Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nayacrush – A Versatile Answer in Return to Ravnica Standard

I love nature.

I’ve never been a hunter, a fisherman or rock climber, but one of my favorite things in the world is to be in the woods or on a hillside and feel nothing around me but the living, breathing, moving earth.

I particularly like naturally flowing water; rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, even an evanescent surge after a rainstorm.  It’s like watching the lifeblood of the earth course around you.  No two bodies of water are the same.

 I love finding an unusual creature amongst the organic and chaotic swath of the forest.  Considering even a simple mushroom and the course of its day is an enlightening and humbling practice.

Seeing nothing but what the world itself brought about is a very relaxing prospect, and I wish more people would take the time to see it.  I wish that we as people could slow down from our technologically inundated lives to feel the primordial pulse of the world around us.  Taking a moment and feeling the breeze sidle through the trees and listen to the hiss of countless leaves overhead.  Watching as the sunlight flickers through the branches.  Observing a bird or a squirrel go about his quotidian calling.  These are all things that help me relax and refocus.

Nature is a force to be respected; its forces have shaped the world on which we live, and it continues to do so to this day.  Even the sturdiest monuments and the best and brightest inventions of humanity can be moldered by the transformative power of nature.

What happens when you try to harness this concept in a Magic card?

Bramblecrush is a straightforward, no-nonsense card that can destroy any permanent but a creature.  A spiritual successor to Creeping Mold, this card has often been relegated to sideboards in Limited and very little else.  After all, it doesn’t kill your opponent’s primary win condition, does it? 

But what if we reexamined this four-word sorcery to be something a little more enticing?  Bramblecrush has the potential to cripple an opponent’s combo, slow them down to a sluggish, insurmountable crawl, or efficiently deal with an otherwise unconquerable threat.  This sorcery can do it all.

When I was in college, I often shuffled up a fun (for me) deck that featured a foursome of one powerful and since unprintable sorcery.

The deck was built around Stone Rain and other “I hate your land” cards.  The deck focused on a playset of Stoneshaker Shaman, forcing permission opponents to sack a land or take mana burn while I had firebreathing creatures and other mana sinks to keep my own lands.  As grief-y as it sounds, in a multiplayer game, it wasn’t too bad.  That being said, the Rain could be backbreaking.

In today’s Standard, Bramblecrush can effectively cost three mana, and it pays to utilize the inherently red nature of the land destruction plan to pursue that.

Do I need a third color?  Farseek and other accelerants are a little less impressive when they get…a Mountain.  Black offered little to advance this game plan, but the other two colors did.

Both provided legitimate ways to get to the goal of a turn 3 four-drop (preferably a Bramblecrush), and going into RUG territory would give me access to other interesting and synergetic spell options.  Alternatively, White gives me Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Temple Garden, legit paths to get to four mana on three.  With two forms of ramp (mana dork into a Farseek, perhaps), a five on three was even possible.  Although I actually built and playtested RUG first, I changed fairly abruptly to Naya, and I’m glad I did.  I prefer RUG a lot more for my playstyle, but this deck needed white.

In a drive to support the noncreature destroyer, I came up with this list.


Creatures (18)

3 Arbor Elf
2 Yeva, Nature’s Herald
1 Wayfaring Temple
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Restoration Angel
3 Thragtusk
3 Centaur Healer
1 Armada Wurm

Spells (19)

4 Bramblecrush
3 Farseek
3 Call of the Conclave
3 Brimstone Volley
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Chandra, the Firebrand

Lands (23)

4 Temple Garden
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove
5 Forest
2 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Gavony Township

Sideboard (15)

3 Pillar of Flame
2 Silklash Spider
1 Collective Blessing
1 Predatory Rampage
3 Purify the Grave
1 Chandra, the Firebrand
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
2 Devil’s Play

Deck Tech – Creatures

Arbor Elf

Originally Avacyn’s Pilgrim, I had traded mine away and hadn’t been able to trade into them, so these filled in.  Arbor Elf is a perfectly respectable one drop.  With any kind of luck, you’re pulling a turn two Centaur Healer and a turn 4 Bramblecrush, so he’s an essential part of the mill plan.  He takes counters from the Township well, and even getting in for a point of damage on an empty board can make a difference.  I still just wish it was Llanowar Elves, but…oh well.

Yeva, Nature’s Herald

Everyone that’s read my previous articles about Yeva knows that she’s one of my favorite ladies in recent Standard to build around.  Here, nearly every creature is green and so she fits right in.  Although not surrounded by as many creatures as she’d normally like, she still does fine for herself and is a relevant, haste-ish body that can two for one your opponent.  This slot was originally Wolfir Avenger in the RUG build, but its transition to Naya made her a bit better.

Wayfaring Temple

Rubble trouble!
OK, this one was admittedly a loose inclusion.  With the wolves and Beasts I’d be making, though, I wanted to see if he was any good at all.  I figured he wouldn’t hurt as a singleton…right?  With Yeva, he was also a huge instant wall (in the right circumstances).

