“No one uses me outside of Limited,” it cackled,”what makes you want to give a try?”
I blinked.”Oh. Well. See, I think I’m crazy,” I said to my little digital card.
“Proceed,” it replied merrily.
So here we are. You are surely wondering why on Earth I would choose to label Betrayal of Flesh as one of my most attractive deckbuilding cards in Mirrodin. In my attempt to explain, I’ll walk you through the decks I have been playing online. But the first step is to take a look at the card all by its lonesome:
Card Name: Betrayal of Flesh
Rules Text: Choose one – Destroy target creature; or return target creature card from your graveyard to play. Entwine-Sacrifice three lands. (Choose both if you pay the entwine cost.)
Artist: Wayne England
Why shouldn’t you play Betrayal of Flesh? Two reasons.
It’s expensive. I think this is probably the first and best reason why most deckbuilders grimace and politely slide Betrayal of Flesh into their chaff box. Six mana is a lot to ask for spot removal. Four mana gives you Wrath of God in White, while six gets you Akroma’s Vengeance. Exalted Angel and the pitfighter legends from Onslaught cost six mana and each can singlehandedly win you the game. Mindslaver and Myr Incubator are in the same set at the same cost, both potential game-enders. Dragons of the Shivan, Two-Headed, Worldgorger, and three-color Elder variety? All six mana. Six is on the high end of most decks’ mana curve – even in casual games – and these cards are reserved for either board-clearing reset buttons or game-finishing fatties.
It’s costly. What Betrayal of Flesh does provide for six mana is a huge potential momentum swing. Your opponent attacks with her two best creatures. You kill one, animate your best creature and block to kill her second. Pretty good deal, and I think most people would agree worth the price on the card. But it’s not just six mana – you’re also sacrificing three lands if you want both effects. On turn 6 this usually means you now have three land left, which sort of steals that momentum swing you just received. Land is the lifeblood of Magic games, and as attractive as the scenario I painted above is, giving up a card and three land before your opponent has even been given an opportunity to respond (with, say, a counterspell) is simply way too risky.
To my mind, those are really the only two downsides. Unfortunately, they are mighty big downsides and reasonably unavoidable.
But maybe we can just peek at the upside…
It can kill almost anything. In an age of Affinity, Terror is a cheap-but-risky removal spell. Smother was great with Wild Mongrels and tokens running rampant, but a lot less reliable in Standard today. Even Dark Banishing sits idle versus decks like Zombies and mono-Black Clerics. Diabolic and Chainer’s Edicts allow an opponent to choose what dies. Betrayal of Flesh, meanwhile, will kill artifact, Black, and non-Black creatures with equal fervor. As spot removal, few Black cards are more reliable at killing what you want dead.
It’s an instant. The fact that the creature removal part of Betrayal of Flesh comes at instant speed is unremarkable. The fact that the reanimation part of it comes at instant speed is a lot more interesting. All of the creatures in your graveyard are now potential surprise blockers. Add comes-into-play effects like Nekrataal and you have a recipe for outstanding combat tricks. Also, being able to both kill and reanimate during an opponent’s end step is a luxury that the sorcery-happy Black rarely experiences.
It’s reliable. Sure, it costs six mana. But if you have the six mana to spend it will almost never be a useless draw. If your opponent has any targetable creatures, you can kill one of your choice. If any of your creatures have made their way to the graveyard, you can animate one of your choice. This means that Betrayal of Flesh is instant-speed graveyard animation versus control decks and unstoppable creature elimination versus aggressive decks. Assuming you can pay the cost, the only situation in which it sucks is if you are facing a creatureless deck packing graveyard removal–and in that case just quit playing and go home, because you’re having a really bad day.
It’s flexible. Entwine as a mechanic is built on the idea that flexibility is valuable, just like kicker and split cards before it. And with entwine you actually have the choice to play both options at once. Especially where combat is involved, I have been amazed at how many ways Betrayal of Flesh can put me in a winning position against a wide variety of decks. Desert Twister and Creeping Mold will always be two of my favorite cards because of how much I love flexibility.
