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Dark Ascension and Wars Waged

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Prerelease weekends are always some of the most exciting weekends of the Magic year, and the Dark Ascension prerelease was certainly no different. It's always a ton of fun to see how the cards actually play, which ones might have some viability in constructed formats, and frantically trying to find the cards you need for Commander decks! This week's article is a finish to my series on artifact-themed decks, and will focus on Kataki, War's Wage, but first, I wanted to do some quick hits on Dark Ascension, and pick out my favorite five cards for Commander.

Quick Hits

So without discussion or proof, here are some of my impressions for non-Commander formats:

  • Lingering Souls is just as absurd as we all thought it'd be, and single-handedly wins games.
  • Pyreheart Wolf is absolutely absurd in limited. It seems mediocre until it's across the table from you.
  • The number of flash creatures, counterspells, and other tricks at 3 and 4 in Blue and White is really tough to play around.
  • Undying as a mechanic is going to define the limited format.
  • Bloodline Keeper is still unbeatable, and likely moreso, since there's less removal for it now.

Dark Ascension for Commander

Now, unfortunately, this set really doesn't seem that exciting for most constructed formats; at least to me. There are some cards that are pretty obvious hits for Commander - a new planeswalker in Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, a super powerful land in Vault of the Archangel, yet another graveyard enabler in Havengul Lich, and a new combo piece in Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. That said, there are still a few cards that I'm pretty excited about, and I'd like to take a little time to talk about them!

5. Dawntreader Elk

This is another really strong fixer at common, which I'm excited to see. It's a little worse than Sakura-Tribe Elder, but not too much. People still don't give Caravan Vigil the respect it deserves in Commander, and I'm hoping that this guy catches on a little more. Definitely not the flashiest card, but a very solid role-player.

4. Diregraf Captain

Zombies are just a ton of fun, and I'm really glad to see them get a really powerful lord. The combination of a great blocker plus Glorious Anthem plus Vengeful Dead, when all of those cards are playable on their own is great for the Zombie-Tribal decks, and this has definitely got me working on a Zombie deck of my own. Let's not even talk about how busted this guy is in Horde Magic; suffice it to say he's pretty close to unbeatable.

3. Counterlash

This and Scattering Stroke are as close to Mana Drain as we're ever going to get again, and Counterlash can be arguably better for Commander. It doesn't put you absurdly far ahead in the early game, but it will generally generate about as much mana as a Mana Drain, but also lets you cast stuff at instant speed, and that's something that can't be understated.

2. Requiem Angel

I already have a tough time not building only mono-white decks that attrition people out with creature tokens, and this card certainly isn't helping me resist that impulse. Letting Darien, King of Kjeldor Skullclamp up Soldiers, then the Spirits of the soldiers is really good. The Angel also lets you go infinite with Nim Deathmantle, Ashnod's Altar, and a non-spirit EtB effect creature. She does a lot of powerful things, all while just being a giant, splashable beater; definitely one of my top cards from the set!

1. Grim Backwoods

Last but certainly not least is the card that's here mostly because of my obsession with Child of Alara. Sweeping the board for value feels so good; especially when you can also do tricks with Dryad Arbor or Nim Deathmantle to get even more value out of Grim Backwoods. I'm pretty sure this is an auto-include for most G/B/x decks in the format, and especially ones that rely on effects like Grave Pact. This is a very powerful and synergistic effect, but shouldn't be overbearingly good. It's costed pretty much perfectly, and will enable a lot of cool interactions for my favorite deck!

Back On Track

The decks I've built so far during my artifact experimentation phase were a very aggressive Sakashima the Impostor deck, and a very controlling and attrition-y Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer deck. In both cases, I tried to avoid the prison cards that artifact decks tend to start running; Sundering Titan and Winter Orb, for example. In particular, I cited that Mycosynth Lattice leads to a lot of degenerate game states with Nevinyrral's Disk, Karn, Silver Golem, and other similar effects.

