Interlude: Spare-Time Decks

Posted in Building on a Budget on February 13, 2006

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

I had originally intended to call this article “More Decks That Weren't,” thinking of it as a continuation of my “Decks That Weren't” piece in October. The more I worked on the article, though, the more I realized that “Decks That Weren't” discussed decks that I made right before Standard underwent a dramatic shift. Thus they were decks that had run out of time before I had a chance to properly showcase them. My previous article was a way to explore whether these deck ideas could survive in the brave, unknown world of the new Standard.

Today is a bit different. The Standard environment isn't changing much with the addition of Guildpact, at least in terms of the total card choices available to deckbuilders. Instead, I simply find myself with few decks I'd like to share and today seems like a good time to share them. Since I'm just now exploring Guildpact for Constructed, this is also a good chance for me to ponder what new cards might make their way into my various deck ideas. Consider each of these decks as potential launching pads for your own wacky deck concoctions.

Deck 1: Dead World Redux

For some reason, I was unusually disappointed that my 9th Edition precon concoction Dead World performed so poorly in the second BOAB Smackdown! Preceding the games, I secretly considered Dead World a dark horse coming into the Smackdown! because of its massive creature removal and the general staying power of reanimator decks. Instead, it went 3-5 in games against the other four decks. As I said in my final analysis, Dead World actually turned out to have surprisingly little staying power and proved to be about a turn too slow to compete.

At the time of the Smackdown!, Ravnica had settled into everyone's collective deckbuilding consciousness and I found myself using Stinkweed Imp in a variety of first-draft deck ideas. I love how the Imp is such potent defense against such a wide variety of threats, coupled with a massive dredge cost rivaled only by Golgari Grave-Troll. Any deck idea that was slow enough to benefit from reusable defense or that could benefit from a full graveyard ended up using Black because of Stinkweed Imp's merits.

It didn't take long for my disappointment in Dead World and my love of Stinkweed Imp to collide. Dead World needs time to set up since it's working with a high manacurve at Sorcery speed and happens to absolutely adore a full graveyard. Dredge in general, actually, seemed to be a terrific addition to the idea behind the Dead World deck.

Rather than start with my original decklist and see what Ravnica could offer, I started with a clean sheet. After all, I had played Dead World somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred games, so I felt I understood what cards could make a reanimation/Sorcery deck work. How would I build Dead World with access to Ravnica if I wasn't first working from a preconstructed base? I rolled up my deckbuilding sleeves to find out.

I knew that the cornerstone of the deck was Magnivore. Not only does Magnivore make dredge scary, it's a terrific reanimation target because of its haste. After carefully balancing the various dredge options, Stinkweed Imp and Nightmare Void became the workhorses of the deck. After that, a lot of pieces from the original Dead World deck made their way into my decklist, with the added innovation of Diabolic Tutor and its ability to “cheat” on the copies of each card in the deck.

Here is how the deck turned out:

Dead World Redux

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How The Deck Works

If you followed the deck evolution that led me to Dead World, then you probably feel like you understand how this deck is supposed to play. There are some key differences to the two decklists, though, enough that they end up acting really differently. Dead World was about creature reanimation first, with the Sorcery theme as a heavy support plan. The Redux version cares a lot less about its creatures and a lot more about sorceries.

The plan in the early game is to set up and kill anything that moves. This means that I'm hoping to drop land and Fellwar Stones early, blasting any early opposing creatures with some combination of Cruel Edict, Volcanic Hammer, and Stinkweed Imp. I like to keep Pyroclasm back so that it kills multiple threats, but if something awful shows up like a Nezumi Graverobber, I won't hesitate to use it. Against aggressive decks, I'm killing things to stay alive, while against control decks I'm killing things to hopefully disrupt their early development (Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Jushi Apprentice, and the aforementioned Graverobber are terrific early kills). So, plan number one is to stay alive past the first several turns.

Once the game progresses to the midgame, the deck either continues to stay alive (against aggressive decks) through some combination of removal, dredging Stinkweed Imp, and Swallowing Plague, or it looks to cripple a slower opponent with recycled Nightmare Voids. If I'm holding Anarchist, Zombify, Diabolic Tutor, or Magnivore, then I'm dredging as much as possible, sometimes even going so far as to kill my own Stinkweed Imp (this is where Pyroclasm plays a dual role, by the way).