It’s splashable. A six-cost card with only a single colored mana requirement is practically colorless. Had Betrayal of Flesh cost 4BB it would have only been realistic to play in mono-Black or allied-color decks because the entwine cost would too often make your other cards uncastable. But at 5B you can even realistically play it in a three-color deck (though not comfortably). What this means is that cards without access to either creature elimination or reanimation can easily fit in Betrayal of Flesh to compensate.
It’s uncommon. For people who build decks on a budget, an interesting uncommon – especially one that isn’t chased after by tournament players – is a terrific boon. It is easy to build a Betrayal of Flesh deck without selling your soul to Wizards in the process.
Now, do those six advantages trump its two big disadvantages? To me, yes. What gets you excited about deckbuilding may differ pretty substantially from me, however. If I haven’t at least piqued your interest, you should probably go read some of the strategy articles up today. If you have even the slightest grin, though, let’s proceed.
Given a card that can reasonably be used in all five colors, what I usually do is try my hand at building at least five different decks showcasing the cards. I do this to unlimber my creativity. Focusing on how Betrayal of Flesh fits into a base Red deck versus a mono-Black deck versus a Green deck helps me think of new uses for the card and also helps me identify the best two- and three-card interactions in a particular card pool (in this case Standard, since I’m playing Magic Online).
Once I have tried a variety of decks in all five colors, I usually have a handle on where the card shines and where it suffers. Then I feel comfortable focusing on either a) playing and improving one of the decks I made, or b) branching into a new deck (often a three or more color idea). This is a fairly common two-step process for me; first brainstorm a horde of decks, second start to focus until I get bored.
Today you get an improved version of the first stage. That is, I’m going to share my list of Betrayal of Flesh decks in all five colors. The difference this time around is that I have actually played each of the decks I’ll list today dozens of times. Hopefully this means more interesting decks to look at and more interesting commentary along the way.
Betrayal in Black
I always – and I do mean always – try out a new card in a monocolor deck. Partly I do this so I don’t have to worry too much about mana bases and because I think monocolor decks have an elegant simplicity to them. Mostly, though, this is the single best way to find out what other cards exist in that card’s color that can be used as constant companions in multicolor decks.
For Betrayal of Flesh, I really only tried one mono-Black deck. Figuring that comes-into-play and leaves-play effects make a Betrayal deck the most fun, I was able to find just enough supporting pieces to build this:
Now, this deck is far from perfect (keep in mind my Standard Disclaimer from last time). It can be dreadfully slow to get started if you don’t draw either a Leaden Myr or something to attack with by turn 3. It has no disruption whatsoever, which means no discard and Black’s normal anemia versus opposing artifacts and enchantments. For these reasons, I fully expect that any sideboard would include Oblivion Stone and something like Headhunter or Ravenous Rats.
Instead, the idea is to win through sheer stubbornness. One opponent dubbed it”Jay’s Deck of Card Advantage,” which isn’t completely inaccurate. Sometimes you win quickly because of an early Slith Bloodletter or through a quickly-reanimated Twisted Abomination. Against any artifact-heavy deck, you will often win through an accumulation of Disciple of the Vault damage. Most of the time, though, you are in for a slow grind to whittle down your opponent’s resources until you simply have a better board position. In many ways, playing the deck reminds me of my Corpse Dance decks of old, which were so slow I dubbed my best one”Mud.”
I tried Ravenous Rats maindeck, but I found them to be unworthy of Betrayal of Flesh. This, in turn, led me to a realization about my feature card. Betrayal’s entwine cost is easy to justify with all Swamps (and plenty of them to boot), but giving up a card and three lands means you better be doing something pretty cool. In my mono-Black deck, this means that when you kill a creature you’re also bringing back either a) Solemn Simulacrum, to gain back one of those land and grab an extra draw, b) Nekrataal, for obvious reasons, c) Twisted Abomination, which you previously cycled, d) Bottle Gnomes, because either you’re almost dead or your opponent is low on life and you have a Disciple, or e) Visara the Dreadful, who just recently died. Any of these can be the correct choice, and each has won me at least one game.
Other mono-Black ideas can obviously put Betrayal of Flesh to use. The way-too-common (at least in the Casual Constructed room) Zombies can churn Gempalm Polluters into your graveyard, and has lots of fun Carrion Feeder and Nantuko Husk tricks up its sleeve. You can also pack a full compliment of Betrayal, Unholy Grotto, Cruel Revival, Zombify, and Gravedigger to create a deck ripe for the undying. This is also a good deck for the budget-minded deckbuilder.
