Seventeen years ago, reading Mark Justice and Henry Stern's latest "Deck Doctor," I was like a kid in a candy shop. Of course, in those days the articles were in print, with magazines like the Duelist, Scrye, and Inquest providing the main Magic content available to feed an insatiable hunger for the game.
The concept of a deck doctor is as old as the game, reproduced a thousand times in a thousand places, always with this exact title (as it does just kind of roll off the tongue). This type of article has a certain, ahem, Magic to it. It's great to read general strategy articles and it's great to read about a great strategy someone has come up with, but sometimes it can be really nice to read a change of perspective. Seeing the process another deckbuilder goes through when tuning a list can be invaluable.
I've done my fair share of deck doctoring over the years, but as long as there are new metagames, it never gets old. Today, I'd like to take a look at three decks sent to me on my Facebook page.
I've been a fan of your out-of-the-box thinking. I'm a rogue player myself and have never really appreciated net decking. In your video when you were on the boat ride teaching the audience on deckbuilding, you said to make sure synergy is evident in the deck. Without it, the whole thing would collapse.
I brewed this deck, playtested it many times, and found it very good, consistent, and capable of winning matches against the best net decks in today's meta. I was wondering how I can improve it or rather how you would tweak it.
It looks like we are working with a fairly aggressive G/U Evolve deck. I like the good, cheap curve; a few good tempo plays can go a long way in a strategy like this.
I like the Simic Charms and Spell Ruptures, as they add a lot of dimensions in relatively few card slots. Being able to add so much versatility without cutting into the creature count is pretty exciting. The Shamblesharks and Wolfir Avengers hide a surprising amount of instant speed pump (for the evolve creatures), though most of our interaction is limited to making blocking hard.
The one trick I am not so sure of is Bioshift, sadly. It's cute that you can move all your counters off an evolve creature at instant speed for a surprise blowout and then start evolving again. It's also nice to be able to reset your Strangleroot Geist or Vorapede (with upside), but I wonder how often these interactions will come up in practice. The thing is that it's mostly just more of what we already have.
It's always tough to suggest cutting a card like Bioshift, which is obviously the most unique element of this deck. Part of mastering the craft is being able to kill your darlings. Now, it's very possible that Bioshift is pulling its weight, and it's always very possible I'm underestimating it the same way everyone else does. Still, I wonder if it'd help us more to have an increased number of ways to interact with creatures that don't block. Unsummon definitely comes to mind.
What I do know is that 22 land looks a little light. It's not just the raw quantity but also the color requirements. Even if the three expensive cards were four-drops, I'd still be leaning towards 23 land (a good benchmark for low mana curve decks with some four-drops). Here, we actually jump straight up to five and six, which is going to bring with it some inherent instability.
If we actually wanted to keep the fives and six, we might want to consider a 24th land, but we may also want to call the deck design into question. Jumping spots on a mana curve is always a little dicey. Still, I don't mind the Vorapedes. The Prime Speaker looks like a ton of fun, but I wonder if it is winning enough games we otherwise would have lost to make up for it taking up space in your hand so often. I think if you wanted that kind of effect, Garruk, Primal Hunter would be a better choice for a deck like this. Only somewhat related, but I wouldn't mind Garruk Relentless, either. It's a nice way to get more removal while still keeping your creature count up.
Often when adding land to a deck, I like to see if I can help make up for cutting spells by adding action lands that emulate spells. Alchemist's Refuge is really a late game kind of card and is not a good fit for a beatdown deck. Besides, Strangleroot Geist is not always the easiest to cast, so I wouldn't mind just getting some extra Forests in here. If we did want some action lands, I am not sure you couldn't fit some Kessig Wolf Runs, though.
It would involve some pain, but if you cut three Islands and three Forests plus two spells, you could add three Steam Vents, three Stomping Grounds, and two Kessig Wolf Runs. Now, I kind of suspect this is the wrong time for such a splash, but techniques like this can be useful when you are trying to fit more gas into a deck that can afford the life loss. If you went that route, I'd consider adding even more red mana and taking a look at Ghor-Clan Rampager. Now that is a combat trick!
I like some of the non-traditional creature choices, such as Young Wolf (a card I think is actually quite well positioned at the moment that should be seeing more play than it currently is). I am less sure of Elusive Krasis. He is unblockable and triggers evolve like crazy, but he is often going to be the third creature you play. How many creatures are you going to be able to count on playing after him?
