For as long as I've written Magic articles, I have worked a corporate day job for Sun Microsystems (this may be news to all of you who assumed I was a Wizards employee). After eight years, I've resigned from Sun to take the job as Director or Leadership and Organization Development at Taco Bell. That's right: I have a Ph.D. and I work for Taco Bell. I've already heard enough Chihuahua, "Yo Quiero," "Run For The Border," "I'm full!" and "Think Outside The Bun" jokes to last me a lifetime, but I suppose it comes with the territory.
Anyway, I mention this news in my life partly because it makes me giggle and partly because I'm taking three weeks off between jobs. Unlike normal weeks when I sacrifice sleep for Magic Online and writing, I've suddenly found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. At least temporarily, you can expect extra long articles at no extra cost.
Speaking of articles, I've written a couple on the idea of taking a Golgari booster draft deck and slowly evolving into a respectable, fun, budget Standard deck. After several iterations, I arrived last week at this decklist:
Some people seem disturbed that the deck has changed so many of its cards from the original decklist. Remember that unlike some of my previous experiments, this deck isn't built around a particular card or theme. Oh, I started with liking the interaction between Mortipede and Gaze of the Gorgon, but that was just a starting point. I can imagine a time in which I would have abandoned Mortipede for Elvish Bard or dropped Gaze altogether as I did Strands of Undeath. I'm committed to keeping the deck Golgari in feel, but that's about the only mental restriction I've placed on myself. If a "Lure deck" hadn't been fun or competitive, I would have used the cards that were working and gone in another direction. As always, I'm just hoping you find my mental gymnastics when building a deck helpful, and that they inspire you to go out and make your own decks.
Thankfully, the Lure thing has worked out pretty well. To see how far I've come, it's time to dip back into the Casual Decks room of Magic Online to see how the deck performs:
Game 21: Red/White Boros Aggro
Game 22: Mono-Green Ursapine deck
His deck was cool, built around generating lots of tokens, lots of mana, and Ursapine. Anyway, I thought I kept a decent hand but quickly realized that I had a Shinen of Life's Roar, a Civic Wayfinder, land, and nothing else. Once my opponent put Fists of Ironwood on his Llanowar Elves, then another on a Saproling token, my attack pretty much stalled. Down came Ursapine, and I took one attack down to fifteen life before I could untap and play the Disembowel I had just drawn. Golgari Guildmage started putting my land to good use by adding counters to my Shinen while my opponent played a couple Sakura-Tribe Elders, Kodama's Reach, and an Overgrowth on one Forest. My plan accelerated when I drew Moldervine Cloak, wiping out his entire force of 1/1s while my Wayfinder and Guildmage dug into his life. I had two Last Gasps in hand for any would-be blockers, and I won easily after that.
Game 23: White/Green Selesnya Aggro
I played a Shinen of Life's Roar, Civic Wayfinder, then Shambling Shell on my first four turns whilst my opponent played two Glorious Anthems and a (now 4/4) Selesnya Guildmage. I attacked with everything each turn, bringing him to five life by the time my Shinen died to his blocking Guildmage. That turn I cast Mortipede. He put down a 5/5 Watchwolf, and both his creatures blocked my 'Pede to allow my Wayfinder and Shell to win me the game. It was over in an eyeblink, and my opponent commented "not bad" before leaving the table.
Game 24: White/Green Selesnya Aggro
My opponent played Temple Garden, Temple Garden, Vinelasher Kudzu, Umezawa's Jitte. Yikes. I had a Golgari Guildmage, which attacked him down to eighteen life. My opponent tried to equip his Kudzu, but I had Disembowel for it, then on my turn I put Moldervine Cloak on my Guildmage. A few more land and a Kusari-Gama showed up on the other side of the table while I attacked with my 5/5 and played a Mortipede for insurance. He couldn't draw another creature and didn't have enough mana to activate his Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, so I won easily.
Game 25: Black/Green/Blue Reanimator
His deck was odd and scary at the same time, using Glimpse the Unthinkable to go along with Mortivores and Vigor Mortis for big beasties like Kokusho, the Evening Star. Anyway, I had a Civic Wayfinder with Moldervine Cloak on it to hit him once, then it died to Putrefy. I played a Golgari Guildmage and then replayed the Cloak, and it too died to Putrefy. My opponent Glimpsed me, then I played another Wayfinder, now with two Moldervine Cloaks on it, along with Shambling Shell. My opponent chump-blocked with a 4/4 Mortivore without Regeneration mana open, then blocked again with Kokusho, the Evening Star. After that, my 9/9 Wayfinder smacked him once, then he played another Glimpse and Vigor Mortis for a 14/14 Mortivore (this time able to regenerate). I had a Shinen of Life's Roar on the board, though, so I won on my next attack.
