Building_on_a_Budget

Two precons enter, one deck returns.

Dead/Aflame: A Home For Zombify

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The letter L!ots to do today, lots to do. The problem with giving me a week off because of a U.S. holiday is that I have twice as much time to play and write.

Before I start, I'd like to thank all of those who offered congratulations and well-wishes for the birth of my daughter. I had no idea there were so many fathers-of-two-children out there in Magic land. Your Message Boards posts, and especially your heart-felt e-mails, were great. Many thanks.

Now, onto another deckbuilding experiment!

As I said two weeks ago, my plan this time around is to work with the 9th Edition preconstructed decks (Ravnica, City of Guilds won't be available online for some time). The problem is that Core Set precons are only forty cards, so I've decided to choose two different precons, mash them together, then start building from there. To be more specific, here are the Guidelines over the next three weeks:

  1. Start with two different 9th Edition preconstructed decks, combined, to make an eighty-card deck.
  2. Cull cards until I have a sixty-card deck.
  3. Don't make more changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
  4. Change no more than five cards at a time.
  5. Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
  6. Build an affordable deck.

The deck I'm building this time around will be Standard-legal, meaning it will draw on not only 9th Edition, but Mirrodin and Kamigawa blocks as well. I know I've made a couple of Kamigawa Block decks recently, but not only has that format wound down (Blood Clock pun intended), but I can't wait to get my hands on the new Standard. My decks in this column still aren't meant to be tournament-worthy, but Standard is my favorite format in which to build decks because of its dynamic nature and its relative accessibility for new players. I may stray to other formats frequently, but Standard remains my creative home.

Remember that the goal of these experiments is the journey much more than the destination. You won't always agree with my card choices or the direction I take the deck. That's okay--expected, even--and I hope more than anything that the ideas here will inspire you to build your own decks. If you post those decks on the Message Boards over the next three weeks, all the better.

When The Dead Burst Aflame

Here are the poll results from my last article:

Deck #1
Dead Again 2218 27.9%
Army of Justice 2085 26.3%
World Aflame 1349 17.0%
Custom Creatures 1267 16.0%
Lofty Heights 1017 12.8%
Total 7936 100.0%

Different deck you'd like combined with deck #1
World Aflame 1940 23.3%
Dead Again 1890 22.7%
Lofty Heights 1679 20.2%
Custom Creatures 1441 17.3%
Army of Justice 1381 16.6%
Total 8331 100.0%

It's fascinating to me how different the two polls are, although not as fascinating as the weird deck I get when mashing the Dead Again and World Aflame preconstructed decks together. I've sorted the cards by type, cost, and number, per usual, because it is the best way for me to get a handle on what's going on in the deck. This is especially important today since I'm not used to looking at an eighty-card deck.

Before I get into culling cards, I'll first just say what I generally do and don't like about this big cobbled-together deck.

First, what I like:

  • There are lots of spiffy-cool creatures here. I particularly like Gravedigger, Highway Robber, Anarchist, Dancing Scimitar, Magnivore, Nekrataal, and Phyrexian Gargantua. I'm not sure if all of these creatures will stick around to the final version, but at least they all make me smile.
  • As you know by now, I love reanimation themes, so both decks (creature reanimation in Black, sorcery reanimation in Red) make me happy.
  • The rares are all cool and are all interesting foundations to a deck. The problem is that I'm not sure they can all cohabitate, so don't expect more than one or two to make it through three weeks of cuts.
  • One neat interaction is between Raise Dead and Anarchist, or maybe Raise Dead-Gravedigger-Anarchist. That's a fun little chain of spells.
  • Black/Red! Evil! EVIL! EEEEVVVVIIIIIIIL!!!!!

