Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Silver Spoon: Mono-White Artifacts in Standard

Welcome back to Untap Target Player!

Just like any kid, I loved Indiana Jones while I was growing up.  Even as adults, we love to identify with Indiana Jones; he was like James Bond, but book smart.  He still got the girl, recovered the priceless artifact and killed Nazis (or commies, as per the new “addition.”)  The pursuit of the mysterious relic always intrigued me the most in the story; tales from all over the world describe remote locales or invaluable trinkets that have been lost to the flow of time, never to be seen by human eyes again.  The intrigue that surrounds these objects leaves room for speculation, hypothesizing and the constant spur to research and discover.  The mythical objects that Indiana Jones seeks are usually religious objects (either Judeo-Christian or indigenous), and as such, the power they hold is rooted deep in antiquated scripture sprinkled with legend and folklore. 

Although Raiders of the Lost Ark was the best one, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was my favorite one.  As a refresher, this is the one where Indiana Jones and his “I’m-too-busy-for-you” father Sean Connery make an amusingly dichotomous duo in the quest to follow archeological bread crumbs to find the Holy Grail. 

Several months ago, Dark Ascension, smack in the middle of a heavily trope-based expansion block, brought us an analogue for this inscrutable cup of healing and everlasting life. 

When this card first came out, it kindled a bit of discussion, but that tapered off long before Avacyn Restored was released.  Sure, we all know that “casual players love life gain,” but this card offers an actual win condition from gaining life.  Lava Axing for no mana once a turn is pretty great, right? 

Well, lifegain has always gotten a pretty bad rap.  Sure, it prevents you from dying, but it doesn’t do anything, and your card advantages usually dwindles too quickly if you can’t actually affect the board.  Mill decks, while rarely affecting the board as part of their win condition, at least are constantly pushing towards finality.  Lifegain doesn’t.  Only rarely does having a high life total contribute directly to winning a game.

Chalice of Life offers another opportunity to live the lifegain dream; it always does something, as opposed to cards that just gain you life.  Maybe this card could be the core of a Standard lifegain deck.  Woah!  Be careful!  We’ve heard this before, usually on the back of lifelink creatures and some creature based win condition.  We just have to make sure our cards something, or else…

What happens to most lifegain pilots.
Ok, so I don’t think it’s going to be based around one-and-done instants, and we need to live long enough and take little enough damage that we don’t mind grinding our life totals up.  White is naturally associated with lifelink, and upon a quick search of lifegain in Standard, I was also pointed to several other artifacts.  White provided sweeping options to kill creatures as well as complementary spells for defense.  Artifacts could then be pushed as the other “color” to comprise the deck.  Heck, I don’t need another color, let’s just use white and artifacts.

You have chosen...wisely.
Naturally, there are a lot of synergetic cards for this theme in the format, and they won’t be here for long.  With rotation approaching in just a few weeks, let’s make the best of what Scars of Mirrodin has to offer! 

Silver Spoon

Creatures (0)

Spells (37)

4 Dispatch
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Day of Judgment
4 Ichor Wellspring
3 Trading Post
3 Terminus
3 Chalice of Life
3 Pristine Talisman
2 Mycosynth Wellspring
2 Staff of Nin
2 Dispense Justice
2 Gideon Jura
1 Spine of Ish Sah

Lands (23)

12 Plains
4 Glimmerpost 
3 Phryexia’s Core
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Buried Ruin


3 Elixir of Immortality
2 Divine Offering
2 Purify the Grave
2 Witchbane Orb
3 Dismember
1 Terminus
2 Norn’s Annex

Dech Tech – Creatures

Yes, I’m still going to include a section on creatures despite the obvious lack of them.  When I considered building this deck, I thought about including several synergetic creatures such as Rhox Faithmender and Drogskol Reaver, splashing a bit of blue.  However, as I thought about it, it might be better to give them absolutely NO targets for their removal.  If it’s damage-based removal like burn, their only real target is me, and I can easily slough it off.  It was on that note that I decided to include only two pseudo-creatures, described below. 


Removal Suite

Dispatch, Day of Judgment, Terminus, Oblivion Ring and Dispense Justice

With these cards the deck can handle any creature-based threat; seven sweepers are necessary to reliably maintain a clean board.  Maybe even a fourth Terminus is advisable mainboard, but these seventeen spells are designed to give you the valuable time you need to not only reach your goal life total, but also to gain card advantage as you hit multiple threats in one sweep.  Remember, we’re hoping that they will be holding multiple kill spells, wasting precious draw step real estate drawing dead cards and ineffective spells.  Therefore, these removal spells give you answers for everything else.

The Wellsprings

On par with the artifact theme, these increase your artifact count while also providing you essential hand elements such as colored mana and additional spells and artifacts. There are several sacrifice outlets in this deck that can maximize their value.  This deck doesn’t have much to do on turn two, and this at least you do something relevant and provide yourself deck thinning later down the line. 

Chalice of Life and Pristine Talisman

Marble Chalice, but good.
Our life gaining tools and win conditions, I wanted our life gain to also do something else.  Pristine Talisman is a nice card for this deck because of its artifact-ness, its ramp and its lifegain.  Although the Talismans are somewhat awkward, being the same cost as our win condition, I’m not terribly concerned with it and feel fine with its synergetically motivated inclusion.

