Now that the Zendikar hype has died down a little, and it’s going to be some weeks before I actually get to see the cards online, I thought I’d go back to my workshop and dig out another casual concoction. This is another linear based off an Alara keyword mechanic.
Shards of Alara is actually nicely designed in that way. They intended it to be five separate worlds, each with their own theme. I’ve already covered the Esper shard with the Master Transmuter deck I put up a few weeks back. I think there’s also a second, more aggressive deck (and maybe another in the middle topping out with Sharding Sphinx — another cool card) from Esper, but I’ve got that on the back burner for the moment. After PT: Honolulu and the success of the Esper Stoneblade deck, I didn’t really want to walk a goofier version into a casual room sick of the sight of little Esper artifact creatures.
Herd instinct is always something I try and avoid when I’m building casual decks. I suspect one of the bigger turn offs of tournament play for the more casually orientated is seeing the same decks (or cards) over and over again. Some decks, even at the casual room level, get absurdly popular sometimes, usually because everyone has the same idea at the same time and the cards to make that deck are easy to get hold of. A perfect example of this occurred just after Morningtide came out. If plenty of people are including ‘No Rogues!’ in their game descriptions then you know it’s probably a good idea to put your Rogue deck on the shelf for a couple of weeks.
Put it this way… I anticipate playing against a lot of Vampire decks the moment Zendikar is released online. People are kind of predictable in that way. If Goblin Guide and Warren Instigator weren’t at the rarities they were, I’d also predict a lot of Goblin decks as well.
Anyway, I thought I’d dig out a Jund deck I’ve been playing around with. When most people think of ‘the Jund deck’, especially if they’re more of a tournament playing persuasion, the cards that might immediately spring to mind are Bloodbraid Elf, Maelstrom Pulse, Blightning (stolen from Grixis), and Broodmate Dragon. The keyword mechanic for Jund is actually Devour, and that’s what I thought I’d try and base a deck around.
Because having a deck filled with giant savage monsters that eat goblins and elves like popcorn is fun from a thematic sense.
While I’m mentioning Bloodbraid Elf, just how format warping is that card? I remember roaming around the block Pro Tour in Honolulu and thinking about how some cards that would have been considered powerful in other formats (Banefire, Martial Coup, Lavalanche) were rendered almost completely irrelevant because of the power of Bloodbraid Elf and the cascade mechanic in general.
Does that make Bloodbraid Elf a mistake from a design perspective, or just a particularly cool example of a cool mechanic? It’s an interesting question. I suspect if Bloodbraid Elf didn’t exist, then another card would take up the mantle of format-warping card. That’s just how Magic is. There’s always going to be a ‘best deck,’ or an arrangement of best decks held in check by each other, or just a general ‘best card.’ Try to fight against that and I suspect you just end up with Homelands.
Back to Devour, and this mechanic offers some nice challenges from a deck building perspective.
Actually, even though I’m guessing most of you know how the keyword works, I suppose I should put a reminder in anyway.
Devour N (As this enters the battlefield, you may sacrifice any number of creatures. This creature enters the battlefield with N +1/+1 counters on it for each creature sacrificed in this way.)
The ‘As’ is fairly important. It means they’ve learned not to give too many freebies to those smug counterspell-wielding bastards (although is it too much to ask for a Harrow I can consider playing without worrying some smug counterspell wielding bastard is going to completely wreck my mana development in the process).
Anyway, while there are plenty of cool rares that do interesting things with Devour, if you pack your deck with too many super predators and neglect to give them anything to eat, then all you’re going to end up with is a very slow draft deck full of five mana 4/4’s and 3/3’s.
I think I said a while back that mana curves are still important, even if you’re planning on taking things easy with fun decks. Being stuck with a hand full of five-mana spells you can’t cast is no fun whether you’re playing across the kitchen table or in a tournament. For a Devour deck, the mana costs do become an important consideration as most of the interesting creatures start at five mana and go up to six.
