Multiplayer Is An Art, Part 8: Building Decks For Canadians

Stijn takes a reader request to build a deck with Justice and Questing Phelddagrif in it – and then discovers that the deck works better once he removes them. What kind of request is this?

Reading fan mail can be quite rewarding, but there is a hidden danger in that sweetest of pasttimes: It can lead to more work, for each mail has to be answered.

Now that isn’t hard to do – and it is quite fun, too! If you like writing, why wouldn’t you like writing mail? No, I was talking about people asking you to write more articles on a specific subject.

I once wrote an article on Reins of Power because somebody asked me to. It was a nice article…. But maybe that was because I already had a deck based on Reins of Power. This time I was asked by a certain Andrew Crowe to write about Justice, and I never ever played with that card. So that also makes this article the first one about a deck that hasn’t already been tried and tested and tuned to death.

And it probably never will be tried – at least not by me. For I don’t have the time to play any Magic now since my education tends to require forty-four hours of school a week. (Hooray for the molecular life sciences! I should have chosen Cultural Anthropology or something like that, those people only get six hours of college a week, and all your classmates are girls.) But if any person would be that interested in the deck and decides to build something like it, I would greatly appreciate any word on how it fares. Now let’s put on our new CD and listen to it for inspiration:

“Thou canst not kill what breeds within thee.”

The loss and Curse of Reverence – Emperor, Conquering Europe (live)

That is true. So how do we breed something in our opponents? Something that combines well with Justice? Ah, by giving him something red indeed. In the Gödel, Escher, Bach concoction, I used Hippopotami to give opponents tokens, but here I am giving tokens with Varchild’s War-Riders. They grant tokens like the hippo, but the tokens they donate are red. And they give them for free, as if they were the Salvation Army instead of a pack of ruthless pillagers. And if you don’t believe it, then read this:

Varchild’s War-Riders


Creature – War-Riders

Trample, Rampage: 1

Cumulative upkeep: Put a 1/1 red survivor token into play under target opponent’s control.


(If you did not believe me just then, then why do you believe me now? You are so naive.)

So we give our opponents tokens that are useless to them since attacking us with them will result in even more damage to their heads, for I reckon we will be dealing some damage to their heads ourselves too. More on that later.

Now that we are stuck with:

4x Justice

4x Varchild’s War-Riders

…Let us suddenly remember another email I got from yet another Canadian guy, Sir Jamez. He asked me to evolve a deck around the following theme set by Questing Phelddagrif and his own creativity:

4x Questing Phelddagrif

4x Defense of the Heart

1x Spirit of the Night

2x Monk Idealist

4x Caltrops

Obviously, the Phelddagrif is used here to give an opponent token creatures, which we were already doing with Varchild’s War-Riders. So the hippo gets fired/downsized/rightsized/brightsized/happysized, or sacked in any other way described in the Dilbert Principle (great book, read it if you can find the time). The rest seems quite nice together, but one card can be improved, and that is Caltrops. The improvement is not upgrading it to Powerstone Minefield – no, it is replacing it with Barbed Foliage. Why would one exchange a cheap artifact with a cumbersomely-costed green enchantment? Am I so afraid to be attacked by creatures with flanking? No, I just want to encourage violence amongst my opponents, metaphorically. With Caltrops out, the tokens are useless for attacking. But with Barbed Foliage out, they are useless only for attacking you. Opponents will send their hordes at each other, and will totally forget seeing you as a threat. In a perfect world, at least. But unfortunately, this world is only near perfect, so we will need to do just that little bit extra. That little addition that makes the deck work….

…The addition I didn’t think of myself because it was already in the suggestion by James. Defense of the Heart to look for the creatures we like. And I really, really like Spirit of the Night (who shallt forever prevail)…. But it is black. And I am already using three colors, so let us choose a large creature from one of the colors we are already playing to smash face with. In fact, let us choose two other creatures, just in case one of them gets jailed. I choose Rushwood Elemental and Chlorophant. They grow. They get bigger. They enlarge. They rise. And they get +1/+1 counters, which we can abuse with our utility section, which I will soon reveal.