Trading Post


Ok, so my last billion Standard decks have played this guy, but bear with me.  Casting the Post with a spare mana will put you on cloud nine in this deck.  Nearly every ability is relevant.  Making a Goat to chump your opponent’s errant dude, sacrificing an artifact (its main application), or discarding a card to gain four life will each put you on the path to success.  Sacrificing either Wellspring to put two cards in your hand is a great feeling, this deck’s cogs really turn when the Post is online, so I made sure to include three to guarantee a hit.

Staff of Nin

Dude, just cast a Wurmcoil Engine.
Casting this card puts your deck in overdrive; although pinging them for one a turn is not going to be great considering you have few other ways to kill them, but the one-sided Howling Mine puts you firmly in the driver’s seat when it’s time to untap.  Picking off Moorland Haunt Tokens or freshly-drawn Birds of Paradise is just a bonus.  That being said, this card is very slow, so there are some matches where it will be inappropriate.

Gideon Jura

Come at me, Midianites.
Gideon Jura is a repeatable Fog, repeatable removal, or an alternate win condition all wrapped into one on-curve planeswalker.  As he gets ready to move on to bigger and better things, he has time to offer a little bit more utility.  He is ideal for this deck, providing absolutely everything it needs.  Resolving Gideon puts this deck in a great position even if you’re behind.  As the only target for creature-based removal, he seems like the best possible one.  He even dodges sweepers, Bonfires and other blanket spells that both you and your opponent will be casting.

Spine of Ish Sah

Where Angel of Despair lives.
This glacially slow artifact provides an undeniable answer and inevitability in a deck that can easily recur it for profit.  This thing can be very bricky, and there are probably better selections, but being able to use this again and again will grind you to victory.  This is a highly situational card, as some decks will be too blazingly fast.  Even with stalling, some decks will prevent you from ever reaching seven mana.



Every morning there’s a halo hangin’ from the corner of my deck’s Glimmerpost bed…
This intriguing Locus is right at home here; the colorless mana it provides will be fine most of the time, and the bit of free life gain these bring will only help to keep you alive a little longer.  All four Glimmerposts can help you reach the 30-life mark by themselves, and that’s without spending a spell!

Phryexia’s Core

Thump thump...
A necessary part of the machine, this will help you sack your “blow me up!” artifacts while giving you a little bit of life in the process.  I’d play them even if I didn’t gain life, but it also goes along with the theme pretty well.

Ghost Quarter

Possibly the best reprint art ever.

As you can see, color is not very important to this deck, and about half the lands produce colorless mana.  The Quarter allows me to deal with problem lands, such as Inkmoth Nexus, Gavony Township and Kessig Wolf Run.  In a pinch, you can also destroy your own land for a ready-to-go Plains.  You don’t think you’ll ever do it, then you do it and you feel bad.

Buried Ruin

A complementary, but not necessary, piece of the mana puzzle.  Buried Ruin is a great late game draw without hampering the early game, and the ability to recur an important artifact or even just a Wellspring, this can help provide the tailored answer you need.


I feel like this sideboard is very synergetic to this deck, providing utility in a wide variety of situations.  Elixirs of Immortality protect you from 20-to-0 decks while also providing artifacts for metalcraft, an extra push towards active Chalices and refueling a spent library due to a drawn out game or a mill-happy opponent.  Jace, Memory Adept is a real card, and this deck draws a lot.  Divine Offering lets you deal with their artifacts at instant speed and on the cheap.  White doesn’t get a lot of artifact removal at this cost and utility, and you can also smash one of your own for profit if your opponent hasn’t drawn the offending artifact. 

Purify the Grave is a good answer for cute graveyard decks and even graveyard hate; exiling your own Chalice of Life to protect the rest inside your deck from a Surgical Extraction may mean the difference between 0-2 and 1-1.  Being an instant allows precision and surprise, foiling Snapcaster Mages and Geralf’s Messengers alike.  Witchbane Orb will completely shut down some decks, providing answers for Blood Artist-type drain decks, burn and mill decks. 

Dismember is a necessary inclusion due to the resurgence of infect decks.  As lifegain doesn’t matter at all to infect decks, you need an answer to deal with their mutagenically-grown squad.  It’s also helpful for providing additional spot removal as needed.  The life loss is not a problem for this deck, which can gain it back over the course of a couple turns without even trying.  I placed an additional Terminus in the sideboard, just in case you just have to have four, most likely against the 25+ creature decks.  Finally, Norn’s Annex is a great secondary option for a high-count creature deck.  For decks that can’t pay W, this card will just about single-handedly shut down their offense.  Goblins, Zombies and Mono-Green will have trouble dealing with this thing’s heavy toll, and even if they can pay W, it does slow them down. 

Playtesting and Analysis

So, how does the deck do in practice? 

I’ve dry run it against other decks I’ve made to test its best and worst matchups.  It does very well against all but the most creature-heavy decks.  If they have 16 or less creatures, you’ll probably win without even trying; the effectiveness of this deck is fairly complex and technical, but it maintained healthy life totals even under heavy fire.  However, it was also much harder to hit 30 life then you might think.  Without actual creatures to block the opponents relentless attacks, you were rarely getting ahead until the board was clear or until you resolved a Trading Post and started tossing stuff. 