One of my favorite cards from Eventide was Worm Harvest. I built a deck using Dakmor Salvage from Future Sight to spit out progressively larger swarms of wriggling hordes. Other cards used to stock up the graveyard were Goblin Lore and various Winds of Fortune type effects. I was quite excited when I saw Drastic Revelation from Alara Reborn, as this looked like a larger, splashier Goblin Lore.
It didn’t work out though. And I mean “didn’t work out” in a way that meant just about any motley creature deck could make a bunch of random guys and turn them sideways until my passable impression of a Goldfish imploded.
The problem was the casting costs. Worm Harvest cost five mana. Drastic Revelation cost five mana. When the deck hit five mana it always wanted to cast Worm Harvest and then keep casting Worm Harvest until it ran out of lands. At four mana, Drastic Revelation is a perfect fit. The deck is always aiming to cast first that and then start the Worm Harvest engine the turn after. At five mana, Drastic Revelation becomes an irrelevance because it’s getting in the way of the spell you really want to cast. I suspect the same would be true if I tried to pair it up with similar candidates such as Magma Phoenix.
If only it was one mana less…
But there are plenty of cards that could apply to, and there are usually damn good reasons why they aren’t one mana less.
So, as cool as all the giant Devour monsters look, real estate for giant slobbering monsters is going to be very much on the pricey side in our Devour deck.
There is also a very severe drawback with the Devour mechanic in general. There’s a very good reason why Devour creatures don’t crop up very often in Constructed tournaments. At its heart Devour is functionally card disadvantage. You make a bunch of little guys, you feed them all to one ginormous monster and…
… you have no board left.
If we’re going to get anywhere with our little Devour deck, then we need to find ways to work around this inherent card disadvantage.
A Devour deck can be nicely split into two sections: Fodder and Muncher. The Fodder comes out early and is either disposable or is okay to sacrifice because it’s already done something. The Munchers… well, they eat the Fodder and then hopefully go onto to munch big chunks out of your opponent’s life total.
The best types of Munchers are ones that also create Fodder as well. The two cards that fit that perfectly are Mycoloth and Dragon Broodmother. Mycoloth gets down first and then, if it lives, will provide a swarm of Fodder to generate massive Devour effects for subsequent monsters.
We don’t care for ‘normally,’ though. ‘Normally’ is boring. It’s overkill we’re after, remember.
While Dragon Broodmother doesn’t have Devour, she is an effective Fodder source and her little hatchlings can hit the battlefield as enormous monsters in their own right if there are plenty of spare saprolings lying around to snack upon.
Both of these cards provide a nice heart to the deck and, out of the giant monsters, I wouldn’t mind packing the deck with multiples.
Before we get to the other Munchers, we should look at the Fodder. Fortuitously, Wizards were nice enough to provide a perfect common for this. They even named it Dragon Fodder just in case we weren’t sure which deck to put it into.
Pretty much any repeatable token generator is perfect Fodder. Bitterblossom (if you have them) and Goblin Assault are good examples, as is Necrogenesis to some extent. The card disadvantage through sacrificing creatures is negated as the enchantment is still around to spit more out for later monsters to chomp down.
I think they missed a bit of a flavor opportunity with Goblin Assault. Instead of Goblin Assault, it should have been named Goblin Run Madly At Opposing Enemy In Suicide Charge As It’s Better Than Being Eaten By The Enormous Dragon Right Behind Us. If you’ve ever played with the card, it’s a fairly accurate description of how it plays.
The other class of decent Fodder are creatures that have already done something or will do something when they hit the graveyard. The best example is probably Sprouting Thrinax. It’s already aggressively costed as a 3/3 for three mana, throw in the fact it makes three 1/1 saprolings when it dies and you have a potential food source that will provide more food for the next guy when it gets munched. Persist creatures like Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap also fall into this category as well as doing something each time they enter the battlefield.
