Back With Black

Eternal fan favorite Geordie’s back — again! — this time packing a new deck that he thinks can clean house against Flores Blue and Combo. If you’re sick to death of Hinder and Keiga, he’s got a deck packing a card that you’ll never expect. No, really, you won’t expect it.

It’s been a while. I know the fact that I was “back” was highly touted, but life tends to intrude on that sort of thing — and sadly for both my time-budget and hairline, I’m not nineteen years old anymore. The whole thing fizzled out as quickly as my enthusiasm about online Mirage after I read the card list. (Afiya Grove, beeeyootch!)

Still, while maneuvering a Photoshop cursor around Neutron’s package, I would find myself thinking about StarCityGames and Magic, and I knew that I’d have to write another article sooner or later. I can’t just leave SCG behind; though there have been some changes since my (overrated) heyday, it’s still number one. And luckily for unbending old grumps everywhere, this joint, fundamentally, isn’t much different from when I left. Sure, the Madden random name generator went a little nuts on the new columnists (yesterday, I read articles by a… *checks notes* …Rude Warm-Oven… and some guy named Bigwanger — I think I’m going to have to go back to my previous pseudonym, Sexton Hardcastle) but hey, that isn’t the end of the world.

Originally, I wanted to make a deck for States, but several things stood in the way. First and foremost was work — creature art concepts don’t write themselves, so someone has to come up with hits like “tree made of glue” and “electric rhino-warrior, who is a rhino and also rides a rhino.” Last week, Josh Bennett almost snuck his pet concept, “Vulvasaur,” past quality control.

*Shrug* It’s a tightrope.

The other problem was that no one around here plays anymore. So I had to go to Magic Workstation, or as I like to call it, “GT_Money>> plays Cranial Extraction from hand. Player>> Lost Connection.” It’s hard to get good testing in against the largest collection of disconnecting morons ever assembled under God’s grand canopy, but I tried. With limited success.

There are other problems, too — like the fact that people are the sketchiest ever.

Workstation seemed better than Apprentice at first, and it is, but you still need to find a friend to play with if you don’t want to face off against a JSS-brand jerk who thinks anonymity means he’s John Rambo. Random opponents are mostly jackasses, and a lot of them don’t know how to play the game, telling me I couldn’t target them with Nezumi Shortfang because they had no cards in hand, and other nonsense. Man, MODO is a godsend just because it enforces the rules. People were shutting off my dredge with Pithing Needle and then getting belligerent at my objections, questioning my integrity with remarks like, “if that’s how you have to win, sure” and “I bet you voted for Mike Long, too.”

I tried to keep my cool in those situations. “That doesn’t work,” I tried to say. And they’d argue some more, and then disconnect. I honestly went through a whole bag of tricks in these situations; yelling, cajoling, singing “Mammy,” and eventually just resorted to flat-out lying. I actually told people that I saw Gadiel use Nezumi Shortfang on an empty hand once at Pro Tour: Hoboken and it worked then, and I’m friends with Rune Horvik, and had dinner with Gis “:Standalone Complex” Hoogenwhatever.

Well, that didn’t work either. Thank God, Allah, Vishnu, Chris Walken, or whoever for MODO.

You're welcome.

Speaking of Gadiel, he deserves more credit for his treatment of his readers. No one gives an audience more credit than Gadiel, as he tirelessly explains what decks are good and what you should play, and just assumes that everyone knows why, when in fact we’re all a bunch of giant buffoons. If only I had that much faith. Sadly, I read the forums a lot. I hold no such illusions. For every great post, there are two that make a guy want to gargle brake fluid.


In the end, the deck just wasn’t that good, and I didn’t fix the problems until after States, so you should count yourself lucky that the article was never written — it would have been a mistake on my part, and filed away with other mistakes of mine, like the card advantage series and the one article I wrote where I said black people should never have been allowed in baseball. (Talk about your PR blunders!) Since then, I’ve been toiling away, and right now the MODO 5-4-2-2’s are feeling the sting of the result. Yes, that’s right…

I have a new Constructed deck you might like.

