Boom! Woooooooooosh . . .
Wrath of God. The card has become synonymous with sweepers, destruction, and the general sadness of all creature-based players since it originally erupted twenty years ago. For decades control decks have used this powerful card to terrorize the board and keep the fastest decks in check. In fact, I'm pretty sure Wrath of God facilitated the use of the word "overextend" in Magic parlance. If you're anything like me, when you first saw Wrath of God, you thought it was terrible. "Well, it'd be only good if it killed their creatures," I said. "But what about the dozens of creatures I'm using?"
Time has seasoned me to understand the purpose behind Wrath of God and its modern counterpart Supreme Verdict. In the same way as Wrath, Verdict has changed the way we play the game, and every aggro player knows the coast is clear if your opponent has no white mana on turn 3. There's very little that can match the efficiency, totality, and power of a well-timed Wrath effect.
Today's article is about two "Wrath" effects currently available to us that hardly a soul uses. The first list is a more "serious" deck in the sense that it utilizes "cards you've heard of" and "reasonable curves" and "interacts with your opponent."
First up we've got one of the higher-power sweepers we've seen in a while: Planar Cleansing.
More than Wrath of God this hits as far as a sweeper can hit anymore. While Obliterate and Decree of Annihilation were more common in the past, an all-encompassing restart button like this is relatively infrequent. In what world can we make this ultimate clean slate work?
Nearly every color has gotten the Nykthos treatment in a high-level environment except white (at least that I'm aware of). Due to Planar Cleansing's high color demands, I thought I'd start there.
- 2 Angel of Serenity
- 1 Ashen Rider
- 2 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
- 3 Boros Reckoner
- 3 Fiendslayer Paladin
- 2 Heliod, God of the Sun
Depending on how you count, this list provides nine ways to kill more than one permanent, and that's without using Supreme Verdict!
The great thing about Planar Cleansing is that it deals with aggro threats and non-aggro threats. Detention Sphere, planeswalkers, and stubborn artifact enchantments are all chaff to be culled by your opponent's threats.
Most of the early creatures are tough to kill, and they stand as effective blockers against early pressure. Against Mono-Red Aggro and a variety of nongreen decks, Boros Reckoner is still a solid wall, and the promise of making your land drops each turn means that the Reckoner can buy you essential time. Fiendslayer Paladin has drifted off to sideboards for most W/x decks, but here he pays for his slot with decent devotion commitment and the all-important lifelink. He does a great job dealing with Burning-Tree Emissary, Rakdos Cackler, and any other 2/1 your opponents toss at you. Remember, he can team up with another copy of himself or the Reckoner to first strike down even the most punishing attackers.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa has gained a lot of ground with the advent of Mono-Black Devotion. The life gain stapled to a heavily protected body earns the Vampire his keep. Angel of Serenity is also a high-value mono-white-friendly monster that can clean off your opponent's creatures or recover your powerful ones in a flash.
No devotion deck would be complete without its God, and Heliod is potentially one of the more underrated of the five. I've tested him extensively in Block Constructed, and he's always there on time and is a fearsome brawler with even a couple Phalanx Leaders out. His ability to survive Planar Cleansing got him the interview, and his ability to create something from nothing got him the job. Ashen Rider, who I visited last week, is still one of the strongest single creatures in the format, and the high cost isn't too bad when you consider the mayhem you're wreaking on your opponent while you travel there.
While I miss Sign in Blood (as does any black-centric player), Read the Bones provides the selection and smoother mana cost a splashing deck needs to make the best use out of it mana and draw step. Because this deck lacks the card draw normally associated with control decks, e.g. Sphinx's Revelation or Jace, Architect of Thought, we happily rely on this new gem. Riot Control is just a Time Walk. I'm not trying to win any awards here, but the lack of real ramp and oh-s&@# buttons that white lacks means we're playing a Fog effect.
Darksteel Ingot makes its way in as the only ramp this color combination supports that survives Planar Cleansing. It helps you get there a turn earlier, and the black commitment is not too small so the fixing helps too. Speaking of which, casting an Ingot then casting Thoughtseize feels pretty sweet, and two copies make it maindeck. White is a pro at handling threats on the ground, but it is utterly defenseless against powerful spells. Stop them before they strike with succinct suppression.
Our four planeswalkers act as our repeatable line of defense. Gideon, Champion of Justice might get a moment here. He passively adds significant devotion, and when he's coming in for battle, you can sweep the field and then bruise right in there. Animate, sweep, swing. Elspeth, Sun's Champion doesn't stand up so well to a sweeper, but she does a worldwide Smite the Monstrous all the same and her 1/1s, although fairly insignificant, have proven themselves as too much when the opponent is out of gas.
Get 'em, girl.
Our five spell-based sweepers, three Planar Cleansings and two Merciless Evictions, took a while to settle on. Terminus proved to be pretty awful to hard cast, and I considered this deeply while thinking about the inclusion of these two erasers. Having a twelfth of your deck dedicated to mass destruction sounds great, but there are many situations where drawing this will prove fruitless. Imagine getting a hand with two or more! Still, each one has a specific purpose, and when you are behind, they could be your only chance to wipe away an irritating multi-permanent problem.
