To those of you who've made the perilous journey here, let me say first: why aren't you outside?!?
And then let me say, thanks for reading carefully enough to link here. No huge feat, I know: but I appreciate the patience with an off-speed article and am happy to give you these three deck ideas for emperor format. Note I haven't adjusted these decks much for Fifth Dawn, yet – there may be new opportunities for tinkering.
For recent articles on emperor format, see my archives – around December 2003, if memory serves. Those of you who enjoy emperor format on Magic Online also probably have much to say on the topic and how you can set the ranges; feel free to use the message boards to share. Our group plays range of two for targeted effects, range of one for attacks, and universal range for global effects.
Deck #1: Lieutenant's Sacrifice
This deck started with Lightning Coils. I've been looking for a way to use this card, and spent too much time thinking about red. Red's okay at killing your own creatures, but black is better.
For example: Hecatomb. In a single blow, you can charge your Coils to nearly full and give yourself another recurring source of damage.
If the deck's going to be aggressive, and likely to receive help from an emperor, I'm also exploring a highly risky choice: Dross Harvester. The life loss/life gain equation won't always balance in your favor; but the potential for an explosive start may be worth it. If you want the Harvester to gain you life from the Coils' elemental tokens, don't forget you'll need some way to sack them – either another Hecatomb or something like Spawning Pit.
The rest of the deck is less inspired – the Sengir Autocrat is a traditional Hecatomb choice, and Coretappers are becoming de rigeur in many casual decks using Mirrodin block artifacts – but I'm proud enough of the original combo to build and try this. In a good game, it should blast through opposing lieutenants and then rush the emperor with elemental tokens and Hecatomb damage. But this deck will feel successful if it simply blows the flank away too early for the enemy to do anything more than kill you. Remember, you are expendable!
There are lots of conventional black touches you could add – e.g., Volrath's Stronghold. As of this writing, I've only played this deck a few times, so don't take any of this too seriously. The first games have suggested (a) the tutoring is pretty important (usually for Hecatomb or Lightning Coils) and (b) the Harvesters are actually pretty darn good – the Spawning Pits really help here, and I've matched up against some unlucky white mages. I'm pretty bullish on the deck's long-term chances – it can lose Lightning Coils and still win with Hecatomb, it can lose Hecatomb and still win with Harvesters and Angels, and it can lose all of those things and still send a Consume Spirit to the opposing emperor's head.
Rare replacement: The Harvesters are the most replaceable – anything from Hidden Horror to Nim Abomination should be fine. The tutors could be Diabolic Tutor (though I'd up the land count) or Night's Whisper. Fallen Angel is also expendable – if you have an odd Hell's Caretaker or Cabal Patriarch, this is a good place. Even Nantuko Husk works fine.
Deck #2: Creature-Lite White
Our second deck today is meant for the emperor position. It's nearly creatureless, with only a nod to a few angels in the event one flank goes down.
Lots of players out there are already enjoying Orim's Chant with Isochron Scepter. It can be a little frustrating for casual opponents, so adjust if your personality suits. There are certainly many fine white spells that can go under the Scepter.
Rare replacement: The rare lands are certainly expendable – heck, Pearl Diamonds would probably be fine. Parallax Wave and Wrath of God are a bit more difficult to replace, but there are other creature neutralization strategies. Anything from damage-reducing clerics (e.g., Sanctum Custodian) to tappers (e.g., Benalish Trapper) will work.
The Isochron Scepters are difficult uncommons to get – but you'll need them for the deck, because they're the centerpiece. I also highly recommend getting your hands on an Enlightened Tutor – it makes using Mirrodin block-heavy decks a lot easier.
One tip for learning how to replace rares with uncommons and commons in this sort of deck is to sit in the emperor position for an Emperor Draft. (“Emperor Draft” is a six-player draft for emperor format. See archives, winter 2004, for an article or two on this topic. This format is terrific – our group has warmly embraced it.) What I've learned about Emperor Draft so far is that emperors should draft white, in just about any block you're using. The tapping and damage prevention is just key, and most enemy lieutenants are so busy picking up green/red fat that they don't have enough removal to take care of your creatures and the lieutenant in front of them.
So play Emperor Draft, sit in the emperor seat, and draft white. You'll learn a lot there, and you may find a gem or two for your next constructed Isochron Scepter deck!
Deck #3: Firstborn, First To Finish
Since we have one lieutenant deck and one emperor deck, I'll protect the emperor's other flank with a second lieutenant deck.
This one has its roots in the Standard constructed tournament deck “Fires”, which was popular as Invasion and Planeshift rolled out. Blastoderm and Saproling Burst were still in the environment, and those looked good with haste. There were several variants of Fires decks, and I had a front-row (reporter's) seat to watch an up-and-coming Brian Kibler beat legendary pro Jon Finkel with Rith, the Awakener. A wonderful moment in Magic, for pros and casual players alike.