Now, I know — my last “original” creation featured Alter Reality and Llawan, Cephalid Empress… But come on. Have a heart; isn’t there some sort of Roman Polanski rule I can invoke at times like this? Like, granted, I took the whole concept of good deckbuilding, assaulted it, gave it a wine cooler and took it into the port-a-John, but… The statute of limitations has got to be creeping up to expiration time, am I right? How long can the community hold a grudge?

Yes, I know. Nantuko Blightcutter wasn’t good. But come on, it had protection from black. How was I to know that every control deck in the format could Mutilate or cast an Edict twelve times a game? Honestly, you guys act like you never tried to Deflection a Final Fortune at your opponent before. And yeah, I tried to reinvent the word “investment” one time — who knew it was already taken? Will we, like rod-crazy fisherman, eventually run out of moniker-trout for all of our aspects of theory? Like, we’re already using “agnostic.” The day has got to be approaching where we just start making them up. Pretty soon I’ll open up a Flores article and have no idea what he’s talking about.

“My opening hand contained inevitable frebrundlebrundle. He hedwigged my frith. Mise. The end.”

Head-scratching. And a little ominous. Forget Peak Oil, we’re going to hit Peak Lingo.

Back to business. All I’m trying to say is, everybody has bad old days that they’d just as soon leave behind. So forget all of my previous constructed trash — they’re like the paintings that Picasso did before he was Picasso, back when he was scribbling portraits of soup cans under the name “Bob Smith.” Not that I’m Picasso. And not that that example has even a shred of truth to it. But you get the idea. On to new things!

So I’m wading through the 5-4-2-2’s online, and I’ve already killed enough Jushi Apprentices to qualify for some sort of bonus-rewards card. Seriously. As soon as I saw that Flores had built mono-blue, I just assumed I wouldn’t be able to do better — and hey, guess what! I was right! So instead, I tried to concentrate on beating both that deck and WW/r, but that’s easier said than done. So I have a deck that is sketchy against aggro (but can still beat it enough to be very competitive) and beats everything else.

Here’s the deck.

Gather ’round, girls- let’s talk card choices. I’m sure you’re wondering about some of these. Let’s start with the three that no one plays, in descending order of rogueness.

Mindslicer is the reason the deck exists. Myojin of Night’s Reach is pretty good, right? Well, what if he cost 2BB instead of 5BBB, and arrived on time instead of about four turns after you’re in your Umezawa’s Jitte-gilded grave? Most decks like their grips, but B/G could care less. Mindslicer bites it, and you topdeck a creature turn after turn after turn, while the control decks draw land, or Sakura-Tribe Elders, or Journeyer’s Kites, or any of the billion other things that are jammed into the gaping space between their six kill conditions.

After the big bang, they tiptoe past upkeep like they’re on a blind date that could go either way. Every draw is an adventure for them. What’d ya draw, Blue Boy? Oh look — a bad removal spell. Oh look, land. Oh look, Remand! Me, my draws are always the fabled extra-delicious. The booyah hotties who fuel puritan ire. They rip “land, counterspell, land,” you draw Grave-Shell, Grave-Shell, Shambling Shell, you can’t tell me that it’s still a game. And heaven help Wrath of God.dec if you had board advantage at the time of the blowup.

It isn’t just control decks, either. Plenty of midrange strategies just bend over to this sort of thing. If they aren’t blazing fast, they probably have no board presence when Mindslicer appears. If you have dredge guys in your hand or (god forbid) Phyrexian Arena on the table, just fire him down on turn 3 or 4 and then Shoal your own man after they draw. Who cares if you’re using your removal on your own guys? Your grip is going into the grumper anyhow.

Then the game just gets disgusting. You lose a life, dredge Shambling Shell, and then draw Jitte or something. Joe Shmoe untaps and draws land, or Kodama’s Reach, or Maga, Traitor to Mortals. Or maybe they draw a good spell? Does it even matter? What is a “good spell” against dredge and two cards a turn anyway? Burn? Nope. Wrath? Nope. Land? Hell no. Something like Jushi Apprentice would be pretty good, and so would Meloku or Keiga… But that’s assuming you don’t draw an answer as well.

Don’t even get me started on what happens if you have Jitte on the table.