I did get a chance to playtest it once against my good friend Danny in a recent Magic night with him and the Magic crew. He was playing his B/W Exalted deck.  He got an aggressive start, plugging me down with a big Knight of Glory.  Resolving Sublime Archangel put me at a precarious 8, even after some fairly aggressive life gain on my side.  I cast Day of Judgment and stabilized.  Even with some new additions to Danny’s board, Terminus after Terminus put me firmly ahead.  I resolved Gideon and smashed him on an empty board despite him going to 25 from a Vault of the Archangel activation.  The final turn consisted of an unprotected Duty-Bound Dead getting Day’ed and me smashing for exactsies with a Gideon and a Staff of Nin tap.

For the record, I do not plan to play this at Friday Night Magic.  It’s not because I don’t have the cards (though I’m missing a few key ones) or because I don’t think the deck is good.  I just don’t think I’ll have time to.  This deck is very, very slow, and I feel like we’ll have a lot of 1-0’s and 0-1’s as opposed to full matches.  At Something2Do, where I normally play, rounds are only 40 minutes, and a lot of fairly regularly paced games go to time there.  In a more casual environment like I’m used to, this deck may also be fairly irritating to play against, so I’ll opt for another for now.  Regardless, the success level of this deck is pretty high given the time it takes to get you there. 

This week we looked into the past at what will soon be gone.  Next week, I want to take a look at the future with a deck that will not only be ready post-rotation, but will welcome rotation.

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rusting Metal: A Last Look at Tempered Steel in Standard

Welcome back to Untap Target Player!

If you are here for the Tibbles and Bits list from the KlotzProductions video, click here!

I am a big fan of Magic variants; team or one on one, I like unusual rules and deck construction.  They give life to otherwise obscure or unplayable cards.  I love knocking dust off old binder cards and sleeving them up for an unusual format.  Pauper, Block Constructed, Planechase, Cube…tons of fun formats to test your deckbuilding skills.  One of the most popular variants, EDH, has been officially endorsed by Wizards of the Coast as “Commander.”  For me, though, EDH was already one of my favorite formats before it ever became official.  “Yeah, that’s right,” said Hipster Matt.  “I liked EDH before it was cool.”  Then I sipped on some PBR and smoked a hand-rolled cigarette while listening to an unreleased vinyl LP of James Taylor on my vintage RCA.

"Your Delver deck is sooo mainstream."
My interest in EDH began about half of my Magic career ago at PTQ San Diego.  It was Zendikar Sealed and I got there pretty early, so I sailed amongst the sea of Magic competitors.  The event was pretty big, a few hundred or so, and I sat down by a group of folks with their trade binders open and tall stacks of sleeved cards beside them.  I sat down and asked to trade, and they kindly capitulated.  They were talking about EDH; I inquired about their offbeat discussion, and they explained the format to me.  They gave me a crash course, too, allowing me to borrow one of their deck, a Bant colored squad with Rafiq of the Many at the helm, if I recall.  I played through and, although I didn’t do terribly well (the Rafiq deck was full of complex and sweet interactions and synergies), I knew I wanted to get started.  The first general that came to mind was Teneb, the Harvester, as he was multi-colored, a Dragon, and effective at delivering 21 points of general damage (central to the game, as I thought at the time.)  It was settled; until they called for seating, I flipped through my binders and boxes and began forming the deck. 

I completed it a couple weeks later and it was, how you say, super sweet.  Other generals came to mind, and I’ve since built and tested several generals and color combinations, including Doran, the Siege Tower (using the shell from my Teneb deck), Lyzolda, the Blood Witch, Tolsimir Wolfblood, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and, my current MTGO EDH deck, Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs.  My most recent decks have revolved around Standard-legal generals, though not intentionally.  Olivia Voldaren was my “generalissima” for a while, and my Geist of Saint Traft tribal Spirit deck still finds its way into the occasional match.  However, my most recent EDH deck is probably the most fun one I’ve ever made.  My general is…

A sir.
Yeah, I’m about 98% sure that Gisela, Blade of Goldnight is a better General, but this guy.  THIS GUY.

With this Mirran general in the driver’s seat, I’ve stocked the deck to the brim with aggressive and powerful artifacts.  The deck performs consistently well in one-on-one and in multiplayer games of EDH, and it’s got plenty of tools, blow-out plays and unique interactions to create a fun and dynamic deck.  Here’s the list.

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer

Creatures (32)

Bosh, Iron Golem
Mycosynth Golem
Porcelain Legionnaire
Solemn Simulacrum
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Iron Myr
Gold Myr
Palladium Myr
Allow Myr
Myr Galvanizer
Platinum Angel
Stuffy Doll
Myr Enforcer
Shimmer Myr
Moltensteel Dragon
Pilgrim’s Eye
Goblin Replica
Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
Master Splicer
Steel Overseer
Lodestone Golem
Jhoira’s Toolbox
Lodestone Myr
Slash Panther
Sanctum Gargoyle
Ethersworn Canonist
Manor Gargoyle
Perilous Myr

