The Helvault Challenge

Posted in Feature on April 3, 2012

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome back to ReConstructed!

Last week, we went over some important deck-building basics. This week, we're going to jump headfirst into the Helvault!

The response to week one was absolutely phenomenal—well over a hundred decks were sent my way! Thanks to everybody who wrote in, whether submitting a deck or just providing general feedback. Helvault isn't an easy card to build a deck around, and you guys blew me away with your innovation! At the end of this column, I'll show off a few bonus decks that I thought were inspiring and very nearly became the feature of today.

Blade Splicer | Art by Greg Staples

However, there can be only one! I would rather take an enhanced look at the process behind one deck than to briefly skim over several. Focusing on one deck is going to be a more engaging, deeper experience. And for this week, that deck comes from reader James Wendt. Take a look!

James Wendt's Architect of Destruction

Download Arena Decklist

James specifically notes that card availability and budget are not issues for him.

How does this deck work? Let's take a look!


One of the first things you want to do when looking at a new deck is identifying its game plan. By figuring out what role it wants to play, you can better tweak it toward its goal.

Using the descriptions from last week, this deck is a mix between an aggro-control and a midrange deck. The deck sets up on turns three through five with its creatures, aiming to either take a more aggressive stance or fight off a wave of creatures from a beatdown deck. I would say this deck's three primary plans are:

1. Establish a Board Presence

This deck is going to be interacting mostly on the table. It needs to start generating creatures to be able to function, and so it is crucial that it plays something like Blade Splicer or Grand Architect on turn three. Once it has a creature, the rest of its game plans can follow up from there, whether attacking while holding up countermagic or staving off an attack.

2. Set Up the Helvault

Both of Helvault's abilities work exceedingly well in this deck. It's not hard to imagine why exiling your opponent's creatures might be good, and Grand Architect helps give you enough mana to start using that ability quickly. But more interesting is how well this deck works with Helvault's first ability, sitting full of creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers you can store away.

3. Control the Game's Flow

Whether this deck wins by attacking quickly or by playing a longer game against beatdown decks, it's going to be winning by forcing the opponent to play on this deck's terms. You're going to either halt your opponent's attacks and set up or attack while forcing your opponent to cast spells into your reactive pieces.

Fiend Hunter | Art by Wayne Reynolds


In addition to its main plans, here is what I identify its primary weaknesses to be. I will be trying to actively fix these problems as the deck is modified.

1. A High Mana Curve

Three is a mana chokepoint for this deck. There isn't very much to do in this deck at less than three mana. A lot of your opening hands are going to have several cards that cost three or more, and this can lead to some clunky draws. Changes to the deck will ideally smooth out its mana curve.

2. Situational Cards

Many of the cards in this deck are great when everything is rolling according to plan. When Helvault is active, Venser is flickering creatures with enters-the-battlefield abilities, and Grand Architect is setting up your artifacts, everything is great. It's easy to think about the best-case scenario—but what happens when the pieces don't come together? The cards in this deck need to be powerful enough to carry the deck on their own.

3. Not Enough Disruption Against Control

Against aggressive archetypes, this deck can flood the ground and leverage Helvault in the long game. More problematic is going to be control decks. Dealing with a variety of board sweepers, countermagic, and planeswalkers is not something this deck is currently well equipped to do. (Although it is worth noting spot removal is less effective due to Helvault.) It's currently missing ways to disrupt the plan of control decks outside of two Dissipates.

Card Breakdown

Now that we know what the deck's strong and weak points are, it's time to look over each card in the deck to see what it adds to the strategy. One of the best ways to fully understand a strategy and identify what can be changed is by going over each card one by one, and by doing this process we can figure out what is worth modifying.

What is crucial? What can be removed? Let's go over each nonland card one by one and see what it has to offer.

Blade Splicer

The Splicer is certainly one of the strongest cards for both sides of this deck's strategy. It generates 4 points of power for three mana, creating a threat against control and a good wall against beatdown. The price is right for this card in this deck.

