Building_on_a_Budget

For week two Jay's deck declares war on opposing creatures.

Dead/Aflame: Beware The Husk

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The letter G!reetings and salutations! Last week I mashed two 9th Edition preconstructed decks together into a single Black/Red monster, whittled it down to a sixty-card Standard deck, then started playing the deck and making changes. What I decided to focus on was a dual theme of creature reanimation (Gravedigger and Zombify plus cool comes-into-play creatures) and Sorceries (Anarchist, Magnivore, and, well, lots of Sorceries).

Here is where the deck left off:

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


My observation last week was that the creature side needed a little work, but that I particularly wanted to focus on the Sorcery side of things. I'll play some games (as always, in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online) as a measure of where I am at this point.

Game 16: Monoblack Aggro

This was a whoopin', plain and simple. He used a second-turn Distress to pick a Nekrataal out of my hand, and cast Ravenous Rats early to make me discard Magnivore. That was all of his discard, though. A Rats of my own picked UnHoly Strength out of his hand, then Highway Robber and a second Nekrataal showed up for me to go on offense. He played a couple Wicked Akubas, but I used Volcanic Hammer on one of them then returned it with Anarchist to get the other. Drudge Skeletons held off his Nezumi Cutthroat, and I used Zombify on my now 4/4 Magnivore for the win.

Game 17: 5-Color Bringer deck

I felt bad about using Stone Rain on his Mirrodin's Core, but then he played Kodama's Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Solemn Simulacrum, so his mana base was fine. I got two quick Ravenous Rats, one of which died to an Elder and the other of which died to a blocking Sakura-Tribe Scout. My land halted at two Swamps and two Mountains, which was annoying given a hand that included Anarchist, Blaze, Phyrexian Gargantua, and Wildfire. Still, it meant that when he played Bringer of the Red Dawn I had Nekrataal to kill it. My Nekrataal did some damage while his Sensei's Divining Top searched for answers. He eventually found another Red Bringer, which blocked my Nekrataal so I could play Zombify on it. Soon afterwards a Bringer of the Black Dawn showed up, which an attacking Anarchist and Volcanic Hammer killed. As a last gasp my opponent tried to play Bringer of the Green Dawn, but at that point I could just aim a six-point Blaze at his head for the win.

Game 18: Black/Green/Blue Legends

His deck was scary, using Green's mana-acceleration like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach to pump out some of each color's best cards, with Time of Need to fetch everything important. I got fine mana and a quick start with Ravenous Rats. I burned away most of his early creatures with Blaze and two Volcanic Hammers, then brought back Blaze with Anarchist once I had more mana. I killed a 6/6 Maga, Traitor to Mortals with a big Blaze, then killed Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni with combat damage and another Hammer. Meloku the Clouded Mirror died to Nekrataal. Once he used Time of Need for another Maga, I had to use Wildfire to limit his land and stay alive. A 4/4 Maga hit the table, and the turn before I could kill it with my recycled Blaze it smashed my face. My opponent ended the game at eight life.

Game 19: Green/Red/White Fatties

I couldn't quite figure out his deck until I realized it was all 9th Edition cards and must have been cobbled together from Starter and Booster packs, or maybe a few Drafts. As a result, my semi-focused deck could kill his fairly unfocused one pretty easily. He played a Vulshok Morningstar, which I Demolished, then two Ravenous Rats went on the offensive. A Hill Giant arrived on his side of the table, but I had Volcanic Hammer, then a 3/3 Magnivore. He tried Craw Wurm, so I used Stone Rain on a Plains and attacked with my 4/4 Magnivore. He decided to block with his Wurm once my 'Vore hit 5/5, but at that point he was sitting on four life. A swing with my two Rats and a Highway Robber finished the game.

