I’ve been a bad, baaaaad boy. I let down a loyal, faithful reader. Someone who says he’s been reading my stuff since my old 7 Towers days. Wow. First, though, some background.
Apparently, in one of my columns, I was grousing about how expensive it was to play on Magic Online and how I never had any of the good rares. I know that’s not unusual. Apparently, though, a reader took pity on me. Seems he’s a wishing-to-remain-anonymous-to-the-masses married guy like me. It also seems that he almost never gets to play real-life Magic. So, he spends a lot of money drafting. When he read me whine about my lack of fake/virtual/digital/wonderful Magic cards, he took pity. In one of the coolest moves of 2004, he just gave me a bunch of extra cards. Along the way, we had a conversation something like this:
Gd_Smrtn: So, are you working on any new decks?
Dr_Romeo: I keep wanting to do something with Phyrexian Plaguelord. He’s such a house, he’s been reprinted in Eighth Edition, and no one uses him.
Gd_Smrtn: What do you need to work on that?
Dr_Romeo: I don’t have any Plaguelords. Also, a fourth Nekrataal.
Gd_Smrtn: Nuisance Engine would be good with him. Creates blockers, and you can use them to kill creatures once the Rock hits.
Dr_Romeo: Excellent idea!
Gd_Smrtn: I’ll give you what you need, but you have to promise to write about the deck.
Dr_Romeo: Consider it done.
And, with that, he rounded out what I needed to test the deck. However, this was back in the Summer. At the point that I got the online cards, I was just about to start my three-and-a-half month break from writing. Since then, Champions has rotated in while Onslaught Block has rotated out. Onslaught took with it two of the Plaguelord’s best friends ever: Festering Goblin and Reaping the Graves. I apologize to him for not writing about this deck earlier.
Phyrexian Plaguelord has always intrigued me. There aren’t many rares of which I got four when Urza’s Block was around. I’d just started playing Magic when that block hit, and wasn’t buying many cards. (Of course, that was before I started wanting to play in tournaments, too.) However, I did get four Plaguelords. He always worked well for me. In fact, the Eighth Edition release party was actually on my birthday in 2003 (Saturday, July 26th). I got him in one of my packs, and went 6-1 that day. In fact, my only game losses were the two in my one match loss. What can you say about a creature that can kill a Darksteel Colossus?
“What I say is that he can’t kill the Colossus. Nothing can. Like Bruce Willis, he’s unbreakable.”
Yes, he can.
It is going to take a lot of mana and some time. Probably never happen for you. It can happen, though. Check this out. You get the early Nuisance Engine against Tooth and Nail. You crank guys out like there’s no tomorrow. Nuisance Engine gets “blowed up good” by a Viridian Shaman. So, what? You cast another. Make more dudes. Get a Plaguelord. When the Colossus hits, sac eleven guys to the Plaguelord, giving the Colossus -11/-11. Even Indestructible guys die when their toughness is zero.
Now, before all of the forum monkeys start flinging their literary dung, let me say this: I know that that isn’t gonna happen a lot. Maybe you’ll get to do it once. In your whole lifetime. The fact that it can happen and doesn’t require some weird five-card combo is good enough for me, though, because if I can possibly – however improbably – kill a Darksteel Colossus, I know that I can kill most everything out there.
And, the stuff the Plaguelord can’t kill? There’s always Rend Flesh.
Of course, the first question I ask myself (and I will probably continue to ask myself until October, 20th, 2005) when building a deck is: what can I do about Affinity? Well, Black is good at blowing up creatures. A Plaguelord can get rid of a Disciple of the Vault by sacrificing himself to his own ability. It’s better to have another creature for that purpose, preferably a 0/1 Pest token. If you don’t, it’s nice to know that The Rock can do it himself.
The Rock: A Digression
Today, any deck that features Green and Black ends up being called The Rock. Do you know why? The original The Rock decks featured Phyrexian Plaguelord and Deranged Hermit. The Hermit brought into play these squirrels that the Plaguelord used to shoot down opposing creatures. Between the fact that the Plaguelord looks a bit like Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock as in “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?!?”) and the Hermit brought some minions, that G/B deck became known as The Rock and His Millions. The Rock for short.
