It's with great pride that I bring you an article each week devoid of the usual tournament drama, metagame speculation, and rules changes, but this week I do have one gripe.
I don't mean to start this article on a Scrooge-y note, but I rather dislike hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving.
For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I don't mean to say that I have anything against Christmas. I mean, who does? Food, family, presents . . . it's all the same offering for many folks, but you get the same thing on Thanksgiving except the presents are made of food!
In many ways Thanksgiving has a lot on Christmas. People aren't in a hurry to move from one event to another, so you can relax, watch the game, and fall asleep with your belt undone on the couch. Thanksgiving is much more soothing in my mind.
As a home- and wife-bred connoisseur of food, I was raised to never leave a plate full. My father quips that before my mother and he were married he didn't own a single piece of Tupperware. If he made a pound of fish, well, he ate a pound of fish. This mentality of waste not want not has its disadvantages and its criticisms, but as a Magic player, I want to make sure that we don't just fill up on bread. We need to get into the meat, stuffing, gravy, and potatoes of every card we can in Standard. If you've ever let a hot dish filled with your relative's famous fill-in-the-blank pass you by, surely the matriarch of your family has told you "you don't know what you're missing!"
For today's first course, let's get a scoop of one of Magic's newest legends, Tymaret, the Murder King.
Since his spoiling he has had absolutely no exposure to the warm balmy light of Standard, and I myself totally forgot about him for a while too. I look at each legendary creature that arrives with a Commander-oriented lens, but he even slipped past my gaze. I think most people look at his two nifty abilities but dismiss him for their fairly steep activation costs. I wanted to rectify this oversight with something lavish and exorbitant, blood-pumping and ingratiating. In other words, something with which the Rakdos Cult is particularly gifted.
As previously stated, the toughest obstacle to successfully utilizing our undead monarch is the cost to use his abilities. Abilities like his have existed before at little or no mana cost. Paying two mana a piece seems like a lot because it is a lot, but Theros brought us devotion to lighten the load. With a mono-red build, we're able to utilize a great number of red-intensive creatures that while providing mana are also effective combatants.
Grab a fork and a goblet—it's time to party!
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 3 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 3 Fanatic of Mogis
- 4 Firedrinker Satyr
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
- 2 Spike Jester
- 3 Tymaret, the Murder King
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
Admittedly, this list looks a little bizarre, and that's because it is a little bizarre. The goal of the deck is to pump out aggressive creatures and finish them off with a Nykthos-fueled Fling spree with Tymaret. To optimize both the quality of Nykthos' mana production and the consistency with which you develop, nearly everything runs off red mana alone, with Tymaret and the seemingly out-of-place Xenagos being the exceptions.
The creature base is similar to most Standard Mono-Red or R/x Aggro decks, with Rakdos Cackler and Firedrinker Satyr performing familiar roles. A large platoon of two-drops fills in the middle, with Ash Zealot, Rakdos Shred-Freak, and Spike Jester providing high-power hasty tasties. On the top we have the devotion-happy Boros Reckoner, Fanatic of Mogis, and Purphoros, God of the Forge. All of these red permanents make your Nykthos explode with the power of a whole mountain range.
Speaking of which, you'll notice that despite the level of black required to regularly maintain this deck's casting schedule there are only nine sources; no basic Swamps to be found. Nykthos, while providing concentrated mana of one color, also has the ability to tap your hybrid creatures for another color, letting you actively fix your mana based only on the creatures you control. If you have Burning-Tree Emissary out, who when resolved can pay for her own sacrificial rite if you wish, she can provide the green mana for Xenagos, an essential mana producer who can prepare you for your big turn. Thanks to all the two-drops and the potential value available to reanimating hasty targets, I couldn't help but include one copy of Immortal Servitude despite the hefty XBBB cost.
From the board red creatures and the necessary Thoughtseize comprise the largest portion, while Rakdos Charm and Slaughter Games deal with specific threats like Whip of Erebos and Sphinx's Revelation respectively. As always, it's a rough hew, but it'll work as a starter.
In my head this kind of deck is best suited to a control-heavy metagame; the sideboard is tilted in that direction, and large green or white monsters can impede the unspoken necessity of this deck: attacking. Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion can mess with your head a bit, but Rakdos Charm can blast away their life or graveyard in a hustle if need be. This list, which started stewing just a few days ago, remains untested, but I perceive its best matchups to be slower control decks.
Our second serving is all about seconds.