Huntmaster of the Fells

You look ravaging tonight...
The Huntmaster is the “midrange” push I’d need to stay afloat against hyper-aggro matchups, and his one-man army mentality was just what I needed in a fairly low creature count deck. 

Blink/ETB Suite

This quartet of creatures became available as I moved into white.  Although I played Thragtusk in the RUG build, this build would let me use the Angel for maximum synergy.  These were all good creatures that pulled their weight after resolving. 


Nothing particularly unusual in the spell department; I liked Call of the Conclave as another three copies of Centaur Healer (body-wise), and the ability to copy it with Chandra was cute.  The planeswalkers were chosen to fill in holes I might need, Garruk with removal and one-man-armyness, and Chandra with reach and value.  Just like with previous deck’s I’d used with her, she can make a hand-cast Bonfire just as big as a Miracled one.  I didn’t have room for two in the mainboard, as I preferred Garruk and needed to keep my sorcery count high, but one in the sideboard would come in during the longer matches.

The lands are also uninspired…man, that was a boring deck tech.

For the sideboard, I needed the Pillars to answer early or out of control dudes like Deathrite Shaman or any of the myriad Zombies that I couldn’t otherwise permanently deal with.  Silklash Spider, a card that is made for green sideboards, is in there for the Entreat the Angels/Lingering Souls decks that this deck has trouble dealing with outside of a Bonfire.  The rest, honestly, was slop thrown together at the last minute.  Predatory Rampage and Collective Blessing both acted as alpha against a grindy creature deck.  Everything else should make sense alongside the maindeck.

When it came time to try it out at Tuesday Night Magic at Something2Do, I had a couple backup decks ready, but this one was the closest to fleshing itself out, so after a hustled sleeve-up, I was ready to battle!

Round 1 – Dylan (Bant Control)

Dylan was a fairly frequent opponent for me in the shop, and he often lingered with pals playing Legacy.  His chops extend to Standard, though, so I was excited to give the deck a shot against a strong opponent. 

I won the die roll and got off to a fairly solid start, hitting on-time threats and two Thragtusks.  He sweeped them up with his Supreme Verdict’s and started resolving Jace and Tamiyo, putting me in a pretty hard way.  As I longed to hit one of my Bramblecrush playset, I didn’t.  He resolved an Angel of Serenity and without a lot of way to deal with it, I folded up pretty quickly.

In Game Two I just sided in more creatures and Devil’s Play, which I thought’d be the easiest to overload with Chandra for the win.  Although I got another aggressive start, taking him to 11, he dealt with my resolved Chandra (with the Devil’s Play for lethal in hand) with a Detention Sphere.  My drawn Bramblecrush smacked the Sphere and revived Chandra, but he then resolved a Thragtusk and another Sphere.  Beyond that, he outclassed each creature I played with something very juicy of his own.

0 – 1

Not a great way to start, but the Bramblecrush I drew in game 2 was very helpful, and I just needed, like 16 against his deck.  Oh well.  Round 2!

Round 2 – Brian (Bant Control)

I’d seen Brian around the shop plenty, and I helped me get my last Call of the Conclave I needed before the starting bell.  Playing a list similar in color, but not in design, to Dylan’s list, we went to work and I got a good start.  An on-time Call of the Conclave kept the pressure up, but his Miracled Terminus kept me from dealing a significant scratch.  He developed his board with a Thragtusk and an Entreat the Angels token.  I was able to widdle him down a bit further, but eventually, he cast Tamiyo and locked down my only creature left, and I was toast before long. 

In game 3, I got the dream start; turn 3 Bramblecrush his green source into turn 4 Bramblecrush his Hallowed Fountain.  This was admittedly pretty aggressive, but I had sided in more creatures to deal with the sweepers and Tamiyo, so I thought I could outrace him.  Restoration Angel appeared for me as he started to recover, and with a fairly imposing board presence, he was a bit on the backpedal.  A Miracled Entreat for 4 joined his board, and my healthy 24 life seemed a little more meager.  Tamiyo locked down my Angel, and he swung for 12, cutting me in half.  As he was representing lethal and I had eight mana up for my Bonfire in hand (I’d need 9 mana to flatten his Angels), I had to start considering some mediocre combat situations.  I had to swing with everything, which was a Thragtusk, a Centaur Healer and an Arbor Elf.  He blocked correctly, as I expected him to, and I cast Bonfire for 3, bringing him to 3.   If I had one more mana, I would Bonfire for 4, sweep away his blockers, and swing for 8.  Very close, but a loss is a loss.

0 – 2

I was pretty frustrated at this point, as most people would be after 0-4’ing, but I was resigned to play the deck out for my dignity’s sake.

Round 3 – Megan (G/W Aggro with Lingering Souls)

Megan was a new face for me, but she was eager to play.  She’d had a similarly rough night with her deck, and she, like me, was wavering on the concept of the deck at all.  We went to work after she had to mull down to five on the draw.  I got a great start, ramping out perfectly into a Huntmaster.  She did about the same, getting into a Sublime Archangel a turn behind.  The Huntmaster’s wolf got a lick in, but it was quickly Oblivion Ringed.  Lucky for me, I had a pair of Bramblecrushes ready, so I brought the Werewolf back from exile, gaining more life and making another Wolf.  Soon, though, the Archangel was hitting me to hard and I had to cast my Garruk Relentless and punch the Angel (that’s what I call his fight ability).  She O-ringed the Werewolf again, and I broke it the following turn.  Without any more creatures to block, the Wolves finished her off.