When my graveyard is full of Sorceries and/or my opponent is depleted of resources - usually both creatures and cards in hand - then I start getting aggressive. When Magnivore enters play, either through reanimation or by casting it, I expect that it will be a 10/10 or bigger and can finish the game in a turn or two. So far the biggest Llurgoyf I've managed is 22/22, which tells you a little bit about how late into the game I had survived. Anyway, since I've already established that I wait until my opponent's resources are depleted, Magnivore is usually unstoppable.

That's if everything goes according to plan. One of the wonderful things about Magic, of course, is that plans constantly need revision. Against creatureless decks I throw Volcanic Hammers as quickly as I can pick them up and Swallowing Plague my own Imps. Against decks with loads of tokens I usually hold my Pyroclasms as if they're gold foiled. If a deck doesn't have haste, I may attack with my Stinkweed Imps more. I find that Anarchist targets a completely different card each game depending on my opponent's deck and the game situation. Despite its Sorcery speed, the deck actually turns out to be pretty versatile and complex. It also wins quite a bit, and with a proper sideboard I wouldn't be ashamed to show up to Friday Night Magic for a fun evening of competitive play.

Adding Money

Of course, just because I happened to have designed a budget deck I like doesn't mean that you should copy it card for card. I'd like to think that you have your own deckbuilding style or proclivities that would cause you to change cards from my original list. I also don't want to assume that everyone's budget is equal. If you have access to the cards below or just happen to be on a less tight budget, consider some of these rare powerhouses for a deck like Dead Again Redux:

Sulfurous Springs

The biggest problem that I run into with this deck is mana. The of Diabolic Tutor and Swallowing Plague and the of Magnivore are a pain to handle in a deck with only basic land and no land searching capabilities at all. For some reason I routinely find myself with Black cards in hand and only Mountains on the table or Red cards in hand with only Swamps. This deck, unlike some, doesn't care if its lands are basic or not. If I could add four Sulfurous Springs I would, and the Black/Red land from Dissension would go right in here as well. Rakdos Signet probably replaces Fellwar Stone, too, but then again Dissension is going to call for a major revision to any Black/Red, Blue/White, or Green/Blue deck.

Cranial Extraction

Cranial Extraction is the single most devastating Sorcery in Standard of four mana or less, thus it probably has a place in my deck based around Sorceries. The question for me is whether it's a maindeck card or a sideboard card. It doesn't replace Nightmare Void because the Void's reusability is so important. The deck's mana curve is already pretty crowded, so I don't think you replace lower-cost Sorceries for it either. This probably means that Cranial Extraction sits in the sideboard, ready to wreck any non-aggressive deck I face.

Mindslicer/Hypnotic Specter

I'm not thrilled with the idea of adding more creatures into the deck since the Sorcery count is so important, but it occurs to me that two rares that have synergy with my overall gameplan are Mindslicer and Hypnotic Specter. Mindslicer is beefy and its drawback is likely to hurt an opponent a lot more than you. Hypnotic Specter's random discard, meanwhile, boosts the old “deplete an opponent's resources” strategy. Both are worth trying out to see if they help or hurt the deck's performance.

Phyrexian Arena

Even though it's not a Sorcery, I'm probably more comfortable finding room for Phyrexian Arena. The reason is the obvious one - that Arena gives my deck more gas and assures that I don't miss land drops when I need them. The other important facet of Phyrexian Arena is that with it, I can either dredge a card as well as draw one off the top of my library, or dredge two different cards. I imagine that the double-dredge action could get pretty sick later in the game, leading to a hideously-large Magnivore. Swallowing Plague becomes slightly more important with Phyrexian Arena as a way of recouping some of the self-inflicted loss of life, so you may want to up the Plague count if you pursue this route.


There's no question that the deck changes with the inclusion of Wildfire, but it seems to me a pretty potent change. Cards like Demolish, Stone Rain, and Befoul likely become the focus of the deck's disruption, possibly with more artifact mana added in. Wildfire with a Magnivore on the table should be an automatic victory against almost every deck, assuming that the ‘Vore is big enough to survive.

