Tribal Thriftiness #49 – Intro Packs and Upgrades

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Tuesday, November 25th – The Intro Packs are great introductions to the themes and cards of Shards of Alara, but… you can’t do anything with the contents of one, short of figure out how to improve it before you can play it. It’s not even sixty cards front to back! Dave explores the Grixis and Jund Intro Packs, and suggests improvements to bring them up to the full sixty.

Back when I started playing Magic, back in the Tempest days, Wizards had just come across the idea of “Pre-Constructed Decks.” I can remember my wife and I buying the Deep Freeze and The Slivers pre-con decks when we first started playing, and she would routinely whup me with Invulnerability with Buyback. Since those early days, Wizards has always tried to package at least “reasonably-powered” pre-constructed decks for each set… and while Shards of Alara marks a strange turning point in the process, it still has precon decks that are great starting points for new players as well as players who want to get the most bang for their buck.

As mentioned earlier, Shards marks a strange breakpoint in the contents of the pre-constructed deck. Wizards has conscientiously made the decision to shift them more towards the new players, and to that end, have included Tenth Edition cards in the Shards “Intro Packs.” Probably to try and make up for it to everyone else, they’ve gone ahead and made one of the rares foil, which is a nice touch, and the fact that the foil rares tend to be pretty solid (like Master of Etherium) definitely takes some of the sting out. But… these decks are only 41 cards? That’s a little unforgivable. New players can’t even take them to their local Friday Night Magic “as-is.” They need to add the contents of the included booster pack, and then some, just to get it up to a legal deck.

So the task at hand, this week, is to take some of the Intro Packs and bring them up to Standard-legal, using commons from the set – ideally keeping with the desired game plan of the deck. I’ll also suggest some commons from other sets that might fit the deck and would play well in the completed 60.

Grixis Undead

From the Wizards website: “The plane of Grixis is a decaying hellscape overrun with demons and the undead. Summon an army of shambling minions from Grixis, mastering their power of life beyond death to overpower any planeswalkers who would dare oppose you.” Sounds like a fascinating place to take the wife and kids (well, if I had kids) on vacation. “Hey, honey, could you pass me the tanning lotion? It’s right there next to the smoldering carcass of the guy in 15-B.” The Grixis Undead Intro Pack has a fair amount of removal, guys that come back from the graveyard via either Unearth or other gravedigging effects, and has that big ol’ bull in the china shop, Cruel Ultimatum, to act as the finisher. Too bad it’s not the foil. Here’s the initial contents:

1 Dregscape Zombie
1 Vithian Stinger
1 Hidden Horror
1 Blood Cultist
2 Kederekt Creeper
1 Fleshbag Marauder
1 Gravedigger
2 Incurable Ogre
2 Fire-Field Ogre
1 Dreg Reaver
1 Vein Drinker
1 Bone Splinters
2 Terror
2 Agony Warp
2 Blightning
1 Obelisk of Grixis
1 Essence Drain
1 Cruel Ultimatum
3 Island
7 Swamp
3 Mountain
2 Crumbling Necropolis
2 Grixis Panorama

24 spells and 17 land. If we want to reasonably cast Cruel Ultimatum, I don’t think we should go with any less than 23 land. That leaves another 13 spells to be added to the deck.

For being an Unearth deck, there is a real lack of Unearth guys in the deck. Only one Vithian Stinger, who is one of the more interesting Unearth guys. ZERO Kathari Screechers, good evasive attackers. (Hey, I played Wind Drake, don’t knock ’em.) ZERO Viscera Dragger either? No Undead Leotau? In a deck with plenty of ways to get your own guys into the graveyard (Bone Splinters, Fleshbag Marauders, Hidden Horror), as well as the general tendency of creatures to die in combat, you’d think the deck would want to put a little more focus on the Grixis-specific mechanic. Well I for one really like the Unearth mechanic, so the main focus here will be to bulk up the Unearth interplay.

