An Onslaught of Decks

Posted in Feature on October 17, 2002

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

More than 700 people sent Onslaught-only decks to me for Deck Challenge 3. I'll pause a moment so that number can sink in, because it really impresses me.

There is no way on this green Earth that I can properly summarize 700 deck submissions. Moreover, the sheer variety and creativity of the submissions surpassed the first two Challenges, which is saying quite a bit. Picking ten from the bunch seemed silly, but I did it anyway.

Deck Challenge 3

Remember that the decks below are not necessarily the best in design. Rather, they stood out from their peers in terms of creativity and somehow managed to catch my eye. Basically, I just like these ten decks more than the others this particular week . . . how's that for subjective?

What follows are the basic categories that I broke the submissions into (listed from most common to least common deck type). Generally speaking, your deck had a better chance of catching my eye if it fit into one of the later categories.

You Say You Want an Evolution

The single most submitted deck centered on Artificial Evolution. Am I rubbing off on you people or is Onslaught really that weird? No matter what the strategy, if the deck used four copies of Artificial Evolution and the commentary began "The trick here is to play Artificial Evolution on . . .," then the deck ended up in this category.

For tradition's sake, I haven't picked a deck from the most common category as one of the ten to feature here; however, this time, the submissions were so wacky and fun that I will dedicate an entire article to them in two weeks. If you submitted a deck with four Artificial Evolution, stay tuned because your deck might yet get mentioned in this column. You'll have to wait two weeks to find out, though.

Let the Tribes Begin!

The most submitted "tribal" deck used Elves. The Elf decks were usually straightforward beatdown fare, using Elvish Warrior, Elvish Vanguard, Heedless One, and Voice of the Woods. Most Elf decks used Steely Resolve. No surprises there, and none of these decks caught my eye. Some of the monogreen Elf decks used Slate of Ancestry to draw cards (this was true for all tribal decks, actually). There were also green-red Elf decks with burn, green-black Elf decks with graveyard recursion, green-white Elf decks with Shared Triumph, green-blue Elf decks usually with Imagecrafter and/or the Peer Pressure - Standardize trick. These two-color decks were more interesting, but still fairly tame. As it turns out, the Elf decks that made me smile the most were those that used mana producers, such as Wirewood Elf, Birchlore Rangers, and Elvish Guidance, to get a ton of mana. Among these decks, Mike Landers put the mana to best use via Centaur Glade.

Plug It In, Plug It In

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Wizard decks showed up nearly as often as Elf decks, and I really wish I found them more interesting. I mean, Wizards of the Coast is the company that makes the Magic game, right? I should get excited about Wizard decks! Still, to me, Wizard decks just blur together, much like their elvish brethren. Most Wizard decks used Voidmage Prodigy and other modest Onslaught counterspells to control the game. Some tried stealing opposing stuff with Callous Oppressor and Riptide Entrancer. Some used Nameless One for beatdown and others milled via Supreme Inquisitor. Most decks were monoblue. The two-color decks were much more interesting and fell into two basic categories: Blue-red decks used Lavamancer's Skill and Thoughtbound Primoc for a more damage-oriented approach. Blue-black decks almost exclusively tried adding Oversold Cemetery to recycle the Wizards lost to Voidmage Prodigy. Cool idea, but the decks were so similar that I couldn't pick one.

On the Wizards' heels were the Goblins. I actually found the Goblin decks to be pretty peppy and fun reads. Again, most were monored and had the usual suspects of Goblin Burrows, Goblin Pyromancer, Reckless One, Goblin Taskmaster, and Skirk Fire Marshal. Many people realized how spiffy Goblin Sharpshooter is. Aside from the speed red Goblin decks, some used Brightstone Ritual, Mana Echoes, and Skirk Prospector for big effects like Gratuitous Violence, Rorix Bladewing, Dragon Roost, and Insurrection. Some splashed green for Steely Resolve and Tribal Unity or black for Cabal Slaver. Many used Slate of Ancestry. As always, my favorites were those that made me blink. For example, Celeb Derksen and Major Owie each splashed white to use Glarecaster with Skirk Fire Marshal, which is an immensely fun idea. Richard Jacobson, meanwhile, tried every way possible to avoid taking Skirk Fire Marshal damage. His deck looks a little slow and inconsistent, but I have to applaud the effort.

Goblins Like to Blow Stuff Up

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Those Other Two Mechanics

After those first three tribes, people showed great creativity in exploring morph and cycling. As you would expect, most morph decks used Ixidor, Reality Sculptor as their centerpieces, often using morph creatures they could never otherwise cast. Frequent targets for Ixidor were Exalted Angel, Quicksilver Dragon, Grinning Demon, Silent Specter, and Krosan Colossus. Of these decks, I particularly liked Frank Myers's use of Future Sight in combination with Dream Chisel to really crank out the 3/3s. I also liked Scott Seville's combination Wizard/morph deck, which actually used Crafty Pathmage as a key card (unblockable face-down 2/2s, Riptide Entrancer, Cabal Executioner, and so on). I also give major kudos to Peter Vieren for a monogreen morph deck whose only noncreature, nonland card was Kamahl's Summons.

