And Now, a Cooler Moment with Tellah: Magical Darwinism, Part 2!
Hi guys and gals and those who are undecided! Welcome back to my little slice of perfection in an article….tribute. (Any Tenacious D fans?) Just a quick re-intro to who I am, what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it. I’m Tellah; I’m taking a preconstructed deck and trying to evolve it over time into something that’s not completely embarassing to play, is enjoyable to play, and is budget friendly. I started writing this article and have continued into episode 2 because, very simply, this is the best way I know to pay tribute to the original Jay Moldenhauer-Salazzar and his brilliant concept for a column: by blatantly ripping it off!!! When we left off, I had made a few changes to the original decklist…so without further ado…my decklist ver 1.1:
13 Forest 2 Ambush Viper
11 Swamp 1 Brain Weevil
Artifacts 1 Devouring Swarm
1 Demonmail Hauberk 2 Disciple of Griselbrand
Enchantments 2 Festerhide Boar
2 Dead Weight 2 Hollowhenge Scavengers
Instants 2 Lumberknot
3 Altar’s Reap 2 Morkrut Banshee
3 Doom Blade 2 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Naturalize 1 Skirsdag High Priest
Sorceries 1 Somberwalk Spider
2 Caravan Vigil 1 Typhoid Rats
1 Make a Wish 2 Woodland Sleuth
2 Rampant Growth
Now, let’s test this bad boy out.
Game 6 vs. Zombies.
I’m excited to check out how the changes I’ve made to the deck will affect how it plays. Hopefully, I won’t have that slogging feeling. After a mull to 6 on my part, turn 1 gives us dueling swamps, which he follows up turn 2 with a Diergraf Ghoul. Zombies. What a fun deck. I match his turn 2 creature with one of my own, but it’s a Disciple of Griselbrand…not exactly up for takedown duties. Turn three gives him another ghoul and a swing down to 18 for me. Delicious zombie beats. I have no action on turn three other than to lay my second forest and pass. Turn four, he swings in with 2 2/2′s, I block and cast Altar’s Reap for some hot triggered action, drawing two cards and saving two damage in the process (drawing Skeletor in the process). I drop Skeletor, and pass with mana up for my second altar’s reap. He plays Zombie Infestation and swings with the crew o’ 2/2. I block and reap, drawing a pair of rampant growths. My options for my turn five are a) the double rampant growth turn, trading four life for two more lands in play b) play a woodland sleuth to try to stem the bleeding c) single growth and regrow skeletor, which seems pretty bad, even to me. I go for the double growth, trying to set myself up for my higher casting cost creatures (lumberknot and sleuth are both in my hand). EOT, he creates a zombie with infestation (discarding Vengeful Pharoah and Ghoulraiser) and swings for 6 on his turn. Following the swing is a ghoulraiser from his hand, returning the pharoah from the graveyard. As I’m sure you can guess, I lose the game in short order from here. I play my sleuth and reanimate my skeletor from the graveyard. On his turn, he Geth Verdicts me twice (although I’m happy I saw the play of reanimating Skeletor again for the second verdict, saving my sleuth) but the lose 2 life portion proves relevant, as I can chump block 2 of his attacking 8 power. Dead Tellah.
