The Kitchen Table: Look Ma, No Hand

Abe takes a trip in the Wayback Machine to revisit the Tempest Block-era preconstructed deck “Migraine” and builds a hand-size-control Commander deck based around Malfegor and a whole host of cards that care about drawing and forcing discards.

Way back in Tempest Block, there was a modest number of cards that worked best when you had no cards in hand – Cursed Scroll, Fool’s Tome, Ensnaring Bridge, Null Brooch, that sort of thing. Then you had a heavy discard theme introduced in Stronghold around Bottomless Pit and Megrim. In fact, Megrim would resonate so strongly with casual players that it is easily one of the ten most commonly-seen engines at kitchen tables in Magic’s history. People adored it.

And to show that they knew what they were doing, one of the early preconstructed decks from this era, from Stronghold itself, was called Migraine. Featuring 2 Pits, 3 Megrims, Bridge, and lots of great black cards from the first two sets, it was a nasty theme deck.

Soon, Ensnaring Bridge would be welded to Grafted Skullcap from Urza’s Saga, which began the era of the Burning Bridge deck that ran Bridge, Skullcap, and lots of burn. The Bridge is a classic shutdown card, preventing anyone from attacking you as long as you are relatively card-less. It suits a lot of decks.

I thought it would be fun to build a modern Commander take on the Migraine-esque deck using the Rakdos colors, which are the classic home of Bridge and friends. Tons of cards have been printed through the years that support the classic themes of Megrim, Bottomless Pit, Grafted Skullcap and Ensnaring Bridge. And most have been artifacts, red or black, so that gives me a lot of room for supporting my theme in Rakdos.

So let’s take a look at my take on the concept of playing full on hellbent style, and forcing everyone else to do so with aplomb.

Of the many options in Rakdos, clearly Malfegor was basically my only real choice. The apparently confused Demon Dragon is actually a strong contender as the all-star for this concept. By the way, the second Magic 2015 gets released, put Waste Not in this deck. It’s another perfect fit.

So let’s peer under the hood of this odd Commander deck. It both fills its hand and empties it again with alarming speed. Forget Mind’s Eye, Phyrexian Arena and Staff of Nin. We have Grafted Skullcap, Fool’s Tome, Mindstorm Crown, Blood Scrivener and Bottled Cloister.

This deck is not a discard/Megrim deck. Sure, it has Liliana’s Caress and Megrim in it, plus some discard effects – Liliana’s Specter, Scythe Specter, etc. But don’t confuse this with just a discard deck. That’s not this. So what is it?

This is a lockdown deck that forces everyone to play off of the top of their deck. It runs Cunning Lethemancer, Bottomless Pit, Gibbering Descent, and Necrogen Mists to force a bunch of mass discarding turn after turn after turn. That leaves everyone at close to zero, so you can run your good stuff and also keeps opposing options down too. It’s not just a discard deck. It’s a deck that uses discard, but has a lot more built into it.

Since we are dropping our hand with rapidity, I wanted a few discard outlets. If you drew an extra land off of one of your effects, just discard it to Seismic Assault and shock someone (or something) for two damage. Jaya Ballard has three discard options for what fits best. Incinerate? Red Elemental Blast? Inferno? Whichever best fits the table (and your mana) will work. You can also discard extra things to Urborg Syphon-Mage or Skirge Familiar, we have lots of fun stuff like that.

I also wanted a few cards that we could linger in our graveyard and then pop back out as needed. Enter Shard Phoenix and Hammer of Bogardan. You can bring them back for another go over and over again, as long as you have the mana. No one does that better than Squee, Goblin Nabob, and I just want to welcome back my Goblin Friend, who has been on the sidelines for too long in my column and in my heart. So here you go!

In a similar way, Crucible of Worlds can use discarded lands as a resource by bringing them back into play. Now, this deck does include Strip Mine and Wasteland in order to fight against annoying lands. Do not be “That Guy,” the one who recurs the Strip/Waste over and over again to hit things like Selesnya Sanctuary and Plateau. You are the reason I can’t run nice things like this in the same deck without people getting pissed off at me, even though I don’t do that.

Expecting to want to reanimate some dead stuff (or discarded stuff) we have a few reanimation effects, including the Flashback-y Dread Return. In particular, the Beacon of Unrest is nice because you can pull back one of your combo engine artifacts like Ensnaring Bridge, Null Brooch and so forth. (For a similar reason, check out Trading Post and Crystal Chimes.) I also tossed in a few larger bodies to target like Akroma the Second or Scion of Darkness.

Cards like Painful Quandary, Quest for the Nihil Stone and Bloodchief Ascension are suitably ornery and useful tools to help control the flow of the game. You can also see how Lavaborn Muse or Sire of Insanity that push the basic concepts at a creature-based level.

Now, get ready to call out all of your allies across the planes, because a lot of ‘Walkers work here. Liliana Vess does a great job either forcing a discard or tutoring the right card to the top of your deck in order to get another combo piece. Karn Liberated also exiles cards from hands, and exiles problematic permanents too. We also have two Chandras; the best one who can “draw” you cards and do other fun things, but also the rarely-seen discard outlet Chandra Ablaze. You can also use Chandra Ablaze’s -2 ability to give you some cards to prepare to play Malfegor or to drop other players’ hands down to a level that can then get hit by your other effects. Sorin Markov arrives to either cut folks down to size or gain you the occasional life while hewing at foe or creature alike. Shoot, you could also find room for Liliana of the Veil, Chandra Nalaar or maybe even Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. This deck really likes ‘Walkers because they stay on the board and do fun stuff even when you have a naked hand.

Next to arrive are some hosers for things like lifegain and graveyard abuse. Considering how much damage will come in smaller amounts like Lavaborn Muse or Megrim, it seems helpful to shut down lifegain. We only have a handful of lifegain cards ourselves, and we can plan around them so we get the benefit before we close off that option – or just use them for the effect side of the card without gaining the life. If Everlasting Torment and Leyline of Punishment would get you clocked in your metagame, consider stuff like Subversion instead.

And suddenly, most of the deck is done. Just add in things like mana rocks, synergetic creatures, and a few other fun cards. We have a lot of combo-ish pieces, so in heads Demonic Tutor and Rune-Scarred Demon. We also add Stinkweed Imp, Wall of Souls, and Mogg Maniac to be solid blockers. Slithering Shade is broken. If you have no cards and a Bridge out, you can swing with it (it has a 0 power) and then pump the crap out of it. This was a trick you saw occasionally with guys like Pit Imp. It’s a nice callback to the Migraine deck.

A few more expected cards were tossed in, and the deck was done!

And like I said earlier, we have a ton of unexplored quality for the deck. For example, we could push The Rack effects with Rackling, Iron Maiden, Pauper’s Cage and such. Or we could run Hellfire Mongrel or Storm World.

Expecting a quickly-growing graveyard, Oversold Cemetery would be a great addition. Anger is obviously valuable. Punishing Fire might be a nice recursion choice if you pulled the lifegain hosers. Or if you like them and want more, consider Rain of Gore. You could run Kokusho, the Evening Star.

Words of Waste and Words of War work well with the deck. Mindless Automaton could basically “store” cards on the field. (As could Thought Gorger.) And if you really want to store cards on the table, look at Gustha’s Scepter!

There are a lot of fun cards to unlock!

I hope that you enjoyed this look into a different style of card-play. Are there any cards you might recommend? Just let us know!