Yawgmoth’s Whimsy # 38: Breaking Balthor*

Out of five boxes of Judgment, he got only one Sylvan Safekeeper and two Cunning Wishes… But he got eight Balthor, the Defiled. Since he now has enough for both himself and his wife to play Balthor decks, I guess Peter will have to break Balthor wide open.

Ever notice how, when you open packs looking for good cards, you seem to get a bunch of bad rares and none of the good ones?

Ingrid and I have a long history of that. Lots of – like twelve – Obstinate Familiars and two Call of the Herds. More Carnival of Souls than anyone could ever use,** and one Masticore. Plenty of Imaginary Pets, but we bought two of our four Morphlings.

So far, Ingrid and I have opened about five boxes of Judgment. We have two Cunning Wishes and one Sylvan Safekeeper. On the other hand, we have nine Sutured Ghouls and eight Balthor the Defiled, including two foils.

The conspiracy theorist in me always wonders if some rares and uncommons are more rare or uncommon than other rares or uncommons. (Wow, is that an awkward sentence.)

Seriously – in Invasion, did you open more Fact or Fictions or Elfhame Sanctuaries? In your Apocalypse collections, do you have more Fire / Ices or Brass Heralds?*** More Call of the Herds or Need for Speeds?

Or, in our case, more Obstinate Familiars than {insert any useful Odyssey rare here.} And we don’t even collect the damn things.

Well, since Ingrid and I have enough Balthors to both play four of the height-challenged legend, I guess I have to break Balthor the Defiled.

Balthor the Defiled, 2BB, Creature – Zombie Dwarf Legend, 2/2

All Minions get +1/+1

BBB, Remove Balthor the Defiled from the game: Each player returns all black and all red creature cards from his or her graveyard to play.

Hey, he’s easy to break in T1.

Turn one: Tolarian Academy, Black Lotus, Mox Jet, Mox Sapphire, Dark Ritual (tapping Mox Jet), Dark Ritual, sacrifice Lotus for UUU, TimeTwister, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Candelabra of Tawnos, Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Ancestral Recall (tapping Mox Sapphire), Morality Shift, Balthor the Defiled, activate Balthor, win the game.

With Force of Will backup.

Oscar Tan, eat your heart out.

Okay, something a bit more practical – Balthor in T2 and OBC****. Type 2 first, of course.

Balthor is only good if you get large creatures into your graveyard, then get them into play.

Here’s how you win. Have Balthor in play. Activate Balthor’s ability. In response, cast Sickening Dreams for three, discarding three Laquatus’ Champion. (Actually, you can’t do that – Sickening Dreams is a sorcery – but other methods do work.)

Let’s take a look at building Balthor as a combo deck in Type 2.

First, you need a ton of mana. That means swamps and Cabal Coffers – lots of them. It also means that you may be going mono-black, since too many painlands and Tainted whatevers will hurt the Coffers. Once the metagame is more defined, we may want to rethink that, but for now: Mono-black.

Step two is disruption. You’re going to need some, to keep the Quiet Speculations and counterspells from doing too much damage. Duress is obvious – play four. Some Addles in the Sideboard might be nice. Cabal Therapy and Ravenous Rats is also an obvious combo – but be careful. Although no one plays Dodecapod anymore, untargeted discard, like Rats, tends to hit madness spells with predictable results. If you can be sure to cast the Rats only when the opponent is tapped out, and when they are not holding Basking Rootwalla, then try it.

Ravenous Rats or Mesmeric Fiends would be okay with Balthor’s ability, since the Rats would force another discard – but since activating the ability should win the game (with multiple Champions draining all the opponent’s life), that’s not all that important.

So; four Duress main deck, plus two Cabal Therapy and maybe Addles in the sideboard, in the unlikely event that we have room.

Creature control is also going to be necessary. Four Chainer’s Edict will be necessary. Mutilate (and Sickening Dreams, if necessary) will take care of Sylvan Safekeeper, Merfolk Looter, and other annoying little creatures. Maybe some Innocent Bloods in the sideboard. Slays in the sideboard for sure.

Faceless Butchers are also a possibility. They kill Wurm tokens dead, deal with Psychatogs (temporarily), and Butcher #2 can take out Butcher #1, leaving you with a defense against Upheaval. In a worst case scenario, activating Balthor’s ability with 3 Butchers in the graveyard (and nothing else) will force a draw. Still, Faceless is a 2/3 for four mana. It might be easier to take care of non-Wurms with Mutilate and Wurms with some graveyard hate. I talked about that last time.

I’m liking Cremate, since it is a one mana cantrip – it’s never dead. Coffin Purge is a second best option – it has a cheap flashback, but it can be a dead card. Neither of those gets rid of enough cards to deal with Quiet Speculation and Roar tokens, but that’s what Duress is for – nailing that Speculation. Cremate will get rid of an incarnation.

