Exploding Wurms (Part 1)

Posted in Building on a Budget on April 24, 2006

By Ben Bleiweiss

Hello everyone! I've got some grand and fabulous news this week – along with the strange and macabre. It seems that Boab, my robotic deck-building friend, has gone missing. When last I saw him, he was cackling to himself (which is unnerving as is, given that he's a robot) about Moxen. The next day, he wasn't in the house. Believe me – I checked everywhere. Hopefully he'll show up by next week.

That's the bad news – the good news is that I've got a killer new budget deck that I'm stoked about! I had an idea about six months ago to build this deck, and the idea has been percolating around the ol' noggin' ever since then. Well, I finally got together with Ted and told him that I was going to sally forth and build ye olde deck. Here's how the conversation went:

Ben: Ted, do you remember that deck that I said I'd build six months ago?
Ted: No.
Ben: Well, I'm going to build it for my next Building on a Budget column.
Ted: No.
Ben: Cool, thanks Ted!
Ted: Someone get JMS on the phone. Wait – better yet, get Nate. He's in house now. And put a hit out on Bleiweiss.
Ben: Ted, you just IMed me that message.
Ted: …
Ben: TED! You cruel, heartless monster!
Ted: (Ted has signed off AIM)

Thankfully, a week in seclusion has given me plenty of time to tinker and test. Before we get to the deck, I'd like to open up the reader mailbag. This is an actual letter from one of my adoring fans. From Muke240:

“I have to say this column is sucking. I used to look forward for this each week but now I just skim through it… since you had taken over this column, it had lost its flavor and it's disappointing.”

Well Muke240, if you don't like this deck, I will eat worms.

Yummy, Gummi worms.


Erratic Explosion
Speaking of Worms….

Ever since the dawn of Magickind, the Red mage has had one goal – blow things up real good. First came Lightning Bolt and Fireball, and then came Incinerate and Kaervek's Torch. But lo, that was not enough. Red wanted fireworks, flames and great balls of fire, not great Fireballs. So Wizards of the Coast printed a feisty little number known as Erratic Explosion.

All this was fine and groovy, but big pappa Bleiweiss wanted more. More explosions! More drama! More damage straight to the dome! Erratic Explosion came, went, and was promptly forgotten. Years later, the direct ancestor of Erratic Explosion saw print, and was completely ignored. This was the card of my dreams: Undying Flames.

Undying Flames solved one of the problems of Erratic Explosion – once you deal your damage, how do you kill your opponent? Simple – by copying Undying Flames every turn for the rest of the game! I wanted something really big to throw at my opponent. No, bigger than that. Seriously, I needed a huge monster to throw across the table, one that would make my foe fall from their chair and crash to the floor.

Undying Flames, meet Autochthon Wurm. Autochthon Wurm, meet Undying Flames.

I spent all day scheming about this deck, with visions of fifteen to the dome dancing in my head. What else would work well in the deck? Well, Sensei's Divining Top was a must, since I'd want to set up my draws after I cast Undying Flames. Remember, even though you can't cast any other spells for the remainder of the game after you cast an Epic spell, you can still use effects. I also wanted Stinkweed Imp – it is early defense, and a way to dredge past undesired cards from the top. Black would also give me access to reanimation spells – Zombify and Vigor Mortis to be exact! Man oh man, this was getting better and better. Not only could I fling for fifteen, I could also come across the red zone with a 9/14 trampler!

A little muss and a little fuss later, and here was my result. Please note that this deck was built for Standard play.

Really Bad Reanimator

Download Arena Decklist

(Total cost of deck, when I built it: 15 tickets)

I decided on Bloodfire Colossus as my second fatty of choice for multiple reasons. First of all, he's one of the highest mana-cost creatures in Standard. Second, he's 6/6 for six. That's nothing to sneeze at. Third, I can reanimate him and clear the board – so as early as turn 4 (with a Seething Song or Fellwar Stone) I can pop him and use him as an Inferno. Fourth, I can hard-cast him, even without reanimation. Seething Song also helped in this regard.

Darkblast was a second way to get cards into my graveyard – I envisioned that I could kill an early creature, and then dredge to drop cards in the bin. Seething Song was for general acceleration, as well as allowing for a fourth-turn Undying Flames. I really wanted to get the ridiculous draw of turn 1 Sensei's Divining Top, turn 2 Fellwar Stone, active Top, turn 3 Seething Song, Undying Flames for 15, turn 4 kill my opponent.

Did this ever happen? Did I kill my opponent on the fourth turn with this deck? Did my dreams of exploding wurms come true?

