Scavenging For The Holidays

Glenn’s been enjoying a bit of a break from grinding Modern online, so today he tells you about his Varolz, the Scar-Striped Commander deck.

Magic Online Killed The Modern Player

With Magic Online still on hiatus for the time being, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a break from grinding Modern online. I’ve been playing a lot more casual Magic live, including Legacy, Cube, and Commander. The latter has been particularly fun, including a couple videos that will be going live on StarCityGames.com. Sadly, my departure to California means the end of my participation in the Versus series, but hopefully you enjoy my first forays into that arena.

I’ve actually written a variety of Commander articles for StarCityGames.com in the past, and given that I haven’t updated many people on my Commander comings and goings, the timing seemed perfect for an update on the deck I’ve primarily been playing over the last few months.

So if you tuned in for something to help you beat your local Modern metagame or give you some ideas to play in the eight-man queues online, I’m dry this week. Have fun with Jund!

Some of my faithful readers might recall that I had a real affinity for Glissa, the Traitor back during the days of Primeval Titan’s reign within the format. Something about combining the best colors for mana and the best colors for tutoring just appeals to the kind of Magic I most enjoy—building combos and engines that do cool things. In Commander, the combination tends to be both very viable and frequently fatal.

Plus, I already owned a lot of the cards. When you buy a Grim Tutor, you’ll accept literally any excuse to trot it out!

Welcoming Our New Overlord

Wizards has had a knack for printing sweet legendary creatures over the last couple years, and Dragon’s Maze brought several real gems. Naturally, given my Golgari leanings, Varolz, the Scar-Striped appealed to me. Beyond the color combination, he had a number of qualities that appealed to me:

1) He’s cheap. The cheaper the commander, the better since you generate card advantage by casting it multiple times per game.

2) He adds value to playing with creatures. I like creatures, but they tend to be fragile. A consistent way to turn dead creatures into something useful is handy. I don’t just mean scavenge—sacrifice outlets can also be powerful. The Aristocrats has taught us all a valuable lesson . . .

3) He’s durable. While all commanders are durable in nature, having to recast them is still a cost. Varolz’s regeneration means he needs to be cast less often, which is a pleasant upside.

4) He’s good at attacking. I really like my commanders to be capable of ending the game with 21 points of damage, and Varolz is fantastic at that job.

Now, when I build Commander decks, I always build them around the commander. You’ll never catch me sleeving up someone "for their colors" because it’s much more fun to base the deck on its most consistent weapon. Glissa chained artifacts together, rigging together a recursive engine of card advantage that tended to culminate in some gigantic spell—or just casting Primeval Titan (BORING).

I knew Varolz would be different. I debated a few different ideas. Trying to build a deck that could actively look for Blood Artist variants and do mass reanimation sounded pretty cool. I was bummed that Varolz didn’t really work with Living Death, but most of the other spells in that vein worked pretty well. I even went Zombie for Vengeful Dead . . . but the concept was really just more trouble than it was worth.

Knowing that, I began looking at going for lethal with Varolz. Death’s Shadow and Phyrexian Dreadnought each could turn Varolz into a two-turn clock—not bad, but not great. Buried Alive made things much more interesting though. Buried Alive could find both scavenge sources alongside either Brawn or Filth to force through the win. Any tutor could easily find Buried Alive, and Buried Alive was basically a five-mana kill. Toss Hatred into the mix and you’ve got a deck that pretty consistently starts threatening lethal on turn 4 or turn 5 against a goldfish.

I wasn’t eager to toss the whole game away to anyone capable of answering a Varolz however. When you’re going to run the one-drop scavenge enablers anyway, additional creatures capable of using them to attack for lethal are very appealing. The most obvious? Any creature with infect that’s green or black for starters. Good thing Scars of Mirrodin distributed most of its infect creatures within those colors!

Other strong options were hexproof creatures. Silhana Ledgewalker is a surprisingly respectable clock. It’s roughly four times slower than Plague Stinger, which is a huge downside, but if you need alternatives . . . The only supplementary creature I wound up wanting was Thrun, the Last Troll. There are a fair number of situations wherein a Thrun simply goes unanswered by the opponent, and combining the evasive incarnations with a lot of ways to grow the Last Troll threatens to create an unkillable beatdown machine. Worst-case scenario? Thrun traps them in his own special form of The Abyss.

So I threw together a quick first draft. Varolz is a three-drop, so one-drop accelerants were a priority, and the best tutor effects between green and black were a must. Once I realized that Pattern of Rebirth could let me play an extra Natural Order thanks to Varolz, I decided to add a bit of the engine from Legacy Elves into the mix—Craterhoof Behemoth is very good in a deck filled with mana dorks.

