Pedantically Learning About Cephalid Vandal

I have a fondness for quirky decks that might or might not be good enough to achieve the almighty Tier One status. Although most of the time this just means that I am repeatedly losing in testing to more established decks like Quiet Roar, occasionally I come up with a possible metagame call. But, you ask, Pedantic Learning?

The people I test with here in Pittsburgh know that I have a fondness for quirky decks that might or might not be good enough to achieve the almighty Tier One status. Although most of the time this just means that I am repeatedly losing in testing to more established decks like Quiet Roar, occasionally I come up with something that’s worth working on as a possible metagame call or even something that can consistently give the best decks a run for their money.

If there were an OBC tournament tomorrow, I’d almost definitely run either G/U or B/u. But there’s still a lot of time to mess around with this format, and I have much more fun building and playing a deck that swings with 7/7 Suntail Hawks than a deck that Wizards built for me that swings with 6/6 flying Wurms. (There is actually a lot of careful metagaming and tweaking going on even within the Quiet Roar archetype, but it’s still always the same base cards.)

Since I only have so much time to spend on testing and building decks, I thought it’d be good to highlight one of my more interesting decks from time to time and who knows, maybe someone will try the deck out and find improvements and then send them back to me. If this happens enough I’ll post a new updated list in a future article and perhaps eventually one of them will be good enough to run with the big boys in the Block.

One card that I’ve always thought was sort of interesting but had never really played around with is Pedantic Learning.

Pedantic Learning



Whenever a land card is put into your graveyard from your library, you may pay 1. If you do, draw a card.

According to the dictionary, pedantic means unimaginative, formal, and precise – which is pretty much how most tournament players approach rares of this caliber. That is, they throw them in the bin.

For those who are worried about getting the most efficient use of their testing time, this is probably a good idea. But for people like me who have a touch of the rogue deckbuilder in them, it’s fun to approach cards like Pedantic Learning in a non-pedantic fashion.

About a week ago, Jill Costigan gave me a list of a fun deck that centered around using the Learning to turn Millikin into a haphazard Archivist that often produced mana but would sometimes draw a card instead. The deck happened to be part of an amusing Soulgorger Orgg (another card I’m always trying to use, although in this case in Limited) metagame where all the decks had to include four Orggs, so it also had Lava Dart and Defy Gravity – both of which seem pretty good when your opponent is at one life.

So I set out to modify the deck to work when your opponent is at twenty.

I first searched for cards that would allow you to mill your own library for a low cost. Bloodcurdler and Mental Note were both immediately added and the deck became U/B. Soon I realized that the deck would have an enormous amount of synergy with Psychatog due to the card drawing and graveyard filling… And so in went four Psychatogs and two Upheavals. Then I hit upon what is sometimes the best card in the deck: Cephalid Vandal.

Cephalid Vandal


Creature – Cephalid

At the beginning of your upkeep, put a shred counter on Cephalid Vandal. Then put the top card of your library into your graveyard for each shred counter on Cephalid Vandal.

The Vandal has always been scoffed at in Limited despite being a good threshold enabler due to its potential to get very out of control very quickly. I’ve seen it run in a couple of old Battle of Wits decks – but other than that, it’s just been another”into the bin” rare. However, not only is it insane in combination with Pedantic Learning, it is also the best possible chef for Psychatog.

When the Vandal gets to shredding, the Psychatog starts eating very well indeed

And if it ever gets to the point where you’re seriously worried about being decked (which should almost never happen, as this block is so lacking in good control cards that games almost never go through very many turns) you can Aether Burst him back to your hand or just Upheaval.

Anyway, the next round of changes involved removing the Bloodcurdlers (a deck can only have so many fragile creatures; plus, we can’t afford to have the Bloodcurdler eating from Psychatog’s precious graveyard) and filling out the deck with other Psychatog staples such as Circular Logic. And here is what resulted:


Mental Note x4

Pedantic Learning x4

Aether Burst x4

Predict x3

Circular Logic x4

Deep Analysis x2

Upheaval x2

Millikin x4

Cephalid Vandal x4

Psychatog x4

Wonder x2

Island x15

Swamp x4

Darkwater Catacombs x4

I can’t promise you that this deck will win Pro Tour Houston, or even that it’s remotely competitive, but I can promise you that it’s probably a lot better than you ever thought a deck with a card like Pedantic Learning could be. It’s also a lot of fun to play. The Learning hitting the table on turn 2 sets up a fairly efficient card drawing engine, with both Predict and Mental Note drawing you up to three cards occasionally. Millikin sets up the Upheaval/Tog combo and also can provide cards, while the Vandal gets ridiculous if it sticks around for awhile with a Learning on the table.

In one game against a tuned version of Quiet Roar, I had double Pedantic Learning and a Vandal with about four shred counters on it. Every turn I had the option of drawing up to four or six cards for one mana apiece. Seems good, no?

