Clan Wars

Posted in From the Lab on December 22, 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.

DailyMTG is catching you up on some of the best articles from the past year while our whole crew enjoys the holidays. We’re replaying some of our authors' most popular works and some of your favorites December 15–26, but don’t be surprised if we have a special present or two for you somewhere during the holidays…

But in the meantime, enjoy the best of 2014. Happy Holidays!


What's up, labbies? You know, week after week here at From the Lab it's just me coming up with new ideas and spitting out new decks. Today, I'm taking a break from all that. After all, I'm not the only Johnny deck builder out there. In fact, there are literally thousands of them reading this. Chances are you're one yourself. Over the last month, I've tapped into that resource, by which I mean your brains, and extracted a number of interesting deck ideas built around the clans of Tarkir. Today, I'll be showing off a few of my favorites.

The Jeskai Way

Jeskai received significantly more deck submissions than any other clan, which did not surprise me in the least. Blue and red have long been partners in crime, enabling some of the most crazy combo shenanigans in history. Although Temur contains this color combination as well, that clan is centered on green, which pulls the focus toward big creatures.

Narset, Enlightened Master | Art by Magali Villeneuve

Since there were so many decks to choose from for this clan, I'll be showing off two of them. The first comes from Alex Cohen, who built a deck around Narset, Enlightened Master. With the Jeskai's focus on instants and sorceries within Khans of Tarkir, it's easy to forget that the clan actually works with any noncreature spells. That means Narset can cast free artifacts, enchantments, and even Planeswalkers from the top of your library. Alex included a few of each in the deck to give Narset a versatile suite of cards to choose from.

Alex Cohen's Free Stuff

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Alex cleverly skirts around Narset's noncreature restriction by loading the deck with artifacts, enchantments, and Planeswalkers that can turn into creatures once on the battlefield. Spells like Mana Severance and Endless Horizons reduce the chances that you'll hit lands with Narset's ability. Finally, Ethereal Usher pulls double duty as a way to search your library for Narset and a way to make her unblockable if you already have one in hand.

The other Jeskai deck I wanted to share with you all is completely crazy in the best possible way. Steven Woolery put together a sweet infinite combo built around Jeskai Ascendancy. I'll let him give you a quick rundown,

The basic premise is to have Jeskai Ascendancy, Memory Crystal, Iron Myrs, and Palladium Myrs out on the battlefield. This allows you to keep casting and buying back Searing Touch repeatedly. If for whatever reason the opponent has protection, you can target Palladium Myr with Searing Touch. Since it is 2/2 and Jeskai Ascendancy keeps making it grow, it will not die. You can then use Rogue's Passage to allow your colorless creatures to swing in for the win.

Complex? Certainly. But it's also inventive, and incredibly satisfying to pull off. Besides, I've never been one to shy away from complexity in a deck.

Steven Woolery's Jeskai Ascendancy

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The Temur Frontier

Today's representative for the Temur clan comes from the appropriately-named Jeremy Brewer, who built a deck that combines Temur Ascendancy with Intruder Alarm to spit creatures out onto the battlefield in long chains.

Jeremy Brewer's Temur Alarm

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The game plan is to use Temur Ascendancy and Garruk's Packleader to draw more and more creatures, use Intruder Alarm and mana creatures to play them, rinse and repeat. The creatures I chose all have a power of 4 or more and cost three or less to play, except the single Nylea, who gives your army trample and is a great mana sink if you start to generate extra from your mana creatures and Intruder Alarm. I especially like Vexing Devil, as it draws you cards and untaps your creatures for a single red mana whether your opponent chooses to keep it around or not. Also, Savage Knuckleblade has the ability to return to your hand if you need an untap or card draw.

This deck can put threats onto the battlefield at an incredible rate with the right pieces in play. And with Temur Ascendancy giving everything haste, your opponents won't know what hit 'em. Even if you don't get the full combo put together, the assortment of powerful creatures can get the job done the old-fashioned way.

The Abzan Houses

Abzan was second only to Jeskai in supporters, and there were too many great decks to limit myself to just one. As with Jeskai, I'll be sharing two different builds from this clan. First up is this Hardened Scales deck sent in by Ryan Miller. Hardened Scales obviously combines well with the outlast ability, but it can be used in many other ways as well. Last week, I used it to power up graft, and here Ryan uses it in combination with heroic to double up on +1/+1 counters.

Ryan Miller's Unstoppable Force

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This deck gets an absurd amount of value out of Hardened Scales. Casting Feat of Resistance on Phalanx Leader will trigger heroic, putting two counters on all your creatures. Then the spell will resolve and give the Leader two more +1/+1 counters on top of that. Add in Abzan Falconer to give all your creatures flying, and you have a brutally efficient beatdown machine.

