It’s been a long time since I’ve simply sat down and written a little about some recent games, so today you all get to suffer through enjoy some of my thoughts on a few outstanding deck-building theories I’ve been kicking around.  Also, there’s some bonus coverage regarding a pretty seriously epic play that occurred at the end of the night in a game of EDH Emperor, so hopefully there’s something for everyone today.

LESSON #1 – You can probably get away with shuffling up a pile of draft rejects and still win a fair share of games with Xenagos, God of Revels as your general. 

I’m not sure why I was questioning this at all to begin with.  This card is unbelievably strong.  As in “If the next card I draw has any power and toughness printed on it, it’s probably lethal to someone” strong.

In the StarCityGames article I wrote last week, I took a look at Stonebrow, Krosan Hero.  Among other things, I compared Xenagos with Stonebrow, trying to determine which was superior.  The end result was that it depended on the situation; each had their strengths and weaknesses.

Well, that was a lie.  I said that Xenagos was likely stronger in a vacuum.  This is true.  It’s also true even if that vacuum mistakenly sucked up every EDH-legal card in print at the same time as well.

As threatened in the article, I yanked out Livonya Silone from my tightly crafted Warriors tribal deck and unceremoniously dropped in Xenagos as the new general.  At the last minute, I also pulled out  a few other main-deck warriors and equipment that had gotten much worse without the theme (Hi, Obsidian Battle-Axe!), replacing them with a handful of big beaters chosen by…well, reaching into my box of red and green cards and grabbing a literal handful.

It didn’t take long to see how strong the card actually was.  I dropped it onto the board on turn five.  The following turn, someone took twelve damage from whatever it was that I cast.  Board sweepers were suddenly liabilities for the other players; it virtually guaranteed that I had the pick of victims when I drew any creature the turn after, and that the damage would be not insignificant.

A monstrous Hythonia the Cruel wiped my board.  I played Deus of Calamity and attacked that player with creature Xenagos and Deus for lethal through the giant gorgon.  Didn’t even break a sweat.  Mr. P was in the game, playing Johan, Friend to Walls.  I couldn’t see an angle to get at him, but playing Rage Reflection and then Hydra Omnivore sealed the deal just as well.  A Disaster Radius targeting another player for three cleared things out enough that 30+ damage made it through there to take everyone out with the Hydra trigger.

The card is just dumb, folks.  End of story.

There are three takeaways here:

  1. I finally have a R/G beatdown deck that fits me enough to interest me.  I have a hard time as a player getting excited about grinding incremental card advantage with mid-range beaters equipped with Sword of Fire and Ice.  If I’m swinging into the red zone, I want to send a giant, game-threatening monster in to see what happens.  I want other players to live in fear that my next draw will be a lethal threat.  Xenagos is the right general for the job here.  Once I weed out the rest of the Warriors theme and tune this a bit, it should be scary-good.  If you’re looking for an explosive aggro general for a red-zone deck, look no further.
  2. People need to play more tuck effects.  Being an indestructible enchantment is problematic enough in terms of trying to keep Xenagos out of play.  Add in the fact that he’s a moderately-costed general, and he effectively never goes away.
  3. I’m moderately afraid that Xenagos will fall victim to pretty serious over-saturation.  The sheer power level of the card, coupled with the relative ease of making a R/G deck for a relatively small investment and the excitement of the “God” creature type means that Xenagos may start popping up a lot.  This is the power level that I think many people wanted to see from the gods, and now that it has been delivered, I expect it to catch on like wildfire

 

LESSON #2 – If you get an itch to put together a glass cannon-style deck and stop to wonder at any point if it might possibly be a bad idea, stop what you’re doing and Google “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Sometimes, you latch on to a pet card.  Sometimes, you see a giant hole in the internet where there should be a deck tech and game reports featuring your pet card, and think,  “Man…I’m going to be the first person to break this!”  Sometimes, your pet card causes you to put on blinders to the reality of the situation.

Sometimes, your pet card is Lich

lich

In spite of Imshan’s vitriol towards Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, I decided that I needed an Esper list, and that my mono-blue artifacts deck would be too close to what I would want to build Sydri, Galvanic Genius into.  As a result, I pieced together a fairly aggressive Oloro list that was designed not as a pillowfort or control deck, but an aggro build that eschewed creatures for a ton of life-loss effects.  The idea was that people would not be able to keep up with the massive amount of life that I was gaining while simultaneously punishing them, with the end result being that I could take an absolute beating using the lifegain as an instance of “Target player gains protection from losing.”