In game two, I got an exceptionally powerful start.  I Bonfired for two pretty early and went pretty much unopposed for the rest of the game.  The Avacyn’s Pilgrim I hit was the second white source she needed.

1 – 2

We looked over her deck afterwards and she asked for suggestions; each that I gave her was one she had herself considered, and her deck was very strong and consistent.  I think I just got a more intense draw each time, and I matched up favorably against her with the red splash.

If you lose your first two matches at Something2Do, you’re pretty much out of prizes barring some very unusual situation.  That was OK, though, I’d gotten a win against the deck I had intended to!

Round 4 – A Kind and Upstanding Gentleman (G/W Elf Aggro Craterhoof?)

My final opponent had a name, a fairly regal one, I’m sure, but I didn’t catch it.  He was very polite and professional, I’ll say that much.  My deck got aggressive again, hitting Call of the Conclave on time off a one-colored land keep (!) and with Healers and Huntmasters on either side. This was a pretty straightforward match.  After a would-be-lethal attack, he was forced to chump-block with his smaller Elves, and  Brimstone Volley to the dome did the job.  This match, I pretty much lived sideways.

After siding into nothing for game two, I got stuck on three lands after keeping a fairly loose hand (no Forests, but non-basic green sources and a Call of the Conclave), but I sacked out and played what I could from my hand.  A Miracled Bonfire for two helped pushed my Centaur token and Centaur Healer through, and just like before, a chump-blocker brought Brimstone Volley online for the kill.

2 – 2

An even 4-4 game tally, I was glad the deck performed as well as I’d hoped it would against the Aggro metagame I’d seen last time.  The deck performed very poorly against control, without enough creatures or pressure to race sweepers and Thragtusk.  Although the deck was flexible and offered several lines of play, most of them turned about to be defensive at best, and the pilot can be blamed for several of them.  Bramblecrushing two lands when I saw Brian use Tamiyo last round?  Loose…

On that topic, Bramblecrush did its job very effectively.  It always had a nice target, and I never sided a single one out.  The ability to be flexible enough to hit an Oblivion Ring, a Tamiyo, and a Gavony Township is no joke.  The card may be a little too slow for serious play; it’s no Beast Within.  Still, I’m glad we have an effect like this in Standard.  If I’d had my head on straight, I would have made a Bramblecrush deck back when we had 8 R/G sources in Standard and Beast Within.  Who knows, though, Beast Within might see a Core Set sometime.

The strongest players in the deck where the Thragtusks and Bramblecrush.  Garruk didn’t really do much, and none of my sideboard cards did a whole lot, either.  Chandra did a bit of work, but Thragtusk is just a busted card.  In this format and with all the enablers that assist Big Sexy, there’s just not a better five-drop.  I was always always happy to have a Bramblecrush in hand, as it gave you a good feeling of security on every turn of the game.

Although Wolves did seal up my last game, Huntmaster is not the card he once was.  In a format of X/3s, the Werewolf has lost a lot of his steam.  With Gruul around the bend, though, he may still have a chance to get there, and I hope he will!  I would say Armada Wurm was also underwhelming, but never drew him in all four matches.  That’s what you get for only playing one, but I wanted to test him.  There was never really a time he would have turned it around for me, though.  I would have probably just wanted Thragtusk any time I drew it.

And now for a bit of metagame analysis.  With mana being as good as it is now, with Shocklands, ISD and M13 duals, and the Keyrunes and Chromatic Lanterns floating around, Standard decks seem to be one of two things: blinding fast aggro and everything else.  Super aggro/Sligh style decks can still hit really hard, but the “everything else”, which encompasses literally anything that can’t have you dead or basically dead on turn 4, can overturn that deck very effectively.  The “midrange,” “reanimator,” and “control” lists I’ve seen really are just control decks more than anything else.  Most of the “everything” else decks can be collectively described accurately as “three-color good stuff decks.”  Depending on the colors chosen, there are particular high power threats and answers that you play.  Playing Jund?  Use Olivia Voldaren, Thragtusk and Rakdos’ Return!  USA?  Entreat the Angels, Sweepers and Angel of Serenity!  Bant?  See the above list, but add Thragtusk!  There’s basically a continuum of threats that you’ll pick from based on the lands you’re playing.  This manifests itself as a fairly contrived gameplay experience for someone like me.  I’m sure they feel very different to pilot, but they don’t feel very different to play against.  The cards that the top control decks use are really high impact, and so anything but the most grindy of control mirrors will create overwhelming advantage for the control player.  Super Aggro just cares about smashing your life total, but if anything else requires even a bit of board presence, you may be out of luck against one of these leviathans. 