Adding Guildpact

As I said earlier, today is also a chance for me to limber up my familiarity with Guildpact. After poring over the new cards, I've found one gem that feels like it absolutely belongs in Dead World Redux. Wait... Would that make it Dead World Redux Redux or Dead World Threedux? Anyway, that card is Izzet Guildmage.

It's odd to realize that the Blue half of Izzet Guildmage is completely irrelevant for my deck and the Red side feels tailor-made for it. Notice that my current decklist uses twelve sorceries of two or less mana. A duplicate Cruel Edict or Volcanic Hammer? Sign me up. Indeed, the only thing that really feels like a bummer is that Izzet Guildmage costs for my deck, which is going to be hard to find early in the game. For this reason, I think it's probably a card that I use two or three copies of, but not four.

As wonderful as Izzet Guildmage appears, I'm dubiously pondering a couple of other cards as well. Djinn Illuminatus seems way too expensive, but I can see it showing up as a single copy that I can Diabolic Tutor for if needed. Cry of Contrition had me excited at first, since theoretically it's going to force an opponent to discard two cards pretty reliably thanks to all of my creature removal. I love the idea of a first-turn Cry immediately after my opponent has just played a first-turn Birds of Paradise, for example. The problem is that haunt removes the card from the game, which means that both Magnivore and Anarchist don't like it. I'm guessing this keeps Cry of Contrition on the sidelines.

So, two or three Izzet Guildmages and possibly a Djinn Illuminatus could make their way into my deck. If you have other thoughts, please suggest them on the Message Boards.

Deck 2: Night Phantom

Hunted Phantasm
Believe it or not, when I write a “Paths Not Taken” section at the end of a deckbuilding series like Dead Again or Thief of Time, I actually mock-up decklists for each idea. Usually the decklists are too unclean and cursory to publish, but sometimes I'm intrigued enough to play the deck in my spare time. When I wrote my “Budget Dimir” article (and let's face it, those budget guild articles are just expanded “Paths Not Taken” sections), one such first-draft deck that became a hobby was based on Hunted Phantasm.

In that article, I said “Most Hunted Horror decks I've seen have been Black/Red to use cards like Volcanic Hammer and Yamabushi's Flame to kill off those annoying Centaurs. I think you can make a Black/Blue Horror deck with bounce for those tokens, but I haven't seen one online yet. Instead, it seems to me that if House Dimir has embraced a Hunted creature, that creature is Hunted Phantasm. Folks have apparently discovered the fun of the Phantasm in combination with Night of Souls' Betrayal and/or Hideous Laughter. Hex isn't a totally unreasonable card in such a deck either. Drift of Phantasms, Perplex, and Clutch of the Undercity once again play double-duty of being useful spells as well as tutoring for your key cards."

Amazingly, the decklist I created when writing that paragraph changed very little throughout dozens of games. In fact, I think the only thing that I added to the deck was a single copy of Reminisce to replace my fourth Telling Time. Here is the deck as I've been playing it:

Night Phantom

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How The Deck Works

Let me warn you: This deck can be as boring to play against as it is stressful to play. The first several turns are all about Sleight of Hand, Sensei's Divining Top, Remand, and Telling Time to ensure that I hit two Islands and two Swamps as close to turn 4 as possible. Perplex is usually a hard counter early in the game, but I save it for really scary stuff that I won't be able to handle with my four-mana spells.

Once the early game is behind me and I find myself with mana, it's time to start messing with my opponent. Night of Souls' Betrayal will hopefully kill a few of her creatures, and Hideous Laughter can often be a board-sweeper. I hate to use Exhaustion or Clutch of the Undercity this early to buy me time, but it's sometimes necessary. If I have a bit more breathing room, I'll either wait until I have counterspell backup for Night of Souls' Betrayal or start transmuting for my two key cards.

Those two key cards, of course, are Night of Souls' Betrayal followed by Hunted Phantasm (or, less often, Hunted Phantasm followed by Hideous Laughter). Once these two are in place, I now have an unblockable 3/5 that is meant to win me the game. Now my counterspells keep the Phantasm alive, while Laughter, Perplex, Remand, Exhaustion, and Clutch frustrate my opponent during the never-ending attack phases. Exhaustion turns out to be the most important of these cards because of its ability to essentially give me a Time Walk in most circumstances, though Clutch obviously helps speed up my victory.