Blade Splicer
Fiend Hunter

Fiend Hunter

The trick with Fiend Hunter in this deck that you might not realize is that it combos with Helvault to exile any creature permanently! How does this work? First, you play Fiend Hunter and put its enters-the-battlefield ability on the stack. In response, you can tap Helvault and exile it.

At this point, its leaves-the-battlefield trigger goes on the stack... and resolves before the exiling trigger! Since there's no creature to return at that point, nothing is returned, and then the exile happens afterward, making it permanent! Outside of Helvault, Fiend Hunter is mediocre in this deck. There are far better ways to remove creatures. However, with Helvault, it becomes much more attractive.

Grand Architect

Grand Architect fuels some of this deck's most powerful draws, letting you activate Helvault quicker, helping you cast Phyrexian Metamorph and Solemn Simulacrum while leaving mana up, and also just helping you beat down.

Grand Architect
Phyrexian Metamorph

Phyrexian Metamorph

The Metamorph serves some crucial roles in this deck. For one, it just serves as more copies of your best creatures, copying cards like Grand Architect to create some explosive starts. Secondly, the Metamorph can also copy artifacts—meaning it can legendary rule away your Helvault, unlocking everything you have stored inside!

Solemn Simulacrum

"Sad Robot" has a strong enters-the-battlefield effect, and is just a powerful card in general. Ramping in this deck does get you to your Helvault activations quicker, although it doesn't accomplish much else.

Wing Splicer

Wing Splicer also creates two bodies and is strong with both Venser and Helvault. Flying and first strike both have their upsides and downsides in Standard right now, but one major downside compared to Blade Splicer is the extra mana you need. Blade Splicer is good, and if we're interested in a more expensive Blade Splicer, then this will get the job done.


A bastion for consistency, Ponder helps the pieces of the deck come together.


A cornerstone piece of the deck that its engine is built around, plus an inevitability engine. Also, it's Helvault Week. Hint: These are staying.

Venser, the Sojourner

Fantastic when you have a golem generator online and good at keeping things Helvault locks away exiled forever, Venser has a lot of synergy in this deck. At five mana, he is quite pricy and is also only good when you have something else going on, but he can certainly be powerful.

Venser, the Sojourner
Oblivion Ring

Oblivion Ring

This is just a catch-all answer against creatures and planeswalkers alike. It does exactly what you have come to expect.

Sphere of the Suns

Sphere provides a little bit of acceleration for the deck, and you can play it turn three off of a Grand Architect, which is neat. However, the jump from two mana to four mana isn't nearly as impactful in this deck—the crucial mana cost currently is three. I would either like to make these more relevant or remove them.


A couple pieces of countermagic really help this deck play the tempo game against control decks. Cards like Dissipate are crucial against those decks, while less important against aggressive decks.

Day of Judgment

Day of Judgment can clear the opponent's board after you've stuffed your creatures into the Helvault, which is a neat interaction. It can also just serve as that crucial sweeper if the beatdown deck gets a quick draw.

New Prospects

Now that we've looked over each card in the deck, let's look at some options not currently in the deck that would fill the roles this deck is looking for. This will flesh out plenty of options, and give you some alternative paths to look toward for modifying this deck even after this article is over.

Geist-Honored Monk

If you're looking for five-drop guys with powerful enters-the-battlefield effects, this Monk fits that list. I don't think this is better than the other five-drop option on this list, but it is good to keep in mind.

Geist-Honored Monk
Geist of Saint Traft

Geist of Saint Traft

While it doesn't fit the deck's strategy very well, this Geist is an incredibly powerful card that can get out of hand. Since it's tricky for your opponent to deal with anyway, it's also nice to save with the Helvault.

Mana Leak

One of the most defining cards in Standard, Mana Leak helps this deck play the tempo game extraordinarily well. Additionally, it provides the deck with a turn-two play, which it was sorely in need of.

Master Splicer

If you want to continue down the Golem theme and keep Blade Splicer and Wing Splicer, then Master Splicer is a reasonable place to power up your Golem army.