This deck has no such reservations, and is built pretty much exclusively to hate on other players with broken artifact decks. There are some very aggressive prison elements, some grindy attrition elements, and very, very few ways to actually close out a game once you've got things under lockdown. Because really, it's much more fun to get in for two with Kataki. Largely, the goal of this deck is to break the symmetry of prison pieces by casting them on your turn, leaving them in play for other player's turns, then sacrificing them before your untap step or during your upkeep. Then you can rebuy your prison pieces with various Open the Vaults effects, all while pulling ahead on resources with artifacts that like dying. Let's start with the simple part; your card advantage engine.

So Much Value!

This is where the deck starts; breaking the symmetry of Kataki's ability, and turning to your advantage. About half of these are, at their worst, cantrips or Divinations. The key difference is that these are permanents that White is pretty good at recurring, which means that you're going to get to cast your Reach Through Mistss a ton of times per game, and that each time you get to cast it, you're digging closer to another way to recur it and eke even more cards out of the deal.

In addition, you have some recursion in Junk Diver and Myr Retriever, which are especially awesome because they're creatures in addition to being artifacts. You've got Spine of Ish Sah as an incredibly powerful late game engine, as well as Helvault and Core Prowler as cards that enable your Momentary Blink/Recursion theme and your Counter theme respectively. These are certainly two of the highest-variance cards in the deck, but are very powerful if you get their respective engines going. Helvault protects your key guys, while also being another Spine of Ish Sah or enabling you to start Momentary Blinking your creatures.

All of these cards interact very well with White's ability to recycle permanents, especially cheap ones, over and over
again; so let's take a look at the crux of the deck, which is your ability to recur key artifacts:

Artifact Recursion

There are a few kinds of effects here that it's important to distinguish. You have huge one-shot recursion effects like Roar of Reclamation and Open the Vaults, which you really want to hold until late in the game so you can dump a ton of prison pieces into play at once. Then you've got smaller one-shot effects like Mine Excavation that are going to let you recur prison pieces mid-game or put you further ahead on cards. Then there are incremental value cards like Sun Titan and Order of Whiteclay, that can recur most of your card advantage artifacts, and some of your prison pieces. Generally you start locking up the game with one of these while your opponents are still trying to develop their mana past your prison pieces, and they just put you so far ahead on mana and cards that other players can't really overcome it.

Last, there are the EtB creatures, and the engines that try to take advantage of those, like Nim Deathmantle and Antler Skulkin. Furthermore, the deck even runs Karn, Silver Golem as a way to animate your artifacts and buy them back with your creature recursion engines. Karn is also generally the way that you actually close out a game, since it effectively puts a ton of power on your board for a very small investment up front.

Prison Rules

These cards are critically important to how the deck functions, because they buy you time. Time to enable your card advantage engines, and start making more land drops and to play more lock pieces to put people further and further behind. These are also the way that you just lock people out while you find a way to actually win the game, which usually ends up being Kataki or Karn beatdown.

The worst cards here are the Sphere of Resistance effects by a pretty fair margin. I'm not absolutely certain that these effects are completely necessary, but I do like how much time they get you to make extra land drops. Generally, you don't cast these on the first turn possible; you want to wait until you can keep people off of their four and six drops, since those are so much more powerful than most other early-ish drops. Then you can cast Kataki and a Sphere on the same turn, and decide on your turn whether you want to pay for your Sphere or whether casting an extra spell will help you keep them off their six drop another turn.

Besides those, you've got some more traditional lock pieces like Tangle Wire and Smokestack. These are largely the reason that the deck runs Proliferate effects, so that these aren't just embarrassingly bad in the late game. You want to be able to play a late game Smokestack and immediately put it up to three or four counters, since you have random artifacts that you want to sacrifice anyway, and other people will have to sacrifice real permanents.

You also have your non-basic land package, which can set up Buried Ruin loops with Crucible of Worlds, or just a Strip Mine/Wasteland soft lock if you can give up your land drop each turn. Generally, you really don't want to give up your land drop, since this deck is very mana-hungry, but I can't stress enough how important it is to keep people off of six drops like Primeval Titan and Sun Titan. Those are the kind of cards that you can't beat without the help of the rest of the table, and when you're playing a prison-ish deck, they won't tend to be very helpful.

