One of Each, and Some Springboards

Posted in Top Decks on September 22, 2011

By Mike Flores

One of the fun things about new cards is the opportunity to dig up old decks. I decided to pick a new Innistrad card from each color, talk about it a wee bit, and then maybe brew up a new deck or so, based on an older model.

So today we are going to revisit some of the mighty rogue lists from names you should recall—Ken Adams, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Shaheen Soorani, Randy Buehler (and others)—while we look through some of the interesting new stuff from Innistrad. No guarantees that any of the new brews are actually going to be great ... but hopefully at least one or two will be interesting to you, and give you a good idea that you can use to help shape the defining decks of the new Standard at Friday Night Magic, on Magic Online, and at the upcoming 2011s.

Here are some of the cards I picked to use as centerpieces:

  1. Divine Reckoning
  2. Think Twice
  3. Liliana of the Veil
  4. Past in Flames
  5. Mulch
    Divine Reckoning

Divine Reckoning might be the coolest card for Standard in all of Innistrad. It is reminiscent of Day of Judgment, and of Cataclysm... but the flashback makes it something really special.

From a deck construction standpoint, Divine Reckoning has a couple of constraints. It acts very Wrath-like in certain situations, but it isn't a Wrath. For example, sometimes when you are way behind, or in trouble to a single significant threat, you will sweep the board. You can't do that here.

That said, Divine Reckoning plays really well with Diabolic Edict-like effects... and it just so happens that this set has one of the best Edicts ever in the form of Liliana of the Veil!

Inspiration: Ken Adams's Solar Pox

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Here's the brew:

Divine Reckoning Brew

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I added a land relative to Ken Adams's States format-defining (and early StarCity-circuit-winning) deck, because in Standard 2011 we don't have Flagstones of Trokair to lean on.

The threes in this deck—Liliana of the Veil and Forbidden Alchemy—take the place of the Haakon, Stromgald Scourge engine. Weaker in terms of neverending, grinding, card advantage... but the pieces are stronger in and of themselves. For example you can cast Forbidden Alchemy, set yourself up with Unburial Rites to re-buy, bury a Grave Titan to go with it, and have a turn-four 6/6 (and a pair of 2/2s) all fine and dandy for the next attack step.

Divine Reckoning + Smallpox and / or Liliana of the Veil... all superb at sweeping. Smallpox, Gideon Jura, and Liliana can ruin a singleton defender quite easily.

The cards might be a little expensive for a deck with four copies of Smallpox, but that is probably fix-able. One option would be to go a more "Solar Flare" route, play the fourth Unburial Rites, and replace Smallpox with some faster threats or plays (Hero of Bladehold, more Wurmcoil Engines, or maybe even Dismember).

    Think Twice

Think Twice is a card that I have either played unsuccessfully or tried to play (but it never made the cut to actual tournament time) several times in basically every format since it was legal. I really had to think twice about playing it, and my poor dinosaur-like pea brain is all a-twisted at the possibility of running this innocuous-looking instant, again.

In many of my attempts to play Think Twice, I ran it as a test over Compulsive Research, or as a singular route to card advantage. Which makes some sense, as Think Twice is perfect in every way but mana efficiency (and even there it is a full-on "okay"). It digs you lands early, it is reasonably costed as a cantrip, and its flashback gives you card0advantage potential. Wafo-Tapa probably used it best in Dralnu du Louvre, as a point of redundancy in an engine of well-oiled blue.

Inspiration: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Dralnu du Louvre

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And the brew:

Think Twice Brew

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This kind of a deck seeks to play instant-speed one-for-one Magic.

Even Snapcaster Mage has flash!

Because we don't have Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir to give everything and everyone flash, we need another way to not tap out on the opponent's turn... I chose to go with Nephalia Drownyard as a card to try. You can Drownyard yourself (filling your graveyard with cards like Forbidden Alchemy or Think Twice, potentially), or you can kill your opponent with it over twenty or so grinding turns.

    Liliana of the Veil

Liliana of the Veil is only the second three-mana planeswalker... ever! She seems brutally built for Constructed Spikedom, and earlier in this very article we looked at a possible Solar Pox or Solar Flare way of playing her.

