A Casual Deck Built Before Your Eyes

Today, I am going to do something I am rather loathe to do. I am going to build a casual deck for multiplayer in public view. There are three reasons, which serve as quasi-disclaimers, why I usually do not do this: 1) My group will read this article and begin an immediate metagame against it,…

Today, I am going to do something I am rather loathe to do. I am going to build a casual deck for multiplayer in public view. There are three reasons, which serve as quasi-disclaimers, why I usually do not do this:

1) My group will read this article and begin an immediate metagame against it, since it’s a spin-off of a long-gone but much hated deck. No surprise value for Anthony!
2) Deck lists can be boring. I love my columnist brethren, all of whom are more experienced in tournament environments than me and have many interesting things to talk about… decklists NOT being among them. I usually prefer to give 4-6 key cards and let my readers imagine the rest.
3) My group is different from yours. You would probably build this deck differently. It’s OK, you can write and tell me that. I’m always interested in hearing other creative ideas out there.

So, if I have such a problem with decklists, why do a complete one now? Hey, man, I don’t have to answer to you. But if I did, I’d tell you that I like to try anything once, and most of my readers email me with decklists and questions about them, so I figure there’s a demand out there to see this sort of thing. There’s less humor in this offering than there often will be; I promise to be funnier next week.

DECK DECISION #1. This deck is going to start with one of my favorite cards: Grave Pact (1BBB, enchantment, "whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard, each other player sacrifices a creature"). It will be mono-black.

EXPLANATION: Grave Pact has been a thorn in our group’s side for a long time. Like many groups, funky creature decks rule, with the occasional enchantment-heavy deck thrown in as well. Creatureless/artifact-based decks are relatively rare. What’s more, the creatures are often the type you’d expect in multiplayer: Multani, untappers like Serra’s Angel, untargetables, etc. Therefore, Grave Pact will be effective, and will have a good chance at taking down some big game. The choice of this card pretty much dictates mono-black; splashing in a deck with a key card using three of one color mana is inadvisable unless you have access to plenty of dual lands.

DECK DECISION #2: All creatures (target number 15-20) will be sacrifice-able or easily destroyed, on their own.

EXPLANATION: Grave Pact will be a proactive strategy; we will seek to "break" it and use it as the primary method of board control. For this to happen, I have to put control of when I lose my creatures in my own hands. The best minions for the task: Bottle Gnomes, combining strong defensive capabilities with critical life gain; Ticking Gnomes, which provide offense, defense, and damage; Skittering Skirges, which are the likely path to victory for at least half of your kills; and Serrated Biskelion, which will provide targeted, colorless removal for small annoying pro-black creatures that tend to cluster with other creatures, and so avoid Grave Pact (e.g., Mother of Runes). In addition, Hornet Cannon provides a soft creature lock with Grave Pact, and it counts roughly as a recurring creature. (Some might go with Breeding Pit here. I don’t have anything against the card, other than it’s nicer to have an artifact creature, one that flies, and one that will automatically trigger Grave Pact with little or no effort.)

DECK DECISION #3: Duress and Contamination will serve as the primary non-creature control mechanisms.

EXPLANATION: Black has taken a small vacation across most of my group. It is splashed into a couple of dominant decks, but now is a good time to bring back Contamination and make a few players miserable. Contamination will lock out, if they aren’t played immediately, the two killers of this deck: Counterspell and Disenchant (and their variants). The alternate casting cost material will get through, of course: Duress will help with that. In addition, one Nevinyrral’s Disk should probably be put in for extreme situations.

In the original version of this deck, I had Phyrexian Tribute, a little-known Mirage sorcery for 2B that forces you to sacrifice two creatures, and then allows you to destroy target artifact. I gave that a miss this time because I think the other cards are more effective, even though it was funny once in a while to make the Tribute work to extra advantage: as long as Grave Pact is out, for three mana, wax two of EVERY opponents’ creatures and get rid of an artifact as well.

DECK DECISION #4: Claws of Gix needs to be in as a key situational card.

EXPLANATION: There are three reasons why Claws of Gix works well in the deck, and in this group. First, red damage decks are not unheard of among us, at least as splash, and a bit of lifegain beyond the Gnomes can’t hurt. Second, some of the creatures are even easier to sacrifice with Claws out, which makes the control element easier to work. Third, Scour on the Grave Pact absolutely wrecks this deck. Sacking the targeted Pact and fizzling the spell is far preferable to getting all four of the deck’s engine removed for good.

I’ll tell ya, I started this column hoping I would be able to put in one or two Masques cards, so that the deck would reflect the most recent resources possible. Unfortunately, Masques is generally recognized as a limited set for good reason: there are few cards that would work well here. Molting Harpies come closest to a good card for this deck, but it’s hard to think of a creature already in the deck that you’d shift out. (Certainly NOT the Skirges.) Some of the later Urza’s cycle creatures (like Phyrexian Plaguelord) are quite good, but perhaps overkill. Fifteen sackable creatures with two Unearths and a few Hornet Cannons really ought to be enough to keep opponents’ creatures down, with Grave Pact out. Maybe a Phyrexian Negator or two would be nice…

By the same token, I don’t see much in Nemesis that I’ll be including here, with some potential exceptions:

Death Pit Offering, Enchantment, Rare
When Death Pit Offering comes into play, sacrifice all creatures you control.
Creatures you control get +2/+2.
"Kill them all and feed them to the new recruits."
Illus. Pete Venters (56/143)

Mind Slash, Enchantment, Uncommon
B, Sacrifice a creature: Look at target opponent’s hand and choose a card from it. That player discards that card. Play this ability only if you could play a sorcery.
"I can’t think with all that screaming."
Illus. Adam Rex (59/143)

Eye of Yawgmoth, Artifact, Rare
3, Sacrifice a creature: Reveal cards from the top of your library equal to the sacrificed creature’s power. Put one into your hand and remove the rest from the game.
Illus. DiTerlizzi (129/143)

Massacre wouldn’t suck, either. Maybe some of the fading black creatures would work, but none of them appear to do what the existing creatures can do. The lack of newer cards that fit this deck is why I’m exploring Grave Pact, an older Stronghold card, now — in later columns, I expect we’ll be able to explore newer cards that might have more synergy with the Masques block.