Game 7: Lucky number 7! Vs. Mono Red
I start by winning the die roll. Huzzah! My way to capitalize on this lucky break is to…play a swamp and pass. Luckily, my opponent also does not have a turn 1 play, just a mountain. We spend a couple turns just playing lands, then I break the standstill by casting my Disciple of Griselbrand. His turn, Arc Trail. I sac my Disciple in response, gaining the one life. Next turn sees me make the Demonmail Hauberk (and start fervently hoping to draw Skeletor). His next turn of a Stromkirk Noble prove valiant, but Dead Weight. He then gets a Chandra’s Phoenix and starts swinging at my face. Doom Blade takes care of that problem for now, though. Turn 6, I Make a Wish, getting back the Disciple and the Dead Weight. I was hoping for the Doom Blade, but thems the breaks. His turn 6 sees a Goblin Fireslinger hit the table, which pulls his weight…dead. I also ramp via Rampant Growth, fetching a swamp, setting up for the Big Turn. I draw and cast Morkrut Banshee (no morbid), then cast Disciple of Griselbrand. With my disciple on the stack, he double burns the banshee, eliminating my dreams of World Banshee Demonmail Domination. His next turn Arc Trail removes the remnants of the disciple, getting back his Phoenix, and he makes a thirsty Stormblood Berserker, then he passes the turn. I draw and make Skeletor in his Younger Years and say go. Turn 9, he swings with the Berzerker while I’m holding a Doom Blade, and I ponder for a moment before sending the berzerker to Valhalla. He Arc Trails me and Skeletor, then remakes a Berzerker. I EOT Skeletor back to the battlefield. Turn 10. I cast Woodland Sleuth (again with no morbid) and Demonmail him up. Skeletor, your services are no longer required. He goes Mountian, Phoenix, Lavamancer, then swings for 5 with the Phoenix and the Berzerker. I EOT Skeletor back (listen, about those services…), then swing with a Demon Sleuth and a Skeletor. I’m hoping for the bad block, but my opponent is good at this, and lets me have another point of damage. So I have to cast Festerhide Boar without any morbidity. He makes a Noble and Goblin Fireslinger, then swings for the five with Phoenix and Berzerker, dropping me to five. I swing with my whole squad, (Boar, Skeletor, Demon Sleuth), then cast another Disciple. I use his lifegaining ability on my Demon Sleuth, which is responded to by a Lavamancer activation targeting the Disciple. Turn 12, he casts a slinger, targets me with the other slinger, then swings with the Noble, Phoenix, and Berzerker. I draw Altar’s Reap, cast it, then Demon up my Boar (with his trample) and swing for the win.
I finally won a game. Hurray! And I also liked the instant speed responses that my deck was giving me. I can actually interact and play magic, instead of playing the role of the goldfish? I’ll take that. All day and twice on Sunday. Also, the game that I get my Demonmail Hauberk online and functioning the way that it should is the game that my deck feels good under my mouse. Speaks to either I need to power up my creatures on a standalone basis or I need to find another way to turn up the volume. I’m still not happy with not having morbid play a role in any of my games so far, but we’re not that far in the evolution of the deck, so I’m going to give it a few more rounds before I start worrying about how the games themselves play out. I don’t think that I’ve activated morbid once in the seven games that I’ve played with the deck so far. I think that I should look to put in more equipment that has sacrifice a creature somewhere in it. Mortarpod, more Demonmail, maybe even a Piston Sledge. Triggering morbid without having to tie up mana and/or cards seems like something I definitely want the deck to do.
Game 8: Mono Black Proliferate
I keep an opening hand with a Dead Weight, four lands, and some other stuff. This game wasn’t really close, as Wurmcoil Engine just does horrible horrible things to you if you’re not careful, and I left the latex at home. I drew my naturalize early and blew it on a Tumble Magnet. With all of the artifacts that are runnign around either in a support role (swords of all shapes and colors, runechanters pikes) or in a bash your face role (Wurmcoil), I think that more Naturalizes wouldn’t be a horrible place for the deck to end up at. I did get to trigger morbid to kill off his Necrotic Ooze with my Banshee, so that was pretty good. But this game wasn’t close at all.
Game 9: Runn-ded over by GW tokens.
The deck mades lots of tokens, gives them additional power, and points them at my life total.
Game 10: Runn-ded over by UW Haunted Humans.
Haunted Humans plays an aggressive/control game, by dropping a quick threat or two and then protecting it with countermagic or other defensive measures. It works well because actual threats on the table mean that I only have X number of turns to deal with the problem, and their counterspells make it much harder to do so.
Okay. So. Out of five games in this set, I was able to play three games and get dead quick in two others. There’s obviously going to be a difference in power level between what I’m doing and what I’m playing, but I don’t think that it should be so gapingly obvious. This deck sometimes feels wonderful, and then when I play against even a Tier 2 deck, it feels like I’m not even playing the same game. More like I’m playing Go Fish, and they are playing Hold ‘Em. Or, I’m on a RP server and they’re tricked out and geared up for PvP. (Sorry, guys…that joke stays there. I’m stubborn like that.) Perhaps I should start with how I’m actually planning on ending the game and going from there?
In my magical finished christmasland product of an endgame, I’d like to be beating my opponents face with at least a four (five and above preferred) power creature. How to do that?
