Hello everyone! I hope you had a great Hallowe'en week and maybe caught a scary movie or two. Now that I have a roommate I have no excuse not to catch up on some scary movies that have piled up¢€I still haven't seen the original Paranormal Activity and the fourth one is now in theaters. My roomie won't go anywhere near a scary movie though so I'll still be watching it alone¢and I haven't been able to get myself to pull the trigger. Most horror movies don't bother me¢€bring on the zombies vampires werewolves serial killers¢€but when it comes to movies about spirits ghosts or possessions I get totally creeped out.
Writing about ghosts and spirits though? I'm on it¢€that's what I'm writing about for National Novel Writing Month in November the first time I'm giving that challenge a try. If you NaNoWriMo add me as a writing buddy so we can cheer each other on!
Last Friday I finally got to play some Standard! I was hoping to squeeze in some Commander but at the last minute I got word that my daughter had to be on the football field at 8 AM to cheer which meant I had to pick her up at 7:30 AM which meant getting up at no later than 7 AM. It looked like Commander wasn't going to kick off until after 11 PM or so Friday night so I had to pass in the interest of getting at least some rest after working two jobs all week. This Friday I'm supposed to go see Cloud Atlas with a friend but I'm not sure yet when she can go; I've got my fingers crossed it'll be an early show so I can go grab some Commander games afterwards.
Speaking of Commander I also recently got some drafts in on Magic Online and nabbed some cheap Return to Ravnica goodies for Commander stock. In my second draft I was presented with an interesting choice pack 1 pick 1: Angel of Serenity or foil Pack Rat. I know Pack Rat is simply insane in Return to Ravnica Limited¢but Angel of Serenity is no slouch either especially first pick which lets you move mana acceleration higher on your priority list. I'll admit that when I draft online I keep a special eye out for rares that I can use in my Commander decks and Angel is certainly a solid choice for a couple different decks. Of course so is Pack Rat but Pack Rat is super-easy to pick up while I imagine Angel is nearly as expensive in tix-world as it is in real life where I know it's going for $25 or so (turns out Angel is around sixteen tix online).
In the end EV won out and I ended up with a pretty solid Selesnya/Azorius hybrid with a fair amount of detain life gain and mana acceleration to buy me time for Angel to show up. I won round 1 but I then lost a heartbreaking game 3 to my opponent dropping a turn 5 Armada Wurm and me playing my tail off to give me time to draw the Angel to get me back in the game. He used Trostani's Judgment to nuke my New Prahv Guildmage and make another 5/5 Wurm to hit me hard the next turn but then I drew the Angel to save me getting right back into the game¢ Only he drew his second Trostani's Judgment and crushed me.
Angel of Serenity quickly found a home in my Karador deck so that wasn't bad and I got two prize packs to help me jump into another draft. If you're on Magic Online add me to your buddy list¢€I'm blairwitchgreen¢€and let's play some Commander sometime!
Anyway back to Standard!
Last week I finally nabbed my third Vraska the Unseen and was super-stoked to play my midrange Zombies deck. Featuring the typical strong early game of B/G Zombies¢€Gravecrawler Diregraf Ghoul Lotleth Troll and Geralf's Messenger¢€it then "went big" with planeswalkers: four copies of Garruk Relentless and three copies of Vraska. I topped things off with two copies each of Jarad Golgari Lich Lord and Grimgrin Corpse-Born. I then mixed in some Tragic Slips for more removal and a couple copies of Deathrite Shaman. I thought about finding room for Rancor but was concerned about too many noncreature spells in the deck.
Turns out my concerns were well founded. The planeswalkers were decent but because they weren't creatures (for pitching to Troll) or specifically Zombies (for replaying Gravecrawler) it felt like they made the deck more awkward than awesome. Some of the synergies that I wanted to exploit really didn't come together as much as I wanted.
There was one particular play that I'd actually had in mind when building this deck but then totally missed the opportunity to use it in one game and lost during my opponent's next turn. I attacked with my 5/4 Troll and took him to five life passing the turn but he killed me with a topdecked Falkenrath Aristocrat (to go with one he already had in play dishing out ten points of damage on the strike back).
What I missed was that I had a Jarad in the graveyard and a Deathrite in play. I could have floated six mana sacrificed a Swamp and a Forest to get Jarad back played him and then used the Deathrite on one of the lands I'd just sacrificed to have the third mana I needed to sacrifice the Troll to drain him of his last life. I felt so dumb because I'd actually thought out this line of play when building the deck.
I went 2-1 in the Swiss and then lost in the Top 4 to the same G/W Humans deck that I lost to in the Swiss rounds; both matches I lost to turn 4 Sublime Archangel in the first games and turn 2 Knight of Glory in the second games. Brutal.