It's crazy what a few card changes will make. I would love to admit that I'm fixing these games or somehow only showing the good stuff, but these were all of the games, in the order that I played them, as they happened. Sometimes I have some free time between articles to play some "non-logged" games, but for this experiment I've been wrapping up at Sun so have only gotten twenty-five games with the deck under my belt. What a twenty-five games, though. Each set of games has showed the Lure mechanic factoring more and more into my wins, and during this last set my deck was nigh unstoppable.
I think one or two more rounds of minor changes and I'll be done.
OUT: 4 Last Gasp
IN: 4 Putrefy
I have also reevaluated why I even want creature removal in a deck based around removing creatures through Lure, Gaze of the Gorgon, etc. After all, isn't the entire premise of my deck creature removal? Why take up space with removal that would be useless against a creatureless deck when I could be adding more creatures? My answer is that there are some threats that a 4/5 Shinen can't handle. All of those previous threats are good examples. If the opposing creature is big, or tough, or can regenerate, or is in fact an artifact rather than a creature, or all of the above, then my Lure tactic is going to fall short. Putrefy helps me out of these situations a lot better than Last Gasp. I still think that the Gasp is absolutely terrific removal for any Black deck, but Golgari decks have access to a card that is almost always going to be better.
I realize that Putrefy is perhaps the chase uncommon in Ravnica: City of Guilds, and that a few of you will groan at its inclusion in my deck. My response is twofold. First, I think I've shown that the deck performs mighty fine with Last Gasp as its removal so it's certainly not a change you have to make with your deck, however you've built it. Second, the deck is now rare-less, making it arguably the least expensive deck of any I've built in this column. Even with Putrefy, I think this deck easily falls into the "budget" category.
OUT: 1 Disembowel
It's performed ably, especially recently, but I think up until now it has acted as a proxy for Putrefy. There is nothing that Disembowel does that Putrefy can't do better except kill token creatures for one mana. I would like to officially thank Disembowel for pulling my tail out of several fires over the last twenty-five games, and wish it well in its retirement.
IN: 1 Vigor Mortis
I've wanted a fourth Vigor Mortis for a long time because it just makes me happy whenever I successfully cast it. Some people think that Vigor Mortis is superfluous in my deck since I'm not reanimating anything huge. On the other hand, it occurs to me that my deck is awfully dependent on having living creatures, and that I can often get into a Moldervine Cloak or Shambling Shell-induced dredge cycle that loads up my graveyard with creatures. I doubt very seriously whether I'm going to regret this fourth copy in my deck.
My deck now looks like a "real," focused Constructed deck, free of puzzling card choices and one-of randomness:
Once free from my job and on my interim vacation, I played this configuration of the deck, assuming it was my final version, and went 13-7 in the Casual Decks room. That's fine performance for a rare-less deck, but a few things felt wrong to me. As a result, I made a few more tweaks to the deck. After all, I'm on vacation, baby.
It's worth noting that deckbuilding often hits a sort of plateau where a decklist is stable but doesn't quite feel right. Five games aren't usually going to reveal what's wrong, and usually it's about changing no more than two to four cards total. I consider this phase of deckbuilding a "tinkering" phase, one that usually has one of two outcomes:
- It pushes a deck from good to great, or from solid to scary, by finding that last card or cards that solve its problems, or
- It reveals that whatever is holding the deck back in fact requires a paradigm shift in design, spawning major revisions. Anyway, this isn't a phase I've had the luxury of exploring in my past series, so it felt nice to have the time to look critically at my deck without feeling the need to make immediate changes.
Here are the final changes I made:
OUT: 2 Golgari Rot Farm
Exactly once I played a Rot Farm on turn 2, discarded a creature, then reanimated it with Vigor Mortis on turn 4. That's not much a trick for forty-five games. Besides, the creatures in my deck are small. Vigor Mortis plays the role of backbreaker in my deck, not Unholy Mother of Reanimation. That is, Vigor Mortis helps me keep the pressure on an opponent, but I'm not trying to play Kuro, Pitlord, Mindleech Mass, or something silly like that.
