Sudden Death

Posted in From the Lab on April 22, 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.

Welcome to the Lab, folks! The Prerelease for Dragon's Maze is this weekend, and I hope you're all as excited as I am to go support your favorite guild. This time we'll have all ten guilds represented, so you won't have to go with your second or third choice. (On a related note, I highly recommend you preregister for your local event to ensure you get the guild you want. Packs for some of the more popular guilds may run out if attendance is high.) If all goes according to plan, I'll be sporting a Boros sharpie tattoo again, courtesy of local artist and Magic player Leah Andersen, and we'll see if we can't one-up Gatecrash by getting players to represent all ten guilds.

Big Dead Things

One of the cards I'm excited to mess around with is Varolz, the Scar-Striped. Many players immediately latched on to the idea of scavenging Death's Shadow for thirteen +1/+1 counters, and a few of them even sent emails to me about it. With so much excitement over this combo, it would be a shame for me not to take a look at it.

Death's Shadow

Using Death's Shadow to give a creature thirteen +1/+1 counters is not new to me. In fact, it was an integral part of my Commander deck featuring The Mimeoplasm. You can easily cast Death's Shadow for one mana to put it into your graveyard, and from there The Mimeoplasm can exile it for a huge load of counters. Since Varolz and The Mimeoplasm seem to want the same thing, I included both in the deck.

From here, it was easy to toss in more goodies from that Commander deck that also work with Varolz. Although not quite as efficient as Death's Shadow, Phyrexian Dreadnought and Force of Savagery each boast a high power for their mana cost and each die as soon as they enter the battlefield. Both can be scavenged or exiled with The Mimeoplasm for a lot of counters.

Phyrexian Soulgorger has the same power-to-mana ratio as Force of Savagery, but has the additional advantage and disadvantage of staying on the battlefield for one turn. This gives you a giant blocker that can ward off most attacking creatures, but it also makes it more difficult to scavenge the Construct right away if you just want the counters.

Phyrexian Soulgorger
Force of Savagery

Although Krosan Cloudscraper was also a star with The Mimeoplasm, since you can cast it face-down for only three mana, it still costs ten mana to scavenge, so I'll leave it out of this list.

Varolz would really shine with something better than himself to put counters on, and creatures like Death's Shadow and Phyrexian Dreadnought aren't the best things to copy with The Mimeoplasm. (Although Force of Savagery is quite good.) Therefore, I've included a few creatures that can't be stopped in their tracks by a Spirit token.

My first idea was to use Defiant Elf and Llanowar Elite, which were the centerpieces of a Wild Defiance deck I built. Then I remembered a more contemporary cheap creature with trample: Lotleth Troll. Not only does it have trample, it lets you discard creatures for free, and it even gives you an extra +1/+1 counter for doing so! It can also regenerate to save itself from a removal spell, and at the cost of only one black mana.

The next counter holder is a creature I took out of my The Mimeoplasm Commander deck for being too mean: Invisible Stalker. It can't be blocked by anything, ensuring your opponent will be dead in a turn or two, and with its hexproof, it's quite difficult to kill as well.

Invisible Stalker
Primordial Hydra

Primordial Hydra is another great target for scavenge. It will take however many +1/+1 counters you give it and double them every upkeep. You can cast it with only one counter, scavenge a Death's Shadow onto it, and next turn you'll be attacking with a 28/28 with trample.

I've also tossed in a few copies of Beast Within to get rid of... well, anything. Cards like Rest in Peace and Scavenging Ooze throw a major wrench in this deck's game plan, so you'll want a removal spell that can deal with them.

Death Stripes

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Master of Ninjas

Master of Cruelties is another card that has gotten some attention from the Johnny community. The first combo that many people jumped on was Kaalia of the Vast. Since Kaalia puts the Demon onto the battlefield already attacking, you can bypass its restriction, and since Master of Cruelties only prevents its own combat damage, Kaalia will still deal 2, killing your opponent. However, it was another combo that caught my eye.

Creatures with ninjutsu, like Skullsnatcher, can be swapped out with Master of Cruelties after it sets your opponent's life total to 1. Since blockers have already been declared, it's too late for your opponent to stay alive by throwing a creature in front of it. Even if he or she tries to kill the Ninja with a removal spell, you have the opportunity to return it to your hand to cheat in a different Ninja, effectively countering your opponent's removal.


