Taken by the Hand

Posted in Building on a Budget on January 22, 2009

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Change is coming. You can see it in everyone's eyes. The excitement and anticipation has been building. Building up to a moment. A moment when the bland becomes exhilarating. Yes, the time is upon us. Conflux Prereleases are forthcoming.

Yes, Prerelease events are Limited. Yes, this is a Constructed column. But there's a lot to be discovered at your local Prerelease.

As budget deckbuilders we need to identify particular undervalued cards and build decks that exploit specific interactions. If we are playing a game of extended with our budget Rock deck, it's probably going to lose significantly more than half the time to an expensive Rock deck with Tarmogoyf and Thoughtseize. It puts us in an awkward spot. We can't beat expensive cards with their inexpensive counterparts, it just doesn't work that way.

The only way we stand a chance is by approaching the game in an entirely different way. If we play the same game, but with sub par deck inclusions, we're doomed to defeat. A good example of this would be my Second Sunrise deck from Pro Tour–Berlin.

Second Sunrise

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This entire deck cost me less than a dinner for two at Applebee's. There's one exceptionally crazy part, though: it actually wins games.

One of the best parts about Magic is the feeling of discovery—the warm feeling you get when you see something that you don't think anyone else has bothered to see. There's no better time to get this feeling than when a set first comes out.

I've been doing it as long as I can remember, staying up until midnight the night before the Prerelease and poring over a spoiler filled with new surprises and secrets. I remember sneaking downstairs with my older brother to look at the Urza's Legacy spoiler. Each time we saw something that excited us—we'd nod our heads like Gregorian chanters and imagine playing with the new cards.

So, I have a mission for all of us. The night before the Prerelease we should all scroll through the Visual Spoiler and find an unusual card that we want to build a deck around. The next morning we can wake up and make our way to a Prerelease. While playing with our shiny new cards we can start asking around, "Did you get any Waffle Monster Hunters?"

Inevitably, "Yeah, I opened two. Why would you ever want this thing?"

"I like it. I might try to build a deck around it. Think you'd be willing to trade it?"

And inevitably: "Just take them."

Building odd decks around cards that are underplayed is one of the best ways to keep Magic fun.

I'll get back to this point in two weeks and we can all have a discussion about our Conflux pet cards.

Specter? I Darn Near Killed Her!

Anyway, back to business. I've been drafting a lot of Grixis decks lately and I wanted to see if I could turn a strong Limited archetype into something worthwhile for Standard. I love Sedraxis Specter to such an extent that many may find it disconcerting.

Sedraxis Specter

I want to build an aggressive deck with a good helping of disruption. I'll probably need to play a good deal of lands that come into play tapped so I don't think I can afford to play any creatures that cost one mana.


Ravenous Rats: A classic. Ravenous Rats may not seem aggressive, but they accomplish our goal of being disruptive and providing a threat. I could see some of these making the cut.

Goblin Deathraiders: A 3-power creature for two mana can be incredibly dangerous. The fact that it's black and can't be Terrored makes it even better. I'm probably going to run a few Sigil of Distinction in the final list, and the trample on these wacky bumpkins makes them an excellent target for the bomb equipment.

Sygg, River Cutthroat: Sygg will probably result in a lot of extra cards when playing a deck like this. He's extremely inexpensive right now and seems like a great choice. Our deck will probably play a lot of burn that Sygg can cantrip through. The synergy between this card and Sedraxis Specter is really absurd. Unearth, hit you for 3, you discard and I draw.


Sedraxis Specter: Probably the biggest reason I want to build this deck. This card is extremely powerful and has the capability to win a game all by itself if it goes unchecked.

Hypnotic Specter: I recently checked the prices of these and was pleasantly surprised. Having eight cards with this type of effect increases the consistency and potency of the overall strategy.


Generally speaking, I like my removal to double as reach (that's the ability to deal the last few points of damage). I'm not a big fan of removal spells that can't go to the dome when they need to.

Incinerate: Obviously incredible; a very strong removal spell that doubles as a powerful reach spell. It also triggers our Sygg.

Puncture Blast: Incinerate #5-8. Puncture Blast is also very strong against cards like Kitchen Finks or Chameleon Colossus.

Flame Javelin: This will usually cost four mana to play. However, I'm not going to complain about paying a little bit extra for a burn spell this effective.


Blightning: When I first saw this card I got chills. The power level of Blightning is really absurd. It wins a lot of games by itself, and it fits with the decks goals.

Sigil of Distinction: This card acts as a Fireball. When playing with decks that have a really strong early game I like having cards I can just dump all my mana into.

After shaving the numbers and making a mana base, I arrived at a deck that looks like this:

Specter Discard

Download Arena Decklist

I decided to play a few games with the deck in the casual room.

