Silent Killers (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Building on a Budget on March 12, 2008

By Ben Bleiweiss

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first Morningtide-online edition of Building on a Budget! As you may remember from some weeks ago, I designed five decks, each pertaining to one of the "lost tribes" of Morningtide! I held a poll to see which deck you'd like to see evolved, and the winner was the Assassin deck!

Which deck would you most like to see me evolve in a future column?
Assassins (The Silent Killers) 2924 25.5%
Knights (Good Knight to You) 2578 22.5%
Druids (Land Grab) 2516 22.0%
Archers (What Goes Up...) 1986 17.3%
Clerics (Prevent This!) 1446 12.6%
Total 11450 100.0%

Silent Killers 1.0

Download Arena Decklist

The Assassin deck is an aggro-control deck. I drop creatures on the first few turns, drop more creatures which clear the way for my early creatures, and hope to keep momentum during the game in order to finish off my opponent. It's not a pure aggressive deck, because many of the cards are reactionary—for instance, Nekrataal is a pretty mediocre creature if you have to play him to an empty board. I wouldn't pay four mana for a 2/1 first striker with no other special abilities. It's not a pure control deck, because there are cards designed for attacking (Ghostly Changeling, Nightmare), though the deck does skew more towards control than aggro.

Control Elements: Big Game Hunter, Garza's Assassin, Moonglove Changeling, Nekrataal, Scarblade Elite, Nameless Inversion, Tendrils of Corruption

Aggro Elements: Ghostly Changeling, Nightmare, the fact that almost all of my removal doubles as creatures that can attack


The deck is designed to take advantage of Scarblade Elite—with an Assassin card in the graveyard, the Elite can kill virtually any creature in Standard without shroud or protection from black. There aren't ways for me to just put Assassins into the graveyard (either through dredging or discard), so the deck is reliant on either trading Assassins on the board, sacrificing Garza's Assassin to kill a creature, or throwing a creature into the Phyrexian Vault.

Nightmare is in as a huge finisher. I wanted a creature that, if the game was stalled between me killing everything and my opponent killing my creatures back, would be able to finish my opponent off in a swing or two. Korlash is a non-budget card which accomplishes the same goal (5 tickets for Korlash—three for a ticket (or .33 tickets) for Nightmare). I briefly considered Mortivore or Avatar of Woe for this slot (since I'd be killing my opponent's creatures). I discarded that notion, because if everything is going to plan, I wouldn't have many creatures in my graveyard (thanks to Garza's Assassin and Scarblade Elite), making both Mortivore and Avatar of Woe less than optimal.

The big concerns for me going into playtesting this deck were as follows:


  • If I got Scarblade Elite, would I have a difficult time activating him due to the lack of ways to get Assassins straight into my graveyard?
  • If I faced a deck that was light on creatures (such as a heavy control deck with a lot of countermagic), would my high mana curve and (against creature-light decks) inefficient creatures cause me to automatically lose?
  • Was my deck too much on the line of aggro-control, and did I want to push it in one direction or the other (either as a more aggressive deck, or as a pure control deck?)

With these questions in mind, I began playtesting

Game 1: atticusfinch (Treefolk Shaman)

He drops Bosk Bannerets and a Leaf-Crowned Elder, all of which get killed by my creatures that can kill other creatures. I basically chop down all his trees and turn his Forest into a Swamp, in short order.

Record: 1-0

Game 2: Jeffrey Terhoeve (Blue-Green Control)

He plays Whirlpool Whelm on my first couple of Assassins, and then drops Rootgrapple on one of my lands. I get down Scarblade Elite and Garza's Assassin, and this allows me to kill a Garruk Wildspeaker the following turn. My hand is filled with removal spells, and I am able to just clear the way to swing with my two 2/2 guys for the win.

Record: 2-0

Game 3: Gambatte (Red-Blue Burn)


Phyrexian Vault
He gets triple Mulldrifter and quadruple Keldon Marauders, but I get a bunch of creature kill, play Phyrexian Vault to stymie his burn (it is quite good for stopping Lash Out, I might add!), and then drop Nightmare backed with Tendrils of Corruption to keep him from attacking and to keep out of burn range.

Record: 3-0

Game 4: TheFlash414 (Black-Red Liliana Vess)

He kills my guys one by one and proceeds to wreck me completely with Void for three (taking out Phyrexian Vault, Moonglove Changeling, and Garza's Assassin from my hand) and then uses Liliana Vess to strip the rest of my hand. He eventually uses Vess to bring five guys into play at once (four of them mine), and I die heinously to my own creatures.