I say this with a hint of frustration but more so with a hint of confusion.  I’m not sure how best to combat these “midrange” monsters.  The decks I’ve crafted to play in RTR standard have almost all been subpar, my best performing being the defender deck, and I’m not sure how to effectively answer these threats without just doing a live-sideways style hyper aggro deck.  I don’t mind playing those, and I probably would in a big tournament, but those aren’t the decks I like to play.  I consider the decks I make like paintings while those hyper-aggro four-of lists are like pencil sketches; sure, the sketch does its job, but is it as pretty or well-made?  This is no way an attempt to say that my decks are “works of art,” because they’re not.  They’re full of holes, misinterpretations, poor judgment and poor execution.  But they’re attempts at art, and that’s what I’m after.  Bramblecrush didn’t let me down, and the deck construction had a good starting point, but I’m not sure this deck has a place in Standard right now; it’s on the bad end of “everything else.”

This hasn’t stopped me from crafting.  Last night I finished crafting a fun deck from my original stack of decklists I made at before RTR’s release, and after playtesting it last night, it proves to be quite effective while maintaining my synergetic values.

I’d love to hear about a way you guys can think up to break Bramblecrush.  I love the card and I want it to get some love.  Any ideas?  Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me if you like what you read.

Thanks again for stopping by, and I’ll be back next week with a fun brew with a lot of heat!

Until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kablamly Feud: A Novel Use of a Neglected Enchantment in Return to Ravnica

Kablamly Feud: A Novel Use of a Neglected Enchantment in Return to Ravnica

Isn’t it fun to open booster packs?  

I’d like to venture that there are two fairly distinct groups of Magic players when it comes to booster packs: there are people that buy single packs when they can afford it and those who pre-order fat packs, boxes or whole cases as a major investment.  Casual players like to pick up that blister pack at the big box retailers on their way out, or they like to do small drafts with buddies.  Others like to rip off the shrink wrap and dive into a box, efficiently ripping and sorting. 

Whichever kind of player you are, though, a lot of times you’ll flip straight to the back to see your rare and/or the foil.  Some people, myself among them, slow roll, sliding through the commons and the uncommons to build anticipation. 

How many of you, while opening RTR packs in whatever way that you do, have found this in the back?

And then done this?

 I know, I know.  Another Guild Feud.  “Why did they even print this card,” a competitive Spike might ask?  A casual player or a Timmy might slide it in his deck as an additional rare to wow his kitchen table friends.  Drafters will pass it right along without a second thought.  This card’s gotta do something, right?

Well, it does, but it’s definitely a build around.  I’ve done a lot of build-around-me decks on Untap Target Player, but this one has a distinct difference.  Guild Feud is intrinsically a bad card.  I’m sorry, but unless you know your opponent is playing zero creature spells, this can backfire wildly on you.  It has the danger of just flat giving your opponents card and board advantage.  Why would anyone ever want to play with this card?

I would.  You know why?  I’m a stubborn guy, approaching epic-mule obstinacy.  My wife knows it’s true, and nine times out of ten, I don’t even notice it.  Some might call it being “resolute,” “strong-willed,” or even just someone who “knows what he likes.”  But for me, it’s just being immovable and contrarian, but I’m gonna try to turn that to my advantage this time. 

The goal with Guild Feud is to build a fun, synergetic deck that maximizes the value of this bargain bin rare.  Who knows if it’ll be good, but it’ll be…something.

To use Guild Feud most effectively, we have a few obstacles to overcome.  I know, that’s not the way you want to start a deck tech, but that’s what you get when you try to work with pack dross. 

Six mana?  And it doesn’t even do anything right away?  Paying a Titan’s worth of mana better give you something huge.  Instead, we get this.  Well, to capitalize on the possible benefit of the Feud, we’ll need a pretty large amount of ramp.  Pairing red with green seemed like a reasonable start, with Farseek being a key piece of that puzzle, and the Keyrunes also providing acceptable ramp. 

Your opponent gets to play a creature, if he or she chooses, for free on your turn.  This is obviously the largest down side of the enchantment.  Giving your opponent that kind of benefit is a good way to lose a game.  They do have to hit, but most decks will.  A deck with twenty creatures will hit about every time. 

Ahh, the plus side!  Obviously, filling our deck with good creatures helps us not only hit, but it gives us selection, too.  You can pick any revealed creatures to play.  Also, your opponent picks theirs first, so you can make sure you pick the right one for the job.  This means we’ll need creatures with powerful and relevant abilities that make it entering for free relevant while also providing efficient value, such as putting in an expensive or hard-to-cast guy.

So, now the creatures will try to kill each other?  This means we need to select creatures that do well in combat, no matter what opponent.  Another crucial component to remember about Guild Feud is somewhat technical.  No player may respond at any time while the Feud’s ability is resolving.  Lolteth Troll can’t regenerate, Fiend Hunter doesn’t exile anything yet, and you can’t cast any pump or burn spells.  The creatures, therefore, need to have strong static abilities that don’t use the stack.  Any triggered abilities will go on the stack after the Feud’s ability resolves. So, with that in mind, deathtouch seemed OK, but then, most of them are small enough that I’d lose my guy, too.  What about indestructible creatures? 

