A Second Gift From The Other Side Of The Ocean

A Gifts Ungiven deck that uses Goblin Charbelcher and Mana Severance, but completely removes Goblin Welders from the deck? Can that possibly be good? Our favorite Frenchie Vintage writer thinks so, and there’s a good chance that you’ll see more than a few people running it at the Vintage Megaevent in Paris this weekend!

Part I – Introduction.

Back in January 2005, Carsten Kötter posted an article on StarCityGames about a new deck we had been discussing a lot. This deck was the first one officially released running the new hot card from Champions of Kamigawa, Gifts Ungiven. In that article, Carsten introduced two decklists, both heavily based around Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. The first one was packing a Goblin Charbelcher combo kill (with Mana Severance), and the second one was all about getting a fat 11/11 Indestructible body on the board. Meanwhile, I was working on an other Mana Drain and Gifts Ungiven based “Combo” deck packing an Auriok Salvagers finish, to guarantee a kill in a single turn after resolving Gifts Ungiven, through a heavily Stormed Brain Freeze. Nevertheless, both decks stayed under the radar in North America until April, and no one seemed to have any interest for the concept, despite multiple Top 8 appearances (and a couple of tournament wins) in Europe.

The concept we originally explored was the Goblin Charbelcher and Mana Severance combo finish. This deck was mostly focused on tutoring singletons with Mana Drained powered Gifts Ungiven, and winning through a Recoup-ed Tinker or Yawgmoth’s Will.

Part II – The Decklist.

I have already mentioned the Gifted Charbelcher build in an article published on StarCityGames introducing Gifted Salvagers. The build listed in the article was designed in November 2004, which is a month after the release of Champions of Kamigawa. This build, developed with our beloved Stefan Iwasienko (a.k.a. Womprax on TheManaDrain), had a couple of design flaws and got rejected. Back then, the deck was running Goblin Welders (just 3 of them maindeck with the last one in the sideboard, but still), and the biggest step taken in the design of “Gifted.fr” (the Germans name their deck “Gifted”) was to completely cut the Goblin Welders, even from the sideboard.

This radical change in the deckbuilding strategy was one of the best things that happened to the deck. On its own, Goblin Welder is pretty useless, and you need to modify your build to work efficiently with that tiny red creature. Some logical inclusions to the build are, for example, Mindslaver and Pentavus, allowing a pseudo infinite Mindslaver recursion with a single Goblin Welder out. Nevertheless, this attractive strategy turned out to be a flawed one. Indeed, you often to turn the deck into a weaker Drain Slaver variant, because Intuition (If used) tends to do the very same thing, while being cheaper and more versatile (you can grab 3 Deep Analysis or 4 Accumulated Knowledge). Furthermore, having Goblin Welders in the deck often makes you do fancy things instead of just, well, winning. The deck wins if it manages to resolve Gifts Ungiven, Goblin Welder or no. One of the funniest things we found in testing was that the Welders were a huge liability for the mirror match. Cutting Goblin Welders from the deck means that you can focus your build on its single objective: winning. I mean, running Pentavus as a fatty Tinker target is pretty cool, but how is that better than Tinkering up a Darksteel Colossus when multiple Time Walks ensue?

Here is the build I played in Paris in April 2005 to a Top 8 finish, with a tight 2-1 loss to Carsten and his own Gifted build in the quarterfinals. The sideboard listed is not the one used during the tournament, because it was rather terrible overall due to a lack of time for playtesting different matchups that I thought were – theoretically – bad, but turned out later to be pretty good in actual tournament conditions (U/R Fish, for example).

Part III – A Quick Card-by-Card Analysis.

The concept of the deck is rather obvious and has already been discussed a lot on different boards or articles. Nevertheless, there are some cards that are still worth analysing on their own.

And the secret word of the day is: Snow-Covered.

III.1. Snow-Covered Island

This is some kind of Tainted Pact tweak. Snow-Covered Islands are basic Islands, with a different name, and using cards with different names that do the very same thing is exactly what a deck running Gifts Ungiven should be doing. Hence, running 2 Snow-Covered Islands and 2 Islands over 4 Islands is the right thing for the deck. Most of you might think this is just a minor tweak, but it is actually not. If you are facing Back to Basics, being able to Gifts Ungiven for Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand, Island and Snow-Covered Island is strong.