Another card to consider for the deck is False Memories… But it’s only really worthwhile when you have Pedantic Learning, which you can’t count on. I even thought about Charmed Pendant, but I can’t justify spending four mana on something that’s generally pretty worthless. Including them would help the Upheaval/Tog combo happen even more quickly, however. And when you’ve already got eight copies of”bad” rares in a deck, mise well add more, am I right?

So there you have it. If you’re tired of testing the same old decks in block, build yourself a copy of pedantic.dec. Don’t expect it to win every game, but expect to have a lot of fun running it.

Credit goes to Jill for both the original idea and the patience to play test against some of my weirder deck ideas like this one.

Drafting Portal

While at Origins, I not only got the chance to meet the Ferrett, but also got to team with him in a format most people have probably never even considered: Portal Booster Draft. One of the guys there had purchased two boxes of Portal for $16 a box in an auction and they quickly got the idea to draft them. Adam Fischer came looking for me as he knew there was no way I could say no and soon we were in three on three with me, the Ferrett, and I believe Mark Auer, facing down Adam, Denver Liston, and a gentleman who, sadly, neither The Ferrett or I can remember his name.

Portal is a very strange set. For those of you haven’t seen it, there are only two types of spells: Summon Creatures (there aren’t even creature types) and Sorceries. This is all well and good and would make for a very simple game of Magic. The problem comes in when they decided to add effects that can only be done at instant speed, such as countermagic.

There is a card called Mystic Denial which, in the Magic I play, would read”1UU, Counter target spell” – but in Portal it instead reads”1UU, Play Mystic Denial only in response to another player playing a creature or a sorcery. That card has no effect, and that player puts it into his or her graveyard.” Then there is Command of Unsummoning, which reads”2U, Play Command of Unsummoning only after you’re attacked, before you declare interceptors. Return any one or two attacking creatures to their owner’s hand.”

It seems like it would have been a whole lot simpler to just add instants to the set than to print cards like the above which are sure to confuse new players. The concepts aren’t that complicated, but the length of the text on the cards certainly make them seem that way.

Anyway, the draft went fairly well, with me settling into W/R after flirting with green for awhile. Unfortunately the guy to my right also ended up in white with both Wrath of God and Archangel (5/5 flier, doesn’t tap to attack) in his pile, but I also had two big fliers so it worked out okay. In a format without tricks, having evasion creatures plus burn to kill their evasion creatures seemed good.

Green was definitely tempting, though. Not only did it have a 2/1 for G that”can’t intercept,” but it had a 3/4 for 1G that only made you sac a forest when it comes into play. Combine that with multiple 3/3 landwalkers for four and even removal in the form of Unyaro Bee Sting (3G, deal 2 damage to a target) and it was looking good.

As a side note, I think”can’t intercept” was my favorite phrase to see on a Portal card – because you know you’ll be getting a very efficient creature. There’s plenty of other creatures to do the blocking, err…intercepting with.

As it turned out, none of the people on my team were in Blue, so both me and the Ferrett decided to maindeck Boiling Seas, which was the right call as”Boil you” proved to be quite powerful with two of them in Blue.

(However, the best Boil ever would have to be Mark Fedak’s opponent in one of the Nationals Grinders laying an Island and then proceeding to cast Boil – destroying Fedak’s Island, which happened to have a freshly-cast Squirrel Nest on it. It won him the game, but how often do you see someone go”Island, Boil you”? Even worse, he sided it in against Squirrel Opposition, a deck that doesn’t even have that many Islands in it.)

My deck turned out something like this:

Goblin Bully x2

Hulking Cyclops

Hulking Goblin

Craven Giant (4/1 for 2R…this guy is great if you can remove the blockers)

Armored Pegasus

Foot Soldiers x2

Keen-Eyed Archers

Knight Errant

Alabaster Dragon

Starlit Angel

Regal Unicorn

Spitting Earth x2

Burning Cloak (Shock, sort of)

Forked Lightning (Violent Eruption for 3R)

Angelic Blessing

Path of Peace x2 (a really bad Swords to Plowshares, but still unconditional removal)

Lava Axe x2

Warrior’s Charge

Boiling Seas

Plains x9

Mountains x8

The deck would generally get some early beats in and then stall the ground and finish either through the air with fliers or with an Angelic Blessing’d creature, or it would burn the opponent out with Lava Axes. I went 2-1, losing to the G/W deck that had fat creature after fat creature as well as the aforementioned Wrath of God and Archangel and sneaking out a win against the nuts B/U deck that turned out to be the only black deck at the table. (I went a miserable but enjoyable 0-3, overestimating the power of speed R/G and failing to draft any high-end bombays – The Ferrett)

All in all I’d have to say drafting Portal was a great experience. It’s a good break from the current sets and having to shuffle through the packs reading all the cards brings back the old days. And lastly, it’s a lot of fun trying to figure out a brand-new draft format.