I’ve got it!
Sure, the Stuffy Doll won’t kill their flipped creature, but they’ll take damage equal to their played creature’s power.  Manor Gargoyle, another indestructible creature, stands a chance to kill most Standard-legal creatures and live to tell the tale. 

Stuffy Doll’s new red buddy, Blasphemous Act, was also a shoe-in; it’d keep over-creatured decks in check while providing a legitimate win condition for Stuffy.

Another bin rare came to mind as I wandered down this path.

I get four power and the chance to sweep the board for no mana!  Alright, he’s pretty aggressively costed too, if I just have to cast him.  With Stuffy Doll out, an explosion would hit my opponent for eight?  Risky and saucy!

With all these artifacts coming to light, another, beautifully designed card that has fallen into disuse since rotation came to mind.

Now we have a shell!  Artifact Feudposting!  FIGHT!


Creatures (19)

2 Manor Gargoyle
3 Stuffy Doll
3 Volatile Rig
2 Galvanic Juggernaut
3 Thragtusk
4 Elvish Visionary
1 Primal Clay

Spells (18)

2 Rakdos Keyrune
3 Farseek
3 Blasphemous Act
2 Trading Post
2 Tragic Slip
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Vraska, the Unseen
2 Guild Feud
2 Treasured Find

Lands (23)

2 Dragonskull Summit
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Mountain
3 Swamp
5 Forest
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Rogue’s Passage

Sideboard (15)

2 Pithing Needle
2 Slaughter Games
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Garruk Relentless
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Bramblecrush
2 Silklash Spider
1 Witchbane Orb

Deck Tech – Creatures

Galvanic Juggernaut

This guy is a shocker.
This Limited all-star fits nicely into this deck.  He’s a very efficient and easy-to-cast creature that applies a lot of ground pressure.  The ability to untap when a creature is destroyed is also fairly nice, giving him pseudo-vigilance.  Also, on a not-so-irrelevant note, he survives a Volatile Rig blast, which will surely kill something else, allowing him to untap as needed.  This deck wants to provide enough pressure that your opponent is nervous, and a pair of Juggernauts fit in that plan.  Off a Farseek, he’s about the most aggressive play this deck has.


And now, the stabilization champeen, Lagtusk!
Thragtusk wins games, sometimes overtly, and sometimes quite subtly.  Resolving this guy on turn four or off a Feud is what this deck wants to be doing; kill their dude, gain life and make a Beast in a worst case scenario.  His easy-to-meet mana cost makes him all the better.  If your green deck isn’t playing this guy, I think you’re doing it wrong.

Elvish Visionary

I see the draw of this lady.
After a bit of playtesting, I realized that I desperately needed to be on-time with mana.  With only a few ramp spells available, I had to make sure I was at least drawing through the deck to look for a land.  Elvish Visionary provided a fine chump blocker and Act fuel.  Although not a great Feud flip, you’d at least draw a card off her. 

Primal Clay

*squish squish*
The Clay, originally sleeved when I couldn’t find my third Juggernaut, has actually found a nice place as a singleton.  Because of how Guild Feud’s triggered ability works, no one can respond until the fight is over.  He comes into play right away as what I choose, so after seeing my opponent play their X/2, I can make the Clay a Hill Giant.  If he hits nothing, I can make him a Wind Drake, or if he makes something big, I can make him a 1/6 Wall to take the hit and continuously block.  I don’t like more than one, but he’s a really nice spot.  Casting him as a 1/6 will stop a lot of X/1 attackers in Standard (Gravecrawlers, namely) and it can stuff a sizable Exalted attacker.


Rakdos Keyrune

I red somewhere the key is ramp.
An artifact that provides a one-turn boost in mana production that can also be a creature when it needs to be is very powerful.  He hides when I commit a Blasphemous Act, then I can animate him and attack.  He’s a powerful blocker, as Porcelain Legionnaire was, and he’s aggressive enough to be an alternative pressure maker. 


Strictly worse without Shocklands.
The deck needed something relevant to do early, and with a strongly green base, this seemed like a reasonable play.  4 CMC threats on turn 3 are wonderful for this deck, and being able to hit those on time is essential in this racing format.  Although this can’t get a Forest, the heaviest commitment of this deck, most of the creatures in this deck do not cost colored mana.  Also, I don’t have Shocklands in this color, which makes this much worse.  I miss Signets Ramp is ramp.

Tragic Slip

With everything dying to Rigs, Acts and even from a Post, a one-mana kill-it spell seemed very relevant.  It’s also helpful when removing mana dorks, slowing my opponent’s advance, and it’s a fine response to a Lolteth Troll pump, forcing a double discard to save him.  Alright, that’s a bit of a reach, but I mean, it’s the best one-mana kill spell in years.  What else do you want to know?

Garruk, Primal Hunter

Bet he does P90X.
If you read my article last week (and any where I’ve played my singleton copy of this Garruk,) you know that he can turn games around or provide the final push you need to stay on top.  Garruk is a workhorse, and although his GGG cost is kind of scary, he has such an impact when you cast him.  With my Manor Gargoyle reliably sticking around, it’s a no-mana Tidings when I need it, or it’s a steady stream of Beasts your opponent must overcome.  Always relevant.

