Those creepy, crawly critters have been a literal plague to our society for millennia. Festering, swarming, and determined creatures, rats have long been portents of pestilence and doom. Movies use rats as grim symbols; as you see one scurry across the pavement of a back alley or the floor of a shaded prison, you know you're deep in the armpit of society and there is little hope that anything you find there will ever see the light of day again. They're the prime subject in today's commercial and scientific labs, and you would as soon kill a rat as you would a fly if you found it in your home.
Rats subscribe to the notion that the whole is greater than sum of its parts. Rats multiply and infiltrate, spawning like, well, rodents, I guess. Their sheer numbers and impressive mobility gives them their strength. Let's tap into that, shall we?
Pack Rat is a strong contender for the best GILBIC (Good In Limited, Bad In Constructed) rare in Magic's history. Shortly after people started playing Return to Ravnica Sealed and Draft events, it became clear that Pack Rat was an exceptional, format-defining card. Casting the Rat with enough mana to duplicate it pretty much locked up any close game. Being able to turn a land, an outclassed removal spell, or an irrelevant enchantment into a large ground pounder gives this Rat incredible consistency. There were very few outs in the format, but the best ones were relegated to the rare slot; Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, Mizzium Mortars, if you're fast enough, and Pithing Needle come to mind. This left the vast majority of decks defenseless against a filthy mass of wriggling Rats.
Fast forward to the Standard of today and we don't find any Pack Rats skittering around Constructed tournaments. It's made it into niche decks at local events, though, and I've seen some people come up with tentative lists to utilize the rodent engine. As the Rat is black, we can start with a mono-black package and work into another color from there depending on the deck's needs. Time to get our hands dirty!
Rats: Pack Rat and Ogre Slumlord
The beauty of Pack Rat is its self-sufficiency. Although it clearly has a tribal element to it, you don't need another Rat in the deck to help Pack Rat grow—all you need is a steady supply of cards. Pack Rat builds its own army, so filling the deck with more Rats that take up card slots seems unnecessary. The only other Rat in Standard worth anything is Ravenous Rats, but more on that one later.
Ogre Slumlord, in the vein of Ratcatcher from Dissension, is a semi-Lord, giving all Rats (all Pack Rats in this case) deathtouch, resulting in powerful defensive incisors. Also, removal would generate a Rat, and sweepers could produce a lot of Rats.
Vampires: Blood Artist and Vampire Nighthawk
These black staples have returned to serve fairly utilitarian purposes. Blood Artist helps make a sweeper hurt if you have an army of Rats out, and with a Mutilate, this macabre Picasso can win you the games in multiples.
Vampire Nighthawk is here as a structural component; I don't have much to do on three mana, but the Nighthawk provides an important defensive tool to keep me in the game long enough to start amassing Rats.
Ahh, the gas tank! Untapping with Crypt Ghast gives me access to an enormous amount of mana, especially that early in the game. Particularly, the Spirit provides the energy to activate the Pack Rat more times than normal, giving the deck the ability to turn a handful of dross into a matted, sloppy mess of Rats at EOT! Doesn't that sound…fun?
Mikaeus doesn't get a lot of attention in Standard. When you think "big black legendary creature," Griselbrand usually thunders to mind. However, Mikaeus comes down earlier, has a higher impact on a clogged board, and can give your team much needed pumping and protection. He's also a 5/5 with evasion, which will get in there surprisingly often.
Removal Suite: Victim of Night, Devour Flesh, Mutilate
Nine spells get billed as "removal" here, and there's not much to say about any of them. I will say that I like Devour Flesh over Tribute to Hunger for two reasons. One, I don't care about them gaining life when I have five 5/5 Rats chomping at the bit, and two, I like the option to use it on myself for some emergency life gain. Oh, and it's also cheaper, so there's three things.
Four Mutilates give me the strength to flatten the board again and again. Once I'm ready to make my army, it's a reasonable enough card to toss for another Rat.
The Rat needs cards to devour, and these nine spells provide the paper. I'll make a note on Liliana; many mono-black or nearly mono-black lists reach for little Liliana (Liliana of the Veil), but she's actually counterproductive here. Although she fits nicely on the curve, I don't want to discard my hand, and I feel confident with my removal to deal with creatures at large. She requires a more supportive deck than a Pack Rat build.
On the other hand, Liliana of the Dark Realms provides raw card advantage with a Pack Rat. Go fetch a Swamp and feed it to the Rat! Because of Crypt Ghast's mana ramping ability, you will often have all the mana you need after just six or seven lands so any extras can be retained for the Rat.
Nothing unusual except for the Grim Backwoods. Your Pack Rat and its copies are sure to draw the ire of your opponent's targeted removal. If they cast Sever the Bloodline or Detention Sphere targeting your Rat, just sacrifice it to remove its target to save the rest! I would have loved to have found a better sac outlet that synergized well (I considered Bloodthrone Vampire and Bloodflow Connoisseur), but I eventually settled on the free slot.