Round 1 vs. White-Blue Control

Mind Stone

Game 1 I won the roll and chose to play first. I kept Crumbling Necropolis; Crumbling Necropolis; Swamp; Swamp; Sygg, River Cutthroat; Blightning; and Sedraxis Specter. My Sygg was the first play of the game. My opponent answered with a Mind Stone. On my third turn I figured it would be better to play my Blightning than the Specter; if he had Wrath of God I'd just get blown out. I attacked him down to 19 and played my Blightning, bringing him to 16. I drew my extra card and passed the turn. On his turn he played a land and passed. On my turn I draw another Blightning and made him discard some more cards, and got in for another 1. I then played my Necropolis and passed, drawing and extra card in the process. On his turn he played a Serra Angel. On my turn I played a Goblin Deathraiders and threw an Incinerate to the dome. On his turn he attacked with the Serra Angel, then he passed. I had enough burn in my hand to finish the game after this draw step. I unloaded it over the course of the next two turns and won the game.

A quick side note: I saw my opponent discard cards like Broken Ambitions and Tidings. He never played a land that produced blue, though. Sometimes I take it for granted, but I think a lot of players need to pay more attention to what goes into their opponent's graveyard. That bit of information could give me an edge in the next game.

Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile

Game 2 I kept my opening seven on the draw: Swamp; Swamp; Mountain; Hypnotic Specter; Sygg, River Cutthroat; Blightning; and Blightning. He led with an Adarkar Wastes. I drew into a Crumbling Necropolis and played it. He made his Mind Stone and I made my Sygg. He didn't want to see where the Sygg would take things. He played a Wrath of God right away. On my Turn I drew and played Sedraxis Specter. On his turn he made a Serra Angel. I drew Sigil of Distinction and played it for four mana, then equipped it to the Specter and attacked for 6. He took the 3 damage and discarded a Tidings again. On his turn he played another Serra Angel, attacked for 4 and passed. On my turn I attacked with the Specter. I killed one Angel with combat damage and finished the other off with an Incinerate. I played a Blightning and passed. My opponent played Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile. On my turn I played another Blightning and unearthed my Specter. My opponent was left with no hand and 5 life. On his turn he attacked with Brigid and passed. I played Hypnotic Specter and passed. On his turn he tapped out for a Tidings and took a point from a painland, bringing him to 4. On my turn I drew the single Flame Javelin.


Round 2 vs. Mono-Red Aggro

Game 1 I lost the die roll. I mulliganed down to six and kept Crumbling Necropolis, Moutain, Ravenous Rats, Ravenous Rats, Incinerate, and Sedraxis Specter. My opponent started with a Mogg Fanatic, and I played my land. On my opponent's second turn he played another Fanatic and a Ghitu Encampment. I played a Ravenous Rats, he discarded a Demigod of Revenge. He attacked with both Fanatics. I blocked one and took 2. He played an Ashenmoor Gouger in his second main phase. On my turn all I could do was play another Rat; he discarded another Demigod. He bashed in and I traded with the other Fanatic, taking 5. On my turn I ripped a Swamp and played my Sedraxis Specter. He Incinerated it during my end step. On his turn he played a Demigod of Revenge, bringing the two in the yard back to play, and that was that.

Game 2 I chose to play and mulliganed down to five. I ended up keeping Swamp, Mountain, Goblin Deathraiders, Incinerate, and Puncture Blast. He didn't seem to have a first- or second-turn play, and I got in with my Deathraiders. I had drawn into a Hypnotic Specter and another Swamp, so I played the Specter. He Incinerated it on my end step. On his turn he played Boggart Ram-Gang and hit me for 3. On my turn I got in for another 3 and played Puncture Blast on his Ram-Gang. He played another Ram-Gang and got in for another 3. I drew a second Incinerate and played one of them on his Ram-Gang and brought him to 11. He just played a Stigma Lasher and passed. I Incinerated his Lasher and tried to attack, but he had Magma Spray. I had drawn a Blightning, however, so I brought him to 8 and made him discard some cards. He discarded a Magma Spray and a Demigod. He drew and played his fourth land the next turn, he just attacked me with his Ghitu Encampment and passed. I drew and played my Hypnotic Specter. He played his fifth land, Incinerated my Specter, and attacked me with the Encampment. I drew a blank here and passed. He played a Demigod and returned the other back to play for the win.


I hope you guys have enjoyed this quick deck construction exercise. The deck is a lot of fun and plays really well against most competitive decks. A lot of people aren't prepared for a Standard deck with this much disruption. It puts people on a very intimidating clock and demands they go on the defense. (If they don't start playing removal spells, their hand will be stripped to pieces.)

One More Word

I hope all of you make plans to attend your local Prerelease. Next week I'll talk about approaching a new set with the intention of making an innovative and exciting new archetype. I'll also tell you how to have a great Magic get-together with your buddies after the Prerelease.

Remember: We play Magic to make friends and fulfill a perceived purpose to some degree. Prereleases are some of the best places to make friends through Magic. Just start talking to people who aren't being talked to. It might sound surprising, but people generally enjoy human interaction.

Have fun and be excited. You only get to play with a new set every so often!

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