Last, you've got game-ending cards like Sundering Titan and Mycosynth Lattice, which all but end the game on the spot. Sundering Titan will destroy between nine and fifteen lands over two turns, since you'll cast it, not pay for it, and likely rebuy it on your next turn. Mycosynth Lattice is a hybrid Wrath of God and Armageddon which you're pretty capable of sacrificing before you have to pay for all of your permanents. Sometimes other players will be able to take advantage of your Mycosynth Lattice, so it's certainly a card you want to be pretty cautious with, but the effect is just too powerful to pass up.

Utility Effects

At this point, most of the functionality of the list has been pretty fleshed out, and the deck really just needs a few ways to control the board if you get behind, and to protect your artifacts. There's also a few techy cards that I just like playing with, and a few more ways to try to win the game.

The first important card here is Sword of Feast and Famine, since it's another way to break the symmetry of Kataki, since you can pay for your artifacts and still cast spells. The effect is especially powerful underneath prison effects. I don't know if the effect is powerful enough to warrant running Steelshaper's Gift in addition to Stoneforge Mystic, but that's definitely a change worth considering.

You have a pretty typical suite of sweepers, spot removal, and a single Stonecloaker as graveyard hate. Typically, you want more than one piece of graveyard hate, and I think that a Scrabbling Claws could be good here, since it can cantrip and be easily rebought, but I haven't been playing against a ton of graveyard decks recently, so I feel reasonably safe cutting some of my hate.

Last, there are some sweet cards I just like playing with. Requiem Angel and Shrine of Loyal Legions are awesome for this deck, since they give you a ton of guys to sacrifice to Smokestack, blockers in the mid-game, and a win condition late. Shrine can be recurred all kinds of different ways, and the two interact very favorably; especially in conjunction with cards like Skullclamp and Mentor of the Meek. This set of cards is definitely pretty weak, but I really like playing with them, so I'm happy to run it.

Manabase

So, the manabase for this is pretty straightforward, and very similar to the one used in the last two articles. In any mono-colored deck that either wants to ramp quickly, or has very few color-commitments, I run Urzatron, [card Cloudpost]Locus lands[/card], and Vesuva, because there's usually very little downside, and occasionally they let you explode in the early- or mid-game.

The interesting cards here are Blinkmoth Well and Phyrexia's Core. Phyrexia's Core is there so that you can sacrifice lock pieces before your turn, to make them one-sided. Sometimes you'll use it to get extra value from Nim Deathmantle or something similar, but generally it's to break the symmetry of your artifacts. Blinkmoth Well does the same thing, but only with Static Orb. You tap the Static Orb at the end of the turn before yours, and you get to untap all of your permanents. This interaction used to work with Winter Orb, but was changed fairly recently; because of that, Blinkmoth Well may not be good enough, but it's still worth trying. With that, let's take a look at the final list!

[deckbox did="a145" size="small" width="560"]
*Note: the application I use to put together lists hasn't been updated with Dark Ascension cards, so there should be three cards missing: [card Thalia, Guardian of Thraben]Thalia[/card], Helvault, and Requiem Angel.

That's all I've got on artifacts for the time being. They're definitely an awesome type of permanent, especially for the decks that are built around abusing them. Lands are still my favorite kind of permanent, but this was certainly a fun change of pace! Over the next couple of weeks, I'm planning on finishing up some decks I've been working on for awhile: Yomiji, Who Bars the Way, Zombie Tribal, and Planeswalker Control!

Carlos Gutierrez
cag5383@gmail.com
@cag5383 on Twitter

10 thoughts on “Dark Ascension and Wars Waged

  1. This article had me interested until I read "prison pieces," then it just made me sad. I know, I know…everyone likes to play Commander differently and bla bla bla…it's just a bummer how people don't understand the way the game is supposed to be played. I just hope your play group has fun playing against these types of decks.

  2. I got to agree. I really like your deck building style. They're always interesting to read about. However, building a lockout deck makes me groan…Still a solid list though.

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