Triple Threat

Posted in From the Lab on September 1, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

Welcome, assorted sentient beings of the Multiverse! Today is a good day. Today, I get to share with you one of the first glimpses of Khans of Tarkir. My preview card this week is an interesting one. It fits best not in the all-in combo decks often found in this column, but in a hybrid design taking elements from both traditional and combo-oriented decks. It also shows off one of the new clan mechanics of the set. Speaking of which, the Mardu aren't exactly a patient bunch, and I've blathered on long enough already. Take a look at Howl of the Horde.

Now the first part of this card isn't exactly a new thing. In fact, it started all the way back in Alpha with Fork, and its legacy has lived on through cards like Reiterate, Increasing Vengeance, Reverberate, and Twincast. Howl of the Horde does switch up the template a bit from previous cards. It must be cast before the spell you want to affect, mirroring cards like Quicken and Chandra, the Firebrand. It can also only be used on your own spells. That means you can't copy a Cancel to save your spell from being countered, or get revenge on your opponent by copying a removal spell targeting your creature.

The second half of the card is what makes Howl of the Horde really interesting. All you have to do is attack with any random creature, even if it won't survive combat, and you get to triple up on the next instant or sorcery spell you cast. Not bad for three mana.

Attack for 4. And 11. And 24. And 45.

My first idea was a deck that uses Howl of the Horde to take three additional combat phases in a single turn. That would give the Howl something significant to copy while also naturally turning on the raid ability.

Now there's one major problem with taking this line. Although the extra combat phases will stack up behind one another, the part that untaps all your creatures will happen immediately. World at War creates a delayed trigger to untap the creatures, but it needs to be cast during your first main phase and Howl of the Horde needs to be cast during the second.

Fortunately, there's another way to solve the problem. Serra's Blessing and Angel's Trumpet will give all your creatures vigilance, leaving them free to attack during each of the four combat phases even without an untap effect.

There are a number of sorceries that give you additional combat phases, so I decided to go with the two cheapest ones. Relentless Assault is the least costly at four mana, and even that requires a total of seven to copy with Howl of the Horde. I also added Fury of the Horde, which aside from fitting well thematically can be cast for no mana at all if you have two red cards in hand to exile.

As I thought about which creatures to include in the deck, my mind drifted back to February of last year. Gatecrash had just been released, and with it came a new leader for the Boros guild: Aurelia, the Warleader. As I mulled over building a Commander deck with her at the helm, I did a bit of research into creatures with abilities that trigger upon attacking. Many of them tend to get much better with an extra combat phase or two, and that's exactly the kind of thing this deck could use.

First in line is Soltari Champion. Every time it attacks, it gives all your other creatures +1/+1. That means that when you attack for the fourth time all your other threats will be receiving an extra +4/+4 thanks to the repeated triggers. It's also sure to survive combat thanks to shadow making it effectively unblockable.

Signal Pest works similarly. Although it only boosts power and doesn't deal any damage itself, it makes up for that by costing only one mana, allowing you to cast it without spending an entire turn doing so.

All that power pumping won't do much without other creatures, so I also included a new addition to the team. Goblin Rabblemaster will make a hasty token at the beginning of each combat phase. If your opponent doesn't have a creature to block it with, the Rabblemaster itself can also grow huge after attacking a few times in succession.

Hero of Bladehold is also an excellent choice for the deck. It creates two tokens and boosts them to 2/1 all by itself. Unfortunately, the tokens don't have haste, so they won't be able to attack during additional combat phases the turn they enter the battlefield. However, you'll still get a new pair of tokens each time the Hero attacks.

Batting cleanup is Márton Stromgald. This guy pumps up attackers like no other, but he himself is only a 1/1, and therefore unlikely to survive attacking. Soltari Champion could help, but even if Márton is doomed to die immediately he can still give everything else a huge power and toughness boost before he goes. That should help your other creatures survive combat like he could not, which makes it pretty easy to win the game with three more combat phases coming up.

Howling Fury

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Burn Burn Burn

The other option I came up with for abusing Howl of the Horde was a bit more direct. Rather than attacking with creatures for the sake of dealing damage, you can attack just as a throwaway to turn on the raid ability. Then you can copy some amazing instant or sorcery three times to win the game.

When I first started getting into competitive Magic, my format of choice was Extended, which was a lot like what Modern is now but with almost nothing banned. I played a mono-red burn deck in an effort to compete with the turn-four combo kills that were so common in the format.