Spells (33)
Sensei’s Divining Top
Whispersilk Cloak
Umezawa’s Jitte
Phryexian Rebirth
Second Sunrise
Blasphemous Act
Thunder Totem
Forisiyan Totem
Dispeller’s Capsule
Orim’s Thunder
Candles of Leng
Darksteel Forge
Origin Spellbomb
Open the Vaults
Myr Matrix
Ur-Golem’s Eye
Expedition Map
Dawn Charm
Tempered Steel
Glint Hawk Idol
Norn’s Annex
Fury Charm
Ajani Vengeant
Boros Fury-Shield
Dispense Justice
Pyrite Spellbomb
Boros Signet

Lands (34)
Vivid Crag
Vivid Meadow
Urza’s Tower
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Factory
Dread Statuary
Buried Ruin
Phryexia’s Core
Darksteel Citadel
Ancient Den
Great Furnace
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Slayer’s Stronghold
Arid Mesa
Clifftop Retreat
Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds
Strip Mine
Tectonic Edge
Windbrisk Heights
New Benalia
Stalking Stones
Spirerock Knoll
Shimmering Grotto
5 Mountains
4 Plains

Is it the best deck?  No, probably not.  I, however, am loving playing it!  It does really well in a lot of situations and rarely comes up with a sour (or at least uninteresting) draw.  Most of the time, I just cast Jor Kadeen as an Overrun, but even alone with metalcraft, he’s an 8/4 first striker, which is enough to stop about anything except a huge Omnath.  Nevertheless, this is the most fun one I’ve made.  It’s aggro in a non-aggro format and it does it very efficiently and reliably.

As I was playing this the other day after a Standard tourney match, I drew and cast a Tempered Steel and politely smashed my opponent’s face.  I started thinking about the dominance that Tempered Steel enjoyed about 18 months ago.  Memnites, Glint Hawk Idols and Vault Skirges ruled the format.  It was the aggro deck for a long time, and people recognized it after turn one, usually because they’d played about three cards by then.  When Innistrad came out, everyone went nuts over Delver, and this deck dwindled back into obscurity.

As the five suns set on Scars of Mirrodin in just seven weeks, I’d like to give this once format-defining archetype a little makeover, M13 style!  Much of the core remains the same, but I want to make sure this is relevant in the current metagame while maintaining the flavor, tempo and aggression that the colors of Boros offer.  As I convert this top-heavy EDH deck into a Standard deck, here’s where I landed.

Tempered Skill

Creatures (21)

4 Vault Skirge
4 Porcelain Legionnaire
3 Vulshok Replica
3 Glint Hawk Idol
3 Immolating Souleater
2 Pierce Strider
2 Moltensteel Dragon

Spells (18)

4 Galvanic Blast
3 Tempered Steel
3 Whipflare
2 Mox Opal/Sphere of the Suns
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Dispatch
2 Trading Post

Lands (21)

6 Mountain
7 Plains
4 Clifftop Retreat
2 Buried Ruin
1 Phryexia’s Core
1 Slayer’s Stronghold

Sideboard (15)

3 Faith’s Shield
3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Witchbane Orb
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Elixir of Immortality

Deck Tech – Creatures

Vault Skirge
A one mana flyer in any color?  Imp-possible!
The Skirge is an awesome creature, and he’s a perfect fit for this deck.  Highly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite Mourning Thrull from Guildpact and better in most every regard, this guy is the deck’s premier one-drop.  A staple in Standard artifact aggro, this guy can help you gain an edge in a race while also providing evasion and a beneficially pumping body to get in the red zone.  His exceptionally low cost is a major benefit in a deck that benefits from Metalcraft synergies.  Once the Steel is in play, he becomes a real haymaker. 

Porcelain Legionnaire

Kicking grout and fighting lime!
The Sink Soldier is also a very high value creature.  A 3/1 first-striker is more formidable in combat than just about anything else in the format at that CMC; it can safely block both halves of a Thragtusk!  Having one toughness is a fairly serious liability; a tiny Bonfire can kill him without help, but against non-damage related kill (Oblivion Ring, black kill spells), it won’t end up mattering.  If he sticks, you can be sure he’ll do a lot of work.  He’s a great topdeck, clogging up the ground with his big metallic face or providing a reasonable clock on an empty board. 

Vulshok Replica

A new face to the archetype, the Replica, on one hand, is Legionnaires 5-7, but on another, it’s a good non-combat way to bust in.  While a reasonable attacker, his ability to toss himself directly at the opponent at instant speed is not irrelevant.  He’s a Lava Spike on a stick, and in a deck that’s looking to go from 20-0 in a hurry, he can provide a little bit of reach.  Three seems like the right number of copies here, too.  My rule of thumb is that “you only want a playset if you don’t mind two in your opener,” and this is one of those that you want to draw around turn 5.

Glint Hawk Idol

If you don't have an artifact in hand, this guy is pretty hawkward.
This amazing artifact is another workhorse of Tempered Steel.  It has the fortunate creature-on-demand attribute to dodge sorcery-based creature removal, board wipes and other disadvantages of always being a creature.  The Idol is cheap, efficient, versatile AND an artifact, giving it a highlighted spot in this list.

Immolating Souleater

Intense name for a dog that dies to Sanctuary Cat.
By the time this card came out, Tempered Steel was already fading out of Standard’s top tables.  What would otherwise have been an excellent win condition instead showed its canine head in the occasional rogue deck here and there and as a cheap combo enabler for offbeat kitchen table decks.  Alongside Tempered Steel and the mana to actually pay his ability, I’m excited to give him a shot here.  Let’s eat some souls!