But what about when we decide to center a deck around Liliana of the Veil instead?

What would we want to do?

At the very least, I think we would want to run her out there on the second turn if possible! And that means Birds of Paradise.

Is there some kind of ancestor deck we can look to for this combination of cards? Maybe Beach House-ish? What about this one?

Inspiration: Shaheen Soorani's 'The Masterpiece'

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The Masterpiece was a rogue hybrid of the Beach House and various big blue finishers from the summer of 2006. While it had a somewhat less stable mana base (four colors and 22 lands), the Masterpiece actually utilized many of the best elements of Solar Flare and The Rock.

One thing about The Masterpiece is that it was a superb anti-beatdown / anti-burn deck with four copies of Loxodon Hierarch and four copies of Faith's Fetters. I suppose that part of that was to protect itself from its own Phyrexian Arena, and as we've moved from Arena to Liliana of the Veil, life gain is less of a direct need. However, if you think about the capabilities of a deck that can play Liliana of the Veil on the second turn, you have to assume that there is a control killer up and about, meaning that we probably do want to focus at least somewhat on beatdown / burn, as our core reason for being (Birds into Liliana) is so good against midrange and slow control decks.

This is what I came up with:

Liliana of the Veil Brew

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Birds of Paradise helps you stick either Liliana Vess or Forbidden Alchemy on the second turn.

While we don't have Sakura-Tribe Elder, we can still play eight two-mana ramp spells in addition to Birds of Paradise via Green Sun's Zenith (for Birds of Paradise) and Rampant Growth (in the Farseek slot). Green Sun's Zenith actually doubles as our proxy for Shaheen's Simic Sky Swallower on seven... though "all" we can get is Primeval Titan there.

Bringing it back to the anti-beatdown, the presence of white allows us to go to Timely Reinforcements sideboarded, rounding out awesome white, blue, and black threes, all, in this deck. I shied away from main-deck Timely Reinforcements because I wanted to focus on the big guys / flashback theme. One thing that is great about Primeval Titan is that it doesn't take very long to get enough mana to run both sides of a Forbidden Alchemy!

    Past in Flames

Did they reprint Yawgmoth's Will?

Honestly, if you look at it from a certain angle, they did. Back in the Napster days, I really tried to emphasize buying back a land from Dust Bowl as one of the things we did, but if you make your deck just instants and sorceries, it shouldn't be too difficult to make a veritable Yawgmoth's Will out of Past in Flames.

Now an idea does not a deck make, even when it is pretty straightforward like this one. How about a big daddy?

Inspiration: Randy Buehler's Counter-Phoenix

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Creature (5)
1 Mogg Fanatic 4 Shard Phoenix
Artifact (2)
2 Scroll Rack
Land (28)
14 Island 10 Mountain 4 Reflecting Pool
62 Cards

Randy Buehler scored second- and third-place finishes in various Grand Prix tournaments with variations of his Counter-Phoenix deck. The cool thing about this deck is its overwhelming number of lands... 28! Randy was all about hitting his land drops; this helped him get to the requisite amount of mana to buy back his Shard Phoenix while maintaining available mana to "counter target spell."

We gain less of an advantage from countermagic because Past in Flames—which is going to be our primary source of card advantage—is a sorcery; ergo there is going to be far less emphasis there than in Randy's deck, where he could buy back a Shard Phoenix every turn to fuel Forbid.

Randy really got a lot of value out of his Shard Phoenix... to the tune of its being his only real source of card draw when combined with Intuition and Scroll Rack (he didn't even play Whispers of the Muse!).

We are under a completely different kind of restraint in working with Past in Flames. We want lots and lots of instants and sorceries, and because lots of those are going to be cheap card draw, we can actually reduce our land count dramatically relative to that Shard Phoenix 28, while still being able to consistently hit our land drops.

Past in Flames Brew

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I fooled around with the mana a bit and decided to try Stensia Bloodhall as long as I was going to have black mana anyway for Forbidden Alchemy. That is also better against opposing planeswalkers than Nephalia Drownyard... but why not try on both the blue jeans and the red sweater vest and see which one fits better? Grok?