Consider when you've played the more conventional B/W/x Control. How often do you toss back a hand against aggro where you don't have one of your four boarded Verdicts? Although these are truly more expensive (a lot more expensive,) this drive to have an answer, an all-encompassing global answer, is good enough for me. As such, it's probably best to mulligan hands with a sweeper like this, as you're bound to find one during your next six draw steps. Merciless Eviction is the definition of a selective sweeper; just turn the dial and voila! No more Assemble the Legions; Jace, Memory Adept; or swarm of Boros Charm protected creatures! The ability to choose gives this a lot of power, letting you play it defensively or offensively based on your own board state.
Yep, 27 lands. The incredible feeling of not having enough mana outweighs the occasional bummer when you get flooded. Don't be a fool, fill your pool.
Starting out the board, I'd like to introduce you to Yoked Ox.
Yes, this cute little plow beast is impregnable to most every one-, two-, and three-drop! Devotion, cheapness, and a set of horns that'd make any cow blush, ladies and gentlemen, the new Kraken Hatchling! Really though not much exists to help you stop an early assault, but he does a pretty good job. Your Mono-Red Aggro opponent likely sided out their Shocks and Lightning Strikes, so block away.
Last Breath was awesome in Shadowmoor, and its presence here is a welcome hand against an aggressive deck. Voice of Resurgence, one of their three Burning-Tree Emissarys, or even a Nightveil Specter or Gray Merchant of Asphodel can be consumed by asphyxiation all for two little mana. Ignore the life gain. It doesn't matter at all. Pay No Heed is a favorite of mine from M14, and here it helps protect you from things you might not be able to manage, like Fanatic of Mogis, a hefty Clan Defiance / Corrupt, or even just as a one-creature Fog. One little mana gets you there.
Pithing Needle . . . well, we've all kinda beaten that one to death. Debt to the Deathless? Now this is a card I've loved every time I've cast it. The deck is full of mana sources, and sometimes a little life-gain push in one direction and a drain in the other is enough to sink even the mightiest ship. Turn on your Blood Barons, clobber a lofty life total, or save yourself from certain death by padding your total for a while. You never need more than one, so use it sparingly. A final copy of Thoughtseize rounds out the board. I don't mind two in the maindeck, but three copies seems a bit gaudy.
What do y'all think? Does watching your opponent look at their hand for the non-existent Boros Charm make you giddy? Give it a shot this weekend and tell me how it goes.
On deck number two I went a little . . . deep.
A Mass Polymorph that leaves your opponent with a swarm of Boars seems great. While answering an email from a reader named Jeff, he shared a deck he was working on that included a copy of this sorcery. He wanted to know what I thought about using it, and I told him that these kinds of effects are fine as long as your deck doesn't care about the token it makes.
Wait. The token. The token!
Get ready to be sick.
The moment I sent my reply to Jeff I brought up a Word document and started scribbling out a list, and this is where I landed.
The goal of the deck involves neutering your opponent's creatures for a fraction of their casting cost and then negating them entirely by shrinking them to nothing with Illness in the Ranks and Ratchet Bomb. Between Swan Song, Curse of the Swine, and Rapid Hybridization, your opponent will be unable to stick anything meaningful to the board. Then gradually and methodically you can wear them down with your army of shrimpy devotion-producing goons.
Shipwreck Singer is a hidden gem brought to my attention by my pal Cody (yeah, the same Cody who made this), and I've been itching to try it out since. In congress multiple copies of the Siren are unstoppable to a puny attack force. By herself she can kill a 2/2 and survive, and every copy makes her better. Tidebinder Mage has the fortunate ability to pin an Ape or a Boar if they haven't gotten sick yet, and it naturally contributes to the devotion count. Nightveil Specter can block a Boar or a shrunken Ape, and it eats a Bird too. Oh yeah, and devotion, card advantage, blah blah. Thassa will often be active with the blue creatures you sport, and she's as good as any old God most days.
In the spell department we feature eleven token-based removal spells (counting Swan Song) and the full set of Illness. The more you have, the better your removal, and it can never hurt to stock the full set. I'll also point out that Illness in the Ranks is actually helpful against a lot of effective top-tier threats, including Master of Waves; Elspeth, Sun's Champion; Assemble the Legion; and Xenagos, the Reveler.
Ratchet Bomb already sees play in most mono-devotion lists for its ability to deal with any permanent regardless of your own color's ability to destroy it. Here it also functions as a cheap way to finish a Curse of the Swine's job. Hopefully, you're already X-for-twoing them, so who cares? Bident of Thassa and Jace, Architect of Thought both do the job as intended and both limit the power of attacking creatures. Remember, those Sirens are waiting . . .
Whichever deck is your bag, I hope you give one of them a shot. Both provide a lot of fun for the control player tucked away in all of us, though each provides a bit of a twist on the genre. Thanks for sweeping by, and I hope you'll come by next week for more oddities!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online