I have an affinity for playing with a pile of random singleton junk, in weird decks that try to win in the red zone. Naturally I love Prerelease season. When I learned the date of the Innistrad Prerelease I offered my 13 year-old the chance to come down to the store and play all day, which he jumped at.
He hadn’t played in a while, but ZOMBIES!
We made it to the store a little late and as a result nearly didn’t get in. We were 33 & 34 of 36 player; the store simply couldn’t hold any more. Those that came after were turned away. I heard on Twitter, especially via Marshall from Limited Resources, that this was a pretty universal problem. It’s no good thing when people who want to spend money on Magic can’t, and miss out on the fun that are Prereleases.
There were four gweilo in the store, my son and two other older gentlemen who’d been playing since revised. As I hadn’t memorized the set artwork yet – it’s more difficult with the flip cards – I elected to play in English this time round. While those around me opened mythics and Bloodline Keepers, here’s the pile I got.
I considered a B/U Zombie build, but my removal seemed far too tenuous, even for Sealed. I ended up with this U/R/w build instead.
So what is this strange contraption? It’s clearly not an aggro deck – I don’t have nearly enough fast or big creatures to beat down with. It’s not a control deck – my removal count is too low and my win conditions to temperamental. Rather, it’s the rarest form of limited deck: the Combo Deck.
There are multiple synergies, but the main ones revolve around the followings:
- Stitcher’s Apprentice & Friends: I’ve got a whole lot going on with this little guy, but the three big ones are Mentor of the Meek, Murder of Crows and Rage Thrower. Mentor allows me to draw an extra card for blue and two. Murder allows me to cycle a card. Rage Thrower allows me to ding my opponent for 2. That’s a great sink.
- Undead Alchemist & Trepanation Blade: It’s a silly sort of combo but it won me games. Essentially, any creature that wields Trepanation Blade will trigger Undead Alchemist, and although the zombies you create won’t do damage per se, they will make more zombies, who will make even more zombies. You see where that’s going?
- Deranged Alchemists & Ludivic’s Test Subject: Fast mana for a fast 13/13 is a good enough combo for me. There aren’t that many good ways to deal with the 13/13 once he’s on the board, and getting him out fast makes games end quickly.
Three combos would make the deck playable, but was it any good? I felt like I had no idea. The guy next to me had opened an Angel and a Luminarc and boy how I wanted that pool. But you take what you’re given, so it was onto round one.
Game 1, my opponent was in WGu and I quickly had my first taste of Werewolves. I caught the first card he played with Frightful Delusions, and I have to say when you succeed, Delusions is a blowout. Early on the worst case scenario they’re tying up their mana and still discarding a card, so the card is more powerful than it first appears. He had nothing for a while as he was mana-screwed, but he eventually played out a Selhoff Occultist. I completely misread the card and thought that it milled a card every time it hit, so I considered it a bigger threat than it really was, especially against my empty board. However it truly became a threat when he played out a Butcher’s Cleaver, so I nuked it quickly with a Brimstone Volley. I pushed out a Village Ironsmith while he played out an Avancyn’s Pilgrim and Cleavered it up, but it was useless against my Ironsmith.
I played out a Tormented Pariah and we entered the Werewolf Game, where he tried desperately to keep my guys unflipped. Believe me when I say this is an impossible task. All your opponent needs to do is skip playing a spell for a turn, and they’ll all flip anyway. Sure, you can slow it down – and flashback cards are a major help – but you can never prevent it from happening. Eventually my duders, such as they were, overwhelmed him and it was onto game two.
As his deck seemed really slow I sideboarded out the delusions and sided in 2 of Bloodcrazed Neonate and a Reckless Waif, conveniently forgetting about the Ancient Grudge. Game 2 he elected to first, which was fine by me as I had a couple of Frightful Delusions and a Deranged Assistant in hand, and none of the fast creatures I’d boarded in. When he played Avacyn’s Pilgrim I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. Luckily he didn’t play much else out and I finally hit enough mana where I could start to fire off Delusions. He followed up with a Butcher’s Cleaver which I couldn’t counter so I simply forced him to discard down further, then started putting out some critters of my own, including a Stitcher’s Apprentice and a Stitched Drake.
He played out a Mask of Avacyn and a Grizzled Outcasts. While I was winning the race in the air, I realized there was no way I could win if he had hexproofed, lifelinked humans on the board, so I intentionally made him flip by playing out no spells. Needing to race, he smashed in with his critters, but I started fogging in response by blocking, then sacrificing the blocker to the Stitcher’s Apprentice. As he played out another critter it became a pretty close race. However my guy in the air with the fogs on the ground was too much for him, and once I’d cast Into the Maw of Hell after he’d swapped his Mask of Avacyn over to his only human I won the race from there.
Match two I was up against a guy playing with infinite equipment and B/U. His equipment included Cobbled Wings and Sharpened Pitchfork.
First game I caught my opponent with Frightful Delusions again, a delicious start. I then played out double Deranged Assistant while my opponent did little of anything. I cast Ludavic’s Test Subject and lay it down. I had so much mana I could flip it by the next main phase, and two turns later, with no removal from my opponent, Godzilla took it down.
Again I took out the Frightful Delusions, and sideboarded in the Ancient Grudge, the Geistcatcher’s Rig, and the Cobbled Wins. The next game was really interesting. He played out one creature, but his Pitchfork, Wings and Skeletal Grimace, putting me in a very awkward position. Meanwhile, I had managed to get a couple of Deranged Assistants, an Unliving Alchemist, a flipped Stitched Drake and Mentor of the Meek into play, while tapping down his only other creature with Claustrophobia.