Game 20: Green/White Lifegain

He started out with a Sunbeam Spellbomb, then another, popping each to draw cards. I was stuck on three land, which became a lot less awkward when my opponent played Heartbeat of Spring. Thanks to his enchantment, I could play Hearth Kami and sacrifice it to kill his Well of Lost Dreams. I could also play Highway Robber and Nekrataal in the same turn, killing his Ageless Entity. A Beacon of Immortality brought my opponent's life to forty-two, but I was attacking with my Robber, Nekrataal, and a 4/4 Magnivore. Another Ageless Entity showed up, enchanted with Spirit Link. I blocked it with my Nekrataal, then used Zombify to bring it back and kill the Entity. The same thing happened again to kill a third Ageless Entity. By now my Magnivore was a 7/7, so my opponent played Story Circle, naming Red. I used Stone Rain and Demolish to destroy his two Plains, and the game was over several turns later. This was the first game in twenty where my land destruction felt vital rather than cruel.

Strengthening The Sorceries

Time to take a close look at the Sorceries...

OUT: 2 Stone Rain

OUT: 2 Demolish

The last sentence of Game 20 pretty much seals it for me. I haven't really liked the inclusion of land destruction in this deck from the beginning. In general I'm not anti-LD in the Casual Decks room as some people seem to be, but in this deck it feels a little random. There are times, like when an opponent plays Story Circle in a two-color deck, when land destruction would be very useful. Those times aren't as common, I think, as when I'm facing down a Kodama of the North Tree or a Leonin Skyhunter wielding a Loxodon Warhammer, though, so I think I can use my Sorcery slots in better ways.

OUT: 1 Wildfire

There are two reasons I really hate dropping Wildfire. First, it's one of the four rares in my original deck and I've already dropped two of them (with Magnivore the lone holdout). Second, it's a quality “reset button” for my deck, able to sweep the board of most creatures and letting me back into an otherwise unwinnable game. It's not a one-of card, though, because it really only shines in a deck built around it. My deck isn't particularly good at losing four land, and it would have to change a lot in order to get good at it. By dropping my other land destruction spells, it's likely that my opponent--especially if they're playing Green--will recover from Wildfire a lot faster than me. Wildfire is a very cool card and one I've built decks around, but my reanimation/Sorcery deck is going in a different direction.

A lot of people on the Message Boards want me to add mana-fixing now, either Wayfarer's Bauble or Talisman of Indulgence. This is a very good idea, but honestly I'm barely able to balance the two dominant themes in this deck right now and have a hard time justifying the card slots for mana acceleration or fixing unless it comes in land form. Instead, I'm going to try and continue to push the deck's manacurve lower and provide some more defense against fast decks.

IN: 3 Cruel Edict

I've never played Cruel Edict, so I'm just not sure how good or bad it will be. GodofAtheism on the Boards swears by it, so I'm willing to give it a shot. The great thing I can see about the Edict is that I have defense against big, hard-to-handle creatures like Kodama of the North Tree, Platinum Angel, Dragons, and the like. There will be the odd Snake-token or Meloku match-up where it will absolutely stink, but like I said I want to give it a try.

IN: 2 Threaten

On the other hand, a Sorcery I have used extensively and love is Threaten. Threaten should be a game-ender in this deck, allowing me to stomp over with my last bits of offense plus a potential blocker from my opponent. It's not perfect for my deck since I don't have a way to sacrifice my opponent's creatures a la Nezumi Bone-Reader. As I scan through the Standard-legal Sorceries in Red and Black under four mana, I don't know that I can get much better than Threaten. Again, consider this an experiment in terms of number of copies.

The deck now looks like so:

Dead/Aflame v.1.4

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
Cruel Edict
Raise Dead
Threaten
Volcanic Hammer
Zombify

15 other spells


It's getting closer to a respectable deck, but let's see how close...