I decided to play green because of the powerful sideboard cards I'd gain access to. As such, the sideboard was meant to be very direct: Abrupt Decays for the fast decks or cheap NLPs, Duress for control matchups, Deathrite Shaman for a creature-light and/or graveyard-based opponents, and Golgari Charm as the utility spell of choice to save my team from a wipe, destroy a Rest in Peace, or act as a "mini-Late" to set off my Blood Artists.
I played this at a couple different shops around town over the last week or two, and I was moderately impressed. It felt clunky, and missing land drops became an increasingly frequent problem even after attempting to dig with draw spells. Aggro decks were fairly well matched against me, and control decks could often just go over the top of what I was doing. It was good against midrange and token decks, and when I had the lands I needed it ran much more smoothly. Crypt Ghast turned out to be a must-draw. The deck made some exciting plays, though, and my draw engines easily filled my hand to capacity turn after turn. Drawing three cards a turn with two Staffs admittedly felt pretty sweet.
The deck was missing something though; it put on very little pressure and played too much like a control deck for my plan. Casting and duplicating the Rat felt like casting Entreat the Angels, if that makes sense. Vampire Nighthawk was a consistent underperformer, too, and with very little support, it's no surprise. Ogre Slumlord was also comically bad. Comically.
I wasn't satisfied. Pack Rat was kind of a lame duck early, and I found myself doing very little on the first couple turns. After some tweaking, I tuned the list a little bit to be more interactive and less Johnny. Here's where I landed.
Adding Ravenous Rats gives me something to do early while also adding to the Rat count. Most of the time when I found myself playing Pack Rat, it was a 1/1 or a 2/2. This gives Pack Rat a little bit more oomph without committing early cards to growing it. I slimmed down on one Blood Artist (leaving the self-mandated minimum of three copies), as it was often underwhelming by itself and did nothing from my opener. I beefed up the spell category by adding Farseek and Murder. Murder gives me an on-curve removal spell for even the most belligerent targetable creature, and Farseek can help me get to Liliana, Mutilate, or Crypt Ghast a turn early.
Also, if you noticed in the original list, there were no green spells maindeck; the green sources were only there for sideboard cards. I found that getting green was not difficult in the first build, but I added two Guildgates to be sure. I also added a Wit's End to the sideboard, which can be cast on turn 4 with any luck (Farseek into Crypt Ghast. Now, I didn't get a chance to try out this list, but I think it would play a lot more smoothly while still supporting the original Rat theme. Ravenous Rats is a card I love casting, so I think its presence will help give the deck a little more proactive early action.
Before we wrap up, I want to
obsess over highlight one of my favorite build-arounds this season in a new light.
Ok, Brad, we get it.
No, but listen! Remember last summer when an exciting mono-black brew started dominating on Magic Online and paper Magic?
Although the season of artifacts has diminished, there are still tons of new inanimate spells that can drive us to victory. I love Crypt Ghast's ability to generate massive amounts of mana to fuel Trading Post's ability and those of its companion artifacts. There's also another card that seems essential to any black artifact deck that I've never seen anyone cast ever in my life. Ever.
With a deck of 20+ artifacts and lands that produce nothing but black mana, the Lich seems like a hearty choice. Placing the counter on a safe non-Abrupt-Decayable artifact will be ideal, but it can go on an on-curve artifact too.
With the artifact theme in place, let's find a win condition and get started!
In a brief summation, the goal of the deck is to use artifacts and high-impact dudes to power out big artifacts and overpower them with mana and card advantage. The creature base is fairly simple. Haunted Guardian is a great anti-aggro card, especially in multiples, and the Post can recover it. Stuffy Doll is meant to hold Phylactery Lich's counters for safekeeping while providing a fun attacker with Kessig Wolf Run (for extra laughs, pump their blocker).
Prophetic Prism still proves to be the Standard Egg we need to keep things smooth. Also, if you'll notice, I do not play any copies of the dependent duals ("buddy lands" as Adam Prosak calls them) so as not to interfere with the Swamp plan. Four Prisms means I have access to any of those colors at any time and that I effectively play eight sources of each color, as I lose nothing when filtering it through the Prism.
Chalice of Life provides a fun way to stay alive against aggro and a real clock for control decks. The single Codex Shredder is effectively a combo piece with all this mana floating around, and the Post allows me to rebuy it again and again. As you'll notice, I have three X spells in here, meant to be the deadly blow to my opponent. Rakdos's Return continually impresses me, and it's a perfectly respectable Blaze even if the discard isn't helpful. Clan Defiance, a card I've been dying to cast since its release, is great here because of Stuffy Doll's presence. Target the Doll and your opponent to deal double damage!
The sideboard provides specific answers and hard to thwart alternative threats like Sands of Delirium. Milling them for twelve to fifteen a turn will seal up a wide variety of matchups. Otherwise, the board has the synergetic artifact answers and high-powered removal that only Jund can offer.
Something to think about, anyway. Post life, homes.
Thanks for dropping by today! With the current hoopla over Wizards' "You Make the Card" event, I've been stirring the mental pot for what I would want to see. After all, the most fun kind of brewing is brewing the cards themselves! I want to share a couple cards with you next time, but I'll have another quirky list to take for a spin as well.
Until then, don't forget to untap your Swamps!
- Matt H
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online