This week's theme wasn't meant to send us down Memory Lane to the days of cold classrooms and soccer at recess. I'm pretty sure Trick wanted us to focus on Magic. Rather than tell you about my experiences with Pious Kitsune1 and Bloodthirsty Ogre,2 I thought I would focus on the devotion theme in Theros, and more specifically, on the fellow with devotion that shines in multiplayer variants. Whether you are playing Two-Headed Giant, Commander, or a basic multiplayer game, the Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a card you need to consider.
Gary3 has an effect that multiplies with the number of opponents you have, so when Gary arrives and sees several opponents, he extracts his toll from each of them, and gives you more life than you were expecting. Consider this plausible scenario (I say plausible since it actually happened). Tyler and Jesse, two players from my regular group, were playing in a Two-Headed Giant tournament in Providence just over a week ago. Tyler was running Gary and put him onto the battlefield with a devotion of only four. I say only, because Gary has two black mana symbols himself, and costs five mana. One would expect that by the time you could play Gary you would have more than two other black mana symbols on the battlefield, but in this game, Tyler did not. However, this meant that each opponent lost 4 life, and Tyler gained 8 life. When you can get a 16-point life swing simply by putting a particular creature into play, things will likely go your way. Later in another game, Gary found a devotion of five when he arrived, creating a 20-point swing.
And these are games with only two opponents.
With decks made from a handful of boosters.
If you were to run Gary in a deck evenly balanced in two colors, you would likely see similar swings in your four- and five-player games. This would be amazing!
Although, really, if you are going to run Gary in your casual deck, why not bring him to the crazy extreme? Let's read the card again, just to refresh our memories. "When Gary enters the battlefield..." Wait, wait, that's enough. You don't have to cast Gary, just make him enter the battlefield.
Gary, have you met my friend, Deadeye Navigator?
Rather than try to go exclusively black, I've opted for a tiny splash of blue in the hopes of seeing him leave and enter the battlefield a few times in a row. With a devotion of just five, if I can use the Navigator's ability twice, all my opponents will lose 10 life and I will gain 30 (assuming a four-player game). He sets up a very short clock in a multiplayer game.
Let's take a look at a rough version of the deck:
The sky-high view of the deck shows that we want Gary and Deadeye Navigator out to repeatedly use Gary's ETB effect to kill off our opponents. There is a light Zombie theme working with Gary (a Zombie himself), giving us several small Zombies who are there just to hold the ground and up the devotion count. Let's zoom in a little and examine some of the particular choices in the deck.
For a deck with only six non-black spells in the list, this deck is a serious mana hog. The Navigator requires two blue mana and a blue to use the flicker ability. I included three Ghostly Flicker to give an instant-speed activation for the various ETB effects showing up in the deck that may be needed before Deadeye Navigator is ready. I opted to run four Islands, four Temple of Deceits, and four Watery Graves to make sure I have two or three blue mana sources when the Navigator is ready.
The deck is a pig for as much mana as it can get, so I included Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx as well. Some of the cheaper cards have to hit the battlefield before it starts to really get moving, but once they do, your mana problems ease. Twisted Abomination is in there almost solely for the swampcycling. I am rarely going to play this over getting another Swamp in play, but a 5/3 Zombie creature is a solid backup plan.
Soldevi Adnate is an old-school card that rarely gets any respect. In this deck, the card does a couple of things:
- Gets you mana for Gary, Massacre Wurm, or whatever larger creature you are looking to cast. Sacrificing a Geralf's Messenger gives you three mana to help cast your larger creature, brings the Messenger back a little bigger, and an opponent gets a little shot as well.
- Sacrifice outlet. With Grave Pact and Animate Dead, sometimes you just want a creature in the graveyard. Once Gary is on the battlefield, and everyone has lost some life, you can sacrifice him to the Adnate for five black mana. Play out Geralf's Messenger or Zombie Master. Then use the remaining two black mana to Animate Dead Gary. With just the Adnate, Messenger, Animate Dead, and Gary, your devotion count is at seven. Everyone loses 7, you gain 21 life?
I know it doesn't seem right to play defense with Zombies, and I suppose you could start swinging before Gary shows up. Ideally I want all the Zombies to still be on the battlefield when Gary shows up, so I don't want to be risking them more than I have to by swinging at my opponents.