In discussions with Jeff, one of my frequent submitters, he and I were working out a fun deck that utilized his preferred mill strategy. From there I reached into the toolbox of Standard and found that one of my favorite Equipment had been reprinted with no fanfare. When this card first came out in Mirrodin, double strike was still fairly new, and the ability to pass it around to any creature regardless of color was a huge incentive to play it at the time.
I decided to take a crack at swinging this torch/fire baton thing at an opponent's head these days to see if anything would stick. Fireshrieker, although capable of dealing impressive damage, also works particularly well for a certain kind of creature colloquially named "saboteur." Saboteur mechanics trigger upon dealing combat damage to an opponent; recently, Gatecrash's cipher offered this ability in different flavors for every occasion.
Thanksgiving is all about going back for seconds even when one serving should do it, so here's to going back for more!
Smells good! Let's take a closer look.
Daxos of Meletis is a card that feels like a really terrible Geist of Saint Traft. He looks like Geist of Saint Traft thanks to its identical mana cost, he's a 2/2 that must get in the red zone and connect to be of any use, and he gives you supreme value on a hit! Needless to say, this is where the similarity ends. The lack of hexproof makes Daxos a sitting duck the moment you stick him, hence four copies. Once you connect, though, you can pull ahead in the race, grab a free card, and potentially cast it, especially with Hidden Strings untapping your mana and/or your creatures. Although he's the crown of this deck, other creatures provide an equally interesting route.
Nightveil Specter, the very familiar blue and black devotion enabler, has a really nice combat-damage effect, giving you a longer window to cast the card or cards you take in a hit. Liliana's Reaver, another highly ignored card, gets immensely more powerful when suited up with a Fireshrieker. Deathtouch gives it the ability to block any land creature, and when in offensive combat, it is a real Specter that rips two cards from the grip and provides you a pair of Zombies to boot. Simply put, the Reaver cannot be profitably blocked with Fireshrieker; removal is the only way to stop it.
Precinct Captain is a great early drop that can produce an army of Soldiers double time. Its on-curve mana cost is the real draw, but its synergy with the other saboteur mechanics earns it a seat. Finally, Medomai the Ageless gets the award for potentially most game-breaking saboteur effect. On an acceptable evasive body, the Ageless Sphinx is a legitimate Time Stretch, almost certainly clenching the game for you.
The spell category is a little shakier, but I feel pretty good about the playsets. Life isn't a problem in this deck, and Thoughtseize's ability to indiscriminately pluck any old card from your opponent's hidden grip can give you the leg up you need to put them off tempo or remove that nasty removal spell from the mix. Likewise, Azorius Charm wears many hats, not least of which is the lifelink ability; one hit with a double striker can provide a significant level of life not generally afforded to Esper-colored creatures. Jace can keep your hand stocked with goodies as well as soften assaults to manageable levels. Remember, even with double strike, your creatures are fairly small; making them bite-size can make sure attacking is less profitable for your opponent.
Far // Away has proven to be a great inclusion for any Esper Midrange list around; the tempo lost from an honest deck that falls into its clutches is essential for any strategy that needs to survive or clear a path. Otherwise, fairly familiar removal pieces like Essence Scatter and the less prevalent Ultimate Price, which is Desecration Demon and Master of Waves ready, round out the last couple slots. The mana base is heavily colored, as is necessary for any multicolored brew, and a single Mutavault can suit up the Fireshrieker to whittle your opponent twice as fast. The board is pretty much nonsense, but I've seen how good each member can be individually and am not sure who belongs in the maindeck and who doesn't. The beauty is that you decide!
Jeff, who tried a version that differs significantly but not totally from this one, reported that the deck had trouble with planeswalkers and needed sweeper effects but that it performed well against Mono-Red Aggro and managed to get around G/x Aggro and the occasional Esper Control deck. How much carries over from the original version remains to be seen, but I am a huge fan of saboteur effects; it might pay to give them a glance for a casual Standard deck in your future.
Thanksgiving is a time of thanks
said the most obvious person in the world. I am thankful for a lot of things, the usual family and friends and food to eat, but I am also very thankful for the opportunity to share my silly decks with you and for your feedback. Last week's aggro lists generated a huge amount of highly constructive buzz and discussion, and that is all I hope for. I'm a tough guy—I can take a hit and keep going—and I appreciate some of your harsher critiques as well as the kind ones.
Many of you graciously email me with deck assistance and comments about what you're playing, and I love to read them. I read every word, and please know I try to respond as soon as I can. I'll keep on writing the kind of articles you like to read as long as I'm able, and I'm grateful that there are others out there who strive to see Magic and the world around them a bit differently.
A very happy Thanksgiving to each of you, and until next time, don't forget to untap!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online