Another way to go is with Clerics, since Betrayal makes Rotlung Reanimator even sillier than he is on its own. I also played around with the idea of a mono-Black Death Pit Offering deck with Betrayal of Flesh, which seems hilarious just on principle.
My explorations in Black uncovered two terrific Betrayal compliments. The first is a rediscovery of Zombify. If you want creatures in your graveyard, it is useful to have more than just Betrayal of Flesh to get them back. A lot of decks you will see below use Zombify to duplicate Betrayal’s effect.
The second is Jens. God bless Jens. Solemn Simulacrum is my new Rishadan Port – going into every deck I make and only coming out when it clearly doesn’t fit. It’s particularly nice in a deck packing Betrayal of Flesh because a) it accelerates you closer to six mana, b) it’s a blocker while you accelerate to six mana, c) it draws you a card in search of Betrayal, d) if splashing Betrayal, it finds that Swamp you need, and e) if paying the entwine cost and reanimating Jens, you effectively only lose two land (while thinning one from your library) and get back a card when it dies. Almost all of the decks you see below use Solemn Simulacrum.
Betrayal in Red
If it’s one thing I sorely missed in my mono-Black deck, it was a board-sweeper. Betrayal of Flesh seems particularly juicy with board-sweepers. First and foremost, they provide you with defense versus weenie swarms while you hoard mana. Then, when an opponent has recovered from the sweep and put out their last-gasp attempt at offense, you maliciously swat their new creature aside and bring back something like Twisted Abomination to finish the game. For these reasons, a card like Bane of the Living might be just what my Black deck above needs (hey, I said I played all of the decks above, but I also said they’re far from perfect).
Red happens to have a host of board-sweepers. I started with overcompensating with them in a Red/Black deck based on my frustration in mono-Black and came up with this deck:
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Twisted Abomination
3 Rukh Egg
3 Chartooth Cougar
3 Scion of Darkness
4 Betrayal of Flesh
4 Slice and Dice
3 Talisman of Indulgence
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Urborg Volcano
This deck is essentially a glorified Cycling-Reanimation deck. It’s not rocket science to put landcycling critters and other big cycling beasties into a deck and then play Zombify. But it is fun, and in this deck I even managed to squeeze in the cheesy combo of board-sweepers and Rukh Egg. There is, once again, a decided lack of answers to artifacts or pesky enchantments, but it’s a problem I frankly don’t worry about much in the Casual Constructed room. If I cared about taking this deck to a Friday Night Magic, I would probably resort to something like Shatter maindeck or again rely on Oblivion Stone.
Even without answers to artifacts and enchantments, this deck wins a lot of games based on the sheer power of its spells. The board-sweepers are great for slowing down aggressive opponents and can cycle against creatureless decks. The constant cycling means you find Zombify and Betrayal of Flesh aplenty. The landcycling and Talismans mean that six mana is easy to reach and a Betrayal entwine is easy to recover from. I find that if I am losing games with one of my other Betrayal decks that I will pull this one out for a few games. It’s competitive and it plays like I expect a Betrayal of Flesh deck to play.
The other temptation when looking at Red and Black is to use Bladewing the Risen and/or Kilnmouth Dragon in a dragon reanimation deck. Again, this is not an idea that is particularly new to anyone, but it is a natural fit for Betrayal of Flesh…
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Kilnmouth Dragon
2 Bladewing the Risen
1 Rorix Bladewing
1 Clockwork Dragon
4 Talisman of Indulgence
4 Chain of Plasma
4 Seething Song
4 Betrayal of Flesh
The Chain of Plasma looks a little odd, but it’s one of the only ways to get dragons into the graveyard (a lot of folks bounce it back at me before they figure out what I’m up to). It is also a nice way to ditch Seething Songs you don’t need. Seething Song, however, makes this deck possible. Not only does it pop out a Turn 3 Kilnmouth Dragon on lucky days, but it makes recovering from an entwined Betrayal easy. Clockwork Dragon loves Seething Song.