Unlike the RW Burn decks we've seen in Standard lately, this deck had one goal: cast cards that deal 3 damage until the opponent dies. You never kill creatures, you never block, and you generally just ignore everything your opponent does. It was effectively a combo deck where the combo was any seven spells.

The reason I bring this up is that the experience ingrained into my brain the fact that 7×3=Death. So when looking for a way to win instantly with Howl of the Horde, my first thought was to use a spell that deals 7 damage.

Unfortunately, the only options there are the unreliable Stomping Slabs and the expensive Cinder Storm. That won't do at all. While looking at larger and smaller amounts of damage, I stumbled upon the perfect card: Goblin Grenade. It deals a massive amount of damage for just one mana, and like Howl of the Horde it requires you to have creatures in the deck.

Unfortunately a tripled Goblin Grenade is only 15 damage. A second Grenade could finish the job, but drawing two out of four copies isn't something you can rely on. There are two ways to get around this. You can skirt the "drawing" part by using cards to search your library, or you can get rid of the "four copies" bit by finding similar cards that will work. In this case, the second option is pretty easy.

One simple substitute is Shrapnel Blast. It takes one more mana, but by adding lands like Darksteel Citadel and Great Furnace into the deck you can ensure you'll always be able to cast it. Next up is Brimstone Volley. Unlike the others, you don't have to have something to sacrifice. You can attack with a Goblin, and if your opponent blocks, there will be a surprise 15 damage waiting. Artillerize is the most expensive of the bunch, but it's a good way to get that last 5 damage in the turn after you use Howl of the Horde.

We still need to add some Goblins to sacrifice. The Goblin Grenade route will require two Goblins if your opponent kills the one you attack with, so Dragon Fodder and Krenko's Command are perfect. I also want a way to turn on the morbid of Brimstone Volley if your opponent doesn't do it for you.

Skirk Prospector can sacrifice Goblins to give you red mana. That makes it easier to reach the six mana necessary for Howl of the Horde and Brimstone Volley while also making morbid active. Goblin Chirurgeon is another option whose main selling points are a one-mana price and the ability to save a Goblin or two from a card like Pyroclasm or Supreme Verdict.

Goblin Horde

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For the Horde! Wait, Which One?

To give the decks a little test run, I'll be throwing them in the arena for a sparring match. It's one-one-one, horde vs. horde, and the howling won't stop until one of them falls in defeat. Place your bets and take a seat, because the fight is about to begin.

Art by Slawomir Maniak

Game 1

The Goblins won the roll and started off with Goblin Chirurgeon, while Márton 's crew led with a Signal Pest. Krenko's Command summoned a pair of tokens, and Serra's Blessing gave vigilance to the other side. Two Goblins attacked for damage while two more entered the field along with a second Chirurgeon. Soltari Champion joined the battle for Márton.

Four Goblin tokens attacked, and one Chirurgeon sacrificed the other to enable a Brimstone Volley for 5. Signal Pest and Soltari Champion attacked for a total of 10 damage thanks to Relentless Assault. The four tokens attacked for another 4 damage, and Artillerize finished the job.

Game 2

Márton had no turn-one play, and the Goblins led with a Chirurgeon again. Serra's Blessing entered the battlefield on turn two, as did a pair of tokens from Dragon Fodder. Marton summoned Goblin Rabblemaster, which made a token of its own. The token got in for 1 damage, and the Goblin Horde passed the turn after just playing a land.

The Rabblemaster made a second Goblin token and both attacked unblocked. Hero of Bladehold then joined the fray. The Goblin Horde summoned a Skirk Prospector before ending the turn. A trio of Goblins, Hero of Bladehold, and a brand new pair of Soldiers attacked, with the tokens getting +1/+0. The Goblin Horde chose not to block, dropping to 4 life. Márton added a Soltari Champion to his forces.

Goblin Chirurgeon attacked, and was promptly struck down by Goblin Rabblemaster. Howl of the Horde copied Shrapnel Blast three times to deal 15 damage, and Skirk Prospector sacrificed itself and the two tokens for three mana, allowing a Brimstone Volley to finish the job.

Please Sir, I Want Some Morph

That's all for today, but previews for Khans of Tarkir are just beginning, and next week I'll be taking a look at one of the returning mechanics of the set. Not only that, but my preview card will change the way you use the mechanic entirely. Make sure to check back next Monday to take a look at what I've got in store. See ya!

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