A couple of weeks ago I wrote a Rafiq deck-tuning article. It seemed to be a success, so I put out the clarion call for other QS readers (and twitter followers) to submit their decks for tuning. A number of you did so and that’s much appreciated. As I try to do a thorough job, I won’t be able to publish deck tuning articles for them all at once, but over the next few weeks I’ll work my way through them.
This week I have a deck submitted by @alawley, a man with a very spiffy twitter icon (if I do say so myself). Alawley’s deck uses Korlash, Heir to Blackblade as its commander, and is designed for "one versus many" play. Alawley's initial decklist:
That’s a lot of cards.
My first step is always to sort the cards into similar functionalities. I like to use Magic Online for this as I’m a visual person and find sorting it this way easiest, and my articles tend to be about Magic Online-based decks. Here’s a screenshot of how I do this:
In this case I’ve sorted the functionality into utility lands, tutors, Cabal Coffers effects, Drain Life effects, mass removal, spot removal, creature-based removal (removal-on-a-stick), graveyard interaction, card advantage, buff creatures, and equipment. Black Market is "missing" as it’s not on available on Magic Online.
Going back to basics, I have to ask myself whether my rules for powerful and consistent Commander deckbuilding are being followed:
- Is the General being served?
- Does it have a plan?
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade is a guy who likes to bash face, but right now this is not a deck that likes to bash face. This is much more of a control build, based around killing off everything that moves until there’s enough mana to resolve a giant Drain Life effect. In fact, based on the sheer quantity of Cabal Coffers and Drain Life effects in the deck I’d say Maga, Traitor to Mortals is the General most befitting running the show.
The question is now what the better change is to make: drop Korlash for Maga, or rebuild the deck around Korlash? In this case, with a deck as reasonably well tuned as this, I think replacing Korlash with Maga is the way to go as it requires far less changes to the deck. The gameplan of the deck resolving a massive x-spell that kills as many opponents as possible at once. This means the role the deck will be playing is one of control. We want ways to make sure no-one is getting our life total to low before we pull the trigger and nuke everyone. Neither, however, do we want to attract too much attention doing so.
The next step is to pull into the sideboard the cards I believe aren’t working to the plan or serving the commander, as shown below. This is just a starting list of changes. I’ve also extracted cards there are better options for.
While looking for weak cards, I also try to note any weaknesses in the deck.
- The only way to kill (non-creature) artifacts or enchantments is by resolving oblivion stone.
- The deck is very spot-removal light.
- The deck has no ‘obvious’ way to combo out ([card]Sins of the Past comes closest).
- The deck is light on basic card draw.
- The deck has an extremely high mana curve, even for an Commander deck.
Here’s why I’ve pulled what I’ve pulled:
- Diabolic Tutor: Although it can grab anything in the deck, there are better cards we can upgrade to, such as Imperial Seal or Grim Tutor. While both of these may be prohibitively expensive in paper, they aren’t too bad on Magic Online.
- Shred Memory: Transmute is nice, but there’s so little it can grab in this deck; just five cards in total. The occasional graveyard blowout is nice but I think we can do better.
- Bubbling Muck: An abusive combo piece in the right deck, I’m taking it out with an eye to seeing if I can put it back in later.
- Kuon, Ogre Ascendant: Flipping cards can be difficult, but this deck in particular will find flipping Kuon a real pain. Much better to run The Abyss as you gain the effect immediately and it’s generally hard to remove. Again, a disgustingly expensive card in paper, but in digital form it’s bearable if you’re willing to stretch.
- Bane of the Living: It is six mana (split up over two turns) just to give each creature -0/-0. There are better forms of Damnation than this.
- Midnight Banshee: While I appreciate the fact it nukes token creatures, it is simply too slow for my tastes.
- Skeletal Scrying: The deck doesn’t have a lot graveyard abuse, but this card doesn’t help what it does have. It’s a corner case card that we have better options for.
- Rise from the Grave: There are quicker, cheaper options for graveyard recursion than this.
- Unnerve: When you play mass-discard in a group environment you make yourself and instant target, so the effect had better be good. This isn’t good enough.
- Phthisis: You can steal the very slim, occasional win with this, but we need some better removal further down the curve.
- Corrupt: This card is limited in the deck in a way that Drain Life and Consume Spirit isn’t, as it won’t get the benefit from the many mana-doubling effects in the deck. As such it can go.