That's the deck, and there isn't a tremendous amount of variation in strategy if everything runs smoothly. I say that Night Phantom can be boring to play against because games with this deck tend to extend past twenty turns even if things are going well, and two turns worth of Exhaustion are enough to make anyone crazy. The Reminisce has really helped me reload in games that go too slowly, since I've often either transmuted most of my cards away or run out of good transmute targets.

Meanwhile, I say the deck is stressful to play because I almost always feel like I am one card away from losing the game. The beauty of the deck is that each card plays a pivotal role in its overall strategy, but this also means that one or two misplayed cards and the whole game crumbles away. In many respects, this deck has the strategic complexity of a control deck with no true counterspells while incorporating many of the elements of classic combo decks. Thus there's a lot to juggle at any one time, and the deck barely manages to keep the balls aloft. Despite the stress, it's a deck that can go toe to toe with lots of non-budget opponents and it's always fun to hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” when Hunted Phantasm resolves with Night of Souls' Betrayal on the Table.

Adding Money

The bummer about Night Phantom is that I'm already relying on seven rares (although Hunted Phantasm is a “cheap rare”) to make the backbone of the deck. That said, if you're intrigued by the idea and looking to add more money into the deck, here are several options:

Watery Grave and Underground River

For as long as good, rare, multilands are in Standard, they will be my first recommendation in any two-color “Adding Money” section. The two key elements of this deck have and in their mana costs, so any all mana-fixing is welcome.

Toshiro Umezawa
Toshiro Umezawa and Forbidden Orchard

For perhaps the first time ever, I actually mean that Toshiro Umezawa is a better addition to my deck than his Jitte. Toshiro survives under Night of Souls' Betrayal and when Hunted Phantasm hits the table that's five free Instants from your graveyard. Of course, this means that the deck should eschew Sorceries like Sleight of Hand and Exhaustion to instead load up on Instants like Last Gasp, Reach Through Mists, and Mana Leak. As long as you're adding Toshiro, you might as well add an extra trigger for him by also adding Forbidden Orchard.

Time Stop

Is Time Stop better than Exhaustion? On one hand, it costs twice as much and isn't something for which you can transmute. On the other hand, this deck doesn't seem to have any trouble reaching six mana, which is about the time I start casting Exhaustion anyway. There are a thousand situations in which Exhaustion will be relatively underwhelming in your hand when Time Stop won't. So, yes, at least theoretically I like the addition of Time Stop over Exhaustion (and it works better with the Toshiro plan anyway).

Maga, Traitor to Mortals

It hasn't happened to me yet, but I sometimes wonder what I do if Hunted Phantasm falls victim to something like Eradicate or Cranial Extraction. I just concede, I guess, or hold onto Reminisce in hopes of decking my opponent. Which is to say that a backup plan to the Phantasm would be nice. Some obvious ideas involve cards like Keiga, the Tide Star or Kokusho, the Evening Star. For a deck that can make the game go an hour or so in length, though, I think Maga, Traitor to Mortals is a more satisfying Plan B. It's also something that Perplex can fetch, which is a huge bonus.

Adding Guildpact

What I find interesting about this deck is that the entire deck relies on Hunted Phantasm and Night of Souls' Betrayal, while every other non-land card plays a supporting role. In my mind, this means that any card can get changed except for the two centerpieces, but it also makes replacing the other cards dicey since they each enhance the two centerpieces. This was strikingly apparent to me as I flipped through Guildpact and thought about what cards could help out my deck.

The first category of cards which intrigued me were the simple cantrips. Cremate and Repeal don't look very sexy and certainly aren't foundations for a deck, but Night Phantom is all about finding its key pieces and keeping the “business” spells flowing. Cremate is at worst Reach Through Mists in a non-Arcane deck and at best it can really mess up an opponent's strategy. Repeal helps disrupt an opponent tempo-wise (along with cards like Clutch of the Undercity, Remand, and Exhaustion), and again replaces itself with a brand new card.

The second group of cards which intrigued me were those with Replicate. I would have to play around and decide whether I like Telling Time or Train of Thought (or both) in my deck, but I think it would be a close race. Vacuumelt, meanwhile, is almost the perfect card to replicate a few times the turn before or after an Exhaustion. As I said, the games with my deck tend to last a very, very long time, and it is long games where I can see Replicate really shining.