III.2. Burning Wish

Burning Wish was already included in the Germans’ original builds. Burning Wish is the most versatile card in the deck. Most of the time, when you draw it in early game before you resolved a Gifts Ungiven, you’ll grab a sorcery in your sideboard, usually Duress, Cranial Extraction or Mind Twist against Control or Pyroclasm against Aggro. After the first Gifts Ungiven, Burning Wish becomes a power tool. Indeed, you will be able to Time Walk, Recoup the Time Walk, Burning Wish for the Removed from the Game Time Walk, and still get to Time Walk out of the Yawgmoth’s Will if needed, for example. You also have an awesome synergy with Skeletal Scrying (see above). As a side note, running Burning Wish maindeck does not mean you have to run a bastardized Burning Wish sideboard. Most of the time, you’ll grab Time Walk with it anyway. Running a minimum amount of sorceries in the sideboard can definitely be done. For example, in the sideboard listed above, there is a single card that is included for Burning Wish issues only, Cranial Extraction. All the others are versatile cards that tend to be sideboarded in a lot (the fourth Duress, Mind Twist, Chainer’s Edict) that double as utility game 1.

III.3. Skeletal Scrying

Running a lone Skeletal Scrying allows you to grab 4 draw spells with Gifts Ungiven in Control mirrors, which is a strong play. Nevertheless, there is a far more subtle – and far more powerful – reason to play Skeletal Scrying there: Burning Wish. You might sometimes find yourself being unable to make an efficient use of Recoup for a Gifts Ungiven setup (if you already used the flashback, for example). In that situation, one of best Gifts Ungiven setup you can make is Skeletal Scrying + Burning Wish + Tinker + Yawgmoth’s Will. If your opponent is not dumb, you’ll get Skeletal Scrying and Burning Wish in hand, and Skeletal Scrying turns Burning Wish into a Red Demonic Tutor for Yawgmoth’s Will while drawing a couple of cards in the process. Running 2 Skeletal Scrying and 2 Thirst for Knowledge balances your card draw a bit more and allows you to be more aggressive with your Moxen and Phyrexian Furnace. It just makes the deck a little bit slower in early game (mostly due to graveyard issues), but strengthens it in mid and late game due to the higher raw draw power of Skeletal Scrying. This is a pure metagame call.

III.4. Phyrexian Furnace

The three Phyrexian Furnace are pure metagame slots, and can be swapped with stuff like Aether Spellbomb (Oath and Dragon metagame), Pyrite Spellbomb (Goblin Welder and Xantid Swarm) or Engineered Explosives if needed. Phyrexian Furnace is by far the best choice considering the current metagame though. These have multiple use in the deck, aside from the obvious graveyard hate effects. They provide additional food for Thirst for Knowledge and Tinker, and stabilize the mana base in early game (statistically, the 3 Phyrexian Furnace act as a 26th mana source, which makes the mana base close to Carsten’s one). You also have a cute synergy with Gifts Ungiven and Burning Wish if needed. There are only a few matchups where Phyrexian Furnace is a true dead card, which is against Combo. Against Drain Slaver, keep them on the board until you need to get rid of a Mindslaver. Against Dragon, grab the Squees – otherwise an active Bazaar of Baghdad will kill you – and don’t make the mistake to wait for the Worldgorger Dragons. Against 4CC, an active Phyrexian Furnace will negate their entire draw engine, so keep them on the board. Against Psychatog, you’ll never manage to prevent a Psychatog from becoming lethal, so just keep a Furnace out until they try to cast Accumulated Knowledge for 3 or until you can grab a Deep Analysis. It’s pretty similar against Oath. Against SSB, wait for the Recoup.

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III.5. Darksteel Colossus

Darksteel Colossus looks like a liability in a metagame infested with Goblin Welders. Nevertheless, It’s really not. If we forget about Goblin Welder for a while, Darksteel Colossus is clearly the most efficient creature to Tinker out. Contrary to stuff like Memnarch or Pentavus, Darksteel Colossus has built-in protection against a lot of removal spells that usually hit artifacts, such as Shattering Pulse, Disenchant or Rack and Ruin. You also don’t need to invest a lot of mana to make it viable. A 11/11 Trampling body is self-sufficient. Furthermore, It allows a strong Combo finish with Gifts Ungiven (see above) that no other creature can provide.

