Monsters in the Closet

Posted in From the Lab on November 11, 2013

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.

We're kicking off Monstrosity Week today, celebrating all sorts of hydras and gorgons and other various beasts that make up the most challenging obstacles a hero must overcome. Although hero stories are usually about the one person who manages to slay the monster, the pile of skeletons often found in its lair demonstrates that these creatures win far more often then they lose. Hopefully the same will be true of a deck built around them.

Gorgon with the Wind

There are two obstacles standing in the way of monstrosity. The first is the fact that you can only use the ability once throughout the creature's lifetime. Many monstrosity abilities have devastating effects, but only being able to use the ability once per game is a pretty big drawback. Like most drawbacks, however, there's a way around it if you try hard enough.

Conjurer's Closet is the easiest way to activate monstrosity more than once. By flickering the creature, you completely reset it to its natural state. In fact, the game treats it as a brand-new object. Thus, you'll be able to activate monstrosity a second time, since this new creature isn't monstrous. Using this, you'll be able to activate the same monstrosity ability every turn.

Conjurer's Closet

We still need to decide which monstrosity abilities to use. Since the creatures won't be keeping the +1/+1 counters, anything without an additional effect is out the window. The first monster that caught my eye is Hythonia the Cruel. With her ability to murder everything, you can make sure that she is the only creature on the battlefield for the rest of the game. Any Gorgons your opponent controls will survive, but the chances that this will be relevant seem pretty slim.

Hythonia's little friend Keepsake Gorgon can serve as a backup. It only kills one creature at a time, but that should be enough to stem the tide, albeit much more slowly. The other big monstrosity effect I included is Ember Swallower. Although it's less effective on its own than Hythonia, it will stop your opponent from casting any more spells. Anything that's on the battlefield might still be a problem, but having the Gorgons around should help mitigate that.

Hythonia the Cruel
Keepsake Gorgon

Hythonia's monstrosity ability costs a hefty eight mana; not something you're going to reach before your opponent kills you in most games. Fortunately there are some great ways to heavily accelerate your mana. Using artifacts for mana also means that you can keep casting spells and activating abilities after Ember Swallower has forced you to sacrifice all your lands.

Worn Powerstone is my favorite underrated mana rock, giving you twice the acceleration of your average three-mana artifact with the small drawbacks of entering the battlefield tapped and producing only colorless mana. The Powerstone outpaces even the best green ramp spells, giving you six mana on turn four with no other assistance.

One step up from Worn Powerstone we have Thran Dynamo. The Dynamo doesn't enter the battlefield tapped, allowing you to immediately use it to cast another mana artifact like Worn Powerstone and have a huge amount of mana available to you next turn.

Worn Powerstone
Thran Dynamo

You'll need a way to produce colored mana without lands as well. Coalition Relic can help with that, giving you the double red or double black you need to activate monstrosity every other turn. The Relic gives you the choice between one mana now or two mana next turn. You'll usually find yourself using both in any one game, proving how valuable these options really are.

Rakdos Signet gives you another way to make some colored mana, and also provides you with a card you can cast on turn two, setting up a potential turn-three Thran Dynamo into turn-four whatever you want.

I've also added in Mimic Vat. It can serve as a replacement for Conjurer's Closet, or allow you to borrow an opponent's creature for your own purposes. When one of your monsters dies, you can exile it with Mimic Vat, then make a copy each turn and activate its monstrosity ability.

Coalition Relic
Mimic Vat

The last piece I'll include is Terminate, which you can use to preserve your life total and get rid of any problem creatures you might encounter early in the game. You can also use it to kill one of your own creatures in order to put it on Mimic Vat.

Endless Cruelty

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A Different Kind of Monster

Not all monsters have monstrosity. My next deck is built around Frankenstein's Monster, a card from The Dark that's odd in more ways than one. This monster is an example of a few things Magic doesn't do anymore. The first is the obvious real-world reference. These days, such references are far more subtle, as seen on Grave Bramble. Frankenstein's Monster is a blatant shout-out to a real-world story. Although some players enjoy the reference, it can often pull you out of your immersion into world of the game.

Frankenstein's Monster

The second oddity is the various types of counters the card employs. +1/+1 counters are the standard today, but Frankenstein's Monster also gives you the option of using +2/+0 or +0/+2 counters. As if that wasn't enough, you can use these in any combination. This makes it impossible to figure out the creature's power and toughness based on the number of counters on it.