Demonmail Hauberk gives any creature I happen to put it on the four power boost that I’m looking for, so that’s obviously an option. It would be more powerful if I went more of a swarm strategy, which is a viable option for the deck. Put out tokens to use as fodder, either to sacrifice to various things for various effects (like Demonmail) or just as chump blockers while the rest of my deck does some work.
Wurmcoil Engine would be a fantastic finisher, but at 10 bucks for the one, that goes way over and beyond my budget regardless of whether I’m doing this article series or not. So that’s not an option. I could possibly move Dungrove Elders into the deck. They’re hexproof ( a new mechanic that says my opponents can’t target whatever has hexproof), so very hard for the opponent to deal with if I’m careful. They’re pretty cheap to purchase (1.22 online)…maybe I’ll give them a test run if I run out of other ideas. Cudgel Troll is a simple 4/3 beatstick for 2GG that also has a regeneration ability built in, but all that he really does is beat the face of whatever chump blocker my opponent has in the way. I think that we can find something that brings a little more to the party.
Ahhh…a lovely example: Bloodgift Demon is a fantastic card for a finisher that I can only see myself excluding for thematic purposes. He’s a 5/4 flyer, so he doesn’t worry about all the creatures hanging out on the ground floor of things. He’s black, which means that he dodges Doom Blade. He lets me make one of the most lopsided trades in the history of Magic, one life payment for one card drawn. Since he’s a creature, he’s much easier for me to take care of if my life gets a little low. I think that he’ll make a fine finisher for my deck. He doesn’t do morbid, but he finishes games, he draws cards, and he’s naturally evasive. What’s not to love? He’ll go in as a 2-3 of (them in the deck), depending on other factors.
Bonehoard could go great in a deck like this as well. I’m already interested in killing as many creatures as I can for fun and profit (In Las Vegas!) so why not have something that rewards me for a well stocked graveyard. As just a Llurgoyf, it would be decent to run in the deck as a late game finisher. However, it’s not just a creature. It’s not a creature at all! Living weapon was one of the best ideas to come around in a long time, and turning any/every creature I have into a late game threat with an equip cost sounds excellent to me. Skeletor has plenty of uses in this deck as fodder, but Skeletor with +1/+1 for each creature in all (ALL!!!!!) graveyards on him means that business is about to pick up, if you follow my meaning.
Sweepers: I need an option to ensure that sheer numbers of creatures don’t just automatically overwhelm me.
Life’s Finale is the only real option here that’s cheap enough to get (.64 tickets per). Black Suns Zenith would be awesome, but has jumped from 2.50 (when I got my playset) to over 5 bucks a pop now. Too much for this column, although I wouldn’t be mad at anyone who threw them in. They’re great. So, six mana wrath it is. I think that I’ll start this one as a three of, and see if I draw it enough and draw it on time enough to be worth the spot. But as my deck currently stands, I don’t have an out to decks that vomit creatures onto the board, even just measly 1/1′s. When there’s five of them, as my game 9 opponent put on me fairly quickly, those 1/1′s add up. Skeletor helps in this regard, but he doesn’t fly. Life’s Finale will hopefully turn into my Samuel L. Jackson moment of the deck. “When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every mother flyer on the board…accept no substitutes.”.
There’s also Carnifex Demon, which I have to admit has me tapping my lip thinking about the advantages that he could bring to the party. He’s another beatdown assassin, he flies so he’s harder to kill in combat, and he has a delicious board sweeper built into what he already does. Black cards should be able to multitask, and Carni brings a little extra flavor to the party. Worse case, he’s a 4/4 flyer. Best case, he’s a 6/6 flyer that has triggered morbid for me twice and whittled down my opponents army to a more managable size. It’s an option, but probably not something that I want in the deck that I have now.
Card Advantage: Either more cards for me or dealing with multiple cards on my opponent’s part. Right now I’m very heavy on one for one exchanges with my opponents. I’ll trade you my Ambush Viper for your Necrotic Ooze. I’ll trade you my Dead Weight for your Llanowar Elves. Eventually, however, I run out of cards. Altar’s Reap has been great for me in terms of refilling my hand, but it costs me two cards to draw two more. Now, granted, one of those cards is always something extra on the board that I’m about to lose in combat anyway, so it also effectively reads “Gain 2-5 life,” but I would like to see more options for advancing what I’m doing without having to burn through cards in my hand so quickly. Note to all Reap fans: I’m not moving it out of my deck. I want more stuff, not different stuff.