Pierce Strider

slurp slurp slurp...
An aggressive and reasonable body that passes the Vapor Snag test, this Bump in the Night on legs is right on curve for this deck.  A reasonable body, he can stop Huntmasters and piddly burn (Pillars of Flame or anemic Bonfires.)  I do need some value creatures in this deck, as I lack a real draw engine.  This guy is a welcome addition.  He does just fine here, though I’m not as attached to him as much as some of the other cards in here.

Moltensteel Dragon

Finally, a ferocious ferrous finisher!
Immolating Souleater 2.0 with wings.  This huge dragon is aggressively costed (a 4/4 flyer for 4) and difficult to burn out.  Also, he’s a great finisher, and how many “finishers” are at four mana?  Basically a Shivan Dragon once he’s in, he can snatch those last few points overhead with Phyrbreathing.  I’m excited to actually play him in Constructed!


Galvanic Blast

Arc you sure it's good?
Another staple of red artifact decks is the mighty Galvanic Blast.  Better than Lightning Bolt in most situations, this amazingly efficient spell kills over 80% of the creatures in Standard when online (I looked) and never gets worse than Shock.  Costing just one mana puts this thing firmly as a four-of in this deck.

Tempered Steel

Don't make it mad, this enchantment's got quite a....
This is the core of the deck.  Although the deck can function without it, it would rather not, and on a clogged board, this is my alpha strike.  This provides an immeasurably important boost to an otherwise shrimpy bunch of critters.  You always feel good to draw it, but you don’t normally need more than one, so three feels right on the money here.


The sweeper of choice for this deck; all of my creatures dodge its effect, it’s cheap and low on color weight, and it can clear the way for my assault while generating card advantage.  An easy board-out in a low creature deck, this just wrecks U/W Delver, mana-dorks and tokens.  Even casting it on one creature is acceptable, so don’t be afraid to just Shock something with it!

Mox Opal

Isn't it ironic that the most expensive cards to buy are the cheapest to cast?
This beautiful gem is an odd inclusion in this deck.  As a legendary artifact, a second one in hand will often be dead, but if he’s up, he can provide fixing, metalcraft and ramp second to none in a deck like this.  It’s a risky inclusion, but it seems too synergetic to not include it.

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

The streamlined feline!
This cool cat provides an exceptional boost to this aggressive deck.  His first ability makes any of my fairly tinny artifact men a much better fighter. Non-spell +1/+1 counters forever are pretty nice, I hear.

That's what I hear.
His -3 ability synergizes perfectly with Immolating Souleater and Moltensteel Dragon, providing an instant win condition if you have comparable life totals.  His ultimate, while cute, will probably often be irrelevant with me living at a low life total.  I know Ajani’s been floating around, but I hadn’t seen him do a lot since his reprisal, but this seems like a strong place to start.


Dispatch is givin' me a rash, mon.
A cut-and-dry removal spell that, even without Metalcraft, can provide the essential bit of temporary removal I need for a more powerful strike.  Directly exiling a creature for W is fantastic, but I’m OK to cast this even when that’s not the case; the games with this deck should be tight enough that they provide essentially the same result for that crucial turn.

Trading Post
If you ever find a cooler artifact, keep me Posted.
Although people could fill whole shoeboxes with combo decks regarding this strangely artificial market, it provides a ton of depth for this deck and allows me to turn anything in my hand into a little life and anything on the table into a card at instant speed.  Casting this with a mana open makes me feel good, to say the least.  It synergizes really well with the artifact theme.  Also, I can’t wait to make a Goat, pump it with Ajani and swing for the win.  MVP Goat!

The LeBron James of this deck.
Mana Base

For an artifact deck, this deck is fairly color hungry, so the colorless lands are limited; each of those provides utility and flexibility.  Buried Ruin is sheer quality in the late game, recovering any artifact from the yard for the desired effect.


The sideboard is fairly metagame specific, stressing defensive cards like Faith’s Shield, Oblivion Ring (a nice blanket answer for nearly any permanent), Witchbane Orb against Burn, Bonfire of the Damned and Mill, and the Elixirs and Crypts lend well to Metalcraft while giving me protection against graveyards and races.  Bonfires of the Damned are just kind of in there to be in there.  Although that $40 bullet is good in most decks that can cast it, this may be one of the worst ones for it; low mana and trickiness with color makes Bonfire an awkward blank on occasion.  It’s possible I play some other form of burn or finisher here, but for now, auto-Bonfire probably fits the bill fine.  As with most of my sideboards, if one particular deck dominates your local shop, sideboard accordingly.

This deck has done very well against aggro and control in playtesting, outracing each while maintaining firm control on both life totals and board states.  The sideboard should give this deck some much needed flexibility against a wide variety of FNM-style decks.  Is this thing going to get to a top table at an SCG Open or a Grand Prix?  Probably not, but here’s to hoping. 

I have three decks on the burner right now, and I’m excited to play them out to see which I like most; Paint it Black (see last week), Tempered Skill, and a revision of Tibbles and Bits, Tibalt the Firebrand. 