So, without the reanimation trick, Golgari Rot Farm is a minor mana-fixer and mana-accelerator. Both Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder are better in these departments, and they're also sufficient such that my deck doesn't particularly need more mana-fixing and mana-acceleration. Besides, the tempo loss is annoying for a deck hoping to play a second-turn creature and enchant it with Moldervine Cloak.
OUT: 2 Shambling Shell
This was the toughest change to make in the deck. I have loved Shambling Shell's ability to make Lure matter more, but over my last twenty games it started to rub me a little raw. The emphasis on dredge feels misplaced in my deck. Before I explore this statement, though, I have to clear up something I said last week.
In my rationale for dropping Stinkweed Imp, I said, "What I'm realizing more and more, though, is that I'm afraid to use dredge with this deck. I don't want Mortipede to get milled into my graveyard, or Last Gasp, or Vigor Mortis, or Gaze of the Gorgon, or Strands of Undeath, or... You get the idea. Dredge, I'm realizing, in general is sort of a scary proposition for my deck, and a dredge cost of five is darned near terrifying."
On the Message Boards, I got rightly Chastised for this statement. Zechnophobe said it most simply when he wrote, "Why the Fear of dredge? That doesn't seem to make sense to me. Sure you might dredge away a Gaze... but then again, you are just as likely to put one ever closer to the top of your deck." Ashenei further expanded by saying, "The only possible problem with dredge (or any type of milling) is when it mills your deck away completely, causing you to lose. As long as that doesn't happen, milling never hurts you. At all. And in a deck with reanimation (like this one), it actually helps." Other people piped up as well.
What folks are saying is absolutely true: In a shuffled, randomized deck, milling away my cards has no negative effect on me as long as I have cards in my library. If a card gets milled away, well, hopefully it put useful cards within reach of my next few draws. The probability of drawing my key cards over the course of a game are exactly the same whether activating dredge or not. Indeed, I now have an idea what cards I won't be drawing and thus have more knowledge of what's left in my library. For a deck with Vigor Mortis, Golgari Guildmage, Svothgos, and a smattering of dredge cards, the extra cards in my graveyard can actually be a boon.
The way I should have explained me dropping Stinkweed Imp is that milling away my key cards with no way to get them back psychologically feels bad to me. I hate seeing Gaze of the Gorgon in the graveyard knowing I never had a chance to cast it and never will. It niggles in my head, making me think it's a design flaw in my deck. After all, any Constructed deck using dredge should see it as an incredible advantage. Witness my deck next week (oooo... foreshadowing!), in which dredge is almost always a good thing. In my current deck, where there are relatively few opportunities to abuse the milled cards, it just annoys me. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does.
Back to Shambling Shell, its dredge cost bothered me in the same way Stinkweed Imp's did. Worse, though, was that I was starting to realize that Shambling Shell was sort of redundant in my deck. Moldervine Cloak, Golgari Guildmage, and Vigor Mortis already put counters on my creatures. I didn't feel like I needed two more cards that did essentially the same thing. It was a poor Moldervine Cloak target because it couldn't be enchanted on the second turn. The two copies bothered me, too. Gaze of the Gorgon makes sense to me as a two-copy card because it relies on a certain board situation to be effective. Shambling Shell should either be in my deck at full throttle or out. After twenty games and several hours, I finally decided to try taking it out.
IN: 2 Nezumi Graverobber
Believe it or not, even I'm sick of Nezumi Graverobber. I realized that I was looking for excuses to keep it out of my deck because it was such a non-sexy card choice and one I've clearly explored in other decks. Hunted Troll has sex appeal, and one Shinen of Life's Roar enchanted with Moldervine Cloak negates an opponent's tokens. The Troll seemed like a good finisher, and obviously a great addition to a Lure deck. I disliked the idea of adding rares at the eleventh hour, but I was willing to do it. The reason I ended up choosing Nezumi Graverobber instead is twofold. First, I couldn't convince myself that Hunted Troll would have any more synergy (or, a converse way of saying this is, "would annoy me less") than Shambling Shell. It felt like change for change's sake. Second, Nezumi Graverobber really is ideally suited for my deck.
