You can probably guess where this is going.
Where it starts however . . .
Well, let’s put it this way. The other title was:
"Is It Worth Having Brain Maggots?"
. . .
So it’s come to this.
This is my life. Just sitting around thinking about Brain Maggots.
You know, so that I can write an article about them. Brain Maggots. No, not for a medical journal, nor a horror movie script. After all, these are not real Brain Maggots. No, actually millions of adults and millions of kids get together and play with make-believe Brain Maggots.
And my job is to talk about whether or not Brain Maggots are worth having.
. . .
I’ve had Brain Maggots in mind since they were previewed.
Players that have been playing less than a decade may not be familiar with the card this is a remake of, Mesmeric Fiend, but it was a winner in its day. I guess if you’ve taken part in the classic battle of Sorin vs. Tibalt, you’ve encountered it, but it can be easy to miss the little cards when we are so absolutely enthralled by one of the great all-time battles.
Kasparov vs. Karpov
Jay-Z vs. Nas
Superman vs. Batman
Spiderman vs. Wolverine
Sorin vs. Tibalt
Mesmeric Fiend was a regular feature in black decks in need of a Thoughtseize effect. Yes, people with removal can potentially get out of it, but in return Mesmeric Fiend brings some (admittedly modest) beats. Besides, Mesmeric Fiend can just take the removal spell! As an added bonus, the card Mesmeric Fiend takes is exiled (for the time being), so it beats cards like Loxodon Smiter.
Why is Brain Maggot good? When people struggle to kill it, it’s sort of a two-mana Thoughtseize that doesn’t cost any life and has a body. When people can kill it, it gets worse. But it’s generally always at least a one-for-one, and snagging a Supreme Verdict out of someone’s hand for a turn is absolutely huge in some matchups. It may look modest, but it has a history of overperforming.
Brain Maggot may be mostly the same card as Mesmeric Fiend, but it lives in a very different world. Creatures have gotten better (which bodes poorly for the Maggot); however, it has a lot of things going for it now. Thoughtseize is such a perfect lead into Brain Maggot. Once sitting in play the Maggot even provides a little devotion (which is more than Duress can say!).
Let’s take a look at a possible Brain Maggot deck:
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Desecration Demon
- 2 Nightveil Specter
- 2 Lifebane Zombie
- 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
- 2 Brain Maggot
Look man, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you build a deck. Mono-Black Devotion is a pretty tight little package. It’s hard to make room for anything in it, and that Brain Maggot actually has a chance is kind of exciting. It might turn out that zero is the right number, but four might also just be "obvious" next month. I lean against it (at least maindeck), but it’s worth trying.
Another place to try the Maggot is in Mono-Black Aggro:
Gnarled Scarhide is actually a pretty important little number. For starters, it is black’s third two-power one-drop. You know what the difference between twelve and eight is?
Try 25 percent.
Having twelve one-drops means a 25 percent increase in the number of games you have a one-drop in your opening hand. It is the difference between having a one-drop better than four out of five instead of two out of three.
Outside of how much black really wanted another one-drop, it is also just plain good. The ability to bestow it on another creature is quite good, turning it into a virtual haste creature that grants a sort of persist (which provides additional Supreme Verdict protection). It even has tactical applications, such as removing Polukranos, World Eater as a blocker on a key turn.
Thoughtseize, Duress, Brain Maggot, Lifebane Zombie—there is a lot of really good discard legal in Standard (basically all of which dodge Loxodon Smiter bizarrely). What if we were to actually play a legit discard deck?
Okay, so this kind of turned out pretty reminiscent of B/W Midrange. Still, there is value to be gained from understanding some possible tools B/W may gain.
For instance, Nyx-Fleece Ram is a very powerful sideboard option that is going to be an absolute nightmare for red decks. Regardless of whether they are R/W Burn or Mono-Red Aggro, the Ram is just devastating to their strategy.
