The Rite Stuff

Posted in Reconstructed on September 18, 2012

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.

Some cards are previewed and it's immediately clear where you're supposed to put them. Call of the Conclave? Sure, I'll make a 3/3 token to start attacking with and populating in my Selesnya decks. Abrupt Decay? Yeah, all right, I'll put it into my Golgari decks to blow up troublesome permanents. Pyroconvergence? Rumor has it that card might be good with multicolored spells.

Other times it's a bit trickier. Some cards are build-around cards, like Epic Experiment, that stretch how you build decks to entirely new levels and make you look at cards you never would have considered in a whole new way. (Boundless Realms, anyone?) But even those cards give you some sort of road map, telling you what to appropriately fill your deck with.

Today's card is nowhere near as obvious. It's a jack-of-all-trades with plenty of different uses. It's a mana accelerator. A way to put your life total out of reach. A way to bring your opponent's life total within reach. A Snapcaster Mage hoser. It tells you to fill up graveyards—but after that it's up to you to figure out the rest.

Are you up to the challenge?

Presenting: Deathrite Shaman

Deathrite Shaman

This Shawn Main-designed card started off life as a top-down "scavenger" card, representing a Ravnican citizen who picked through the trash of Ravnica and turned it into something useful. Although its abilities slightly changed through development, the core of the card remained the same. This living Mr. Fusion engine wants garbage fuel—and plenty of it.

In many games, you'll find yourself sifting through graveyards to see what kind of effect you can produce from unwanted chaff. In a Golgari deck, you might find yourself using any of the three abilities. Sometimes you'll be sideboarding it to fight against Snapcaster Mage. In other decks, you might only play it for one—such is the versatility of a hybrid card.

To line up with the flexible nature of this card, today we're going to look at three different decks instead of just one as usual. Each uses this card a little differently, showing off the myriad options this Shaman has to offer.

Let's get started!

Glenn McLaughlin's Black-Green-White Midrange

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Creature (4)
4 Gravecrawler
Enchantment (4)
4 Rancor
32 Cards

We'll kick it off by looking at a very straightforward Golgari midrange deck. Unlike the more mill-focused deck I talked about last week, or some kind of aggressive Zombies shell, this is a deck that just is full of naturally good cards. There is some synergy built in—scavenge and Lotleth Troll with Corpsejack Menace, and Gravecrawler with some Zombies—but the bulk of the cards are just ones that will make your opponent grimace as they're cast.

Lotleth TrollLotleth Troll

In a deck like this, Deathrite Shaman fits in as a utility creature that plays up its shaman-of-all-trades nature. It can make mana, gain life, and deal the finishing blow over time. How do you start up a Shaman? Well, some self-mill opens up your options early on, and then the natural course of game play should plop plenty of creatures, instants, and sorceries into the graveyard. Once there, you can take advantage of each individually as the situation crops up.

It's worth saying that in a deck like this, graveyard management is going to prove crucial. If there's only one land in a graveyard, deciding when you want that mana boost is very important. Is it worth casting Corpsejack Menace a turn early, or is being able to drop a pair of three-drops on the next turn even better?

You also have to ask questions with your cards that are active in the graveyard. At what point is it correct to eat up your Gravecrawler or Dreg Mangler? Usually it won't be, but there are several situations where every life point might matter and it's going to be worth it. And then of course there's managing your opponent's graveyard. Which card type is your opponent most likely to exile from the graveyard or return to hand? Is it worth risking tapping the Shaman and opening yourself up to Snapcaster Mage in response? This card poses plenty of questions.

In any case, if I were to put it in a deck like this I would push the deck firmly into midrange territory. With plenty of early creatures that can be both aggressive or defensive, a little bit of disruption, and some removal, you have the beginning of a deck that has the tools to fight off practically anything. I'd also focus on playing robustly powerful cards, since a lot of the synergies in this deck are difficult to make work consistently.

I would try out something like this:

Gavin Verhey's White Rock

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Deathrite Shaman | Art by Steve Argyle

Next up, let's take a peek at something that doesn't involve green at all! If you like setting your opponent on fire (and on... skulls, I guess?) then you're going to want to check out this post-Return to Ravnica take on burn:

Callum Gilbert's Black-Red Burn

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Callum's red-black deck seeks to kill off the opponent as quickly as possible by using some efficient creatures paired with the best burn red has to offer. In a deck like this, Deathrite Shaman serves as a pseudo-Grim Lavamancer, pelting the opponent for 2 points of life each turn. While you can't kill off creatures with it, if your goal is to simply throw every bit of burn you have at your opponent's face then it works perfectly. On top of that, you might even be able to leverage an occasional mana out of your opponent's lands in the graveyard.

