card that I would want a few copies of in a deck like this. With Dimir Charm also being a candidate for this deck, I don't need this effect as much since Dimir Charm can also help dig when absolutely necessary—so I think I'll play two copies, splitting with one Dimir Charm.
This card is extremely intriguing in a control deck. A four-mana 1/1 flier isn't much to get excited about, but if it connects you end up with a free chump blocker (or potentially an attacker) every turn. As mentioned above, if you're constantly removing your opponent's creatures and attacking with these, it can get out of hand.
However, it's a little slow and vulnerable. Since you would often cast this pre-Rakdos's Return, it just turns on the removal the opponent is holding. After a Return, there are better options. Finally, the nail in the coffin is that it costs the same amount on the curve as Soul Ransom. Sorry Call of the Nightwing—perhaps another day!
Normally, I'm not as big of a fan of Bonfire in control decks as I am of it in beatdown decks. It's a weak opening draw and poor if you're drawing a lot of cards at once, and the damage to your opponent isn't that important.
In this deck, however, the damage to your opponent is relevant. And since one of your card-drawing spells is Think Twice you can at least have a chance of Bonfiring your opponent on his or her turn. I think Mizzium Mortars is going to be better in a lot of situations—especially since this deck has a hole when it comes to killing midsize creatures—but I'd like to keep a pair of Bonfires around. Keeping a critical mass of X spells in your deck for the long game to just burn your opponent out is important.
While the uncounterability of Counterflux is nice, in this metagame the graveyard is such an important resource that I would rather have Dissipate. I do like access to some countermagic, so a straight swap here is what I'd go for.
As I described earlier, Return is a crucial part of this deck's game plan, and I want to draw one in most games. I could almost see playing four, but I think I would main deck three and then sideboard the fourth for the Bant (GWU) control matchups where you really want access to it.
I like having a variety of removal spells around in my decks, and in this one I'm especially in the market for one that could kill a large creature. However, I would prefer if that spell was instant speed. Sorcery speed answers to any creature are already covered by Soul Ransom. I really don't want to be discarding cards, and I already have Rakdos's Return to cap my opponent on the cards in his or her hand. I'm going to look to other removal spells here.
I Should Have Ransom of These
With some cards removed, that gives us space to play around with. Let's take a look at what I chose to add!
If you're playing a blue deck in Standard right now, two creatures you really have to consider are Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage. They're so powerful and they interact with your spells. While ultimately this deck didn't end up with enough of a spell density to be comfortable with Augur of Bolas, I would definitely like a couple Snapcaster Mages.
Whether doubling up on removal spells early on or reusing X spells to finish off your opponent, Snapcaster works well with the variety of spells in the deck.
I talked about it a ton earlier, so I won't repeat myself too much now. It's just a great fit for this deck, dealing with card-advantage creatures and either letting you take opponents' win conditions or gain massive card advantage.
Keep in mind that you may want to hold it sometimes for after you play Rakdos's Return. Even if you can only Return your opponent down to one card, he or she will likely keep the best creature... which Soul Ransom is perfectly poised to steal!
This deck had some Think Twices and Forbidden Alchemys to help it move through cards, but it didn't have anything that could really put it up on cards. I wanted something to help it draw a few cards at once. Even if you just get two -2 activations out of Jace, that's still plenty helpful for a deck like this. Plus, splitting Jace piles can make your opponent writhe and squirm in his or her seat, so it's on theme with the preview card!
There are a few different removal spells in this deck than before. I've mostly mentioned them by now, but I'll go over them again real quick.
Dimir Charm is a flexible addition that can not only remove a creature but also dig you a little deeper. (Or make sure your opponent doesn't draw what he or she needs.) The ability to counter a sorcery is a nice touch on top of all that.
is a great removal spell that helps deal with some of the more midsize creatures you might play against. Additionally, this deck doesn't have access to Supreme Verdict, so it doubles as a makeshift Verdict as well.
However, the one card Mortars definitely can't kill is the ferocious, hasted Thundermaw Hellkite. Just to provide a little extra versatility, I added one copy of Ultimate Price to deal with cards like that.
That brings the final list to:
Gavin Verhey's Ransom Control
There's a great starting point for a Grixis deck. It's tough to not be playing with Sphinx's Revelation in this format—but Rakdos's Return is a great answer. Mixed with acceleration and a suite of spells, this deck can definitely do some major damage. It might also be worth trying a version with both Revelation and Return—the mana could probably work if you went more base-Esper (WUB) and splashed red.
I should note that this deck has a lot of two-ofs. Generally I dislike two-ofs, but in this case there are so many splits with other cards to obtain the right mix of cards I'm looking for, and splitting on removal spells is actually beneficial when you have Snapcaster Mage around.
Soul Ransom | Art by Steve Argyle
I receive a lot of decklists each week, and many of them are worth checking out for new ideas. Take a look at some of them!
A Hayden's Three-Color Biovisionary Combo
古屋真斗's Esper Spirits
José Alves's Ciphersnipe
Rahil Kahn's BUG Mill
You Win Some, You Ransom
That wraps up the end of my Gatecrash preview cards! Hopefully, you enjoyed these three cards. All three—Obzedat, Aurelia, and Soul Ransom—are all my design. So... well, I suppose that officially means you can thank/blame me when you win/lose to them at the Prerelease next weekend.
In the meantime, there's a challenge you can build decks for! I talked to the editing staff to see if we could switch back to the methodology of sending in decks, and the mission was successful. The only thing to note is that the deadline is a little tighter moving forward from here on out.
Ready? Here's the challenge!
Format: Future Standard (Gatecrash is legal!)
Deadline: Sunday, January 20th, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit decklists in a format that looks like the following, except with your name and deck instead of mine.
Gavin Verhey's Awesome Deck for Awesome People
Show me your best, most exciting deck featuring Gatecrash cards! With all of these new Gatecrash cards in the mix, there should be plenty of space for your mind to run, you clever bunch. And remember: the deadline is January 20.
I look forward to seeing your decks then! In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments on this deck, article, or cards, feel free to send me a tweet or post in the forums and I'll be sure to take a look.
See you all next week!