I’m a big fan of building decks from the ground up. The Modern format is one of the best formats for that approach to deckbuilding because there are so
many build around me cards in general. Life from the Loam is a card that saw a large amount of play in the first year of Modern and to great success,
taking down a Grand Prix and a number of PTQs as well. Many Loam strategies utilized Seismic Assault, along with retrace cards like Flame Jab and Raven’s
Crime to grind opponents into the ground and completely strip them of their resources.
So, what happened?
Deathrite Shaman, as expected, really screwed things up for the deck that heavily utilizes its graveyard as a resource, and Abrupt Decay greatly lowered
the amount of reliable win conditions that you could use in these decks, rendering it too slow to actually close out the game before the combo decks,
Splinter Twin and Affinity specifically, could rebuild. After the banning of Deathrite Shaman, the Birthing Pod decks became a bigger force than they
already were, and with the presentation of a multitude of infinite combos and insurmountable board states, it was really tough to compete with that
midgame. With Abrupt Decay still around, you can’t reliably grind their creatures out with a Seismic Assault like you used to.
With all that said, I still think the strategy can compete.
Since we’re building from the ground up, we can ask ourselves where we want to start from the get go. I know that Black is the secondary color we want
because of how synergistic it has always been with the best card advantage engines ever made, but with it, we have a much quicker way of ending the game:
Pack Rat is the exact kind of card Loam strategies have been missing, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long for it to catch on in Modern as a whole. The
card is one of the most efficient creatures of all time.
Yeah, you heard me.
You’re theoretically never going to run out of ammo for this thing, and it instantly forces your opponent to act. If they don’t, they die, simple as that.
When you’re grinding players out with Life from the Loam, you’re going to get to a point where a Pack Rat is straight up unbeatable with your other
resources, and with threats like Liliana of the Veil to back things up, I’m convinced that this is the key to making Loam work.
So, let’s start with a general shell:
4 Pack Rat
This seems like a good start. Bob seems like a no-brainer here, as more cards and more velocity is always a good thing. Where do we go from here though? Do
we want to splash red for Lightning Bolt? White gives us Knight of the Reliquary and, if we really need it, Path to Exile (though we probably
don’t). Blue doesn’t look as promising unless we go with a Gifts Ungiven shell, which might be something that can work out. Staying on two colors is also
much more stable and gives us more colorless land options. We’ll check all three choices out and go from there.
Let’s start by taking a closer look at the red cards, then build from there. As said, Lightning Bolt is always a good reason to dip into red, but the
bigger draw for me is Flame Jab. Flame Jab gives you an incredible long game, as well as a way to handle many of the deck’s problems, like early aggression
from Vault Skirge, Steel Overseer, Pestermite, Delver of Secrets, Young Pyromancer, and the like. Heck, there’s a good chance we could play no Lightning
Bolts and lean on Flame Jab to do our heavy lifting, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Seismic Assault still has the Abrupt Decay problem, and
it’s also extremely tough on the mana, but it’s one of the more efficient ways to lock a game down and deal with a crowded board state. You gain access to
Raging Ravine, a super fast clock, and Lavaclaw Reaches, a solid mana sink. Your sideboard also gets a nice boost with Combust, Ancient Grudge, and Anger
of the Gods. Some other considerations include Chandra, Pyromaster (duh), and Prophetic Flamespeaker.
One thing that is absent is Tarmogoyf. While the card is obviously very powerful, the card was only really in the deck because it was a beater, and now we
have something better (that also happens to be good against opposing Goyfs!). Seismic Assault doesn’t get as much love as it would in previous iterations
because of its relative redundancy with Pack Rat and because of how much of a strain it is on your mana. Having one is still a very nice option, and I can
certainly see going up to two due to how amazing it is when you have Life from the Loam going. With sideboarded Anger of the Gods and Damnation, you have a
solid shot at stabilizing against Birthing Pod decks that try to outgrind you, and Grafdigger’s Cage, while a bit of a non-bo with your Flame Jabs, also
helps slow down the force that is Birthing Pod, with incidental impact against Snapcaster Mage.
