As you will know by now, my decks tend to fall on the control-side of the spectrum. The cards I like are rarely fast critters; I love drawing cards more than anything, and I’ll take value over speed any time. Today, however, inspired by a MTG-article I cannot recall, I decided to get over it and try my luck at an attack-deck. The weird thing is, I’d rather play a slower deck and lose, than play a fast deck and win. Unless the fast deck is fast, but has enough flair and diversity to keep me interested. Now that my goals are set, only the execution is left!
Stop bitching, start brewing
I’m not building a deck from the ground up. Well, yes and no. The deck I am rebuilding is the Mono Black Proliferate Control deck that failed horribly every time I played it. I discussed this deck twice before: during my diary-article, and later, when I rated various decks. Basically, I gave in to the urge to play infect, but in a way that I was comfortable with. This is just another case of placing an idea (in this case, infect) in tested waters. These are usually control decks.
What is the price for putting an aggressive deck together? When I asked myself this question, the answer became clear immediately. The cost is nothing! At least, not more than building a controlling deck. Every deck has a factor of uncertainty, one deck more than the other. In the end, no matter what kind of deck you build, there is not a single deck that just plain succeeds. No deck wins every game it plays, which means no deck is perfect.
This means that even if I fail, so be it. At least I tried. The price you pay for failure is the same for every deck you put together (and take apart). But the upside for a successfull deck is much higher if you dabbled in waters unbeknownst to you. And maybe taking a trip down a new road could improve me as a player and deckbuilder. Look at it this way: how good can a chess player’s game be if he never uses, say, his pawns? Magic is no different. To grow as a player, I have to branch out and take a dive every now and then. I have no aspirations of ever playing among the best of the game, but a little improvement in my game won’t hurt me. Time to start brewing.
The ugly duck exposed
For completion’s sake, let me begin with the list I left the deck with. You might want to cover your nose, because this here is a real stinker. *tudum tssh*
The idea (the game plan, actually – I need to drop this term more often to get people to start using it themselves, since it’s so darn useful; scroll down to read my motivation here) was to spread -1/-1 counters like no man’s business, on my creatures and theirs. Dusk Urchins trades in for cards, Carnifex Demon is repeatable removal, and Necropede is a one-time -1/-1 counter when it dies. The deck also runs big spells and mana-intensive spells which are fueled by Everflowing Chalice and Cabal Coffers.
Too bad the deck was painfully slow and often did not draw the right, or enough, cards to survive and win. Glistening Oil was cute, but probably too much. Dusk Urchins catching a Lightning Bolt is hardly fun either. On top of that, my deck was often attacking for both damage and poison, which can be beneficial, but rarely wasn’t for my deck. Oiling up your own Urchins is way too cute to work.
When I was writing the article I linked to above, I already had ideas of adding white. Ajani Goldmane is great to proliferate onto, and he boosts my infectors pretty good. A +1/+1 counter on, say, Phyrexian Crusader is insane, not to mention what happens when you proliferate even once. Proliferating onto Ajani should spell game over for the opponent in a matter of a few turns. Other candidates in white were Parallax Wave, Calciderm, Pursuit of Knowledge and Priests of Norn.
You’ll see the theme of the deck was still in the realm of control, but it wasn’t until I started considering Phyrexian Crusader that the deck might become more aggressive than I would like. But as you all now if you read the intro, and I’m guessing you did, I changed my mind. I would try to build an aggressive deck, but still with a touch of control. You can call it midrange. Let’s throw a preliminary gameplan in here.
The idea is to win with a few cheap and efficient infect beaters like Phyrexian Crusader, backed up by powerful permanents (Ajani Goldmane, Parallax Wave, Pursuit of Knowledge) and proliferate to advance the win in various ways, be it infect, critical mass, or incremental card advantages.
From control to tempo
The cards I started out with where more in line with the controlling proliferate theme I had in mind. Parallax Wave and Priests of Norn aren’t fit to close the game fast. It was when I started selecting cards that I saw another theme emerging, and that was the aggressive one. I sorted the creatures and non-creatures by converted mana cost and cut.
Fume Spitter was too futile – I also wanted to be 100% infect to avoid not winning on two fronts. Tidehollow Sculler and Entomber Exarch, while perfectlyt good cards, left the list. Corpse Cur and Reaper of Sheoldred all got the boot because of how they lacked performance in my previous deck. Some more speed was desirable.
I was left, on the creature-front with the following cards:
As you can see, that’s a lot of three-drops, and Priests of Norn sticking out like a sore (infected?) thumb. Not only is it the single white card on here, it is by far the most defensive card. The others are there for beating! I thought of how sweet it would be to drop a few guys, then Ajani and add a few +1/+1-counters and win! This changed the very core of the deck from control to semi-aggressive (I guess tempo is what you’d call it). This is where I realized it might be a good idea to write about this deck, but I knew I would have a few control elements in here. The reasoning is twofold: one, I think infect needs to be either all-in, or have enough disruption to consistently get guys through. Second, having a touch of control is like a safety net for me and my playing style.
Polishing the plan
With this realization in mind, deckbuilding – and cutting cards – became much easier. Everflowing Chalice? Get outta here! (Though I’m sorry, Chalice, I hope we can still be friends and hang around in other decks. I really like you. xoxo) Mana acceleration that is nothing more than that (unlike Plague Myr) is useless in a tempo deck. Having no serious acceleration eliminates big spells too, like Contagion Engine.
For this deck, I wanted three things: some hand disruption (which gives you information and takes away answers), some permanent removal (especially to take out blockers, since you want to be attacking), and some creature buff (heaping together pump, recursion and protection here). Cards that didn’t do any of this had better well packed some serious arguments.
