Thank God It’s FNM: Master Of Cruelties

Check out AJ’s sweet Grixis deck built around Master of Cruelties and consider giving it a try at your first Friday Night Magic with Dragon’s Maze tonight!

Welcome back to another edition of Thank God It’s FNM! Dragon’s Maze Prereleases were last weekend, but the set hasn’t actually hit the shelves yet. I had a ton of fun at my Prereleases and ended up going three-for-three on winning Champion of the Maze with Rakdos (paired with Orzhov) and Orzhov twice.

Playing with all of the new cards has left me with a lot of ideas for some crazy Standard decks. Since very few of my friends actually like to test against my crazy concoctions, I am left with just a head full of ideas and nowhere to let them out. For this week, I want to go over the building process for the most recent deck that I have been thinking about. Keep in mind that I have not actually made a list for this deck yet. Rather, I’ve just compiled a list of cards that this deck might want to play. This way, the ideas will mostly be fresh as I’m writing this article.

The card that I want to focus on this week is Master of Cruelties. I originally planned to put together a Burning Vengeance deck, but then this strange being crossed my path. While it has received some amount of talk, Master of Cruelties seems to be at the back of everyone’s mind, paling in comparison to cards like Ral Zarek. Master of Cruelties is a very unique card in that it does something that very few cards do. With the proper support, he puts your opponent on the brink of death all on his own.

When building a deck with Master of Cruelties, I feel inclined to build around him as much as I can. Like I said, Master of Cruelties puts your opponent a burn spell away from dead. The problem with playing a deck based entirely around Master of Cruelties, though, is that you need to draw Master of Cruelties. After giving it some thought, I determined that blue would not only give me the best card selection spells but also the best support cards, which I will get to shortly.

To start, I want to talk about the different types of cards that that this deck will probably want to play. Obviously, we want Master of Cruelties, but beyond that the deck has a lot of room for innovation. The first thing that the deck needs is card selection spells to find the Master, like tutor effects and card drawing spells. The next thing is a way to actually finish off your opponent once you’ve connected with Master. Burn spells serve a dual purpose here by acting as both a finisher and a way to survive the early game.

That brings me to the fact that we will need something to do against aggro decks. While a 1/4 with first strike and deathtouch is basically a brick wall against aggro, those decks are too fast in this day and age. Removal spells are good, but I would also like to look at other options that blue, black, and red can provide like sweeper effects. Counterspells and other ways to protect Master of Cruelties have their place in the list, and rounding the deck out will be any other support cards to help push Master through.

After a quick search, the best card draw spells and tutors that we can play in Grixis are Forbidden Alchemy, Think Twice, Increasing Ambition, and Izzet Charm, which each serve very different purposes in this deck. Think Twice seems a little slow, but it gives us something to do when we are just holding up counterspells and playing removal spells. Against control, we don’t want to rush into the combo, so it lets us dig deep as the game progresses. Due to its slowness and the fact that we already have a lot of card selection, I only want to play one.

Forbidden Alchemy seems like the best card possible; it finds everything we need and gives us things to do as the game progresses. In my opinion, it is basically an upgrade to Think Twice. For this reason, I plan to play the full four. Increasing Ambition is also pretty slow, but it serves as redundancy with Master of Cruelties and can find whatever piece we need. I only want to play one, though, since it’s so slow. Izzet Charm is a two-of, as it is a mediocre card draw spell but serves other amazing purposes as well. So far, this brings the list to:

4 Master of Cruelties
4 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Think Twice
1 Increasing Ambition
2 Izzet Charm

Moving on to removal spells, Pillar of Flame and Searing Spear are the first things that come to mind since they also kill our opponent after we connect with Master of Cruelties. I want to play four Pillar of Flames because it works well with our curve and one Searing Spear for redundancy.

Another Dragon’s Maze card showing up in the list is Ral Zarek. There are three big things I like about Ral Zarek specifically. The first and most obvious one is that he can kill our opponent and their creatures. He can also push through Master of Cruelties by tapping down their blocker. Lastly, he can ramp us up to six mana on turn 5, allowing us to play both Master of Cruelties and a spell to protect it at the same time.