The cycling decks were truly inspired and fell into three basic categories. Several decks used cycling in conjunction with Words of Wilding to create a ton of Bears. I particularly liked X_calibur's (sheesh . . . why can't people use their names?) use of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa with Slice and Dice's cycle-trigger to animate lands and then kill them off. Another type of deck used Astral Slide and morph creatures, taking advantage of the ruling that face-down critters removed from the game return face up. With some well-timed cycling, these decks hoped to put Krosan Colossus or Quicksilver Dragon into beatdown mode on Turn 4. Of these decks, Andy Jacks's impressed me the most. The third category of cycling decks used both Words of War and Lightning Rift to send damage straight to the face of an opponent. These decks used some of the best cycling cards in Onslaught, including Starstorm, Solar Blast, and Slice and Dice. DragonKain3 (sigh) used white-red. Matthew Koelbl used blue for Read the Runes, Trade Secrets, and Complicate. And Laura Mills -- fast becoming one of my favorite deckbuilders -- had the insight to use Enchantress's Presence.

Who Casts Creatures Anyway?

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Back to the Tribes

Cleric decks made a strong showing, though their numbers were diluted by the next category. Most were black-white, using Rotlung Reanimator, Cabal Archon, Doubtless One, Nova Cleric, and True Believer. Several were monoblack and used Misery Charm and Oversold Cemetery to recycle the Clerics feeding the Rotlung Reanimator and/or Cabal Archon. A few brave souls made monowhite Cleric decks, of which I liked Paul Weissenborn's the best. Probably because I was expecting Cleric decks like these, I didn't see anything that really stood out.

A number of people, inspired by the Prerelease, decided to combine two tribes into one deck. Most of these decks were Cleric-Zombie decks, usually using Clerics along with Rotlung Reanimator, Soulless One, and Shepherd of Rot. In addition to these decks, I saw Elf-Beast decks (think Wirewood Savage), Goblin-Elf, Soldier-Cleric, Goblin-Cleric, Goblin-Zombie, Soldier-Elf, Beast-Goblin, Wizard-Goblin, and Cleric-Wizard. Quite a menagerie, and far too dizzying to highlight any one deck here.

For some reason, I really liked the Beast decks, and all of them used Wirewood Savage. The question is, how do you reliably cast those expensive beasties, especially if you want to use the also-expensive AEther Charge? Many people avoided putting enough mana into their decks and hoped I wouldn't notice. The better attempts used Elf mana, Krosan Tusker, Explosive Vegetation, or all the above. Marco van de Wijdeven made a cool monogreen Beast deck with Cryptic Gateway to get his expensive Krosan Colossuses and Krosan Groundshakers into play. Carl van Ostrand made an excellent three-color deck that used black for Wretched Anurid, Doomed Necromancer, and Cover of Darkness. And Tristan Gally made a Beast-less Beast deck, relying on Riptide Replicator to crank out the critters. Above all, I was drawn to the deck submitted by Eric Wright, who was the only person in more than 700 people to use four copies of Chain of Acid. His rationale was that it made the deck kind of like Beast-Armageddon. I don't know if he's right (and I made his deck from fifty-seven to sixty cards), but I like the idea.


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Soldiers came next, and for the most part these monowhite decks had far too little land for their Soldiers. Many didn't use Mobilization, Shared Triumph, or Daru Encampment, making me wonder if I was missing something. In my mind, only two really cool ideas came out of the Soldier pile, both using the Gustcloak creatures. The first idea used the Gustcloaks along with Aven Brigadier (+2/+2 baby!) and usually Airborne Aid, but, again, these decks tended to be light on mana. The second idea used Gustcloaks along with Overwhelming Instinct. These latter decks also used the fun Taunting Elf - Gustcloak Savior combo. Andrew Taylor made my favorite white-green Gustcloak deck.

Picking up on the strong tribal theme in Onslaught, many people decided to pack their decks with Mistform creatures. These Illusion decks ran the gamut in terms of color choices, although almost all of them used Peer Pressure. Some people, like Kyle Dunne, used the Mistform creatures, Imagecrafter, and Trickery Charm to turn Endemic Plague into a one-sided slaughter. Others, like Colin Mills and Eric Flaksman, made five-color decks that used every single Lord in the set. In the end, I kept staring at John Ormerod's monoblue deck, which seemed both straightforward and fun.


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Beats, Bears, and Multiplayer . . . Oh My!

If your deck didn't have a strong tribal theme but your commentary went something like "Basically, you want to beat your opponent to a bloody pulp as quickly as possible," then your deck got classified as a beatdown deck. These decks were almost exclusively two-color. The scariest used either base black for discard and Grinning Demon or base white for Exalted Angel. A few used base red for burn and Starstorm as a reset. Not super exciting, but I'm sure these decks would win their fair share of games.

