Abusing Improvise At SCG Columbus

Gerry Thompson knows convoke didn’t set the world on fire, but this is an entirely different story and an entirely different format! Where most of the world shortcuts it into “another convoke,” Gerry sees the potential for a fun and dedicated synergy for SCG Columbus!

One of the underlying themes in most of my Tezzeret the Schemer decks from last week was the mechanic Improvise. It’s a cost reduction mechanic, which automatically means it deserves a closer look.

I don’t think people are trying very hard to break Improvise because of how similar it looks to convoke, which is a mechanic that was never broken. However, both mechanics have the potential for abuse; it just depends on the actual cards surrounding them. With convoke, the cards weren’t super-powerful, as the mechanic was mostly made for Limited. I suppose the same could probably be said for Improvise, but the barrier to entry for a Constructed card was also steeper back then.

I imagine most people looked at Sly Requistioner and didn’t think of it as a Constructed card. Improvise is definitely a real cost; if you’re using two creatures to reduce the cost of Sly Requisitioner, that’s probably two fewer creatures you get to attack with on turn 3. If you’re setting up to do powerful things instead of nickel-and-diming your opponent out, then losing a little damage likely won’t matter much.

Assuming we can cast this for two or three mana in the early stages of the game, what can we do with it? I like it with any sort of sacrifice outlet, Scrap Trawler, artifacts that naturally sacrifice, and Herald of Anguish, not to mention as a way to punish our opponents for removing or trading with our artifacts. Insulation against sweepers can be huge in decks that are trying to go wide.

Being resilient to Fatal Push is a random bonus.

We’ve seen cheap flying dominate Standard repeatedly, and I don’t think this time will be any different. Again, Improvise is a cost, and that’s going to mean some missed damage and it’s going to ask that you spend some mana earlier in the game, but that should be okay.

Realistically, though, missing damage shouldn’t be an issue because this is the type of card that allows you to take complete control over a game. Not only are you going to ravage their battlefield if you get to untap, but Herald of Anguish goes to work on their hand in the meantime.

What kills a 5/5 flier right now? Basically only the clunky and inefficient removal spells.

Caution: The decklists in my article contain a lot of Ornithopters. You have been warned.

These decks are mostly me piecing together various portions of cards that I think work well together. If I’m going hard on Improvise, I’ll try Ornithopter. If I have a bunch of cheap bodies and am looking to grind a little bit, I might play Scrap Trawler. Westvale Abbey is a great payoff if I think I’ll be able to go wide enough.

The Mono-Black version is rough and is likely suffering from not splashing another color. The various dual lands make it incredibly easy. When I construct a deck like this, I’m trying to push the mechanics as far as they’ll go to see what’s possible. Past that, we could look for some upgrade to our weaker cards and see if we can fix the various issues it might have.

Do I want more land? Yeah, probably. Maybe Renegade Map is better than Hope of Ghirapur?

We could definitely play the Animation Module / Metallic Mimic combo in here (with Ruins of Oran-Rief), probably at the expense of mopey Chief of the Foundry and potentially awful Ornithopters.

Ornithopter is the biggest question mark. On one hand, I want the accelerator for Improvise, and having an extra artifact lying around when you’re doing synergy-based things is always a positive. On the other hand, if your deck isn’t functioning, Ornithopter is a dead draw. I tried to mitigate that by playing Chief of the Foundry, but I suspect Chief of the Foundry is lackluster as well.

Maybe the correct solution is to play a miser’s Ornithopter? I wish we had some good Equipment or that it could crew Vehicles or something. As is, the body is mostly useless.

Vengeful Rebel is a card I desperately want to play with, but I continue circling back to the idea that the colored sacrifice outlets and Improvise threats are more important.

Let’s look at a blue splash.

One of my major concerns is the tension between Improvise cards and how many artifacts you need to play. The Improvise cards all read as so strong that I want to play with them all, but clearly there are some diminishing returns. Would I like to have some Reverse Engineers in this deck also? Absolutely, but you can’t draw too many cards with Improvise or you run the risk of those cards not performing at their peak.

This version is going for a more well-rounded approach with some disruption in the maindeck and Tezzeret the Schemer to fight removal. After looking at it some more, I think we can do better. What I generally do in these scenarios is explore other options, see if I can learn something new, and return to it later.

As you can tell, I really like the black pieces of the various Improvise packages. Adding white gives you an additional thing to do with your mana and a one-drop in Thraben Inspector, but not a lot of obvious stuff past that. Servo Exhibition, Cogworker’s Puzzleknot, and Servo Schematic are all possible inclusions to help with Improvise. I went with Servo Exhibition because it’s the fastest, but with Syndicate Trafficker and Herald of Anguish, the Servo Schematics could be better. Sly Requisitioner cares way more about having a sacrificial artifact you can use for value.

