Episode 1: Blasphemy of Mediocrity
Cards, ever since I saw that card on the Innistrad card image gallery, I was sold. I just knew there could be something good there, somewhere. But before I met her in her final incarnation, there was a long way before me. This is the story of how I met your Gutter.
The first thing to tickle my deckbuilding senses was a tweet from Neale Talbot – @wrongwaygoback – about the interaction between Gutter Grime and Blasphemous Act. While Gutter Grime had been on my mind since I saw it on the spoiler (I’m sorry cards, I know you are used to the term ‘card image gallery’, back when I grew up it was just a ‘spoiler’), I needed an idea to get the creative juices flowing. This was it.
While Neale’s idea was something he saw in a draft, I thought it would be something that cold be ported over to the realms of Casual play. Build up an army to discount Blasphemous Act, then pull the trigger and wait a turn to attack with you army next turn.
I started by searching for cards that could help the theme. Creatures that could sacrificing themselves, or creatures that had a nice dying-trigger. Instant-speed sacrifice means instant-speed Ooze tokens, while dying-triggers mean they won’t be sacrificed in vein. The next step was ofcourse to find sacrifice outlets: ways to let my creatures die for fun and profit, and not be overly dependant on Blasphemous Act.
Having said that, I let myself fall in an all too familiar trap here: proliferate. This way, sacrificing an (artifact) creature to Throne of Geth (or Plaguemaw Beast!) would generate still one Ooze, but two Slime counters. So I narrowed my search of sacrificial lambs to lambs of the metal (i.e. artifact) variety, to work with both Throne of Geth and Plaguemaw Beast.
The newfangled artifact subtheme also worked it’s way into my mana-base, adding Tree of Tales and Great Furnace. Those additions were enough to merit the likes of Kuldotha Phoenix and Galvanic Blast with their metallic craftiness. I rounded the deck out with some general utility: cards like Everflowing Chalice for mana, Tumble Magnet for board-control and synergy with Blasphemous Act (tapping a guy each turn forces them to overcommit), and Tezzeret’s Gambit for more proliferating and more cards (Gambit is, without a doubt, my favorite card in New Phyrexia, losing only to Tezzeret himself in the entire Scars of Mirrodin-block).
In the end, I had too much cards to make a deck, but enough cards to start with multiple copies of the core (Grime, Act, sacrifice outlets) and some single- and doubletons to try out. When Jeroen came over one Saturday afternoon, I knew I wanted to test this deck and see what worked and what didn’t.
For the testing, I used a method I have employed before: starting with a list of mostly singletons and making notes about each card I had drawn. Then I could change cards I had drawn at least once. I won’t bother here with the most minute details, but rather I’ll give an oversight of where I thought the deck was moving.
You see, every deck I make is a combination of two things. One, there’s the idea which prompted it and which got perfected into the basis for a deck. For example, while ‘Gutter Grime plus Blasphemous Act’ is just an idea, ‘Gutter Grime plus Blasphemous Act combined with subthemes of sacrifice, morbidity and proliferate’ is a good basis to start a deck from.
Second, every deck I build is one with a little bit of me infused in there. I don’t build decks I don’t like, and when I do build a deck, it tends to gravitate towards the things that I love: carddraw. Proliferate. Control. Slow games.
So for Gutter Act, I just started goldfishing (and later, testing against your uncle Jeroen) and letting the deck roam free and develop itself. It was like watching a raindrop roll down an windscreen; you have a general idea where the drop will hit the bottom of the screen, but you never know for sure.
In the mana department, I quickly ditched Sphere of the Suns and Wild Cantor. A two-color deck didn’t really need this kind of fixing, so I upped the number of Chalices, Sakura Tribe-Elders, and Viridian Emissaries. I still wasn’t sure about which of the latter was better – they both had their moments -, but I was pretty sure I was gonna need either one eventually. Sakura could sac himself any time, which is very nice when Grime is out. Emissary, meanwhile, needed something to die for, risking being unable to die, but I would feel a whole lot better feeding an Emissary to a Plaguemaw compared to Sakura.
For my other sacrificial targets, I chose Myr Retriever over Sylvan Hierophant (the so-called Gravedigger-chain was too tempting), Necropede over Myr Sire and Perilous Myr, and I also eventually ditched my Core Prowlers, Solemn Simulacrums and Kuldotha Phoenices.
The matter of Necropede versus Perilous Myr was a tough one. Making the decision went back and forth for a while, even after I had seemingly settled on one or the other.
The thing is…
There was something missing. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I knew with Gutter Grime wasn’t gonna happen in this setting. The deck moved away from Blasphemous Act, instead focusing on reusable sacrifices (and cheaper one-time effects like Mycoloth, who also happened to work great with Plaguemaw Beast) and counters. You see, there was the counter subtheme which made its way into the deck. Counters, ofcourse, meant I had to invest more in proliferation. I upped the number of Thrones, Beasts and Gambits, while I chose Galvanic Blast over Volt Charge.
When I looked back at this development, I saw that red was only in the deck for Blasphemous Act and the aforementioned Galvanic Blast. It just didn’t hold up any more.
I was stuck with a mono-green deck that had been fighting off the red parasite that I stuck in there. The red was distracting to the deck: Gutter Act was never gonna be a real thing, and I was too in love with the idea to be able to see that. Another case of the durdles had gotten a hold on me, and I was for a long time unable to shake it off.
What was the deck trying to do? Use sacrificing to build up counters on Gutter Grime and other permanents. Good, what do I need for that? That’s right – counters! I realised white cards of late have had a +1/+1-granting theme. Just take a look at Elder Cathar, Unruly Mob, and Gavony Township. I don’t know about you, but when I realised the filthy things I could do to Gutter Grime using Gavony Township, I was sold. For one, I could make sure the Oozes stuck around after someone’d haphazardly destroyed Gutter Grime. Second, Gavony Township plus Mycoloth? Even without sacrificing a creature I could win games with just those two cards – and it wasn’t like the deck wasn’t stuffed with sacrificial lambs to begin with.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Cards, next week I’ll tell you about how Gutter Grime and I tried something new together.