Now, Goblin Welder. If Goblin Welder hits, you have two solutions. The first one, if you have time, is to setup the standard Goblin Charbelcher kill, which makes Goblin Welder totally irrelevant since killing the opponent is better than using Goblin Welder. If you are quite in a hurry, you can still go for the Darksteel Colossus combo finish, as long as you have a lone Phyrexian Furnace out to remove the artifact Goblin Welder is trying to bring back into play. Since that Goblin Welder is never going to untap after that thanks to the double Time Walk effect, a single Phyrexian Furnace is enough. You can also Tinker under Yawgmoth’s Will, to make sure you really have no artifact in your graveyard.

Part IV – General deck tweaking advice.

If you feel like tweaking this build, here are some advice that will probably be helpful.

IV.1. Play Gifts Ungiven

If you are designing your deck as a Gifts Ungiven deck, there is no real good reason not to run at least 3 Gifts Ungiven. The deck usually sets up the win the turn it casts Gifts Ungiven. Since you are running the cheap (through Tinker) and efficient Darksteel Colossus, you don’t need tons of mana sources on the board to win the game. If you are able to Gifts Ungiven for Tinker + Recoup + Yawgmoth’s Will + Time Walk, a set up that will probably give you Time Walk and Recoup in hand, you can simply cast Time Walk and Recoup the Tinker with seven mana, and win by Recouping the Time Walk for a second lethal Colossus swing. You can also ramp up your mana with the lone Time Walk, and Recoup Yawgmoth’s Will on your Walk turn, if you are quite short on mana. So far, in two tournaments with the deck, I’ve just lost one game where I got to resolve Gifts Ungiven, and that was in the mirror when Carsten got to resolve his own Gifts Ungiven too. When the deck is designed around it, Gifts Ungiven is far more potent than Fact or Fiction, even in Control mirrors. Indeed, Fact or Fiction will statistically give you 2.5 “random” cards while Gifts Ungiven will always give you at best a cheap Yawgmoth’s Will with built-in set up, and at “worse” 2 draw spells.

IV.2. Optimize your deck for Gifts Ungiven

I have seen people playing Gifts Ungiven based decks with 4 Polluted Delta maindeck or 3 Red Elemental Blast sideboard. According to what Gifts Ungiven does, this is a deckbuilding nonsense. Even if some tweaks may look pretty minor, they are all worth it. We have won games in playtesting or tournaments where these minor tweaks were involved. The fundamental concept of this optimization is to find close equivalents for business cards you are running in multiple copies. You have no excuse for running 4 Polluted Delta over 2 and 2 Flooded Strand, or 2 Red Elemental Blast over 1 and 1 Pyroblast, for example. This deckbuilding constraint also makes you play multiple 1-ofs in your sideboards. Flashback cards are pretty good with Gifts Ungiven. Lava Dart is quite an obvious inclusion in a metagame where Goblin Welder is rampant, and Coffin Purge will be a good tool against Dragon, Cerebral Assassin or Madness, as a Phyrexian Furnace backup plan. Surprisingly, Deep Analysis is rather poor there, since you never want to Gifts Ungiven for it unless you have Thirst for Knowledge in hand (and even then, it’s really clunky). Putting huge sorcery-speed Mana Drain target into your hand is definitely not the best thing you can do with Gifts Ungiven.

IV.3. Do not add Goblin Welders to this build

Goblin Welder looks like a nice card in the deck. Indeed, Gifts Ungiven is an easy way to dump fat in your graveyard, often acting as a double Entomb for stuff like Pentavus or Mindslaver. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental flaw in this strategy. You are not running a Goblin Welder deck (such as Drain Slaver), you are running a Gifts Ungiven deck When you are allowed to resolve Gifts Ungiven, you should always aim at a fast kill, going straight to the throat. Gifting for Mindslaver and Pentavus to set up a