The answer was an emphatic no.

Game #1: Siaogao (JMS's Charge of the Boros deck)

My opening draw consists of two lands, a Wurm, a Colossus, two Undying Flames, and a Vigor Mortis. I send it back into a hand with only Mountains, and then get overrun by a bunch of guys, without ever having cast a spell.

Record: 0-1

After just one game, I already found a couple of major issues with the deck – not enough land, and too many big guys. I had Darkblast, Stinkweed Imp, and Distress (if I was desperate) to send large guys to my graveyard to reanimate, but I had no way to reliably discard a fatty in hand. The first changes to the deck were to take out a Wurm and a Colossus, and to add in some Swamps.

Really Bad Reanimator 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Out: 1 Autochthon Wurm, 1 Bloodfire Colossus
In: 2 Swamp

I also realized that this deck could really, really use the Rakdos Signet instead of Fellwar Stone, and the Rakdos bounceland instead of just Swamps and Mountains. Alas, Dissension is some time off, and I'll have to make do as-is.

Game #2: Freke1083 (B/G aggro)

My opening draw is Swamp, Mountain, Zombify, Vigor Mortis, Seething Song, Seething Song, Undying Flames. I die to a pair of Golgari Guildmages and Golgari Rotwurms, with two Seething Songs, two Zombify, two Vigor Mortis, and an Undying Flames in hand, with only two lands and a Sensei's Divining Top on the board.

Record: 0-2

My dreams were quickly being crushed. Not only had I failed to kill my opponent on the fourth turn, I hadn't even dealt a point of damage yet! I felt a sickening, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I refused to give into despair. This was not going to be a bad deck. I had dreamt about Undying Flames for months – the blueprints of Flames/large creature/Reanimation had been rolled over and over in my mind. I would make it win, even if I had to reach across the computer screen and unplug my opponent's computer!

Game #3:Troels86 (U/B Discard)


This time I get all the discard effects to get cards into the graveyard. Unfortunately, they are all due to my opponent's spells, and none of the cards I drop are my big guys. I play Stinkweed Imp, dredge it once it gets Last Gasped, dredge it again once it gets Last Gasped again, dredge it a third time, and then finally get it to stick to the board, stopping his horde of Ravenous Rats. Then, I draw Zombify, put Autochthon Wurm into play, and swing for twenty-seven over three turns.

Record: 1-2

Game #4: RavenFamiliar (B/R Gravedigger)

I'm running twenty lands, four Seething Songs, and four Fellwar Stones. This is not enough land, because for the third time in four games, I get stuck at two lands. I lose to a horde of 2/2 creatures, holding double Seething Song and Undying Flames.

Record: 1-3

It's time to add more land to this deck. I can't even tell if the deck is good or not, because I can never cast my spells! I remember an important lesson from days gone by. It was back in 1995, and I was playing against my friend Neil. He had a R/G aggro deck, packed with Kird Apes, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Grizzly Bears, Ball Lightnings, and burn. I was running R/G/B land destruction, with Stone Rain, Ice Storm, Sinkhole, creature removal, Nether Void, and Jade Statues. I beat him in ten straight games, and in each game he basically lost after I killed his first creature or first land. Frustrated, he threw his deck on the table.

“I can't believe it! I have twenty-three mana in this deck and I keep getting mana screwed!”
“Neil, how many lands are you playing?”
“Eight – but I have four Llanowar Elves, four Birds of Paradise, five Moxes, a Black Lotus, and a Sol Ring
“Yeah, but if you don't draw a land, you can't cast your Elves or Birds – plus if I kill them or your lands, you don't have enough left in your deck to cast any of your spells.”
“But it's twenty-three mana!”

My deck was having the same problems – sure, I had twenty-eight mana sources, for four of them were useless without two lands on the table, and four of them were one-shot spells that couldn't be used to cast half the other spells in my deck. I needed even more land.

Really Bad Reanimator 3.0

Download Arena Decklist

Out: 1 Darkblast, 1 Distress
In: 1 Mountain, 1 Swamp

Game #5: Listernine (U/R Niz-Mizzet)

My draw involves lands, three Darkblasts, Seething Song, and losing to Niv-Mizzet. To make matters even worse, I only drew three Swamps, so I couldn't Darkblast Niv-Mizzet three times during my upkeep, dredge back the Darkblast, and then kill it with a fourth application of Darkblast. Blarrrrrrg!