Precursor Golem

Like Geist-Honored Monk, Precursor Golem is a five-drop that creates extra creatures. However, unlike the Monk, this Golem is crucially an artifact. He can be powered out and pumped by Grand Architect. He also works well in the deck—his drawback can be curtailed by stuffing him into the Helvault.

Precursor Golem
Ratchet Bomb

Ratchet Bomb

The Bomb serves as extra creature control and, as we'll get to later on, I predict this deck is going to have a rough going against tokens, where this card really shines. It also has some nice versatility in that it can explode and unlock your own Helvault.

Leonin Relic-Warder and Suture Priest

These two cards are part of a combo with Phyrexian Metamorph that gains you unbounded life. If you aren't familiar with how it works, if you have Suture Priest and a Leonin Relic-Warder on the battlefield and cast a Phyrexian Metamorph you can have the Metamorph copy Relic-Warder and target itself. By exiling itself it means the leave-play trigger happens, returning the Metamorph... which you can then exile again! Repeat this process 42,000,000 times and you end up at an astronomically high amount of life.

The really neat part in this deck is that by using Helvault you can stuff both the Relic-Warder and the Priest into the Helvault if your opponent has removal, meaning you have another means to protect your combo. It would require a drastic deck makeover to fit this in, but it is one route to head down.

Leonin Relic-Warder
Suture Priest

Phantasmal Image

While it can't copy Helvault like Metamorph can, and you can't stow it away with Helvault, Phantasmal Image still does some attractive work in this deck. It lets you double up on Grand Architects, be a two-mana Blade Splicer, and more.

Saving Grasp

If you want to head more down a trickier path with this deck, then Saving Grasp is definitely a card to look at. It combos with Fiend Hunter in the same way Helvault does, letting your Fiend Hunter permanently exile a creature. Additionally, it lets you double up on Splicers, Solemns, Metamorphs, and more.

Saving Grasp
Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage

How could I not mention the ever-popular Snapcaster Mage? If you add some more cheap tempo cards like Mana Leak, Vapor Snag, and so on, Snapcaster becomes very attractive. I don't think there are quite enough spells in this list to make it work, but it certainly could if you tweaked the deck a little.


Spellskite simultaneously serves as great protection against beatdown decks and as a means to protect your board. It can not only keep your creatures safe, but almost anything that could target the Helvault also can be redirected to Spellskite. (Although that might not be relevant a ton of the time because of Ancient Grudge being the primary artifact removal spell.)

Stonehorn Dignitary

Stonehorn Dignitary

Although weak on its own, a lot of decks just don't have good answers to the Stonehorn Dignitary-Venser lock. Even if they do, it takes the opponent long enough to find them that you should be able to reach Venser's ultimate.

Storm Crow

Storm Crow doesn't care that it's not legal in Standard. When your enters-the-battlefield ability is "you win the game," a deck full of ways to reuse it is just icing on the cake. And it's a two-drop!

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

While it does make some of this deck's cards more expensive, the deck has plenty of three-drop creatures to circumvent that problem. As an aggressive two-drop, Thalia does have a lot of power in the ability to slow down opponents—whether their attacking creatures or their spells.

Making Changes

Now that we've looked through our options, it's time to decide what we should add in!

Keeping our goals in mind, we want to fix the curve of this deck, remove situational cards, and add some disruption. So it seems like the cards that should come out are:

Solemn Simulacrum

While the robot is good, I'm not sure what he's doing for the deck. The ramp effect isn't that strong here, and his impact on the game is not particularly pronounced. He costs four mana and, though he is an artifact that Architect can help put out, there are better cards to play.

Solemn Simulacrum
Wing Splicer

Wing Splicer

Although there is a Golem route the deck could go down, that doesn't seem like the optimal direction for this deck. At four mana and not an artifact, Wing Splicer was a little more expensive than what I would like. Wing Splicer was just the weakest link here—goodbye!