Record: 3-1

Game 5: manxset (Red-Green Burn)

I get down double Scarblade Elite, Ghostly Changling, and Moonglove Changeling. He hits me with double Lava Axe, but Tendrils of Corruption on a Llanowar Elves puts me at a really healthy life total, sealing this game.

Record: 4-1

So far, I've fared extremely well against any strategy that drops a lot of creatures, which is to be expected—I have 25 cards in my deck dedicated to killing creatures! My loss so far came to Liliana Vess, backed with discard and mass-removal. The problem against that deck was that I didn't have enough offense to kill Liliana Vess (or drop her loyalty) before I got hit by her big ability.

By the same token... man, wouldn't I like to play Liliana Vess in my deck? My deck is filled with answers, and the ability to tutor up one of my choosing is fantastic. Also, I don't really have a way to attack the hand, and Liliana Vess is a ticking bomb—a card a turn, turning into a huge Zombify for every graveyard. After checking that Liliana Vess was a budget card (they are 3 tickets each, easily fitting into this deck under the 30-ticket-per-deck cap that this column has), I added three to the deck.

To make room, I took out one copy each of Big Game Hunter, Moonglove Changeling, and Ghostly Changeling. To be fair, I probably should have taken out all copies of Big Game Hunter here—it is great in a deck that can take advantage of it being a rebel (by tutoring it into play for free) or madness (by playing it at instant speed for a single ), but it is too situational in a deck that already packs so many answer-anything kill cards.

In: 3 Liliana Vess
Out: 1 Big Game Hunter, 1 Moonglove Changeling, 1 Ghostly Changeling

Silent Killers 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Game 6: Devillion (Black-Green Discard)

I face off against another deck that is light on creatures, and heavy on control—but in this case, the control is in the form of discard spells. I get hit with Stupor, Funeral Charm, Ravenous Rats, Stupor again, Funeral Charm again—basically, my entire hand gets stripped, and then The Rack comes down. I barely know what hits me before I get reduced to zero, without having played nearly any card of consequence—my creatures get Smallpoxed, making this an even more vexing experience!

Record: 4-2

Game 7: DACEROM (Red-Green Pyrohemia)


Nameless Inversion
He gets down a couple of early guys, which I kill with Nameless Inversion and Scarblade Elite. I then repeat this with his next two creatures, but he gets down Pyrohemia to control the board, and then faces off his smaller guys plus Briarhorns against my Ghostly Changeling and Cairn Wanderer. Eventually, the game ends when he is forced to take all of the creatures (and Pyrohemia) off of the board at the end of my turn. He drops Hostility, I hit it with Tendrils of Corruption, and then drop Nightmare as a 9/9 to win.

Record: 5-2

Game 8: WarEmblem (Blue-Black Rogues)

I get the early momentum by killing his Latchkey Faerie with Nekrataal, and dropping Garza's Assassin on the board. He retaliates with Morsel Theft, Peppersmoke (killing my 'taal) and by using Familiar's Ruse to take out my Nightmare. With my board practically decimated, WarEmblem drops a lot of small flyers, and proceeds to peck my life total down to zero.

Record: 5-3

Okay, time for some more changes. Garza's Assassin hasn't been great in this deck—once the Recover ability triggers, I almost never want to pay half my life to bring it back, meaning that it's not in the graveyard for Scarblade Elite. Cairn Wanderer has also been a big goose egg—my opponents don't like playing with non-vanilla creatures for the most part, so he's usually either been a 4/4, a 4/4 flyer, or a 4/4 first striker—and while I had him in there because he's cool (and an Assassin, and as a finisher), I figure I can swap him out with something more useful.

In the forums of my initial Lost Tribes article, several people suggested I use Nightshade Assassin in a mono-black Assassin deck. This makes sense—I'll almost always have black cards in hand in order to take advantage of him, and he's a Nekrataal that can hit black and artifact creatures when my hand is full. I swap three copies of Nightshade Assassin straight in for the Wanderers.

I also bring back in a Ghostly Changeling, which is a great beater in this deck. I tend to end up with a lot of mana at the end of the game, so he works like a Nightmare that I can drop on turn three to start the beats (plus, he's an Assassin).