This worked very well; the first time out, people left me alone for a bit too long, and by the time they realized I was a threat, Oloro was responsible for draining three people totally out of the game.  The second time out, a relatively long game ended when I played Debt to the Deathless and one-shotted a player with a huge Sanguine Bond trigger.  The rest of the table voted to move on to the next one.

About this time, I was pondering what to do with a foil copy of Ghost Council of Orzhova, and I couldn’t shake the idea of using Lich – not as a card advantage engine, but as a win condition.  I would run Lich plus Soul Conduit or Mirror Universe (or Magus of the Mirror) to instantly wipe a player out of the game.  I thought the idea of having both Soul Conduit and Lich in play would be roughly akin to a nuclear deterrent – come my way, and things will end.

The other avenue that you can take Lich in is utilizing Donate effects to simply give it (or Nefarious Lich for that matter) to someone else, letting them deal with the consequences.  In W/B, I was roughly limited to trying for Avarice Totem shenanigans to pull this off, with the protection of either Platinum Angel or Platinum Emperion to prevent my own demise.

Unfortunately, the best way to do what I wanted would be to actually run Donate.  Blue also opens the door to (terrible things like) Puca’s Mischief as well, so I could double up on effects.  The clarion call was too loud to ignore, so I did the totally logical thing – pull all the creatures out of Oloro, and toss in the Lich suite.

You can see where this is going.

I went all-in on this theme, aiming for raw power over things like ”counterspells to protect the combo”, “recursion in case of losing things to discard or removal” and “all that lifegain that was removed to make room for the combo that was previously the reason the deck lasted long enough to win.”  Swing for the fences, right?  Really, the worst thing that could happen was that someone catches me with a lucky Mind Funeral, or a Disenchant effect in response to Soul Conduit activation.

As it played out, the game got going fairly quickly, with the U/B mill player catching me with a lucky Mind Funeral to force me to discard both Donate and Nefarious Lich.  I was able to find my copy of Lich, and hid behind Solitary Confinement and Phyrexian Arena long enough to drop Soul Conduit.

In response to the activation, Mr. P targeted Lich with Return to Dust.

(Related thought…how the hell did Murphy manage to live long enough to get a Law named after him, anyway?)

So, the takeaways:

  • I’d say the biggie is that taking a successful deck, pulling out some critical components, and shoe-horning in an incredibly risky combo package to the detriment of the deck doing anything else at all is not really a good idea.  This one probably should be moved back to “on the workbench” status.
  • Er…yeah.  I’ve really got nothing else here.

 

BONUS COVERAGE: Melek-splosion!  (Melek-geddon?  Melek-nanza?  Ah, whatever…)

The evening concluded with a six-man EDH Emperor session.  It was late to begin with, so when someone requested a no-holds barred game, I reached for Melek, Izzet Paragon.

I was seated to the right of Mr. P (with Asa on his other side), and as such I was immediately subjected to a brutal beating by the deck next to me, a fairly strong white-based aggro build.  Without the help of Mr.P’s Opposition, I would have been knocked out of the game in a hurry.  An opportunity arose to hook up Asa, piloting his mono-green Yeva, Nature’s Herald deck, with a Reiterated Turnabout to generate him about 25 mana on turn seven or so for a huge Genesis Wave.

Unfortunately, Asa’s Wave went full-on real-estate agent, shipping him about 12 lands and no solid creatures, and we were stuck roughly where we began – applying pressure (Asa was getting in for decent damage on his side), but being threatened with damage breaking through on my side.  Mr. P had captured a monstrous Colossus of Akros from the opposing team and fortified it down to me, but the following turn saw a Sheoldred, Whispering One hit play, and I was once again forced to stare down an opponent with nothing to block his creatures with.

Thankfully, the next top-deck was a Mystical Tutor, and I hatched a plan.  We passed, and Opposition staunched some of the bleeding of the next attack, which dropped me to 15.  At the end step, I tutored up High Tide.

I untapped, played High Tide, and then had Asa fire off the copy of Praetor’s Counsel in his hand, which I promptly SpellJack-ed.  I played the Counsel, grabbing back my entire graveyard; this let me re-play and Reiterate High Tide and Turnabout, netting me enough mana to play Epic Experiment with X=24, and still have the mana to copy it once with Increasing Vengeance for a grand total of 48 cards off the top of my deck.  I revealed a bunch of copy effects, targeted draw spells, and Cerebral Vortex, Sudden Impact, and Runeflare Trap.  We gave up on the math of how much actual damage the opposing emperor would take.

 

-Cass
@GDCCommander