The last time we visited the City of Guilds in Standard my favorite strategy was to tap out for some big Dragon to challenge the opponent to be able to get through it and see what he'd be willing to sacrifice to do so. The secret to this strategy was that we never really believed that the guy we were tapping out for was unbeatable; good sure better (probably) than anything anyone else might have generally quite tough...but we had no real illusions about immortal legend durability. Meloku would typically eat up two cards if it came down to a block but the Kamigawa Dragons—Keiga and Ryusei and Yosei—were expensive. Tapping out for a Kamigawa Dragon was in large part a scorched earth strategy. Not only was say Keiga the Tide Star worth two of the opponent's cards in a trade body-for-body but something horrible would happen to them in even the best-case scenario.
So often they just wouldn't attack at all.
And we were just fine with that.
I thought for a bit this week that I had found a perfect tap-out defender in Desecration Demon. Desecration Demon is absolutely huge for its cost and only gets bigger if the opponent wants to play The Abyss with you. It lacks the price tag / disincentive of attacking into a Kamigawa Dragon but you neither have to be attacked nor actually block to make it a productive defender.
The first thing I thought of when I saw Desecration Demon was another black 6/6 flyer for four mana—Abyssal Persecutor—and I had a particular deck association in mind when thinking of Abyssal Persecutor: Gerry Thompson's version of B/U Control from Way Back When (TM).
Just think about Desecration Demon in a B/U Control deck (and since this is Ravnica "B/U" can mean Vorosh the Hunter colors a partnership with Rakdos and Grixis or some multicolored mana base that only Patrick Chapin could love potentially).
It's sweet right?
You can set them up with Izzet Charm (either way) and other point removal then sit back and watch them you know not attack.
So what you're asking me the opponent might silently wrinkle his eyebrows at you is whether I should lose a guy by running it into your Desecration Demon or by tapping him precombat. It's almost as if I'm "damned if I do..." Oh damn it!
It's an interesting devil's bargain right?
Basically the opponent needs to have two or more creatures to effectively combat you; he can either send [both] in with the expectation that you gobble one up with the Desecration Demon (damaging you with the other) or sacrifice one for the same effect. But if he does that your Desecration Demon gets 7/7 or better over time.
The low cost on Desecration Demon allows for all kinds of crazy defensive sequences. Can you imagine Desecration Demon and Olivia Voldaren (at one time "the best six-drop in Standard" -someone you love) as your on-table tag team? How are you supposed to get through that? What happens if you ever misstep? When did fours become the new sixes?
This sketch completely eschews last week's Double Dragon (TM) end game for faster battlefield position. Bonfire of the Damned—despite being one of the best cards in any current format—attracts raised eyebrows like flies to horse pucky when applied to anything but a Naya beatdown deck it seems. But look at what it does hand-in-hand with Desecration Demon in a deck like this one.
For one you have a fair number of creatures. Getting your bear in isn't nothing! But imagine the opponent's whole operation hinges on tapping your Desecration Demon come combat. Um good luck with that. How big is your Desecration Demon at this point? And you just took how much from Bonfire of the Damned?
That's all very well no? The title of this article though is "The Problem with Desecration Demon." What's the problem?
Well the whole tap-out strategic philosophy is predicated on presenting a strong and expensive creature to block (or otherwise disincentivize combat). But what is the base beatdown deck pundits everywhere are predicting for Return to Ravnica Standard?
And Zombies have Gravecrawler.
Obviously Desecration Demon is still a good creature—and still quite relevant against the little 2/1 and 2/2 creatures of Zombies—but it is no kind of lockdown as long as they draw a freaking Gravecrawler. Ergo no matter what swaps and changes I made to the above list (no Think Twice???) I had to leave the full four Pillar of Flame to at least challenge viability against Zombies.
Side note before we proceed...
Don't Be "That Guy"
If you've read anything I've written since the revelation of the first Return to Ravnica cards or listened to any podcast (and there have been several) you know that I am a huge fan of Rakdos's Return. In some decks the biggest concern I have espoused is not playing enough copies of Rakdos's Return (more on this in a bit).
… When your opponent has a Snapcaster Mage on the battlefield. So don't be that guy. Please pay attention to whether your opponent has a particular Invitational winner on the battlefield and an Izzet Charm (or something harder) in the graveyard. Because you will be tapped out and whatever happened with your big bounce it is unlikely your Rakdos's Return will resolve.
He will now go and Rakdos's Return you.
/ end side note
My whole line of inquiry RE: Zombies came out of a blog post I made earlier this week. I just decided to be who I am embrace my relative dark side (queue up Gerry laughing again) and um cut Lotleth Troll in favor of the Gatecreeper Vine I promised BDM I would not play.
