A week or so back, Jon Mattison posted a Phantoms deck to one of the my email lists. I had been looking for a deck to play myself for a casual play session, since I had promised not to use anything with an infinite combo or anything too game-controlling. That left out most of the interesting decks I had built, even on paper, since I seem to be addicted to combos at the moment. Phantoms looked interesting enough to spend some time thinking about – at least during the commutes.
The basic concept for a Phantoms deck is simple enough. Phantoms prevent all damage dealt to them. Doing so removes a counter, if they have one. Generally when Phantoms have no counters, they have no toughness and die. Enchantments that increase toughness make Phantoms invulnerable to damage (although they still die quite well to Terror, Swords to Plowshares, -x/-x effects, Perish/Anarchy, etc.)
Here’s Jon’s original decklist:
He included some explanations for most of the deck. The counter producers dump counters on the Phantoms – or on the Spikes if the Phantoms are not yet in play. Gerrard’s Command was his answer to a friend’s deck that ran Thornscape Apprentices to tap his creatures before combat. He ran Spike Workers instead of Spike Feeders because he didn’t have any Feeders available. He had some reservations about War Dance, and about having enough white mana for the Phantom Flocks.
Jon’s inclusion of Shared Triumph is a nice touch. (All the Phantoms are Spirits, after all.)
I have a number of comments and refinements to this type of deck, and will end with some thoughts on playing Phantoms in T2 and Extended. I’ll start with the basics.
The deck is mainly green, with a splash of white for the Flock, Phantom Nishoba and so forth. If you have them, and they are legal in the format, then lands which produce both green and white are worth playing. Savannah is an automatic inclusion in casual play. Brushland and Elfhame Palace are worth playing. Windswept Heath, Grassland, and Sungrass Prairie can sit in if you don’t have the other lands, but thinning land out of the deck before you hit five mana may not be a great idea, so you don’t want to play more than a couple of Heaths and Grasslands – maybe three if you play Savannahs. Beyond that, Treetop Village is worth playing in almost any green deck, but this deck is aggressive enough that I would probably limit the number.
In any base green deck that includes at least one other color, my first thought is Birds of Paradise. The Birds are the best mana acceleration around, and the flying is a nice asset. Occasionally, Birds can chump a big flier, or can win the game with a Rancor, spike counters or Armadillo Cloak. My second thought is Yavimaya Elders since these fetch lands, thin the deck, and draw cards. The double green in the casting cost means the deck has to commit to green, but this deck does so.
Other strong mana creatures include Wall of Roots, Vine Trellis, Llanowar Elves (or Fyndhorn Elves), Wood Elves, and so forth. The Wall of Roots is a very nice blocker, and shows up in a lot of my decks, but may be unnecessary here. The smaller Phantom creatures could provide initial protection. I also considered other mana creatures that can produce green and white – including Utopia Tree, Skyshroud Elves, and Quirion Elves – but none of these seemed worthwhile. Finally, green has a lot of spells that fetch lands and/or put them into play. Jon used Lay of the Land to fetch lands; other options include Rampant Growth, Skyshroud Claim, Explosive Vegetation, Far Wanderings, and so forth. While these are useful, I don’t see them as that important, since I will have Birds and Elders.
The next step is the Phantoms. We have several choices.
- Phantom Centaur: 5/3 for 2GG
- Phantom Tiger: 3/2 for 2G
- Phantom Nishoba: 7/7 trampling, Spirit Linked for 5GW
- Phantom Flock: 3/3 flier for 3WW
- Phantom Nomad: 2/2 for 1W
- Phantom Nantuko: 2/2, can pump himself, costs 2G
Phantom Centaurs are amazing – and with Birds and Elders, I should have little trouble casting them. The Phantom Flocks are fliers, which is very important in multiplayer and casual games. With the Elders to fetch plains and the various dual lands, I should have no problem with colors. The Nishobas are big, fun to play, and their mana cost makes them totally impractical – so I want two. The Phantom Tigers are small, but good blockers. I would have to playtest the deck to see whether the Tigers or Wall of Roots are more useful in the small blockers slot, but we’ll play the Tigers for now. (Tigers and Spidersilk Armor is a good combination.)