Day of Judgment

Although excellent for containing large swarms of opposing creatures, it's terrible against control decks and extraordinarily hit-or-miss in a deck full of your own creatures. I value consistency in aggro-control decks like this. I think Day of Judgment is a great sideboard card because you can tune your deck after sideboarding to incorporate it into your plan, but I'd prefer to leave it out of the main deck here.


This deck definitely wants countermagic—it just so happens that the cheaper Mana Leak is the best option here. Dissipate isn't terrible, but Mana Leak is just better.

Sphere of the Suns

Sphere wasn't accelerating you into very much, and I would rather just play more lands a lot of the time. I am adding some two-drops that aren't Sphere to help fill that hole.

What do I want to add in? My choices to add are:

Mana Leak

Mana Leak

As mentioned above, this deck definitely wants countermagic to disrupt the opponent. This fits perfectly.


Out of all the two-drop options, this was one of the most promising. It helps protect your creatures, your Helvault, and sucks up a ton of damage in the process.

Ratchet Bomb

This was the other two-drop I added in. It helps shore up potential holes in the deck by taking out any kind of pesky permanent, while simultaneously working with your own Helvault. The aforementioned usefulness against tokens is also extremely important, as we'll get to in the sideboard section.

Precursor Golem

Although it does cost five mana, the synergy with Helvault, Venser, Phyrexian Metamorph, and Architect all make it outstanding here. I can certainly imagine some outstanding early turns involving this guy. Yes, he is bad against cards like Vapor Snag that are popular right now, but if they don't have the spell right away then he and his buddies are going to crack in for some serious damage. It's also worth noting Spellskite can redirect all three spells if you have the mana—or life—available to do so.

Precursor Golem | Art by Chippy

With all of that changed, our list of spells looks like:

Blade Splicer
Grand Architect
Phyrexian Metamorph
Precursor Golem
Fiend Hunter
Mana Leak
Ratchet Bomb
Venser, the Sojourner
Oblivion Ring

Now, how many would you play of each? I'll get there soon, but before moving on, think about how you would do it. Comparing your notes against mine might show you a lot.

It's okay, don't rush ahead. You can actually learn a lot from trying an exercise like this. I'll wait. I've got time.

Well, maybe I don't. It's possible I'm being eaten alive by sharks right now as you read this. Time can be confusing. You see, most people assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non subjective viewpoint, it's more like

Oh, you're ready to move onto my numbers? Well, hold up—let's look at the mana base first!

The Mana Base

The mana base for a deck like this is fairly straightforward, but that doesn't mean there isn't some room to tinker with it. On top of tweaking the basic lands, there are plenty of specialty lands that could fit right in!

Phyrexia's Core | Art by Franz Vohwinkel

The original mana base had a near-even split of Islands and Plains, but looking at the deck now I think a slant toward Islands will work out better—the deck is predominantly blue and Grand Architect demands a lot of blue mana. This deck definitely wants a couple extra blue sources.

More interesting is which nonbasic lands this deck wants past the dual lands. In a two-color deck with eight dual lands and a fair supply of artifacts, you can play between two and four depending on how many lands you play total—and since I have an affinity for lands (although not quite literally—I'm no Spire Golem, thanks) I'm planning to play about twenty-five of them.

Phyrexia's Core

The one I'm sure this deck wants at least a single copy of is Phyrexia's Core, which allows you to crack open your Helvault at any time. Buried Ruin, Moorland Haunt, and Inkmoth Nexus all vie for affection after that, but, since this deck is only receiving a couple more lands, Inkmoth Nexus is out because it's going to be too hard to ever kill somebody with poison and Moorland Haunt is better for blocking.

You can only choose one between Haunt and Ruin, since they don't work well together at all, and Moorland Haunt is just the more powerful card here. While Buried Ruining back a Precursor Golem sounds nice, Moorland Haunt is going to be consistently powerful more often.