Suh-lice!Slicer is too good. Against combo, midrange board control, etc, he turns every piece of removal you have into “Pay the cost of this spell: Both players discard their hands.” Nantuko Husk means you have total control over both hands, and anytime you want, you can just toss both. I do this all the time against that stupid Early Harvest deck. Making them discard their hand just wins you the game, especially when you can easily do it on turn 3. I’d even do it with the stone nothing against combo — no board presence, no dredge. What are they going to do? Untap and draw Blaze with four mana on the table? Ooh, look out. Somebody call the exorcist.

Mindslicer. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. You can follow that advice even if you’re not a Tyler Durden enthusiast.

Nantuko Husk is in the deck where almost every other B/G deck has Hypnotic Specter. Fight Club again — this time, we’ve reached our human sacrifice. Husk has great synergy with Mindslicer, becomes a “must-block” when an opponent is low on life, and insures that Keiga and Threads of Disloyalty do basically nothing (though Keiga still beats for five in the air…I mean hey, the Husk is no miracle worker). And again, against mid-range aggro decks with no fliers, their Jitte doesn’t ever get counters. You stack, you sac, and you wait to draw yours (or, heck, your Putrefy), and meanwhile you get your game on.

Hypnotic Specter is nice, and in a deck with seven mana accelerators you might think he’d be an auto-include… But the Husk definitely fits better in this deck. If you can’t sacrifice your own guys, Jitte just ends your game sometimes, and Husk will rescue you from that sort of slow, sinking demise. Husk is also excellent with Grave Pact, and turns late-game Birds and Elves into Diabolic Edicts.

Grave Pact is The Abyss. You guys know this, right? Shambling Shell + Grave Pact = other B/G decks cannot possibly win unless they draw about six Kokushos. They wrap up your late-game against WW/r in the games you actually win, and in Game 1 against control, they can still be a pain in the ass for Osama bin Flores and the rest of Al-Keiga. In a long game, a Blue deck is making a mistake by allowing a couple of Grave Pacts to resolve- because unless they draw a ton of land, they’ll have a hard time winning through it. Keiga is not going to survive, and Jushi won’t stay on the table either. It’s gotta be Meloku.

As for other G/x decks, they just lose. Enchantments are impossible to remove without using spells that are mostly awful (just ask anyone who has been wracking their brain trying to figure out how to stop Glorious Anthem without compromising their deck with sometimes-trash like Naturalize).

As the game goes longer, your stranglehold grows almost to the point of erotic asphyxia, and… Yeah, let’s just move on.

At nine mana, you can bleed off two creatures on any given turn with Grave-Shell into Shambling Shell, or kill one and keep your draw with just Grave-Shell. If can get Grave Pact + Shambling Shell going against any mid-range aggro deck, it’s probably over. Mono-Red and WW/r will probably not give you the time. About the only thing Grave Pact doesn’t clear out is Meloku. That’s what Putrefy and Sickening Shoal are for — and if they drop him on turn 5, you can always just play Grave Pact and sacrifice a Birds to your Husk.

Shambling Shell is one of the cards that breaks the Mindslicer symmetry; it’s good against Control, trades with most ground-pounders, is The Abyss with Grave Pact, lets you build bigger Grave-Shells in the mirror, and might help you out against straight White by building a nice big Birds of Paradise. He’s the workhorse of the deck. He tutors for Grave-Shell after a few dredges, and is great in combat against other ground-bound Jittes, since they can never gain counters.

Sickening Shoal is a savage tempo tool. Besides giving you four more ways to off your own ‘Slicer in a pinch, it also shows up early to derail those “Jitte” turns that WW/r and other aggro decks always seem to have on turn 4. (And yes, I do hate Hand of Honor. A lot. Thanks for asking. The last time someone put a Jitte on one against me, I jumped over the table, grabbed him, and jammed him into the crotch of a tree.)

WW/r decks aren’t alone, though. Every aggro deck has the “Jitte” turn, and this card lets you Time Walk them by taking out the “foolproof” Jitte carrier (if you don’t have a Shambling Shell to throw in front of him, that is). You’ll always have bad cards to throw out, too. I’d rather kill Isamaru on turn 1 than have Mindslicer in my hand against WW/r. Phyrexian Arena goes, too. Against control, it’s definitely worth tossing a Grave Pact to get rid of a certain 2/4 messiah before it can turn water(y graves) into wine(ing opponents).