I propose that, from now on, if a G/B deck doesn’t feature the Plaguelord, it can’t be called The Rock.
And Now, Back to Our Show
The problem with this is that Disciple of the Vault is often the first creature that Affinity drops. If you wait until turn 5 or 6 to kill it, that part of Affinity that looks like a combo deck – sac a creature: target opponent loses a life; you lose nothing of importance – will kill you.
To put it another way, what does a Black deck do about an X/1 creature that can hit on turn 1? Lose Hope.
No, you don’t lose hope. You keep hope alive by playing Lose Hope.
Lose Hope is a Black deck’s gift from Wizards’ R&D against aggressive decks. On turn 1, you can kill an important creature, whether it’s Birds of Paradise, Disciple of the Vault, or Jackal Pup (in Extended). Plus, you get to Scry for two.
Obviously, this deck was going to be mono-Black.
“Why is that obvious?”
See, where I mentioned Consume Spirit right up there? No, down a little. Yeah. There. If you look at that card, you’ll see an “X” in the casting cost. “X” has to be Black mana.
“Oh. So, obviously, this is going to be a mono-Black deck.”
Still, I knew I’d need something else early, but I wanted it to be something that wasn’t awful late, too. Howsabout Ravenous Rats? Early, it eats a card and can block and maybe kill something. Later, it eats a card, and works with the Plaguelord to kill something. Yummy.
Rounding out the creature base would have to be two of my favorite cards for mono-Black decks: Nekrataal; and Abyssal Specter.
Sure. Go ahead. “Laugh it up, fuzz ball.” The Specter is a 2/3 flier for four mana. Colors other than Blue and White don’t usually get fliers that efficient anymore. Oh, and, by the by, as Becky Sue McAllister used to say, it also rips a card from your opponent’s hand when it hits. Given that fliers aren’t very common, it will most often do that. A 2/3 flying discard mechanism for four mana? Yeah, I’ll take four. Her little brother, Nektrataal, is a Terror wrapped up in a 2/1 first striker’s body. Four of those, too, please.
I played this online for a while. I kept moving cards into and out of those final slots. Then, Champions came along. Reaping the Graves and Festering Goblin went the way of the carrier pigeon and common sense. Besides, the deck was almost working well. It had a problem with some of the bigger critters if I had to use up my Rend Fleshes (previously Dark Banishing).
Enter, Kiku, Night’s Flower. Finally, a Champions card for the deck. I mean, other than Rend Flesh. This innocent-looking little vixen doesn’t care how big you are. She can take you down. Are you a 6/6 trampler? She kills you. Are you a 6/4 flier? She kills you, too. Do you have protection from Black? Okay, Houston, we have a problem.
Did you know that in all of Standard right now, only Auriok Champion has protection from Black? Sure, Pristine Angel usually has protection from Black, and there are spells like Blessed Breath and Sword of Light and Shadow that can grant that protection. But only the Champion is pro-Black “all day and all of the night.”
The only other problem that Kiku has is those creatures whose backsides are meatier than their fronts, a la Alicia Keys. Luckily, those aren’t very common in Standard. There’s Arc-Slogger, Molder Slug, Atog, Birds of Paradise, and Ornithopter. This deck has other ways to get rid of those guys.
At this point I had the base of the deck. I knew I’d probably play four of certain spells (Lose Hope, Necktie, Rend Flesh). I wasn’t sure about Nuisance Engine or the Plaguelord, for example. You want the Plaguelord ASAP. However, at 3BB, it’s not hitting the board right away. With four in the deck, you run the risk of it clogging your hand. With only three, you run the risk of not getting it on turn 5.
What ever shall I do? Why, I could playtest! Oh, what fun.
I’m not going to run a long log of the matches I played. That would be boring because I’m not as talented at making those stories interesting as say, Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar.
Man, is there a more fun Magic name to say that Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar? Maybe Osyp Lebedowicz, but that’s about it. Of course, there’s also the man who gets to celebrate nearly every Winter holiday, Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz. However, the question remains, are those two names more fun to say than Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar? I say “nay.”
