Today marks the (somewhat) triumphant return to the Xiahou Dun project.  I know I’m to blame here for the slack, and this is long overdue.  GenCon completely threw GDC for a loop this year, and it’s taken the better part of a month to get back to a nice centered place.
Deep breaths.  Calm. 
So let’s put some work in, okay?  I’m still dying to play this thing, and if the prices on Judge Foil Xiahou Dun at GenCon are any indication (I saw some going as low as $20-$22) it’s no longer a hard deck to put together based on the general.
Hold that thought, actually.  Let’s take care of some quick business first…
THE GDC FROM THE VAULTS: REALMS CONTEST WINNER IS…

Jason Davidson!  Congrats, sir.  Now, if you’d kindly respond to your e-mail, you have a shiny copy of From The Vaults: Realms taking up valuable space on my desk, and I’d like to mail it out to you as soon as possible. 

(And by valuable, I mean that it’s currently holding up a stack of bad foils destined for CardShark, my mortgage payment, a cellphone charger, and some car keys that are owned by neither me nor my wife.  I really need to do some cleaning.)

Jason nosed out a few other people by virtue of hitting the high-water mark on correct guesses roughly a day before the next person on the list for the tie-break win.  Furthermore, he hit some choices that weren’t exactly high on the list of obvious includes; He actually nailed Desert (although the tone of the guess seemed to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but hey…correct is correct.), and had both WindbriskHeights and Grove of the Burnwillows as well.  The best part was that he also was one of the few people that incorrectly had the spoiled Glacial Chasm art as Thawing Glaciers, and had to make up for (ahem!) lost ground on other picks.  (Jason, I admire the enthusiasm and self-challenge you went for there, but man…take the gimme next time.)

Anyway, I hope you all had fun getting in on the guessing game, and I hope to bring more of these to you in the future.  (If I manage to get a reasonable line on a copy of Commander’s Arsenal, we’ll work something out on that.) 

And Jason…please return the e-mail and tell me where to mail this thing!  (Or I’m keeping it for myself…)

QUICK HITS – NEW RETURN TO RAVNICA GENERAL OPTIONS

This is going to be a quick-and-dirty, and I’ll take a deeper look at things as the spoilers continue to roll out.  For now, though, I just wanted to throw some initial feelings out there on our new general choices come next month.

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

 Image courtesy of www.magicspoiler.com

Niv has apparently been working out a bit, or he’s got a solid line on some laboratory-grade steroids.

I need to say it, though – Niv is a fairly large disappointment at first glance for me on one major level, and that is self-referential execution.  Say it with me, kids.

Here’s what I mean.  Compare the new art to the old art:

 Image courtesy of magiccards.info

 

Not that different.  Close enough that if I’m sitting at the far end of the table and you tell me you’re playing Niv-Mizzet and flip the card over, I may still need to ask which one.  Wizards should have gone with the Duel Decks art instead:

Image courtesy of www.magicspoiler.com

See?  Much better.

From there, the design just seems…really uninspired.  I get it…it’s clever.  Flip the script.  For me, though, it’s just so low-hanging that it seems like it might have been a throwaway suggestion from someone on the design team down at the local pub after-hours.

And then it somehow made the final cut anyway. 

I guess on the upside, at least it doesn’t combo with Curiosity anymore.

Isperia, Supreme Judge

Image courtesy of www.magicspoiler.com

 

 

I guess the scaling on the first version of Isperia was a bit open-ended.  I was thinking more Blazing Archon and less Progenitus in the size category.

Killer art, by the way.  And it’s going to pop in foil.

This I can get a little more excited about.  I know we’ve tried to tackle the U/W color combination in the past, and the end result always leaves me wanting something that suggests…you know, doing something.  Using the attack phase.  Being aggressive.  I feel like U/W traditionally loves to just sit back and watch things happen while sitting behind a wall of Propaganda effects in most cases, and this Isperia printing is a nod to the old-school, but it screams aggression at the same time. 

Sure, it’s never comfortable to give the U/W player extra cards, so people will think twice before attacking.  But it’s also the right kind of rattlesnake…it doesn’t tell you that you’re not allowed to play cards, or that you can’t attack.  And Isperia is also a huge, aggressively-costed evasive body this time around.  Screw Geist of Saint Traft – this is the general to use if you’re attempting aggro in these colors. 