Vraska, the Unseen

Her Assassins are pretty snake-y.
Admittedly an auto-include in BG for me (I have one, why not?), Vraska fills in the gaps very well, picking off nuisance permanents very effectively.  Her Assassins won’t come into play very often, so she’s just basically repeatable, albeit slow, removal. 

Treasured Find

Awesome art and flavor aside, this card does exactly what I need it to whenever it’s in my hand.  With Guild Feud pouring stuff into my graveyard, this can effectively become a sorcery Snapcaster for anything in my graveyard.  Two mana is a great deal to get anything back from your yard; a Blasphemous Act, a kill spell, a planeswalker, or even just to salvage the Stuffy Doll for another Act, the options are wonderful. 


The lands were challenging; I have no Shocklands in Jund colors, so I had to make do with basics and M10-style duals.  Still, I think the mana base is strong enough, and the large number of colorless artifacts reduces the color demand a lot.  Specifically, the Evolving Wilds will almost always search up a Forest (maybe they should just be Forests,) but Farseek finds the non-Forest basics.  Rogue’s Passage plays a fairly narrow but not irrelevant role.  It can push my ground guys through, specifically Volatile Rig, when I just need it to hit (or an Assassin, trollface.)  As with the rest of the not-so-tight mana base, the colorless mana disadvantage shouldn’t affect this deck that much. 


Another challenging sideboard to create, I thought carefully about each card and quantity.  Pithing Needle was the first and most stable inclusion.  While synergizing with the artifact theme of the deck, Pithing Needle stops a ton of problem permanents; any planeswalker you don’t like, Deathrite Shaman, Lolteth Troll, any Guildmage, or even some fringe cards like Deadeye Navigator, any Innistrad Block utility land.  Slaughter Games, a card I still believe is vastly underrated, just handles a problem.  I’ve seen a lot of decks with singular win conditions, and this just stops it.  It kills the necessary spell in a combo, the problem creature (Thragtusk, Angel of Serenity, Geralf’s Messenger…whatever it might be.)  I love this card, but it definitely takes one game before you can see what your opponent will be using to stop your plan.  Sever the Bloodline, a card I’ve been continuously pleased with since playing it in my Vampire deck, deals with Entreated Angels, all the 4xCreature decks, Zombies, and it flashes back from a Guild Feud flip.  Garruk Relentless serves a couple purposes – against hard sweepers like Terminus, this card can constantly give you value.  He can punch your Stuffy Doll for three damage, make tokens for committing an Act and he can find the Doll if you have the Act in hand.  Tormod’s Crypt, a very narrow but powerful artifact, is a necessary evil in the land of Reanimator, undying and graveyard shenanigans.  The ability to recur this thing with Trading Post is very relevant, and I imagine doing it to keep an opponent’s graveyard spotless.  Bramblecrush, originally Dreadbore (I don’t have any), is there to deal with any problem NCP.  Gavony Township got you down?  BRAMBLECRUSH.  Detention Spheres got your Manor Gargoyles locked up?  BRAMBLECRUSH.  Jace giving your opponent too much advantage?  BRAMBLECRUSH.  Also a turn 3 ramped Bramblecrush can just be a Stone Rain.  Tragic Slip their mana dork into turn three this?  Oh yeah.  Silklash Spider, a late inclusion, provides a very specific and powerful answer to a wide variety decks while synergizing perfectly with Guild Feud.  It can take a hit from almost anything and it can, because you didn’t pay to cast it, sweep the skies from Restoration Angels, Lingering Souls tokens, Angels of Serenity and even a Griselbrand right away!  Clear the air for your Gargoyles!  A singleton Witchbane Orb is meant to swat away burn, discard, mill and everything else that targets me.  It’s an artifact, too!

I am fairly certain this is not an optimal build, but it is a synergetic build, which was the goal.  A non-artifact Guild Feud deck, using Gruul or even Naya colors is almost certainly preferable.  It’d give access to Collective Blessing, almost guaranteeing your side will win the fight, as well as some nice ETB abilities, like Armada Wurm and Angel of Serenity.  After Gatecrash releases, I’ll likely revisit this concept, even if just on paper.

I found the last pieces I needed to round off the deck, so I played it in the Tuesday night tournament at Something2Do this week.  It was nice to have the pieces before the pairings went up for a change.

Round 1 – Thomas (Jund Midrange)

Thomas, an opponent I had seen but never faced, had a calm and cool demeanor.  As we started play, we almost exactly mirrored each other, dropping a basic land then Rootbound Crag to cast Farseeks for Swamps.  He resolved a Thragtusk on time, and a turn or two later, so did I.  In the meantime, he beat down with that and an Olivia Voldaren.  My Guild Feud resolved and helped him more than it helped me.  Stuffy Doll was useless against Kessig Wolf Run, and I was dead a mere eight turns in.  Game two was equally stompy, and we were done in 10 minutes.