Druidic Satchel seems like it could be better and better the longer the game goes. Sometimes it will just be 2 life added onto my life. other times, it’ll be a free Rampant Growth. Sometimes, it’ll be a dude. Any and all of these are good options for my deck. It’s not optimized, because I don’t have any way to stack the top of my deck, but free units of good stuff seems like a pretty good fit for my deck. The only issue I’m worried about here is lack of space available in the decklist. I have several themes that I’m trying to push, and I think that something is going to get pushed out.
Jade Mage: Creature that makes other creatures should be good. Creature that makes other creatures that’s only limited by how much mana I can put into it is really good. Interesting to note that this creature gets better and better as my deck gets more and more refined in using throwaway creatures. Need a 1/1 to carry a Bonehoard? Got it. Need something to sacrifice to Altar’s Reap? You betcha. Need to block that 6/6 Wurmcoil Engine? Here, Wurmy, have a 1/1 to nom nom on.
Phyrexian Rager: Gives me a 2/2 body with that unfair trade again. Have one of my life points, I’ll draw another delicious card. BWAHAHAAHAHAHHAHAHAAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAHAHAHA. Ahem. Nothing to see here, just a card that does what it says. Move along.
That’s plenty of thinking about what cards might go into the deck, how about some thoughts about what might come out and where I sit on each of the cards that’s in the deck.
Converted Mana Cost (CMC) 1
2 Dead Weights: So far, I’ve always been happy to draw this card. Gives me targeted removal in the early game, and there’s always something around that could use a good killing. Worst case that I’ve had with it so far was putting one on a Wurmcoil in order to buy myself some extra turns. It stays for now, although it may become Fumespitter at some point.
1 Typhoid Rats: 1/1 Deathtouch for one B gives me an early turn play, as well as threatens to kill whatever it tangles with. That’s the upside. The downside is that it’s useless in the later parts of the game, it dies to a strong blink in it’s direction, and never seems to actually take something down. Not a slap at the card itself, but every deck has ways to kill a X/1, even if it’s just Gut Shot. I’m on the fence on this one. It will likely come out at some point, but it is a creature, it does what it says it’ll do (unless it gets sniped) and gives me a turn 1 creature (right now the only one). Likely to come out.
2 Caravan Vigil: Me likey. One mana to make sure I hit my land drop for the turn, to thin out a land from my deck, with the upside of a half-cost Rampant Growth if my deck kills something like it should? Keeper.
2 Rampant Growth: Mana Ramp is Good. If I didn’t have Caravan Vigil as Growths 3 and 4, I’d bump this up to 4 of status in a second. As it is, two is okay for now. I’ll revisit my ramp suite once the deck gets closer to where it wants to be. Macro changes before micro.
3 Altar’s Reap: Do I have to explain this? It does what I want, when I want, and usually for less investment than you would think going in. Also a pseudo-lifegain spell, since I use it during combat a lot. Could go up to 4 of, but I’m happy with 3 for now. I think deck space is going to be TIGHT.
3 Doom Blade: Treat a non black creature like my wife treats every spider she sees. KILL IT!!!!!!!!!!!!! At least a 3 of.
1 Naturalize: While I do love me some Naturalize, I either need to get 2 more in the deck or find another way to deal with artifacts. Acidic Slime could reinforce here, but not instant and not 2 mana. I’d like at least one more in the deck for now, with an eye towards finding a creature that kills artifacts.
2 Ambush Viper: Green creature kill. Staying for now. Will give a longer look later on. Even if it just trades, it goes to the graveyard for Bonehoarding. Staying as 2 of in my deck. Gives me 7 kill shots in the deck with Doom Blade and Dead Weight.
2 Disciple of Grisenbrand: I can’t say that I’ve ever been “happy” to draw him. He let’s me do some life gaining, which isn’t to be ignored, but I don’t think that it’s enough at this point to keep him on the team. Unfortunately, there are some cards that need to get out before the Disciple, and it does fit what the deck wants to do. So he stays on for a while, especially since the life gain portion of what he gives me fits in very well with the Bloodgift Demon that I’m putting in.