While Haunt is technically poor with an active Helvault, if you are exiling all of your dying creatures with Helvault then you're well poised to have an explosive turn with Helvault coming up. Additionally, Buried Ruin is not much better than Moorland Haunt if you have an active Helvault—you're likely exiling all of the finisher artifacts you really want to return.

So the mana base looks like this:

Glacial Fortress
Seachrome Coast
Moorland Haunt
Phyrexia's Core

Let's try the same exercise, presuming twenty-five lands. How would you build this mana base?

Have down your notes? Good. Now let's pull it all together

Tweaking The Numbers

It's time to unveil how I built the combination of cards in the main deck! I'll run down by numbers, in descending order. Ready? Here we go!

Four Copies

4 Blade Splicer
4 Grand Architect
4 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Ponder
4 Mana Leak

Phyrexian Metamorph | Art by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss

These cards all seem like some of the best cards in the deck and the ones you want to draw most often. With the exception of Ponder, all of the deck's best draws involve drawing several copies of these cards—and Ponder helps make those draws happen. These all fit the criteria for four-ofs.

Three Copies

3 Precursor Golem
3 Helvault
3 Ratchet Bomb

These are all cards you don't necessarily want to draw a ton of, but do help out the deck. Precursor Golem isn't something you want your hand to be clogged on, Helvault is what the deck is built around but it can be clunky at times, and Ratchet Bomb is going to be very important in the matchups you need it and is also a good two-drop to have around.

Two Copies

2 Spellskite
2 Oblivion Ring

As mentioned in my last article, I have an extreme distaste for two-ofs and try not to use them. Spellskite and Ratchet Bomb are kind of pieces of a unique 3/2 two-drop split that are good in different matchups. The matchups that you really need Ratchet Bomb for are more popular, and you really need the Bomb early. Oblivion Ring, on the other hand, is part of a 2/1 split with Fiend Hunter—more on that in a moment.

Oblivion Ring | Art by Franz Vohwinkel

One copy

1 Fiend Hunter
1 Venser, the Sojourner

Venser has potential in this deck, but especially with the addition of more five-drops and the removal of acceleration for non-artifacts, you can't afford to have Venser sitting in your hand early. Additionally, if you're behind, Venser isn't likely to help you. If you're winning, Venser is good, but, well... you're already winning. Venser is good in an even situation, and is a threat enough that I wanted a singleton.

Plus, he's a pretty sweet card to rip as a one-of. That's always an important factor in these kind of decisions.

As far as the Fiend Hunter goes, I wanted three three-mana exiling effects in the deck. Hitting planeswalkers is really important, and the on Fiend Hunter might be a little rough on occasion, so I opted for two of the enchantment and one of the creature. With that said, the ability to copy Fiend Hunter over and over—or put it in the Helvault—is certainly not to be understated. You can do some cool things with the guy.

And how about the lands? The mana base I went with was:

4 Seachrome Coast
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Phyrexia's Core
3 Moorland Haunt
8 Island
5 Plains

With twenty-five lands and four Ponders to help you with your colors, I feel comfortable playing four colorless lands. Other than that, I slanted a little higher on Islands than Plains.

Moorland Haunt | Art by James Paick

How did you compare? Let me know in a forum comment or by email!

So that's it, right? The deck is finished?

Not so quickly! There's still the matter of a sideboard to discuss.

Fighting the Metagame

Three of the popular decks in the format that I keep seeing on Magic Online seem to be Delver of Secrets tempo decks (often with tokens), Blue-Black Zombies, and Planeswalker Control. If you're going to fight through an FNM crowd, it's likely you're going to have to face these decks a few times, so it's important to have a plan against them.

Additionally, they are three different deck archetypes—one tempo, one beatdown, one control—so you can prepare for the poles of the format and then adjust accordingly. There are plenty of other decks out there like Red-Green Ramp, Red-Green Beatdown, Humans, Tempered Steel, and so on, but let's just focus on the three that seem the most popular for now.