0 – 1

Although I was skeptical of this deck, this match proved to be a worst nightmare.  The deck was all over the place, missing land drops, providing no answers and making Guild Feud much worse.  It was going to be a long night.

Round 2 – Michael (B/G Zombies)

Michael and I had played before, and if I recall correctly, he trounced me.  His first turn Cavern of Souls into Gravecrawler sent a clear message about his deck.  He started getting in the red zone and, with a Blood Artist, even blocks were starting to look bad.  I slid down into low single digits.  Luckily, he tapped out of non-Cavern mana one turn and I was able to pick off his unprotected Lolteth Troll with a freshly-cast Vraska.  A resolved Trading Post started pitching my cards just to stay alive.  Back to back Thragtusks kept me in the game, but I had to stay back or risk death from a Geralf’s Messenger or some such.  Even with a nasty combat, I shrank to 3 and my 2 Stuffy Dolls finally started netting damage from blocks.  I cast a Guild Feud and he hit Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, who was quite large while I hit nothing. I had the Act in hand and cast it for 26.  Even with Blood Artist triggers and life gain through the Post, I’d be down to 1.  Game two put me more firmly ahead with strong sideboard options.  I got a Blaspemous act and a Galvanic Juggernaut out early, while he smashed in with Blood Artist-backed Gravecrawlers as normal.  I fell down to three after he started draining me with a Deathrite Shaman out against my lone Stuffy Doll.  I had the Act in hand and was representing lethal, but drawing Garruk Relentless felt pretty good as an alternative answer. With an Act, he was toast.

1 – 1

The Zombie deck was more on the scavenge plan than the aggro plan, but that Blood Artist trigger was what came so close to killing me.  I should have sided in the Witchbane Orb.  I’m not sure he can beat that card.

Round 3 – Jeffery (USA Control)

Jeffery and I had played before, and he was an enjoyable opponent who always packed a powerful deck.  This outing was no different.  I got a bit of a sluggish start, as did he, and I even had to move to the cleanup step a time or two after missing land (had three in the opener but just could not draw any more.)  After a fairly long and grindy game, he drew through nearly his entire deck with Sphinx’s Revelations and Jace -2’s.  A resolved Guild Feud gave me a lot of value, as his deck only had the occasional creature.  That occasional creature, though, was Angel of Serenity.  Resolving that was pretty much game over, and after he resolved a second one, I was done. 

I knew my sideboard options right away; we had used nearly all of our time in the first game, so we played quickly in game two.  I got an explosive start, with Farseek into Galvanic Juggernaut and a Manor Gargoyle.  I Pithing Needled Jace and Tamiyo and bashed him to about 2.  A couple small Sphinx’s Revelations put him back at 7 as he found the Terminus he needed.  As time was called, I had a Stuffy Doll out to his Angel.  My Guild Feud hit a Stuffy Doll, but it pitched two Blaspemous Acts on my turn 4.  I had Treasured Find in hand, so I could have gotten back the binned Act, but I would not have enough mana to cast it.  He went to turn 5 and he couldn’t kill me.  He admitted he didn’t have a counterspell, so we would have finished 1-1 if I’d been able to hit that Act a turn later.

1 – 2

Now out of prize range, I was content to just play my last round out for fun.

I got the bye.

2 – 2

I wandered back to the only person not playing a game.  His name was Jamie, and he had dropped with an 0 – 3, so he and I would probably have played each other if he’d stayed in.  We traded a little and we decided to play out our assumed match anyway.

Round 4? – Jamie (Esper Tokens)

Jamie led with a strong showing of Lingering Souls tokens from an Auger of Bolas, and a Favorable Winds put me in an awkward place.  I struggled to swat away the swarms, having to Jump my Manor Gargoyle into one or two and Tragic Slipping the others.  After putting a Garruk out and making some pressure Beasts, he had to focus on Garruk.  Although I almost lost him a couple times, I managed to keep him alive.  After a second Favorable Winds, the board state looked pretty grim for me.  I was losing six to eight life a turn, and Thragtusk couldn’t keep up.  As he cast out all his Lingering Souls, he muttered, “I guess I just have to hope you don’t have Blasphemous Act.”  I didn’t at the moment, but with a Garruk at three counters, I’d have a shot at it.  I had a Juggernaut out, so I popped Garruk to draw five cards.  I hit Vraska and four lands.  Had I drawn six, instead, the last card was a Treasured Find, and I had a Blasphemous Act in the yard.  In game two, I sided in Severs, the Spiders and Slaughter Games, hoping to remove Lingering Souls.  As we got underway, I got a somewhat better start; Galvanic Juggernaut kept the pressure heavy, while Jamie Slipped my Manor Gargoyles and Stuffy Dolls.  Thragtusks on my side kept me favorably ahead in trading.  Guild Feud was huge here, hitting Thrags, Dolls and, on the last turn, a Silklash Spider with eight mana to pour into it.  I had two Acts and two Treasured Finds in hand.  With a Doll out, I cast the first act, which was countered, so I played the second, each for just R.  With no further responses, I took that game.  Although I’d hoped we would go to game three, he had a drive ahead of him and bowed out.  Jamie’s was by far the most entertaining and engaging of the matches, and it showcased what this deck can do. 