Callum's original list is marvelously constructed for what the Shaman is trying to do. Cards like Tibalt and Wild Guess ensure the Shaman has fuel without actually having to cast a ton of spells in the process. You should have enough instants and sorceries among graveyards to be able to easily activate the Shaman every turn.

In burn decks like this, I want to focus on dealing damage as much as possible and not mess around in any other areas. I'd cut some of the straight creature removal, Equipment, and creatures in an attempt to make it full of straightforward damage spells. While normally I would want to pack my deck full of efficient creatures like Crimson Muckwader and Ash Zealot, I'm actually going to eschew those here so I can deal as much damage as possible via spells. Only a few creatures—ones that fit well into the burn strategy—will remain in the deck.

If you're looking to burn people out come post-Return to Ravnica standard, give this a try:

Gavin Verhey's BR Burn

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Blood Crypt | Art by Eytan Zana

The third and final deck we're going to take a look at today also aims to use the Deathrite Shaman to make the opponent lose life—but it's a far different deck than the burn-heavy red deck. Plus, this deck can take advantage of the green ability in a pinch as well!

Let's take a look:

Danny Jordan's Zombies

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Unlike the three-color midrange deck we looked at earlier that could use all three angles of Deathrite Shaman, this is a much more aggressive deck. But also unlike the previous red deck, it uses more creatures.

This deck is, more or less, an updated version of Standard's current Zombie deck. I'm sure you know how strong that deck is by now—using highly efficient, recursive creatures partnered with cheap removal goes a long way. With eight 2-power one-drops, the powerful new Lotleth Troll or Blood Artist on turn two, and Dreg Mangler and Geralf's Messenger coming down for damage on turn three, your opponent is going to quickly find him- or herself in rough shape.

Although Blood Artist makes for nice reach and lifegain, sometimes it can be underwhelming in non-creature matchups. Deathrite Shaman is worth trying as a substitute.

First off, it costs only one mana instead of two, which makes a huge difference. It bumps you up to twelve one-drops, meaning quite often you'll be able to play two on the second turn instead of having to choose between adding 2 extra power to the board and wasting a mana, or casting a Blood Artist. Second, it provides swings every turn of 2 points in the direction you find most relevant. Finally, in the long game, it puts your opponent under major pressure instead of being a 0/1 that's a weak draw late.

Granted, it does cost a mana to activate the Shaman every turn and you have to provide it with cards to munch on. It also doesn't protect you from board sweepers or combo with Killing Wave nearly as well. Do the downsides outweigh the positives? Well, there's only one way to find out!

If you're hoping to play Zombies after Return to Ravnica with Deathrite Shaman, take a look at this!

Gavin Verhey's Zombies

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The new Shaman has plenty of roles. Where will it fit best: as an accelerator, life gainer, damage dealer, or in some deck as all of the above? Try it out in these three decks—and whatever you concoct—and see what you think!

Desecration Demon | Art by Jason Chan

Honorable Mentions

Looking for some more exciting post-Return to Ravnica decklists? Check out these submissions below!

Mark Ian Alloso's Selesnya Beatdown

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Ethan's Bolas Control

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Planeswalker (1)
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Creature (4)
4 Fog Bank
Sorcery (7)
3 Duress 4 Diabolic Revelation
Instant (4)
4 Negate
40 Cards

James Humphries's Flayer Reanimator

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Jack's Jund

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Denton Chmura's Parallel Rats

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Azorius Justiciar | Art by Chris Rahn

The Budget Guild

You guys have asked for it week after week, and with a brand-new Standard format on our hands for which you will want to collect cards, it makes for the ideal time to bring back one of my most popular features: budget deck building!

Format: Future Standard (Innistrad, Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, Return to Ravnica, and Magic 2013)
Restrictions: Your deck is on a budget. For a loose definition, consider budget to contain fewer rares and very few, if any, mythic rares.
Deadline: Tuesday, September 25, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article

Yes, that's right, I'm going to take a look at budget decks using Return to Ravnica cards! This way you'll have an idea of what to look for early on in the building process if you're on a budget. Send in your decklists! Note that you might want to wait until next Monday to work on them, since the entire Card Image Gallery will be up and you can sift through all of the commons and uncommon yourself.

The definition of budget is up to you, but for an idea of something that worked in the past I recommend taking a look at my last budget article to see what I used then.

I'll return to ReConstructed next week to tweak one of your decks using a bunch of Return to Ravnica cards. In the meanwhile, feel free to send me any thoughts or comments on my article (or Return to Ravnica!) on Twitter or in the forums and I'll be sure to read through them.

See you all then!



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