Game 21: White Weenie Equip

I had a decent hand, with land, Blaze, Nekrataal, and Anarchist. My opponent dropped a Razor Golem, so I played Highway Robber then used Blaze the next turn to get rid of his Golem. He untapped and played two more Razor Golems. Ouch. I tried a just-drawn Phyrexian Gargantua as a blocker, but my opponent had Arrest. Now I was in trouble, so I used Anarchist to get back Blaze figuring that I could double-block to kill one Golem then Blaze the third on the next turn. Loxodon Warhammer came into play, though, and the trample damage was just enough to kill me. Talk about having answers for all of my questions! Note to self: More early defense needed.

Game 22: White Weenie Equip

No, not the same opponent, and actually a pretty different deck. He started out with Auriok Glaivemaster and two Veteran Cavaliers. I killed off the Glaivemaster with Cruel Edict, then hit a Cavalier with Volcanic Hammer. A Steelshaper's Gift found Grafted Wargear for the other Cavalier, but I drew and played Hearth Kami. The problem? I had only two land for four turns. I took damage over and over again, down to two before I found a third mana to kill the Wargear. A Ronin Warclub and Konda's Hatamoto hit the table. I killed the Hatamoto with Nekrataal, but another showed up along with Umezawa's Jitte (why this wasn't the target of Steelshaper's Gift I'll never know). I used Anarchist to find Cruel Edict, then double-blocked his Samurai to kill it and give the Jitte two counters. Highway Robber brought my life back up to four (and him to twelve), but it died to Jitte counters. I now had two Cruel Edicts in hand, though, and he was in topdeck mode. Gravedigger brought back Hearth Kami just in case, and my two creatures finished the game for me thanks to the Edicts. Note to self: When I draw Cruel Edict good things happen.

Game 23: Blue/Black Spirits

Well, this game wasn't very pretty. I tried to play two Nekrataals, Zombify, Phyrexian Gargantua, and a Gravedigger-revived Nekrataal, but my spells saw Mana Leak, Hinder, Mana Leak, Hinder, and Hinder. I eventually killed his Ashen-Skin Zubera and Floating-Dream Zubera, doing my first two points of damage with my Gravedigger. The problem was that my opponent had Keiga, the Tide Star. Keiga hit me twice, then a Devouring Greed did the last four points of damage. Note to self: I think that's enough notes-to-self for one day.

Game 24: Monored Burn/Land Destruction

Ah, irony. I think his deck might have used Magnivores, but what I saw was two early Lava Spikes, then a parade of land destruction. The first Stone Rain hit my lone Swamp. My next five Swamps also got killed through combinations of Stone Rain, Molten Rain, with some help from Anarchist. In my hand were two Nekrataal, Highway Robber, and Phyrexian Gargantua. I killed all of his creatures, including the Anarchist, Slith Firewalker, and Vulshok Sorceror. I dropped him to eight with my own attacking Anarchist, with Volcanic Hammer and Blaze in hand. Then my opponent played Form of the Dragon and it was pretty much all over for me. If I had drawn two lands in a row I could have used Blaze for five, but instead I had to start discarding my double-Black cards because of too many cards in hand.

Game 25: Black/Green Discard

I again got stuck on too-few land. I had both Magnivores in hand and my opponent had Lightning Greaves, so I decided to start chucking Volcanic Hammers directly at my opponent. Cruel Edict killed his first Locust Miser. I then drew and played Hearth Kami, but only had three land. An Exile into Darkness killed my Kami, so I used Raise Dead to bring it back. The next turn my Kami killed the Greaves, and at this point my opponent played two more Locust Misers. I discarded everything but Gravedigger and my two 'Vores. A fourth land finally showed up, so I attacked with my 6/6 Magnivore to bring my opponent down to six life. He held back a single defender, so on the next turn I played my second 6/6 Magnivore and that was game.

Alright, that wasn't a great stretch. The deck is still having mana issues, and my creature control is good but insufficient. Time for a larger-than-usual set of changes.