Like most decks of this type, sometimes you lose because you can’t find dragons, sometimes you lose because you have a hand full of nothing but dragons, and sometimes you lose because a bunch of dragons are sitting in your graveyard with no way of animating them. Those are the dangers of this deck. In return for taking this risk, you get 14/14 opponent-eating dragons. Dragon decks are never inexpensive to build, but if you are a lover of flying lizards Betrayal of Flesh makes a nice compliment.
Black-Red Beasts (using Prowling Pangolin, Chartooth Cougar, and Macetail Hystrodon and maybe Pyrostatic Pillar as a foundation) is a nice Black/Red Betrayal deck to make on a budget. A Trash for Treasure–Betrayal deck with Skeleton Shard and lots of artifact creatures sounds fun. There are a lot of ways to use Red in a reanimation deck to good effect.
Betrayal in Blue
A month into Mirrodin, and I am already sick of Affinity. What happened to neutering Blue? I am sick of Myr Enforcer. I am sick of Broodstar. I am sick of Override. I am sick of Thoughtcast. I am sick of Thirst for Knowledge. And I am really, really sick of the creatureless Affinity decks that use Mind’s Desire, Gilded Lotus, Twiddle, Dream’s Grip, and Tendrils of Agony. It’s not that these decks are bad, or even that they’re not fun to play. But two decks out of every three I play seem to have an Affinity engine at their core, and that has gotten tiresome. Variety is my favorite spice. [I prefer garlic salt, but variety is in the top five. – Knut]
Even still, the Affinity mechanic is powerful, cheap to assemble, and fits into a lot of different deck ideas. Even with Betrayal of Flesh, I found myself drifting in this direction:
Wargames (artifact betrayal… get it?)
4 Myr Retriever
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Myr Enforcer
1 Clockwork Dragon
1 Platinum Angel
4 Aether Spellbomb
4 Talisman of Dominance
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Betrayal of Flesh
So basically it eschews the control aspects of most Affinity decks and lightens the artifact count in order to make room for graveyard reanimation. The only trick here that is truly compelling is Betrayal and Triskelion, who can ping an opponent to death without attacking. But really this deck is only attractive as a slight novelty, since normal Affinity builds are faster and more powerful.
It occurs to me that you can use Thirst for Knowledge, Catalog, and maybe something like Mask of Memory as a draw-graveyard engine with a full array of Betrayal, Zombify, and Doomed Necromancer. The rest of the deck could be utility weenies like Sage Owl and expensive fatties like Havoc Demon, Phyrexian Colossus, Tidal Kraken, etc. I have no idea if this would work, but it’s worth a shot.
Since Wizards have a habit of sacrificing themselves or generally being fragile, they probably benefit from Betrayal of Flesh. Betrayal might also compliment Dreamborn Muse and Brain Freeze. A Read the Runes deck? An”unblockable” deck with fear creatures and Phantom Warrior reprints? None of these excited me enough to pursue, but each might make a really fun Betrayal of Flesh deck.
Betrayal in Green
At some point I got tired of facing artifact-heavy decks in the Casual room…
4 Wirewood Herald
4 Caller of the Claw
4 Timberwatch Elf
4 Viridian Shaman
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Wirewood Channeler
4 Krosan Tusker
1 Glissa Sunseeker
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
4 Creeping Mold
4 Betrayal of Flesh
This is probably the easiest deck to play of the ones I list today. There are a few interesting choices to make – what to get with the Herald, what to play on turn 4, whether Timberwatch is worth reanimating, etc.- but for the most part it is an aggro-control deck built to beat artifacts. Notice I say”aggro-control,” not”aggro” because there is a much slower beatdown here than most elf decks. Sometimes I take a sick pleasure in playing land-destruction versus decks using artifact lands. Since most people on Magic Online are flat-out sick of Elves, this deck provokes a few curses from opponents. It’s strange that a mere elf deck would be my most sinister deck and the one I play when I’m in a bad mood.
The real advantage of Green in a Betrayal deck is its ability to create lots of mana. The elf deck above is one demonstration of this (and I could have used Wirewood Elf and Elvish Aberration to emphasize my point), but cards like Explosive Vegetation, Journey of Discovery, and even the new Deconstruct make the mana cost and land-saccing of Betrayal a minor inconvenience. After you have a core of mana acceleration and Betrayal of Flesh, start thinking big and fat. Throw in Bane of the Living for some board-sweeping goodness and enjoy.