The list of what I don't like is a bit longer, but certainly not damning:

  • This deck's got next to nothing going on in the early game. Raise Dead and Unholy Strength cost one mana, sure, but they aren't spells to cast in the first turn. My creatures start around Turn 3 and really get going by Turn 4. That's slow.
  • Speaking of which, no mana acceleration in such a slow deck sucks zombie toes.
  • I can't see pushing the land destruction (Stone Rain, Demolish, Wildfire) theme in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online, where I play my games. I'm not one of those people who thinks LD isn't a “casual” strategy, but I know a lot of people do and will concede immediately once they see the first Stone Rain. One day I'm sure to try an LD deck in this column, but not this time and not without some cool twist to it.
  • The deck doesn't look like it can decide whether to be aggressive or not. Unholy Strength is fast, but as I said it has no creature to enchant early. Foul Imp and Serpent Warrior are symbols of aggression. Dancing Scimitar and lifegain are symbols of control. Weird.
  • Some of the cards look horribly out of place when combining the two decks. For example, Demon's Horn, Dragon's Claw, and Nightmare look pretty weird in a two-color deck. Underworld Dreams looks nigh uncastable with no mana-fixers. Etc. Etc. Etc.
  • Likewise, some of the cards from the two decks don't like each other. Take Wildfire, which helps to limit land while Consume Spirit (and Blaze, for that matter) wants to hoard it.
  • Having so many double-mana Black cards like Foul Imp and Highway Robber alongside double-mana Red cards like Balduvian Barbarians and Magnivore makes me cringe. This seems to be more of a problem on the Black end than the Red end, though.
  • Of course, consistency (all those one-of and two-ofs) and card quality (yay Nekrataal! boo Tanglebloom!) are always an issue in precons and even worse when you mash two unrelated precons together.
  • Sorta looks like two different decks mashed together, doesn't it? It's going to take some work to get this acting like a focused, cohesive deck.

So those are some initial observations. Now the task is to start cutting to drop twenty cards from the decklist. I won't give as full an explanation here as I will once I start playing the deck, but I will let you know why each card will be sitting on the sidelines once I start.

I'll tackle the easy stuff first:

OUT: 5 Mountain

OUT: 5 Swamp

Twenty-four land is the right initial number for a new sixty-card deck, to lower or raise as my games dictate. The thing to note here is that I'm deciding to keep the colors balanced right out of the gate, and that means I should drop roughly the same number of Black and Red cards at first.

OUT: 1 Demon's Horn

OUT: 1 Dragon's Claw

It's sort of a neat idea to have each of these artifacts in the Core Set precon decks. Sort of. Lifegain on its own is generally a bad strategy unless it's complementing other cards in the deck. Dead Again can use the life more than World Aflame, but in both cases they probably don't make the cut in an improved deck and they certainly don't make sense in a two-color deck.

OUT: 1 Tanglebloom

OUT: 1 Contaminated Bond

These two get dropped for basic power reasons. Even if I was just evolving the Dead Again precon, these two would be in the first round of cuts. Demon's Horn is superior to Tanglebloom in almost every way, and it's already gone. The deck has really nothing to do with Auras, and something like Dark Banishing or Consume Spirit would be strictly superior and better used in Contaminated Bond's place.

That's the easy stuff. Here are some conscious choices I'm making apart from land and power level on the direction of the deck.

OUT: 1 Panic Attack

Something I could do with this deck is focus on a fast, hard-hitting aggressive deck that tries to kill you before you can blink. These sorts of decks can be fun, but I'm more interested right now in Magnivore and reanimation. As a result, Panic Attack just doesn't fit.

OUT: 2 Hollow Dogs

Honestly, when I first saw the Dead Again decklist I thought these were Vampire Hounds and I rejoiced. Turns out I was wrong, which is too bad since Vampire Hounds fits a reanimation deck really well whereas Hollow Dogs are just expensive and slow. The deck already has a serious manacurve problem, and I should be able to do a lot better than a 3/3 for five mana.

OUT: 2 Lava Axe

A lot of people--especially newer players--just love Lava Axe. Five damage just feels so powerful and sexy. Besides, who doesn't want to yell “Catch!” in a game for the win? Lava Axe pretty much only fits in to-your-face burn decks, though, and that's not the deck I'm building.

OUT: 1 Underworld Dreams

Like I said, Black ManaBlack ManaBlack Mana just seems silly in a two-color deck with no Sulfurous Springs or other dual-color lands. Besides, the deck doesn't have anything like Teferi's Puzzle Box to take full advantage of it. I'm not making a Puzzle Box deck today, either.

Notice that those last five cards help one of my chief concerns about the deck: Mana. I still have no early game, but at least I won't die with a bunch of uncastable cards in my hand. Nightmare, Wildfire, and Phyrexian Gargantua are still looming at six mana, but they're all too cool to drop just yet.