OUT: 1 Drudge Skeletons

I think everyone assumed Drudge Skeletons was going to drop off the decklist, but I'm still not convinced it's the worst card in the deck. My deck can quickly get caught with its pants down, and Drudge Skeletons is a very reliable blocker. The problem is that it ties up black mana and doesn't really have anything to do with either creature reanimation or Sorceries. Will-o'-the-Wisp would be an interesting creature to try out here, but I don't want to spend time trying a rare that isn't in the deck's main themes and may not make the final cut.

OUT: 1 Phyrexian Gargantua

For a while, I thought Phyrexian Gargantua suffered because my deck was too slow to cast it. Well now I've cast it in several games and I realize not only is it unworthy of the six mana I'm paying, but I can't afford the life-loss. Recall that the original Dead Again decklist used some lifegain to offset some of the self-inflicted damage such as the Gargantua, Foul Imp, and Serpent Warrior. That lifegain no longer exists except in the form of Highway Robber, and I'll be dropping the Robber from the deck in a second. I still like Phyrexian Gargantua on principle, but it's tough to argue for him in a world of Kokusho, the Evening Star, Nightmare, Seizan, Perverter of Truth, KageMaro, First to Suffer, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, and Yawgmoth Demon. I would rather drop my six mana options altogether and instead focus on cheaper utility creatures.

OUT: 2 Highway Robber

Highway Robber has won me a couple of games, and I really appreciate its effect. If I used Sulfurous Springs or Tendo Ice Bridge in the deck, I would feel a lot more comfortable having so many double-mana creatures. Since I'm not using good multi-lands, the quality threshold of double-mana cards is much higher. Nekrataal makes the cut because of how much he can swing a game. So does Magnivore. Highway Robber is a nice effect, but ultimately not swingy enough. Just like Phyrexian Gargantua, this is a creature I like a lot and think deserves a place in some other deck.

These last two cards are the hardest to drop.

OUT: 1 Raise Dead

Okay, Raise Dead is just a dumb one-mana Sorcery that no serious deckbuilder uses. Right? I'm not so sure. Although everyone is quick to dismiss Raise Dead, I think it serves a nice role as a fifth Zombify in this deck. I've never been sorry to draw it, and the more reanimation effects I have the more suicidal I can make my own creatures. The only thing working against Raise Dead is that I want to use other Sorceries more, because right now I'm feeling that I need more creature control instead of a fifth Zombify. If the deck's defense were already solid, though, I wouldn't hesitate to keep Raise Dead in my deck.

OUT: 1 Blaze

A lot of people will disagree with taking Blaze out of the deck. Or, if I was going to take it out, people would argue to swap it out for the strictly-better Fireball. Blaze is a perfect one-of in a deck. Not only can it randomly win games for me that I would otherwise lose, but it wreaks havoc with an opponent psychologically. This doesn't come up a lot in the Casual Decks room where you play each opponent (read: stranger) only once. In a group of friends, though, having everyone know that you could, just maybe, have a Blaze in your hand can drastically affect how your opponents play. The reason I'm not taking it out is simply that I don't know what else to drop. Dropping a land is clearly wrong. I could lose an Anarchist or Magnivore, but that doesn't seem right either. Blaze merely gets caught as the most expendable card of the moment.

IN: 1 Cruel Edict

Spectators have noted that Cruel Edict was quite manly in my games. The ability to recycle it with Anarchist, use Threaten and Nekrataal to better control what my opponent sacrifices, and kill creatures my deck has no business killing is just terrific. Four copies is an easy call. I will still get caught by token-creating or weenie decks on occasion, but so far I have no complaints.

IN: 2 Threaten

I'm less certain about four copies of Threaten, but with only two copies I'm not drawing it enough to really evaluate it. I'm thinking that with the new creature I'm adding to the deck (see below), Threaten's stock just rose considerably higher. Still, four copies total may be overkill. It's too bad that I don't have any tapping-ability creatures, since sometimes it's fun to get a three-mana untap affect on my own creatures with Threaten. For now, the card is meant strictly for my opponents' critters.