Record: 1-4

Game #6: 6angashe (B/G Dredge)

For the first time, my deck gets humming! I get an early Fellwar Stone, use Sensei's Divining Top to set up my early draws, and get everything ready for the kill. I set up the deck perfectly – Undying Flames on top, then Zombify, then Autochthon Wurm underneath, and land beneath that. All I need to do is draw the Flames, cast it, and I've virtually won…except that I forgot that activating Sensei's Divining Top would put it on top of my deck.

You see, in the rush to get to the Flames, I had activated the Top on my own turn, and then I used it to get that Flames on top of my deck. Do you see where this is going? I cast Flames, doing one damage with the Top. I then did four with Zombify, and drew my Autochthon Wurm. The original plan had been to wait a turn, draw the Flames, reorder the deck, cast Flames, and then win. I got so excited about finally getting the deck to work that I blew this game on multiple levels.

Record: 1-5

I logged off Magic Online to lick my wounds. Not only was the deck not working, but I was thoroughly demoralized. I had a few deck ideas floating around in my head, but I wanted none to work more than this bad boy! Why wasn't the deck working? I slept on that very question, and awoke the next morning with some answers.

  1. I didn't have a way to reliably discard. This is very important, because without a way to reliably discard, every large creature I draw is essentially a dead draw. I don't want to end up with Autochthon Wurm in my hand, because I can't cast him at all!
  2. I had more reanimation spells than creatures I'd want to reanimate – and no way to tutor for those creatures. Without a card like Buried Alive or Entomb in Standard, I couldn't reliably use one of my reanimation spells. The last thing I'd want to do is cast Vigor Mortis on Stinkweed Imp.
  3. My land count was a little wonky. I still was having mana problems. My deck needs to get to six mana to really get moving, and most games I was getting stuck at between two and four.
  4. Aside from Sensei's Divining Top, I couldn't control my draws. My deck is combolicious, but I'm completely at the mercy of top-decking each and every turn.

To solve these problems, I required a radical shift in the deck's design. Unlike my B/U discard deck, I did not want to fundamentally change the nature of this deck. My goals were to:

  1. Chuck a gigantic Wurm at my opponent's head,
  2. Swing in the red zone with a gigantic Wurm, or
  3. Do both.

I did an exhaustive search of all the cards in standard, and found that Black and Red didn't have many efficient self-discard spells. I didn't want to play something wacky like One with Nothing, because it doesn't help further my game plan, past initially discarding my hand. I needed a card which let me discard while furthering my undying goals of Undying Flames. In the end, I reached a conclusion:

I needed Blue in the deck.

Blue has many self-discarding cards that would fit well in this deck. These include, alphabetically, Compulsive Research, Dimir Guildmage, Drowned Rusalka, Ideas Unbound, Lore Broker, Sift, Sift Through Sands, Soratami Seer, and Thought Courier. I only really needed to discard a couple of cards at most each game – my large guys – so I didn't really need something as drastic as Soratami Seer. Since my deck was going to be triple-colored, I cut any double-Blue spells (Sift Through Sands, Ideas Unbound), and ruled out Drowned Rusalka due to a lack of creatures to sacrifice.

In the end, Thought Courier and Compulsive Research seemed ideal for the deck. I didn't want my opponent drawing cards this time around, so Thought Courier is pretty strictly better than Lore Broker. Likewise, Compulsive Research was a turn faster than Sift, which makes a big difference when you're trying to get a combo off as quickly as possible. For that same reason, I didn't even bother with Dimir Guildmage – I wanted to be setting up for the kill on turn 4, not drawing one card, or making my opponent discard one card.

I had high hopes for the revised version of this deck. I cut all of the double-Black spells that remained in the deck, switched to a mostly-Blue mana base, added in bounce lands to help smooth my mana issues, and changed out Fellwar Stone for Izzet Signet. The result? Exploding Wurms! And if you've been following my column, you know this much to be true – when I give a deck a real name, it's a gooder.

Exploding Wurms!

Download Arena Decklist

Out: 3 Darkblast, 3 Distress, 4 Fellwar Stone, 6 Mountain, 8 Swamp, 2 Vigor Mortis
In: 4 Compulsive Research, 3 Dimir Aqueduct, 8 Island, 3 Izzet Boilerworks, 4 Izzet Signet, 4 Thought Courier

(Total cost of Exploding Wurms!, when I built it: 12 tickets)

Game #1: EwokOutlaw (W/G Control)

Oh man, oh man, oh man. Oh man. Oh, man. Man, oh man. Turn 2 Thought Courier, turn 3 Divining Top, turn 4 Compulsive Research, discarding Stinkweed Imp, turn 5 dredge (to get past bad cards on top of my library), turn 6 Seething Song, Undying FlamesAutochthon Wurm for 15, turn 7 Bloodfire Colossus for 8. My dreams have come true – Exploding Wurms! Exploded wurms!