Here is my first-draft deck. As I said, it needs a lot of work:

Normally, when I'm dealing with a preconstructed deck, I first spend some time walking through the deck's major and minor themes, its mana situation, consistency and power issues, and an overall fun quotient. I think I've hit on a lot of these issues with my commentary already, and I would rather spend my remaining time today playing the deck than obsessing about first impressions. Here are a few general comments that give you an idea where my head is at and may help explain some of the early changes I make to the deck:

  • In terms of themes, I'm most attracted to the reanimation aspects of the deck and Magnivore Sorcery-shenanigans. I'm not sure if I can maximize both in the same deck but I'm willing to try until something better comes along. The trick will be keeping the deck distinct from Ratimation.
  • I'm still a little tired of straightforward beatdown decks, so expect me to neuter the hyper-aggressive cards like Unholy Strength and Foul Imp pretty quickly. We can do better than basic Red/Black aggro. As I said, you should also expect the land destruction parts to fall away sooner rather than later.
  • As I've said, one of my chief concerns is the deck's manacurve. It's currently a very ugly deck, with few cards to play early and too many to play late, with no mana-acceleration to help out along the way.
  • As with every precon evolution, expect me to drop single copies of cards in favor of more consistent three- and four-copies.

Enough preamble for you? Let's play this flamin' dead puppy and see what's what!

Playing Dead/Aflame

I play my games in Magic Online in the Casual Decks room under the name BuildingOnABudget. I don't seem to have regular days or times I'm online (especially these days with the new baby), so just keep a lookout and you're sure to find me. Please don't challenge me, though, as I like to keep my early games a little random by sitting down to whatever table happens to be open.

Of course, that strategy didn't serve me so well this time around...

Game 1: Monogreen Elves

Remember how I said the deck was too slow with no early game? Imagine how thrilled I was, then, to see my opponent's first four turns of Norwood Ranger, Elvish Warrior, Blanchwood Armor on the Warrior, Blanchwood Armor on the Ranger. I lay four land, then Highway Robber. I died with more land, Magnivore, and Demolish in my hand. Ouch.

Game 2: Black/Green Aggro

Remember how I said the deck was too slow with no early game? Imagine how thrilled I was, then, to see my opponent got a Dross Golem enchanted with Unholy Strength and Blanchwood Armor, then two 5/5 One Dozen Eyes tokens, one with Blanchwood Armor on it. Anyway, I was stuck on two Swamps for four turns, able to muster only Foul Imp and Drudge Skeletons. By the time I finally found a Mountain, it was way too late. I ended the game with seven cards in hand, all costing four or more mana.

Game 3: Blue/White Teferi's Puzzle Box deck

His deck was interesting, using the Puzzle Box plus lots of bounce like Echoing Truth and Evacuation. Not that he really needed it, though. Remember how I said the deck was too slow with no early game? I kept a hand with two land and five spells of four or more mana. I then didn't see another land for four turns. Eventually I made a game of it, but a single Air Elemental beat me over the head five turns in a row.

Game 4: Monoblack Control

This game was slightly more promising, only because I drew enough land and could cast things. He Distressed a Volcanic Hammer out of my hand, and I used a second one to kill his Ravenous Rats. I played Anarchist to get back a Volcanic Hammer, then Gravedigger to retrieve the Anarchist once it died. Booya! My opponent played all four of his Distresses, along with a bunch of creature removal. Eventually we hit a place where he was at six life and I was at nineteen, with my hand empty and having just cast Hill Giant. He used a Consume Spirit for five on the Giant, then played an 8/8 Nightmare. I cast Highway Robber to drop him to nine and he hit me to thirteen. He then cast a second Nightmare, I drew Serpent Warrior, and that was game.

Game 5: White Weenie

Remember how I said the deck was too slow with no early game? Imagine how thrilled I was, then, to see my opponent play Lantern Kami, Kabuto Moth, Suntail Hawk, Umezawa's Jitte, and two Grafted Wargear. Let's not kid ourselves, though: It was the Jitte that killed me. I blasted the first Kami with a Volcanic Hammer, and attacked for a while with Foul Imp. Once the Jitte became active, I was dead. I drew eleven land, which made a Wildfire sort of entertaining the turn before I died.