In theory my deck now should handle any deck that relies on creatures to win. I have four Cruel Edict, four Threaten, four Volcanic Hammer, three Nekrataal, plus my own attackers and blockers. We'll see.

The corollary here is that I also now have a lot of dead cards against creatureless decks. Part of me feels okay about this since a) that's what sideboards are for, and b) creatureless decks are relatively rare in the Casual Decks room. Again, we'll see.

IN: 3 Nantuko Husk

Using Threaten with no way to sacrifice the creatures I steal felt wrong. I thought about Nezumi Bone-Reader, but it requires mana to activate, isn't much of a threat on its own, and starts to make the deck look too much like Ratimation. Nantuko Husk, in contrast, has a free activation and helps me continue to put pressure on my opponent (if you haven't noticed yet, my deck is sort of an aggro-control deck, meant to be hard-hitting while disrupting my opponent's side of the table). Nantuko Husk isn't just around to take advantage of Threaten, though. It can also sacrifice a Nekrataal, Ravenous Rats, Anarchist, or Gravedigger so that I can use Zombify on it. There are also a few minor uses for the Husk, such as sacrificing a creature before it can be removed from the game via Reciprocate or Yamabushi's Flame. Finally, my deck can really use a three-mana creature as part of its manacurve. Pain Kami is one option, but I think I have enough creature removal and thus like the Husk better.

Dead/Aflame v.1.5

Main Deck

60 cards

12  Mountain
12  Swamp

24 lands

Anarchist
Gravedigger
Hearth Kami
Magnivore
Nantuko Husk
Nekrataal
Ravenous Rats

20 creatures

Cruel Edict
Threaten
Volcanic Hammer
Zombify

16 other spells



Husker Can-Do!

So, let's see if these changes made any difference:

Game 26: Blue/Green Sway of the Stars

I'm only assuming Sway of the Stars because he played lots of mana accelerators and Heartbeat of Spring. For a while he just accumulated land and spun his Sensei's Divining Top while I had two Hearth Kami eating into his life. At eight life, he decided to drop Heartbeat of Spring and Sakura-Tribe Elder. I untapped, played Cruel Edict, pointed Volcanic Hammer at my opponent, then dropped Magnivore. Both Hearth Kamis jumped back to hand via Echoing Truth, but my 3/3 'Vore took him to two life. The next turn my opponent played Myojin of Seeing Winds. I then played Threaten, so my opponent drew a bunch of cards looking for an answer. He bounced my Magnivore, but I just replayed it and both creatures cruised in for the win.

Game 27: Black/Blue Ninja-Reanimation

It all came together in this game. I played a third-turn Nantuko Husk. My opponent played a Nezumi Cutthroat so I played Cruel Edict. My opponent then played Thieving Magpie, so I played Threaten, drew a card from the attack then sacrificed it to my Husk. My opponent then played Gravedigger (for the Magpie) so I played another Edict. The replayed Magpie died to Nekrataal (my opponent said “STOP THAT!” about this time). A Raise Dead brought my opponent's Gravedigger back into play, so I used Volcanic Hammer on it and kept attacking. Okiba-Gang Shinobi died to Volcanic Hammer. Skullsnatcher and Razortooth Rats made a last gasp at blocking, but I used another Hammer to kill one of them, and a 6/6 Magnivore, Nekrataal, and Nantuko Husk stormed in for the victory.

Game 28: Blue/Green Wisdom

He had Sakura-Tribe Elder to my Hearth Kami. His Elder went to go fetch a land, bringing out Thieving Magpie. I responded with Cruel Edict and kept attacking. Another Magpie showed up, which I answered with Nekrataal. An Okina Nightwatch hit the table, so I played another Cruel Edict and then Nantuko Husk. That was too much offense for my opponent, who tried an Echoing Truth on my Husk but died on my next attack. I had two Zombify and two Anarchist in hand with more than enough land, so I felt pretty ready for anything.

