The Many Decks of Vorthos

Posted in Reconstructed on September 1, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

It's a good time to be a Vorthos.

Vorthoses—the players who love and appreciate the story—are in a golden age. Magic Origins has brought us into a new world where story is now more important than ever. Battle for Zendikar is going to carry that forward even further. And, trust me, knowing everything that's going to be happening in the next many years, I can say for a fact that you all are in for a real treat. Like the chestburster from Alien, my inner Vorthos is bouncing around inside my body just ready to break out at any moment.

So today I'm going to take a look at something different; at something ReConstructed has never really done in all the years it has been around. I'm going to look at the many different flavor perspectives you can build a deck from.

Yes, that's right. Rather than focusing on winning and grinding the opponent into the kind of fine pulp you'd find in orange juice, I want to highlight some of the different ways you can build flavor-inspired decks.

And how are we going to do that? By looking at various decks you all sent in, of course!

Now, I'll let you know up front things are going to be different this week. If ReConstructed was usually an art workshop, telling you how to paint better, today is an art gallery, filling you with inspiration to go out and paint. With Vorthos decks, the flavor is central—and that's up to the artist behind the decks. I don't really want to offer too many tweaks on a purely artistic vision. Rather, I'd like to talk about what kind of flavor it's going for, and what you could do to try and capture some of the same in your deck designs.

Ready? Let's start this engine up!


Vorthos can mean many different things. Sometimes, you can tell a story. Other times, you just want to create a general sense of flavor by playing cards that all share a theme. There's a subtle difference there.

Tribal is the latter. If I were to ask you about the great exploits when Seshiro the Anointed from Kamigawa and Patagia Viper from Ravnica teamed up, you certainly couldn't point to a story moment about that. But you could look at the overall flavor of the deck—the fact that it is about focusing on Snakes, a tribe you perhaps love, and bringing to light all of the great and flavorful interactions that happen across planes.

Like, for example, this deck:

Andrew Weisel's Why'd It Have to Be Snakes?

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As far as deck types go, I would call this casual Modern. It fits within the Modern window, although I wouldn't take it to a Grand Prix or anything. But for a flavorful deck that can be brought out to play at maybe a Friday Night Magic or when a friend asks for a fun Modern game, it's a perfect fit.

This is the kind of deck that makes the owner feel happy to play with: They get to play with and showcase a tribe they (presumably) enjoy. I'll note that here that Andrew has gone a step further past Snake tribal and pushed into snake theming: Snakeform isn't a necessary card for this Snake deck at all functionally, except for the fact that it has to do with snakes. Most excellent!

But when it comes to decks like this, perhaps the most popular arena to show them off in is Commander. The fact you get a commander that you can always cast. It's your general, leading everybody else into battle. A perfect example of what I'm talking about is this deck:

Brandon Dauer's Mogis, God of Minotaurs

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Mogis, God of Slaughter
99 Cards

This deck can tell a great story all on its own. It isn't just Minotaur tribal—it's Minotaur tribal being led into battle by Mogis.

Put the image into your mind's eye for a second. Ignore the barriers of planes. You can imagine the mighty Mogis leading an army of Minotaurs from all across the Multiverse into battle, all fighting side-by-side, arm-by-arm, hoof-by-hoof. The motley crew is ragtag, but piercing. They are ready to strike any opponent down.

If you have a legend at the forefront of your tribe, Commander is a great way to show it off. Vorthos Commander decks are often appreciated, and tribal is one of the easiest to get into.

Art Vorthos

There are many different aspects of Vorthos. Some want to focus on the story, or the overall feel. But let us not forget about all of the art on the cards and the lines that can be drawn through that as well!

One kind of Vorthos deck you can build is entirely based on the artwork. Find a theme you like, search through all of that gorgeous Magic artwork to find the pieces you most enjoy, and build it up. Then, maybe you even quiz your opponent: "My deck has an art theme. Can you figure out what it is?"

For example, take a look at this:

TheUltimatePrice's Kill the Dragons!

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What's going on here? Well, if you look carefully, all of the artwork is about fighting or beating up on Dragons! It's that simple. There's a theme here, and they get to show it off through the art of the cards.

And I will say, the one time you sit down to play a casual match of Standard and this goes up against something like a Dragon tribal deck, it would put the biggest, goofiest grin across someone's face.

Casual Story

Now, those decks focus more on the overall feel and flavor of an idea rather than directly telling Magic's story. But there's something great about telling a story in a deck too—and especially with Magic Origins, now that's easier than ever.

One misconception about Vorthos decks is that you have to hunt down all of the right cards and make sure you tell the story in perfect detail. But you can be a casual Vorthos too! If you play casually, there are a lot of great options. I adore this Chandra deck, for example.

Ryan James Parry's Casual Chandra's Flame

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In this case, Ryan just threw together a bunch of cards that feature Chandra or that represented her in some way. How's the mana curve? How's the strategy? Those questions all take a backseat to just wanting to show off a bunch of Chandra-themed cards.

Now, not every Chandra-themed card ever is in here. And that's okay: It can be fun to take what you have lying around and build a theme out of it.