Either way, you’re going to end up with some wide battlefields, and then Gideon, Ally of Zendikar starts looking strong. Due to how much poor synergy it has with the stuff I’m currently trying to do, it wouldn’t be a maindeck inclusion, but four copies are locked for the sideboard. A different sort of B/W Token/Sacrifice deck could be good though. I’d be impressed if Hidden Stockpile shows up somewhere.

You could use basically the same shell, except you swap white for blue and include Metallic Rebuke and Tezzeret the Schemer. At that point, you want Renegade Map as your one-drop. Terrarion is a fine inclusion as well, especially because you’re splashing and probably playing some colorless lands, but I really like how easy it is to use Renegade Map. For example, keeping open Fatal Push with revolt only requires one mana instead of two.

One of the biggest decks people have been talking about is B/G Counters with Winding Constrictor. For better or worse, I’m trying to do things much differently from other people.

This is more of a Hardened Scales deck than an Aristocrats deck, but it could be either. It could easily have Yahenni, Undying Partisan; Syndicate Trafficker; and Sly Requisitioner or it could have fewer artifacts and more of the generic green +1/+1 counter stuff. Cards like Cryptolith Rite and Eldritch Evolution could be good. Duskwatch Recruiter is a mostly forgotten card that typically plays well in these types of decks.

Implement of Ferocity is an incredible bridge toward Improvise, Revolt, and the +1/+1 counters theme. I’m currently not playing any, but I probably should. There were too many spells I wanted to play first. Once you go down the Aristocrats route, I think it’s definitely in there.

I see this as a U/R Thopter deck with the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo thrown in, rather than a bunch of artifacts thrown into the combo.

It’s possible that I’m splashing the wrong combo (or not enough combos). We could easily cut the white for Metallic Mimic and Animation Module. Thraben Inspector, Saheeli Rai, and Felidar Guardian play well with Maverick Thopterist, though.

If we ditch white, I like the idea of Elder Deep-Fiend sacrificing Maverick Thopterist.

Maybe this deck is nothing, but it’s another thing worth exploring. The whole Renegade Map / Pilgrim’s Eye / Prophetic Prism suite makes me very excited to try decks with low land counts overall. Those play well with Maverick Thopterist, which plays well with Elder Deep-Fiend, and our mana is good enough to play a bunch of copies of Sanctum of Ugin. Metallic Rebuke puts us into Delver of Secrets territory, which is exciting in a metagame with a bunch of potential combos.

Reverse Engineer is a card I haven’t been able to fit into too many decks, but it has the potential to be very strong. My issue with it is that I don’t want to want to do a bunch of work setting up for my two-mana draw-three, only to draw into more trinkets. That means I want to be more threat-dense if possible (or more removal-heavy so I can grind). Sanctum of Ugin might be the missing link because it gives you a constant string of gas and doesn’t ask much of you. Ever if your draw-three turns up a bunch of air, it’s probably fine because you’ll still have a bunch of powerful things to do.

Scrap Trawler could fit here, both as an emerge enabler and a way to reassemble Metallic Mimic / Animation Module. For now, I prefer Pilgrim’s Eye and the low land count, but it’s a reasonable sideboard option.

Kozilek’s Return will mostly make an appearance in the sideboard, which also makes me very happy.


One thing I’ve noticed from my early deckbuilding phase in this format is how important I’m stressing on having a one-mana spell to start the game. With Shock, Fatal Push, the Improvise mechanic, and a potential turn 4 combo, getting off to a good start (or stopping theirs, depending on what your gameplan is) is more important than anything else. While most decks are relying on synergy, those decks are utilizing it to close out games quickly.

The emphasis is going to be on who goes first and who has the most one-mana spells without losing on card quality. Once turn 4 rolls around, people start dropping haymakers, so it’s important to either live until you can drop yours and get ahead, or be so far ahead in the early game that their Gideon, Tezzeret, or Herald won’t matter as much.

If I were going to #SCGCOL, I would be registering one of these black-based Improvise decks. They seem fast, resilient, and powerful, which is basically all you can ever ask from a Week One deck.

It would be something like this:

Splashing green seems more powerful and gives the deck more options, but with all the combos around, I think the blue splash is correct. At the very least, you should splash some sort of disruption. I strongly dislike Transgress the Mind’s potential to whiff, plus it very negatively impacts your tempo.

Another option is sideboarding Thought-Knot Seer, as that’s the combo of disruption and clock we want. However, when you’re on the draw against an Aetherworks Marvel deck, you’re going to wish you had those counterspells.

Regardless of what you decide to play, I’ll be at home watching. Impress me!