Many people set out specifically to break Words of Wilding. These were exclusively blue-green decks that used some combination of Trade Secrets, Read the Runes, cycling cards, and Slate of Ancestry to crank out a flood of Bears. Scott Forster probably had the most solid build of the decks in this category. He used red for Mana Echoes and hoped a huge explosion of mana would fuel his Read the Runes and Words.

Zombie decks made up the smallest tribal deck type, which automatically meant I liked them. There would have been more Zombie decks, I think, if the pull to make Zombie-Cleric decks wasn't so strong. These decks didn't worry about Cabal Archon (although they did use Rotlung Reanimator), and instead played with cards like Wretched Anurid, Shepherd of Rot, and Soulless One. Some got bonus points for using Gravespawn Sovereign. Interestingly, a vast majority of these decks were made for multiplayer thanks to Syphon Mind, Syphon Soul, and Death Match. I wish Anthony could have pointed me to a particularly good one.

These Decks Bug Me

Insects? That's right, a bunch of people made Insect decks thanks to Broodhatch Nantuko and the Symbiotic creatures. There were three popular ways to send those Symbiotic creatures to the graveyard. Some decks, like the one by Jared Salisbury, used a Nantuko Husk and Doomed Necromancer combination to crank out the Insect tokens. Others, like Jeremy Hoffman, focused on cards like Starstorm and Slice and Dice to make their bugs. My favorite approach, however, used both Nantuko Husk and Goblin Sharpshooter for an Insect combo to ping an opponent to death. I couldn't decide whether to feature Spim's use of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa or John Martin's use of Riptide Replicator. As I prefer people to give me their actual names, let's arbitrarily go with John.

Goblin Combo, Baby!

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Many people zeroed their sights on abusing Oversold Cemetery. These decks had a great fluid feel to them and seemed like they could reliably pop four creatures into the graveyard to get going. Creatures in the decks included Doomed Necromancer, Nantuko Husk, Rotlung Reanimator, Elvish Vanguard, Cabal Archon, Wall of Mulch, Ravenous Baloth, Gigapede, Undead Gladiator, Krosan Tusker, and Symbiotic Elf. Kudos to Russell Sherman, Sevi Alvarez, Chris Rachiele, and David Russell for making very impressive Cemetery decks. Here's an example.

Oversold Bestiary

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The final "big" category featured decks built around Riptide Shapeshifter. These decks focused on popping the Shapeshifter for a huge creature. Some people used all the Legends in Onslaught so that you can call "Legend," while others used a toolbox approach for creatures with different types that would serve different purposes. Most decks, however, forgot to have a plan for what to do with those huge beasties if they were in your hand. I liked Alexander Wyatt's solution to use morph creatures (plus Ixidor and Crafty Pathmage!) along with Read the Runes to ensure that there would be no wasted draws. I also liked David Robertson's strategy to have the only non-Shapeshifter be Symbiotic Wurm in a deck loaded with Akroma's Vengeances.

Small Piles, Big Ideas

Seven categories of submissions had anywhere from five to ten entries. These deck types were

Holly Monk, Will You Marry Me?

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  • Some folks tried to abuse the combination of Words of Waste and Words of Wind. Most mistakenly thought they could activate both with a single draw, and I'm not sure they thought enough about board control. Still, a very cool idea.
  • Last, a handful of decks looked to make monored control decks on the back of Starstorm, usually with either Dragon Roost or Rorix Bladewing as a finisher.

And Finally, the Innovators

Nine people submitted decks that were very unlike their peers' submissions. I think all nine deserve some recognition, though I will feature only a few of the decks.

James Burnett and Datenshi Bry submitted dedicated discard decks. I particularly liked Datenshi's because of his focus on Tempting Wurm. Frankly, I was surprised so few people tried to "break" Tempting Wurm.

Intimidating Beasts

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Sampo Hynynen and Mike314 made combo decks with mana producers that could repeatedly untap thanks to Aggravated Assault. One pumped all of that mana into Centaur Glade while the other used Dragon Roost.

Purraj of Urborg decided to "make Clone playable" by focusing a deck on graveyard recursion and Doomed Necromancer, early stall and late-game big creatures. It looked like it should have fit into an existing category but just didn't.

Behzod Sirjani and Dan Spiller focused their decks on the Mobilization and Death Match combination, with Akroma's Vengeance making an appearance, as well.

Tom Travis made the only deck whose only aim was to make an extremely large Entrails Feaster.

Finally, Matt Constanza and Christian Bausch used the surprising combination of Ebonblade Reaper and Convalescent Care. Talk about a quirky pairing! Here's Matt's deck.

The Grim Reaper

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Whew! Let's hope this is the longest article I ever write, but somehow I think the next Deck Challenge will produce just as many interesting ideas. Until then, enjoy Onslaught -- without a doubt now my favorite Magic set.

Next week: That's a lot of wood.

-- j

Jay may be reached at

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