4 Bottle Gnomes
3 Hornet Cannon
2 Serrated Biskelion
2 Ticking Gnomes
4 Skittering Skirge

4 Grave Pact
3 Claws of Gix
4 Dark Ritual
2 Unearth
3 Contamination
4 Duress
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Nev’s Disk

1 Phyrexian Tower
19 Swamps

Mana curve check, barring use of Dark Ritual:
TURN ONE: Dark Ritual, Unearth (unlikely), Claws of Gix, Duress (thirteen cards)
TURN TWO: Skittering Skirge, Demonic Tutor (five cards)
TURN THREE: Bottle Gnomes, Ticking Gnomes, Serrated Biskelion, Contamination (fourteen cards)
TURN FOUR: Grave Pact, Hornet Cannon, Nev’s Disk (eight cards)

Only five in the two-slot is less of a problem given Dark Ritual, and the fact that the Unearths can be cycled at two mana.

Let’s take a look at how it should play out, shall we?

Ideal opening hand: 2 Swamps, Duress, Demonic Tutor, Bottle Gnomes, Grave Pact (Another one would be 2 Swamps, Dark Ritual, Claws of Gix, Demonic Tutor, Contamination, Hornet Cannon; but we’ll stick with the first for now).

Turn one: Play the swamp and Duress whoever plays white the most. Scour, Disenchant, Purify, and Presence of the Master are your targets. If you pull more than one Duress, go after the green mage next and get rid of Tranquility, Emerald Charm, or Multani’s Decree. Don’t go after the white mage late game if your Grave Pact is already out: that Pact is already gone. Third choice for Duress: the black mage with Drain Life, Subversion, or Corrupt.

Turn two: Play a Skirge if you have one, unless Demonic Tutor is in your hand. If you’re low on creature cards in your hand, go ahead and cycle an Unearth at the end of your last opponent’s turn.

Turn three: Contamination should wait, unless you have a Hornet Cannon in your hand, a creature on the board, and are certain of a fourth land drop next turn. Better plays are any of the creatures, or extending out with Dark Ritual to get a Grave Pact or even a Cannon on the board.

Turn four: If you’ve played this deck before, by now every one of your opponents playing a deck with creatures is thinking about how to get you out of the game. Hold the Nev’s Disk back until you are relatively certain it won’t be countered, and preferably until you really need it. If you don’t have a Pact, Cannon, or Demonic Tutor, it is perfectly acceptable to churn out as many creatures as you have and beat on your perceived largest threat.

Turn five: You want the Pact out by now. Force a Counterspell with Duress if necessary, and get your plan moving.

Turns six through ten: There’s still no overriding need to play Contamination yet: that’s why there are only two in the deck. It’s better to lock out the creatures, prick at the more aggressive players, and build your life total with sacking Hornets to the Claws of Gix. (Again, make sure you do this at the end of your last opponent’s turn, or in defense during combat.)

Turns ten through fifteen: Put the kibosh on at least one of your opponents, or lock the game with Contamination. Your perfect mid-to-late game turn goes something like this: you have a Bottle Gnomes and Skittering Skirge in play, along with a Grave Pact (or two), a Hornet Cannon or two, Claws of Gix, and Contamination. Very few opponents have more than one or two creatures on the board. At the end of your last opponent’s turn, if you can, make and sack a hornet to gain a life. (Everyone else loses a creature.)

At the beginning of your turn, sack another Hornet to Contamination. (You can see why having TWO Cannons out would be just horrific for everyone.) There shouldn’t be any other creatures, besides your own, left. Attack any black mage standing – they are the only ones who can operate, absent artifact mana. Go ahead and play another creature if you can; but try to keep three mana ready for the Cannon if you need it.

Your targets, once the soft lock is established: the black mage, anyone with artifact mana, the white mage, the blue mage, the red mage, and the green mage (unless s/he has Aluren, in which case this would be target #1!).

Of course, by posting this decklist I’m welcoming everyone to try it out in their own groups. It’s not horrifically rare-packed, but if you need to substitute:

* you can run 1-2 less Grave Pacts and put in either Bone Shredder (recall Unearth) or Diabolic Edict.
* you can run Breeding Pits instead of Hornet Cannons.
* you can run Scroll Rack, Howling Mine, or Vampiric Tutor instead of Demonic Tutor. (OK, that’s a cruel trick; all three substitutes are rare, too; but maybe you happen to have them…deck-searching black/artifact cards are just, well, rare.)
* you can run extra targeted discard (Unmask, Coercion, etc.) instead of Contamination or Nev’s Disk.

COMING SOON: More humor, yes, I promise. I would also like to open the lines a bit more and welcome questions from readers who have certain group dynamics, metagames, etc. that they’re having difficulty with. Anything from "I can’t get players to stay in my group!" to "Everyone’s playing mono-red…how do I get us out of this rut?" is game. Try to keep it relevant to group play. I’ll post up the more interesting and BRIEF letters in the column, with my suggested answers, every once in a while.

Happy playing,
Anthony Alongi
[email protected]