Record: 1-0 (I'm restarting the record here, because the deck is so changed from the B/R version that it's virtually a different deck.)

All pistons were firing now. Not only did I win, but my deck performed the way I had imagined it would work. It was a thing of beauty – all the parts came together and formed a single gun, with two bullets, aimed with lethal precision. And this was no fluke.


Thought Courier
Game #2: Dudjiro (B/G Weenie)

My opening hand had two Bloodfire Colossus, but I didn't care – I also had a Thought Courier and a Compulsive Research! Opening with large guys was no longer a mulligan – it was simply an easy choice about which card to discard first.

As it turns out, I get the “B” plan this game – I draw two early Seething Songs and cast a fourth turn Bloodfire Colossus. It hits him once before he casts Nekrataal – but I simply blow up the Colossus, sending him to six (he had taken two from his own Elves of Deep Shadow). I cast Sensei's Divining Top and Undying Flames, and he eats six from the top of my deck, courtesy of a second Undying Flames.

Record: 2-0

Please don't let it all be just a dream.

Game #3: Yingyangwizard (R/W Samurai)

I take a little too much damage before stabilizing, and have to use Undying Flames to kill all his creatures as he plays them. I get to hit him a couple of times with the Flames, but end up dying to Rain of Embers.

Record: 2-1

Game #4: Smogan (Mono-Black Control)

I get a triple Stinkweed draw, and he gets Festering Goblin and Keening Banshee. However, my Sensei's Divining Top allows me to control my draws for the entire game – any time I don't like my top three cards, I dredge a dead Imp to get past them. I cast Undying Flames on turn 6, hitting him with Bloodfire Colossus, then another Bloodfire Colossus, and finally with Autochthon Wurm.

Record: 3-1

Game #5: .QDSH (G/W Weenie)

Nothing doing this game – I couldn't draw any cards to discard the Autochthon Wurm in my hand, I didn't reach six mana for Undying Flames, and I get run down by his creatures.

Record: 3-2

Game #6: Basuta (Mono-Blue lockdown)

Basuta is on the play, and bounces my first land on his second turn. He then plays Temporal Adept on turn 3, and things look grim – until I top deck a signet! This allows me to continue to develop my board, as he doesn't have quite enough gas to bounce multiple lands/signets a turn. I eventually draw into multiple Signets, he can't keep up with his land-denial strategy, and he concedes the game, without me ever having cast a non-Signet spell. Just for the record, I would have been able to cast Undying Flames the turn after he conceded.

Record: 4-2

Game #7: Cianan (U/B mill)

He gets down a pair of Dimir Cutpurse, and proceeds to tear my hand apart with them, while furthering his draws. However, I manage to keep afloat thanks to Compulsive Research, and cast Undying Flames as the last card in my hand. I kill a Cutpurse (to keep from losing a damage race), and then he drops Kokusho with me at 10 life. It's time to race. I flip up Zombify, sending him to sixteen life, and then get Autochthon Wurm, bringing him to one the turn before I die.

Record: 4-3.

If I had hit a Colossus or an Undying Flames or another Wurm on my first Flames, I would have won this one. Even though I'm batting around .500 right now, It's been close in the games I've lost. Thanks to Undying Flames and Wurm, I can completely change the tide of the game in a single spell.

Game #8: Punjoke (Thief of Hope/Arcane)

He gets Thief of Hope, casts Kodama's Reach splicing Kodama's Might (5 damage), then casts Unchecked Growth splicing Kodama's Might with a hard-cast of Kodama's Might, bringing me down to three life. I cast Undying Flames, killing his Thief of Hope – and I follow it with two Autochthon Wurms to his head, ending the game almost immediately.

Record: 5-3

It's time to address the weakness this deck is showing – I am vulnerable to an early weenie rush. Against the Samurai, Spiritcraft and U/B mill deck, I lost to a bunch of 1/1 and 2/2 guys. My deck is very capable of killing on the 6th or 7th turn, so all I need to do is buy a turn or two in the middle game, and I'm good to go. Pyroclasm seems like a perfect fit here, so I add it in, taking out Seething Song. The Songs were good for getting a god draw, but the deck has proven consistent enough with the addition of Blue that I don't really need explosive anymore – unless, of course, explosive involves a wurm being removed from the game.

