Part I – Introduction.
Back in January 2005, Carsten KÃ¶tter 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).
- 4 Brainstorm
- 4 Mana Drain
- 1 Mystical Tutor
- 1 Yawgmoth's Will
- 3 Duress
- 4 Force of Will
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Time Walk
- 1 Ancestral Recall
- 1 Mana Crypt
- 1 Mana Severance
- 3 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Skeletal Scrying
- 1 Burning Wish
- 3 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Goblin Charbelcher
- 3 Phyrexian Furnace
- 1 Tinker
- 1 Black Lotus
- 1 Recoup
- 1 Mox Emerald
- 1 Mox Jet
- 1 Mox Pearl
- 1 Mox Ruby
- 1 Mox Sapphire
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.
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.
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 Mindslaver recursion with Goblin Welder on the board is fine, but Gifting for Tinker, Recoup, Time Walk and Yawgmoth’s Will will simply win the game on its own. And winning is better than recurring a Mindslaver.
Sometimes, your opponents will also expect you to run Goblin Welders even if you don’t, (mostly because of the recent success of Shortbus’s SSB builds running 2 or 3 Welders). This happened to me in tournament conditions. I had people sideboarding Lava Darts or Blue Elemental Blasts against me, and they obviously tend to do nothing to the deck, generating card advantage and strategical advantage. This advantage will obviously be negated when people start playing Gifts without Welders.
IV.4. Be aggressive
Playing conservatively is pretty nice, keeping UU open all the time is safe, but winning is often much better. You should try to win the game as soon as you have an opportunity. Remember, Darksteel Colossus is lethal in two swings (which tend to be made in a row thanks to Time Walk), and Goblin Charbelcher is quite a good clock that can be hardcast (this tends to happen a lot in Control mirrors or against Aggro decks). If this implies tapping out, just do it, unless you are playing against some kind of combo deck or a Control deck that can insanely abuse Mana Drain, obviously. Lots of our opponents found the fact that we were casting main phase Thirst for Knowledge or Gifts Ungiven weird, but that’s often what the deck wants you to do. As usual, simply winning is better than doing fancy things.
Part V – What do you usually Gifts Ungiven for?
V.1. The classic game winning setup.
Gifts Ungiven for Time Walk, Recoup, Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. This is the standard setup against Aggro decks or Combo decks, when you need to win fast and are not afraid of Mana Drains and Force of Wills wrecking your game plan. Opponents tend to put Yawgmoth’s Will and Tinker in your graveyard, which guarantees a kill the turn you untap if you reached the fundamental seven-mana threshold (Time Walk, Recoup targeting Tinker, Tinker for Colossus, untap, hit for 11, flashback Recoup targeting Time Walk, flashback Time Walk, untap, hit for 11). If you have less mana available, you can still Time Walk once, getting an additional mana source, and then Recoup Yawgmoth’s Will for insane stuff that will probably give you Burning Wish or a tutor for it, allowing you to do the second lethal strike by grabbing your RFG Time Walk. Getting Darksteel Colossus out is the fastest and cheapest win condition for the deck.
V.2. The “Recoup is already in the graveyard” setup.
Gifts Ungiven for Tinker, Yawgmoth’s Will, Skeletal Scrying and Burning Wish. This setup is used when you are too low on mana to afford flashing back Recoup for the Yawgmoth’s Will turn. Opponents tend to put Skeletal Scrying and Burning Wish in your hand, which means casting Skeletal Scrying for a couple of cards while removing Yawgmoth’s Will from the game turns Burning Wish into a cheap Demonic Tutor for Will. Or Tinker, if needed. Note that you still get to use Recoup’s flashback afterwards. Tinkering for Darksteel Colossus usually ensues.
V.3. The “I have Yawgmoth’s Will or a tutor in hand” setup.
This setup tends to be dependent on what you already have in your graveyard, since Gifts Ungiven will usually feed your Yawgmoth’s Will. Just grab Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Tinker if any of these are already in your graveyard, and fill in the gaps with Black Lotus and Tolarian Academy, for the boost off the Yawgmoth’s Will. Getting Burning Wish also allows the Yawgmoth’s Will, Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, Time Walk, untap, swing for 11, Burning Wish Time Walk (do this under Yawgmoth’s Will if Burning Wish went to the graveyard), untap, swing for 11 “combo”. If you are facing a Control deck with a full graveyard already, just grab Duress, Force of Will, Mana Drain and something else (usually a fast mana source).