- Visara the Dreadful: I’ve taken Visera as by the time we’re done it’ll be unlikely anyone will be able to keep many creatures on the board anyway. Besides she’s slow and clunky when compared to the power of something like Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet.
- Korlash, Heir to Blackblade: He’s out in order to let Maga have his due.
- Nantuko Shade: Quite frankly I can never see the deck ever wanting to waste mana pumping this guy rather than doing other things.
- Umbra Stalker & Mortivore: Big, dumb beaters with an unrealiable power and toughness but without trample are dead to me.
- Whispersilk Cloak: With the likelihood of bashing for General damage diminished, this loses a lot of its appeal. We’ll take a look at what other options we have for equipment.
With that review out of the way, the next task is to add potential cards to the mix. Because I have an encyclopedic knowledge of every Magic card ever printed, this is extremely easy to do. Obviously that’s a lie, and I spend a fair amount of time in Magic Online searches and using Magiccards.info to find cards that may help out my sinister plans.
- Boseiju, Who Shelters All: The last thing this deck needs is to have its killer Exsanguinate countered. This helps get around that, and the life cost is marginal for this deck.
- Grim Tutor and Imperial Seal: Essential upgrades of the other, higher-costed tutors. These are must-haves in any competitive monoblack Commander deck.
- Bubbling Muck: Still in there, largely because I’ve included Yawgmoth's Will as an option, and casting Muck, playing Will, and casting Muck again seems like crazy times.
- Planar Portal: With all this mana, having the best repeatable tutor in the format seems like a good deal. There are two easy-to-abuse cards in the deck with this, Black Sun's Zenith and Beacon of Unrest, meaning infinite mass-removal and graveyard recursion at our fingertips.
- Sorin Markov: He’s the six mana "Drain Life for 30," which seems like good value. The fact he can also be used to either take out weenies while buffing life, or Mindslavering an opponent into oblivion, is icing on the cake.
- Black Sun's Zenith: Helps protect from decking (marginally), but an excellent killer of indestructible things.
- The Abyss: We want to lock the board down and this is the premier card to do so. We’re likely dropping to around 14 creatures so this shouldn’t hurt us too much. Combos very, very nicely with Sheoldred, Whispering One
- Nevinyyral's Disk: Our second Oblivion Stone, for killing those awkward Artifacts and Enchantments.
- Damnation: Black’s Wrath of God and a fine card.
- Innocent Blood: Helps shut down ludicrously fast starts by opponents. This deck has very few cheap creatures so controlling the board early is important. You can usually engineer this as a 3-for-1 for one mana, which is fantastic value.
- Snuff Out: Like Slaughter, this card can come out of nowhere to blow out an opponent. I really like it.
- Dismember: Another great “surprise” removal card. Kills a heck of a lot in the format, and can get around some awkward indestructible moments.
- Chainer's Edict: The deck doesn’t have a too much card advantage, so the fact you can flash this back makes it great. You’re not going to get many surprises out of it, but you will get value out of it. Just remember it’s there.
- Doom Blade: Premier removal in a neat package. Should probably be Go for the Throat, but Doom Blade Guy would, well, Doom Blade me.
- Sheoldred, Whispering One: The value you can get out of her is tremendous, and in a control deck like this not running her seems a missed opportunity. If you have The Abyss on the field and Reiver Demon in the yard you can be guaranteed your non-black opponents will never have another critter again.
Yawgmoth's Bargain: With all the lifegain effects in the deck, the Bargain seems like... a pretty sweet deal.[This card is banned in Commander. Apologies for the slip up.]
- Yawgmoth's Will: Considered an overpowered card by many, it’s… wait. The fact it’s considered an overpowered card is the reason we want it in our deck! It’ll only be used to take either one or multiple opponents out of the game and not before, which is the same as any other finisher. This one just happens to be awesome.
- Dregs of Sorrow: For every creature you kill with this, you’re getting better value. In fact, given a complicated board state it can get out of hand very quickly.
- Ambition's Cost: I felt more straight card would be a good idea. It’s worse than Harmonize, but green would kill for a second Harmonize.
- Geth, Lord of the Vault: He's in here as an alternate win condition. Given enough mana he can take many people out of the game very, very quickly, all the while gaining value.
- Reanimate: To be frank, I’m not sure it’ll make it in, as I don’t think that’s what this deck is trying to do. It's here as a Rise from the Grave replacement.