Returned Phalanx is a 3/3 defender for two. He can go on offense when needed, but a 3/3 is a great deterrent in the early game. Zombie Master is there more for the two black mana symbols in his cost, and his ability to regenerate Gary, than for the +1/+1 he offers to Zombies. I've mentioned Geralf's Messenger before, but keep in mind what a great defender he is. Players don't tend to be interested in attacking you when they know that even if they kill the Messenger, it will be back even bigger, and you will get to add insult to injury by hitting for 2 when he arrives. In one-on-one the Messenger is a great attacker, but in multiplayer, he plays some awesome defense as well. Skinrender is quasi-removal. Giving three -1/-1 counters to an opponent's creature is nice. If Gary isn't being cooperative and showing up in your hand when you need him, Deadeye Navigator or Animate Dead on a Skinrender can really make things miserable for your opponents.
Massacre Wurm is just too much fun not to use. Even if it is only cast once, the Wurm can clear up quite a bit of the board. Working with Skinrender, it can likely handle most of the problems coming your way. If you start reusing it with the Navigator, your opponent's lives can be miserable. Add in that triple-black mana cost and you can start thinking about only needing to cast Gary once.
Grave Pact, another card with a three-black-mana casting cost, has a variety of benefits in this deck. It works well with Soldevi Adnate to eliminate single creatures. Another curious benefit is that it discourages opponents from coming after you.
From a straightforward perspective, it makes perfect sense. You really don't want to be attacking someone who, when he or she blocks with a creature that dies, will force you, and everyone else, to sacrifice a creature. The problem with the logic is that this is the primary purpose of Grave Pact. It can also be used to load up everyone's graveyards in an attempt to take advantage of all the extra creatures in graveyards, but in multiplayer games, it is there as a deterrent. This means that you should be attacking right into it, or eliminating it as quickly as possible. With everyone working together, a single player should not be able to withstand, even with Grave Pact in play.
The problem is that it rarely works this way. What generally happens is someone happily attacks the player with the Grave Pact, just as a way to force another player with a single powerful creature to sacrifice that creature. This is crazy, since the player with the Grave Pact will usually have a way to steal that powerful creature from the graveyard, so all you have done is given that card to the player who already had a powerful Grave Pact in play.
Another common result is that someone recognizes the threat and attempts to stop the player with Grave Pact. As thanks for that player's efforts, the rest of the players yell at him or her for costing them a creature and attack that player instead.
For all these reasons, Grave Pact is in the deck.
I talked to a handful of people about various other cards that would play well with Gary. Living End and a sacrifice outlet was a common refrain. Sacrifice your creatures on the battlefield in response to the last suspend counter coming off Living End and things tend to go well.
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed was another option for getting Gary and his friends to enter the battlefield repeatedly. This had the added benefit of all being one color, so any issues related to mana disappear, and the devotion count should climb even higher. Sheoldred, Whispering One was suggested as another devotion-friendly way to bring Gary back.
Pack Rat is a less expensive card that can really pile up the devotion. Discard your cards and add more Pack Rat tokens to the battlefield. Since they are copies, they have the same mana cost as Pack Rat, so every rat token increases your devotion.
I hope I have encouraged you to make devotion a daily part of your Magic life.
PS: If you are someone who listens to podcasts, I recommend checking out my guest appearance on Commandercast! Will, Calvin, and I talk about a wide range of Commander topics, including new players and recommending some changes to an interesting Commander deck.
*: We chose to retain this spelling because a "metre stick" is distinctly Canadian, as compared to a "yard stick" in America. —ed. (return)
1: My friend Josh had an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails deck that revolved around Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, several copies of Umezawa's Jitte, and a variety of Sword of X and Y. Pious Kitsune was initially part of the deck, but Josh soon realized the card just wasn't good enough and dropped it. Better to run something that already has protection from white than have to pay to give the Pious Kitsune protection from white before every attack.(return)
2: While tapping to give a creature -X/-X until the end of the turn sounds great, it just took too long to accumulate the devotion counters to make it worthwhile. Add to the limitation that you had to have a Demon in play, and the Bloodthirsty Ogre has a rather weak 1 toughness, and you've got a card that you end up wasting resources on for no real payoff in the end. (return)
3: Gary is a nickname I've heard for the Gray Merchant of Asphodel. I have a better, more descriptive nickname, that will not be shared on this family-friendly website.(return)