Green/Black Beasts work well with Oversold Cemetery, so they obviously like Betrayal of Flesh too. Krosan Tusker and Ravenous Baloth are the big lures here, but Symbiotic Beast, Molder Slug, and Prowling Pangolin are potential additions as well. That’s the second time I have mentioned the Pangolin. Although I haven’t tried it out, in theory it should work well with Betrayal of Flesh (or at least Betrayal makes Prowling Pangolin better than it usually is in constructed decks).
Finally, of course, there are fatties. Black and Green so often go together in reanimation decks because reanimation is a specialty of Black and fatties are a specialty of Green. Try splashing Black in your Elvish Piper deck and you now have a way to get those Thorn Elementals and Plated Slagwurms back if they die. Betrayal of Flesh doesn’t replace Oversold Cemetery in your Black/Green cycling deck, but it makes a nice back-up plan.
Betrayal in White
In an odd twist, I resisted playing Black/White Betrayal of Flesh decks because I thought the options were boring. Then I made more Black/White decks than any other color combination. At this point I’m not entirely sure what seemed boring to me. Clerics was obvious and didn’t excite me. Needless to say, Doomed Necromancer, Cabal Archon, Rotlung Reanimator, Noble Templar, and Weathered Wayfarer make a nice backbone to a deck that can take full advantage of Betrayal.
Soldiers seemed lame too, although when I started moving cards into a pile I kind of liked this configuration:
Sort of like the elf deck, it’s a”Big Soldiers” version. That is, I don’t worry too much about puny weenies that I can get out quickly to pump up with things like Glorious Anthem and Bonesplitter. Instead, I load up on defense and cyclers in hopes that I can wear an opponent down. The Dragon Scales is a trick with Gempalm Avenger and Noble Templar that probably isn’t worth it, but I am particularly fond of Dragon Scales. Anyway, at least it’s a cheap deck to build. In fact you can make it completely rare-less by dropping Akroma’s Vengeance for Altar’s Light and Grand Coliseum for a couple of Plains and Swamps.
Really, though the allure of combining White with Betrayal of Flesh is Eternal Dragon. I’ve already mentioned how nice landcycling is with Betrayal, since it helps you reach six mana and provides a superb target for reanimation. Well Eternal Dragon is hands down the best of the landcyclers. As a result, it is really hard to justify a White/Black Betrayal deck without using Eternal Dragon. One of the only reasons to avoid it, in fact, is if you are using a strict tribal deck like the soldiers above or slivers. Slivers? Yeah, slivers…
No, there is no good reason to make a Sliver deck if you aren’t using the Tempest block slivers. And no, nothing about Betrayal of Flesh makes slivers any more attractive than they were already. But some demon possessed me and I couldn’t get the troublesome imp out of my skull.
At some point I decided to embrace the synergy between Eternal Dragon and Betrayal of Flesh, trading my soul (and lots of Magic Online tix) for four Dragons. Once I had them, I thought it would be fun to try out Bladewing’s Thrall, a card I always considered pretty neat. Then I realized I had the makings of a White/Black dragon deck. That is, if you can justify calling a deck with only eight dragons a dragon deck.
This deck makes me smile. It uses dragons without resorting to Red. It actually puts Strongarm Tactics and Chain of Smog to reasonable use. It is unlike any deck I have seen online, and that’s always fun. The real downside is, again, a decided lack of answers for opposing artifacts and enchantments since you are hoping the discard takes care of troublesome threats. But like I said, in the Casual Constructed room you can afford some sloppiness in your deckbuilding, since the victories and losses don’t count for anything. If you can live with automatically losing to, for example, Worship or Mesmeric Orb, then it gives you an opportunity to try a wider variety of deck ideas. Certainly the Skeleton Shards could easily be something else which would get sorted out through playtesting. But the deck wins enough to be interesting for a player of kooky decks.
White’s board-sweepers, Wrath of God and Akroma’s Vengeance, are really good compliments to Betrayal of Flesh, just like they’re really good compliments to any pile of cards. Sweep away and then reanimate. Other cards make White a nice color to dip into with Betrayal as well. Astral Slide and cycling creatures. Akroma, Blinding Angel, Exalted Angel, Luminous Angel, and Angel of Mercy in an angels deck. Celestial Gatekeeper in a Black/White birds deck. As with the other colors, I have only scratched the surface here.