And I just thought of another improvement, albeit a very daft one. Now that we are in the era of people trying to keep graveyards clear of cards, of people playing with Haunting Echoes and of people playing Eradicate and Lobotomy to prevent threshold from being obtained, let us secure ourselves from those Lobotomy-like effects by replacing a Monk Idealist with an Auramancer. The Idealist is there because it Returns the Defense to your hand, and the Auramancer does just the same. They both make the Defense a sorcery, with buyback saying:

Defense of the Heart



Buyback: announce buyback. Search your library for a very good creature without slapping a random Goblin Legend around and without having to actually cast it to have it enter play. But because this card is so good, only play it once each turn. And this only resolves during your next upkeep instead of right now, because this is so good. And how am I ever going to get that Idealist back into my deck so that I can look for it again?

That is a pretty good card, even though its card text is not formulated as formally as Wizards’ officials would want it to be. And even though it does pose a question we have yet to answer. I mean, how do we get it back without playing Mortuary and Goblin Bombardment or some other horrific combination like that? A difficult question indeed. But I think I found a very complicated answer, involving even more cards. But the bright side of this answer is that you are only required to draw a single Defense to activate this system. I will summarize the system in the following scheme:

  1. Cast Defense of the Heart.

  2. Look for Academy Rector and, uhm, something that eats creatures, like Sadistic Hypnotist.

  3. Eat your Rector to Bog an opponent Down, without kicker, and look for a second Defense.

  4. With your second Defense, get another Rector and a Monk Idealist, retrieving a lost Defense. (I’m not sure whether this works, frankly, but I haven’t heard back from Sheldon… And I’m sure some nitpicker will tell us if it doesn’t – The Ferrett)

  5. Eat your second Rector to Rot an opponent’s Mind, and then look for Mortuary.

  6. Cast the regained Defense of the Heart and sacrifice the Monk Idealist/Auramancer to put him back into your library and Verdict your opponent in the process, only without the optional life gaining.

  7. During your next upkeep, look for a creature of your choice and for the Idealist, which shouldn’t be hard to find since it is bound to be on top of your deck.

  8. Rejoice because you have found such a clever way to recurse Defense of the Heart.

  9. Brush your teeth.

Seriously, you should brush your teeth at least twice a day. Dentists recommend a new toothbrush every four months.

Let us look at a short list to refresh the mind.

4x Defense of the Heart

1x Monk Idealist

1x Auramancer

4x Academy Rector

1x Barbed Foliage

1x Mortuary

1x Sadistic Hypnotist

4x Varchild’s War-Riders

1x Justice

1x Chlorophant

1x Rushwood Elemental

Because we are playing with four Academy Rectors, I took the liberty of limiting all the enchantments I wanted to play with to only one, granting only Defense of the Heart the dignity of appearing in fourfold because it is so useful to draw one.

But now look at the list. Do you see redundant cards? I sure do. Either Barbed Foliage or Justice has to go. They serve the same cause, and it is a cause which doesn’t need to be served twice. So the card with the upkeep cost gets happysized…. And that is Justice.

Do you see what I am doing? I get asked to build a deck with Justice and a deck with Questing Phelddagrif. I then decide to merge them into a single deck and proceed to kick them both out because they got redundant due to the rampant rest of the deck. I am so mean. Good and loyal readers, if you still want to see a deck based solely on Justice, ask me again and persist on me using Justice, and only Justice, and Justice for all.* If you still want to see a deck based on a Hippo, read the installment about the deck in which I used it. But if you want to read about a deck pulling something of with Chlorophant and Rushwood Elemental while fiddling around with Defense of the Heart, then by all means, read on.

What do the two growing creatures have in common? Right; they both grow. And it is up to us madmen to try and exploit that. Less innovative souls try to abuse this by just attacking with the waxing beasts – but we, creative as we are, are going to abuse those counters for some other obscure purpose. To make the counters reach that purpose, we are going to need to move them. Moving counters can be done with your hand, but that is against the rules. I’d rather move them with Spike Rogue.

Spike Rogue


Creature – Spike

Spike Rogue comes into play with 2 +1/+1 counters on it.