For discard, I liked Castigate the most, despite the mana cost. Without a budget, I might’ve gone for Thoughtseize, though. Other options were Duress and Despise, which I didn’t really like. You feel so bad when you can’t nab their best card. Maybe Inquisition of Kozilek would’ve been good here too, but my playset just so happened to be in another deck. Damn you, casual restrictions! I like Parallax Nexus too, but playing that would require more proliferate, which would be slower, which would be control. Sigh.
So, on to removal. I had pretty much all good options here. For exiling, there were Path to Exile and Parallax Wave, the latter which I dismissed in the same manner as his black counterpart. I had removal for x/1’s, like Virulent Wound, Contagion Clasp, Grim Affliction and Zealous Persecution. I knew all of them would be way too much, but for now, I cut just Virulent Wound and Grim Affliction from the list.
Corpse Cur recurs creatures, and so does Remember the Fallen. The latter, however, can even nab two creatures if at least one of ’em is an artifact. Inspiration struck me when I remembered Rick’s advice on my recent Tezzeret revival: Unearth. If I would so choose to leave Corpse Cur out, every one of my creatures could be plopped back onto the battlefield for just one black mana. Out went Corpse Cur, out went Remember the Fallen.
Corpse Cur is a four-drop, but one that pales when compared to Ajani Goldmane. Using his minus ability with two creatures out is great, with more it becomes insane. Proliferating Ajani may be the single most anticipated reason for me to build this deck. I want four of Ajani and I will do my darnest best to keep them here. Planeswalkers are just so much fun to play with.
Did you say proliferate? Yes I did! I can’t help myself here. In a deck with counters of various kinds, I can’t not include at least a few proliferators. Running the colorless Sign in Blood called Tezzeret’s Gambit, on top of being a pet card of mine, is actually very good in this deck. Some card advantage here and there is what can help this deck survive in the lategame, or just blow opponents out after a turn four Ajani.
Maïstro, a deck! *clap clap*
I did a quick count and saw that I would end at 80 cards if I where to add a playset of each card on top of 24 lands. 24 lands is my baseline, and I rarely venture above or below. This deck, however, could use one less land, since we need four mana only for Ajani. Maybe 22 would work, even. Anyway, here’s the deck I’m currently content with (untested, per usual).
Part of why I haven’t tested it yet is because I still haven’t got a lot of the cards. I have a bunch of them incoming, so I’d rather wait a day or two than waste cards by writing on them.
Let me conclude this article by noting a few things I didn’t above, and what things are going through my head that I could change.
The creature base is a trio of survivors of the cuts. I chose Plague Myr over Necropede for the added mana. While being able to play Ajani turn three isn’t a huge deal, the added mana in the mid- to late-game for Contagion Clasp activations is pretty good. With 23 lands, 4 mana is a lot, and having one of them come from a creature means I get to free maybe one or two mana to use on disruption.
I wish I could play more creatures, preferably a two-drop, to make the turn four Ajani that much more impressive. Inkmoth Nexi ar four faux creatures, but the mana needed to activate means they can’t come online for a turn four Ajani activation. Unless, ofcourse, Plague Myr comes to the rescue!
The spell-base is a sturdy mix of disruption, recursion, and a hint of carddraw. On paper, Condemn looks good here. You nix a creature for one mana, and that’s it! The lifegain is irrelevant to you. However, it can only hit attacking creatures. And when I’m attacking, I want to remove blockers too! Maybe I could play some Swords for this, or just load up on Tumble Magnets.
You see, say I play Swords to Plowshares. Let’s assume I’m playing Rick’s Doran deck. He starts out with a Treefolk Harbinger, finding his coveted Murmuring Bosk. I start with Plague Myr and Phyrexian Crusader. I StP his tree and come in for three poison damage. But next turn, he plays his Bosk and casts Doran! I wish I’d saved my removal spell for him. If I were playing Tumble Magnet I’d be paying two more mana, but I wouldn’t have awkward situations like this.
I’d like to think the rest of the deck is self-explanatory. Ajani pumps, Castigate disrupts, Contagion Clasp removes and proliferates, Gambit draws and proliferates, and Unearth recurs.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see two of the three things I’m not sure about. The first is the amount of creatures. I think I want more, but don’t know what for, and what creatures. Options are Signal Pest, Lost Leonin, Necropede, and Plague Stinger. I don’t want another three-drop, but like the option of curving out with a turn two and three dude, then Ajani. Maybe I should replace Castigate for a one-mana spell, eh?
Two: the Condemn/Tumble Magnet division. I think I want more Magnets and could lose the Condemns. (Credits for the Condemn-insight go to Robert, by the way. Thank you!) I don’t want four Magnets (my three-slot is very crowded with Magnets, Gambits, Crusaders and Specters), which would free up two Condemn slots.
Three, I kinda want equipment – Bonesplitter or Leonin Scimitar, to be specific. While Phyrexian Crusader is already hard to kill, armed with a +2/+0 it will become near-impossible to kill in combat. You’ll need a non-red, non-white 4/3 to kill a regular Crusader in combat, and a 6/5 one for the Bonesplintering variant.
But these are all questions for later. I hope you like this deck (and I hope I do too). It’s quite different from the kind of decks you’re used to from me, but it was a fun exercise for me, so I’m sure you’ll see more of this in the future. Let’s just hope I don’t tire of playing it soon, the symptom most of my aggressive decks suffer from.
I want to close with a few article ideas. If you have a preference, speak up! I love getting ideas as to what to write.
See you next week!
* R/b Wort Goblin Control
* RG Slag Fiend Attrition
* More peasant: mono green Eldrazi / 5CC Domain / URg Defender.dec / WUbr Trinket Mage Thopter Foundry
* 5CC Angelfire
* Another comic-style article about a combo deck
* Building a deck on paper based on an idea or a random card
* Any other idea!