The last swap-in I make is a threesome of Graveborn Muse. I keep running out of cards in hand in the longer games, and I need a way to fight attrition. Phyrexian Vault has been fantastic so far (in fact, much more so than I would have given it credit for—there are all sorts of spells you don't want your opponent to resolve on your creatures), but it isn't enough, Graveborn Muse works great with Changelings, and Phyrexian Vault gives me an out to get rid of Graveborn Muse should I get low on life.

Silent Killers 3.0

Download Arena Decklist

Out: 1 Big Game Hunter, 4 Garza's Assassin, 3 Cairn Wanderer
In: 1 Ghostly Changeling, 3 Graveborn Muse, 3 Nightshade Assassin

Game 9: Grace Fox (Five-Color Elementals)


Liliana Vess
Every creature he plays gets hit by Nameless Inversion, Nekrataal, or Scarblade Elite. I get down Liliana Vess, and eventually end up with Smokebraider, Aethersnipe, Mulldrifter, and double Shirewend on my side of the board. He can't win after that, and concedes.

Record: 6-3

Game 10: sirser666 (Green-Red Elves / Giants)

He gets an early start with Elvish Harbinger and Hunting Triad, producing three Elves. He then uses his next Hunting Triad to make his Harbinger a 4/5 in response to Nightshade Assassin, and pumps it to 7/8 with a Giant Growth effect after I try to Tendrils it to death. I then drop Liliana Vess, and fetch up Nekrataal. Although he kills Vess with a Shard Volley, I kill his only large threat and then drop another Vess, attacking his hand. He is stuck with three lands (after the Volley) and three 1/1 tokens on the board, and I have Nekrataal, which is shortly thereafter joined by Graveborn Muse, drawing a concession.

Record: 7-3

Game 11: Corks (Mono-Blue Wizards)

I have early control of the game with double Scarblane Elite and Ghostly Changeling. I trade one Elite with a Voidmage Prodigy, and the other dies to Psionic Blast. He then gets Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and drops Sower of Temptation as an instant to stabilize at 8 life. Corks' return swing takes me down to 10 life.

I retaliate by killing his Sower with double Nightshade Assassin, as one gets countered by Familiar's Ruse (returning Teferi), and Psionic Blast takes out my Changeling. He gets down Prodigal Sorcerer (to deal with my Assassin), but I drop Liliana Vess and take out the Teferi (which is the last card in his hand).

He proceeds to suspend back-to-back Ancestral Visions, and gets Faerie Conclave and Sage of Fables on the board. I drop Phyrexian Vault, and use Liliana Vess to fetch up Nightmare, followed by Tendrils of Corruption. This allows me to break through and kill Corks the turn before he would overrun me with Wizards.

Record: 8-3

Game 12: psunitlion (White-Green Treefolk)

I drop Scarblade Elite, and then kill a Bosk Banneret with Nightshade Assassin (revealing Tendrils of Corruption, Liliana Vess, and Nightmare, but holding back double Nekrataal). He casts Wrath of God, and I get stuck at four mana for a while, causing me to force a discard (I drop Nightmare). I eventually get to five mana, and just start going after his hand a card at a time with Liliana Vess. He seems to have drawn every non-Treefolk support card in his deck, as I get multiple Naturalizes, lands, and Squall Line. Eventually, I kill his second creature of the game (another Bosk Banneret), and end up winning after he stops playing once I activate Vess's "bring back my Nightmare" ability with him at 2 life.

Record: 9-3

Scarblade_EliteSo far, the deck has a very good record (I've won 75% of my games), but I haven't been happy with the role of Scarblade Elite. It is usually the first creature to hit the board (just by virtue of Mana cost), and it dies before it ever gets to tap. Even when I hold him back, my opponents kill him the second he hits the board. I considered using Thousand-Year Elixir as a way to speed up use of Scarblade Elite (including adding Royal Assassin to the deck, which would act as a great surprise!), but I didn't want to rely on a card I used just last week for a second deck in a row!

Adding Liliana Vess to the deck gives me a versatility to run my much-loved "silver bullet" strategy—a strategy in which you have lots of one-ofs in the deck, that you can tutor for to get you out of any given situation at a moment's notice. When we continue the evolution of Silent Killers next week, I'll see if I can engage Liliana's tutoring ability to a more profitable conclusion, while getting Scarblade Elite back into focus as the most feared Assassin of all! See you all in seven!

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