What Would You Sacrifice to Win?

Posted in Card Preview on July 28, 2020

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

There are countless strategies in Magic. Some decks rely on big creatures to overpower blockers. Some decks swarm the battlefield to defeat opponents before they even get started. Some decks sit back and react to everything opponents try before taking over the game.

But there's one path to victory that doesn't look at racing ahead or overtop opponents and doesn't try to stymie what the opponent is doing and take over later. It asks you a straightforward question: what would you sacrifice to win?

Throw It All Away

"Sacrifice" decks have a unique strategy: convert, usually through some sacrifice effect on cards, one resource into another that leads you to victory. These decks have come and gone through the years in Magic events. One of the first competitive combo decks is among the most famous in its history: ProsBloom.

ProsBloom

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One of early Standard's breakout decks, it revolved around exiling cards in your hand to Cadaverous Bloom and sacrificing lands to Squandered Resources to build up either Prosperity (which gets you more lands to make more mana) or Drain Life (which actually wins the game). But exiling cards from your hand isn't the kind of sacrifice most of us think of today.

"Abzan" Rock

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Magic Pro League player Javier Dominguez made a breakthrough at Worlds 2005 with a white-black-green deck called "The Rock" and is a forerunner of the modern sacrifice strategies. Unlike ProsBloom, this deck trades on-board resources for a variety of benefits:

The deck, like all Rock decks, builds incremental advantage and is willing to sacrifice resources to get a net incremental benefit. But it's still not quite a Sacrifice deck inasmuch as a grinding midrange deck.

The Aristocrats

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  • Falkenrath Aristocrat
  • Cartel Aristocrat
  • Doomed Traveler
  • Zealous Conscripts
  • Lingering Souls
  • Skirsdag High Priest

Tom Martell won Pro Tour Gatecrash, defeating future Players Tour Brussels winner Joel Larsson with a deal that's all-in on sacrificing things.

Sacrificing things for consistent and incremental gain, using synergy between cards and effects, is the modern Sacrifice deck—and it became such a dominant force that it led a card to be banned in Modern.

Melira Pod

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Melira Pod was one of Modern's most dominant decks during its heyday leading up to the ban of Birthing Pod, and listing out all of the events that demonstrated its success would be an article unto itself.

  • Birthing Pod
  • Melira, Sylvok Outcast
  • Reveillark
  • Phyrexian Metamorph
  • Archangel of Thune
  • Spike Feeder
  • Wall of Roots

But in terms of sacrificing things for net, incremental gain, there's no other deck in the history of Magic that did it better:

  • Melira, Sylvok Outcast and any sacrifice outlet—Viscera Seer and Cartel Aristocrats work—turn creatures with persist into a loop you can use as many times as you'd like. Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap both work to create very large numbers.
  • Those same sacrifice outlets can turn Reveillark into a value engine, particularly with Phyrexian Metamorph. Sacrificing the Metamorph puts a creature with 0 power into the graveyard, triggering Reveillark for you to get it back. Metemorph can return copying something like Murderous Redcap, but Reveillark around it meant you could keep the loop going back and forth. Tricky, but just as deadly for opponents.
  • Another memorable combo in Melira Pod used Archangel of Thune with Spike Feeder. By removing a +1/+1 counter from the Feeder, you gained life, which triggered the Archangel to add a counter back. What made this excellent was that it was another pair of creatures to chain into using Birthing Pod (and Chord of Calling), which made it difficult for opponents to plan around—the deck was packed with ways to set up two- and three-card combinations that won without using all the same creatures.
  • Wall of Roots was one of the subtle but key cards of the deck as it provided mana over several turns and was excellent to sacrifice for Kitchen Finks or Spike Feeder to pull a combo off. It even blocked well when needed.

The legacy of Aristocrats and Birthing pod decks is carried by the Sacrifice decks of Standard today, beginning with Magic Pro League player Piotr Głogowski's Mythic Championship VII-winning deck.

Jund Sacrifice

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  • Witch's Oven
  • Cauldron Familiar
  • Mayhem Devil
  • Gilded Goose
  • Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

If you've played Standard over the past few months since Throne of Eldraine joined the format, you've seen what Sacrifice decks can do:

  • Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar are a nice, but slow, loop of damage that ensures you almost always have something to do with your mana.
  • Mayhem Devil loved to see things be sacrificed, and Gilded Goose is an engine of things to sacrifice.
  • Korvold, Fae-Cursed King highlights a top end that wants you to sacrifice things while it fuels the fires of victory every time you toss something out.

At Players Tour Online 2, Rivals League member Eli Loveman made it to Top 8 with an updated take that added a distinctly Birthing Pod-like effect in Fiend Artisan.

Rakdos Sacrifice

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Twice the Sacrifice

So, what does this mean for Double Masters?

Opening a pack with two foils and two rares, then getting to pick two "first picks" from each pack means drafting is going to be amazing—but there's more to the set than just the flashy and splashy. Draft and Sealed decks will be packed with powerful things to do, and one of the strategies you'll be able to play in Limited is Sacrifice.

Which is where these cards come in.

Bloodspore ThrinaxKozilek's PredatorBloodbriar

Playing a Sacrifice deck in Double Masters Limited is going to lean on using cards like those three returning to work. We already have the blueprint based on Magic's history:

Of course, you'll need more. A repeatable sacrifice outlet or two would go a long way toward tying it all together—but we're not going to reveal everything in Double Masters today. Keep your eyes open for more ways to make the most of every card you play and get ready to double down on it all when Double Masters is available in your local game store on August 7.

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