In related news, I’m in the market for a Tundra.

Oh…and about twelve of these:

 

 

Image courtesy of www.magicspoiler.com
In foil, please.

XIAHOU DUN RETURNS!  (Alternate Title – DJ Tries In Vain To Remember Where The Hell We Were With This Thing When We Left Off Last Time…)

Er…start with Reader Mail?

From Tyler:

…”Your list is looking like it’s going to be much more synergistic than mine, which might move it along a little faster. Mine just bludgeoned everyone with a recurred Suffer the Past or two each turn thanks to Mr. Xiahou and his Dawn of the Dead/Corpse Dance/Profane Command. One thing to note on the subject of draw spells: Cantrips can be pretty good! If there are effects you will likely be looking for anyways, running a cantrip with that effect might be worth it. Annihilate for example is an over priced terror with a cantrip. Unless you’re playing against black players only, you’ll never be sad to draw that. Recover is a Raise Dead with a cantrip attached – Urborg Uprising is TWO Raise Deads and a cantrip. If you’re a betting man, Slay could be techy. Tainted Well is your answer to Kor Haven, and it cantrips. Cremate and Headstone nail that Reanimate target, and cantrip….you see where I’m going. This might be a play style thing, but I have many of these cards in my Skullbriar Aggro deck and I like casting them a lot. XD also recurs them all, for the record.”

 

Seems excessively good.  The core goal of the build is based in synergy and card advantage, and I was starting to lean in this direction when we last put in some work here.  To be totally fair, this is way outside of my comfort zone as far as my typical design space goes, but I think this strategy will pay off if I can leverage it well enough.  Good call.

From Zach:

“…I can’t believe no one has mentioned Victimize! With one dude that makes multiple dudes in the ‘yard (Grave Titan is the most obvious, but don’t forget awesome dudes like Sengir Autocrat and Marsh Flitter) and Xiahou Dun, you can loop Victimizes for as long as you have dudes in the yard and the mana. You can even use Entomb to throw Victimize into the ‘yard to get the engine rolling!  On six mana, you can do stuff like sac Reassembling Skeleton to cast Victimize, bringing back Xiahou Dun and Grave Titan, getting two Zombies. Then sac Xiahou Dun to return Victimize, sac-ing a Zombie to cast it again, bringing back Xiahou Dun and the Twisted Abomination you Swamp cycled earlier. Then, of course, you sac Xiahou Dun to bring victimize back to your hand so you can start the cycle over again!

This is just a mild example; it gets really ridiculous if you’ve set up a Grave Pact effect or a man like Harvester of Souls. The card advantage seems way too good to pass up, especially with how easy it is to set up the loop.”

I love this.  Victimize is getting the bump to the top of the list of must-includes.

Man…I’m coming to the decision that I’m a terrible black-base EDH builder.  I’m not sure how I missed this stuff.

TALKING ABOUT REMOVAL

This is a black deck.  Killing is what it should theoretically do best. 

There’s the low-hanging fruit in the mass removal category:

And plenty of spot-removal that can make the list:

We want to work the synergy angle, which means that things dying (or being sacrificed to return a card from the graveyard, as the case my be) becomes important to leverage.

Along those lines, the Morbid mechanic should also be solid:

And speaking of creatures:

Again, choices that bridge the gap between relevant abilities such as Sheoldred (forcing the creature sacrifice and offering graveyard recursion at the same time) will be huge role-players here.

What else fits?  What doesn’t?  The deck is going to need to start to figure out how to win fairly soon here, and while I appreciate that huge beaters with other abilities become the kind of aggressive multi-role players that this deck wants, it still makes me nervous to load up on high casting costs.   

Is it worth it to retain focus on the Drain Life effects in this area?  Creature removal that also can be a win condition and at the same time provide life-gain seems like a really solid way to bolster the top end of Xiahou Dun.  That’s a virtual three-in-one inclusion, but at what cost?  Are there superior options to look at that would preclude these selections?

We can get a little loose here too; is it finally time to bust out Elbrus, the Binding Blade?  Seems like an easy trigger with a general who has horsemanship…

Or I could work on resurrecting my sweet Dark Depths/Aether Snap combo…any takers?

Where are we headed?

Next Up: Looking at the utility options and the “flavor” cards – heading outside of the box to make the deck tick.  And a rough-draft of a decklist. 

Finally.  I know, I know…

àDJ