Cremate and so forth are also bad against Ground Seal, but that is another card you can get with Duress. The secret is drawing all four Duresses and a Dark Ritual in your opening hand. However, since this is Type 2, do the best you can.

Beyond that, you need a few copies of Balthor, the Defiled, and 4 Laquatus’ Champion. Dropping them quickly into the graveyard means that you have to find them. Insidious Dreams is almost good enough – it would work fine if it put the cards in your hand, or if you could find it and a double strength Mental Note. However, the best available option is Buried Alive.

What you end up with is pretty typical black control deck with the Soul Burns and some of the utility removed for Buried Alives, Laquatus’ Champions and Balthors. The advantages of this are threefold.

1. If necessary, you can play beatdown with the Champions.

2. The deck is very rogue. Or rouge. Whatever.

3. You get to go home at a reasonable hour, since you won’t have to play in the top 8.

Unfortunately, the OBC analysis ends up in about the same place. In short, trying to use Balthor as the heart of a combo deck does not work.

The other option is to use Balthor as part of a beatdown deck. The deck should pump out creatures, then use Balthor to rebuild the board when the creatures falter. In this version, it makes sense to build a R/B version, running some Sulfurous Springs and Tainted Peaks for red; this gives you Flametongue Kavu and Terminate.

The one drawback to B/R is that the colors have a hard time with enchantments like Opposition, unless you get lucky with Duress. Splashing for a bit of green would give you the option of running Hull Breach or Thunderscape Battlemage. The Battlemage is brutal against beatdown decks, where he forces a discard of two threats, and can trade for a third. Unfortunately, you cannot play kicker if you bring the card back with Balthor’s ability.

That last paragraph represents one of my problems designing beatdown decks – I prefer control and options to straight beatdown, which means I keep wedging in answers instead of focusing on dealing damage. A fast beatdown deck does not need to worry too much about playing Battlemages with both kickers.

In short, since my playtest time is limited but the number of rogue decks I have built is not, the testing on this one is very inconclusive. When it rocks, it rocks, but I’m not sure that it does so consistently enough.

Beating with Balthor

4 Nantuko Shade


4 Mesmeric Fiend (it reanimates so well)

2 Laquatus’ Champion (I cannot give up the combo)

2 other creatures (see below)

2 Balthor, the Defiled

4 Duress

4 Terminate

2 Cremate

2 Browbeat

2 Pernicious Deed

2 Zombie Infestation

2 Burning Wish

24 lands

Sideboard (mainly Burning Wish fodder)

2 Browbeat

2 Pillage (Squirrel’s Nest, Ensnaring Bridge, etc.)

3 Hull Breach

2 Earthquake

1 Boil

1 Ghitu Fire

1 Decompose

2 Engineered Plague or Nausea (if you want a Burning Wish target)

1 Shower of Coals

I included two”other creatures” in the decklist. I have one Volcanic Dragon and one Sengir Vampire in my favorite version, but that was more for”fun and Friday Night Magic” than for serious tournaments. Anger worked pretty well with Zombie Infestation (Hasty Zombies is such a great oxymoron) – but with just two Infestations, it is not consistent enough. Another minor problem with Anger: It returns to play when you activate Balthor’s ability, although you can target Anger with a Flametongue so your creatures can get haste the turn you use Balthor. Blazing Specters have been okay in those slots on occasion, but are not great in all cases. Grim Lavamancers have some utility, although they do not combine well with Balthor’s reanimation ability. Shambling Swarm is probably the best option.

This seems to be the best Balthor build I have, but it is not good enough. That warning – not good enough – is your reward for reading the article. A special bonus, for some of you, will come if someone just copies the decklist and tries to play it against you.

My testing of this in OBC is massively insufficient, but the beatdown version with Browbeat, Burning Wishes, Shambling Swarm, Fledgling Dragon and so forth looks okay. What it really lacks, however, is a good answer to 6/6 tokens. Faceless Butchers are a must in the sideboard, and two might belong maindeck.

That’s it for T2 and OBC. I’ll cover Extended quickly. In Extended, you have the possibility of playing with Priests of Gix, Remembrance, Reprocess, and so forth – which would give you an overpriced and marginally effective combo deck to power Drain Life and Death Grasp. In other words, it ain’t gonna happen. Old or new Extended, Balthor the Defiled is not going to be involved.

In casual play, well, I cannot see any situations in which you would prefer Balthor over Living Death. Other than having your opponent casting it, of course.


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* – This article was inspired by Ross, Gary, and someone else whose face I cannot remember. They were sitting around after a draft discussing how to break the bad cards they opened, including Balthor.

** – Okay,”one” is more Carnivals than anyone could ever use, but we have nine.

*** – Sure, sane people throw away the Brass Heralds, but if you were compulsive enough to have kept all the cards you opened, how many would you have then?

**** – Once you play Balthor/Morality Shift in T1, no one will ever play T1 with you again, so you need the T2 tech.