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

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Wall of Ravnica

Have you all read Game of Thrones?

One of my favorite images in the book (I’ve only seen one episode of the show) is that of the Wall.  The Wall is an impregnable slab of stone hundreds of miles long in each direction, disappearing into the bitter, icy wind of the North.  It’s quiet, it’s imposing, but most importantly, there was a reason it was built.  No one would go to the trouble of building a thousand-foot high wall unless there was something worth keeping out, right?

Historically, walls have been essential to the survival and preservation of people living inside them and preventing entry by those outside.  The Great Wall of China spans for some five thousand miles across China, providing protection and isolation for one dynasty or another throughout its multi-millennial history.  Walls serve one singular purpose; if you can’t get through, you can’t win.

People have been making defender decks for a long time; Rolling Stones, Defender-matters cards from Rize of the Eldrazi…it’s been a subtheme that has been offered in a few cards here and there over the last few years, but it has always been given as an option just for casual players who like to stay out of the red zone. 

Return to Ravnica gives us two and only two cards that care about defenders.

This isn’t very many, but each ability scales very well in.  As a bit of a brew, I wanted to toy with the idea of these two zero power creatures actually winning you the game. 

Defenders have the fatal flaw of doing nothing if not, well, defending, so I wanted to strive to use defender as an advantageous static ability.  Perhaps utilizing only occasional defenders, or figuring out ways to make the quantity of creatures dependable and sturdy enough to do something useful.

Control is not my usual style, so before I get in to the deck much more, let me show you a decklist.  I would say it’s a rough draft like I usually do, but I have pored over these numbers and I finally feel confident this is the best configuration.

…So we’ll call it a second rough draft.

The Great Wall of Ravnica

Creatures (24)

4 Axebane Guardian
4 Fog Bank
3 Hover Barrier
3 Gatecreeper Vine
3 Doorkeeper
2 Ludevic’s Test Subject
2 Manor Gargoyle
2 Ogre Jailbreaker
1 Tree of Redemption

Spells (14)

2 Golgari Charm
3 Dissipate
1 Increasing Confusion
2 Devil’s Play
1 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Vraska, the Unseen

Lands (22)

4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Drowned Catacomb
1 Woodland Cemetery
4 Forest
4 Island
2 Steam Vents
1 Swamp
1 Golgari Guildgate
1 Izzet Guildgate
2 Rakdos Guildgate

Sideboard (15)

3 Grave Bramble
2 Negate
2 Redirect
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Stuffy Doll
1 Witchbane Orb
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Slaughter Games
1 Psychic Spiral
2 Bonfire of the Damned

Deck Tech – Creatures

Before I begin, let me just say that this is probably the single-most unorthodox deck I think I’ve ever built.  Being on the mill plan is not my idea of a good time, but this deck seemed quirky and uniquely synergetic enough to make that win condition exciting.  The overarching idea is to invalidate their creatures (because I can effectively block/mitigate their effectiveness), counter or destroy the stuff that matters, and finish them in a flurry of milling.  Also, before I get into the creature, I’ll add that it feels weird to be playing a control deck with twenty-four of them.

Axebane Guardian and Doorkeeper

Cheap and effective early game blockers, these are the engines of the deck.  Each card can function well independently, but this Druid and Homunculus work best while holding hands, providing a lot of mana to dump into this milling machine.  The Guardian is the stand out from this.  Being able to produce impressive amounts of mana in any color can power out a plethora of game-winning cards, which we’ll highlight below.  The fact this produces any combination of colors is also relevant, as you’ll notice by the mana base.

The Doorkeeper is a relevant body, being a Kraken Hatchling that serves to mill your opponent (so, like a Hedron Crab, I guess), and being able to stop a lot of early ground game for just 1U.  It’s going to be a while until you use the activated ability, but they work very well in multiples, allowing an efficient mill each turn if they don’t cast into your counterspell.  This deck is not going to win quickly, but it will win, and these guys (well, this guy and this eye) will get you there.

Fog Bank

It’s OK if you don’t remember this card from Urza’s Block.  It’s a little cloudy.
Fog Bank, the cheap wall of walls, is an awesome way to stop any non-trample threat forever.  Deathtouch?  Don’t care.  Lifelink?  Don’t make me laugh.  This will pretty much garner a kill or burn spell, which will keep it from hitting you or, more importantly, your relevant defenders.  Hover Barrier, a late edition, does the same thing while soaking more trample damage and being more resistant to burn.