Consider what the Graverobber does: It's two mana, so is an excellent Moldervine Cloak target. It's splashable, meaning that it is easy to use in a two-color deck. It wrecks opposing decks that rely on graveyard tricks, including classic reanimator decks and decks using things like dredge. It gives me something to do with all of the mana Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder put on my side of the table. Its reanimation ability complements the other creatures in the deck really well. I'm all for being different and using oddball cards, but I also know a fit when I see one. Dangit.
So here's my final decklist:
Honestly, I think I could still tinker with this deck for awhile. I keep thinking that twenty-four land is too many when looking at the manacurve, then I play several games in which every land counts. I sometimes fantasize about putting the Shambling Shells back in and dropping Gaze of the Gorgon altogether. A day later I fantasize about adding the last two copies of Gaze into the deck.
Because I have a lot of time (I wonder if I'll tire of saying that for the next three weeks? Nah), I played another round of games with this decklist. In the Casual Decks room, I went 15-5, which is a slight improvement, but one I'm not sure you could call statistically significant. The deck did what I wanted, though, so much so that I took my proposed sideboard below into the Tourney Decks room and went 3-2 in matches (8-5 in games). What does this tell me? It tells me that the deck has earned the adjective "respectable." It's not a world-beater deck, but it does what it's supposed to do well enough and is really fun to play. My evolved draft deck is complete.
"Complete," that is, except for its name. Some of you have already started pondering possible deck names for my evolved draft deck. Now is the time I'm officially asking you to decide what I should call this creation of mine. If you posted a name on the Boards last week, repeat it for me this week. If you haven't yet thought of a name, brainstorm away. Remember that I tend to like deck names that are short, catchy, and that accurately reflect the deck's strategy and/or mechanics. I'll tell you right now that whatever you suggest has to top "Moldermort" from McDugan.
Speculative Sideboard Time!
Although I actually used the below sideboard for five matches, I'm still going to call it "speculative" because sideboards are meant to combat the deck types and matchups you believe you'll encounter in a tournament. I have completely lost touch with what's popular in Standard right now, so the cards below are more of a generic starting point than anything else. Hopefully, like the deck itself, this sideboard sparks some ideas of your own.
Sideboard: 4 Naturalize
Honestly, I think more enchantments scare me these days than artifacts. Yes, Umezawa's Jitte is a bummer, but so are Glare of Subdual, Faith's Fetters, Night of Souls' Betrayal, Blanchwood Armor, Annex, Hondens, Form of the Dragon, and Greater Good. I'm not convinced that Naturalize is helpful enough to use maindeck (as Chris Millar and I mused together last week, where is Nantuko Vigilante when you need him?), but I certainly think it's an important sideboard card. Naturalize feels like a no-brainer sideboard card, and one that deserves a full four copies.
Sideboard: 4 Matsu-Tribe Sniper
Sideboard: 3 Hand of Cruelty
The mana cost for Hand of Cruelty stinks for a two-color deck whose dominant color is Green. The chances of me casting it on the second turn and following it up with Moldervine Cloak are pretty slim. That said, there are times when Hand of Cruelty will flat-out win the game. It can't be the target of Faith's Fetters or Devouring Light, and it can hold off cards like Loxodon Hierarch and Watchwolf until Lure-ful help arrives. Oh, and when I finally do enchant it with my Cloak, it's a game-winner against White decks.
Sideboard: 2 Nezumi Graverobber
Like I said, there are some decks that really, really don't want to see an opposing Nezumi Graverobber. Against those decks, adding the third and fourth copies will hopefully rub salt into their wounds.
Sideboard: 2 Shred Memory
Shred Memory does a couple of things in the sideboard. First, it adds to the Nezumi Graverobber pain against decks that care about their graveyards. Just as importantly, it helps fetch every single card in the sideboard, along with Shinen of Life's Roar. Against any deck in which I'm relying on drawing one of these cards, Shred Memory goes into my deck alongside them.
Adding Money To The Deck
As I've mentioned several times already, this may be the cheapest deck to build of any I've done in this column from a pure monetary standpoint (of course, preconstructed deck evolutions assume you've bought the precon, which throws calculations like that off a bit). The fact that I can win 75% of my games without using a single rare is pretty sweet. This is not to say that expensive rares wouldn't help the deck, though. If you happen to own any of the cards below or are simply on less strict of a budget, feel free to try these options out to see how you like them.