New cards: Viscera Dragger is really the ideal Unearth card. If you need a guy, he’s a Hill Giant, which is just average. But if you need to get towards some removal (or maybe even better creatures), he cycles away to dig you deeper into the deck — and his Unearth ability means he can magickally reappear to assist in any last-minute alpha strike to bring down your opponent. Plus, you gotta love that artwork. His Unearth cost is reasonable (unlike Fire-Field Ogre, for instance) and he packs a wallop all by himself (unlike Dregscape Zombie, say). Four may be too many (and, as I said earlier, if you’re relying on him as a straight creature, he’s just meh), so three is where I’d top out. Kathari Screecher is the other new guy I’m going to recommend, as he’s a flyer that has a better chance of getting his “last shot from the grave” to actually connect with the opponent’s face.

More of the same: Blood Cultist and Vithian Stinger give you a nice one-two punch, making it possible to off bigger creatures, or just keep pinging away at your opponent. They also have a nice interplay with each other, giving you a better chance to pick off creatures and grow your Blood Cultist. Since you can get Vithian Stinger back with Unearth, he fits into the deck, and I think a couple more of each are in order. Also, now that we’ve upped the number of Unearth creatures, it also makes sense to increase the number of that “parity” removal spells, Bone Splinters.

+3 Viscera Dragger
+3 Kathari Screecher
+2 Vithian Stinger
+2 Blood Cultist
+3 Bone Splinters

I think going up to the full set of Grixis Panorama is okay. We’re adding 8 Black spells, 4 Red spells, and 3 Blue spells, so for the last four land, we should stick roughly with the ratios present in the deck and add 1 Mountain, 2 Swamps, and 1 Island.

Other sets: Tenth Edition reprinted Bogardan Firefiend, which has a fun interaction with the self-removal spells that the deck runs – and gives you a little conditional extra removal. Same with Hornet Harasser. Actually, Mudbutton Torchrunner does that job better still. On the flipside, there’s fun Persist interactions that you can abuse with cards like Scuzzback Marauders.

Grixis Upgraded

4 Viscera Dragger

4 Blood Cultist
3 Kathari Screecher
3 Vithian Stinger
3 Mudbutton Torchrunner
2 Kederekt Creeper
2 Incurable Ogre
2 Fire-Field Ogre
1 Vein Drinker
4 Bone Splinters
2 Terror
2 Agony Warp
2 Blightning
2 Essence Drain
1 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Island
9 Swamp
4 Mountain
2 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Grixis Panorama

Some of the numbers shifted as I removed the less-than-stellar cards; I mean, come on, Dreg Reaver’s just another vanilla creature with no real interaction with the deck, does he deserve a spot as a one-of? Instead I maxed out on the Viscera Draggers and the Blood Cultists, which are much nicer fits in the deck. It has a fair amount of removal, some fun Unearth tricks to give it some reach, and of course it still has Cruel Ultimatum. You know, I think once I finish these decks, I’m going to run them into each other and see how I’ve done.

Primordial Jund

From the Wizards site: “The plane of Jund is a savage, volcanic world of infinite dangers where dragons top the food chain. Amass a swarm of barbarians, vicious predators, and even dragons, and swallow up the meek forces of your fellow planeswalkers.” At least they fixed that whole undead issue. Dragons? Tame in the face of the unrelenting undead, that’s what I say. I’ve seen George Romero movies.

