Interlude: My Mirage Precon, Part 1

Posted in Building on a Budget on October 3, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

So, let's review from last week: I have the opportunity to create one of the four preconstructed decks for the online release of Mirage. My articles today and next week will walk you through my card choices for the deck, and I fully expect you to give me feedback via the Message Boards as if this were one of my regular preconstructed deck evolutions. Speak up early and often on today's Boards, because after next week the deck pretty much gets finalized and shipped off to R&D.

I know that some folks are going to be put off by these two articles, especially if they don't have access to Magic Online. Although I get asked almost weekly to focus--not all the time, just once in awhile--on older cards, an all-Mirage precon is not something everyone will find captivating. To these people, I say... Come on, man! I get to make my own preconstructed deck! Don't begrudge me my cool once-in-forever experience!


Last week I outlined four decks I would enjoy building (steering clear of the White/Green deck space from Magic Online tournament winner Markus Pettersson). Secretly I hoped that the Red/Green fattie deck would win the poll, since one of my first Constructed decks ever revolved around Lure of Prey. You all deemed that deck the least interesting of the bunch, though. I guess I can't blame you. Here are the poll results:

Which deck should Jay make?
Deck #2 (Black) 2234 30.3%
Deck #3 (Red/White) 2094 28.4%
Deck #1 (Blue/Black) 1821 24.7%
Deck #4 (Green/Red) 1222 16.6%
Total 7371 100.0%

I'm neither surprised nor disappointed. If I didn't have such nostalgia for Lure of Prey, I too may have been blinded by the awesomeness of including Spirit of the Night into a preconstructed deck. Besides, the Nightstalker trio are thematically and flavorfully cool, and the readers tend to almost always vote Black when given a chance. If you look at the UnCon Mirage Preconstructed results, you will see that a Monoblack Spirit of the Night deck won there too (designed by Istanbul). Clearly there is a desire to have one of the four Mirage precons center around everyone's favorite Black beatstick. Even better... I'm going to be the one who designs it! Woo hoo!

Anatomy of a Precon

When I found out about my assignment, the first thing I did was look to Wizards R&D for help. I felt like working with precons for the past several months had given me a generic understanding of the “rules” for putting them together, but I wanted some concrete parameters. Frank Gilson of R&D sat me down and gave me these guidelines for thinking about preconstructed decks:

  • The deck should follow a theme. That's why preconstructed decks are just as often called “theme decks.”
  • Preconstructed decks are generally two colors. (Okay, I sort of violated this one... Remember Rat's Nest, Ninjutsu, Snake's Path, and Way of the Warrior, though? These are guidelines, people)
  • One copy each of two distinct rares. Typically around thirteen uncommons. Typically twenty-four land. The rest are commons.
  • Usually no more than three copies of any common. Uncommons usually have one or two copies each.
  • When selecting cards think theme first, power second. The result should be a deck with a mix of power-levels in the cards but which fully explores the theme.
  • Generally speaking, Frank says that “the overall idea is to give players a ready-to-play deck that illustrates a bit about deckbuilding. It should be operating towards its theme, with both synergy and diversity amongst its cards, without straining (thus the usual two colors and rarity distribution).”

Okay, I can handle those guidelines. Well, alright... Except maybe that “two color” bit.

Theme, Color and Rares

Here is what we know about my deck so far:

As I stated last week, the deck's theme is: “The Nightstalkers are on the move! Stay alive (or at least undead) while you assemble your army. If you're lucky, you may even summon the Spirit of the Night itself to aid you in your dark cause.” That means the deck is about Nightstalkers in general and Spirit of the Night specifically. The theme I'm envisioning is spooky things raiding the night. That's pretty straightforward, and broad enough to encompass a lot of different cards.

The deck is Monoblack. I thought about making the Spirit of the Night deck Black/Blue, but I had already thought of a Black/Blue deck I liked. Besides, it seems somehow wrong to make a deck with Spirit of the Night--an iconic creature for Black--and dip into a second color. Artifacts, of course, are still up for grabs.

The deck's two rares are:

Spirit of the Night

See, well... because it's the centerpiece of the deck. How can I make a Spirit of the Night deck without Spirit of the Night?