Sickening Shoal plays a key role in any game where you have to beat a good WW/r draw. Usually, your draw has to be something like Birds, second-turn Nantuko Husk, Shoal your guy, third-turn Grave Pact, on the play. If you’re on the draw and they have a good curve including Isamaru, Hand of Honor, an Anthem and a Jitte, I don’t think there is a draw this deck can get that will win pre-sideboard… But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. You can still beat all sorts of bad WW/r draws if things don’t go terribly wrong.

Basic Play
Here’s the thing. The deck has thirty mana sources, but only twenty-three lands, and all the spells cost a billion, relatively speaking. It isn’t fast unless you have a Bird or an Elf. If you don’t…well, I hope you’re on the play. You will sometimes get hands like double-Grave Pact, Mindslicer, Grave-Shell Scarab, Shambling Shell, Birds of Paradise, Overgrown Tomb on the play, and you almost have to mulligan, because the odds of getting a land aren’t good. Then you’ll mulligan and get the same thing. The curve starts at three — that’s part of the design. Threads of Disloyalty is useless against this deck, pretty much, and that’s just one of the reasons I like it.

The deck has many routes to victory. Sometimes you can bleed an aggro deck dry with early removal and a late-game plan of Shambling Shell recursion and Grave Pact (which will eventually get the big dogs into the graveyard for you). Sometimes you just Jitte up a Nantuko Husk and start beating down on turn 3. Sometimes you go 1st turn Elves of Deep Shadow, second-turn Husk, third-turn Mindslicer, Shoal your one guy, drop both grips after you draw, and by the way I discarded a Shambling Shell, GG. That draw will beat any in the format. Sometimes you grind out a win under Arena, reaching low life before your avalanche of threats sneaks a Jitte through to refill the tank.

Any hand with a Bird/Elf and two lands, one of which produces green, is probably a keeper. Resolving a turn 2 Arena against any control deck or mid-range creature strategy is probably an automatic win, and it’s no picnic for combo either, since you’ll eventually draw Mindslicer and just win. Second-turn Putrefy your fat housewife, untap, drop Grave-Pact is a saucy sombrero against decks with men. And one of the reasons the little mana producers are in there is to be used as a late-game resource with Grave Pact and Husk.

Sideboard Cards
Carven Caryatid is the only way this deck has a chance against Hand of Honor, and it really helps against Mono-Red. Even after boarding, fast WW starts with Hand of Honor are almost impossible to beat without a solid draw of your own, and anything with turn 2 Caryatid is a good start along that immaculate nut-draw road, where even the dandelions carry Jittes and Meloku drives a nitro-powered Hyundai off into the sunset.

Cranial Extraction is for combo, control, and the mirror. Mindslicer is pretty useless against any deck with a good number of Grave-Shell Scarabs and such, but Cranial is perfect for mopping up enemy beetles. Obviously, it’s the best card in the environment against combo — and Flores Blue has like, what? Six win conditions in two groups of three? Ahhhhhh. Fresh meat. And what a treat, I’ve removed more Melokus!

Sundering Vitae is for combo, Searing Meditation decks, Phyrexian Arena (in control decks… against black aggro, there’s probably no room) and other random stuff. There will always be enchantments out there you want to kill.

Why not Naturalize? Well, there’s almost no difference. Go ahead and play Naturalize if you want. I think I’ll probably make the switch myself.

Arashi, The Sky Asunder is probably the only card in the environment that is great against both WW/r and Mono-Blue. So why isn’t it in the maindeck? Well, it has almost no synergy with the rest of the deck, for one thing. And Grave-Shell is actually much better in any matchup besides those two. So Arashi comes off the bench to knock out flying swarms, block Hand of Honor, and send Meloku packing.

Eradicate is a card I love. It’s really only good against Meloku and Keiga… But so what? Every blue deck plays both of them. See, the blue decks have this attitude with Keiga where they think they can play him, hide under some coats, and then everything will just turn out all right. “Worst-case scenario, I steal a man,” they say to themselves. Well, with all due respect to you, Mr. Meloku, and the lovely sideline reporter Michelle Tomoya… Let’s not start Wolfing each other’s Winstons just yet.