2 Reassembling Skeleton: Never unhappy to see Skeletor. I see him a lot, and if I find extra room in the deck, I’ll slide one more in.
1 Skirsdag High Priest: I’ve drawn him in one game, and having three creatures on the board PLUS triggering morbid is tougher than it looks. Out it goes.
1 Devouring Swarm: Evasive creature with a FREE sac effect. We’ll keep as a 1 of for now, as a memento of our mana curve.
1 Demonmail Hauberk: I love this card. It’s too expensive to cast, but it’s flavorful, gives me a no-mana sacrifice outlet, and powers up any creature it’s on. Plays well with Skeletor in His Younger Years. From an efficiency standpoint, should be a no questions cut, but I’m keeping it due to theme and flavor and awesome. Just as 1, though.
1 Make a Wish: Well, I said that there was a theme to get pushed out earlier, and the random recursion is it. Four mana at Sorcery speed is too much of a drain on what I want to do. Also, it’s not a creature. Also, it just feels clunky in my hand. -1.
1 Brain Weevil: Lets me trigger morbid on demand, let’s me attack my opponents hand. But it’s still 4 mana for a 1/1. The free morbid is something that I like, and when considering ways to power up the morbid theme, having a sac effect that doesn’t cost me mana is pretty good. Okay, it’s not really, but I’m keeping the Weevil for this round, so I’m talking myself into the card. Is it working for you? Because it’s really not working for me. -1.
2 Festerhide Boar: 3/3 for 4 isn’t a horrible deal, and the upside of a 5/5 for 4 with morbid seems pretty good. The trample is also not something that can be ignored, as it makes chump blocking my creature nearly impossible. Depending on space, I’d like to move this up to a 4 of, but I don’t think room will be available in this swing through.
2 Lumberknot and 2 Woodland Sleuth: One goes away for being a 1/1 for 4 mana. One goes away due to the theme being pushed out of the deck. Which one is which? Well, gentle reader, I leave that as an exercise for you. -2 and -2.
2 Hollowhenge Scavenger: 4/5 for 5 isn’t ideal, but it meets my goal of having a four power creature to beat people in the face with. Doesn’t have trample, doesn’t fly, doesn’t regenerate, but it does give the chance for a little bit of life gain. I don’t believe that what it does versus what it’s costing me (including the opprotunity cost of playing, you know, a better creature in that space) is enough to justify keeping it in the deck, but I seem to be running low on morbid creatures. Was on my cut list, but then I reconsidered for this round. On the list, though. Definitely on the list.
2 Morkrut Banshee: 4/4 with a morbid kill shot attached? I’m in. Not something I would play in a normal deck, but one of the best cards for this deck. Decently powerful, scales up with the -3/-3, and beats folks all about the head and face with 4 power. Keep. Maybe 4 of. Depends on space and what else I want to bring in.
1 Somberwald Spider: I have a hard time dealing with flying creatures beyond kill spells. A creature with reach that gets bigger when morbid is just what the doctor ordered. I’ll keep the one, and think HARD about adding a second one.
That’s a lot of typing, let’s sum up what I decided to take out.
1 Skirsdag High Priest 1 Make a Wish
2 Woodland Sleuth 2 Lumberknot
6 out, one over my guidelines, but the huge cutting that I want to do is going to have to wait, at least until I get in a few more games. But we’ll see how the deck plays with this round of cuts before I get rid of the other cards that I want out. And who knows? Maybe the new finishers plus a little token making is just what the doctor ordered!
2 Bonehoard: My envisioned endgame for this evolving deck right now is bashing with a creature holding a Bonehoard. There should probably be a Bonehoard somewhere in the deck, in that case.
1 Life’s Finale: I need the wrath, I want the wrath. I just don’t want too many too soon. 1 now, 1 later.
2 Bloodgift Demon: For all the reasons laid out above. Also, it’s only 12 cents online as of my purchase, so it’s a great budget finisher for your black decks in general.
1 Jade Mage: For incremental advantage, something from nothing, as well as tokens galore. This card might go up to 2. Right now, it’s competing with Druidic Satchel for the slot in the deck.
Next time, back to the games!
All card images are copyright of Wizards of the Coast, of course.