Welcome Johnnies of all varieties, and prepare to enter my haunted laboratory! Bwahahaha! Seriously though, I've tricked out the place for the next couple weeks. Of course, it was a bit spooky in the first place, but now it's even spookier. You might want to watch your step. Instead of the normal spiders dangling from the rafters, there are freaking rocket launchers waiting for those below. I call it "missiletoe."
I also took a hint from the Navidson Record and had my very own "Five-and-a-Half Minute Hallway" installed in my closet. (It also came with a free minotaur, but I saved that for today's first deck.) The endless closet is creepy all right, but after more than a few explorations, I still can't find my socks. But the most terrifying addition to my lab beat all those in terms of true fright factor. Now, when I trap people in my Laboratory Labyrinth, to add to their terror, I blast the music of the Jonas Brothers through the speakers. It doesn't get much worse then that, folks. Let's just say I don't get very many trick-or-treaters around this time of year.
Sure, I know Halloween is next week, but Grixis Week seems thematically nightmarish in its own right. Think about it: on Grixis, it's probably Halloween every day, except the vampires hand out blood-flavored candies, zombies keep popping out of the ground, and costumes aren't necessary. Since I've got a bit of a treat for you next week, consider this week as a trick or two.
Speaking of tricks, my computer pulled quite the fast one on me last week. We're not talking about a simple Shatter effect here; this baby got hit with a Return to Dust and was RFG'd faster than a Molten Firebird. Lightheartedness aside, I want to formally apologize for missing a week. Being left high and dry without any notice isn't much fun, and having your computer crash is even less fun, so the whole affair was a mess and I'm sorry.
Usually this is the part where I transition from sadness to happiness, but Grixis isn't exactly a joy-inspiring place from the looks (and denizens) of it. So I'll throw in my first trick of the day with the first deck: DRAGONS! Hey, they make me happy.
Grixin' It Up
We'll get to the dragons in a bit. First, I'll introduce my first guest, the Death Baron. Seriously, check this guy out. I'm pretty much a full Johnny, but outstanding art or card names really appeal to my Vorthos side. This is the Death Baron. Don't mess with him, or you may find a bone shoved in your left nostril. It's possibly my favorite name in the set, next to a certain spell from Esper. This Tycoon of Thanatopsis (thanks, Thesaurus.com!) can restore the fire in the old bones of Skeletons and Zombies alike. Since most of the creatures with unearth in the set are Zombies, Death Baron helps them pack a punch.
The basic roots of this deck were planted even before the full spoiler of Shards of Alara came out. Back when the Visual Spoiler was plodding along, I noticed something neat. A turn-three Death Baron followed by a turn-four Crucible of Fire would make for a big Bladewing the Risen, and here I was thinking we'd just finished a tribal block. Then it hit me, just like it's probably hit many of you already: changelings. The infamous asterisks can come down on turn two thanks to Fire-Belly Changeling and Skeletal Changeling (ding goes the theme bell), and the aforementioned tribe pumpers expertly curve out.
I added most of the red and black changelings, but Cairn Wanderer stuck out like a sore thumb. There were no crazy abilities on my creatures, and it was just an expensive changeling for a while. That is, until Corpse Connoisseur was spoiled.
The two are a neat combo. The Connoisseur can find any creature and pop it into the graveyard, which then spiffs up the Wanderer. A great creature to bury in your graveyard is Hell's Thunder, not only for unearth shenanigans but to transform Cairn Wanderer into a sort of permanent copy of it (a flying, hasty 4/4.) Other quality selections include the fear-inducing Shriekmaw, the hasty and trampling Spark Elemental (which kills itself pretty efficiently), and the pretty much awesome all-around Hellkite Overlord as a fun silver bullet.
Lost in the Death Baron's text is the nifty deathtouch ability, which I decided to take advantage of with Thornbite Staff, harkening back to the Moonglove Changeling / Thornbite Staff super Wrath of God combo. And to ramp up the flavor train, plus to give the deck some legs against, well, actual creatures, I added some Skeletonizes. A sort of reverse Crib Swap, Skeletonize can "Bolt" something and give you a Skeleton token to be pumped by Death Baron. Plus, the card concept is extremely cool.
I've skipped out on some of my own suggestions, just to fit everything in. There are many ways you can take this deck, so customize away. Anyway, this is only using the Standard pool. In Extended you've got Connoisseur selections such as Mirri the Cursed and Akroma, Angel of Fury Akroma, Angel of Wrath, while actual reanimation spells such as Dread Return could team up with the Connoisseur to switch up the strategy a bit.
Taurean Mauler is the minotaur I mentioned in the introduction. And as a quick note, if a couple of those references bypassed your reference-detector, go out and read House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Now.
A Sundae AM
The grotesque yet Grixisly cool art of Ad Nauseam doesn't usually conjure thoughts of eating ice cream sundaes in the morning, but hey, anagrams never lie.
A couple of readers out there offered their guesses on which Shards of Alara card I'd codenamed "evil Pac-Man" during the Invincible Hymn discussion , and some were right on the money: Ad Nauseam has drawn interest from all psychological profiles of Magic, and for good reason. According to a recent Ask Wizards, the build-around-me sorcery is from Grixis, and it gushes nightmarish flavor. If I had to guess, I had say those scattered pages are from the Necronomicon. Look how shriveled that guy looks. An obvious Deadite.