Reminds me of HAL.  Or GLADYS, with that little orb.
Gatecreeper Vine

You’ll notice the suite of Gates I included, and that was intentional.  This Plant, a defender, also helps fix your mana by replacing itself with whatever color you need.  This deck produces four colors, and having access to them is important.  It’s good to hit your land drops on time, too, so that you stay on par with your opponent.  Running only 22 lands in a deck that runs as expensively as it does needs this kind of guy.  He won’t block very well, but he’s basically lands 23-25, so I don’t mind too much.  Hopefully there’ll be enough defenders around to do its blocking for it.

Ludevic’s Test Subject

Remember this guy from Innistrad Limited?  A great mana sink and an alternative win condition, this card will add to the defender count while also being able to transform into a potent and relevant threat in fairly short order.  A 13/13 with trample will pretty much do it.  It’s possible you’ll only flip one, but having more cheap defenders seems acceptable for this kind of deck.  Just side him out if they’re playing bounce.  Also, as a note, I’m not worried about Tragic Slip against this deck, as I’m just not killing a lot of his stuff.

Manor Gargoyle

Is he a manor something else?
I’ve won a lot of drafts with this guy and 39 other terrible cards in Innistrad Limited, and I run him on MTGO, as he just seems to be a good five drop for any deck (I don’t have a lot of cards on there).  Here, though, his defender ability is an asset, and his ability to crash in when needed makes him a versatile and solid enough clock.  He dodges sorcery based removal, too.  I like a couple of him in here to fill that role.  Indestructibility is an underrated ability, too, and he can just stop ground dudes forever, too, while not being susceptible to Murder, Dreadbore or Burn.  

Ogre Jailbreaker

This guy is admittedly not very exciting.  He is a powerful dissuader of attacks on 4 mana, stopping all but the most efficient of creatures.  With five Gates in this deck and three ways to find him though, he can also attack fairly well and will often do so.  He’s just another ground clogger with defender and Gate synergy.  

Tree of Redemption

I love trees in non-Forest art.
My one stopgate for ground trample and as an anti-burn card, he fills a lot of roles, most of which I’ll probably never know until they arise.  Mr. Big Butt here can stop even the most outrageous ground pounders, stuffing Armada Wurms, Grove of the Guardian Tokens and even a large Craterhoof Behemoth.  I foresee him being a relevant card on four mana, and he’ll generally stop ground games completely.


Golgari Charm

Actual awesome.
This versatile Charm is the right choice for this five color deck.  It can thwart Oblivion Rings, Bonfires, Wrath effects, and weenie decks.  Even a turn two Charm to kill off three opposing 1/1s is probably the right play.  As this deck relies on having a lot of creatures out to work effectively, a safety net on the cheap is very important maindeck.  It can also save you from a lousy combat or just shrink a scrawny team to death or safe combat levels.  The Charm is a nice card to have in your hand, plain and simple.


I forgot this card existed.  Why would you ever  cast Syncopate?  What do you HAVE to counter on two?
In a deck that doesn’t interact a lot with the other side of the board, Dissipates are necessary to save you from shenanigans and actual threats.  As you can clog the ground (where most decks do their fighting), you want to be able to stop the threats you can’t deal with; planeswalkers, sweepers, win-con spells, or even to deflect another counterspell.  Dissipate will be a bit hard to cast in a four-color deck, but it’s power level as a counterspell, seems very relevant. 

Increasing Confusion

I wonder if they told Dan Scott to "create a lightning ingrown hair of cavalcade diaspora."
One of my win conditions, this with the Axebane Guardian can produce some intimidating mill power, and especially after it’s flashed back.  Even with X at 10, that’s half their library after two casts.  Hitting a hilariously high X is what this deck is really about, but with help from the Doorkeepers and any draw/manipulation they’ll use naturally, this should seal the deal.

An alternative win condition, Devil’s Play has the disadvantage of being consigned to do the entire work load in damage.  Because I just won’t be hitting them that hard (if at all), Devil’s Play has to take them from twenty to zero.  That being said, if you imagine their library is at 40 by the time you get to milling them seriously, then this hits basically twice as hard as an Increasing Confusion when cast from your hand.  Devil’s Play also has the ability to flashback naturally, meaning if the first shot didn’t do it, the second one will.  It’s important to have two win conditions in case one is shut down, say by Slaughter Games or specific sideboarding against either condition.  I wanted to be sure and keep this deck’s portfolio diversified. Bonfires obviously do a lot of work and fill in to just keep their board clear in case I still get overwhelmed.  It should also be pretty easy to hard cast it for a high value, too.