I'm glad there aren't the full four since with him in particular drawing two could be a real bummer. At least with two Shamblesharks, they are hitting for their cost out the gate and can both come down early enough to get pumped up before it gets too late. Drawing two Elusive Krasis could be really slow, so I'd actually trim at least one, maybe two. If I did keep three, it would probably be on account of wanting to try Hands of Binding in here, which Elusive Krasis enables quite well.
Of course, another possibility is to add white mana for more big bodies to evolve even harder. Loxodon Smiter and Call of the Conclave are both great for this purpose, and Geist of Saint Traft's token making every turn is a sweet way to get repeated triggers. Besides, the tempo tricks you'd use in a deck like this are perfect for Geist of Saint Traft. Restoration Angel is also a great option for a deck like this because you can double evolve at instant speed, not to mention saving key creatures from removal.
- 4 Cloudfin Raptor
- 1 Elusive Krasis
- 4 Experiment One
- 3 Shambleshark
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Vorapede
- 4 Wolfir Avenger
- 2 Young Wolf
- 3 Zameck Guildmage
"I'm tired of people saying that Duskmantle Seer is unplayable garbage, so I decided to try to build with it... Zegana might be overly ambitious, but..."
- 2 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Duskmantle Seer
- 4 Experiment One
- 3 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Thragtusk
- 2 Vampire Nighthawk
- 1 Prime Speaker Zegana
Here, we have a BUG tempo deck with some amusing synergies. For instance, Duskmantle Seer's double Dark Confidant ability combines quite well with Triumph of Cruelty. You can stack the triggers so that your opponent has to Dark Confidant first then discard it (when it's the last card in their hand). Liliana of the Veil also loves a Duskmantle Seer, ensuring that you always get to hit something.
The curve is a little all over the place here, and I'd be looking to streamline it a bit. I think I would actually turn to Jund for ideas, as this kind of reminds me of a Jund deck with blue instead of red. Should we be fitting some Garruk, Primal Hunters in here? What about more Liliana of the Veil?
Some of the creature subthemes seem slightly out of place. Presumably, Experiment One is just being played for rate, but we can't really take advantage of the beatdown here. Is this really better for us than Arbor Elf? Similarly, Lotleth Troll is the only real two, meaning we aren't going to evolve our Experiment One that often. I'd rather go deeper into that theme or step away from it. It would take so many slots to move towards it that my hunch is to step away.
Ten three-drops is kind of a lot, but four Arbor Elf would make that look a lot more appealing. Once you go the Arbor Elf route, I might even consider a single Underworld Connections. It can be a potent source of card advantage that doesn't bite you as often as Phyrexian Arena. Plus, combining it with Arbor Elf is a mondo-combo, letting you draw two extra cards per turn. It's not clear you need this if you always get to Seer, but if he's drawing you extra cards, you often have no problems.
I'd love to see just a touch of permission in here. Is Spell Rupture a possibility? What about a pair of Psychic Strikes? Cancel is a pretty solid effect right now, but double blue would be tough. Psychic Strike should probably be appearing in more lite-blue decks, but I think people are just really in the habit of not playing permission in decks like this.
I like the Deathrite Shamans, as they have a surprising number of tactical applications. I also think next weekend is probably a good weekend to bring a little extra graveyard hate. Make sure to look for times when you use Liliana to discard land then Deathrite Shaman for mana.
I am less in love with the Dreg Mangler. The Vampire Nighthawk makes sense, but Dreg Mangler seems a little out of pace. If more of the deck was aggressive, sure, but it seems like there is an aggressive half and a controlling half; drawing half the cards for one, half for the other is not where you want to be. I guess Duskmantle Seer is kind of the source, as his Dark Confidanting makes you want to be midrange while his 4/4 flier that does extra damage makes you want to be aggressive.
I actually don't mind the Prime Speaker here. I wouldn't want to be flooded with them, but there are a fair number of big bodies. And there really are a fair number of great spells to draw into, like removal.
What I wonder is if this is just a bad Jund deck. After all, we have to face the cold hard truth. If we are going to want to play this deck, we are going to have to want Duskmantle Seer more than Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia. I would be surprised if that is the world we live in.
I think I would consider using a little bit of bounce. It could give us extra removal (particularly if we have a Triumph of Cruelty or Liliana on them) and could save our own guys some of the time. I'm not sure about Unsummon versus Simic Charm, but either way I wouldn't play many.