Getting back to the deck-building at hand, a successful Ad Nauseam wants to be like a one-shot, instant-speed Dark Confidant, drawing you lots of cards at the cost of (hopefully) not lots of life. I immediately realized that high converted mana costs are obviously out, and that thought turned me in the other direction. If my deck had a lot of cards with only one or even zero mana symbols, I'd get a lot of mileage out of a Nauseam.
This first deck falls into the slightly straightforward brand of "Turboland" decks. These decks use far more lands than usually played, in order to take advantage of the effects of spells like Manabond, Exploration, and Summer Bloom to have tons of lands on the board very quickly. I figured Ad Nauseam would be great alongside these landlubbers, and especially with Manabond. Dump a truckload of lands into your hand with a Nauseam, which then get dumped into play with the Manabond.
For win conditions, I turned to two recent spells that love having tons of lands to guzzle mana from. Helix Pinnacle can be dropped on the very first turn, and while 100 tower counters seems daunting, with all the mana to be made with this deck, you'll get there sooner then you might think. Plus, if you reveal it during an Ad Nauseam, its low converted mana cost won't hurt you too badly.
The other is Sigil of Distinction. First off, it has a converted mana cost of 0, since X costs count as 0 when the spell isn't on the stack, such as during an Ad Nauseam. Next, you can soup it up with 21 or so charge counters, equip it to one of your creatures at the cost of one counter, and swing for the win right then and there. The Sigil is basically a free Blaze to your opponent's dome! Of course, we need some creatures to equip to, which is why I benched Exploration for a creature counterpart, Budoka Gardener, who offers a third way to win. Since we're running over 30 lands here, I used some creature lands as well.
The Infernal Tutor helped me a lot whenever I drew it. Early on, you can suck Ad Nauseams out of your deck and into your hand, or just fetch land for the Budoka Gardener. In the late game, it's a great topdeck, because you can search up your win conditions.
Because Ad Nauseam can fill your hand with a lot of lands, I tinkered with the "hand size matters" cards from Saviors of Kamigawa for a bit, ultimately leaving them out. Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant could probably make an appearance somewhere, and Descendant of Masumaro could get huge fast. If you're averse to Sigil of Distinction for some reason, Empyrial Plate is another equipment option. Hey, this might even be a home for Sophic Centaur!
This next Ad Nauseam deck was sent to me by Dominique H., and it's got a doozy of a combo. Instead of trying to lose as little life as possible, as I did with the first deck, Dominique wants to blow your entire life total and put your whole library in your hand. Usually, that would come with the side effect of losing, but Dominique came prepared: "You need to have an Elvish Piper and a Thousand-Year Elixir in play. With those two permanents in play, cast Ad Nauseam during your upkeep. Use the Piper to put a Platinum Angel from your hand in play or cast Angel's Grace. Then dig through your deck until you draw a Magus of the Mirror. Put it in play with the Piper and then proceed to change your negative life total with your opponent using your hasty Magus."
I particularly love the use of Thousand-Year Elixir to create a game-winning combo! But which support cards to use? Once again, I can't say it better than Dominique did: "To support this, I went with Birds of Paradise, Elvish Harbinger (to fetch the Piper), Pact of Negation, Liliana Vess, Fierce Empath (for the Magus or the Platinum Angel) and Sakura-Tribe Elder."
Dominique didn't include a set deck list, so I made one from scratch. I gave the nod to Weird Harvest instead of Liliana Vess as a creature tutor, and Godsire is there as a great Piper and Elixir target.
Alright. No more theme-shirking. Today's final deck contains all the colors of Grixis, which resemble especially painful bruises when mixed. Perhaps the embodiment of the Grixis shard is its respective Ultimatum, Cruel Ultimatum.
To be honest, when the Ultimatum cycle sunk in upon reading the spoiler, the first thing that jumped out at me wasn't the crazy effects on them. No, it was the whopping seven colored mana symbols in that mana cost. I thought we'd seen the reigning champion of colored symbols with Primalcrux a couple months ago. Because Primalcrux is basically just a big beatstick, I didn't use the card I was thinking of with it. However, with these crazy Ultimatums in existence, I can unveil my super secret tech: Charmed Pendant.
This underused (actually, probably never-used) rare from Odyssey, can, assuming there's a Cruel Ultimatum on top of your library, tap for . Obviously, this amount of mana is just what you need to cast the epitome of cruelty, so with a small down payment of or to play or flashback Recoup, you'll be able to play Cruel Ultimatum far earlier than normal. (Dralnu, Lich Lord could also work, but its high mana cost and painful replacement effect were big danger signs for me.)
This sort of mentality works perfectly with the various unearth creatures. Use the Pendant to suck the colored mana out of a Fire-Field Ogre, then unearth it. Not only do you basically unearth for free, you've actually made a small (although colorless) profit! Avatar of Discord sports three colored mana symbols while getting your unearth creatures into the graveyard. I was looking for some sweepers with colored symbols, and Flamebreak got the start. Manaforge Cinder can help fix your mana despite its slight restriction, and Scourge Devils can pump up your army of spooks.
Until next time, embrace the underworld of Grixis!