“Hey ma’, how about some Keiga?”

“No dice.”

The first time you drop this on Keiga or Meloku, you’ll feel like you just won the Super Bowl, the lottery, and a trip to a no-holds-barred Shiatsu rub n’ tug, all in one magical sweepstakes. I put them in against WW as well, just because I’d rather have Eradicate in the deck than Grave-Shell Scarab.


Vs. Flores Blue
+3 Cranial Extraction, +3 Arashi, +3 Eradicate
-2 Grave-Shell Scarab, -4 Sickening Shoal, -3 Grave Pact
Ah, my arch-nemesis. Taking Grave-Shell Scarab out against a control deck might feel counterintuitive, but you won’t get many chances to dredge and recast it if they have any sort of draw. You’ll just get Remanded right out of the game. Instead, concentrate on resolving backbreaking spells like Arena, Mindslicer, Cranial Extraction, and Eradicate on a win condition. You’ll find the Blue player has to burn all of his counter-magic one-for-one early, and then just throw out a Meloku/Keiga and hope for the best, at which point you unload.

This configuration is still undergoing testing. It’s harder to kill Jushi Apprentice without Sickening Shoal in the deck, and Mindslicer suffers in performance a little without Grave-Shell Scarab — but so far, I’ve had excellent results with this setup. Apprentice doesn’t have time to draw many cards unless your draw is very poor or theirs is amazing. I believe this is a favorable matchup for you. Still, this configuration is questionable, and I’m sure someone can figure out something better.

Vs. WW/r and Mono-White
+3 Carven Caryatid, +3 Eradicate, +3 Arashi
-4 Mindslicer, -3 Phyrexian Arena, -2 Grave-Shell Scarab
Hope for a fast start. If you get a bad draw, you’re probably going to lose. This is not a favorable matchup — but with an avalanche of removal backed up by Jitte, large men, and Grave Pact (a.k.a. The Abyss), you can win. I’ve been about 40% in these matchups, and you can usually tell if you’re going to win within a couple of turns.

The key is Hand of Honor. Without a solid draw, Hand of Honor just deals two (or more) to you until you die — and backed up by Char and Lightning Helix, that can be a quick death indeed.

Vs. Combo (Enduring Ideal, Heartbeat or Spring/Maga, et cetera)
+3 Cranial Extraction, +3 Sundering Vitae
-3 Grave Pact, -3 Sickening Shoal
You have great game against these decks. Any draw that includes a Mindslicer is probably a win (kill or sacrifice it yourself during right before their pre-combat main-phase), and Cranial Extraction poops in their cereal, not to put too fine a point on it.

Vs. W/R Control With Story Circle/Searing Meditation/Firemane Angel
+3 Cranial Extraction, +3 Sundering Vitae, +1 Eradicate
-3 Grave Pact, -4 Sickening Shoal
Just bring in one Eradicate, since they’re definitely going to have Firemane Angel. Extract or destroy problem cards like Story Circle and Searing Meditation, and then just win with never-ending threats. If the deck has Godo and Yosei, you might even bring in more Eradicates for the big legends and the Tatsumasa Dragon that will probably show up if you can’t wrap things up quickly.

How much better would Firemane Angel be at 4/4? Anyone here want to spend six mana and then lose your creature to a Lightning Helix or Last Gasp? Red’s finishers all have this problem. Godo, Firemane… You name it. And sure, the Angel comes back, but that’s slower than a coma.

Vs. Mono-Black Control
+3 Cranial Extraction, +3 Sundering Vitae
-3 Grave Pact, -3 Sickening Shoal
Favorable. They really only have three cards against you — Phyrexian Arena, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, and Kokusho. Destroy a couple and Extract the other, and hopefully cast an Arena of your own.

If they don’t have Arena on the table, Mindslicer is excellent here. They may have their own Extractions, which can be annoying, but they’d have to cast two of them in order to make things very problematic, and they have to take Shambling Shell and Grave-Shell, and even then you can win with Jitte + whatever.

If you have an Arena and they don’t, you are not losing. If the reverse is true, you’re not winning. The most annoying thing about this matchup is how you can lose Game 1 if they cast Arena, since your strategy against Control really gets invalidated by it.