Blah, blah, two-colored decks. Blah, blah, blah, good multilands. Seriously, if you want to improve this deck's performance, drop four basic lands for four Overgrown Tombs. If you want even better consistency, drop four more for Llanowar Wastes. The pain from these painlands will be minimal compared to how little you will experience mana problems. I'm thankful that this deck is as consistent as it is thanks to Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder, but Overgrown Tomb and Llanowar Wastes just make it all the sweeter.
Blah, blah, creatures. Blah, blah, blah, best equipment since Skullclamp. If your deck hopes to win via creature damage and has more than eight creatures in it, Umezawa's Jitte will be your best friend. Just expect me and every single one of your friends to complain about it every time you play it.
This one is slightly counter-intuitive. How can a 0/1 creature possibly help my Lure deck? First, Birds of Paradise is perhaps the best mana-acceleration creature ever and an absolute luxury on the first turn. Second, it's a 3/4 flier with Moldervine Cloak on it, which is something many decks can't handle. Third, it's a good late-game target for both +1/+1 Golgari Guildmage counters and as a sacrificial lamb for the Guildmage's second ability. I never felt Llanowar Elves and Elves of Deep Shadow did more for my deck than the combination of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder, but Birds are an enticing option.
If you're looking for a big fattie to include in a deck like mine with access to plenty of mana and Lure effects, Green/Black offers a whole slew of choices. Gleancrawler makes Shinen of Life's Roar, Mortipede, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Golgari Guildmage even scarier, Vulturous Zombie is just a ridiculously-good finisher, Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni adds to the reanimation theme, Kokusho, the Evening Star can swing games without effort, and Grave-Shell Scarab is a never-say-die 4/4. Any of these creatures could enhance the deck and speed up its kills considerably.
Speaking of cards that can speed up a kill, ponder Vinelasher Kudzu for a moment. Once again, it's a viable turn 3 Moldervine Cloak target. Both Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder ensure that it will keep getting +1/+1 counters late into the game. It's splashable. Finally, it's unlikely to get blocked in its vulnerable early stages thanks to Shinen of Life's Roar and Mortipede. Sounds like a winner to me.
The last expensive rare I'll mention today is Dark Confidant. The Confidant has the two-mana thing going for it once again, and truly there isn't a lot in the deck that scares me from a life-loss perspective. The deck's mana tops out at four for its spells, and like every deck it can put an extra card each turn to good use. If the game is running long and the Confidant is looking like it might kill me, I can always sacrifice it to Golgari Guildmage or channel a Shinen of Life's Roar onto it. Like Vinelasher Kudzu, I don't see a lot of downsides to using Dark Confidant in a deck like mine.
Adding Guildpact To The Deck
Some of us won't get a chance to mess around with Guildpact until it hits Magic Online on February 27th. Indeed, I'm still hip-deep in Ravnica and am only just now turning my mind to the new set and its spiffy new guilds. That said, here are two commons that I think deserve serious consideration for my deck in the new Standard.
The Euthanist's ability sure seems useful in a deck with suicidal Lure creatures. The idea of haunting a Shinen of Life's Roar or Mortipede with it sounds positively diabolical. I also enjoy the fact that, like Civic Wayfinder, its toughness is higher than one. Orzhov Euthanist is the one card I can see joining the decklist without a lot of serious modification. What to take out for it completely baffles me.
Beastmaster's Magemark requires a few more acrobatics to fit it into the deck. It just looks Golgari by the artwork, though, doesn't it? The Magemark automatically enhances Moldervine Cloak (as if Moldervine Cloak needed enhancing). It also looks mighty good on a Shinen of Life's Roar or Mortipede. What I'm tempted to do is start getting crazy by adding Bramble Elemental and Fists of Ironwood to my deck to inflate the Beastmaster love. This takes my thinking in whole new directions, which may or may not be a good thing.
There are other potential Guildpact matches for my deck, too. For example, I can see both Cremate and Wildsize fitting into the deck without any trouble whatsoever. Any other recommendations from me will require a bit more thought.
A Pre-Interlude Interlude
According to my usual patterns, next week would be a "Budget Golgari" article, outlining what I consider to be the must-have commons, uncommons and cheap rares for the various incarnations of Golgari decks. This article is coming, but there's another I want to write before Guildpact sinks too deeply into your collective consciousness. What's the topic? Why, budget deckbuilding, of course!
Think outside the bu-- er, think hard and have fun,