Dong Zhou For The Memories: Building Winning Decks From Portal Cards
I like to make decks.
I'm sure that regular readers won't find that to be a controversial or inconsistent statement in the least. Whenever I do the daily articles, I create decks. I have a series of articles around taking bad cards and making decks out of them. I find inspiration for decks in some of the oddest places.
I was discussing some of the better Portal cards this past weekend, and I was mentioning various cards that I thought he should acquire for his decks. Highlander decks can really benefit from the use of Portal cards by grabbing cards that add to the consistency of their deck.
Take, for example, Three Visits. I have a huge highlander deck with around 1,000 cards in it. Any chance I get to add land-smoothing redundancy, I'll take. Three Visits may just be a Nature's Lore, but it adds to the number of cards in my deck that can help me get the mana I need.
With Portal's recent change as a Type One-legal set, the use of Portal cards has increased significantly in casual circles. You might wonder at that, since casual circles already include the use of Unglued, Unhinged, and Portal cards. Note, however, that many casual circles require decks to be Type One-legal, or maybe Type One Point Five Legal (err….Vintage- and Legacy-legal, whatever).
At my table, I have adopted a simple rule (and I would recommend it to all): Whatever deck you play must be legal in some format. I don't care if it's Standard, Extended, Peasant Magic, or whatever, but it should be legal in something.
Since casual players have restrictions on what formats are legal at their table, then it only stands to reason that these players are now more permissive of Portal than they were before. Portal has gained a lot of respect in recent months.
As a result of Portal's new inclusion into sanctioned Magic, I am now going to begin including Portal cards in my deck articles, just like I would with any other non-Un set.
I love Portal. I was the guy who wrote articles about Portal before anybody heard about the legalization of Portal cards. Now that Portal is legal, I want to get your Portal juices flowing. This is where my natural deckbuilding tendencies come in; let's build some decks around Portal cards. It will give many of you a chance to see these cards in action, and maybe spark ideas of your own.
The first deck is built around the Portal Two card Predatory Nightstalker. This Nightstalker is one of the great winners of the Oracle updates to Portal. Oracle has changed what was a rather poor “comes into play” ability with a strong edict. That makes Predatory Nightstalker (and the Three Kingdoms version, Wei Assassins) a very good card.
For five mana, you get a 3/2 body and an edict. Since Edicts take out big nasties like Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Darksteel Colossus under the right circumstances, Predatory Nightstalker should prove itself to be a nice supplement to many existing multiplayer and casual decks. Finding a deck to fit Predatory Nightstalker into should be easy. Let's take a look:
This deck tries to establish an advantage by playing lots of creatures that have other effects. From creature kill to discard, many of these creatures take out unsightly cards. Keening Banshee can wipe out annoying regenerators while also being the only flyer in the deck. Nekrataal fits the generic take-out-a-creature-and-give-you-a-first-strike-2/1 slot that every deck should have. Predatory Nightstalker edicts a person while providing a solid 3/2 body.
After that, we have a few other creatures that can help with card advantage. Phyrexian Rager draws a card for you when he comes into play. Ravenous Rats causes an opponent to discard a card. Phyrexian Plaguelord and Krovikan Horror can sacrifice creatures that have already done one duty to kill off another. A suite of Gravediggers can recur a needed creature back to your hand for further options.
The combination of this can make for some powerful card advantage. Imagine playing a Keening Banshee to off a Spectral Lynx. Then you sacrifice that Banshee to a Plaguelord to take out a Soul Warden. Then you play Gravedigger to recur the Keening Banshee. Sacrificing the Gravedigger to the Plaguelord takes out an Auriok Bladewarden. Playing the Banshee again takes out a Silver Knight. Then you attack for several turns until your opponent plays an Aven Cloudchaser. You attack into the Cloudchaser, and your opponent blocks. Once damage is on the stack, you sacrifice the Banshee to the Plaguelord to kill off another Soul Warden.
You played two cards (Keening Banshee and Gravedigger) and dealt several damage to an opponent, killing six creatures along the way!
The goal of this deck is to encourage that sort of synergy. Necrosavant is your big creature, and you can feel free to sacrifice a creature that already did something when it came into play in order to get out a 5/5 beater. That's why they call it the Black Hammer (after the Red one from Bogardan).
Haunted Crossroads, Volrath's Stronghold, and the Black Hammer help to bring you back after a Wrath of God or when facing a counter heavy control deck. You can make every draw a creature. Eventually you will out counter a blue heavy control deck. Every little creature you play has the potential to become a big 5/5 Necrosavant, thus helping after Routs and Wrath of Gods and the like.