Vs. Mono-Red Beatdown
+3 Carven Caryatid, +2 Eradicate, +2 Arashi
-3 Phyrexian Arena, -4 Mindslicer
Slightly easier than Mono-White because they don’t have that damn Hand of Honor. But it’s still not an easy matchup, especially since there is no way in hell your Birds and Elves are staying alive, and Frostling kills about half your deck. Keep that in mind when you decide whether or not to keep your opening hand. Again, I’m not happy with the sideboard, and I’d love to have Darkblast or Last Gasp in this situation — but I want to beat Mono-Blue, and Eradicate is great for helping to do that.

Like White, we’re probably looking at about 40% here, since a mana base built around chaining 0/1 and 1/1s into expensive spells is not what you want againsst Mono-Red. Never forget, though, that sometimes you can just go “remove your guy, remove your guy, remove your guy, Grave-Shell, Jitte, win.” Or “Shoal your guy, Carven Caryatid, Grave-Pact, Shambling Shell recursion at eighteen life.” And sometimes they don’t have the Shock/Frostling when you have a Bird on the play. It isn’t a lost cause.

Vs. B/G Dredge/Goodstuff/”Rock”/The Mirror
+3 Cranial Extraction, -3 (pick something…1 ofs, maybe)
+? Sundering Vitae
-? Mindslicer
The key here is getting rid of the Kokusho they’re probably playing, and maybe Cranial Extraction and Grave-Shell Scarab as well. As long as you resolve Grave Pact, they’re probably not winning regardless unless they Cranial your Shambling Shells and Grave-Shells. It’s possible for games that seemed like a lock to slip away due to Arena life-loss combined with a couple of Kokushos that, while easy to kill, end up sending your ugly mug to the dentist regardless.

If they’re playing dredge, Mindslicer isn’t as good. You must get rid of Phyrexian Arena if they are playing it. This means you bring in Sundering Vitae. If they’ve got Darkblast and other tech in their sideboard, it could get ugly, but you still have an almost unbreakable late-game.

Note that some builds of this deck just lose to the Mindslicer plan. You’ll recognize these because they play Kodama’s Reach and Sakura Tribe-Elders. After they’ve thinned out the deck a bit, that’s when you make them drop the double-Kokusho and Ink-Eyes they have left in their hand.

Modifying For Your Local Metagame/Online
The decklist I gave you is the one I use online. It tries to keep all the bases covered, and is focused on beating control decks. The sideboard can easily change based on what people are playing at your local Friday Night Magic. If it’s a lot of WW, Mono-Red, and WW/r, with little or no sign of Meloku or Keiga, take out the Eradicates and replace them with Darkblast/Last Gasp/Cruel Edict. That’s the main change I’d make, and it will make at least a 5% difference in your matchup expectation, for sure.

Right now, the online MetaGame has a ton of Flores Blue decks — and if you want to beat that deck, the above list will do it over 50% of the time. It will also beat other control decks, combo, and B/G decks more than 50% of the time, and if you play better than your opponents, that number will increase. Yes, you’ll groan when someone plays a Plains and doesn’t follow it up with “I’ll play a Sensei’s Divining Top” or “I’ll keel over and die on the floor, head nestled in the between the heels of the old guy browsing old issues of Vamperotica.” I’m prepared to make that sacrifice — and with a good draw, you can still put up a great fight. If nothing else, you’ll last long enough for the old guy to find the infamous “head drilling” issue.

So. That’s pretty much it. With tight play, this deck will make you a lot of packs and tickets on MODO, especially with the field weakening as the bad players get the Ravnica cards in time to join the good ones who had them the first day.

Speaking of tight play, did you get a load of that Moreno match? Man. Another one of those and someone is going to run a Kanye West in the color commentary. If I were SWK, I’d have felt the repercussions of that debacle all the way to my womb, if I had one — which, being a Magic player, odds are I do not.

Right. I’m Audi 5000.

Forest, Bird.
Land, Husk.
Land, Mindslicer, Shoal your guy.
Before your first main phase, drop both grips.
I dredge Shambling Shell. GG.

Enjoy. See you next…whenever.

Sexton Hardcastle


[email protected]

“Like buttah.” – Masami Von Weizegger