Afterwards I cracked open my trade binder and did some trades. While the three boxes of Return to Ravnica didn't yield many of the cards I'd hoped to nab I did get two copies of Jace Architect of Thought. Since that bad boy quickly jumped up to 50 bucks it was the perfect trade bait to nab what I needed and then some (for instance my fourth Angel of Serenity and a third Armada Wurm).
To round out one trade I nabbed my first copy of Havengul Lich. I'd tried to get one back when I was meddling around with Necrotic Ooze decks but he kept a pretty high price tag that I just was unwilling to pay or trade at since he was seeing hardly any play and I just didn't think he was worth that much. Of course we haven't heard a peep from him in Standard for quite some time but I did want to have one for my Commander stash so I was stoked to get one.
In the days that followed I contemplated my Zombie deck and tried to figure out which way to take it. The hyper-aggressive Zombie strategy pretty much seems dead in the water¢€everyone is extremely prepared to beat that approach quite handily and it's not really my style. I tend to do well in midrange mode so I figured there's gotta be a way to slow the deck down a little bit and keep the Zombie synergies humming while also able to eventually go over the top and win.
Havengul Lich began to nibble on the edge of my thoughts. "Hmm he is a Zombie¢is there something I can do with him?"
I pulled the card out and read him again. You know in some ways he's like Necrotic Ooze in that you can splice on abilities that can potentially do something crazy. The problem of course is that you have to spend a mana plus spend the mana to cast the creature with the ability to copy for each creature you want to borrow abilities from¢and that only lasts until the end of the turn. Presumably you'd need to go ahead and kill them that turn.
That's a lot of mana. There's only one creature that could possibly recoup that sort of mana investment something we all know is powerful but has been sitting on the Standard bench since she was printed.
An idea started to form. The Lich can play Somberwald Sage out of the graveyard for 3G and immediately recoup three-colored mana but it can only be used to cast a creature. Now back when I was attempting to break Necrotic Ooze the engine for untapping the Ooze was Grimgrin Corpse-Born's ability to sacrifice a creature to untap.
I could potentially make a bunch of mana for casting creature spells and one natural component to keep it going is Gravecrawler (especially handy that Havenghul Lich is an actual Zombie). So what to do with all that mana?
My first thought ran to Griselbrand¢€cast him use his ability to draw a bunch of cards and then be able to cast a lot of those creatures too. Pretty much explode onto the board and present your opponent with lethal next turn. Of course going to all that trouble and not winning on the spot seems like a huge risk to take. Craterhoof Behemoth maybe? To go off you'd need your Lich to not be summoning sick and he'd pretty much be as big as you'd need him to be.
My next thought was Geralf's Messenger. I could keep sacrificing him and then replay him from the graveyard with the Lich draining for four points a cycle. But then I realized that I could very well run out of non-Sage mana to use the Lich's activated ability. The solution to that is to have Avacyn's Pilgrim in the graveyard that you can play with Lich and use to launder the Sage mana into colorless mana you can use for anything.
Man where's Birds of Paradise when you need it?! Arbor Elf could help but you'd want to guarantee a Forest in play. Since this is at least a three-color deck that might not be something you can count on.
I started to feel that familiar disappointment¢€when you've got some really cool synergies and interactions you want desperately to exploit but begin to realize that it's just too clunky to be worth the effort.
That's when I realized I needed a little Captain in my life.
Suddenly everything clicked! While it would hurt some to lose the awesome Geralf's Messenger Diregraf Captain isn't exactly weak in a regular Zombie deck and he provides that combo kill that lets you win right on the spot without having to attack or anything! He lets the mana engine also be the kill engine.
Here's the deck:
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Diregraf Captain
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 3 Disciple of Bolas
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 3 Havengul Lich
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Somberwald Sage
- 2 Grimgrin, Corpse-Born
- 1 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
The mana might need some tweaks but one thing that's sweet is that all the non-Zombie creatures in the deck outside of Deathrite Shaman are Humans so Cavern of Souls can help with that if you don't need it for Zombies (or draw multiples).
Jarad's Orders is the perfect noncreature compliment for this deck replacing itself with a creature in hand and adding a creature to the graveyard for either regular Gravecrawler fun or Lich shenanigans.
Now my midrange heart is screaming at me that I need ways to interact with my opponent to throw some utility in here but since this is an aggro deck that can really beat down early but then go over the top with a combo finish if I need to then perhaps I really don't need interactive cards. More testing will help me figure that out. But in the meantime I'm pretty excited about this discovery! What do you think? I certainly look forward to hearing from you in the comments below!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback ideas and random thoughts. I've also created a Facebook page where I'll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic life or anything else you want to talk about!
New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format building your first deck or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements Randomness Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy Griefing Staples Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Skullbriar the Walking Grave (how big can it get?)
- Nefarox Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Yeva Nature's Herald (living at instant speed)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Niv-Mizzet the Firemind (Chuck's somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius (new player-friendly)
- Trostani Selesnya's Voice (new player-friendly)
- Jarad Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Ghave Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo' Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)