Before we begin, a clarification of a comment I wrote about last week. In my last article, I mentioned how I thought Sun Titan was “the worst of the titans.” I still stand by that, although justification is probably in order. Saying the Sun Titan is the worst of the titans is like saying Leonardo is the worst of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (with Donatello being the clear best). The titans are such an awesome group, that even their worst member is extraordinarily awesome. To justify my statement, I was asked how Sun Titan was worse than the “bad” Frost Titan? Let’s explore.
First and foremost, a critique on Sun Titan. I think people are automatically assuming that by the time you cast Sun Titan, there will be something truly game-breaking that you can revive from your graveyard. Yes, in the best case scenario, you will immediately gain mega value by returning some must-kill creature — a Fauna Shaman or Knight of the Reliquary — back to play with him. The fact that he can even get lands means that you might be able to grab a manland that has somehow met its end, via a Tectonic Edge or in the line of fire. I think a far more common trend is that you are getting back a Lotus Cobra, or a Noble Hierarch, or a fetchland, or some other permanent that doesn’t really affect the board in any meaningful manner. There are myriad ways in Standard to deal with creatures without necessarily putting them in the graveyard, and I think that needs to be taken into consideration. Yes, you absolutely gain card advantage if you return anything at all, but the quality of this card is not random (as the case is when you draw a card), and if you’re getting back something like an Arid Mesa, who really cares? I think that Sun Titan will almost certainly see play, but my bet is it’ll be almost exclusively as a one-of in Fauna Shaman style decks that can tutor him up when the time is right and really abuse the ability to get fatty boom-booms into the graveyard.
Another point to take into consideration: Baneslayer Angel exists. If you didn’t get the memo, she is a good card. The obvious comparison then, is “which would you rather have?” While there are certainly times when you would love to topdeck that Sun Titan and buy some insurance against impending removal, I would wager that a majority of the time Baneslayer Angel is going to get the job done better. Alpha striking past her is incredibly difficult. The fact that she costs one less mana — not an insignificant fact in the slightest — makes me feel like she will be getting the nod over Sun Titan for the foreseeable future. I could very well be wrong, as Baneslayer’s popularity has dwindled in recent months and the newly printed Combust provides a very efficient way of killing only one of them, but a deck can support only so many five-mana-and-up spells.
I reckon I am in the vast minority here, but I actually like Frost Titan. One of the things that I think turns people away from the card (and from a lot of cards) is that it wasn’t printed how they had imagined / wanted. “It would be so much better if it had shroud,” I’ve heard people lament. Yes. It would. Looking at the card as it is currently, however, this is still a very powerful ability in the right context. A quick poll: which would you rather have accelerated out incredibly early (say, via Lotus Cobra): Sun Titan, or Frost Titan? An early Frost Titan has the ability to completely run away with a game if you sneak it into play early, or if you opponent is mana screwed (even remotely). Let’s say that your Jund opponent has a Maelstrom Pulse in hand when you drop Frosty onto the board. Well, unless they have six mana available to them as well, he’s not going anywhere. Moreover, if you ever untap with Frost Titan, you are wielding the color of Magic that also conveniently has access to counterspells, meaning that your opponent often only has that one-shot window at dealing with him before he becomes an unstoppable Abyss. He is also very hard for your opponent to double Lightning Bolt.
I realize that much of this seems like the fabled Magical Christmas Land of implausible dreams, but I really don’t think so. His ability is actually much more conducive to actually attacking the opponent, as you can temporarily remove one of their potential threats through his attacking ability. While I think dropping him late game is a little less impressive, he still essentially removes a creature for the duration of time he is on board and able to attack.
Since I compared Sun Titan to BSA, it’s only fair that I make the same comparison for the Blue guy. How does Frost Titan compare to Sphinx of Jwar Isle? Equally favorable, I think. Yes, Sphinx of Jwar Isle straight up has shroud, so it’s much easier to protect, but it also doesn’t really interact whatsoever with the board. I’d like to remind people that, upon being spoiled, most people immediately dismissed Sphinx of Jwar Isle on the grounds that it couldn’t compare to Baneslayer Angel, and while it certainly hasn’t defined the metagame, it has proved itself to be a unique and powerful option for Blue mages. The thing to think about is that Blue finishers are, by and large, different breeds from most creatures. I’m not saying that Frost Titan is insanely impressive or that he will be a huge power player in the upcoming format, or that he’ll even played whatsoever, but I certainly feel like he deserves an advocate. Anyway, on with the show.