Finally, a card that has me tapping my lip is Hissing Miasma. On the surface, the Miasma hardly seems worth a spot in my deck since I'm planning on killing most attackers with Night of Souls' Betrayal and Hideous Laughter anyway. On the other hand, Hissing Miasma takes a little pressure off of these cards in support of Hunted Phantasm. I can't tell you the number of times I've had a Phantasm in hand but been afraid to play it because one of its seven support cards hadn't yet shown themselves. Hissing Miasma is yet another viable anti-Goblin option, causing my opponent a lot of pain if she wants to attack with her little 1/1s. Anyway, I'm not sure it should absolutely go into a revision of Night Phantom, but I'm willing to try it out.

Deck 3: Blind Faith

I have a pretty big mental cache of Interlude ideas, some of which turn into articles and some of which don't. One idea I had when Ravnica hit the shelves was to discuss mono-colored budget decks in the new multicolored world of Standard. This is still an idea that may become an article once Dissension is here, but in the meantime I've been tinkering with trying to make an interesting deck in each of the five colors.

So far my favorite of the bunch is the Mono-White deck. I scanned through the White cards in Standard to see if anything caught my eye as a deck centerpiece, and I happened upon Hunted Lammasu. The deck started out with four Lammasu, then added anti-Horror cards like Hand of Honor, Genju of the Fields, Chastise, Faith's Fetters, etc. The entire deck was built with two types of cards: Hunted Lammasu, and cards that could deal with a 4/4 Black creature.

What happened next was interesting. The deck seemed trapped between a traditional White Weenie strategy and a traditional Mono-White Control strategy, without many of the key cards to make either strategy work. I made some adjustments, dropping the cards that impressed me less and adding cards against the sorts of decks I was facing. Eventually I noticed that four Hunted Lammasu were clogging up my hand, so I dropped the number to two. The next problem was that my deck didn't have enough steam, so I found another finisher in Blinding Angel. After several rounds of changes and iterations, I ended up with a weird lifegain deck that wins game after game in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online without Hunted Lammasu at all:

Blind Faith

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How The Deck Works

Two perfectly fine first-turn plays are Genju of the Fields and Festival of the Guildpact. In fact, my guess is that Festival is the most confusing card in the decklist. It's there because this deck desperately wants card-drawing and accomplishes it through the cantrip Festival and sort of through the land-thinning of Gift of Estates. Anyway, I put Festival in there as a one-mana cantrip so I don't mind using it this way during the first few turns (later in the game, of course, it has more utility).

After that, the game goes one of two ways. Either I have a “beatdown” draw against a slower opponent and start attacking with Hand of Honor, Genju, and Descendant of Kiyomaro, or I just lay land and remove threats with Chastise, Faith's Fetters, and Devouring Light. Usually it's the latter, but the deck does have the ability to surprise a manascrewed or Mono-Black opponent with aggression. For the sake of argument, though, let's say that I'm taking a defensive stance and the game proceeds past turn 6 or 7.

What happens throughout the game if everything is working is that I gain life. A lot of life. In fact, it's not unusual for me to hit forty life and beyond if I've successfully stifled my opponent's offense. Twice I've gone over a hundred. One of the tricks I'm not sure many people realize is that you can activate Genju of the Fields multiple times, gaining life for each activation. As you can imagine, this adds up quickly. Sometimes an opponent will concede when my life skyrockets, figuring that I'll win eventually so why bother? More often, I'm planning my attacks and counterattacks carefully. I usually am able to do between four and ten damage with my little guys by simply looking for opportunities and being patient.

Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang
Ideally I'm not playing Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang or Blinding Angel until I'm relatively sure they can survive a few combat phases. Sometimes I'll cast one to test the waters, but they are too valuable a part of my strategy to lose right away. My two fliers and the Genju are my “finishers.” They clean up for me when I have a huge pad of life and my opponent has mostly exhausted the cards in her hand.

That's the deck. Although it was originally a Hunted Lammasu deck, it's now built around the idea that a few hard-to-deal-with creatures, a pad of life, and a lot of defense can win me games. So far, as I said earlier, it's sort of startled with me with how well it plays.