2 Goblin Piker
2 Goblin Deathraiders
1 Rip-Clan Crasher
2 Jund Battlemage
1 Thunder-Thrash Elder
2 Hissing Iguanar
2 Sprouting Thrinax
2 Thorn-Thrash Viashino
1 Mycoloth
2 Carrion Thrash
1 Flameblast Dragon
2 Shock
2 Dragon Fodder
1 Resounding Thunder
1 Obelisk of Jund
3 Forest
7 Mountain
3 Swamp
2 Jund Panorama
2 Savage Lands

The law of Jund: Eat or be eaten. The little guys may appear to be “early drops” but, let’s face it, they’re really just there to get ate by one of the big devourers coming up later on. The problem is, Devour is really a rare mechanic – Thorn-Thrash Viashino and Thunder-Thrash Elder are in the deck, and that’s it for non-rare Devourers. So it’s either make those little guys matter more on their own, or get a little bit more value when your Devourers get their mid-day snack. The deck starts out with 24 spells and 17 land like the Grixis deck, but because we’re going to focus on pressing an early advantage before our Devour guys come along to finish things off, I don’t think we need to go higher than 22 land, which gives us another slot (14 total) to fill with a warm body.

New cards: Well, if you’re gonna go, you’ll want someone paving the path, right? Deathgreeter stands in as a early drop, might squeeze in a few points of early damage, and then piles on the pain when you start killing their guys – or eating your own. Branching Bolt will pair up with the removal already in the deck to make sure that your early guys squeeze in what damage they can. And with as big as your guys can get, I’m surprised that Wizards didn’t include Soul’s Fire, which would let you almost completely bypass the need for your big eaters to even attack. Drop a Thunder-Thrash Elder, eat a half-dozen guys, and then just belch your opponent straight to zero – that’s what I say.

More of the same: Focusing on the early drops seems like the way to go. In that case, Rip-Clan Crasher is your best friend, and has the biggest chance of pushing that early damage. Even as he becomes overmatched towards the middle-game, they still make tasty snacks for the bigger guys in your deck. Thorn-Thrash Viashino should also be upped to take advantage of the edible guys from your early game. I also think Dragon Fodder could be maxed out to make sure you have guys to Devour – and to force you to keep attacking and keep pressure on your opponent.

+4 Deathgreeter
+3 Branching Bolt
+2 Rip-Clan Crasher
+2 Thorn-Thrash Viashino
+2 Soul’s Fire
+1 Dragon Fodder

Because we need to hit early drops, I don’t want to increase the number of useless land drops we make in turns one and two — so it’s straight basic lands here. 4 black spells, 10 red spells, and 5 green spells would initially make me lean towards 3 Mountain / 2 Forest / 1 Swamp, but because Deathgreeter is a one-drop and you want to be able to play him on turn one if you can to maximize his usefulness, I think an even split across the board (2 Mountain, 2 Forest, 2 Swamp) is probably the best way to go.

Other sets: I’m not sure why Wizards decided to add Tenth Edition burn to the deck, but selected Shock over Incinerate; the 3-damage burn spell would be miles better. Mogg Fanatic is another one-drop that has a secondary ability if he becomes overmatched by later creatures. And Mudbutton Torchrunner rears his head again as a fun snack for your Devour guys.

Jund Upgraded

4 Deathgreeter
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Thorn-Thrash Viashino
4 Rip-Clan Crasher
3 Hissing Iguanar
2 Sprouting Thrinax
2 Carrion Thrash
1 Mycoloth
1 Thunder-Thrash Elder
1 Flameblast Dragon

3 Branching Bolt
2 Soul’s Fire
3 Incinerate
3 Dragon Fodder
1 Resounding Thunder

5 Forest
9 Mountain
5 Swamp
2 Jund Panorama
2 Savage Lands

I’m okay with the singleton Resounding Thunder as an “uncounterable” win condition in the late game, but I think you only need one, and Incinerate is better in every other circumstance, as it does the same damage for one less mana. I’d love to have at least one more Devourer, but the lack of them in the lower-commonality slots means that I’m stuck maxing out on Thorn-Thrash Viashino per the rules I set forth for myself earlier in the article. The Hissing Iguanar count went up as well because I felt that it worked better with the Devour theme of the deck.

Next Week

So next week, I’m going to continue this look at the Intro Packs, so please feel free to give some suggestions about what you like or don’t like about the other three. And we’ll see how the Jund and Grixis upgrades fare against one another!

Until next week…