Blastoderm and Saproling Burst aren't in this version of the deck – instead, we make do with a green gem from Darksteel – Fangren Firstborn. We also slow the deck down a bit in order to keep up a constant flow of threatening creatures, which is important to do against two opponents:
Like the black “suicide” deck above, it doesn't care much about its own survival – it's meant to blow up a side early and make the opposing emperor change game plans before she's ready.
Unlike the black deck, this deck has no Plan B. If an Ensnaring Bridge hits the board, it waits until it finds a Naturalize – and then hopes no one has a Counterpell. So you can't wait with it. Beatdown is the essence.
This deck has smashed through the flank by turn five three times already – I've had it together in this form for about four nights of play. Generally, it's because it deals moderate damage on turns three and four, but no one gets alarmed enough to remove the Fires of Yavimaya. Your opposing lieutenant may even be brave enough to attack all out, hoping to race you. Then Fangren Firstborn comes out, and you're swinging with six or seven more damage than anyone expected. Fangren Firstborn with haste is very, very good. A first version of this deck had Shivan Wurms, and I'm quite certain the Firstborns are a huge improvement. (The Wurms were always better in the original tournament “Fires” deck because you had Blastoderm to return to your hand in addition to the Flametongues.)
Rare replacement: Green is blessed with many fast fatties and various mana accelerators. The uncommons and commons (Fires of Yavimaya, Flametongue Kavu, Wild Mongrel, etc.) are actually more important than the rares, in many ways. Make sure you include some solution to flyers (any large dragon, or something like Silklash Spider, will do), and don't be afraid to substitute up to four cards with some nifty (and cheap) trick like Refresh.
How savage a beating? I had two copies of Savage Beating in an earlier version of this deck. I never was able to get off the entwine – either I was losing too many creatures and had no good attack opportunity, or a Savage Beating would have been redundant to the pounding I was already giving them. I think Savage Beating belongs in a different kind of deck – I just don't know what kind exactly, yet. Perhaps white-red, with flyers? I'll investigate.
All Together Now
Put the three decks together, and you probably can see the strategy – reckless speed on both sides, each lieutenant with a good chance threatening lethal damage by turns four through six. The emperor ensures one side or the other gets shut down, and by turn six or seven, it's a three-on-two. Three-on-two games are eminently winnable – the Story Circles are in the emperor's deck to make sure bringing the enemy emperor within range wasn't a massive mistake. (So keep these in your hand early, unless you need them.)
Bonus Fourth “Deck”: A 250-Card Story
Readers have told me in the past they enjoy hearing about stories from our Magic group. Personally, I feel I must be boring everyone when I do something like this; but it's been a while, so what the heck. I take some poetic license with the following tale, but not much…
Nine players at the table, so we decide to do three three-man teams. Emperor format. We randomly distribute players, and it turns out I'm with my brother-in-law Paul, and a fine fellow named Dave who does lots of funky stuff. (I use Dave's deck ideas here and there in Serious Fun, when I feel I need not only to reach out to “Johnny”, but grab that boyish amalgam by the lapels and shake him until he cries.)
Dave tells Paul and me he's got a workable emperor deck, and I believe him because I've seen it: Mycosynth Lattice with Kill Switch to lock down the board, and Aphetto Alchemist to release the lock for his own team. Pretty nifty, as combos go.
I don't happen to have any decks with me, so Paul offers to help out. (This is what brothers-in-law do, right?) When I ask what he has available, he reaches down behind the table and surfaces moments later with this massive five-color deck. It lands with a THUD on the quivering card table. Paul beams at me.
“Two hundred FIFTY, baby!”
I grit my teeth. “Fine,” I manage. “Give me 125 damn cards. You know, I spend every other Tuesday telling my readers not to play with decks using over 60 cards.”
“You know…readers. Of my column.”
“Oh, your column. I never read that crap.”
I sigh as I take my gargantuan half-deck. “No, I don't suppose you do.”
I draw a seven card hand with lots of two-mana stuff and one land. Violating another rule I've passed on to you all, I keep it. Dave sighs and mulligans; Paul hangs onto what he has.
The game starts, and it's immediately clear that Dave is manascrewed. No help from the emperor. Heck, I might as well be the emperor…and so it starts.
I topdeck a land and play Sylvan Scrying. Then I draw two more lands in exactly the colors I need. Flush with the success of my daring (and stupid) pay-as-you-go land-drop system, I play the following emperor-like spells, in no particular order:
It was an amazing, virtuoso performance from a deck that had no business doing what it did.
We still lost horribly, of course – I was the only person playing anything worth spit. But damn, that deck was cool.
Enjoy your emperor games. And get outside!
Anthony cannot provide deck help, either.