Gears are turning, the hivemind is hard at work churning, and our intellectual fires inside are burning. Dark Ascension's complexity will take some time to unravel. We will find out that many cards in this set are valued incorrectly, both too high and too low. In my opinion, the majority of the cards are undervalued. I have been looking at so many decklists being published that seem not well thought through. Many decklists have been published recently that break a rule I learned a long time ago in my magic career. That rule? It is almost never correct to clog up your mana at any particular spot in the curve. The one exception is at one mana because many aggressive decks want to have a creature on the first turn of the game. To ensure we always have a creature on turn one, we want a minimum of eight cards, but usually eleven or twelve. This gripe comes from zombie lists mostly. One of them I saw, had a whopping eleven creatures in the three cost spot! With no mana acceleration to help, that is just too many cards in your deck clogging up the midgame. How many hands are you going to keep that are three three drops and four lands?
What’s the point? Zombies, or almost mono black aggro, is a tough deck to build. Who does this guy think he is? I know that’s what you’re thinking. But yes, I think I can do better. What cards are definitely in the deck? Tons of authors have talked about them and how powerful they are.
We can all agree both of these cards are powerful, that much is true. What we can’t agree on is what cards to play with them. All the comparisons of Gravecrawler to Bloodghast are closer to accurate than you might think, but not for the same reasons. They remind me of each other because of the line of text that says they each cannot block. What this implies is that you need a plan for other aggressive decks. You are not going to be able to block in combat so build your deck with that in mind. The same is true of Geralf's Messenger because half the time he won’t be able to block either.
Speaking of Geralf's Messenger, he’s no Kitchen Finks. This guy reminds me more of a vampire than Kitchen Finks. What creature then? Well Kalastria Highborn of course. The two of these new zombies were destined to be played together just like the two vampires were. So often I would play Kalastria Highborn later in the game when I had mana to sacrifice Bloodghast to Viscera Seer and rebuy it with a land. That is what Geralf's Messenger reminds me of. What do both of these decks have in common? They both want Viscera Seer. Man how I wish this card was in Standard right now. Sadly no such card exists at the level and synergy of Viscera Seer but we do have options. Here is a list of ways we can profitably sacrifice in this deck.
Why do we want a sacrifice outlet so bad in this deck? There are two main reasons I see for this desired effect. The first is just a natural inclusion because we have creatures and spells (Tragic Slip) that do things when they die. The second relates back to the title of the article. What are our problems? Well, a pile of tokens on the other side of the board seems difficult to attack into, so if we have a way to sacrifice things profitably, we don’t need to worry about attacking as much.
We still have not answered the question about how we are going to build this deck. There are two main roads we can take with this decks design. The first is with blue mana and the second is with red. Unlike with vampires though, I think the blue mana makes more sense because of the synergy it provides. Regardless of which color ends up being better, I feel strongly that Mortarpod should be included in the list. For a mere three mana, you can equip Gravecrawler, sacrifice him for the damage, and then replay him with another zombie in play. A repeatable effect such as this should not be underestimated. I can imagine times where you have six mana and this is how you are grinding those last points of your opponent’s life.
The blue mana seems better for me because I feel that Grimgrin, Corpse-Born belongs in the deck. He is certainly not a four of, but two or three copies seem appropriate. He allows you to eliminate large threats on your opponent’s side of the board and is also a reusable sacrifice outlet. There is another card though in blue that interests me quite a lot as well. That card is Phantasmal Image. In case you don’t know, when Phantasmal Image copies a creature with undying, and then dies, it comes back from the graveyard with a plus one plus one counter and you may choose a new creature for him to copy. For example, play Phantasmal Image copying Geralfs Messenger, sacrifice him in any way, including pinging it with your own Mortarpod, and let him return to the battlefield and copy anything sweet you or your opponent’s control. Not only does it have synergy with your deck, but if Reanimator/Solar Flare is a deck again, it kills basically all of their threats. This would also work with Strangleroot Geist in a Birthing Pod deck.
Sacrificing our creatures only gets better when we have our new zombie lord, Diregraf Captain, in play. The blue cards just have so much synergy together. Do they block your Gravecrawler when you have Diregraf Captain in play? They lose a creature and a life, and you can just replay your Gravecrawler from the graveyard. Cemetary Reaper is still good, but I think his applications will be less than those of Dirgraf Captain. If his ability cost two instead of three, Cemetary Reaper would be immensely better. With this knowledge, let’s take a look at Blue Black Zombies.
If the Hex Parasites turn out to be not just good in this deck but good in the metagame, more could find their way into the list. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but removing the counter from Geralfs Messenger so you can sacrifice him again, seems so incredible.
If we were to go with red mana, there are a couple cards worth noting. We would have access to some hefty burn spells in Brimstone Volley and Artillerize, as well as gaining Faithless Looting to do things like discarding Gravecrawler since we can play him later. Grim Lavamancer seems decent as well if we are filling our graveyard with cards from Faithless Looting and burn spells. I don’t know how well positioned Red Deck Wins will be, but if so, combining it with Zombies, seems better than just red. A deck list for that version might look something like the following.
This is a deck that has been doing well in the Magic League and is built in similarly to Red Black Vampires. My first thought was to change the list a little but I thought, including the exact list would be better. If I were to change it though, I would add two Mortarpods immediately as an additional sacrifice outlet and finisher. Mortarpod and Valkenrath Artistocrat seem really good with Brimstone Volley, so you should be getting the full five damage almost every time. This deck is good I'm sure, but is it good in the metagame? That part I don't know.
What about control in the new metagame? That, I have no clue about. Well sort of. I’ll get back to that in a minute. What has been the way to succeed in Standard so far this season? Be proactive. Standard, and the way we build decks, has seemed more like older formats this year with the focus being on what are you doing in the first three turns of the game. Blue White Delver has been doing this successfully and for other decks to beat it, they must try to do the same. With Black White tokens in addition to Delver decks not going away and possibly reanimator style decks returning to the format, how do you build control to beat all those avenues of attack? I am sure the greats like Michael Jacob, Gerry Thompson, and Patrick Chapin will come up with something, but is there another way? YES!
Yes, there is another way and it goes right along with the title of the article, Avoiding Your Problems. Recently at FNM, I have been having a ton of fun with a forgotten deck. The archetype is very popular and successful, but this version has been passed over for the new tech. What deck am I speaking of? Wolf Run Robots! This deck utilizes more artifacts to ramp your mana and then uses finishers like Batterskull, Wurmcoil Engine, and Myr Battlesphere to end the game. The part that I like the most about the deck though, is how good it is against aggressive decks. Wolf Run (insert color here) has a decent enough match against most decks that run small fast creatures, but against a delver deck, you sometimes have a rough time stabilizing because they kill you so quickly and bounce your huge threats. Wolf Run Robots avoids that altogether though, by fetching two copies of Glimmerpost so you can gain a minimum of four life from those two lands. The second time when you get the other two lands, you gain another eight life. With that breathing room, you have time to overwhelm your opponent with giant monsters they have no way to deal with. Myr Battlesphere reminds me of Grave Titan in this deck because they can bounce it as many times as they like and you don’t mind because you get the four 1/1’s. Unfortunately there are no cards that stand out in this set as inclusions in the deck, but I still think it may find a place in the metagame. Here’s the list I have been playing successfully.
Other than updating the sideboard, this deck is not much changed from its original incarnation. After updating the sideboard for new metagame considerations, I feel that this deck could be a great way to "interact" with the format. By "interact", i definitely mean, ignore what they are doing and go over the top.
Well that's all for this week folks. Remember, sometimes the best way to interact with the format is not to.
Unleash that Force on Standard!