Game 29: White/Green Samurai/Splice

I'm not quite sure what was up with his deck, and I have a feeling I wasn't seeing the key card. In any case, the creatures he played were, in order, Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo, Kentaro, the Smiling Cat, Kentaro, the Smiling Cat, and Isao, Enlightened Bushi. I responded with Cruel Edict, Cruel Edict, Threaten with Nantuko Husk on the table, and Threaten with Nantuko Husk. My Husk and two Hearth Kami provided my offense, wading through three Ethereal Hazes, four Candles' Glows, Reciprocate, and two Cage of Hands. Key sacrificing via my Husks helped keep creatures in my graveyard and two Zombifies helped keep my creatures coming back.

Game 30: Monoblack Skull Collector

His Ravenous Rats saw my Cruel Edict, allowing my Hearth Kami to attack. A second Rats showed up on the other side of the table, stalling me, so I played one of my own. Then Skull Collector showed up, and my cards in hand started to disappear thanks to a bouncing Rats. Goodbye Anarchist. Goodbye Nekrataal. Goodbye Swamp. And on the other side of the table... Hello Sengir Vampire. Hello second Collector. Hello second Rats. Goodbye Jay's chance of survival. Goodbye.

Okay, that were a much more promising set of games despite the last loss. One more minor change and then I'm feeling pretty comfortable with the deck:

OUT: 1 Threaten

I was checking to see if it was true, and indeed four copies feels like too many. The situation I want to avoid is where I am going to die on my opponent's next turn and I draw a Threaten that doesn't change the game situation at all. With only three Nantuko Husks in the deck, three copies of Threaten feels just about right. I imagine a fourth copy could sit in the sideboard against opponents with particularly large or devastating creatures.

IN: 1 Fireball

It's funny, I went back and read all thirty of my game logs, then read my rationale for card choices. I mention Blaze over and over again in games, which is amazing for a single copy card with no tutors. Although it's not quite a psychological advantage in the one-and-done world of Magic Online casual games, I can't deny how cozy I feel knowing a Red X-spell is sitting in my deck somewhere. As I said above, until Ravnica, City of Guilds shakes up online Standard, Fireball is strictly better than Blaze. If you're on a super-tight budget or don't want to invest in cards from Darksteel, though, I think Blaze is a fine choice here.

OUT: 1 Mountain

IN: 1 Swamp

I have slightly more Black cards than Red cards in the deck, so I need slightly more black mana sources than red.

Here is a deck that feels pretty complete to me:

Dead/Aflame v.1.6

Main Deck

60 cards

11  Mountain
13  Swamp

24 lands

Anarchist
Gravedigger
Hearth Kami
Magnivore
Nantuko Husk
Nekrataal
Ravenous Rats

20 creatures

Cruel Edict
Fireball
Threaten
Volcanic Hammer
Zombify

16 other spells


It's bizarre to me that version 1.6 of my decks always feels finished. As I've said before, I think there is a universal deckbuilding truth there I will need to ponder at some point.

Or is my deck finished? I still haven't addressed the mana issues except to remove double-mana cards and lower the overall manacurve. I haven't even tried cards that might shine in the deck, such as Footsteps of the Goryo, Mortivore, Night's Whisper, Ghost-Lit Raider, Bottle Gnomes, Yuki-Onna, Festering Goblin, Rukh Egg, and Hell's Caretaker (the Magic Online avatar I happen to be using whilst playing this deck). I have no way to deal with opposing enchantments, including an almost total lack of discard.

So you tell me: Is the deck finished? Are there cards that must be included? Is your version clearly superior? Post your thoughts on the Message Boards and I'll either make additional changes or launch directly into my typical “wrap up” sections next week.

Next week I'll also unveil some news that, at the very least, makes me lightheaded and giddy.

Think hard and have fun,

-jms

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