Don't get me started on the FNM art.
The best card selection spell I could think of, this card helps me dig deep into my deck after not countering a spell to make sure I stay on time with lands, find a relevant answer or find the win condition I need.  The four copies collectively let me dig through over half my deck (32 cards if each is fully cast), giving me a ton of reach and making sure I’ve always got gas.  Most of my win conditions can be cast from the graveyard, so I’m not so concerned about pitching some of them.  This card has been kind of forgotten since the days of Esper Control, but don’t forget it’s there.

Vraska, the Unseen

Oh, I see her.
This snaky lady does everything that the rest of the deck can’t.  The medusa will do two things, depending on the matchup.  In most aggro or midrange matchups, I’ll only cast her when there’s a threat to deal with and -3 her right away.  I’ll build her up turn after turn to deal with new nonland threats that emerge.  In control matchups, I imagine playing her out on curve and building her up for Assassins; on a board devoid of creatures, those Assassins can come rumbling in, effectively dodging spot removal.  Golgari Charm regenerates them in case of a board wipe, too.  She’s a one-card threat, and I don’t think we need a second one (nor do I have a second one.)


The lands look a little messy, but it comes out about right.  Blue and Green are the most important colors, so they’re highlighted, while I play singletons of most Gates (except Rakdos, as they’re the biggest stretch) to round out the fixing.  There should be enough basics that Gates are the only lands that will ETB tapped.  Although I’m usually excited to include a utility land, I just can’t afford it here; the mana is too tight.  If you’re curious, here is the source count for each color, something I considered when building this deck to make sure each color was appropriately accounted for.  This doesn’t include Axebane Guardian, as Birds of Paradise and friends are unreliable mana sources (they can get killed a lot more easily.)


The sideboard was the hardest part of this deck, I think.  I had to cut and add and slim and trim this list down from about 40 powerful choices, so I’ll highlight each choice.  Although Grave Bramble obviously shuts Zombies down, it’s also a highly-efficient fighter that can effectively stonewall the format’s 3/3s.  It seems important in the creature-heavy matchups where I actually have to kill the creatures attacking.  Negate is basically more copies of Dissipate in a control mirror, nothing much to say here.  Redirect, on the other hand, plays a valuable role against targeting decks.  Bonfire, an inherent weakness of this deck, can be turned against an opponent for UU, or you can turn a targeted burn or kill spell against an opponent’s creatures for a slick two for one, or you can reroute the opponent’s game winning crusher or even steal an Aura.  It also counters a counterspell. 

The sideboard also features several singletons.  Garruk, Primal Hunter, much like Vraska, is a one-card threat.  He can make a lot of Beasts or Elementals (after a while) and he does allow you to turn your big guys (see Ludevic’s Abomination) into massive card advantage.  Constantly adding good size creatures to the board for free is never to be underestimated, and Garruk fills the job nicely.  His mana cost makes me nervous, I will admit.  Stuffy Doll is also great against the ground game and is inevitability incarnate, albeit slow inevitability.  It punishes burn decks too and, if they can protect themselves from Devil’s Play, I’ll just shoot the Doll.  Witchbane Orb protects me from burn, mill, discard, Curses, and other “target me” shenanigans.  This basically sideboards in against every deck with less than 25 creatures.  Slaughter Games is a great anti-control card for cards that I have a lot of trouble beating, like Terminus (my regeneration doesn’t doo much there), Entreat the Angels, or a massive planeswalker.  Psychic Spiral and Elixir of Immortality are anti-mill cards, but they also serve a couple utilitarian uses.  Psychic Spiral can turn my tall graveyard of Alchemy dross into an actual “mill you for thirty” card.  Both the Spiral and The Elixir can be used to save your graveyard from theft or shenanigans, too, while the Elixir also provides a nice cheap life gain when I just need that extra turn.  Sever the Bloodline provides an effective and efficient removal spell that just deals with the creature.  In a deck full of defenders, a lot of creature decks will just commit more threats to the board to try and outnumber me.  This lets me hit the most important one and all of his friends.   Twice.  A third Bonfire comes in during heavy creature matches; we all know how good it is.