Once upon a time for National Qualifiers this year, I had a super sick deck that was poised to murder any and all of my impending competition. I imagine it was probably Grixis — I actually don’t remember, nor is it really important to the story — and I had given a few of the key cards that I needed for it to a friend of mine as when I acquired the cards I was riding my bike, had nowhere really to put them, and had probably consumed too many adult beverages to really trust myself with handling them with the delicate care that I normally reserve for my precious, precious Magic: the Gathering cards. As cruel fate would have it, the morning of the tournament arrived and as the hour of finalizing decklists drew nigh, my friends had still not shown up. Being the irresponsible chaps that they were, they had left late and/or hit a huge glut of traffic. Whatever the case may be, I had mere minutes to come up with a deck from the random dregs of my trade binder and whatever other cards that friends nearby happened to have on them.
That last sentence might be a little too dramatic; I had actually been tinkering with a deck idea that I liked – more something “fun” than what I imagined would be really competitive — and I had texted my friend randomly the night before to ask if he had some of the newer cards. As luck would have it, he had brought a lot of the cards I had asked about, so I had a good majority of the rares and mythics need for the deck, but I was nonetheless in the awkward position of not having any random commons on me and thus, mere minutes before decklists were turned in, I was sitting opening boosters of Rise of the Eldrazi for the last Bloodthrone Vampire I needed.
I’m not going to post the decklist of what I played that day here; I’m not exactly sure if I even have a card-for-card list anywhere, but in any case the deck didn’t exactly blow anyone’s mind, limping away with a 3-3 record. To its credit, it was “one of those days” where I found myself mulliganing comically often and/or needing to just draw X (usually a land), and 6 turns later X still hadn’t appeared. Those sorts of streaks happen, and even though my performance was fairly lackluster, I liked the deck and made a mental note to bring it out of its shame-faced retirement some day.
That day is now! (Sound Cue: Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best Around”)
Why is today the day of Red/Black Sac’s resurrection? Perhaps the whole not-putting-up-a-decklist thing was a little preemptive. Here’s a rough approximation of the deck that I played:
I think much of the deck is relatively straightforward. The Bloodthrone Vampires and Vampire Aristocrats act as sac outlets which turn on a lot of the power of the deck. Your Bloodghasts become rather absurd engines, especially when paired up with Mortician Beetle or Kalastria Highborn, and you can “combo” someone out surprisingly quickly if you happen to hit the nuts. The multitude of sacrifice outlets actually allows you to play Abyssal Persecutor with relative impunity, and that guy can win games VERY quickly. Jund decks had at that point yet to really adapt Sarkhan the Mad into their strategy, and his -2 ability seemed absolutely bonkers in this deck, churning out 5/5 Dragons thanks to recurring Bloodghasts. By far, though, the most unfair play in the world was to use Mark of Mutiny in conjunction with any of these sacrificers, especially Sarkhan (especially if you’re stealing a Sprouting Thrinax). I definitely lived the dream a few times, but I wouldn’t really plan on it.
So, again, why talk about this deck now? Well, I think that M11 has brought along some extra special goodies for it. I’m not sure that either one of them will rocket boost this deck into some awe-inspiring Tier 1 status, but I feel like they both deserve to be talked about.
The first card that has been on the tips of a few people’s tongues since the spoiler was finally complete is Jinxed Idol. Okay, well, maybe “on the tips of few people’s tongues” is a little generous, but I have seen it popping up in a few proposed decks. Most of the concoctions that people have been throwing the Idol into have been Mono Red decks, no doubt trying to capitalize on the fact that their Ball Lightnings / Hellspark Elementals / Hell’s Thunders are all dying regardless. There’s a HUGE flaw in this logic.