What I strongly dislike about this build is the lands. 27 lands is about the norm for these kinds of strategies, and you’ll often see some builds go all
the way up to 30, but the mana is all over the place, and it’s hard to fix it without hurting our chances of sticking cards like Seismic Assault, Liliana
of the Veil, and Abrupt Decay on time. I would love to have a Treetop Village in this build, for example, but we simply can’t support it as it stands. This
is part of the reason why I’d love to have White instead of Red. We lose a bit of raw power and robustness, but the stability more than makes up for that.
This build allows us to turn the corner and switch roles much more easily. Stony Silence is a much cleaner way of handling Affinity, and the combined
powers of Hushwing Gryff and Aven Mindcensor give you this pseudo Aggro-Hatebears plan against Pod and Twin. Most importantly, look at how clean the
manabase is! With all of our fetchlands being on color, we take less damage overall, and we get the colors we need more often, all while synergizing with
the ever powerful Knight of the Reliquary. Speaking of Knight of the Reliquary, we are certainly trying to make it, along with Pack Rat, the centerpiece of
the deck. We even get access to Sejiri Steppe if we’re really trying to punch through a bunch of damage at once with Knight.
Unfortunately, it isn’t all upside. While your manabase is indeed much better than the Jund build, losing access to Flame Jab hinders you significantly in
the early and late game if you can’t get a Knight to stick. Additionally, Path to Exile, in the context of our overall strategy, is really pushing the
boundaries of necessary evil, as it makes our Ghost Quarter plan incredibly awkward. There are other options available, like Last Breath or Oust, but you
aren’t really helping your Splinter Twin matchup by doing so, and you might find yourself at the wrong end of the additional resource or timing
If we’re trying to maximize our mana efficiency while also being the most grindy of the Loam decks, then straight B/G may be the way to go. If we’re only
going with two colors, then Smallpox becomes a much more attractive and reliable disruptive option.
Smallpox is, without a doubt, one of the most disruptive cards available to us, and resolving one after a discard spell is ideal. Treetop Village is easily
worth playing four-of because of how efficient it is, but Gargoyle Castle is the late game threat of choice. Making a 3/4 flier every other turn is pretty
big when you’re able to get things under control, and with the large amount of disruption available maindeck on top of the forced mini-game Pack Rat
presents, you can sail smoothly if it gets to that point.
Unfortunately, I think that this is the worst of our choices right now unless the format gets very midrange heavy (more than it is now). This build gets
absolutely thrashed by most blue decks, and if we don’t draw Smallpox, Pod can have a field day as well.
I think that the best way to go about building these sort of decks is to maximize every single resource that every card utilizes and just go as deep on
colors as possible. This is why I like the Jund and Abzan builds, but I think Blue could be a possible evolution from that. Break all the rules we set up
before and just do everything, essentially.
I know, we’re going pretty deep with this one, but think about it: Gifts Ungiven is at its best when your deck is stacked with a mix of toolboxes,
utilities, and a broken go-to combo. When you throw a Life from the Loam engine into the mix, you now gain access to more pseudo spells, ways to outgrind
others without actually casting spells, and, of course, more fuel for Pack Rat. Dredging artifacts away is almost drawing a card when you get Academy
Ruins, and with Aether Spellbomb and Executioner’s Capsule, it provides a constant source of disruption and removal.
Unfortunately, the deck has the worst mana out of all of the options here, and often, Life from the Loam won’t help you. It may be worth playing a 28th
land to mitigate the stress, but you’re going to spend a lot of time setting up; perhaps too much time.
What more can we do with Life from the Loam? Is Young Pyromancer, Bloodghast, or Worm Harvest worth a consideration? What about dropping Black and playing
one of the other colors in its place? There has to be more ways to jam Life from the Loam. What ideas do you have for it?