I wrote this deck tech before ever sleeving up a card for it, but I feel like this is the right way to build it.  I’ll be testing it this Friday night, so we’ll find out then if it was worth the trouble!  As a prediction, I feel that the clock will be my biggest opponent.  At Something2Do, we only have 45 minutes a round.  That allows about 15 minutes a game, which is pretty slim for a deck that wants to deck you.  That means I’ve got to play tightly and quickly, using my opponent’s turn to plan my next move and decided how I want to react based on his board state.  This deck will require a lot from a player, and I hope I’m up for the challenge.  

I was able to scrounge up the cards I was missing and played the deck as listed above.  I was so excited to give the deck a whirl.  The crowd filed in heavily, giving us about forty people that night at Something2Do.  I sleeved up in fresh new teal Ultra Pros and sat down after the first round was called. 

Round 1 – Daniel (USA Miracle)

Daniel, one of my preferred opponents at Something2Do, sat down with a big smile, ready to get started.  Politely we cut each others deck and I explained that this was a super-brew, and I was excited to see it in action.  I played a Fog Bank or two and he Terminused pretty early, so I knew I’d need to save my Dissipates in hand for those.  As I reassembled my board, he would take a bit of time on his turn.  He eventually cast Entreat the Angels on 1 and made a 4/4.  I Devil’s Play’ed it away and started bashing with my Gargoyle.  Over the next two turns, he basically did the same thing.  I flashed back the Devil’s Play while building up my unhatched Test Subject.  Once it cracked open, he wasn’t able to stop it, missing the Terminus or Azorius Charm he’d need to stay alive.  I sided in all the control hate I had, but I got an even better start that time.  After smacking him with a quickly hatched Abomination, a Devil’s Play finished him off.

1 - 0

We were done very quickly; I was worried the deck would take forever to get going, but I did get nice, solid draws each time. 

Before long, it was time for the second round.

Round 2 – Ben (B/G Scavenge Zombies)

Ben, a character I’d seen before, sat down, excited to play his Zombie brew.  He took a mulligan and kept his next hand, and I kept a solid seven.  He cast a turn 1 Gravecrawler, smacked me on turn 2 and followed it up with a Slitherhead and a Diregraf Ghoul.  By turn 3, he had five creatures out to my one.  My Fog Bank was holding off his biggest guy, but I was hemorrhaging life.  After he resolved a Geralf’s Messenger and put me to a precarious 2, I found some Fog Banks and Hover Barriers to keep him quiet.  Putting Manor Gargoyle in the red zone and pumping my Test Subject helped me crawl out of the hole.  He had played out his whole hand and was living off the topdeck, which was giving him land.  The Grave Brambles were in my hand before the second game was over.  That, Slaughter Games (for the Messenger), the extra Bonfires, Garruk, and Sever came crawling in.  I was fortunate to resolve a Bramble within a couple turns, and his once-again aggressive swarm slowed down to a trickle.  I resolved Garruk and began dominating the board.  A large Devil’s Play got it for me this time.

2 - 0

I was thrilled to beat such an aggressive deck.  I needed about 18 Fog Banks that time, but what can you do.  I was elated when going into the third round.

Round 3 – Joseph (W/B/G Aggro)

Joseph, another familiar opponent, was ready to do battle.  A very nice and polite guy, I was put at ease while riding the 4-0 high.  In the first game, he was able to assemble on-time Loxodon Smiters; with a pair of pachydermsand a Garruk Relentless to punch my Fog Banks, he put me to dead very quickly.  I sided in all my anti-aggro cards, namely the extra Bonfire, Garruk, the Sever and Stuffy Doll while chucking all but one counterspell aside.  I was able to overwhelm him with a nice curve and perfect Bonfires.  Game two was quickly mine after I flipped my Subject.  Game three was much more grindy.  He resolved Thragtusk after Thragtusk, putting himself to a very lofty life total.  Although he couldn’t really crack through me, he was holding me off very well.  As we came near the end of time, I cracked Vraska for three Assassins, seeing that as the most likely win condition.  He flashed back his Sever the Bloodline to deal with them, as I’d forgotten he had one.  Shortly before time was called, I topdecked two Bonfires, one right after the other, slimming his near-40 life total to manageable levels.  My Devil’s Play was nowhere to be seen, and on Turn 3 of time, he resolved two Centaur Healers, bringing him to 13.  I had a Bonfire in hand, but it would take every bit of mana to kill him.  As soon as he passed to my turn 4, I revealed the bonfire from my hand and looked to tap it.  I ended up producing 23 mana for an X=11 Bonfire.  The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed for a moment.  Joseph looked very nervous, but he didn’t scoop.  Completely exhausted, I swung my lone attacker, a Ogre Jailbreaker, into his empty board and two life.  He held up a finger, tapped a black source and called “Tragic Slip!”  He revealed the last card from his hand.