Munch, Crunch, thanks for the extra card on the way.
If you think laterally, mana producers such as Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves also loosely fit into this category. As soon as the deck tops out on the six land it needs to cast the biggest guys, then you still get some use out of your Birds of Paradise as a bit of Kentucky Fried goodness.
When I was mucking around with the deck, I actually missed off a card from M10 that also makes excellent Fodder. Reliably hitting five and six mana isn’t always easy for most decks, so Borderland Ranger helps by getting that fifth or sixth land while providing a residual snack for the hungry Munchers to follow.
Also in the enabler class, but in more of a subtle way, is the Jund shard’s planeswalker, Sarkhan Vol. The five dragon ultimate is an obvious fit to the dragon shard, but his other abilities are also a sneaky fit. I noticed this in a draft when I was being held off by an irritating Kethari Remnant. One Threaten activation of Sarkhan Vol later, and the nuisance vanished down the gullet of a Voracious Dragon.
Sarkhan Vol is good for this as his Threaten ability is free (mana-wise) the turn you want to cast your Devour creature. Using the actual card Threaten (or one of the many clones that are running around nowadays) is harder, as it’s only really effective with the cheap Devour creatures like Thorn-Thunder-Thrash-Elder-Viashino.
That’s the boring enablers… now for the heavy hitters. To be honest, there’s too many to fit in the deck, even as one-ofs. I skipped out the less interesting guys and went straight for the cards that did something cool when they devoured stuff.
Voracious Dragon was a card that initially attracted me. The Devour 1 means it’s unlikely to get truly enormous, but the pseudo-Flametongue Kavu effect means you get to overcome the card disadvantage by using eaten goblins as flamethrower fuel to torch any annoying opposing creatures.
Actually, I went a little overboard on them, originally. My first pass at the deck was a ninety card mess that didn’t know if it was a goblin deck or a Jund devour deck. I actually split them in two and went for a secondary Goblin Devourer build. Unfortunately, the suicide clause of Goblin Assault is really brutal if virtually all your deck is goblins. A lot of games ended with a headlong charge across the red zone leaving me completely open to any kind of counterattack. I did like the Voracious Dragons in that deck, though. I’ll probably dust it off and tinker with it before the arrival of the new set rotates out the interesting Lorwyn goblins and replaces them with the ruthlessly efficient beaters of Zendikar.
Skullmuncher also counteracts the card disadvantage by replacing any creature sacrificed with a fresh card. It’s another of the devour creatures I don’t mind playing in multiples for the reload your hand ability it gives you.
Tar Fiend is the flip side of Skullmuncher. He recovers the card advantage by stripping the same amount of cards from the opponent’s hand.
Predator Dragon makes no attempt to recover the card advantage, but it has haste so it’s more concerned with the game advantage of making your opponent very dead, often from virtually nowhere. Because of this, it’s the only real Devour card to find a home in tournament Constructed, as a finisher in the elf combo deck.
Marrow Chomper was nearly in the class of devour creatures I didn’t have much interest in. I think if I’d had all the rares at the start he might not have got a place. But the times I’ve played him, he’s usually done a good job. A little bit of incidental random life gain is surprisingly effective at winning more than a few casual games, and Devour 2 means he often ends up as an enormous 11/11 or so that also happens to be Terror (sorry, Doom Blade) proof.
I didn’t consider Caldera Hellion, as the Pyroclasm-plus effect doesn’t give me much control over which creatures to eat or not. Against some decks he could be awesome, but in others he’s a case of putting all your eggs in one basket and asking for it to be stomped on with any spot removal spell.