I also gave this deck the surprise Hecatomb. Playing Hecatomb can easily give you the game. Swamps are colorless, so you can kill off any protection from Black creatures that survived your Predatory Nightstalkers. You can easily off a player with Hecatomb out. If you are playing multiplayer, then Hecatomb allows you to kill multiple players rather quickly. It will likely turn you into Public Enemy #1, so don't unveil it until you are in a position to take out opponents or to defend yourself.
This is a pretty solid deck with a high creature count. I suspect that it works pretty well. Good luck with it!
Dong Zhou, the Tyrant
Dong Zhou has worked out very well for me. Just two weeks ago, I killed a guy at our multiplayer table by playing Dong Zhou when he had out a Darksteel Colossus. Dong Zhou dealt him eleven damage, and he died just like that. I died myself just last week to someone who used Bribery to get my own Dong Zhou and made my Avatar of Fury deal six to me and kill me.
Lava Axe costs 4R and deals five to an opponent. Dong Zhou costs 4R and usually deals at least four or five damage and brings a 3/3 body, with the potential to deal so much more damage. It's amazing that more people don't play Dong Zhou; maybe it's the whole “Never Played With Them There Portal Cards Before” syndrome, but let's see what we can do with Dong Zhou.
This deck brings in several Ravnica cards in order to flesh out the initial Dong Zhou idea. I wanted to keep replaying Dong Zhou, and although initial thoughts turned to Black and recursion, I lit upon Flickerform as I was about to write up the Black/Red Dong Zhou deck. I like this deck a lot better than that one.
Galvanic Arc, Pardic Arsonist, and Angel of Mercy can also be abused via Flickerform – I didn't just want the Dong Zhous to use it. You could add Cloudchaser Eagle or Ghitu Slinger or Solemn Simulacrum or Keldon Vandals or Avalanche Riders or whatever else suits your fancy.
I tossed in some of the classic R/W cards like Orim's Thunder and Mother of Runes. Lightning Helix is a great general-purpose burn spell, while Sunhome Enforcer is quickly becoming one of my favorite cards from the new set. The Enforcer's pair of abilities with a Wildfire Emissary like 2/4 body makes for a powerful card.
I really like the Pardic Arsonist because after you get threshold, he becomes a Lightning Bolt with a 3/3 body. (And even prior to threshold, he's still a 3/3 for four mana, which is about par for the course.) With the Arsonists, the Galvanic Arcs, the Thunders and the Helixes, there's a lot of removal of creatures here. It's all damage-based, so you may want to find room for Wing Shards or something.
Flickerform on a Dong Zhou will quickly kill somebody – maybe multiple somebodies. The Flickerform cost is 2WW. With that cost, you should be able to Flickerform Dong Zhou once a turn, and likely twice in the later game. If there is a Galvanic Arc on Dong Zhou, then you'd be Dong Zhouing people left and right while also adding three damage – maybe to another person or maybe to kill off creatures.
I like verbing Dong Zhou. Alas, I've been Dong Zhoued! (I don't know how to pronounce it for sure, so I pronounce it Dong (like gong) Jhow (rhymes with “wow”, first part sounds like the French word “je”).
Anyway, the deck is a pretty simple R/W control deck with the Dong Zhou and Flickerform twist. Enjoy!
Did you notice it? It destroys creatures when they block. The traditional basilisk ability applies after combat, but not so with the Sylvan Basilisk. It will pop off creatures when they block. Even a creature that regenerates will be removed from combat, thus saving the Basilisk from being damaged.
It's very unlikely that an attacking Basilisk could be blocked and killed. Typically, this means that a Sylvan Basilisk will be unblocked and deal two damage; that's just a Phantom Warrior. However, Green does have a common trick that changes all that.
This is great in two situations. First, in multiplayer, if you kill off a player using this, you can do the same next turn, since you still have all of your resources. Too often you have to lose a lot of spells or permanents in order to take out a player — but not here. Second, if you don't kill your opponent, you can be sure that they can't stave off defeat just by playing more blockers.
I chose to use a full set of Tempting Licids instead of Lure. In case I draw extra, the Licids can be 2/2 creatures that attack. I can also hop a Licid off a dying creature (like the Thicket Basilisk). For defense, Licids make great defense – being able to block any non-trampling creature and not die due to silly Licid tricks. (Of course, it won't die to a trampling creature either, but the damage you take typically doesn't make it worth the while with high-power tramplers, although it might be worth jumping in front of, say, a War Mammoth.)
In case you don't know, one of the best Licid tricks is to hop the Licid off a creature, block an attacker, then tap and hop it back onto a creature again. If you want, you can put damage on the stack first before hopping it back on. This allows you to play defense in multiplayer after attacking all-out and killing someone.