Anyway, skipping the boring stories about playing this deck online, I found that three Plaguelords in enough as were three Nuisance Engines and two Spawning Pits. Kiku was a weird one, though. She’s good at almost any time, but she’s a legend. I settled on two because that’s all I had. I still had two cards left. What I went to was Persecute.
Where’s He Getting All of Those Rares?
Okay, the Good Samaritan gave me the Plaguelords. So, where did the Persecutes come from? From not reading the auction closely enough. See, I have this bad habit of buying stuff off of eBay just as the auction’s ending. I saw one where I could get two Persecutes for what turned out to be $1.06. My brother didn’t have any. I figured that would make a nice stocking stuffer since he loves playing Black. With about thirty-five seconds left in the auction, I swooped in, made my bid, and won. Then, I found out they were for MTGO. Being the uptight, I mean, upright guy that I am, I paid for them even though I didn’t really want them and added them to my collection.
Know what? Persecute’s good. Even against “colorless” decks like Affinity. Cast it naming Blue, and you might hit a couple of Thoughtcasts. No more card drawing for you! Or call Black, and hit a Disciple or two. Or you could call any of the five colors and miss completely. Still, the information is good. To be honest, though, it’s not all that good against Affinity. It’s usually the card that comes out for a couple of Hideous Laughters.
Against Tooth and Nail, the card is nuts. Tooth decks don’t like losing cards about as much as they don’t like having their lands blowed up.
Boy, oh, boy-ar-dee, does this deck miss Reaping the Graves. It’s so nice to sacrifice a couple of uglies to the Plaguelord, kill some dudes, and then get two or three back at the end of the turn. Alas, it’s not to be, and the replacements don’t really shine. Spawning Pit will have to do.
When all was said and done, I ended up with:
3 Phyrexian Plaguelord
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Abyssal Specter
2 Kiku, Night’s Flower
19 Other Spells
4 Lose Hope
4 Rend Flesh
4 Consume Spirit
3 Nuisance Engine
2 Spawning Pit
15 I’m still working on the sideboard
One card that I know is going into the sideboard, though, is Mind Slash. Clutch the pearls, gasp, and swoon, is that card good against control decks. Picture this. You’re sitting on a secluded beach playing Magic with Ana Hickman. She’s playing some variety of Tooth and Nail. On turn 1, she drops a Birds of Paradise which you kill with Lose Hope. Next turn, Ravenous Rats takes a card. Then, you cast Mind Slash while she’s making more mana. On the fourth turn, you cast a second Rats then offer up both to the Mind Slash and grab an Eternal Witness and a Tooth and Nail. She’s furious, and you won’t be getting any tonight. Which is fine because Irina Novik is waiting for you anyway.
“Romeo, why not use Cranial Extraction?”
Because I only have one kidney left.
As I played this more, though, I noticed a problem. While my mana curve seemed okay (four one-mana plays, eight two-mana plays), the early game was a bust. As I tracked the games, I noticed that it was simply the loss of control on the first two turns. I dropped a Nekrataal and a Consume Spirit for two Echoing Decays. Boo-ya! What a seemingly innocent change, but it did so much. The decks that were getting in a few early beats stopped doing that as consistently. I was able to start keeping the Rend Fleshes for the later (i.e. nastier) critters. Best of all, Kiku didn’t have to do a lot of blocking, a problem I had seen way too much. Finally, I dropped two Swamps for two Stalking Stones (use Blinkmoth Nexi if you got ’em). The Stones have yet to cause a problem with getting Black mana when I needed it, and often won the game as the last man(land) standing.
Playing the Deck
First, shuffle your deck, and draw seven cards. Look at your cards. Do you have two lands in your hand? Three? Good. Do you have any spells that cost three or less?
I’m sorry. Is that too much detail on playing the deck? My bad.