In the end, I was fairly disappointed with the performance of the deck.  It did very well against aggro, but against midrange or control, it was a bit of a crapshoot.  In the end, the deck was a combo deck.  Not around Guild Feud, not around Trading Post…around Stuffy Doll.  The Doll + Act interaction is well-known, but this deck relied almost entirely on the combo to kill opponents.  Only rarely did my guys do anything at all by getting in the red zone.  It was the equivalent of just Devil’s Playing for a lot. 

The deck was not very fun to play, either.  It missed enough with Guild Feud and Volatile Rig that it lost most of its chancy appeal.  Several Rigs died, but I think it only went off once. 

The most important players in the deck were Doll + Act, but also Galvanic Juggernaut, Treasured Find, and Trading Post.  The Juggernaut was an awesome threat on turn three, and he often was ready to block, as people are fairly eager to chump a turn 4 swinging 5/5.  Treasured Find gave me a ton of value, mostly from recurring removal and planeswalkers.  It was so inexpensive that I could almost always cast the recollected card right away.  I’m amazed the card hasn’t seen play yet, but I’m gonna put money on the bet that it will.  Trading Post was as awesome as ever.  I loved having five mana and casting the Post.  Most of the time, it gave me life for a card or it sacrificed soon-to-be-deceased artifacts.  During both modes, though, it was essential to the game.

As for the crux of the deck, Guild Feud did fine, helping me more often than not against low creature count decks.  Often times I’d just hit an Elvish Visionary or a Volatile Rig without a fight, so the subtheme of being “good fighters” proved to be fairly irrelevant in most matchups.  It is also worth noting that it does effectively mill them three when they miss, and against a heavy draw control deck, like Jeffery’s in round 3, a pair of the Feuds will cut their library down six cards at a whack. 

Underperformers included every other creature, Vraska, and Tragic Slip.  While I expected creatures would be dying often, Tragic Slip was rarely morbid when I needed it to be.  Vraska is a good planeswalker, but in a deck that needs a little more pickup and with a lot of stuff to play on five, she could sit out.  Most of the creatures, Manor Gargoyle included, just didn’t cut the mustard.  They were too expensive, too situational, or just too bad (in the case of the Rig).  Even Thragtusk was basically just a Whitesun’s Passage with some stall built in. 

From the sideboard, Sever the Bloodline was the all-star, followed by Pithing Needle and Bramblecrush.  Pithing Needle is an awesome answer for planeswalkers, as is Bramblecrush.  Both cards are great sideboard inclusions when you can.  Don’t forget about them!

In a bout of frustration; I dismantled the deck just a few minutes after the tournament.  Today, though, in retrospect, it wasn’t that bad.  The deck was admittedly not a good deck, and I knew that going in, but it did exactly what I intended it to by taking advantage of my opponents’ deck’s weakness.  I don’t recall making any major misplays and the first round was my only crushing loss, but that’s the deck to beat right now, in my opinion (Thragtusk is a literal and figurative beast in the right deck.) 

I guess that’s what I get for being stubborn.

As a bit of an addendum, I tried a bizarre decklist last night at Friday Night Magic when I could not put together another deck I'd wanted to try, a bit more of an aggro build, so I built this durdly monstrosity.  I'd normally spend a blog post covering it, but it's not worth it.  Trust me.

Here's the list.

Creatures (12)

4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Laboratory Maniac
4 Sphinx of the Chimes

Spells (24)

4 Search the City
4 Cyclonic Rift
4 Temporal Mastery
4 Dissipate
3 Think Twice
3 Thought Scour
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Lands (24)

22 Island
2 Reliquary Tower

Sideboard (15)

4 Fog Bank
4 Essence Scatter
4 Negate
3 Staff of Nin

Perhaps the shortest decklist ever made, this deck was built to take advantage of the Sphinx and Search the City combination.  I was blessed to have several people at the shop lend me the more expensive cards I needed, and I sleeved it up in a hustle.  Every opponentI played was a very aggressive one, and even after siding in hate (and siding out the Search the Cities), I had no shot.  I went 1-3 last night, my one win against a very nice, but very new third grader, so I won't count that.  The deck was far too cute - the only game match I won besides round 2 was in the last round against Werewolves, but then it was it was because I had triple Sphinx of the Chimes out and a Temporal Mastery.  Not much to say there.  The deck's plan was to draw a million cards through the Sphinx and City, but it was far too slow and unresponsive to be effective.  The Sphinx and Lab Maniac is probably a good combo, but in a significantly different build.  I have the creature base, so I might still try to figure this one out.  

Search the City on the other hand, is perhaps the worst spell I have ever cast in Standard.  Don't do it.


Anyway, just wanted to add that at the last second.  Don't be stubborn like me; play something fun and unique!  And, preferably, something that has a chance to win at all.

Until then, don’t forget to untap, even if you’re just about to tap it again!

- Matt H