However, these strange counters are also the key to making a deck with the card. With only +1/+1 counters, Frankenstein's Monster is one of the worst of a massive number of Ivy Elemental variants. However, using the +2/+0 counter allows you to get twice as much bang for your buck, at the expense of the creature's toughness. If you can get ten creatures in your graveyard and twelve mana to cast the Monster, you'll end up with a 20/1 creature. Sacrifice this to Rite of Consumption and the game is over.

Getting ten creatures in the graveyard and twelve mana is no easy task. However, there is a way to combine the two. With Ashnod's Altar, You can sacrifice ten creatures to put them in the graveyard, getting twenty mana at the same time. However this still presents the problem of finding ten nontoken creatures.

To solve this problem, my mind went back to my old Vedalken Archmage combo deck, which used Archmage's card draw along with free artifacts to chain together spells almost indefinitely. Since you're already sacrificing creatures, Fecundity can serve as the draw engine. Every time one of your creatures dies, you'll get a new cards to replace it. Hopefully another creature.

Ashnod's Altar
Vedalken Archmage

Since we can't fill up the deck entirely with creatures, it would be best to have two card-draw effects on the battlefield. This can be two copies of Fecundity, but having a backup option makes it easier to draw what you need. Since we're already in black, Harvester of Souls seems like a fine choice. It's a bit expensive, but Ashnod's Altar should provide you with more than enough mana.

Speaking of backup options, sticking to artifact creatures lets Krark-Clan Ironworks to function just as well as Ashnod's Altar. The combo can't get started without one of these, so having eight copies makes things a lot easier.

Harvester of Souls
Krark-Clan Ironworks

Now for the free creatures. Memnite and Ornithopter are the more recently printed options and have seen play together in both Standard and Modern at some point during the last few years. Going a bit further back in time gives us Phyrexian Walker and Shield Sphere, which also have enough toughness to put up a solid defense early in the game.

Shifting Wall can be free, and although it will die instantly, it will trigger Harvester of Souls and Fecundity. You can also cast it for one in order to sacrifice it to Ashnod's Altar and get two mana. I've also included a single copy of Dryad Arbor, which can be searched up with Verdant Catacombs if you need a creature to start the chain.

Shifting Wall

With Rite of Consumption and Frankenstein's Monster as the final combo, you'll need three black mana in addition to the pile of colorless form Ashnod's Altar. This might be an issue if you needed to cast Harvester of Souls to get the combo started. Culling the Weak can turn one black mana into four so long as you have a creature, and can also be used to cast an Ashnod's Altar or Krark-Clan Ironworks on turn one.

Ashnod's Monster

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Monster Mash

It's time for our monsters to mix it up in the arena to determine who's the scariest of them all. Will Dr. Frankenstein's creation of zombified flesh win the day, or will Hythonia be strong enough to stare it down? Let's find out.

Game 1

Ashnod's Monster won the roll and started off with an Overgrown Tomb. Endless Cruelty played a Swamp and passed back. Monster cast Llanowar Wastes, and Cruelty played a Mountain. Ashnod's Monster played Dryad Arbor before passing the turn, and Endless Cruelty played Graven Cairns before casting Coalition Relic and putting a charge counter on it.

Ashnod's Monster sacrificed Verdant Catacombs for a Swamp, then cast Fecundity. The Monster cast three copies of Shifting Wall for zero to draw cards, then ended the turn. Endless Cruelty played a land and cast Rakdos Signet. The Signet helped cast Ember Swallower, and Coalition Relic got another charge counter before the end of the turn.

Ashnod's Monster played Overgrown Tomb and cast Shield Sphere, then passed the turn. Endless Cruelty activated the monstrosity ability on Ember Swallower, forcing each player to sacrifice three lands. The Monster sacrificed Dryad Arbor as one of the three, drawing a card from Fecundity. Cruelty attacked with Ember Swallower, and Ashnod's Monster blocked with Shield Sphere, drawing a card.

Dryad Arbor

Ashnod's Monster cast Phyrexian Walker and passed the turn. Endless Cruelty put a charge counter on Coalition Relic at the end of turn, then untapped and cast another Ember Swallower. The first Swallower attacked for 7, but Phyrexian Walker blocked, drawing a card. Coalition Relic got a new charge counter, and the turn passed to the Monster.