Tibalt, the Firebrand: Deck and Testing

Tibalt, the Firebrand was kind of a knee-jerk build after disassembling an interesting control deck with Nicol Bolas in the captain’s seat.  What started as a mono-red brew found itself splashing a pinch of black for improved effectiveness.  At Friday Night Magic on the 10th, I took this list in to give it a shot.  Truly, I was not as confident in this build as Tibbles and Bits, but I wanted to try it, nonetheless.

Here’s the list I played.

Creatures (8)

3 Vexing Devil
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Falkenrath Aristocrat

Spells (30)

3 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Chandra, the Firebrand
2 Devil’s Play
3 Arc Trail
3 Brimstone Volley
4 Krenko’s Command
2 Bump in the Night
3 Incinerate
2 Tibalt, the Fiend Blooded
3 Tezzeret’s Gambit
2 Sphere of the Suns

Lands (22)

10 Mountain
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Hellion Crucible
2 Swamp

Sideboard (15)

3 Combust
3 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Demolish
2 Runechanter’s Pike
2 Slagstorm
2 Sever the Bloodline

The goal of this deck was to capitalize on Chandra’s ability to copy powerful instants and sorceries as well as to compliment internal synergies.  A sacrificed Vexing Devil plus Brimstone Volley = nine damage, after all, fourteen if you doubled Brimstone Volley with Chandra.  Tibalt seemed fine here, providing some card selection while being on curve.  Hasty dudes could provide effective “burn” while the sideboard could help provide flexibility and reach, namely in the two Pikes, the Bloodlines and Demolish.  I liked Demolish here over Smelt because, although not as efficient, it was more flexible, helping me deal with problem lands like Cavern of Souls, Inkmoth Nexus or Kessig Wolf Run.  Also, a Turn 3 into a turn 4 minusing of Chandra killing TWO lands?  Seemed awesome, and it could win me the game on the spot. 

Let’s see how it did!

Round 1 – Patrick (Mono White Blinking Humans)

Patrick was a player I had never seen around the shop, and I’ve learned that new players often offer a tougher challenge than more familiar opponents.  He shuffled up a stack of worn-sleeved cards while I drew a fresh seven.  While staring at my loose keep, he created some small white creatures in the form of Cathedral Sanctifier and Grand Abolisher.  I made Tibalt, who ticked up and pitched well, staying just out of range of a lethal attack from Patrick’s squadron of dudes.  An Arc Trail helped me stabilize and I was able to get enough punch from Tibalt’s -4 that I cleaned him out while he was stuck on two lands.  In game 2, I kept a much better hand on 6, and I was able to maintain board advantage while he flooded out, never making much more than a pair of Attended Knights.


Round 2 – Korey (BUG Pod)

Korey, my opponent for the recorded Tibbles and Bits match, was playing a BUG Pod deck, a color combo of the archetype I hadn’t seen before. It sported Disciples of Bolas, Geralf’s Messengers, Phantasmal Images and Thragtusks.  In game one, he kept a strong hand, making roughly a billion Messengers while calmly swatting away my blockers, clearing a path for his Geralf-dozers.  I sided in my Zombie hate, which turned out to be essential in this match.  Severing his Messenger felt great, and Nihil Spellbombs kept his undying triggers honest.  As game 2 became a draw-go match, I ripped a Phoenix and suited it up with two lonely Pikes, giving him a formidable +2/+0.  Chipping away at him for four, he sat at 9 and passed the turn back.  I drew an Incinerate and thought for a moment.  I burned him first, making his life total 6, then I bashed with a now 6/2 Phoenix for exactly lethal.  Game three was also a close one.  I drew a lot and even paid blue to cast one of my Tezzeret’s Gambit; I drew all three that game.  For some reason, I cast one paying two life (when I didn’t have to), and, although I established a good position with Falkenrath and some Goblins, he found a Thragtusk with his Pod.  I killed his Thragtusk and hit him down to 4 with my team, thinking I surely had this one in the bag.  I, too, was at 4, but he didn’t have lethal on the board.  He cast two Blood Artists, sacked one (netting 0 life, but shrinking my total by 2), and found a Messenger, getting me to 0.


I wasn’t feeling very well, so I packed it up for the night.  The deck, with its attempted interactions with Chandra’s -2 ability, worked fine, but the original incarnation of Tibbles and Bits was much more consistent and higher on pressure.  The opponent was forced to stay on the backpedal with Diregraf Ghoul plugging away early and often, and the removal in Tibbles and Bits served a clearing purpose to help push my guys through, not just direct damage.  This deck was fun, though, and if you’re looking for a bit of a twist on mono-red burn with easy-to-get planeswalkers, you might want to give it a shot.

Reader Request

Finally, I was lucky enough to get a request for a unique deck for Standard revolving around a card that, as I see it, is most often relegated to the sideboard.  Thanks to Renwick Bromiley!

“Oooh…shiny…” – Ekrik, goblin scout, last words
Creatures entering the battlefield do not cause abilities to trigger.  That is a unique line of text from the entire library of Magic.  OK, so it shuts off “when this creature enters the battlefield” triggered abilities like Snapcaster Mage and “when another creature enters the battlefield” abilities, like Soul Warden’s trademark.  Interesting.

I love good deck challenges though, and Renwick already gave me a great start.  The first part of building the Torpor Orb deck is finding creatures that we don’t WANT their built-in triggers to occur.