0-5. Well that was just humiliating.

The mana issues are worse than I thought. The deck needs some early plays, and it needs them right away.

OUT: 2 Serpent Warrior

If this were a hyper-aggressive deck, Serpent Warrior would still get cut. Compare it to Raving Oni-Slave or Takenuma Bleeder, two creatures who are similar in effect but are both going to fit in Black aggro decks before Serpent Warrior gets the nod. Since I'm deciding to focus on reanimation and Sorceries, Serpent Warrior helps me not at all. In fact, it's sort of an anti-reanimation creature since its comes-into-play cost is not something I want to pay more than once.

OUT: 1 Deathgazer

It's not that Deathgazer is a bad creature per se. I remember playing an evening with the 8th Edition precons in which Deathgazer made the difference for me in game after game. No, the problem is how much Deathgazer suffers by comparison with the other four-mana creatures in the deck. I want more copies of Nekrataal, Highway Robber, Magnivore, or Gravedigger before I want more Deathgazers. So out it goes to make room for something cheaper.

OUT: 1 Unholy Strength

As I keep saying, I'm not building a really aggressive deck this time around. As a result, Unholy Strength is one of those “nice to have” cards instead of a “need to have.” I probably wouldn't mind drawing or casting it during games, but it's not part of my central strategy. If this deck is going to be focused, it needs to drop cards that aren't part of its two central themes: Reanimation and Sorceries.

OUT: 1 Nightmare

I'm pretty sure I intended to drop Nightmare eventually, but certainly not this early. A six-mana creature that is only half as effective as it was in Dead Again, though, is not going to cut it during this emergency stage of the deck. Good bye, big horsie, and see you in another deck at another time. A Monoblack deck. With lots of Swamps.

IN: 4 Ravenous Rats

They look so dorky in isolation and certainly not something to fix the woes I was feeling in those first five games. However, a) they're creatures I can usually cast on the second turn (unlike Foul Imp, which requires Black ManaBlack Mana), b) they are great reanimation targets, and c) they help disrupt an opponent's strategy. None of these things is true for any of the five cards I dropped above. I admit that I have a “thing” for Ravenous Rats and love them in all sorts of decks with Swamps, but they particularly make sense here.

IN: 1 Volcanic Hammer

It's the best sorcery currently in the deck, and for now I'm interested in pushing Magnivore and Anarchist a little. If I'm using the Hammer, four copies seems natural.

Here's the deck now:

So, out come five cards I can't cast before Turn 3 for five cards I can almost certainly cast on Turn 2. Let's see if it makes any difference...

Of Hearths and Zombies

Game 6: White Weenie

He started off with Suntail Hawk, Araba Mothrider, and Veteran Cavalier, none of which pleased me overly much. Kitsune Blademaster and Ivory Mask followed. I found land, thankfully, along with a couple of Ravenous Rats, so I was pretty much only taking damage from the two one-power fliers. A Volcanic Hammer killed his newly cast Kitsune Blademaster, while Demolish smashed his Umezawa's Jitte. I then got a Highway Robber and Foul Imp, which forced him to start blocking. Then he got a Story Circle for Black, I used Anarchist to retrieve my Hammer to kill another creature, then it died and Gravedigger started the process all over again. My opponent ran out of creatures and I didn't, with Anarchist doing the last six points of damage. Yay!

Game 7: Green/Red Pumping deck

I got extremely lucky with my mana this game. I had the mana for a second-turn Drudge Skeletons, then a third-turn Balduvian Barbarians. My opponent cast Bonesplitter, then Spikeshot Goblin. A Volcanic Hammer killed his Goblin and I was on the attack. I then played a Hill Giant to keep up my offense and used Demolish on his lone Mountain. Eventually he played Orochi Sustainer with Blanchwood Armor and the Bonesplitter, making it a 7/6. I played suicide attack for two turns, then used Blaze to deal the last five points of damage. He revealed a hand with Jugan, the Rising Star and two Naturalizes.