Shallow Grave

My thinking with Shallow Grave as the deck's second rare was threefold. First, it allows me to reanimate Spirit of the Night for a game-ending attack. Second, it allows me to reanimate a critical Nightstalker piece in order to summon Spirit of the Night via Urborg Panther (note this circumvents the “remove from game” clause on Shallow Grave, too). Finally, I figure that one of the deck's minor themes is going to be messing with the graveyard, and Shallow Grave is one of the cheapest, coolest reanimation cards around. Thematically speaking, it doesn't get much creepier than something crawling out of its shallow grave.

Just so you know, a few other rares I considered were Phyrexian Tribute (too narrow), Teeka's Dragon (takes too much attention away from Spirit of the Night), Catacomb Dragon (ditto), and Mangara's Tome (too tricky for newer players and makes the deck too combo-rific). The two rares most competing with Shallow Grave were Ashen Powder and Harbinger of Night. Although the Harbinger's name sounds like a winner, its effect pretty much kills the Nightstalkers and thus doesn't really support the deck's main theme. Ashen Powder is great, but I've used Ashen Powder before and wanted to give Shallow Grave a try.

Enter the Nightstalkers

When I mapped out these two articles in my mind, I expected that I would cover the overview, rares, and uncommons in the first article, with the commons and land (plus any changes based on Boards comments) in the second article. With the three other deck choices, I surely would have followed this plan. With my Spirit of the Night deck, though, it doesn't make sense to proceed until I've established the other cornerstone of the Spirit of the Night theme, the Nightstalkers.

3 Urborg Panther

Urborg Panther is the pivotal Nightstalker because its second ability brings the almighty Spirit onto the table. Pulling off the “Nightstalker combo” for the Spirit with Urborg Panther isn't going to be something the deck can reliably do--It's more something the deck can accomplish rather than something it aims to accomplish. Still, having the combo in the deck makes me feel all tingly inside, and using less than my full ability to pull it off feels wrong. It's my deck, and I want to watch an opponent glance nervously at my library while Urborg Panther and a Breathstealer sit on the table waiting for its feral buddy.

3 Breathstealer

3 Feral Shadow

I checked with Frank and he gave me the green light to put a maximum three copies (under the guidelines) of all three Nightstalkers into the deck. As I said, the aim isn't to get one copy each of Urborg Panther, Breathstealer, and Feral Shadow onto the table at the same time, but I sure will revel in the rare times it occurs.

Using the Nightstalkers like this has some interesting ramifications to the rest of the deck. For example, I would be wary of using Black board-sweepers like Hideous Laughter if any existed in Mirage. Also, cards like Soulshriek and Nocturnal Raid look better when I know I'm using Black weenies. As with deckbuilding of all kinds, early card decisions tend to lock subsequent decisions into place.

My deck now includes:

3 Feral Shadow
3 Urborg Panther
3 Breathstealer
1 Spirit of the Night

1 Shallow Grave

Not bad. Not bad. It's hard to imagine any of those cards changing by the time I reach the final decklist.

The Spooky Thirteen

Now my task is to find thirteen uncommons that support the eleven cards I've already locked into place. For the rest of the article, you can watch my bizarre (but hopefully thorough) approach to figuring out these uncommon slots in the deck. Believe it or not, I hadn't actually considered the uncommons or commons for this deck until sitting down and following these steps. Keep a sharp eye for where you disagree, because one of things I'm going to ask you to do at the end of this article is tell me if and where you think I went amiss here.

First I looked at the uncommons easy to exclude from my consideration. Those were:

That leaves Basalt Golem, Blighted Shaman, Charcoal Diamond, Crypt Cobra, Crystal Golem, Dread Specter, Horrible Hordes, Igneous Golem, Kaervek's Hex, Lead Golem, Mire Shade, Nocturnal Raid, Painful Memories, Patagia Golem, Phyrexian Vault, Ravenous Vampire, Stupor, Withering Boon, and Zombie Mob. Nineteen cards vying for thirteen spots, with up to two copies allowed. One interesting note is that no graveyard reanimation exists in monoblack outside of the rare slot. That cuts some of the legs out of that deck theme, eh?

Now that I've excluded the cards I know I don't want, I'll focus on the cards I know that I do want in the deck. First I'm going to focus on the cards that are so spiffy I know I want two copies of them. After that I'll be filling out the remaining slots with single-copy uncommons.

2 Dread Specter

Okay, can I pause for one second and ask: What the heck is up with Dread Specter's art? That is one freaky bug-eyed corpse-stealer.