If someone were to ask me for a game of casual, and I whipped this deck out, it would be fine. I'd be playing a red deck, the Chandra flavor would come through, and win or lose, I would get to do a bunch of Chandra-feeling things by the end of the game. Being a Vorthos myself, that idea certainly tickles me—and would hopefully put a smile on my opponent's face to boot. (As I talk about Chandra's origin story along the way, of course!)

Hardcore Story

Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum. With that Chandra deck, I'd play it and be able to tell you about how it's Chandra-themed, and cast several of Chandra's story cards, and that would be good.

But there is definitely a deeper level. You can dive in really far, if you want to.

Brandon Erker's deck here is an excellent example of this. A true masterpiece, it tells the story of one of Magic's older, long-running storylines. And that is, of course, about the Weatherlight and the battle against the Phyrexians.

Take a gander at this:

Brandon Erker's Weatherlight/Coalition

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
100 Cards

This deck is extraordinarily Vorthosy and pulls from most of the story cards released during that long era. And Brandon would know—as a titanic Vorthos, he has done his research! So who better to explain it than Brandon himself? Here are some excerpts from the e-mail he sent me. Brandon, take it away:

So for a little bit more info for my choices, I started with the Weatherlight crew. As you can see, the gang is all here!

For the non-Weatherlight crew members, the creatures I chose to include had to have some significance in the same story line and would ultimately fit in my subtheme of the Coalition. For example, the Metathran creatures and Serra Angel were included intentionally, as they were among the original members of the Coalition along with other denizens of Yavimaya under the direct control of Multani.

As for cards that seem out of context from an actual gameplay perspective (Karn, Silver Golem and Eladamri, Lord of Leaves), they were too relevant to the Coalition to ignore. Eladamri, for instance, was in charge of half of the Coalition's forces after Thaddeus's death, and although Karn's second ability doesn't get much chance to shine in this list, he was the engineer on board the Weatherlight—so I couldn't leave him out.

As for the Invasion Dragons and Scion of the Ur-Dragon, during the Phyrexian invasion, Tevesh Szat revealed the existence of the Primevals to Rhammidarigaaz, also known as Darigaaz, who was in fact a reincarnated Primeval himself. After they were all reawakened, they went on a rampage against both Dominarians and Phyrexians, until Karn convinced Darigaaz of his folly. Darigaaz committed suicide by plunging into a volcano, after which the other Primevals could be defeated. . .

In addition to being godlike themselves, each Dragon has a characteristic associated with belonging to the Ur-Dragon, the spirit of all dragonkind.

Freyalise and Martyrs' Tomb are also included for this bit I found: "A Martyrs' Tomb was erected by the Planeswalker Freyalise, in remembrance of those Coalition forces who died in the defense of their world." I found her likeness all throughout the stories of Dominaria, but this was the most relevant information I found with regard to the aftermath of the Coalition.

Phyrexian Arena is an obvious choice because of Urza and Gerrard's showdown, and of course the Legacy Weapon that killed Yawgmoth and resulted in the Coalition Victory.

Now there's a Vorthos if I've ever seen one. Not only did he make a deck perfectly themed on an old storyline, he also provided a long explanation about how all of his card choices fit into the storyline.

I look forward to years from now, when we can reminisce and create decks of this size and magnitude based on, say, Jace's entire storyline throughout his Magic history. The wheels are certainly in motion.


The final area I want to cover isn't immediately obvious: fanfiction!

Now, some might balk and say that isn't really Vorthos. It's not following established flavor. And to that, I'd say that creativity and expressing the story you want to tell is important in all forms—and if there's a cool story you want to tell that hasn't been written yet, go ahead and express it as a deck! Plus, as someone who grew up both reading and writing fanfiction for everything from Dragonball Z to Harry Potter, and who certainly dabbles in some Doctor Who speculation today, I feel intrinsically tied to the fanfiction world.

What does a fanfiction deck mean? Well, take a look at this:

Rowan Arkell's Urza's Eldrazi

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This decklist poses the question: What was Urza up to with all of those mines and power plants and towers? Why, creating the Eldrazi of course!

Now, storyline-wise, that doesn't exactly fit. (Or does it, Doug? *Ominous music plays*) But just because something is a Ronbledore (look it up) doesn't mean that it isn't fun to explore too!

As you play this deck, you can cackle a little bit as you tell your friends about the story you concocted in your head. And at its core, Magic is a game about creativity—and showing off your own story is certainly creative.

Time for Zendikar

And speaking of Eldrazi, Battle for Zendikar is just around the corner!

Starting next week, I'll be looking at Battle for Zendikar preview cards. Can I get an "ooooh!"? Can I get an "ahhhh!"? Well, I can't hear you over the internet, but I'm sure you're all doing it.

That means that there won't be a deck building challenge this week, as two weeks from now I'll still be taking a look at the multitude of cards in Battle. Fortunately, there are so many cool cards from the set to keep track of, I think the trade-off will be worth it.

I hope you enjoyed this week's article and look at the Vorthos side of Magic! I'd love to hear what you thought. If you have any questions or thoughts at all, please send them my way! You can always reach me by sending off a tweet or asking a question on my Tumblr.

I'll be back next week with a look at my first Battle for Zendikar preview card. It's finally time! Talk with you again then!




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