People, I’ve got Death Cloud on my mind like Georgia. A lot of the decks I’ve been cooking up lately have been trained on finding the proper combination of Magical Cards that turn an otherwise symmetrical spell into a one-way trip down Broken Street. There are two particular builds that I’m working with right now – one mono-Black and one Black/Green. I’m not sure which of the two decks will end up the better, but I am definitely feeling the BGzee (making Hot Boys breathing noises) more, due to the chemistry and synergy factors. Much has been debated regarding Darksteel inflected B/G Cemetery decks, but nobody knows for sure yet which cards fit best the archetype. Some opt for the Greater Harvester route, some go heavier on Elf Utility, and some focus on Grave Pact. I’m not even sure myself what the best of these options is, but I’ve been working with a Death Cloud based strategy to some decent results.
Here’s a list to chew on for a while, but make sure you floss afterwards:
Death Cloud Cemetery
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wirewood Herald
4 Rotlung Reanimator
4 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Phyrexian Plaguelord
2 Viridian Shaman
1 Viridian Zealot
1 Glissa Sunseeker
1 Caller of the Claw
4 Death Cloud
3 Oversold Cemetery
2 Dark Banishing
4 City of Brass
2 Mirrodin’s Core
3 Withered Wretch
2 Ravenous Baloth
2 Lightning Coils
1 Dark Banishing
The neat thing about playing the creature base present here is that there’s never a care if anything dies. I mean, that’s generally the case with Oversold Cemetery based decks, but it is especially true of this build.
Oh #%&*#, the creatures are approaching the podium… I can’t stop them… I …
Birds of Paradise
Hey, you hate drawing me late game right? Put a Skullclamp on me, and I’ll draw you two cards! I’ve been known to make some mana on occasion as well. I’m also very pretty to look at. Peeeeeep!
Want something better out of your deck? Just stand me in front of a big creature and I’ll hop right to it! Hey, also – did you know that you can Equip me with a Skullclamp and I will gleefully die and cast Ancestral Recall on you? Yay! It is fun to be Elven.
I may have once been clerical, but now I like to get dirty on the microphone. I can even make you another creature when I come home to the graveyard! Did I mention that I enjoy clouds of death as well? I’m also not bad when I purchase the farm with a Skullclamp affixed to my rotting carcass, giving you two cards and a zombie. Now that’s what I call a bargain…
Don’t listen to that sniveling elf. I provide even more card advantage than he does, and I do so in a much less fruity manner. And yes, when I expire with a Skullclamp attached to my chiseled robotic frame, I have, in fact, given you a return of four cards for an investment of one. Good game, sons. [R2D2 noises]
It’s my purpose to keep all of these other low-powered little toadies in line and to drop a few ‘bows on the enemy team whenever I can. The hell with the Skullclamp stuff – I’m only out to put the smack down on all the rudy-poo candy-asses even if it means sending my own boys to the graveyard. If I can kill a few of their guys and recover some card advantage from sacrifices, that’s a winning gameplan… if you smmmmmmelllllllllllllllllllllll what the Rock is cookin’. [cue music]
Viridian Shaman, Viridian Zealot, Glissa Sunseeker, Caller of the Claw
Hi! Along with our good friend Wirewood Herald, we’re the Fab Five of Magic! We enjoy frolicking gaily about the forest and doing fun woodland things, but when it comes time to get down to business we can do that, too. Mostly we’re about killing artifacts and enchantments and shopping for Gucci belts. Oh, stop you’re too kind. We’ll find a way to make-over the board position one way or the other; just call us and we’ll be there with bells on! Toodles!
Boy, I’m glad that’s over. I can’t stop them when creatures decide to rip the mic. Now we can get down to some more sensible business.
As many of the creatures in the deck so carefully made note of, Skullclamp plays nice with a lot of them. Goblin Bidding and dedicated Elf decks probably make best use of this card, but I tell you – B/G does some things with Skullclamp as well. It’s really stupid to equip a Wirewood Herald with one and tutor for an elf and then draw two cards. It’s even more ridiculous to equip Jens with one and then kill him off with a Phyrexian Plaguelord. I could go on and on about how good this card is, but it’s all already been said. I was skeptical of the impact that it would have in the format, but so far the decks that it’s been included in to great efficiency (Ravager Affinity, Goblin Bidding, B/G anything) have confirmed that Skullclamp is a card that you must have an answer to or lose.
Finally! I get to talk about the new Pox! Death Cloud Cemetery is all about turning the symmetry of this card into a win for you and a loss for your opponent. I’ve heard some jugheads say that you only ever need to resolve one Death Cloud in a game, so you shouldn’t play four copies in a deck. Please. Death Cloud does the final points of damage, acts as a late-game Mind Twist, kills off creatures that are either too hot to handle or can’t be targeted, and keeps your opponent off of their big mana spells (such as Akroma’s Vengeance) while you beat down with cheap two and three mana creatures. The cost of the spell is kind of high, but when built around, it’s an extremely powerful effect.
Let’s take a look at the four effects that Death Cloud generates:
The loss of life is pretty inconsequential from the first casting of Death Cloud, but the second time it can act as a finisher. Although this deck can’t really cope with a lot of life loss due to the presence of four Cities of Brass, I haven’t really missed the two or three points from a Death Cloud resolution, because I’m probably crippling my opponent in the meanwhile.
Discarding cards from your hand isn’t going to be a problem for you as much as it is for your opponent since the bulk of your pitches will be creatures, and you have Oversold Cemetery to get them back.