So far we’ve just been using Brain Maggot as a Mesmeric Fiend straight up, which is fine, but it being an enchantment doesn’t have to be all downside (making it vulnerable to Deicide, Destructive Revelry, and others). One concept I’ve wanted to explore is enchantment creature beatdown, with Extinguish All Hope as the big payoff.
- 4 Tormented Hero
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 2 Spirit of the Labyrinth
- 2 Spiteful Returned
- 3 Eidolon of Countless Battles
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 1 Athreos, God of Passage
- 4 Brain Maggot
- 2 Underworld Coinsmith
The basic idea is to just play a fairly aggressive B/W Aggro game but with a not trivial amount of staying power. Eventually, you have access to a six-mana Plague Wind (of sorts). Yes, it does kill your own Tormented Hero, but that’s it. The bigger problem is that it doesn’t kill some opposing creatures, like Courser of Kruphix and Boon Satyr.
This list is just an exploration of a few new cards, a proof of concept, but let’s be clear about one thing:
Athreos might be totally nuts.
I just don’t want people coming back here next month making fun of a list with just one Athreos in it. I don’t care how obvious the Thassa, God of the Sea decks may seem in retrospect. They didn’t build themselves. You gotta try stuff, and I could easily imagine drawing the one Athreos and being like "yep, so we’re gonna need some more of these."
Why not just start with four? First of all, I want the card to be good when I draw it. Legends generally have diminishing returns, particularly when they are indestructible. By playing just one, we are getting the max we can out of it. If we want more and are willing to diminish the returns slightly, we know what to do.
Thassa is an easier four-of because it’s being used in a deck built to maximize devotion and she only needs four (besides herself), while Athreos needs five. No two ways about it—Athreos is not waking up as much as Thassa, and even when he does, he isn’t unblockable.
Amusingly, it is Athreos’ ability that is the real draw to me. How many times can opponents really pay three life? That is a really strong effect. It is so strong in fact that I would guess we are going to want more and what we really should be building around is Athreos, not Extinguish All Hope.
Athreos is pretty near the top of my list of cards to find the best home for. Like Thassa, he is worth it for the text box, and when you wake him up, well, now you’re just cheating.
Trying to maximize the effectiveness of Athreos, what about a hyperaggro build that puts serious pressure on our opponent’s life total?
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Boros Elite
- 2 Banisher Priest
- 3 Xathrid Necromancer
- 4 Tormented Hero
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 3 Athreos, God of Passage
- 4 Brain Maggot
With 24 one-drops, we’re going to be able to have three by the second turn 70 percent of the time on the play (79 percent on the draw). With four copies of Mana Confluence and four copies of Godless Shrine, we are better than 75 percent to have both colors on turn 2 on the play. Obviously adding some Temple of Silence or increasing our land count are both options, but 23 one-drops is a pretty compelling reason to keep our land count as low as possible and to keep them coming into play untapped.
This means most games will start with us threatening to have our opponent at twelve by turn 3. Drop an Athreos and we are pretty close to being able to just suicide our creatures in each turn. If our opponent’s Courser of Kruphix eats one, they’re losing three life, or its coming back. Opponent has Supreme Verdict? So what! Where are they getting that kind of life?
I dunno, I guess I just think Athreos is the new God with the most appeal to me, even if it doesn’t just go straight into an existing deck. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the card, but it seems absolutely bananas.
As for the Extinguish All Hope strategy? The main problem outside of not extinguishing all hope is that six-mana cards are a little challenging for a deck with one-drops.
If we’re going to be building around the enchantment portion of Extinguish All Hope, let’s actually mean it! I tried sketching a B/G creature deck in a similar vein to the above, but it was even more schizophrenic with Courser of Kruphix beside Boon Satyr. Yes, it wouldn’t be the first time those two fought as brothers, but Gnarled Scarhide into Sylvan Caryatid? Even I’m not that sick.
You want sick?
You want to see real sickness?
Is there any other kind?
Kruphix’s Insight is a pretty sweet card drawer here, combining with Courser of Kruphix and Eidolon of Blossoms to give us a surprising amount of card advantage. It’s also a way to find Sphere of Safety, which is kind of a bomb in this deck. It is really hard for a lot of aggro decks to beat it, particularly when we are gaining life from Nyx-Fleece Ram, Courser of Kruphix, and Chromanticore.