One of the things I think this deck needs is defense in order to assemble its Nightstalker pieces or occassionally ramp up to nine mana. Dread Specter is slow as defense goes, but it can often drastically affect an opponent's willingness to attack. Anyone who has played the Dead Again or Expulsion precons from the last two Core Sets know how valuable Deathgazer can be. It's also one of those cards you have to learn not to include in your Constructed decks, which makes for a good teaching tool. Thematically, Dread Specter definitely fits the “icky things stalking the night” vibe.

2 Stupor


Stupor is very, very powerful, and its theme isn't totally discordant with my deck (I figure that my deck is scaring the bajoobles out of you ...wait, bajoobles?). Stupor is great disruption for a deck looking to lay smallish creatures and attack. Two copies means that someone can buy two copies of the precon for a full set if need be. It's a nice balance with Dread Specter, providing an uncommon that shouldn't make your polished Monoblack deck and an uncommon that should.

That's it. I can't really find a reason for more than one copy of any other uncommons. That leaves me with now seventeen possible cards for nine spots, or room for just over half of my remaining options. Let's stick with the cards that I know I want to keep:

1 Nocturnal Raid

Nocturnal Raid is one of those beautiful cards that fits my deck both thematically and mechanically. Just look at how it meshes with the Nightstalkers--who both stalk the night and are Black offensive weenies. So why not two copies? Partly because I think of it as a “finisher” card and partly because I don't think of this deck as foot-to-the-floor aggressive. In fact, I think a good portion of the deck is going to have a slightly defensive flavor to it, which pulls the deck away from Nocturnal Raid. I'm fine if my deck has some aggro cards and some slower control cards, because I think these make for good paths to follow when modifying the deck to your own style.

1 Kaervek's Hex

Speaking of defense, Kaervek's Hex is decent at clearing the board of small, quick attackers while leaving my own creatures alone. The art definitely has the boogie men feel I'm after with this deck, so again it's a winner on both form and function.

1 Zombie Mob

When I thought Mirage had more non-rare graveyard reanimation, I had some reservations about Zombie Mob. After all, do I really want to remove one of my key Nightstalkers--or worse, the Spirit--from the game just to give this fellow a +1/+1 counter?

Now that I see how relatively minor the graveyard reanimation theme is going to be in the deck, I can start to consider other ways to make my self-sacrificing creatures work for me. Besides, thematically speaking it's hard to think about an Evil Dead-type deck without showcasing at least one mob of zombies.

1 Ravenous Vampire


ravenous vampire
The final card I think hits the sweet spot both thematically and mechanically is Ravenous Vampire. Thematically, Ravenous Vampire is a scary, nightstalking creature. Mechanically, it complements Zombie Mob nicely both with the focus on +1/+1 counters and as a way of getting creatures into my graveyard.

The concern with these four uncommons is that my deck's manacurve stinks. It's hard to imagine at this point how I expect to survive to realize any of the clever synergies between my deck's cards. Let's see if I can look back at my list of uncommons and find some that hit the table a bit faster.

At this point I'll pause for another round of culling. I won't use these uncommons:

  • Crypt Cobra, because one card aiming to win via poison doesn't feel right and because it's not spooky enough as a creature.
  • Crystal Golem, because it doesn't help my defense at all and doesn't fit the theme. Similarly, I'll take Basalt Golem, Igneous Golem, Lead Golem, and Patagia Golem out of the mix. I actually think Basalt Golem might help the deck from a defense standpoint, but my deck is more about things that go bump in the night than automatons. I'm keeping Horrible Hordes as a possibility because it feels thematically more like the other creatures in the deck.
  • Charcoal Diamond, because although it's cool and useful, I don't see where it fits thematically into my deck.

That leaves me Blighted Shaman, Horrible Hordes, Mire Shade, Painful Memories, Phyrexian Vault, and Withering Boon to round out the final five uncommons. In other words, only one won't make it. Which will it be?

1 Mire Shade

I'm not thrilled about sacrificing my own Swamps, but it's a creepy Shade and can serve as both a valuable attacker and blocker if needed. Unlike any other creatures I've added so far, it also shows up as early as the second turn. There are definitely game situations where I can see this little guy becoming a powerhouse.

1 Withering Boon


withering boon
A Black counterspell is weird by today's standards, and with only one in the deck it isn't likely to be a major theme. Still, it allows me to trade three life to keep a creature from beating on my head turn after turn. Given the fact that I can likely gain some of this life back (by, oh, say, a Drain Life or two), this feels like a fair trade. It's a defensive spell for a deck that is quickly looking like it needs defense. “Withering Boon” is also generic enough of a name to fit my theme without any major concerns.