As I pored over the menagerie of creatures we could use in Standard, I noticed a distinct shift from recent years to nearly all positive “ETB” abilities.  Magic’s history is full of creatures that give you power and efficiency in exchange for something negative when entering play.

In Standard, that list of creatures is pretty small.  Remwick gave me the idea for nearly all the creatures in this list, but the deck needed some fleshing out to conjure the other 45-odd cards we’d need.  He gave me…

Frankly, after doing some digging, I discovered this is about all of the creatures with negative ETB abilities in all of Standard.  They were in complementary colors, though, and, as an obvious favorite color combo for me, Rakdos it is!

Ok, so with Torpor Orb out, Treacherous Pit-Dweller and Vexing Devils are extremely efficient 4/3s that, when the Demon dies, just comes back as a 5/4 – the ETB trigger will never occur, but the undying trigger, which occurs as the creature dies, does occur, giving you the benefits of the good trigger without dissuading you with the bad trigger.  Demonlord of Ashmouth is even better, being a 5/4 flying trampler (that eats Restoration Angels and Delvers as a snack} that “undies” into a 6/5 flying trampler.  Big beats for sure!

As I assume this deck is on a bit of a budget, I’ll try to include cards that are fairly inexpensive to obtain (nothing over $5 a piece).  As we’ll be pulling from the whole canon of Standard, you might just have some of it already!

Creatures (17)

3 Hex Parasite
4 Vexing Devil
4 Treacherous Pit-Dweller
3 Demonlord of Ashmouth
3 Necrogen Scudder

Spells (20)

4 Torpor Orb
3 Pillar of Flame
3 Incinerate
3 Vile Rebirth
2 Trading Post
2 Sundial of the Infinite
3 Whipflare

Lands (23)

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Dragonskull Summit
9 Swamp
4 Mountain
2 Buried Ruin

Sideboard (15)

2 Barter in Blood
3 Manic Vandal
3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Killing Wave
2 Blood Artist
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat

In short, the goal of this deck is to stick a Torpor Orb on turn two and spend the rest of the game dropping ridiculously undercosted creatures while your opponent plays Snapcaster Mages as Ambush Vipers, their Acidic Slimes as five-mana Grizzly Bears, and their Geralf’s Messengers as a BBB Battered Golem (roughly).  There are tons of decks that obtain value mostly through powerful ETB abilities that create two-for-ones.  This one shuts done a ton of them. 

Deck Tech – Creatures

Hex Parasite

With eight copies of undying creatures in this deck, the Hex Parasite can keep each fresh and protected from removal while your Orb is out.  If it’s not, it can consume planeswalkers and +1/+1 counters of another creature.  Unmolested, it can eat a ‘walker and straight kill something in combat.  Also, and I think this one is funny, you can kill a Phantasmal Image for 2 life at instant speed. 

Vexing Devil, Treacherous Pit-Dweller, Demonlord of Ashmouth

These are the pilots of the deck, but they need the fuselage of Torpor Orb to fly.  Vexing Devil is fine without the Orb, dealing four for R, while the other two are slightly more reliant on it.  While the Pit-Dweller is a juicy target for removal while it’s out, the Orb destroys that incentive.  The Demonlord is a little sturdier, but not by a lot.  He is tough to burn out, but he still dies to Dismember on both sides.  Still, the prospect of Orbing with him in hand is pretty promising, and removal light decks will have a lot of trouble with a huge flyer on turn four. 

Necrogen Scudder

This Horror is probably the least dependent on the Orb, but as such, it has the lowest power level.  A 3/3 flyer for 2B that costs three life is a bit steep, but he’s fairly efficient and he becomes even more so with the Orb out.  Also, he’s pretty easy on the wallet as the only uncommon creature in this deck.  Turn three Scudder after turn two Orb is just fine.  He is more here to continue to be “on-theme” than an effective combatant; goodness knows you guys can probably think of something much better. 


Torpor Orb

The crown jewel of our strategy, it is an awkward, but necessary, playset in this deck.  They are dead if you draw more than one (assuming one is on the battlefield and safe.)  I still insist on four for two main reasons.  First, we have to draw it to win games in those tough, nail-biting matches.  At four copies in a deck of sixty, you have slightly less than 50% of a chance to draw one in your opener.  If your opener doesn’t have an Orb but is otherwise OK on curve, lands and spells, you should still consider throwing it back, as Orb is what makes this baby purr.  Secondly, especially post-board, Naturalizes, Ancient Grudges and Smelts will be floating around in your opponent’s hand.  You need to have a spare Orb in hand as often as possible when you perceive your opponent has artifact destruction available. 

Removal Suite (Pillar of Flame, Incinerate, Whipflare)

Red removal galore!  The first two are fairly cookie-cutter, and I play ‘em in just about every red deck I build for Standard.  Pillar is a great answer to a Bird, a Strangleroot Geist, a Geralf’s Messenger or any other “value creature” your opponent might play.  Incinerate is a great instant that is flexible enough to both thwart a Rancor placement and kill your opponent in a close, grindy match for just two mana.  Whipflare is an odd maindeck choice, but with the lack of artifact creatures that are frequently played in the format, you can consider this a Pyroclasm.  Also, if you’ll notice, it doesn’t kill any of our creatures!  The most vulnerable, Hex Parasite, is thankfully protected with its suddenly relevant supertype. 