2, Remove a +1/+1 counter from Spike Rogue: Put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.

2, Remove a +1/+1 counter from a creature you control: Put a +1/+1 counter on Spike Rogue.


So now we are able to move our counters around at will, only spending 4 mana for each relocation. That’s not as good as I’d like it to be, but we will have to work with whatever material Wizards prints for us. But luckily, Wizards also printed Spike Breeder for us, which transforms one of its three +1/+1 counters into a single 1/1 drone for only two generic mana. And that drone soon becomes a Llanowar/Fyndhorn Elf, for we are trying to get Citanul Hiërophants into play as quickly as possible. Remember, we can look in our deck for one creature each turn, so when I speak of always having certain creatures in play, I try to really mean it.

Suddenly, a curtain is drawn up and a single man seen on the stage. He clears his throat and starts proclaiming:

“Hear ye, hear ye. While ‘tis true that card advantage engines like these normally don’t last for long, ye great author of this article guarantees you their functionality. For even though opponents will usually try and break them apart as soon as possible, this one they won’t touch with a stick. For look what we are doing with it: We are looking for mediocre creatures which aren’t even that offensive to our opponents. That will hopefully cause any adversaries with Seals of Cleansing on the board to keep them on the board, saving them for a larger thread should one occur. Hark! Just lay low and you will see that no one really cares about that extra creature one might get every turn.”

Where were we? Oh, yeah – the Hiërophants. Well, they and the Breeder are in the deck to supply its eternal thirst for mana. Casting Defense of the Heart each turn drains mana like a Mana Drain, and moving around with counters like a rabid counter mover absorbs even more magical energy… So these two creatures should be really really useful. And when we are already using two Spikes, the third and the fourth Spike will not be difficult to guess.

Force Spike? Spiketail Hatchling? Spike Drone? Or perhaps Spike Weaver, because of its useful combat effect, and Spike Feeder because it looks like a peach?

Indeed the last two, but not because the Feeder looks like a Peach. Just because it can be eaten, partially, for life – two life per counter, to be exact. This combination of Spikes and druids will save our hide often enough. But only saving hides won’t take you all the way. We need to deal some damage too, and that is where Triskelion comes to help us out. He also abuses counters by shooting them away at targets. The last counter star of this deck is going to be Mindless Automaton, which converts counters into cards, but at a slightly higher price…. For the automaton demands two counters per card. This shouldn’t be a problem, however, since the Chlorophant and the Rushwood Elemental give three counters per turn.

Then why shouldn’t we use two Chlorophants, instead of a single one complemented by an Elemental? Because the Chlorophants are only better when we have achieved threshold. Of course, I don’t pretend to hold all wisdom, in fact, so I don’t demand that anyone has to use both of them. Just play with the ones you already have. Or play with the ones whose pictures you like the best.

Things we can do with counters:

Draw a card

Deal one damage

Gain two life


Create a 1/1 token

Embiggen a creature so that it deals more damage or can take more itself

(Note the gratuitous Simpsons reference – can he go an article without one? – The Ferrett)

Counters are nice, aren’t they? But sometimes it is nice to look for creatures that do something more destructive. And these are the creatures you all have probably been waiting for: the toolbox creatures. Introducing to you: Cloudchaser Eagle, because it looks cooler, sounds cooler, and just straight out is cooler, than Aven Cloudchaser. Keldon Vandals, because its echo will allow you to kill it at will, putting it back into your deck with Mortuary. (Just in case you lost your Hypnotist.) Orcish Settlers, because they are much too under-used and Avalanche Riders are way too over-used. They also look cooler, and they don’t depict some weird guy in their artwork. Besides, in theory we have loads of mana, so they are bound to be more effective that the Avalanche Riders to boot. But they have summoning sickness, so we use Keldon Whipsergeant, too. The sadistic army officer also improves our utility fireball called Cinder Elemental. With haste, this thing becomes very brutal when ten-plus mana becomes available. Gravedigger might help us recover lost creatures which we would rather not lose.