If your opponent has anything to block with, you are put in the awkward position of having to decide whether to trample over your opponent’s pathetic blocker, or sacrifice you mighty ball of energy before his ephemeral form is shattered by the slightest wisp of a resistance. That’s not even mentioning the fact that you’re spending your second turn casting a artifact that immediately starts to deal you damage to even take advantage of this little one-two punch. I could see it as a possible sideboard card against Control — make a little pseudo-Sulfuric Vortex for old times sake with the new Leyline — but things can get extraordinarily awkward pretty quickly if they happen to have boarded in Leyline of Sanctity. Still, it’s a recurring source of damage that can’t be Celestial Purged, so it’s still a possibility, but I’m not convinced.
On the other hand, with this deck or some iteration thereof, Jinxed Idol seems to fit in much better. The deck is already designed to take advantage of sacrifice outlets, and while Jinxed Idol does the job in a little different fashion, the ability to add reach to a deck is rarely a bad thing. It might take the place of something like Vampire Aristocrat (who always feels miles clunkier than his 1/1 handmaiden), but with the dearth of removal, specifically sweepers, in the deck, your opponent is just as likely to have a bunch of random peons clogging the board as you are.
I do like Idol as a sideboard card against control in this deck. Unlike Mono Red, the White Leyline does really do much against you with regard to the other cards in your deck. True, they could bring it in from the board to combat your Idol, but other than that, it only really stops Highborn shenanigans, so it seems like it would be a rather awkward inclusion on their part.
The next and far most impressive card that I want to talk about is Fling. Holy Mackerel! Now there’s a card that could be slammed into Mono Red! I love this card, although my joy for it is mostly nostalgic. I have fond memories tossing absurdly large creatures at opponents who felt their Wall of Souls bulwark was impregnable.
Fling is actually the sole reason why I wanted to reexamine this deck. Now, I haven’t heard anyone else mention it yet — not to say that people aren’t, I just clearly am under a rock if I’m mistaken — but Abyssal Persecutor and Fling seem like they are a match made in the darkest pits of Hell. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. You really only need two attack phases with the Demon (presuming that you’ve somehow done two points of damage somewhere along the way) to get them to within range of a lethal six-point Fling that also conveniently negates the by-the-way-you-can’t-lose clause. I really love this interaction, as I see it winning a lot of games that opponents don’t really see coming.
The other reason I am looking to Fling to give this deck a good kick start is the aforementioned “combo” that the deck can occasionally generate. Often the deck somewhat putters out of gas and needs some way to really push though damage. Previously, Sarkhan the Mad and Kalastria Highborn were the only real non-attack phase ways to finish off the opponent. I’d end up with all sorts of large (or possibly large) creatures on my side of the table, but without any real evasion on any of them, I was largely just running them into the random guys that opponent happened to have sitting around. Fling solves that problem. Drawing a Fling late game when you have even a single +2/+2 Vampire on board means that you can just Disciple of the Vaults your opponent for a large amount of life. This deck was fairly decent at dealing solid amounts of damage to the opponent in the early game, so a Fling for even a modest 7 or so could be conceivably enough to end it, although I can imagine a scenario where you could do an insane 13 damage or more.
As always, I encourage you to explore this deck on your own if it appeals to you. I actually like a Mono Black version of it simply for consistency’s sake, one that runs Vampire Nocturnus, Eldrazi Monument, and Pawn of Ulamog for an extension of the combo and one that grants a big more reach than this Red-splashing version. I actually wrote a Mono Black version out, but it was severely lacking in space, so much so that I couldn’t fit Nantuko Shade (or really any removal at all) in the maindeck. Perhaps it’s good enough, but I like to interact a little more with my opponent. Here it is if it intrigues anyone:
Since I just spent a number of paragraphs talking about the brand new Fling, I thought I’d at least include it in a decklist, although I don’t think I’d really change much from the first posted list. Mark of Mutiny was never really that good, and required too much to go right for it to really be an all-star, so it’s gone. Lightning Bolt has never really been too impressive for me. Yes, it can go to the dome, but having access to Red mana is a hindrance, especially early in the game. I’d like to add Disfigures in its stead, but can’t really bring myself to cut such a powerful card for such a boring one. Perhaps after rigorous testing, I might. We’ll see.
I hope to hear your comments about some of the suggestions and assertions I’ve made, especially regarding the Donatello comment from the opening paragraph. Does Fling/Abyssal Persecutor have a place in Standard? Tell me your thoughts!
Thanks for reading…