Creature sacrifice, you say? Hey, I want my creatures to die when I’m playing this deck. Nine times out of ten, a mirrored creature sacrifice is going to do something good for you and bad for your opponent. You’ll probably be drawing cards from their death and even get those same kids back eventually when an Oversold Cemetery hits play.
Although this deck only has twenty-three land, it always seems to recover properly from Death Cloud, thanks to all of the card drawing and deck thinning effects. I might make room for an Elvish Aberration as another elf to fetch that can grab a Forest, if the land situations start to prove dicey after resolving the tastiest BBBX spell in the format (uh… the only BBBX spell in the format). Unlike the mono-Black decks, which use artifact mana to recover from Death Cloud, that’s not really an option here.
Well, it’s nice to get some creatures back every now and then, hmm? They’re going to be dying quite frequently, so… Unfortunately, the deck can’t really support more than three copies. I never have a problem peeling one, thanks to (drum roll) … Skullclamp’s mad card drawing abilities.
I would feel sort of naked if I didn’t have any point removal in a Black deck. There’s more than a few problem children that this deck needs to deal with as soon as they see play, like Goblin Sharpshooter and Exalted Angel. Having a couple copies of Dark Banishing handy relieves some of the pressure on Death Cloud to remove what needs removing.
The sideboard is kind of haphazard right now, so don’t read too much into the choices there. I’ve got a good complement of artifact/enchantment kill for Affinity / Astral Slide, a third Dark Banishing for whatever ails you, some graveyard eating for the mirror and against Goblin Bidding, a pair of Ravenous Baloths to use against Red decks, and two random Lightning Coils that I’m trying out simply because I think they’ll be sick against mono-Black and in the mirror. Oh, and bring in a couple Oxidizes against any deck that runs four Skullclamps. They need to be taken out with a quickness; never let an opposing Skullclamp stick around for long if you can help it.
I can’t really provide a matchup matrix right now because the environment isn’t clearly defined yet. What I can tell you are my results against what I’ve been playing against in random games and in the few test runs that I did do. First off, the deck is pretty much already set up to beat the very popular Ravager Affinity. The lack of Broodstar is what grants you the advantage – all of your creatures are great blockers and you can chump forever before casting a devastating Death Cloud. Death Cloud pretty much negates all of the advantage they have from playing the Arcbound creatures, since there’s nothing to put the counters on when everything dies. Still, Ravager Affinity can come out blazing, and I’ve lost a few test games to a double Disciple of the Vault / Shrapnel Blast draw. Thankfully, those draws are uncommon. Between Viridian Shaman, Glissa Sunseeker, and the steady stream of card advantage from your men dying, Ravager.dec runs out of gas and has to pin its hopes on a double Shrapnel Blast to win.
Regular Affinity is more of a challenge due to Broodstar and the possibility of countering Death Cloud. I haven’t tested this matchup really at all, but I can posit that it’s probably not very good in game one. Sideboarding should help things quite a bit, though. Goblin Bidding is also not tremendous in game one either, but you get a lot of help out of the sideboard in games two and three. White control and U/W are both relatively easy due to the power of Skullclamp. Just remember to hold on to that Oversold Cemetery until they cast an Akroma’s Vengeance (unless they’re unable to due to Death Cloud land screw, ha ha ha!) Astral Slide has always given B/G decks fits, since Lightning Rift and Astral Slide do nothing but dominate creatures. Game one is probably a lost cause, yet once again, things get a lot better once the Naturalizes and Lightning Coils come in.
B/G has always been a very versatile deck, and I think the Death Cloud incarnations are even more so – providing a good toolbox of utility, solid disruption, and tons of card interaction. Give the deck a try; I believe it to be a cut above the other B/G Cemetery variants.
Here’s where I get to pop off about other things, because I can. Skip this stuff if you don’t care about my random thoughts, but if you’ve got a mind to, read on.
One guy wrote to me in response to the DNA series of articles with props because I liked Neutral Milk Hotel. Thanks for being the one person that caught that; there really aren’t enough fans of good indie music out there. If you want me to name drop, I’m happy to drop one more: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. Check them out if you like well-instrumented pop songs. [I’m a big fan of Ted Leo and the boys. – Knut] Which reminds me… where is the new Self album? I grow more impatient by the day.
Staying on musical things… hey hip hop fans – The best album of last year that you haven’t listened to was Original Soundtrack by The People Under the Stairs. In fact, it’s probably the best hip-hop album of the last three years. Get it. No, don’t look for justification – just get it.
The Celtics are my absolute favorite team in all of sports… and they’re total garbage right now. Danny Ainge has absolutely destroyed what was a winning basketball team and traded it for what appears to be a three year rebuilding project. This pains me greatly. I do have some glimmer of hope riding on the very broad shoulders of rookie Brandon Hunter, an absolute beast who is going to make a name for himself as the year finishes out. Fantasy basketball players looking for a sleeper should take a hard look at him.
Unreal Tournament 2004 is amazing. It’s basically a crossbreed of Halo and Battlefield 1942 with regard to the game’s major new gameplay mode – Onslaught (no relation to the Magic set). It’s so much fun. Download the demo, give it a whirl and look for [Geno]Dobbs. If you think you can take me, I would urge you to bring it.
My bets are on Return of the King for Best Picture, Bill Murray for Best Actor (I hope), and Charlize Theron for Best Actress. Of course, this article could be run after the Oscars which would make these predictions seem silly. [cracks whip on editor] [Or I could change your Oscar picks to make you look like a complete buffoon and no one would be the wiser… but I wouldn’t do that, now would I? – Knut]
The number of Magic players who claim they’re making money at online poker and the ones who actually are is probably about a 10 to 1 ratio.
That’s about all for now.