What have I learned in a month of deckbuilding and dozens of pages of reflection? Well, the first is that I feel pretty happy about putting Betrayal of Flesh on my Class I list. It is indeed a fun card to build decks around, and the decks that emerge are fun to play. It really feels like there a lot more deck ideas to pursue here, which is a really nice sign. Imagine delving into the broader card pool that you and your friends use and I think the possibilities are close enough to endless to keep you happy.
Speaking of which, I would hate to leave you thinking I only care about casual decks in a Standard card pool. I play kooky Standard decks for three reasons. First, I enjoy Standard because it is a fresh, constantly-shifting landscape of cards. Second, for new players it’s nice to focus on recent sets that they tend to own. Finally, playing Standard in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online allows me to test my wacky deck ideas against a satisfying mix of similarly wacky decks, beginner decks and netdecks. So odds are most of my Magic deckbuilding articles will continue to focus on Standard as a foundation.
However, I would like to think that my pondering today has given you a map for how to both think about a”feature card” generally, and how to think about Betrayal of Flesh specifically. In fact, I daresay these are the particular lessons for building decks around Betrayal of Flesh based on my own experience. Consider them Guiding Principles of making Betrayal decks.
You need mana. Despite its allure (at least to me), you can’t escape the fact that Betrayal of Flesh costs six to cast and often entails you losing three land. As a result, you need either lots of land or lots of non-land mana-producers or both. Scan through the decks above and you’ll see a minimum of twenty-two land (the elf deck, which also has the lowest mana curve) along with things like Leaden Myr, Talismans, landcyclers, and of course Solemn Simulacrum. These are vital components to any deck sporting Betrayal.
You need creatures. Any deck that wants to reanimate creatures needs to feel comfortable that there will actually be creatures to reanimate. Betrayal of Flesh clears the way of blockers and creates incredible combat tricks, but you need to have creatures to see its benefits. This is probably an obvious point, but a deck loading up on mana, board-sweepers, etc. and not enough creatures is going to quickly find a better use for its four card slots than Betrayal. On the other hand, the more creatures you use – especially when you have comes-into-play or leaves-play abilities – the more you will appreciate Betrayal.
Use Solemn Simulacrum. And since you are adding creatures to your Betrayal of Flesh deck, consider finding space for Jens. I’ve already said why. I use it in almost all of the decks listed today and enjoy drawing it every single time.
You need more creature elimination. There are two reasons you need more creature elimination in your deck than just Betrayal of Flesh. First, Betrayal is a slow card and only kills one creature. If it’s your only form of creature control then you will be dead before you can cast it or dead soon after you cast it. Second, you want to take full advantage of Betrayal’s flexibility. If it’s your only form of creature control, you are too often going to be relying on it to kill threats even when some cool creature is sitting in your graveyard. As I’ve said above, I particularly appreciate board-sweepers like Starstorm to augment Betrayal’s effectiveness.
Focus on reanimation. What I didn’t realize when I started this process is that Betrayal of Flesh is a souped-up reanimation card, not a souped-up Dark Banishing. In other words, decks that use Betrayal as a centerpiece become reanimator decks. And as you build a reanimator deck, you usually want more reanimation than just Betrayal of Flesh. Use Zombify. Use Doomed Necromancer. Use cycling creatures and creatures with cool effects when they die or come into play. Find ways to get fatties into your graveyard. Understand you are making a reanimator deck and adjust your card choices accordingly.
I will only say”Betrayal” four more times today.
Where do I go next? Normally I would start to focus on one single Betrayal of Flesh deck and see if I can make it worthy of a Friday Night Magic appearance. But normally I would spend a few days on the brainstorming portion of my process instead of a month.
So I guess I’ll leave it up to you. If you would like to see me try and work a Betrayal of Flesh deck into something decently competitive, let me know. If, on the other hand, you would like me to move on to a second Class I card as I’ve done with Betrayal, let me know that too. You can post your opinion in the StarCityGames.com Forums or you can e-mail me directly. I’d prefer the forums but know some people are shy.
Regardless of my next step, I hope you enjoyed my foray into Betrayal of Flesh and have some new things to think about. Happy New Year and see you online!