Glimpse of Nature . . . not so much. Tutors are powerful, but the mana inefficiency heavily restricts the ability to chain spells together.

The Natural Order game plan was very helpful in multiplayer games but not much use in one-on-one. Trying to club each opponent to death with an infectious attack takes a lot of time, and it’s easy for someone to pop in and halt your turn-by-turn killing spree. Building an army of enough dudes to #hoof them all, however, isn’t so bad. Getting the option to add Natural Order for Regal Force to the mix was pretty good too. A pile of cards could really help fight off the power of opposing sweepers.

After playing with this version for a while, I got bored with it. In too many games I’d just sit around with mana creatures, waiting for one of my plans to manifest itself. I’d stretched myself too thin—considering I was a combo deck, that’s a high-impact mistake. I went back to the drawing board, focusing on everything that made my commander the toughest threat on the table.

Here’s the version I’m currently playing with:

Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Glenn Jones
Test deck on 12-01-2013

The Skinny On The 60

As you can see, it’s exactly what I described for the most part: mana, card drawing, and combo pieces.

The Dark Ritual looks gross, and frankly it plays gross pretty often as well—but those are the depths to which I’ll sink for a bit of mana! Drawing just one often gives you a boost without being a brick, but I doubt the deck could afford many more rituals without drawing them too often. I went a bit deep on mana dorks as well, but the deck has Varolz to convert them into Battlegrowths going late, which is very relevant. As more sets bring more cards, I’m sure a number of these dudes will leave—I’m looking at you, Quirion Elves.

Filtering for cards is interesting. This deck is light in that category, as the cheap options that blue gets aren’t even comparable to where black and green go to draw cards. Our tutors are very efficient, sure, but having cards to help you bounce back from disadvantages or just from mulligans is very important. We’re going as deep as Sign in Blood here, which is actually quite difficult to cast.

The Ad Nauseam is a result of a few concessions. First off, I cut everything over four mana in order to make it a more predictable card-drawing spell. That said, it’s certainly not free. If you cast Ad Nauseam, you should be planning to try to kill the opponent immediately or on the following turn or face the same fate yourself.

I’ve already addressed the combo pieces, but I’d like to specifically say that it will be very unusual for this deck to end a game through any creature other than Thrun, Varolz, or an infect guy (most often Inkmoth Nexus). You really don’t have a lot of tools that can generate lethal damage outside of these creatures, so preserve them. Sometimes you won’t want to cast one until you’ve got some protection—losing Varolz to Oblation or Hinder really sucks, but these cards are very beatable with some patience.

I’m running a little more spot removal in this deck than I would in many other Commander decks, but the utter lack of sweepers means I have to compensate for potential threats from my opponents. I can’t lean on being able to tutor up Oblivion Stone and blow up the world. The only way for me to deal with an opponent’s engine is to either eliminate a key component with the right piece of removal or take them out of the game entirely.

Fortunately, black and green are up to snuff on some very versatile pieces of removal. Beast Within and Maelstrom Pulse are ideal choices when you need a one-for-one.

Tinkering with this deck has been tons of fun for the past few months. It’s a combo deck in a format known to generate some hostility from that kind of play, but frankly it’s a pretty fair one. After all, it can’t win without the combat step, and it’s leaning on a creature base that mostly perishes to any kind of mass or spot removal the opponent might have.

I like to play complex and competitive games, and that’s how I build my Commander decks. I Cube the same way—that’s why you’ll always see me taking any land in the pack over a random white creature in that format. I like to solve puzzles, so I play decks that are prone to requiring solutions. That’s all that my Varolz deck is! Every game you sit down and solve the puzzle of how to sequence your spells and maximize your mana, concluding with a scavenge-fueled kill.

If you’ve got a competitive group or like to play a lot of two-player Commander, give Varolz a try!

In Other News

I’ve missed a few columns in the past month, and I’d like to let you guys know why. As some of you may already know via the magic of social media, I’ll be leaving my post as Senior Event Coverage Coordinator at StarCityGames.com following SCG Open Series: Las Vegas featuring the Invitational and leaving Roanoke. In fact, I’ve already moved into a new apartment in California! The process of interviewing, preparing, and actually moving just left me shy for time when my deadlines approached.

This is a period of major change for me, but fear not—I have every intention of continuing this column. In fact, I’ll probably be playing more Magic than ever in 2014, and I’m sure that Modern will be a big part of that. Even so, I hope you guys are enjoying this break from the norm in my column. Rest assured, we’ll be back to regularly scheduled content soon.

By the way, the Open Series in Oakland and the Invitational in Las Vegas will be my coverage swan songs with StarCityGames.com—do me a favor and watch ’em, won’t you?