Riddle of… You're Dead!

Posted in Reconstructed on April 29, 2014

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.

Your opponent smugly passes the fifth turn back to you. You have nothing in play, and his board is full of monsters. Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon are breathing down your neck, both tapped and having hit you for 9 this turn. Your opponent's mouth is practically salivating at the signs of this easy victory, mentally chalking another round up in the win column for monsters.

But you happen to know something he doesn't. You have a full overview of the true ruse that's going on here. And appropriately enough for Theros, his hubris would signal his downfall.

"Do you have an answer, or is that game?" Your opponent asks, his words dripping with overconfidence.

"Actually, you're dead," you proclaim.

"Excuse me?"

"You're dead."

"Prove it."


Welcome back to ReConstructed!

Dictate of the Twin Gods | Art by Jaime Jones

The Journey into Nyx Prerelease has come and gone, and by now many of you no doubt already have your hands on some new cards you're itching to play with. Well, you've come to the right place: it's time to put some of those Journey into Nyx cards into action!

We have a doozy of a deck sent in all the way from Hong Kong this week, so let's hop right into it, shall we? This deck comes from the mind of Lam Cho Yiu. Take a look at what we'll be working with today:

Lam Cho Yiu's Erratic Draco 2K14

Download Arena Decklist

The Battle Plan

Everything this deck is doing seems so innocuous until it kills you out of absolutely nowhere.

Scry a bit. Maybe kill a creature. And then, suddenly, you flash in a Dictate of the Twin Gods at the end of your opponent's turn. Untap and cast Riddle of Lightning in your upkeep, revealing the Enter the Infinite you already knew was there.

That's 12 damage from Enter the Infinite, doubled is 24—and that's game!

If you draw the two pieces, you can kill pretty easily on your turn six. And, fortunately, there's redundancy for both!

In addition to Riddle of Lightning, there's Blast of Genius, which is even easier to set up since you merely need to have an expensive card in your hand. And while there isn't another twelve-mana card to play, there is Catch & Release, which has converted mana costs of 3 and 6, so Riddle of Lightning and Blast of Genius deal 9 damage for it. And, thanks to its split-card nature, you can actually cast it in a pinch.

While 9 and 9 is only 18, this deck has plenty of ways to get in the extra 2 damage. Mutavault and Magma Jet, for example, can deal 2 damage without too much trouble.

The key to improvements? This deck has a great spell-focused combo that's difficult to disrupt—it's just a matter of making sure you have the time to set it up. Making sure this deck can survive a quick onslaught of creatures and assemble the combo is the main improvement to be made here. In several matchups, it should be able to play not dissimilar to a control deck, controlling the game with cheap, efficient spells until it's ready to instantly kill the opponent without any creatures necessary.

With all that in mind, let's dive right into it!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards can stay, and which ones pose too much of a riddle to keep? Let's analyze this deck card by card and find out!

These two cards occupy very similar space. Both are 3-toughness creatures for just two mana, and both allow you to scry. They're there to help with consistency, blocking early creatures while also giving you the cards you need and setting up your combo.

There is one key difference, however. One gives you the effect immediately, while the other takes some time to reach similar levels. This is very important for two reasons. For one, a primary role of these creatures is to buy some time by blocking—and sometimes chump blocking. Additionally, without any other good targets to destroy in this deck, a savvy opponent will spend his or her removal here. Starfish won't help you much if it's consigned to chump block or meets a Bile Blight, whereas Omenspeaker will have already done its job.

While I am a fan of ways to up consistency in combo decks, it needs to be worthwhile—and while Omenspeaker works for me, the Starfish isn't quite there. Additionally, I want to add Anger of the Gods into this deck, which makes the outlook for our new favorite starfish very poor. I'm going to move to four Omenspeakers and zero Starfish.

These two are the keys to the deck. Enabling the core combo, they are absolutely crucial and you will need to resolve one of them to win the game.