1 Phyrexian Vault

Thematically, I'm not quite sure how Phyrexian Vault fits into my deck. It's not as bad as something like Telim'Tor's Darts, where I'm wondering where Telim'Tor is and trying to picture a Feral Shadow using darts in combat, but it does make me scratch my head a bit. The reason to use it is that mechanically it fits so well with the other cards in the deck. Phyrexian Vault mimics the “sacrifice my own creatures” of Urborg Panther and Ravenous Vampire, and it helps fill up the graveyard for cards like Zombie Mob. If I scan the Black commons quickly, I can already see fun synergy with cards like Gravebane Zombie and Soulshriek. I will try to keep these “thematically suspect” cards to a minimum, but I think the fun of playing Phyrexian Vault here outweighs this problem.

1 Blighted Shaman

Like Mire Shade, it's a Turn 2 creature. Also like Mire Shade, it can sacrifice Swamps for an effect. What bothers me slightly is that I don't think I'm going to have any tricks that take advantage of this (admittedly minor) theme. Still, the “sacrifice creature” theme is one I seem to be building nicely thanks to the addition of the Shaman and Vault, and one I can use to my advantage while staying on theme.

Which means that I'm stuck staring at Horrible Hordes and Painful Memories. I don't particularly like Painful Memories as a card, and I can't see where my deck would really benefit from its effect. On the other hand, Horrible Hordes bothers me because it's such an uninteresting card to include. If I squint, I can pretend that it's Blighted Shaman who's summoning the Hordes, but that's not a reason to include it.

Nope, I would rather have a second copy of one of my other uncommons than have either of those two. But which one? I still think of Nocturnal Raid as a finisher. Two Zombie Mobs or Ravenous Vampires seems like it puts too much stress on either my graveyard or creatures, respectively. I don't know how generally useful Kaervek's Hex is going to be. I think at this point the card I'm most comfortable including is...

1 Mire Shade

As I said, the sacrificing Swamps isn't something my deck can use to its advantage. It's an interesting minor theme to have deckbuilders scratching their chins, though, and I still think Mire Shade will end up being invaluable in several games. Keeping the manacurve low and filling my deck with creatures feels like the right call, too.

My deck now looks like this:

3 Feral Shadow
3 Urborg Panther
3 Breathstealer
2 Mire Shade
1 Blighted Shaman
1 Zombie Mob
1 Ravenous Vampire
1 Spirit of the Night

2 Stupor
1 Shallow Grave
1 Withering Boon
1 Phyrexian Vault
1 Kaervek's Hex
1 Nocturnal Raid

Think over the deck I've made up until this point. I'm now expecting you to give me feedback on the Message Boards in two key areas:

First, let me know what you think of the deck's uncommons. Is there a card you can argue for persuasively that fits the direction of the deck? Did my logic break down somewhere? Is there a card in the deck that you simply hate? Try to say not only what uncommons you would prefer I drop or add, but also why.

Second, scan the Black Mirage commons and let me know what cards you think that I absolutely must include in the deck. At this point I feel as if I've maxed out the number of three-of commons, so I'm pretty much again looking at one- and two-copy cards. Which commons should be one copy and which two? Is there another card you think deserves three slots in the deck? Again, try and give some logic for your argument and you have a good chance of influencing me.

I'm going to wait until I read today's Message Boards until I sit down and try to flesh out the rest of the deck. Speak up, tell me what you think, and I'll cap off my decklist next week.

A 9th Edition Name

Today is also the day to dub the deck I most recently made. Recall that I mashed the Dead Again and World Aflame precons together to create a deck that uses lots of comes-into-play creatures and some efficient sorceries alongside cards like Anarchist and Magnivore. I received fewer suggestions for a name this time around, mostly I think because people wanted to discuss the Mirage poll. That said, there were some goodies in there. Here are the names I most enjoyed:

5. Magnivicent (MRHD)
4. Burnt Offerings (valyn5)
3. Rest in Flames (Landman)

I was sure I was going to name the deck “The Pyre,” a suggestion from Tobias Aberg that paid homage to Pyre Zombie (a poster child for my deck if it existed in Standard today). For some reason I couldn't get Suna-Dokei's name out of my head, though. I particularly like that it's a hybrid of the two original deck names.

Deck, I dub thee...

Dead World

Download Arena Decklist

Think hard and have fun,


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