Adding Money

It turns out that Mono-White decks are hard to do on a budget. A lot - and I mean a lot - of expensive rares could make there way into my deck. Here are a few of the ones I think have the best shot:

Wrath of God and Final Judgment

In the games I've lost with this deck, Wrath of God would have made all the difference in the world. Genju of the Fields and Tatsumasa survive it, and I play relatively few creatures. Although my deck is loaded with creature removal, sometimes an opponent can stay one or two threats ahead of me. Wrath of God and Final Judgment (because my deck cares about the graveyard not at all) are good “reset buttons” for when the board situation gets out of control. I like that my deck is an effective control deck without Wrath, but I wouldn't kick Wrath of God out of bed if she got frisky either.

Paladin en-Vec

Hand of Honor has stayed in the deck even past the Hunted Lammasu focus because I've found it so effective in the Casual Decks room. I would estimate that about two decks out of every three I play against use Swamps, which means that Hand of Honor is often unblockable, untargetable, and a superb blocker. If I were to add Protection from Red into the mix, my guess is that I've just handled another large percentage of decks. I'm not sure if I would replace Hand of Honor of Descendent of Kiyomaro with Paladin en-Vec. It would probably be the Descendent, which is sometimes terrific and sometimes merely good.

Shining Shoal

It's another X-spell, which my deck can take advantage of nicely. Much like Devouring Light, I'm not sure I would use the alternate casting cost of Shining Shoal a lot, but the option to do so is a nice bonus. As much as I've liked Festival of the Guildpact, Shining Shoal is its bully older brother and would make the deck a lot more deadly.

More Defense

The deck is already packed with defense, but some good rare options exist. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Story Circle, Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo, Ivory Mask, and Privileged Position all fit the description of “annoying White cards that can shut down some opponents.” The two I like the best of these choices are Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Privileged Position, because both make the world safer for Tatsumasa and Blinding Angel to survive. If I'm using Wrath of God, I probably like Privileged Position more. If I'm not, then I like the sensei. Ivory Mask seems like an absolutely terrific sideboard card for Blind Faith.

Yosei, the Morning Star

Finally, it occurs to me that I could drop Blinding Angel for the beefier Yosei, the Morning Star. Yosei can clearly shine in a Mono-White control deck, and it fits my overall strategy perfectly.

Adding Guildpact

As for Guildpact, I'm once again intrigued by the cantrips. I mean, Festival of the Guildpact made it into my deck because it was a cheap way to draw a card and find my better spells, so what about To Arms!, which can act as extra creature removal, or Withstand, which can help save one of my few creatures? I'm not sure that either is better than the Festival, though I have a suspicion that To Arms! might be worth it.

Order of the Stars is one of those cards that I think is going to get used in a lot of my deck ideas. This, to me, seems like a terrific first-turn play for Blind Faith and thus probably deserves a spot in my deck. Another creature worth considering is Droning Bureaucrats, though it seems like it requires quite a bit of testing before it would unseat any of the cards currently in the deck.

Storm Herd
The last card from Guildpact that intrigues me is Storm Herd, a card that absolutely belongs in my Mono-White deck. Remember how I said that my life routinely gets above forty, which is right about the time I start to go on the offensive? I can't think of a better situation in which to use Storm Herd and end the game on my next turn. I'm tempted to say that the deck could drop my Blinding Angels for Storm Herds.

So, Festival of the Guildpact and Blinding Angel might get dropped for To Arms! and Storm Herd. Order of the Stars seems to fit my deck, but where it goes I'm not sure. All stuff for me to play around with once Guildpact finds its way online.

That's a sampling of a few decks I've been playing in my idle time. As always, if you have thoughts about the decks or they inspire some deckbuilding ideas, speak up on the Message Boards!

Drafting Up A Name

Although this article is already plenty long, I would be remiss if I signed off today without dubbing my modified Golgari draft deck. Here are the names from last week's Boards that I most enjoyed:

5. Alluring Gaze (phcarson)
4. Recyclopedia (scarwood)
3. Death's Roar (Von Kriplespac)
2. Putrepede (Von Kriplespac)

In the end, though, I still couldn't get Moldermort from the previous week out of my head. Nice job, McDugan!

Deck, I dub thee...


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Think hard and have fun,


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