V.4. The “I’m resolving an early Gifts Ungiven in Control mirror” setup.
In Control mirrors, resolving a fast Yawgmoth’s Will or Tinker is not really what you aim at. Gifts Ungiven will usually grab a full set of draw spells, that is Ancestral Recall, Skeletal Scrying, Gifts Ungiven and Thirst for Knowledge or Burning Wish (depending on your hand). This setup will put you far ahead in terms of potential card advantage. The opponent will usually put Ancestral Recall and Gifts Ungiven in your graveyard (Gifts Ungiven chains are devastating), leaving you with Skeletal Scrying and Burning Wish / Thirst for Knowledge. Burning Wish will go for Mind Twist or Cranial Extraction, depending on the matchup. Duress is also a decent Burning Wish target.
V.5. The “Darksteel Colossus is bad in this matchup” setup.
If you are facing multiple untapped Goblin Welder with no Phyrexian Furnace out or multiple Maze of Ith and hence can’t setup a fast Darksteel Colossus kill, you’ll have to go for Goblin Charbelcher. This setup will usually depend on the amount of mana you have on the board, the amount of Phyrexian Furnace you have in play and the tutors you have in your graveyard. Pretty often, you’ll grab Tinker, Yawgmoth’s Will, Recoup and Mana Severance, getting Recoup and Mana Severance in hand. Just Recoup Yawgmoth’s Will, replay all artifacts from your graveyard and Tinker for Goblin Charbelcher. You’ll have to pass the turn by doing so, unless you 13 mana, which is not that hard thanks to Tolarian Academy. If you have Time Walk in the graveyard, you can spread the combo kill over two turns for a 9 mana initial investment (Recoup, Yawgmoth’s Will, Time Walk, Mana Severance, and flashback Recoup for Tinker during your additional turn).
Discussing the Gifts Ungiven setups can actually be endless, since there are a lot of combinations, all depending on your hand, graveyard and board position. Most of the time, going for the kill is the proper plan, since winning is better than doing fancy things. Nevertheless, sometimes you will find yourself simply setting up Yawgmoth’s Will by filling your graveyard or grabbing countermagic, or even just getting more lands to extend your mana base.
Part VI – A brief matchup analysis.
VI.1. Drain Slaver
You are running maindeck answers to Goblin Welders in the form of Phyrexian Furnace (which are also useful on their own against the Intuition builds), tend to run more draw than they do and have Duress. Your only goal in this matchup is to slow down the game in order to go to late game without being Slaved. At this point, Gifts Ungiven will give you a strong superiority over them. Darksteel Colossus is just decent in this matchup, but Goblin Charbelcher is pretty strong even without Mana Severance at killing Goblin Welders and even Platinum Angel. Post board, you have access to the fourth Duress, a second Boseiju, Lava Dart, Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast, along with Gorilla Shaman if you run one. I would advise against bringing in Coffin Purge because of the Phyrexian Furnace. If you need room, cutting Darksteel Colossus can be done. If you are expecting lots of Drain Slaver in your metagame, having a lone Mindslaver in the sideboard to Tinker for and abuse their own Welders is solid.
VI.2. Oath of Druids
Sometimes, Oath will drop a first or second turn Oath with Force of Will backup and there is little to nothing you can do about that, aside from hoping to race them with Goblin Charbelcher. Nevertheless, you have a solid edge on them as long as you manage to get into mid game. Oath’s draw engine is rather weak when compared to yours (either they are running Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge, or Thirst for Knowledge), and they don’t run the most broken cards ever – Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will. Post sideboard, bring in Red Elemental Blast, Pyroblast, the fourth Duress and Engineered Explosives. Chainer’s Edict is rather bad against them. If they are running the more controlish Chalice Oath, Mind Twist and Cranial Extraction go in too.
TPS is another deck that made room for Gifts Ungiven. Nevertheless, you are making a far more broken abuse of this card. This matchup is a typical TPS vs. Control matchup. TPS will usually try to go off by turn 3 or 4, with Duress or Force of Will backup. During the first few turns of the game, you should focus on building your mana base, casting Duress if possible. The matchup is better for you than It is for Drain Slaver, for example, thanks to the maindeck Duress, but TPS can pull wins from nowhere. If you have the window for the kill, just use It and try to go straight to the throat. Post board, cut the useless Phyrexian Furnace for the fourth Duress, Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast.
