|Should Toshiro Umezawa be used as a challenge two weeks from now?|
Before I go into the meat of this week's article, I want to remind everyone how a Challenge works. As always with a Challenge, I need some way to evaluate all of the hundreds of decks that I see. Here are the factors I take into account when deciding which of those decks make it to the winner's circle:
- the deck should focus on doing something and doing it well
- the deck finds some creative way to be more innovative than similar decks
- finally, get it in quickly! Some of you anticipated Toshi would be popular enough for a Reader Challenge, so you have a head start. First come, first served.
When you send me your e-mail with your decklist, include “Toshi Challenge” in the subject line and make sure that you include your name in the message. Make sure to tell me a little bit about your deck – if I miss some key point in what makes your deck unique, you might not have your deck covered. This week's article might give a bunch of you similar ideas on how to use Toshi. Make sure that yours stands out, even if it does borrow some ideas from here.
Getting into the night
One of the card's that I've already seen mentioned regularly by a number of readers for use with Toshiro Umezawa was another legendary card from Champions, Night of Souls' Betrayal.
The first mention of Night of Souls' Betrayal I really noticed came in the forums. One member, Vaebn, quickly noted that a Night of Souls' Betrayal could kill 1/1s from a Forbidden Orchard and thus trigger a Toshi basically at will. It shocked me back to my notes I had prepared when I began working on Toshi; my double-underlined listing of Night of Souls' Betrayal had somehow failed to make it to the final cut in my Toshiro Umezawa article, and I guess I must have felt I owed the card its just due. Deep in my subconscious, ideas for using the legendary enchantment started to take root.
The Toshi idea
The Toshi idea for this card is a great one. As I mentioned last week, a card like Toshiro Umezawa really works best amidst a glorious bloodbath. Making your opponent's things die makes Toshi tick. The simple combo of Toshiro Umezawa, Night of Souls' Betrayal, and Forbidden Orchard has a lot of oomph. As Vaebn writes in the forums:
Kill all the weenies, be able to play all your Instants twice whenever you want, and you get a nonbasic land that taps for any color of mana with no drawback. Good? Yes. I go make deck now. :P
Right on, Vaebn. And this is exactly right (and the reason for the double underline in my notes). Toshiro Umezawa is already Black, so he's a great fit with the double-Black requirement of Night of Soul's Betrayal. Toshiro Umezawa likes to kill things, and the Night helps with that, when it doesn't simply kill them outright. It's like a match made in the darkness on a moonless prairie night with no bottom.
The Captain Trips idea, monkeying with the lives of everyone
Before Night of Souls' Betrayal, there was Engineered Plague. For one less Black mana symbol, you could be the bane of goblins or elves or slivers or what have you. Key word: or. Despite this limitation on only one kind of creature being hit, Engineered Plague has had a long and healthy life killing off specific groups of creatures in constructed decks. There is no racial inequality in Night of Souls' Betrayal. It hates everyone equally.
Engineered Plague could devastate focused groups of creatures, but it did have the added bonus of not being Legendary. While even a single Engineered Plague could wreak havoc on Goblins or Elves, some creatures benefited from being a wee bit bigger. What Plague failed to do was mess with a diverse creature base. Let's take a look at the Pro Tour Columbus Top 8 Madness deck:
Geoffrey Siron's Blue/Green Madness deck runs 26 creatures between the main and sideboard, counting Roar of the Wurm. There are Wurms, Lizards, Hounds, Incarnations, Beasts, Wizards, Merfolk, and Spellshapers. It would take a lot of Engineered Plagues to really hurt Siron's deck, but a single Night makes half of those creatures powerless (literally) and leaves only the Wurms and Masticores as true threats. Combine Engineered Plague and Night, and you can really pick more focused decks apart.
The State of the State
One of the reasons that the Night is so good at hurting creatures is because of The Rules. If you have a Night of Souls' Betrayal out, it doesn't let you or your opponent get around the fact that everyone has -1/-1. Yes, you can cast a Mogg Fanatic, but he dies before he can ever be sacked to do damage. The rule of thumb is this: if it doesn't survive Night, you can't activate any of its abilities before it dies.
This means you can't cast a creature and sack it to Blood Rites before it dies. All of the triggers that a creature might have go off. Eternal Witness still “works”, it just dies right away. That -1/-1 is the state of the game and it will be as long as it is in play. State-based effects like this can't be snuck around. If it's already out there, new creatures get hit by it before they can do a thing.