As I discussed last week, I like to think of matchups in terms of plans. Here is what I want my plan to be for each matchup:


You can't win the tempo war against Delver decks, so you have to aim to be the control deck. If you can kill off their creatures or stop them from attacking, you can try and fight them off with your larger creatures. It's going to be a rough fight, but one you can come out on top of.

Blue-Black Zombies

Blue-Black Zombies, on the other hand, is a much different animal. They're going to be coming at you quickly and using lots of lords to create gigantic creatures. You just want to shoot them down like womp rats and then build toward a Helvault endgame. You want to be a control deck in this matchup and then let your scrappy creatures finish them off.

Planeswalker Control

Against this deck, you can sideboard enough cards to try and play a tempo deck. You can lay down something like Blade Splicer and then use your Negates and Mana Leaks to fend off their removal, board sweepers, and planeswalkers. You also want some kind of card advantage engine that isn't a creature to fight against them.

So, with all of those plans in mind, the sideboard ends up something like this:

3 Day of Judgment
3 Negate
2 Celestial Purge
2 Venser, the Sojourner
2 Myr Battlesphere
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Dismember

And then I would sideboard against each deck like this:

Delver Decks

–2 Helvault –2 Spellskite, –1 Venser, the Sojourner, –1 Precursor Golem
+2 Day of Judgment, +2 Myr Battlesphere, +1 Ratchet Bomb, +1 Dismember

Blue–Black Zombies

–4 Mana Leak, –1 Phyrexian Metamorph –1 Venser, the Sojourner, –1 Helvault
+3 Day of Judgment, +2 Celestial Purge, +1 Oblivion Ring, +1 Dismember

Celestial Purge

Planeswalker Control

–3 Ratchet Bomb, –1 Fiend Hunter, –2 Spellskite,
+3 Negate, +2 Venser, the Sojourner, +1 Oblivion Ring

And finally, it all comes together:

Son of Architect of Destruction

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Venser, the Sojourner
Sorcery (4)
4 Ponder
Instant (4)
4 Mana Leak
Artifact (6)
3 Helvault 3 Ratchet Bomb
Enchantment (2)
2 Oblivion Ring
60 Cards

Honorable Mentions

Alright, that's one deck down—but there were so many great decklists people sent me that some of them deserve to be shown off. Here were some of my other favorite submissions from this week, presented without any changes. If you enjoyed looking at Helvault decks, take a look below!

McTasty's A Vault Full o'Life

Download Arena Decklist

Kevin McHenry's That's a Helvault of Golems!

Download Arena Decklist

Pascal T-L's Steal and Dump

Download Arena Decklist

Brian Wright's Blue-Black Helvault Control

Download Arena Decklist

Tim Pinder's Bludgeon Vault

Download Arena Decklist

James O'Connor's Banished for Good

Download Arena Decklist

Jacob Gruener's Worldslayer Combo

Download Arena Decklist

Speaking of Helvaults...

Avacyn has spent a long time cooped up in the Helvault—and she's about ready to break free. For Innistrad, this means salvation and prosperity. For us on planet Earth, that means something even better: preview cards!

Next week is the beginning of Avacyn Restored previews. And guess what: I have a preview for you guys! And due to the unique nature of this column, I'm going to have to spill some of the beans a little early so you guys can build decks for it.

Your guidelines for submitting decks this week:

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck must be green.
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article
Deadline: Wednesday, April 4 at 6pm Pacific Time

That's right, folks! Straight to the rumor sites: "[AVR] Green Cards in Avacyn Restored *CONFIRMED*"

Send in any and all Standard decklists that include green cards. For this particular preview card, I recommend a mix of cheap creatures and a handful of expensive cards.

That's all for me this week! Let me know on Twitter what you liked and didn't like about the process of evolving a deck in this article. If you don't have a Twitter account (something which I highly recommend all Magic players get, by the way) you can also let me know your comments via the "respond to this article" button down at the bottom and in the forums.

I'm open to your feedback and if something wasn't helpful for you, I'd love to hear about it so I can change it for next week.

Keep calm and deck build on,


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