The beauty is the deck can be tweaked in multiple different directions, depending on which Devour package you want to run with. Anyway, a list:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Murderous Redcap
- 1 Tar Fiend
- 1 Hissing Iguanar
- 1 Predator Dragon
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Mycoloth
- 2 Skullmulcher
- 4 Sprouting Thrinax
- 1 Voracious Dragon
- 1 Marrow Chomper
- 2 Dragon Broodmother
- 1 Deathbringer Thoctar
This is the completely detuned “throw one of everything in to see what’s interesting” version. Always a good starting point.
The Deathbringer Thoctar and Hissing Iguanar are alternate ways of winning than just running with the opponent. I thought they’d fit well enough to try out as I know my deck is going to be sending a steady stream of sacrifices to the graveyard. Deathbringer Thoctar seems like a blast of a card anyway, and this is a good deck in which to try it out.
I actually ran a Bitterblossom and a couple of Reflecting Pools in an early version. For these articles I want to avoid throwing up lists with expensive cards just because I was fortunate enough to snag them in drafts. Although I do like playing lots of rares as most of the times rares have the most interesting effects, most of the rares here are in the ridiculously cheap range (I think I got most of the Devour rares for 0.1 to 0.15 tix each). Birds of Paradise is more expensive, but I regard it as a casual essential. You want to get four if you can and they’re actually a lot cheaper online nowadays than they used to be.
Anyway, some real actual games with this list:
First game I saw a Blue and Red deck. He led off with Dragon Fodder and my sneaking suspicions were confirmed a couple of turns later when he used one as Polymorph Fodder. Thankfully his giant man turned out to be Darksteel Colossus rather than Progenitus. I was able to make a Marrow Chomper big enough to both regain the life lost from the first swing and form an adequate roadblock.
I don’t know if his deck had a Plan B, as he conceded a few turns later.
I’ve seen a few Polymorph decks floating around. I’ll probably get round to throwing one together at some point, as they look like fun.
Next up was a multi-colored Elementals concoction. He busted out a quick Horde of Notions with the help of Smokebraider, and I’m left thinking I probably have too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
After that I got a Blue-Green elf deck. I think he was flooded on the first game. I saw Presence of Gond on a Devoted Druid and that was about it. A Bramblewood Paragon appeared later, but then my opponent made an error in blocking some of my tokens while I had the Deathbringer Thoctar out. I wanted my tokens to die to trigger the Thoctar, and he merrily machine-gunned down the rest.
Deathbringer Thoctar doesn’t have Devour himself, but his abilities are a useful fit for the deck.
Next was a budget Kithkin deck (was running Zephyrnaut). Goblin Assault again suicided my goblins into his Meadowgrain Knight. That is a concern with the card. It does give you extra guys, but then sometimes they get thrown away against enemy forces before you get a chance to eat them.
I suppose that just makes Goblin Assault flavorful. The goblins are so scared of what’s in the rest of your deck they’d rather make suicidal charges at the enemy instead.
I took some early damage, but then the broken parts of the deck kicked in. Mycoloth spat out fodder, Tar Fiend wiped out his hand, Voracious Dragon took out the one potential threat with flying, and then an enormous Predator Dragon (24/24) provided the overkill.
We like overkill.
This bunch of games was the first opportunity I’d had to try him out, and I was impressed. Devour 2 seems innocuous, but he tends to end up as a 12/12 or so and them with no cards left in hand to deal with him.
I think I lost track of a game somewhere. I remember an 11/11 Dragon token, and again thinking you don’t need to sac that many tokens for Devour 2 to give you an enormous monster.
The elf deck from before got its revenge. My deck had a mana hiccup and stayed at two lands for a while. That gave him time to use a pair of Immaculate Magistrates to start making a Llanowar Elf rather large. Despite the awkward mana draw, I did have a plan. That involved getting a couple of Sprouting Thrinax down to absorb some hits, hide Sarkhan Vol behind the spin-off Saproling tokens and hopefully fend off long enough to get to five mana to start stealing and devouring his Magistrates.