It's a little expensive, but I might also consider a Staff of Nin (assuming you add the mana ramping). It's another axis to fight people on, and it is just a fairly powerful card.
I don't hate the mana base, but I wouldn't mind a seventeenth black source (unless you add mana fixers). It's going to be tempting to cut land for the mana sources, but it's not worth it. 24 land is a little light for someone that has five and six-drops. I would add some Farseeks and Arbor Elves and keep all 24 land.
The alternative direction would be to focus on the beatdown elements, but if we did that, I'd want to add at least four more one- and two-drops. The biggest thing is to ask yourself what this deck's purpose is. Why does it exist? It's not enough to just want to build a Duskmantle Seer deck. We must always remember the prime directive.
Never play a bad something else. - Michael J. Flores
Let's take a look at one more deck, another Duskmantle BUG deck:
"The deck has morphed into a BUG deck now. The Abrupt Decay became an amazing answer for Reckoner. The decklist is below. Would love any thoughts you could give me on it.
In all honesty, this is more aggro-heavy than I want to be, but with the metagame feeling like it is leaning more towards heavy aggro decks right now and not wanting to play straight up control like Esper, fighting fire with fire seems to be the only option."
Again, we see Lotleth Troll and Dreg Mangler just for efficient dudes. At least here there are more cheap creatures to back them up. I actually kind of like the Quirion Dryads here, although they do have me wanting to make room for some Thought Scours. Thought Scour is actually pretty fun with Deathrite Shaman, and it obviously greatly improves our Snapcaster Mages. You might even randomly flip a Dreg Mangler!
I love the Psychic Strikes in here, and two seems like the perfect number. Simic Charm also works as somewhat of a counterspell while letting us get a little bit of bounce for when we want to be in true tempo mode. Dimir Charm provides even more permission but is mostly being played as a removal spell. I don't hate it, but I wouldn't want more than two.
There are no Triumph of Cruelty, and frankly it's probably better without them. I'd rather focus on getting my Quirion Dryad big in this build. In that vein, I wonder if we could actually count on Cremate as another cantrip. Four Thought Scour would obviously help. Seriously, next week seems like a good week to have extra graveyard hate, and a couple maindeck Cremates could be devastating.
I'm not convinced you couldn't play even more cantrips. In testing for Pro Tour Gatecrash, I played more than my fair share of Fleeting Distractions. Honestly, the card is not bad. You don't want too many, but as long as you have creatures to "cycle" it on and you expect to get into some fair fights, it's a solid trick. If you have a bunch, they can start to play around it, but the first one is just going to get a lot of people.
I love how low our mana curve is here, though just 22 lands with no Arbor Elf or Farseeks is ambitious. Of course, Quirion Dryad kind of takes you down a path that doesn't really overlap with Arbor Elf or Farseek. I would look to add at least one more M10/Innistrad land.
I like Golgari Charm and actually wonder if it's crazy to possibly play one maindeck. It can be kind of situational, but there are a lot of situations where the card is a blowout. It adds such a powerful new dimension that I'd want to try it.
I kind of dislike the Devour Fleshes. The life you are giving your opponent can be pretty relevant in a deck like this. What about Tribute to Hunger? Not everything can cost three, but we aren't that starved for two-drops. Liliana is obviously great as well, but it's really nice to Snapcaster a Tribute.
I'd want to try a couple of Duresses in the sideboard. Duress is particularly nice with a good tapout threat, like Duskmantle Seer. Sometimes, all you want is to snatch their removal. Other times, stopping a planeswalker before it starts is the right plan.
I also like the Thragtusks in the sideboard. In fact, I'd want at least a third, possibly a fourth. They seem like exactly what you are going to want against some opponents. It's particularly nice if a Loxodon Smiter tries blocking a 3/3 Quirion Dryad.
It's kind of crazy, but what about Whispering Madness? We do come out the gates pretty quickly. If we upped the bounce, maybe some Silent Departure, it could be pretty sick. That would take us down a path that probably has more mana acceleration and more fliers in addition to the increased bounce.
Thanks for joining me this week. Brewing is always fun, and having someone to bounce ideas off of can make all the difference in the world. If you have a deck you'd like feedback on, perhaps discussed as part of next week's article (though I have some updates to Esper to discuss), feel free to post it in the comments. Whatever deck gets the most likes will be mentioned, as well as one other that just catches my eye.
See you then!