I still have a pair of Lures, because the ability is too important in this deck not too. I also have a couple of extra Thicket Basilisks, because the deck is built around Basilisking an opponent.
Centaur Chieftain adds a solid body and a nice threshold mini-Overrun to the table. Since this is a deck that likely builds to an alpha strike, it can help with that one attacking turn nicely.
Add to that some typical Green cards. I wanted creatures to get in some damage, and they'd all need to get played before the Basilisk attacks. I also wanted cheap creatures to play nicely as blockers or to get in a few early swings… And so we add Basking Rootwallas, Wild Mongrels, and River Boas to the deck.
Lastly, I tossed in four each of Rancor and Naturalize. Rancor helps the small creatures punch through early and is a nice addition to an Islandwalking River Boa. Naturalize is a general answer to all things artificial.
This is your classic Basilisk/Lure deck, but with the important Portal kick. Sylvan Basilisk turns an old idea into a new and intriguing multiplayer deck just by changing when the destroy effect triggers.
Riding the Dilu Horse
I absolutely wanted to build a deck using Riding the Dilu Horse, because it does something that, to my knowledge, no other card in print does. Now, I may be wrong about this, maybe another Portal card has been errataed to have a similar effect… but I don't think so. What is so special about Riding the Dilu Horse? After all, it's just a sorcery that gives +2/+2 and horsemanship to a creature.
Read it closer: The effect does not stop at the end of the turn.
That's right; it's a sorcery that pumps a creature permanently. There's no enchantment to Disenchant. Now this is something I simply had to explore.
When I initially wrote about allowing Portal into the casual game, I mentioned that horsemanship was a major problem. I was debating the ramifications of allowing horsemanship around the kitchen table. There were several ideas about horsemanship, and the one that I recommended was to allow creatures with horsemanship to be blocked by flyers.
However, since Portal has been allowed full force, there is no longer any need to come up with a special way of handling horsemanship. Instead, horsemanship reads as is. Creatures with horsemanship can only be blocked by creatures with horsemanship. Do you have many of those at your table? Probably not, so any creature with horsemanship is essentially unblockable.
Riding the Dilu Horse essentially makes a creature unblockable in addition to the +2/+2 bonus. That's a pretty strong bonus when it's all said and done. Let's take a look at a possible deck using Riding the Dilu Horse.
I wanted to build a deck that could really ramp up with the Dilu Horse, and that meant I needed to play Watchwolf. A second-turn Watchwolf followed by a third-turn Dilu Horse means that you'll be swinging with a 5/5 unblockable creature on the third turn. That's a pretty powerful opening.
My favorite Dilu Horse target after the third turn is Troll Ascetic. Having a 5/4 regenerating, unblockable, untargetable creature will win against an awful lot of decks.
The deck's creature base is largely Green, while the spells are largely White. I don't know how that happened, but it did. I wanted a few other creatures, so I went with the pump theme and tossed in a full set of Nantuko Disciples as well as daddy Nantuko – The Primus of the Prime, that Swankiest of the Swank, here he is – Thriss!!! You can toss some extra damage on a horsemanshipped creature that's swinging in. They also play great defense.
Other great defenders include Mother of Runes and Commander Eesha. Mother is, as always, a perfect defender and protector while Eesha provides flying defense. (You could toss in Silklash Spider as well, but I think I've talked enough about Silklash Spiders in my recent articles.)
Rounding out the mix are Seed Spark and Chastise. (It could have been Naturalize and Exile, but I wanted to keep things simple.) I want to try out Seed Spark, with the realization that it costs more than Disenchant or Naturalize… But I like the extra pair of creatures that come with it. Since this deck will be doing a lot of important things in the early game, I thought an expensive effect would not be so bad here. Chastise is a simple removal spell, and Exile, Vengeful Dreams, or Wing Shards might fit here as well.
This deck feels solid. Maybe I just built a nice deck, or maybe I'm deluding myself. I think this is a pretty good deck, but what do I know?
One idea I had for the Dilu Horse was to run it in a deck with a lot of regenerators and Nevinyrral's Disk. Unlike creature enchantments, the Dilu Horse effect cannot be Disenchanted, and therefore cannot be Disked away. The creature regenerates, and you keep your big essentially unblockable +2/+2 creature in play. I wanted the speed build of Watchwolf, but that might have been another direction to have searched.
And now we've looked at four different Portal cards and built decks using them. As I mentioned above, I now consider Portal a legitimate inclusion for all of my future decks and articles, so I'm putting you on notice. Remember, I build these decks to spark interest, feel free to change and adjust as needed. Good luck!