- Karn Liberated: This deck will be susceptible to a few problem permanents that black can’t deal with. This gets those permanents happily out of the way. Once on the board your opponents must deal with him, giving you time to realize your other plans while they are busily distracted (or killing you, which happens too).
- Sword of Feast and Famine: Tapping and untapping and re-tapping Cabal Coffers in the same turn has got to be broken. This helps us do that.
- Darksteel Plate: When running so many mass-destruction effects, it’s nice to be able to end up the last one standing.
However, this process leaves the deck with too many cards. The deck is running 40 lands, which is probably three too many, although the deck does love to make the land drops. With Boseiju, Who Shelters All, that’s still only a gain of a single card slot for the rest of the cards.
It's now time to see what sticks out like a sore thumb in the deck.
- Undead Gladiator doesn’t seem to do much in the deck. There’s not enough card recursion to make it truly worthwhile, and we’ll rarely want to return it to our hand as most of our creatures are fantastic as it is. It can be cut.
- Comparing all the card draw, the worst card seems to be Ambition's Cost. Likewise the worst reanimation spell in the deck is now Reanimate. Both are unlikely to work in this style of control deck and can be sent back into the card pool. [Because Yawgmoth's Bargain is banned in EDH, I'm putting Ambitions's Cost back in for some extra card draw - Neale]
- Doom Blade: Funnily enough it doesn’t make the cut. The deck has so much great removal that can attack from all different angles that this card becomes too simple. Sorry DBG. Now excuse me while I go into hiding.
Ok, I’ll admit it’s a stretch to call the Reiver Demon graveyard interaction. The deck is slower than the usual 1-on-1 decklists I talk about, but that’s generally ok in a one versus many environment, where the tallest poppy is likely to have its head cut off. This deck is out to win the long game and the higher mana curve – never truly corrected – is representative of that. At least this deck is capable of producing some truly incredible mana counts.
With any deck there are improvements to be made, pet cards to be included, combos to be discussed. If you’re willing to help, please chat about this deck and make suggestions for ALawley in the comments below!
Death and Gitaxias
Watching Sam Stoddard at the SCG Legacy Event the other week, confidently reanimating Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, made it clear to me how brutal that card is regardless of where it's played. I immediately had the urge to put together a decklist, hereby tentatively titled Death and Gitaxias.
The deck runs Dralnu, Lich Lord as the General, partly to access U/B, and partly because he can is amazingly abusable with all the instants and sorceries in the deck. But he’s a sensitive old soul, Dralnu, and as a result you have to play him pretty intelligently to get maximum value. Here’s the list, with more thoughts below:
It’s pretty clear what the deck’s Plan A is:
- Dump Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur into the graveyard.
- Reanimate him.
- Protect him with counterspells and quickly win the game.
But it has a number of backup plans as well, including:
- Cheating our bombs into play using Dream Halls or Show and Tell.
- Using Full English Breakfast tricks abusing Volrath's Shapeshifter to control the board and steal a win.
- Using Dralnu to stay ahead of our opponents on permanents (and turns) by abusing the cards in our graveyard.
- When all else fails, locking our opponent out of the game with Crucible of Worlds with Strip Mine shenanigans.
This is not a “draw and see what happens” style of deck that more generally befits the casual Commander format. This is the type of deck that rewards players that understand the intricate actions and paths you can take to victory. Some examples:
- Mystical Tutor -> Mystical Teachings - > Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur.
- With Volrath's Shapeshifter and Tortured Existence in play, then discard Inkwell Leviathan to make Volrath's Shapeshifter unblockable, and use Tortured Existence to swap for Phage the Untouchable which instantly kills your opponent
- With Volrath's Shapeshifter and Tortured Existence in play, discard Inkwell Leviathan in response to removal, then discard It That Betrays before attackers. End of turn swap for Sheoldred, Whispering One.
- Dralnu on board, play Demonic Tutor for Buried Alive, flashback Demonic Tutor for Reanimate, then go with Plan A.
I haven’t had a chance to try this deck yet so it’s not tuned, but I thought I’d throw the deck list about for public consumption while I try to get the last of the cards I need (basically Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur himself). As soon as I manage to get it together I’ll try wheeling it out and see how it goes. If you get a chance, please sleeve it up and let me know how it goes!