There are lots of ways you can go with this... You can actually play up the black for Inquisition of Kozilek or black point removal (Go for the Throat and so on), as the deck as I have it set up actually has some holes in the way of opposing big guys. To that end I went with Frost Titan over Inferno Titan, just to make sure I have some kind of fatties defense.

Now the point here was to make a deck around Past in Flames, but it is possible that pushing to an all instants / all sorceries / some Frost Titans model isn't the best way to go for a control deck. Maybe we actually want, say, a Jace, Memory Adept (or four). Unknown at this stage... but again, that's the fun of brewing.

    Mulch Garruk Relentless

I love having an encyclopedic knowledge of old decks. It might actually be my favorite thing about being a longtime Magic player, and one of the core areas of advantage I have as a deck designer. So going through the Innistrad cards various to see what was interesting, I keyed on classic spell Mulch, remembering this classic Mulch deck:

Inspiration: Randy Buehler's Green-White Oath

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Creature (1)
1 Archangel
Instant (4)
2 Disenchant 2 Enlightened Tutor
Artifact (4)
4 Scroll Rack
Enchantment (5)
1 Aura of Silence 4 Oath of Druids
59 Cards

Another Randy Buehler decklist!

Randy's 5-1 was actually good for the #1 Constructed performance of US Nationals 1998 if I recall, though he did not make Top 8 that year.

I noticed three things with this one:

  1. Randy really loved a Scroll Rack back when they let him run that (see the Counter-Phoenix deck from the previous section).
  2. Tons of the utility cards that were useful for Randy in 1998 have counterparts today. We have an upgrade to Creeping Mold (for the same cost) in Bramblecrush; we've already talked about Divine Reckoning as a kind of Cataclysm counterpart; and of course there is Mulch-to-Mulch.
  3. No, this isn't going to work at all.

While there are lots of analogues between new and super successful old, there is one gaping hole that allowed Randy's deck to be competitive in 1998 that we just can't approximate.

Oath of Druids.

Man! I was all set to know about a cool Mulch deck, too! Oh well.

Instead of beleaguering brontosaurus-brain even more, I decided to draw on a different parallel with a different interesting green card: Garruk Relentless.

Check out this list:

Inspiration: David Reitbauer's Jund

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When we talk about the 2009 World Championships, we usually talk about Andre Coimbra's Worlds-winning deck because 1) it actually won, and 2) I designed it. :)

However, Reitbauer had some interesting cards going on as analogues to the new Garruk, and his deck—despite the amazing disappearing Lightning Bolts and Blightnings—can give us insight into the four slot at the highest levels of green magic.

Garruk Wildspeaker is not the inspiration I am talking about in this now-Garruk section. It is actually Master of the Wild Hunt!

As both a Wolf-maker and potential Arena-machine, Garruk Relentless does a fair job of mimicking Master of the Wild Hunt.

Now, Reitbauer played only 25 lands, but later Jund decks (like Pro Tour San Diego winner Simon Görtzen and his "all lands no removal" deck) added lots more, and the great Gerry Thompson said that once they figured out to not be mana screwed, Jund decks had become invincible. So I went that way, adding both more lands and ramp to help make up for having no, you know, super awesome Jund-iconic stuff like Blightning and Bloodbraid Elf. Here is a pass:

Garruk Relentless Brew

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Since we are no longer beholden to main-deck Blightnings and Bituminous Blasts (really our "black" is constrained to Garruk himself), I decided to run just a Swamp to power our Stensia Bloodhall. One of the constraints around Primeval Titan right now is that there aren't as many super interesting lands to dig up (no Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Eye of Ugin in Standard)... but Kessig Wolf Run combined with Inferno Titan (or even a Koth of the HammerMountain minion) is probably going to be super awesome.

We have an eight-pack of two mana accelerators (again), with Birds of Paradise playing one end of the Green Sun's Zenith spectrum. The Zenith can "split card" into Primeval Titan on the top end. Black in the board can be used in a problem solving capacity—big discard or disruption, or removal for large creatures most likely.


I am sure you have even more interesting ideas via Innistrad. Why not share some in the forums?

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