My opponent was flying through the air for what he thought was the win, but an Ancient Grudge – in the bin from an Alchemist, and flash-blacked off a Shimmering Grotto – brought him back down to earth and blocked by an Assistant. I struck back with the Unliving Alchemist, managing to hit two creatures in the mill, giving me two zombies and drawing me two cards.
My opponent held back as I swung in with my zombies, killing the drake but netting me another three zombies and three more cards – all lands. At that point I’d drawn about six straight lands in a row. My opponent was drawing blanks, while in my next turn I drew Rage Thrower. I played him out and swung in with 5 zombies. Knowing that they’d do no damage, my opponent let them through and accidentally milled his entire deck, while creating five more tokens and drawing me into five more cards. What a crazy finish. Here’s a pic.
I was up against one of the other gweilo, a British guy who’d been playing since Revised. He was in somewhat of a rush, so I offered to let him concede, but he smiled instead and battled on.
My opponent was on U/W, the main two cards of which I saw were Armored Skaab and Thraben Sentry. Game One I leapt out of the gates with Deranged Assistant into a successful Frightful Delusion, nabbing two cards. I played out an Undead Alchemist which he promptly locked down with Bonds of Faith. I cast another Deranged Assistant while he cast Armored Skaab. He came in with the Skaab and I blocked with an Assistant, thereby allowing me to cast Stitched Drake the next turn. He played out the Thraben Sentry but I gave it Claustrophobia. To be frank, that card scares the crap out of me.
I found a Mentor of the Meek and cast it off Shimmering Grotto and swung in with the drake. My opponent went to write down 3 damage but I stopped him and explained the effect from the Undead Alchemist. Flipping two zombies straight from the top and drawing two cards off it, he quickly realized just how bad his board position was and conceded.
I boarded out the Frightful Delusions and brought in Reckless Waif, Cobbled Wings, and a Bloodcrazed Neonate to speed the deck up as well as find other ways to get around the Skaab Ruinator. Game 2 he came out swinging with the Skaab again. I had played out a couple of Deranged Assistants again but had little else action going on, stuck with a Stitched Drake in hand and nothing in the graveyard. As it was my only out I decided to float a mana off a Deranged Assistant to see what I would mill, and as luck would have it I ditched a creature. I used the mana to help cast my Drake, then played out a top-decked trepanation blade. We started to race, him using Moment of Heroism to turn my blocks from okay to terrible and screwing up my combat maths, and he worked his way back up to 12 life. After he cast Rally the Peasants, taking me to 3 life, he cast another creature and I was in serious trouble, as he could flashback the Rally off his own Shimmering Grotto and get me. Luckily I top-decked Into The Maw Of Hell, allowing me to kill his only red-producing land and a creature and swing in relatively safely with the Stitched Drake. I swung in, knowing I had to race, and Trepanation Blade crazily hit 9 straight spells before finding a land, allowing me to do the full 12 damage needed to win.
In my final match I was up against B/R fast stuff, and fast he was. While I was doing nothing much with Deranged Assistants, he was smacking me upside the head with Vampire Interlopers. I managed to stick a Stitched Drake, but it was eaten by a Geistcatcher’s Rig. Luckily I pulled out a Ludivic’s Test Subject and had him swinging back the following turn. My opponent could get me down to 2 life, but no more, and the big Lizard once again reigned supreme.
I hadn’t even seen the Frightful Delusions, but I boarded them out for Ancient Grudge, Cobbled Wings, and Geistcatcher’s Rig. But, in a relatively uninteresting match, he stumbled on mana and I out aggroed him, and by the time he was in a position to even think about stablising, I’d brought him down to 3 life and had a Brimstone Volley in hand.
In the end I had a solid feel for the deck because I knew just what it was trying to do. I could sideboard in a little more aggro if I needed it, but it turned out that plan wasn’t great anyway. The Frightful Delusions were great when they worked, and not terrible when they didn’t. Undead Alchemist was an absolute monster and would happily draft around him if I found him as my pack one, pick one.
Here are some other lessons I learned that day:
- Silent Departure is no-where near as good as I wanted it to be. Slowing things down or clearing a path was great, but the Sorcery speed made it just so clunky. Right now I'd steer clear of them.
- You can't stop Werewolves from flipping forever,so you have to choose whether to slow them down or to re-flip them again. With the good-for-Humans artifacts around, keeping them on their Human side is not always the best choice.
- Cards that impressed me (that I saw) included Bonds of Faith, Angel of Flight Alabaster, Cloistered Youth, Mentor of the Meek, Thraban Sentry, Deranged Assistant, Undead Alchemist, Abattoir Ghoul, Brimstone Volley, Curse of the Pierced Heart, Ambush Viper, Olivia Voldaren, and Trepanation Blade.
- Cards that failed to impress me included Victim of Night, Wooden Stake, Rage Thrower, Kessig Wolf, and the aforementioned Silent Departure
- Tree of Redemption is a crazy-hard spell to play with properly, and may be one of the most skill-testing cards in the format.
I played in a second Prerelease with the following (disturbingly similar) pool and went 2-1-1. Without telling you what I (mis)built, I’d be interested to hear what you build with it.
Your regularly schedule Commander talk will resume next week (though you know me well enough not to believe that). Until then!