My jaw fell open; he’d survived three Bonfires, two of them being Miracled, and he even had the on-time answer for my game winning attack. 


Because we’d cut to Top 8, any 3-0s could just draw the final round, which is the luxury I had desired.  However, I now had to win my last match.  And it was going to be hard.

Round 4 – Bobby (Four-Color Control)

Bobby, our former State Champ, is a very high level Magic player.  I was lucky enough to win a match against him once, but he was playing Battle of Wits.  This time, he’d been playing a real deck.  Still, I had put a lot of faith in my own pile, and I wouldn’t let Bobby’s intimidating record get me down.

In game one, he flooded, and I bashed in for a large amount.  There wasn’t much to say about that game.  He cast Jace and Tamiyo, but I had too much stuff for him to stop.  In game two, I held a solid lead, but he stabilized and flipped the tables with Nicol Bolas and Vraska coming to his aid.  He quickly dominated the board, stole my flipped Abomination and killed me.  In game three, I started with a strong six, sporting two Devil’s Play.

Then he cast a turn 3 Slaughter Games calling Devil’s Play. 

This crippled my hand, and I never recovered.  He made a bunch of Thragtusks and took the game shortly after time was called.


I was gravely disappointed by the final two rounds; this deck had what it took to get there, but it was a little too slow and unresponsive when I needed it to be tight.  I feel confident that I didn’t make any glaring play mistakes, but there were probably better lines of play at certain points in the game.  I really just didn’t like round three – losing to a lucky Tragic Slip was the pits, considering he would have been dead soon enough with more threats in the deck to come and with me in firm control of the board.

I came in 13th out of about 38 players and got one prize pack of M13, which contained a Faith’s Reward.  That got me thinking about that card…

The mill plan was the greatest flaw of the deck.  Even with four Increasing Confusions, burn was still the better plan.  It handles creatures, it compliments the more aggressive wings of this deck, and it is more consistent.  I boarded out my singleton Confusion in every match, even against control, in favor of more burn and creature control.  I still like the Doorkeepers – they’re relevant, Centaur/Zombie stopping bodies with a fine mana sink.  I occasionally used them on myself in an attempt to “draw” an Alchemy or Devil’s Play. 

Axebane Guardian was as awesome as I thought he’d be.  He often produced three or four mana within a couple turns of being played, and few people went for him; his innocuous appearance helped keep him off my opponents’ radar.  Most times I’d take him with Alchemy over more intrinsically powerful cards, even over a Vraska once.  Speaking of which, Vraska was excellent; she did exactly what I wanted.  I even popped her once just to make three blockers.  Garruk was also outstanding; he pulled his weight very well, providing a steady stream of threats or blockers.  This guy is good, and he’s awesome in the current metagame.  Play him.

||D || ||\/|| ||D
The deck was originally four colors, and I don’t regret cutting white.  Although able to produce all five colors, the consistency offered turned out to keep the deck strong. 

As an afterthought, after going home and looking through my binders, I saw a card that I’d completely forgotten for this deck.

Now THAT’s a win condition!  I can't believe I forgot about it!

Unlike with a lot of my decks, I am still very excited to play this one and will do so again as soon as I can.  It still has room for upgrades, but I am so far very pleased with this first attempt.  It has the toughness and tenacity to survive a persistent onslaught of creatures, but it was plenty of reach and a good amount of gas even into the very late game.  This is a winner, and I’m looking to improve it more, maybe even taking it to a more serious tournament.

I hope you enjoyed the Great Wall of Ravnica.  It’s a blast to play, and the interactions and synergy make my heart sing.  I’m no Johnny, but this is a combo-ish deck I can support.

Next time, I’ll be bringing you another crazy brew based around one of the worst rares from Return to Ravnica.  Come back next time and check it out!

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H