Vile Rebirth

Still one of my favorite cards from M13, this was the last inclusion to the deck.  It was originally Altar’s Reap. Both serve a similar purpose, and I knew we’d needed a solution to a possible situation we could encounter. 

Here’s why we need either effect.  If something happens to our Treacherous Pit-Dweller, our most efficient beater, we need to have an answer to the Demon’s treacherous ETB trigger if there isn’t an Orb out.  While the undying trigger is on the stack, cast Vile Rebirth on your briefly binned Dweller, exile him, and end up with a 2/2, all for one B.  Alternatively, if you do have an Orb out, Rebirth can just function as a bit of graveyard control or as an instant speed combat trick.  I know, I still love this card way too much.  Altar’s Reap was cool, as it still let you salvage a botched Pit-Dweller situation, but for twice the mana and without much everyday use besides reacting to removal.  This didn’t sit well, so I threw it out in favor of this bargain.

Trading Post

This beauty, featured in the Tempered Steel deck today, also fits nicely here.  It gives your deck reach and strength in a variety of situations.  Perform the same sacrifice trick described above to keep a Pit-Dweller from changing sides, gain life lost by the Scudder’s trigger or by some scrapes and bruises from combat, recover a Smelted Orb from the graveyard or sacrifice/discard one of your extras.  Finally, and perhaps most flavorfully, you can create a Goat to sacrifice to the Demonlord.  How ‘bout THAT?

Still, this seems like a great choice; sideboard it out in a super-aggro match up if you just need more removal, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

Sundial of the Infinite

That's right, you MAIN PHASE that Think Twice!
This tricky little artifact will be a planning and skill tester.  I have included it to act like Torpor Orb’s #5 and #6, but it actually serves a broader purpose.  It can protect your creatures from removal (if it’s your turn), erase SNAFU-ed combat, or disrupt anything else your opponent wants to do on your turn.  Make sure you read this card carefully before using it, as it can end up hurting you as often as it helps.  Without a Stifle effect in Standard, this is where we have to go next.  Time Stop this is not, but it fits the bill and provides an interesting interaction with your opponent’s tricks. 


The mana base is pretty heavy black for the creatures and fairly heavy red for the removal, and the artifacts don’t care.  As such, most of the creatures need BB to cast, especially the Pit-Dweller (though don’t expect to want to cast him on turn 2 that often).  Buried Ruin, naturally, gets you back one of your precious combo pieces in case of fire. 


As with all my sideboarding, it’s usually specific to the metagame of the places I play.  Barter in Blood provides a lot of punch to kill powerful creatures and, if you get yours right back, no problem!  It’s good if you have an empty board too, say, if you’re fighting a high-density removal deck where you’re afraid to play your undying dudes without backup. 

Manic Vandal might be too cute, but he works nicely on an Orbed or a non-Orbed board (say that ten times fast.)  If there isn’t an Orb, he’s just a Scathe Zombies.  If there is no Orb, he can pick off a Birthing Pod, a Sword, an Elixir of Immortality, force an awkward Spellbomb sacrifice, or any other number of problem artifacts.  Smelt’s probably better, but the interactions!  THE INTERACTIONS, PEOPLE!

Nihil Spellbomb is fairly self-explanatory, though in a pinch, it can exile an awkward undying trigger on either side of the table.

Sever the Bloodline is a card that I liked when it first came out; after I stabled it for a while, I dug it back out and have been very pleased with it since.  It just kills a dude, and it does it well.  It kills tokens and it flashes back, giving this deck a little card advantage in the grindy matchups.  Also, specifically in this match, if Pit-Dwellers betray you in multiples, exile them both!  Bad Pit-Dwellers!  Go back to the basement!

As this is a fairly low creature count deck, Killing Wave will often put you on the winning end.  Huge threats on your side that you can just sack to the Wave and let them undie, if you want, put the pressure on them to keep their life total high.  If they pay, they die from a vicious Killing Wave life drain.  If they let their creatures die, you smash them with your efficient big guys!  It’s a great way to punish them for not blocking, too.  Blood Artist is also a nice sideboard inclusion to counter, well, another Blood Artist, as well as a high creature count deck.  Making them take 1 every time they Pod (3 if they pay for the Pod with life) is an efficient clock.  Your creatures undying or smashing their little chump blockers in attacks will also help the Blood Artist fit.  The Falkenrath Aristocrat is an efficient beater and a sac outlet on a stick, so you can use all of these guys in concert for a sacking machine!  I can’t tell you a matchup where these final five cards will be right, but you’ll know it when you see it. 

Let me know what you think of this attempt at a Torpor Orb deck!  Although I’d normally say, “there are a lot of ways you could do this deck,” I’m not sure there are a lot more ways to make an offensive, Torpor-Orb based deck in Standard.  In Modern, or even Legacy?  Well, the sky’s the limit, Johnnies!  Rest assured, Renwick, your deck’s future is assured with the myriad combos surrounding this artifact in Eternal formats.

Standard’s about to get a big shake up, and Return to Ravnica previews are on the horizon.  I hope you guys are excited to see what a return to the ecumenopolis of Ravnica will bring!

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H