Arcbound Ravager dies when it is cast, even if there are a million artifacts to feed it. Sakura-Tribe Elder never gets a shot at finding that land. Blinkmoth Nexus dies the moment it is activated, even if it could pump itself. Vulshok Sorcerer never gets off a dying shot. If you take a look at the cards that people play in Standard, a huge percentage of the creatures die to the Night immediately, and as for the rest, most become barely adequate.
Of course, you can make this a one-way deal. White is the best at pairing like this. Glorious Anthem and Crusade are also state-based. A Mother of Runes survives Night of Souls' Betrayal while you have Crusade out. Coat of Arms works the same way, though it can be harder to build up the creatures in the first place. Most of the really common classic creatures have a “lord” creature, as do some of the new ones. Lord of Atlantis, Goblin King, Elvish Champion, Lord of the Undead, and Seshiro the Anointed all grant bonuses to certain creature types. There are plenty of others to, but you get the idea.
Size Matters, Redux
It's really a matter of percentages. Low cost usually results in low numbers here. When you begin to examine how much is lost comparing 1 turning to 0 (100%), 2 to a 1 (50%), 3 to a 2 (33%), and so on, it quickly becomes clear that the bigger a creature is, the less impact shrinking it a bit will have.
Crater Hellion is one of the best big guys you can run here. The Hellion starts out as a big 6/6, and even as a 5/5 under the Night, it survives the 4 damage it does to everything. On the other hand, every creature that started out a 5/5 and might have survived the Night will get wiped out by this guy. It's a rarely played creature that can survive the Night of the Hellion.
For old-school fun, a card like Varchild's War-Riders is great. (Getting to mention this card two weeks in a row is such a special treat for me. Nyah, nyah, edt!) While not as big as everyone else in this section, he's still a good deal during the Night for 2 mana, especially as they have no discernable drawback at that time.
Back in black, Greater Harvester is fantastic. As a 4/5 during the Night, he's still very difficult to kill, but one of his biggest problems is completely eliminated: the little guy. Greater Harvester hates the little guy. The little guy is always getting in the way of his destructive plans. Thankfully for Greater Harvester, Night of Souls' Betrayal generally keeps the meddling kids out of the picture. Eventually, when you don't need it anymore, the Night can become fodder for the Harvester.
Seizan is another scary card in Black to take advantage of the Night. Giving each player a lot of cards is dangerous. Seizan, as I've said before, is risky because your opponent gets the first shot at all of those extra cards he makes players draw. On the other hand, he is still quite big during the Night, and it is quite likely that a number of the extra cards any opponent might draw will be creatures that die the moment they hit play…
For a really big butt, Gurzigost is nearly unkillable by damage, even during the Night. At that point, he's still a hearty 5/7. Yes, Gurzigost does continuously pretend it's Earth Day and recycle your graveyard back into your library, but if you cast cards like Yavimaya Elder and Bone Shredder to keep feeding the graveyard during the Night, you still get the very useful triggered effects out of your cards.
Finally, also in Green is my favorite way to make the Night unpleasant for your opponent: Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. For a single Green mana, destroy a land. Then do it again. And again. For effect, throw in an evil laugh or cackle. Maybe Kamahl was never really meant to be red or green, and black is truly the color of his heart…
Wrapping Up and bonus fun
I've long been a fan of mono-black control, and so many of the cards that just work wonderfully in a controlling deck are also great during Night of Souls' Betrayal. A card like Echoing Decay becomes even better at killing creatures (extending now to 3 toughness), Barter in Blood has less “little” guys to mess around with, and the “big finishers” still pack a lot of wallop. Here is one take on such a deck:
There is a lot going on here. With four Chrome Mox and four Wayfarer's Bauble to accelerate the deck, it can be pretty easy to get out a Night on turn three. In addition to that mana, Solemn Simulacrum steps up as a great way to stop the bleeding from attacking creatures while ramping you to your more expensive spells.
For elimination, there really are a great deal of cards at work together here. I've already mentioned how Echoing Decay and Barter in Blood work during the Night, but the other elimination also becomes relevant. What few survivors there are can be mopped up by Rend Flesh and Duplicant. Greater Harvester ends up being a kind of pseudo-elimination spell by killing a blocker every turn – every turn, that is, unless the opponent wants to begin losing very quickly. With all of this death and destruction going down, the single Beacon of Unrest is there to make sure that you can bring back some of the choicest losses. Don't forget to count your own Solemn Simulacrums among these.
I imagine you'll have a great time trying out this deck. I hope that those of you who are going to be answering last week's Toshiro Umezawa Challenge are able to come up with some good stuff. If you're in the Chicagoland area, I'll be seeing you at the Betrayer's of Kamigawa Prerelease. Have a great time until then!