The second Abzan deck is one I almost didn't include simply because it uses a combo I've been sitting on for a while. Retribution of the Ancients is a card that just begs to be broken, and undying seemed like the easiest way to do it. As it turns out, great minds think alike, and Rudy saw the same interaction, although his execution is a bit different than what I had planned.

Rudy's Undying Endurance

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This deck has a lot going on, so I'll let Rudy walk you through some of the main interactions.

If you can sacrifice the undying creature, remove its +1/+1 counter with Retribution of the Ancients, and sacrifice it again, you'll get a loop to gun down every targetable creature on the board. Doesn't matter if they are as big as Emrakul, or as indestructible as the mighty Blightsteel Colossus. For the loop, we'll need a black mana source to activate Retribution of the Ancients, so the classic tool to sacrifice a creature to gain mana is Phyrexian Altar (or Ashnod's Altar, for 2 colorless mana, but I don't like using a deck slot for Initiates of the Ebon Hand). Now the combo is complete, and you'll have a clean board to slowly win through attacking them with your undying creatures.

But wait, what if your opponent had hexproof or shroud creatures? How does an army of infinite Spirits sound for an alternative win condition? Enter Abzan Ascendancy. Not only does it provide some fuel for Retribution of the Ancients, it also provides us with endless Spirit tokens for every loop iteration from above.

If you're short on Retribution of the Ancients (or short on target creatures), Gravecrawler (and another Zombie on board) + Phyrexian Altar could get the same infinite loop that triggers Abzan Ascendancy, Grim Haruspex, or Fecundity as well. Or you could just sacrifice an undying creature or Gravecrawler to Diabolic Intent and search for whatever combo piece you're missing at the time.

The Sultai Brood

Rudy submitted decks for several different clans, and in addition to the Abzan deck above, the one for Sultai really caught my eye. Like almost all of the Sultai decks I received, it's built around Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. However, Rudy's deck had that little extra oomph the others lacked thanks to the combo of Tombstone Stairwell and Extractor Demon.

By casting or unearthing Extractor Demon with the Stairwell on the battlefield, you can mill two cards for each creature in any graveyard when all the Zombies leave the battlefield. That should give you more than enough Sidisi triggers to take over the game, not to mention all the extra tokens you'll be getting from Tombstone Stairwell next turn.

Rudy's Zombie-Stacking Solution

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The deck also includes Hermit Druid as a way to get most of the deck in the graveyard all at once, making Splinterfright absolutely gigantic. As another alternative win condition, Blood Artist can drain life totals extremely quickly when Tombstone Stairwell starts pumping out tokens. Even without the Stairwell, it makes sure that your opponent will feel the burn if he or she tries to kill all the Zombie tokens you've made with Sidisi.

The Mardu Horde

Although Mardu does have a lot going for it, it's not exactly the most Johnny of clans. In fact, out of the dozens of deck submissions I received, only two readers chose to represent the Horde in the battle of the clans. Although the decks were similar, Garry Hough added a bit of extra spice to go with his decklist.

Although I have been long on the campaign, I cannot forget the day Zurgo Helmsmasher came to my village.

One of his chieftains ordered those of fighting age to gather. Then Zurgo himself said loud and clear, "Join my horde for blood, glory, and plunder, but I only want warriors who have a lust for carnage. Those of you with no thirst for battle, have no fear, you can stay to herd and harvest, so your village can pay tribute next season."

Most of the villagers made no move, but my cousin Balig and I stepped forward and we shouted our allegiance. We had dreamed of a life beyond the village since we were little. Our chance had come and we were tired of tending goats. Balig and I were each given a spear. The others were not so lucky.

"Your young and old are enough to tend to the crops. The rest of you I cannot suffer to live. Cowards weaken the tribe, so their life's blood shall nourish the earth," Zurgo Helmsmasher proclaimed. Then he turned his gaze to me and I knew what I had to do.

Garry Hough's Mardu

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The Battle is Over. The War Has Just Begun.

Now that we've explored all five clans through the eyes of readers like you, it's time for me to get back to work. Who do you think won the battle here today? What was your favorite deck? Let me know on Twitter through @MTGCannon, or send an email to mtgcannon@gmail.com. If you have any Johnny-licious decks of your own you'd like to share, send those in as well. Who knows? Maybe you'll see one of them right here in a future article.

Speaking of future articles, check back next week to see how I try to beat the odds and take down multiple opponents at the same time. Until then, may your clan's banner keep on flying. See ya!

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