They both see three cards deep (Riddle of Lightning can actually see a fourth as well, if absolutely necessary, by scrying everything to the bottom) and work in similar ways. In a pinch, they also both work as removal spells that help dig further if you haven't found your combo yet.

Considering you want to find one of these every game and that extra ones aren't really redundant since they help dig deeper, I'm happy keeping four of both.

This is a very interesting piece of this deck's puzzle. You will usually want it to help combo-kill your opponent, although it isn't entirely necessary: you can also just use the one-two punch of Riddle of Lightning into another Riddle or Blast of Genius to kill an opponent a lot of the time. Still, the speed this helps provide is useful.

The odd part, however, is that a lot of the time it's actively bad for you on the battlefield. While there are situations where you can, say, Anger of the Gods away a 5/5 creature, it also opens up Stormbreath Dragon hitting you for 8 and random Mutavaults hitting you for 4. That's not exactly desirable.

Additionally, unlike Riddle and Blast, extra copies are pretty bad. Having your hand loaded up on these is fairly disastrous.

While it is useful, this is the rare example of a combo piece that you don't always have to draw to combo out. Considering I'm tuning the deck to help the games go longer by fighting creatures, the deck won't need as many of these. I'm fine trimming it down to three: still plenty enough that you'll find it in most games, but you are less likely to be clogged on them.

These are the two pieces of the combo that make the damage happen. They're in a weird spot: you don't really want to draw them, but yet you need to find them every game.

It might be an easy first instinct to replace them with something else you're more likely to cast that's also expensive, but the amount of damage these deal is fairly important. Enter the Infinite dealing 12 isn't actually that far off from just killing your opponent on its own, and of course doubled it straight up kills your opponent. Doubling 9 to make 18 is a world of difference from doubling an eight-drop to make 16, since 18 is only a Magma Jet or Mutavault attack (or a couple of your opponent's own Mana Confluence pings) away from lethal.

The big question to me is: how many of each do I want to play?

The number for me is six. With eight, I think you're just going to draw too many that some hands will be full of these dead cards. But you still want to have consistency and be able to kill your opponent on turn five or six if you need to, meaning you need a critical enough mass of them.

Let's look at the two cards and compare them.

Enter the Infinite is basically never being cast in this deck. In 100 games, maybe there will be a couple where you cast it, but it's going to be very rare and not worth considering.

On the other hand, Catch & Release is a very real card to cast. Catch can steal away any permanent—including a Planeswalker. Unexpectedly doing something like taking Jace, Architect of Thought the turn after your opponent -2 and killing Jace with a -2 of your own can be a game breaker. Release is pretty easy to make a light splash for, and can kill off a late-game creature—and even serves as an answer to enchantments, artifacts, and Planeswalkers if necessary.

The fact that Catch & Release actually does something that can be quite useful helps mitigate the fact that you have to play six of these. I'm going to split the two cards with four copies of the split card and two Enter the Infinites. You can still kill with Enter the Infinite in enough games, but your hand is less likely to be clogged on nonsense.

The Keyrune serves two roles in this deck. First, it accelerates you toward five mana quicker, helping you combo out one turn early. Second, it can also attack in for that missing 2 damage in those Dictate of the Twin Gods-plus-Catch & Release games.

While I'm all for acceleration in my combo decks and in my control decks, this is a rare situation where I'm actually not that interested in this one. Three mana is a bit more expensive than I'd like for an accelerant; there's a lot this deck could be doing at three mana. While the Keyrune is a nice card to draw on time, every card you play comes at the cost of another card—and I would rather be able to play more removal spells than this. They will both help me with the time issue—one by slowing down my opponent and one by speeding me up—but I'd rather have the removal if I draw it later in the game. I'm going to cut these.

This deck definitely wants removal to help control the game and buy time to get your combo online. Now that I've freed up a lot of room to fit removal in, which are the best pieces to play?

Simply bouncing isn't something I'm so interested in, even though it can hit any permanent—so sorry Cyclonic Rift. That can go, too. What am I looking to replace it with? Well, there are a few cards.