Any creature with ninjutsu will do the trick, so I used the cheapest ones to cheat into play. Skullsnatcher and Mistblade Shinobi are ideal at only one mana each, and Ninja of the Deep Hours is only slightly more expensive at two mana.

Before you can use ninjutsu, however, you have to get Master of Cruelties through unblocked. Fortunately, blue has a lot of great ways to make that happen. Artful Dodge gives you a second chance if something goes wrong the first time you go in for the kill, making it the most effective option. Distortion Strike is another way to make your Demon unblockable for just one mana, leaving you plenty left over to activate ninjutsu and even cast another spell if necessary.

Artful Dodge
Distortion Strike

Blood Speaker can search up Master of Cruelties right on schedule, and it returns to your hand when the Demon enters the battlefield. That way, if your opponent manages to kill the Master, you can just search up another one.

Coldsteel Heart will accelerate you ahead by one turn, setting you up to cast Blood Speaker on turn three, Master of Cruelties on turn four, and win on turn five. Terminate will help you live that long, and Mizzium Skin will help you keep Master of Cruelties alive.

Cruel Surprise

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War in the Shadows

The shadows are a ninja's best friend, but it's time for battle, and this time Death's Shadow is on the opposing team. Will the big dead things die again, or will the one-hit wonder fail to chart? Let's take it to the arena and find out.

Game 1

Cruel Surprise went first, and both teams played a land and passed. The Demon's team did the same on turn two, while Death Stripes summoned a Lotleth Troll. Cruel Surprise played a land and passed again, and Death Stripes attacked with the Troll, discarding Death's Shadow and Force of Savagery to put two counters on it. The dead team summoned Varolz, the Scar-Striped and passed the turn. Cruel Surprise played a land and passed back.

Death Stripes scavenged Death's Shadow onto Lotleth Troll and attacked for lethal, but a Terminate stopped the Troll in its tracks. Death Stripes summoned another Lotleth Troll and passed the turn. Cruel Surprise summoned Master of Cruelties, and Death Stripes was stymied by the first strike deathtouch blocker. Distortion Strike made the Master unblockable, and after Death Stripes was put to 1 life, Skullsnatcher finished the job.

Lotleth Troll

Game 2

Both sides started off with a land, and Death Stripes cast Invisible Stalker on turn two. Cruel Surprise cast Coldsteel Heart, naming blue, and Death Stripes attacked for 1 with Invisible Stalker, then cast two Phyrexian Dreadnoughts and a Death's Shadow to put them in the graveyard.

Cruel Surprise cast Blood Speaker, and Death Stripes cast a 2/2 Primordial Hydra before attacking with Invisible Stalker. Cruel Surprise sacrificed the Blood Speaker, getting Master of Cruelties and casting it. Death Stripes cast Varolz, the Scar-Striped and scavenged Death's Shadow and Phyrexian Dreadnought onto the Invisible Stalker for the win.

Blood Speaker
Phyrexian Dreadnought

Game 3

Both sides played land-go until Death Stripes cast Invisible Stalker on turn two. Cruel Surprise cast Coldsteel Heart on turn three in lieu of a land drop, and Death Stripes dumped two Death's Shadows into the graveyard before attacking for 1 with the Stalker. Cruel Surprise played a land and passed. Death Stripes threw a Force of Savagery into the graveyard and attacked for 1.

Cruel Surprise paid 2 life for Blood Crypt and cast Master of Cruelties. Death Stripes turned it into a token with Beast Within and passed the turn. Cruel Surprise attacked with the Beast token, and Death Stripes cast a Lotleth Troll after hitting for 1 with Invisible Stalker. Cruel Surprise cast Blood Speaker, and Death Stripes attacked with both creatures. The Beast token blocked Lotleth Troll, but a discarded Force of Savagery made it a 3/2 and a black mana regenerated it.

Blood Speaker was sacrificed to search up Master of Cruelties and the Demon entered the battlefield. Blood Stripes cast The Mimeoplasm, exiling Force of Savagery and Death's Shadow to make it a 21/13 with trample. Unfortunately, Master of Cruelties used an Artful Dodge to get right past it, and Mistblade Shinobi finished the job.

The Mimeoplasm
Mistblade Shinobi

Secrets of the Maze

Next week, I'll be taking a look at more of the secrets of Dragon's Maze, so be sure to tune in then to see what else Ravnica has to offer. There are great combo cards hiding everywhere; you just have to know how to look for them. See ya!

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