I couldn’t believe it when I saw someone had won a Neutral Ground Grudge Match qualifier with a Battle of Wits deck. Wizards has given us our fair share of junk rares, but this one (which requires bad deckbuilding practices, to say the least) seemingly topped the cake.
But lo and behold, here it was in front of me – a 240+ card deck that the good Reverend had piloted to victory. And seemingly, it’s caught on, to the point where people are playing it in Extended (!) and even in the Masters Series (!!). (And to be honest, I’ve started playing the deck myself, and not only is it a ton of fun to play, it also wins a fair share of the time as well!)
At the beginning of your upkeep, if twenty or more creature cards are in your graveyard, you win the game.
On the surface, it seems like a win condition that’s more plausible than the two hundred-plus cards that Battle of Wits requires. Since all we need are twenty carcasses in the graveyard, I’d imagine that staying under a hundred cards total should be workable. I don’t think you can expect to fit it all into a sixty-card deck, simply because there isn’t enough room for thirty-plus dudes and the search/protection that you need to win with Mortal Kombat.
You’ll pardon me as I continually spell Mortal Combat with a”K.” I opened one up at the Prerelease and screamed”MORTAL KOMBAT!” at the top of my lungs, like I was in the movie getting my butt handed to me by Sub-Zero. And it didn’t help that we had half the soundtrack on the laptop that was running the event.
The deck looks to run like this: Start out with some early creatures, refill your hand where you can, then put as many as you can into the graveyard once Mortal Combat comes down.
The first decision about a Mortal Combat deck has to be what colors to play. The black is an obvious choice; so is blue, by virtue of the card-drawing, search, and protection that we’re going to need to ensure a victory with Mortal Combat. Black has quite a few good cards that let you sacrifice your creatures for some effect: Fallen Angel, for instance, or Cabal Patriarch. Both let you”surprise” your opponent after you’ve played what seems to be a harmless Mortal Combat. (“Mortal Combat? With three guys in the graveyard? Whatever!”) However, blue and black alone don’t give us enough creatures that can find their own way into the graveyard:
Blue: Daring Apprentice
Of those, only a handful provide useful effects upon their resolution, and only another handful can put your entire army into the graveyard. But the base of the deck still needs to be black and blue, since those are the colors that will allow you to find Mortal Combat and keep it on the board.
I’m looking at red or green for the third color. Green provides some tiny, saccable creatures like Diligent Farmhand and Twigwalker; red provides some saccable creatures that will take enemies out, like Ghitu Fire-Eater and Barbarian Lunatic. Red also hooks us up with Pyre Zombie and Cinder Shade.
Let’s start looking at the blue/black base of the deck. Card drawing, some sort of tutoring ability, and some way to protect Mortal Combat are all necessary here. The card-drawing should be in two forms: creature and non-creature. Since we’re U/B already, Shadowmage Infiltrator becomes a no-brainer; I’d bet a couple of Thieving Magpies also could fit in. If we run six total, we can flesh out the card drawing with four Fact or Fictions and be pretty set on the drawing extra cards front. For the tutoring effect, I really like the new Insidious Dreams because it works double duty: If you have a handful of creature cards, it gets some of them into the graveyard while setting up your draws to win with Mortal Combat. Same goes for Diabolic Intent. For protection, we have Daring Apprentice to start with, and can supplement that with straight Counterspells or Undermines, or with some other countermagic in the three-color versions. I think Liquify works pretty well in the three-color versions, since most enchantment removal is going to be 3cc or less.
The straight black/blue version benefits from a smoother mana base, but doesn’t give us anything in the way of useful creatures. I mean come on… Famished Ghoul? And I’m not about to put Devouring Strossus in, no matter how big he is. But since we’re not overwhelmed with cool creatures to go into the deck, we can also consider using some outside methods of getting bodies in the graveyard: Buried Alive, for instance, or Traumatize.
However, since the pre-specified target weight limit for the deck is going to be a hundred cards, and we’re starting out with a solid thirty from up above, we really need the other thirty here to be mostly creatures:
These two guys are the cornerstones for the deck. Yeah, they cost a bundle, but they’re capable of single-handedly dumping your entire army into the graveyard, including themselves, in response to putting Mortal Combat’s conditional victory check on the stack. It doesn’t hurt that the Patriarch is pretty solid creature removal in his own right – it doesn’t matter that your guys are going to the graveyard too, because that’s kinda the whole point, isn’t it?
For land, since you have forty cards to play with, I’d say something like:
Okay, red is the color of fire in Magic, and not of blood, but the title didn’t sound right as”Fiery Combat.” So suffer.
Because we’re now moving into a third color, the ability to rely on Cabal Patriarch is lessened a bit. I’m not saying we should remove him completely … I just think his BBB-specific mana requirement is a little taxing on a three-color deck, no matter how many cards it is. But we can make up for it by using more of red’s removal creatures:
As you can see, the creature base changes to become more functional, rather than just having creatures that sacrifice themselves for random abilities. Sadistic Hypnotist may make a re-appearance here, simply because he’s another guy that can get rid of your entire army in one fell swoop… But for now, this seems pretty solid. For land:
After careful consideration, the green creatures that could go in this deck … well, they just suck. Savage Gorilla is pretty solid, and so is Diligent Farmhand, but you can’t sacrifice either of the Lyrists or the Scavenger Folk if there’s nothing for them to kill (since you choose targets before paying costs in the whole scheme of announcing an ability). So then you’re reduced to Twigwalker and Skyshooter – and really, at that point, you’re better off being just black and blue.
Besides, with a name like Fungal Combat, who’d want to play THAT deck? Sounds… Gangrenous.
Are these the best answers for Mortal Combat? The answer is either”probably not,” in which case new decklists may present themselves as we play the deck; or it’s”unfortunately yes,” in which case we all should stick with Battle of Wits.
And isn’t that a fine suggestion to close a column with?