Playing the Deck Against Tooth and Nail
Okay, here’s the 7-11 or whatever the cool kids today say. This deck is normally the slower deck in a matchup. So, disrupt their hand, kill their stuff, and then beat with the Plaguelord. However, against Tooth and Nail, it’s the faster of the two. With Tooth, you want to rip cards from their hand with the Rats and get a Specter active as soon as you can. For example, if your choice is between dropping a turn 4 Specter and a turn-for Nekrataal killing a Viridian Shaman or Eternal Witness, go for the Specter. T&N decks live off of holding that card until they can get up the eleventy-million mana they need to cast this with Entwine. If you can take it from them, you’re golden. Of course, you may have to take it many times, thanks to the ridiculously wonderful Eternal Witness. This, of course, is one reason that Mind Slash comes in from the sideboard. Oh, yeah, always name “Green” after casting a Persecute against Tooth & Nail. Always. Unless you are completely and utterly sure that there are no Green cards in their hand.
Playing the Deck Against Affinity
If you know you’re playing against Affinity, you’re opening hand must have Lose Hope or Echoing Decay, preferably both. The idea is to kill stuff and run them out of cards so that they’re playing off of the top of their deck. If you get Persecute, call Black if they’re running Night’s Whisper – you might hit Whisper and Disciple – and Blue if they’re running Thoughtcast. You don’t want Affinity gaining cards on you. Try to save the Rend Fleshes for the Ravager. It can easily get too big for the Plaguelord and his Pests to kill it. Use that little combo for the Frogmites, Ornithopters, and other critters with small back ends. Don’t forget that the Nekrataal has First Strike. Granted, their comes-into-play abilities aren’t going to get to kill much unless there’s a Somber Hoverguard or Atog on board. However, two of them together can block and kill a Myr Enforcer. Your wins against Affinity will often come from stalling the game and then casting a couple of big, fat Consume Spirits. Your losses against Affinity will come because the deck is so smooth that it’s already sewn up home field advantage throughout the 2005 play-offs.
Playing Against Decks with Horobi
Sac a Pest token to the Plaguelord targeting whatever you want gone. As long as Horobi’s out, it’ll be gone. Just remember to target Horobi last so that it will stick around to help kill your opponent’s other guys.
Playing Against Red Deck Wins Y2ThisYear
I don’t know if what I’ve been facing online is the newest incarnation of Red Deck Wins, but it may be. Normally, a deck like that would be worrisome. However, this deck packs a lot of removal, and Persecute calling Red can wreck it. Don’t be afraid to block with whatever you need to block with. Save the Rend Fleshes for the Arc-Slogger. Hold Consume Spirit as long as you can. It’s what brings your life total back up and keeps you in the game.
Playing Against Shrine Decks
I have yet to run into a Shrine deck in a real world tournament. They are ubiquitous (I got a word-a-day calendar for Christmas) online, though. This deck simply can not beat them, since Black has no enchantment removal. If you run into one and you don’t have Oblivion Stone in the sideboard, just save everyone some time, concede, and get a corn dog or something.
Here’s what I ended up with:
2 Stalking Stones
3 Phyrexian Plaguelord
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Abyssal Specter
2 Kiku, Night’s Flower
20 Other Spells
4 Lose Hope
2 Echoing Decay
4 Rend Flesh
3 Consume Spirit
3 Nuisance Engine
2 Spawning Pit
You should have a good time playing this. There’s a ton of stuff to do with the deck between making Pest tokens and turning them into Spawn tokens or killing small, furry, woodland animals with them. Of course, it can also be nerve-wracking. Many times, you’ll find yourself biding your time until the Plaguelord or a Consume Spirit shows up. Whatever happens, have fun.
As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, remain seated as the acrobats of Cirque du Soleil juggle chainsaws while riding Shetland ponies on a tightrope.
P.S. If you understand that writing is not an instantaneous process, you’ll know that writers usually start the columns, stories, novels, poems, whatever well in advance of when you see them. So, imagine my dismay when, on the day I submitted this to Ted, I read [author name="Bennie Smith"]Bennie Smith’s[/author] column which also sang the praises of the Phyrexian Plaguelord. Am I merely a copycat hack, or is there a Plaguelord revival afoot? Stay tuned . . . .