4x Varchild’s War-Riders

4x Academy Rector

4x Defense of the Heart

1x Monk Idealist

1x Auramancer

1x Barbed Foliage

1x Mortuary

1x Sadistic Hypnotist

1x Chlorophant

1x Rushwood Elemental

1x Spike Rogue

1x Spike Breeder

1x Citanul Hiërophant

1x Mindless Automaton

1x Triskelion

1x Spike Weaver

1x Spike Feeder

1x Keldon Vandals

1x Keldon Whipsergeant

1x Cloudchaser Eagle

1x Orcish Settlers

1x Cinder Elemental

1x Gravedigger

Now, according to the 60-card-and-24-land-theory once invented by myself to help out my decks, we have room for four more cards. It is the law that we use Demonic Tutor and Regrowth, but let’s be an original and not include these for once. I prefer to play with Brand, for the tokens our War-Riders throw around with are ours in theory; they’re just controlled by somebody else. When we play Brand, we will suddenly be the happy owner of a significant amount of small but warm bodies. Even more bodies that can spit out mana with our Hiërophants. And do you know what I perceive? I see a future filled with opponents that are out of lands, due to the Settlers.

Hey, I love orcs. I just started playing Warhammer, the miniature game of fantasy battles (or so it says on the rulebook), and I chose Orcs and Goblins as my army. They are so funny. Instead of hurling rocks with a rock lobber, they hurl stoned goblins with a giant catapult. The goblins are dressed with a leather set of wings so that they can aim for themselves, saving the crew some time. Pure hilarity.

So three of the cards are going to be Brand. They can cycle when they are not needed, and they can prevent incidental Treacheries or Gilded Drakes from being annoying. They also turn Thief Auctions into a real looting, provided you don’t pick a single permanent you own.

What is the last card going to be? Alert readers will have missed something – namely the ability to smack animals six feet under. This time I will also try to do this as original as possible. Since we have enough creatures to spare, Stronghold Assassin will virtually be an Avatar of Woe, only a whole lot less of a bad attention drawer. And since it virtually has haste, courtesy of the Whipsergeant, it will be able to start wasting the best creature as soon as it hits play. Unless, of course, that creature is a Zephid, but we don’t get that here very often.

3x Brand

1x Stronghold Assassin

The mana base of this deck will have two main features: Turning mana into red mana so that the Whipman can be paid with it, and achieving threshold. The color washing of the mana is very easily achieved with Skyshroud Elf, the guy that turns generic mana into red or white mana, while extracting some mana out of a tree all by himself each turn.

Go and fetch all of your casual decks and replace some lands that are in them with the sac lands from Mirage. Or replace them with Terminal Moraines. Or replace them with anything else that goes to your graveyard while maintaining your amount of lands on the table. Not only do those lands thin out your deck, but they also help achieving the threshold your Chlorophant so badly wants. When you love nothing in the world more than your Chlorophant, and your Chlorophant loves nothing in the world more than threshold, then why don’t you give it to him? For a mana base, I recommend:

4x Skyshroud Elf

3x Bayou

3x Taiga

3x Savannah

1x Plateau

1x Badlands

4x Mountain Valley

3x Grasslands

2x Rocky Tar Pit

But of course, stuff like Land Grant, Untamed Wilds, and Skyshroud Claim will also fill up your graveyard in a nice and tidy manner.

The people who asked me to use certain cards might be disappointed, but I hope everybody else enjoyed this deck. If you decide to built something like this, please let me know how it worked out for you! I would be more than thankful, since I can almost never find the time to play anymore myself. And when you didn’t like the deck, blame Canada. They put my mind on the track right towards this assembly of cards.

Next Time: Jangling Automaton is in the house! It is 3/2, costs three mana, and is Jangling all the way towards our opponent’s demise. Two decks based on this monstrosity have already been built by me – one blue and one white/green. Maybe I’ll reveal both of those decks, maybe I’ll write about something else altogether, but most probably I will just write something about magic, whether it be Jangling Automaton-related or not.


Emperial Regards,

Stijn van Dongen,


* – Mr. Crowe suggested using Nettling Imp and Norrit to make large red creatures attack and then hurt their masters. This could do very well, poured in a deck-shaped mall, provided we also play with Blind Seers and Tidal Visionaries to help fate out a little.