Exploding Wurms! 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Out: 4 Seething Song
In: 4 Pyroclasm (This adds 2 tickets to the cost of the deck, bringing it to 14 tickets)

Game #9: 61cardspike (Mono-Red)

61cardspike never really got an offense going, and I end up killing him on the 6th turn, thanks to a Signet and a quick Undying Flames.

Record: 6-3

Game #10: Jcampbell (Mono-Green Spiritcraft)

JCampbell gets out an early Loam Dweller, and follows it with Elder Pine of Jukai, and a couple of other smaller spirits. I cast the Top, then Imp, and finally Pyroclasm, taking out his entire team. I dredge Imp, cast Zombify on a newly-graveyarded Autochthon Wurm, and send the Wurm in for smashery until the game was won.

Record: 7-3

If the Pyroclasms had been Seething Songs, I would have definitely lost that game. I'm not able to compete with eight power of creatures on turn 4 without removal.

Game #11: 203: (G/U Ninjas)

I keep a hand with one land and Sensei's Divining Top, just to see if my deck is capable of drawing out of that sort of hand. It is not – I don't have enough mana acceleration in the deck to make that idea work, and I die quickly to a horde of Ninja of the Deep Hours backed with Remands and Mana Leaks.

Record: 7-4


Skeletal Vampire
Game #12: Ivyetched (B/W Control)

He gets stuck at five mana, after transmuting for a Skeletal Vampire. I get Sensei's Divining Top and Undying Flames, and quickly finish him with Autochthon Wurm. Funny, that Wurm seems to kill people a lot, but I haven't manage to cast it yet….

Record: 8-4

Game #13: Triricao (White Weenie)

Pyroclasm is quickly earning its keep. He gets a first turn Isamaru, then casts Lantern Kami and Shuko. I clear the board with Pyroclasm, and follow it with Stinkweed Imp. This buys me plenty of time to cast Undying Flames – and even without a Divining Top, I am able to send twenty damage to his head. Once he was down to no creatures, I could have simply killed a creature a turn with the Flames if things go out of hand.

Record: 9-4

Game #14: Cloud_821 (R/G)

I get a 4th turn Wurm, thanks to Zombify and Compulsive Research. I follow it up with a couple of swings, and then an Undying Flames for 8, courtesy of Bloodfire Colossus. There just isn't much that a R/G deck can do to stop a 9/14 creature.

Record: 10-4

Game #15: Fallong (Warp World)

He gets his combo off the turn before I get my combo off – although I will note that if I had gotten a Bloodfire Colossus off of his Warp World, I probably would have won this game. Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for Fallong) this was not the case.

Record: 10-5

Game #16: Ferretthater (W/B)

This was a pretty long game – I took a lot of early damage from Blind Hunters, and end up having to use Undying Flames to kill his creatures, just to stay alive. When I finally clear all of his guys off the board (at one life), I end up not having 24 damage worth of cards left in my deck! This game ends with me getting decked.

Record: 10-6

I certainly did not expect to lose to being decked by myself, but Undying Flames does move me two or more cards down my library each turn. Remember, all land cards revealed by Undying Flames are removed from the game, so it's entirely possible (and did happen in this game) to mill myself for 5-6 cards in a single turn!

Game #17: MyEvilSide (W/G Weenie, Best 2 out of 3)

In the first game of this three-game set, he leads with Isamaru, follows it with double Savannah Lions, and then puts a Moldervine Cloak on a Lion, swinging in for nine on turn 3. I die the following turn.

In the second game, I reanimate a fourth-turn Colossus, and then use it to control the pace of the game – even though he gets a 9/9 double-Cloaked Watchwolf into play thanks to Faith's Fetters on my Colossus, I am able to block it with Thought Courier until I get my combo set up – and end up hitting him with double Autochthon Wurm for the win. In the third game, he keeps a risky one-land hand, and ends up not drawing a second land until turn 4. This gives me plenty of time to shoot the moon with Autochthon Wurm.

Record: 11-6

Game #18: Scrune (B/W Discard, 2 out of 3)

Black/White discard just isn't as good as it could be when you're happy to discard cards out of your hand. Half the time, his Ravenous Rats, Cry of Contrition, and Shrieking Grotesque help me get off a fourth turn reanimation spell on something rather large. He takes the first game, but I win games two and three by bringing back Colossus, blowing up the world, and buying enough time to cast Undying Flames for the last fourteen damage.

Record: 12-6

Exploding Wurms! is an absolute blast to play! There is no better feeling than casting a fifteen point Fireball for six mana – and knowing that there is more yet to come. And there is more yet to come – tune in next week as I tune up Exploding Wurms! and take it to the next level.

Before I go, a quick poll!

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