This is that:
While this build slices off Lotleth Troll (one of the best fast creatures in recent memory) for a 0/2 Wall that doesn't successfully block much of anything it can however reliably make a Restoration Angel and consequently set up a Blinking Thragtusk (which Patrick has as probably the #2 play you can make in Standard).
In hindsight I am not sure how much I like Selesnya Guildgate in this deck; the implication of Selesnya Guildgate is that you have a green source already (you can cast Gatecreeper Vine) so basic Plains is probably actually better the majority of the time.
Brad and Gerry were lamenting the difficulty of whatever decks in overcoming Zombies on various social media outlets but it seemed very winnable for my Jund for me. My argument here was that they are really never going to overcome Pillar of Flame into Gatecreeper Vine into Centaur Healer into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk peppering in Restoration Angel (well obv).
How often are you going to get that draw?
There are lots of redundant draws!
How are you going to finish them?
That one summoned Kibler and LSV and even PV and had Evan grabbing for popcorn.
I honestly think that if the format is going to encourage forward-moving fast black or red beatdown decks a natural direction to move is to go bigger and slower stabilizing the midrange blocking disincentivizing combat by threatening atrocious trades gaining life while grinding out small advantages...and then going over the top with non-interactive big spells.
Here are the incentives I see there:
- Desecration Demon is no less awesome in Jund than in Grixis well other than Jund being less awesome than Grixis.
- Everything I said about Bonfire of the Damned is actually magnified in Jund due to having more guys.
- There are a lot of games where you don't play Restoration Angel on turn 3 even though you could for want of a little buddy. I would really rather have a 6/6 game changer than a Borderland Ranger + tapped shockland (but don't tell my buddy Borderland Ranger) there.
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Desecration Demon
- 3 Gatecreeper Vine
- 3 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Thragtusk
Incidentally I don't know how I managed to make a progressive Jund 187 deck and managed to ignore Zealous Conscripts a card that I spent the last several months bending my mana base for to play in everything from Delver to Trading Post…especially with stuff like Vraska threatening the metagame.
Speaking of Vraska I added her to the sideboard as the deck's official Desert Twister. Really at this point and given an essentially undefined Standard metagame my attitude is to bias in one of two ways: decks where Centaur Healer into Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk will give the opponent nightmares versus decks that wish they had the permission to fight a long game against Rakdos's Return Vraska and Zealous Conscripts.
The maindeck is obviously much more biased against beatdown now with a potential curve of Pillar of Flame ’ Farseek ’ Desecration Demon ’ Thragtusk (though first turn Pillar isn't going to be particularly common) in addition to the various "value" draws on Gatecreeper Vine Borderland Ranger Restoration Angel and so on.
I had to make some cuts to fit Desecration Demon necessitating the shave of a Gatecreeper Vine (far and away the weakest card in the deck) Dreadbore / Abrupt Decay (which are now Pillar of Flame which at any point—not just turn 1—can help Desecration Demon overcome the natural resistance Gravecrawler & co. give to Zombies) and Huntmaster of the Fells (though there is almost a glut at four any of them being viable and valuable defensive three- or four-drops). To accommodate the BB in Desecration Demon's top-right I swapped in Golgari Guildgate as a Vine-combo for black cutting the aforementioned head-scratcher Selesnya Guildgate.
The biggest concession for me though was going [back] down to only two copies of Rakdos's Return in the main. I was really relishing the thought of playing against blue control decks with my poke-here and poke-there value creatures forcing a tap-out and then getting them with my accelerated Blaze-ing Mind Shatter... But I suppose especially with the extra four-drop I will have to content myself with six X-spells main (at least for now).
Truly Return to Ravnica is the most exciting set for deck designers in recent memory. I have seen a fair amount of chatter predicting a "one-deck" format behind Zombies; I can't imagine that will be the case and given the midrange creature tools I don't know how long Zombies will reign. I have seen all kinds of "control" decks with no Rakdos's Return defense whatsoever if a fair number of planeswalkers. I would remind them that Dreadbore is a card and even a fast Karn in Modern (once a dropped hammer) is no longer safe.
Sphinx's Revelation in straight U/W (and accelerated in Bant cousins) will form its own wall to the developing metagame... Perhaps a world of third turn Jace Architect of Thought that also sets up Thragtusk + Restoration Angel (both of Patrick Chapin's favorite plays for the upcoming month) will become an important archetype as removal card advantage and life gain combined with pure power has proven a successful combination in decks from early Weissman to Andre Coimbra.
And you know what?
The fact that there are so many different ideas being volleyed about with intelligent folks missing obvious holes (perhaps blinded by exciting new tools) and die-hard (perhaps myopic) Spikes waving a flag propped on desiccated bones is a testament to just how special these next two years will be.