Speaking of Chromanticore, remember that it’s basically a Baneslayer Angel with one less power and a harsher set of color demands but with a lot more abilities, including the ability to make Courser of Kruphix or Eidolon of Blossoms go real large. Also of note is that if our opponent Doom Blades our creature enchanted with a Chromanticore, we can attack with the Chromanticore that same turn (provided we didn’t just cast it). It’s not that it has haste (because it doesn’t, not really); it’s just that the enchantment started the turn in play even if it changed forms.
Eidolon of Blossoms is stronger than you might first guess. See, it’s not just an Enchantress variant. That alone would at least be interesting. It’s a Striped Bear too. That is actually pretty insane because compared to Striped Bear you are basically getting an Enchantress for free.
Now we wouldn’t really play Striped Bear, but a three-mana Striped Bear would be worth considering. This means we need to get one mana of utility out of the card to justify it. That’s really not that much. We’re talking drawing a single other card, and boom you’re already ahead. I actually think we’re going to see Eidolon of Blossoms for value, not just in dedicated Enchantress decks.
See, Eidolon of Blossoms is a must kill or will take over the game. Yet it also is a cantrip, meaning even if an opponent uses their Hero’s Downfall on it they have lost value. They are down a card. That is pretty intense.
Okay, so what if we move all in on it?
How about that Standard-legal Enchantress?
Probably the biggest reason to play an enchantment-based strategy is Sphere of Safety. Its ability to completely lock out attacking-based strategies is a massive payoff for playing so many enchantments. Once you add in Eidolon of Blossoms and Kruphix’s Insight, we are legitimately there.
The biggest weakness to this approach is an opponent that is not stopped by Sphere of Safety. What exactly are we going to do if our opponent is a U/W/x Control deck that wins with planeswalkers?
Well, Banishing Light and Detention Sphere help address the problem of planeswalkers specifically, but at a strategic level, the way we combat decks that don’t lose to Sphere of Safety is by burying them under Maze’s End. It’s actually really tough for a U/W deck to beat it, and it’s no picnic for mono-black either.
The exact mix of support cards is very up in the air. Maybe we want more Agoraphobia, which is a mondo combo with Eidolon of Blossoms. Maybe we want more Courser of Kruphix, relying more on blocking and card advantage. I could actually see us moving away from Supreme Verdict mostly or entirely.
Market Festival is a tough nut to crack. On one hand, it solves every mana problem we could ever have while being an enchantment to boot. The problem of course is that waiting until turn 4 to fix our mana is a long time to wait. That it ramps us to six or seven is somewhat lost on us, as our curve only goes to five. We have so much card draw that we’ll use the mana on something, but it’s still somewhat inefficient.
I think the real challenge is going to be figuring out how to speed this bad boy up. It’s not the kill that needs to be sped up. Maze’s End on turn 12 or 13 is fast enough. No, what needs to be sped up is the deck’s ability to defend itself. Nyx-Fleece Ram and Agoraphobia are not exactly a lot of early plays, and the deck has fourteen tapped lands (not to mention eight shock lands).
Here’s another try:
It’s very possible that this build should actually adopt a little bit of Fog action, perhaps Riot Control, to help capitalize on how much it slows the game down and builds the board up. The main thing is figuring out how to make the mana work smoothly.
Of course, Maze’s End is certainly not the only way an Enchantress deck can close out the game. Gods; Chromanticore; Whip of Erebos; Strength from the Fallen; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Jace, Architect of Thought; Aetherling; Blind Obedience—we’re not short on possible victory conditions. I guess I kind of just want to find the Maze’s End.
If you know what I mean.
The Journey into Nyx Prerelease is this weekend. I’m super excited and can’t wait to dive headfirst into some serious brewing. There is so much to brew with this set that I’ll be back three times next week with a full-on brewmaster’s set review.
Any requests on which cards to start with?