Game 8: White Weenie

He had an Araba Mothrider to my Ravenous Rats. I killed his Samurai of the Pale Curtain with a Volcanic Hammer, then killed a second with a second Hammer. He reached three Plains and cast two Ghostly Prisons, which really slowed me down. I used Stone Rain on one of his Plains, then played Hill Giant. My Giant attacked for several turns in a row while he was stuck on two land. I had six land and a bunch of cards in hand I could cast, but my offense was going fine so I kept at it. Eventually he found another Mothrider to block, so I cast Anarchist to retrieve a Volcanic Hammer and it ended the game.

Game 9: Green/Black Spirit Equip

I got out a Ravenous Rats while my opponent could only muster equipment for a while, specifically Mask of Memory, Loxodon Warhammer, and Specter's Shroud. I then played Highway Robber to give me a little more offensive punch. He cast Thief of Hope, but I had Volcanic Hammer, and he responded by using Rend Flesh on my Robber. Gravedigger brought back the Robber and now my opponent's need for a creature was becoming dire. He found Traproot Kami, but I had a Demolish for the Warhammer, then followed it up with Nekrataal on the Kami. My opponent conceded.

Game 10: Black/Green Wisdom

My opponent started with two Sakura-Tribe Elders while I had Ravenous Rats. He then had Deathmask Nezumi to my Balduvian Barbarians. Volcanic Hammer killed his Nezumi while Rend Flesh killed my Barbarians. A second Ravenous Rats joined the party and continued to nip into his life. He used Sink into Takenuma for three to get rid of Phyrexian Gargantua, Drudge Skeletons, and Volcanic Hammer, leaving only Raise Dead in my hand. I drew Anarchist, which brought back a Hammer. My next attack plus Blaze finished the game.

From 0-5 to 5-0. Magic is weird sometimes. Ravenous Rats don't make that much of a difference, and I have a suspicion that my deck is taking advantage of the fact that a lot of people are trying experimental, 9th Edition decks online. The deck is probably still closer to its 0-5 self than 5-0. It's getting less embarrassing, though. Let's make some more changes...

OUT: 3 Balduvian Barbarians

I'm finding that I really hate Balduvian Barbarians in this deck. Three mana for a 3/2 feels underwhelming anyway, and I want creatures that do things when they come into play or leave play. Usually I have a pretty neutral reaction to vanilla creatures with no abilities... I may drop them eventually, but it's not like they're offending me. With Balduvian Barbarians, though, it's the Red ManaRed Mana mana that drives me insane. I almost never seem to have two Mountains on the third turn when I am holding a Barbarians, and waiting until the fourth or fifth turn to cast a vanilla 3/2 seems ridiculous. I think Balduvian Barbarians is best off in a theme-based deck, but I'm not sure it otherwise has a lot of Constructed applications with things like Ronin Houndmaster, Viashino Sandstalker, Vulshok Sorcerer, Zo-Zu the Punisher, and Oxidda Golem around.

OUT: 2 Foul Imp

Foul Imp has been a good attacker and a good blocker so far, but it absolutely doesn't fit the deck I'm making. It's meant for a “suicide” style Monoblack deck, a deck that doesn't care about its own life so much as dropping yours to zero. I'm slowly making the deck less aggressive and focusing on two major themes: Reanimation and Sorceries. Foul Imp doesn't help the Sorcery theme at all and is terrible in a reanimation deck. The double-black mana on a creature that should come out on Turn 2 is just added incentive to drop it.

OUT: 1 Dark Banishing

It's one of the better cards in the deck, but Dark Banishing also doesn't support either of my major themes. Nekrataal fills the role better, which may be a signal that I need more of him. Befoul fits the Sorcery theme, but it's a little slow and pushes the land destruction stuff which I'll probably neuter soon. Forcing my creature removal into creature and Sorcery form, obviously, means I lose out on the instant-speed aspect of Dark Banishing. For the sake of focus, I'm willing to use slower removal.

IN: 4 Hearth Kami

It was good in Bad Religion and it was good in Soul Train. I like Hearth Kami. It's a nice efficient creature when it comes to cost versus power. Its ability is as relevant as ever with Mirrodin block still in Standard and new enemies like Umezawa's Jitte clogging up a lot of decks. And, of course, it's a great reanimation target. I could argue that Yuki-Onna would work better in the deck because of its automatic comes-into-play ability, but this deck desperately needs to keep pressing its manacurve lower, and the four-mana slot is way too crowded.