Trinisphere’s restriction is probably the best thing that happened to this deck. A first turn Trinisphere was devastating considering the amount of mana you need to operate. Now Trinisphere is gone, the matchup is dependent on the build they are running. If they are using a “standard” Stax build, with a lock mainly based on artifacts, the matchup is quite favourable. Sphere of Resistance is annoying, but will still allow you to cast your Moxen and mana acceleration. The Uba Mask builds are even more favourable, due to Gifts Ungiven and Burning Wish. On the other hand, the recent Stax builds, with multiple painful enchantments such as Chains of Mephistopheles and Choke, are actually quite a nightmare for you. Should one of their key enchantments resolve, and you have likely lost the game. Post board, bring in Lava Dart (for the artifact-heavy builds only), Rack and Ruin and Engineered Explosives (as your only way to blow enchantments). If you are on the play, the fourth Duress should come in. Otherwise, sideboarding out a couple of Duress is doable.
VI.5. The Mirror Match
Mirror matches are really tricky. These games tend to last really long, making Goblin Charbelcher a good weapon since you can hardcast it pretty easily by turn 3 or 4 (just tap out if needed if you have Duress or Force of Will backup) and start pinging the opponent afterwards for a couple of damage each turn. Cranial Extraction is a strong card in this matchup, and you should almost always be naming Gifts Ungiven. Post sideboard, bring in Mind Twist, Cranial Extraction, the fourth Duress, Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast. While this may sound counterintuitive, Phyrexian Furnace (or any form of graveyard removal) is rather weak against this deck, so sideboarding them out is not a problem. Gorilla Shaman is also a strong weapon if you can make room for it.
VI.6. Null Rod Aggro or Aggro-Control
When we started working on the deck in November, we thought that some kind of Red/Green Aggro-Controlish deck with 4 Root Maze, 4 Null Rod, 4 Wastelands and 4 Gorilla Shaman would randomly destroy us. Surprisingly, it turns out to be the opposite. Most of the time, all their mana denial is not enough for their creatures to kill you before you get to find Tinker. And once you find Tinker, they have little to nothing to prevent you from getting a 11/11 Trampler into play, making Red/Green hate a pretty good matchup. The Aggro-Control build I have the biggest troubles beating is some kind of U/W/r Fish variant, with Forces of Will, Aether Vials, Meddling Mage, Gorilla Shamans and Rootwater Thieves. Gorilla Shamans, Meddling Mages and Wastelands usually slow you down enough for Rootwater Thief to come online, often in an uncounterable way thanks to Aether Vial. If a Thief hits, you have two turns left to either find Tinker, Burning Wish or Goblin Charbelcher, or you can enter into scoop mode with 0 win conditions left in the deck. A fast Tinker backed up with Duress is the best thing that can happen for this matchup. Post sideboard, bring in Pyroblast and Red Elemental Blast, possibly Lava Dart. Bringing in Gorilla Shaman is a good call, because Aether Vial is a real pain. Be careful of Vialed-out Gilded Drakes. If you are expecting a lot of Null Rod decks, running Vampiric Tutor in the sideboard is a possibility (it gives you another direct way to find Tinker).
The maindeck Phyrexian Furnace are strong against Dragon, preventing Squee, Goblin Nabab and Bazaar of Baghdad crazyness, but a good Dragon player will often know how to play around. Racing an active Bazaar is impossible without Wastelands, so taking your time is not a good game plan. You should focus on winning as soon as possible there, often without going for Yawgmoth’s Will. Post sideboard, the matchup becomes a bit better thanks to Blue Elemental Blast, Coffin Purge and Tsabo’s Web coming in. If they are playing the UBg build, bring in Lava Dart for their Xantid Swarms.
That’s all for now!
Matthieu “Toad” Durand
Special thanks to all the pals who helped me in the development of the deck, from both Team CAB (Carsten KÃ¶tter, Stefan Iwasienko, Kim Kluck) and Team MeanDeck (Carl Winter, Doug Linn, Jason Stinnett, Justin Walters, and the others).