First, as I've mentioned a few times already, I want Anger of the Gods. This sweeper can completely break the matchup versus a quick deck. Against a combo deck, beatdown can't really afford to hold back—and at three mana, this puts all of your opponent's creatures right where you want them. Even against the green midrange decks, it cuts off their accelerants like Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic, and can be combined with other removal spells to kill larger creatures.

Another card I definitely want is Izzet Charm. It's an incredible fit for this deck.

Not only does Izzet Charm deal 2 damage, but it also loots for two cards—and looting is very good in a deck full of situational cards and combo pieces you don't always want. If your hand is clogged on Catch & Releases and Enter the Infinites, Izzet Charm can turn those into actual cards. Finally, the light countermagic is very welcome, both helping you against control decks and also protecting you from instant-speed shenanigans while you're trying to go off. I'd rather draw Izzet Charm than Magma Jet a lot of the time, and in the fight between the two I'm fine losing one Jet.

The last card I'd like to add is actually a newcomer with Journey into Nyx: Spite of Mogis!

In this instant- and sorcery-heavy deck, Spite of Mogis can pretty easily kill anything for one mana. (Especially when you factor in the looting of Izzet Charm.) Plus, scry 1 can be extraordinarily relevant in this deck. I'm happy to play the full set of Spites to give me a good tool to deal with late-game creatures.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the decklist to:

Gavin Verhey's Riddle of Victory

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As a control shell with a combo center, this deck has a strong line of ancestry. It's not unlike Modern Splinter Twin in how it controls the game before winning out of nowhere.

I tried to stay away from many permanents to avoid Banishing Light and Detention Sphere—but if those aren't popular in your metagame I'd consider Keranos, God of Storms. Either a free Lightning Bolt or a free card every turn is a huge deal, and he gives this deck another angle to attack from when necessary. You could even look at cutting Dictate of the Twin Gods altogether and use Keranos and Prognostic Sphinx to go a bit further down the control route.

On the other hand, you could try and speed up the combo aspect with cards like Dictate of Kruphix and even Interpret the Signs. I prefer the control direction—but every metagame wants something a little different.

Regardless of what direction you take a deck like this, have fun! It's a blastto play.

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the other great Journey into Nyx-filled decks sent in this week? Let's take a look!

Yuta Suzuki's Be Quiet

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Taylor Reichel's Bant Walkers

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Chris Alton's Constellation Conflagration

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Justin Roger's Sage of Hours

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Seth Kronick's Naya Centaurs

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Takeshi Goto's Happy Turn

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Hiroya Kobayashi's Devotion Thief

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Ryo Akagishi's Enchantresses Deck Wins

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DRjester's Multicolor Suicide Black

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Joe Lam's Enter the Spiral

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Gemeye's UR Control

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Answering your Riddles

There's no challenge for this week. In two weeks, Vintage Masters previews kick off, and I'll be showing you my preview cards then!

However, in the meanwhile, there's something new I'm trying out this week! I receive a lot of deck-building and strategy questions each week, and I carefully craft responses to them. However, I get very similar questions a lot—so what if they were compiled in one place instead, where everybody could read and learn from them? It would be such a useful repository of current Magic strategy and information.

Well, now there's a tumblr for that. I'm happy to announce: GavInsight!

Mark Rosewater's tumblr has been great for doing this for design, and the same is true for Doug Beyer's tumblr talking about flavor and Matt Tabak's tumblr for rules. Now it's time to do the same but for deck building.

Have a question about strategy or deck building? Want to ask about a deck but it doesn't fit the week's ReConstructed challenge? I'd be happy to answer as best as I can! And, of course, like Mark, I'm happy to take slightly off-topic questions as well, just in case you want to know, say, what I think about a Doctor Who episode or what music I listen to at work.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this works out!

And, of course, as always, you're welcome to send me any feedback you have on Twitter, by posting on the forums or—I suppose—now my tumblr! I always love hearing what you have to say.

I'll be back next week with another look at Standard. Until then, have fun blasting people for lethal out of nowhere!


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