Speaking of which...

IN: 2 Zombify

You probably saw this one coming. It helps the reanimation theme of the deck and it helps the Sorcery theme of the deck. I also far prefer it to Raise Dead when there are so many four mana (or more) creatures in the deck. I'm not thrilled that I'm adding another four-mana spell into the deck, but I think this is probably a card that goes up to four copies in the deck while other expensive-but-unspectacular things like Hill Giant fall away.

Dead/Aflame v.1.2

Alright, let's see how the deck is coming along...

Welcome Home, Zombify

Game 11: Monored Pinging

He started Mountain, Myr Servitor, while I didn't do a lot. I used Stone Rain on his third Mountain, right after he dropped Vulshok Sorcerer. I then played Hill Giant, but the Sorcerer and Inflame killed it. My opponent played Viridian Longbow, equipped his Servitor, and a recently-cast Highway Robber died to double-pinging. Another Sorcerer joined the party, which got me very nervous. I played my sixth land and Phyrexian Gargantua, which started attacking as I killed a Sorcerer with Volcanic Hammer. I then played two Hearth Kami, and in response to them being shot they took down his Longbow and Servitor. The Gargantua kept attacking, and another Hammer killed the second Sorcerer. The game had officially swung in my favor, and I used Zombify on my Highway Robber to put it away.

Game 12: Monored Burn

I got a Turn 2 Hearth Kami that died to Shock. My second Hearth Kami died to First Volley. Blademane Baku attacked for three as a result. I tried Hill Giant, which died to Blaze. A second Hill Giant died to Barrel Down Sokenzan. Lava Spike and Blademane Baku hit me again. All the while I had Consume Spirit in my hand ready to kill the Baku, but I couldn't find a second Swamp. I did find a Gravedigger, which also died to Shock. My retrieved Hill Giant died to Ire of Kaminari, and the Baku went all the way.

Game 13: Black/Blue Ninjas

Man did he have a lot of discard. An early Distress took my Ravenous Rats, then a second took Nekrataal. A Ravenous Rats came into play on his side, then returned thanks to Ninja of the Deep Hours. A second and third Ravenous Rats showed up, too, along with a third Distress. Thankfully, I was getting fine mana, able to cast a Rats of my own, plus Dancing Scimitar, Hill Giant, Anarchist, Gravedigger, and Hearth Kami. That was more than enough offense despite the discard, and a recurring Volcanic Hammer helped a lot too. Once I had my attackers going full strength, my opponent conceded and showed me a hand of three Swamps.

Game 14: Monowhite Control

I can't say this was my favorite opponent. First he lectured me on the etiquette of the Casual Decks room when I used a Stone Rain on one of his four Plains. Then, when I was hitting him with two Ravenous Rats, he started playing Pulse of the Fields. When I dropped more creatures, he played Wrath of God. My dying Hearth Kami killed his Lightning Greaves, and then he lay Ghostly Prison. My opponent then announced his “clearly casual” deck hadn't lost a game yet. His whole demeanor irked me. I vowed then and there to pour every ounce of concentration I could into the game.

What I started to realize was that he had very few threats and used Lightning Greaves to make sure they would hit hard and fast. I was guessing either Yosei, the Morning Star or Blinding Angel. My Hearth Kamis managed to kill both Greaves he played, so I felt reasonably comfortable manaburning myself to keep his Pulse in check. Eventually he got low enough that he had to use one, then two, then three Pulses to stay alive. Sure enough, he eventually cast Blinding Angel, so I played Nekrataal. When he finally hit seven mana he dropped Platinum Angel at four life, so I played Wildfire, with enough land left over to cast Gravedigger (for another Gravedigger). He played a fourth Plains, then another Wrath of God. I was clearly in control of my fate now, though, forcing him to use his fourth and final Pulse. Although a third Wrath swept the board, I had two Highway Robbers to end the game.

Ahhhh... that was satisfying.