The last card to round out this part of the list is Rolling Temblor. It sweeps away a large percentage of the creatures that aggro decks will play and can sometimes help push Master through. The flashback on it also has some amount of synergy with the set of Forbidden Alchemy. I don’t want to play too many since it will be dead a large amount of the time versus control and even some aggro decks, so two seems like the right number. There will almost definitely be a few more in the board. That brings us to a current list of:

4 Master of Cruelties
4 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Think Twice
1 Increasing Ambition
2 Izzet Charm
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Searing Spear
2 Ral Zarek
2 Rolling Temblor

Filling out the rest of the deck, I want to play 25 lands so that I can make sure to hit almost every land drop. This leaves us with fourteen slots left for support cards like counterspells and multipurpose utility cards like Snapcaster Mage. The first seven of those slots go to cards that directly help out Master of Cruelties: Mizzium Skin and Artful Dodge.

Mizzium Skin can protect our Master of Cruelties from most of the removal spells our opponents would use. Seeing as Master is basically our only real way to win the game, I would like to be able to protect it. As I said earlier, you can use Ral Zarek to power out a turn 5 Master with Mizzium Skin backup, which can outright win the game against some decks.

Artful Dodge seems to be the best way to push Master of Cruelties through in Grixis colors, as it can be reused and is cheap to cast. I will almost never want to draw more than one, though, so three is the number on this card. Mizzium Skin makes it in as a four-of because it is decent versus most decks and I will likely want at least two in a lot of matchups.

The next support card I want to try is a single Breaking // Entering. This was a card I originally underrated until I realized that it gave the creature haste and could take it from anyone’s graveyard. Not only can we make a Master of Cruelties out of nowhere to steal the game, but it can also help mill our flashback spells like Artful Dodge. Another cool thing to do is to take our opponent’s creatures like Angel of Serenity to rebuy our Masters or Thragtusks to play defense if necessary. I’m not sure how good this card will be, but that is what testing is for. As a counterspell, I decided to play one Counterflux. It’s possible that I just want to load up on counterspells, but for now I chose Counterflux because it wins counter wars in control matchups.

Duress and Snapcaster Mage take up the last five support slots in the deck. Duress is a great catchall for cards that Mizzium Skin can’t stop like Supreme Verdict, Devour Flesh, and Sphinx’s Revelation. Snapcaster Mage is an awesome utility spell that also has some incidental value against sacrifice effects like Liliana of the Veil and the Away side of Far // Away.

As for lands, this deck is pretty color intensive, but with 25 lands and so much card draw, I felt I had at least a little room for some colorless utility lands. The first is a single Desolate Lighthouse, which is sweet with our flashback spells and can help dig for a missing piece. A single Stensia Bloodhall serves as another finisher and a way to answer planeswalkers, but overall it seems mediocre. I want to test it, but I’m not sure it will stay in the list. The last utility land is a single Rogue’s Passage as an uncounterable way to push Master of Cruelties through. The rest of the mana base is filled out with dual lands since I’m a sucker for duals.

After putting it all together, here is the final list:

I don’t like to build sideboards for decks without playing them a little first, but some cards to consider are more Duresses and Rolling Temblors and alternate win conditions like Jace, Memory Adept. Before I go, I’d like to quickly list the cards that didn’t make the deck but might have a place:

Cavern of Souls – This one didn’t make the list since it is very linear and serves no real purpose other than to push through counterspells. At that rate, it likely has a place in the sideboard to fight decks like U/W/R Flash.

Rakdos Keyrune (or the Cluestones) – I tried to find room for other ways to ramp, but once I actually looked at how many support cards were going to clog up my mana in the early game, I realized that a few Ral Zarek would do the job nicely. The benefit that Keyrune has going for it is the same thing that Snapcaster Mage has in that it can also kill the opponent after Master of Cruelties drops them to one, especially since each Artful Dodge gets two uses.

Dimir Charm – This card took a while to cut but eventually made it to the chopping block. I determined that if I was going to play this card, I’d probably rather just have more Izzet Charms because Izzet Charm is more versatile.

Thought Scour – I thought about this one as a supplement to the flashback theme, but it just didn’t seem strong enough. One-for-one card drawing isn’t going to cut it when it serves no other real purpose.

Overall, I had a lot of fun putting this deck together. I’ll probably make some videos or write a report of me playing it once Dragon’s Maze hits the shelves. While the deck is very fragile, it attacks from a different angle than people are used to. If you have any decklists, suggestions, or ideas, feel free to email them to me or post them in the comments. I’d love to see what you’ve been cooking up! Until next time, thank god it’s FNM!

AJ Kerrigan


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I am Izzet.

I like to experiment and build new things. They may end up blowing up, but when they don’t, the results are usually fantastic.