Next up was a Black deck and one of those rares that eternally gets overrated for Constructed: Royal Assassin. It’s a strange card. Early on in most people’s Magic-playing life, they’ll see Royal Assassin and think it’s the best card ever. Way back in the day when I was starting out, one of our local kitchen table players was a terror with his Royal Assassin deck. Early on it seems awesome, capable of holding off entire armies by its lonesome, because nobody ever wants to attack and have one of their creatures killed for nothing.
Later on, players start to learn when resources (critters) are expendable, and it becomes a lot easier to play around a Royal Assassin by knowing when to hold back and when to throw away monsters to swarm it.
This was a classic case of a Mono-Black deck trying to play fair against a deck that isn’t. Birds of Paradise gave me enough acceleration to swarm the board with Dragon Fodder goblins and Sprouting Thrinax. Tar Fiend again played Mind Twist as well as getting Murderous Redcap to take out Royal Assassin number two from his persist ability.
Unlike the Master Transmuter deck, this deck still feels like a work in progress. I love the big turns when you drop a Mycoloth and follow up with successively more enormous monsters. It doesn’t feel quite right, though. As much as I like one ofs, I’m tempted to try and pick a direction and focus the deck more in that way, if only to take some of the pressure off that sketchy manabase.
The new M10 lands aren’t really replacements for the pain lands I used before. I’m tempted to work more basics and maybe Borderland Rangers into the deck.
I’m never quite sure how to evaluate Goblin Assault. It is a continuous source of token creatures, but often it ends up throwing them away, and earlier Dragon Fodders, on terrible suicidal charges. I thought it might be an auto four-of, but it might be better as a singleton. Obviously, if you own four Bitterblossom you should run them instead (with maybe an extra Marrow Chomper if you’re worried about the dribble of life loss).
Actually, as even more of a flip-flop, I played a few more games in between writing and editing this article, and one of the things I remembered was how useful Goblin Assault is if you get it to stick against the kind of control decks that are proficient at murdering lots of small critters. I suspect it’s bad against decks the Devour deck is good against anyway, but absolutely golden for the tougher matchups.
A tricky one to call.
Sarkhan Vol was less impressive. Me and planeswalkers just don’t get on. I never give them any protection, and they always leave in a huff.
Tar Fiend impressed me greatly. It’s probably no way near proper constructed potential (smart players will wipe out the small guys long before he arrives), but a 12/12+ monster that empties their hand of ways to deal with it can be a nasty surprise for a lot of decks.
I think the deck has a solid core around Birds of Paradise, Elvish Visionary, Dragon Fodder, Sprouting Thrinax, and some number of Mycoloth and Dragon Broodmother. From there it can be taken in a few different directions. Heavier on the Skullmunchers gives the deck more card drawing potential, but the difference between Devour 1 and Devour 2 is really huge.
I’d be curious to see how effective a more focused Tar Fiend build could be. Wiping out their hand and leaving them a 12/12 or so monster is asking very serious questions of most decks. The problem is any sensible player will see what’s coming and aggressively take out the little guys before the Fiend hits.
Okay, so you probably aren’t going to set your local tournament alight with a Devour deck (especially since the rotation, heh),but it’s a nice choice if you want to power down a little and play a little more for fun.
And make large monsters with ridiculous overkill.
This deck isn’t quite the finished article (even by the standards of my other decks with their many one-ofs). It’s something I’ll probably fiddle around with until I get something that plays a little smoother.
As Devour is an Alara block mechanic that means it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The deck doesn’t lose a great deal with the next rotation. Murderous Redcap goes, but we also get a lovely recurring creature to use in Bloodghast (provided his price doesn’t shoot off into the stratosphere). Gatekeeper of Malakir has the kind of enters the battlefield effect that would be perfect, but I suspect casting him is going to be a b*tch, especially with the deck losing the Green-Black duals (Gilt-Leaf Palace and Twilight Mire).
Welcome new Zendikar Vamps. So sorry if you thought you were going to be top of the food chain…