Game 15: Monored Control

I'll call his deck “control” even though he used Slith Firewalker and Godo's Irregulars. The idea, unbeknownst to me, was to hoard mana for lots of impressive spells. Lucky for me that I drew a pretty heavy land destruction hand. I started on the attack with Hearth Kami, burning away a Karplusan Yeti and Slith Firewalker that showed up on the other side with two Volcanic Hammers. Two Stone Rain hit his Mountains, but it didn't seem to matter as he kept laying them. I played Drudge Skeletons, but he used double Pyroclasm to clear the board. I then played Hill Giant, followed by Gravedigger for my Hearth Kami. The Gravedigger died to burn, but the other two romped in for the win. My opponent, six Mountains on the table and two in the graveyard, showed me his lone card in hand: Bloodfire Colossus.

One more round of changes, then I think I'm done for this week:

OUT: 3 Hill Giant

It's not that I have anything particular against Hill Giant. Each time I've drawn him I've been able to cast him thanks to the single Red Mana in its cost, and each time he's hit the table he'd been a legitimate threat on both offense and defense. Where Hill Giant suffers is by comparison. Look at the other three four-mana creatures I'm adding in this round of changes and notice that each--while harder to cast mana-wise--offers a significant upgrade in terms of game-altering ability. Like I said: Nothing against Hill Giant. He's a fine critter. He's just not someone I'd ever put on an All Star team.

OUT: 1 Dancing Scimitar

Dropping Dancing Scimitar makes me sad. It's one of those creatures that I'm nigh giddy to use effectively in a deck. I have to face facts, though, and realize that it's just out of place in the way my deck is shaping up. Before now it's been valuable because I could always cast it and because it gave me an extremely important defensive creature while my slow deck wound up. Now the deck isn't nearly as slow, and it can often handle threats by outright killing them rather than slowing them down. Dropping the last artifact from the deck also means any Naturalize-like effects in my opponent's deck are now useless.

OUT: 1 Consume Spirit

Twice I've looked at Consume Spirit in my hand with one Swamp on the table. Blaze or Fireball, while not offering the lifegain, would be a significant upgrade in my two-color deck. Pain Kami might even be better, given my deck's reanimation theme. Whatever the case, this is a must-have for Monoblack decks of all kinds, but in my deck has only been useful about once in fifteen games.

IN: 2 Nekrataal

I don't like the double-black cost, and Nekrataal suffers in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online, which seems to be flooded with Black decks. Still, I can't imagine making a Black reanimation deck without including this skinny dude. The great thing about Nekrataal is its tendency to give me a two-for-one trade with an opponent, killing a creature and using an opposing card to kill it. With reanimation, those two-for-ones add up pretty quickly. I've also been impressed with how often first strike is relevant. A Nekrataal twosome can face down a Kodama of the North Tree without blinking, for example.

IN: 1 Magnivore

I'm enamored enough with the Sorcery theme of the deck that I am willing to add a second Magnivore to the mix. I still think it's slightly tricky to work with reanimation--which requires lots of creatures--and Magnivore--which requires lots of sorceries. The good news is that I'm planning to up the total number of Sorceries in the next few rounds of changes, which should make Magnivore a more significant (and hopefully game-ending) threat. The fact that it has haste works really well with reanimation cards. Cards exactly like...

IN: 2 Zombify

If Zombify ever had a home, it is in a deck with both reanimation and Sorcery-based strategies. I can see using Zombify to bring back almost every single creature in the deck now given different game situations. As such, I imagine I'll always be happy to draw this card.

I'm pretty ambivalent about adding two Black ManaBlack Mana cards and one Red ManaRed Mana card after all of my hand-wringing over mana. This deck wants Sulfurous Springs, and it wants it bad. As such, the mana is still something with which I'll have to grapple.

Dead/Aflame v.1.3

Main Deck

60 cards

12  Mountain
12  Swamp

24 lands

Anarchist
Drudge Skeletons
Gravedigger
Hearth Kami
Highway Robber
Magnivore
Nekrataal
Phyrexian Gargantua
Ravenous Rats

21 creatures

Blaze
Demolish
Raise Dead
Stone Rain
Volcanic Hammer
Wildfire
Zombify

15 other spells


I'll end there for now. The deck has come a long way since the eighty-card monstrosity of the two mashed-together precons. Expect me to mess with the creature base a bit more, but especially to start digging into the Sorcery side of the deck next week.

Think hard and have fun,

-jms

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