Ashnod's Monster played a Swamp and cast Shifting Wall for zero to draw, then cast Shield Sphere and ended the turn. Endless Cruelty cast Conjurer's Closet and attacked with both creatures. Shield Sphere blocked the smaller of the two, getting a -0/-1 counter, and Cruelty passed the turn.

Ashnod's Monster cast Phyrexian Walker, Memnite, and Ornithopter before ending the turn. Endless Cruelty attacked with both creatures again. Memnite and Ornithopter blocked the Swallowers, drawing two cards.. Cruelty cast Mimic Vat, put a charge counter on Coalition Relic, and passed the turn.

Ashnod's Monster sacrificed Shield Sphere to Culling the Weak, and used the mana to cast Krark-Clan Ironworks. The Monster cycled its way through four creatures, then cast Harvester of Souls. With two cards per death, eight more creatures found their way to the graveyard. The Monster played Llanowar Wastes and cast Culling the Weak, sacrificing Harvester of Souls, then cast a 20/1 Frankenstein's Monster and sacrificed it to Rite of Consumption for the win.

Rite of Consumption

Game 2

Endless Cruelty played Graven Cairns and passed the turn. Ashnod's Monster played a Swamp and passed back. Endless Cruelty played a Swamp as well, then cast Rakdos Signet. The Monster played Llanowar Wastes and passed the turn.

Endless Cruelty played another land, then cast Rakdos Signet, using it to cast Worn Powerstone before ending the turn. Ashnod's Monster played a Swamp, cast Ashnod's Altar, and passed. Endless Cruelty played a land, cast a third Rakdos Signet, and cast Hythonia the Cruel. Ashnod's Monster played a land and cast Krark-Clan Ironworks before passing back.

Endless Cruelty activated Hythonia's monstrosity ability, then attacked for 7 and ended the turn. The Monster cast another Ashnod's Altar, cast Phyrexian Walker, and passed. Endless Cruelty attack with Hythonia. Phyrexian Walker blocked, and Cruelty cast Thran Dynamo and Ember Swallower before passing the turn.

Ashnod's Monster cast another Phyrexian Walker and ended the turn. Endless Cruelty cast Conjurer's Closet, then activated Ember Swallower's monstrosity ability. Both creatures attacked, and Phyrexian Walker blocked Hythonia. Cruelty ended the turn, flickering out Ember Swallower with the Closet. Ashnod's Monster only had one creature to cast, and died to the next attack.

Ember Swallower

Game 3

Both players played lands and passed until Endless Cruelty cast Rakdos Signet on turn two. Ashnod's Monster cast Shifting Wall for three, and Cruelty used the Signet to cast Ember Swallower. The Monster cast Ashnod's Altar and passed the turn. Endless Cruelty attacked for 4 with Ember Swallower, which went unblocked, then cast Worn Powerstone, played a land, and ended the turn.

Ashnod's Monster sacrificed Shifting Wall for two mana, played a Swamp, and cast Harvester of Souls before passing the turn. Endless Cruelty cast Terminate on the Harvester, then cast Mimic Vat and attacked for 4 with Ember Swallower. Ashnod's Monster cast Memnite before passing back.

Endless Cruelty activated Ember Swallower's monstrosity ability, forcing each player to sacrifice three lands. Ember Swallower then attacked for 7, but Memnite blocked to absorb the damage. Cruelty passed the turn, and the Monster cast an Ornithopter before passing back. Endless Cruelty attacked with the Swallower again, and Ornithopter blocked. Cruelty cast a second Ember Swallower and passed the turn.

Ashnod's Monster cast Phyrexian Walker and ended the turn. Endless Cruelty cast Worn Powerstone and attacked with both creatures. The Walker blocked the larger of the two, and Ashnod's Monster dropped to 8. Ashnod's Monster cast Phyrexian Walker and passed the turn.

Endless Cruelty cast Rakdos Signet, then activated the monstrosity ability of the second Ember Swallower and attacked with both. Ashnod's Monster blocked one and dropped to 1 life. Without two creatures to block, the Monster died on the following turn.

Phyrexian Walker


With both Frankenstein's Monster from The Dark and the new monstrosity mechanic from Theros, today's article had something old and something new. Join me next week when I complete the pattern with both something borrowed and something blue. Until then, keep those monsters at bay, or better yet, working for your own purposes. See ya!

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