The other two Phantoms are less useful. The Nomads are early drops – but I have Birds and Elders early, and I am not certain that I will get white mana that quickly. Later on in the game, they are pretty useless. I have mixed feelings about the Phantom Nantuko. He can pump himself to stay around indefinitely, but only by tapping. He might be okay to very good in duels, but that is not that strong an ability in multiplayer games. He also still dies to Terror, Swords and all the other removal floating around in larger games.
Pumping The Phantoms
Jon devoted a fair portion of his deck to cards that put additional counters on the Phantoms. He included Elven Rite, Ironshell Beetle, and even Spikes. He also mentioned Thrive and Titania’s Boon in his e-mails. These all work – they all put an additional counter on the Phantoms, giving them one more counter, one more damage, and one more turn before they die.
My biggest problem with this approach is that all these cards are sorceries, meaning that they will never be a surprise. Moreover, they only help a couple creatures for a turn. I would prefer to devote deck space to enchantments that help all the Phantoms for a longer time, or means of returning the Phantoms to play.
Enchantments To Make The Phantoms Immortal:
If a Phantom gets something to increase its toughness above zero, even when all its counters are gone, it cannot be killed by damage. That makes playing with creature enchantments and global enchantments worthwhile.
Jon used Spidersilk Armor and Shared Triumph as global enchantments, and Armadillo Cloak and Rancor as creature enchantments. Spidersilk Armor is decent in that it both pumps toughness and blocks fliers. With Spidersilk Armor in play, a Phantom Tiger can block Mahamoti Djinn all day long… Which is a pretty nice deal. Shared Triumph is also a strong contender – if you name Spirits, it gives all Phantoms +1/+1 for the low cost of 1W. In this deck, it does the same thing as Glorious Anthem, but for only one white mana – which can be a critical, since this deck does not necessarily produce two white mana very fast. Shared Triumph certainly works better than the alternatives, like Thran Weaponry or Parapet.
Armadillo Cloak provides the additional toughness and power to any enchanted Phantom, and the trample and Spirit Link effect is not too shabby. However, if the creature gets killed or bounced, the enchant creature is wasted, so enchant creatures cards do have their drawbacks. Even so, Armadillo Cloak is a fun card, so I’ll play some.
Rancor is a perpetual enchantment and probably the best green enchant creature ever printed. That said, I’m not sure its worth playing in this deck, mainly because it does not increase a creature’s toughness. Most of the creatures already have evasion (Flock) or trample (Nishoba), or just are not that big. Moreover, since the deck is G/W, there may be better methods of getting a final strike though – like Glory. And even though you can win by Rancoring a Birds of Paradise, you can do the same thing with Armadillo Cloak.
Here’s an initial mix of enchantments. I’ll tweak these numbers later:
When I build a multiplayer/casual deck, I try to include something to make sure I don’t just die to some strange card, like The Abyss, Humility, Royal Assassin, Maze of Ith, or the like. I don’t want a lot of cards to deal with these unlikely threats – but I want something. I’d rather have a dead card or two, than have to scoop to an opponent with an empty hand and Ensnaring Bridge.
That said, I will try to make sure that the answer cards are as versatile as possible. In that respect, Disenchant gets the nod over Demystify, since Disenchant can nail artifacts as well. In some decks, Capashen Unicorn or Devout Witness may get the nod over the instants, since they are also creatures and can block or attack. Of course, being creatures is also a drawback if the card you want to destroy is Cursed Totem or Humility.
In this deck, I will play some form of enchantment kill, and some form of artifact kill. Creeping Mold is one strong possibility, since it can also kill a Maze of Ith, which has always been a problem in our groups. Naturalize and Disenchant and are also strong contenders. Finally, something like Cloudchaser Eagle could be very good (especially with an Armadillo Cloak, but the odds are fairly good that I will have enchantments in play, and I may be stuck with Cloudchaser Eagle in hand and only my own enchantments on the board too often.
If I were worried about my group running a lot of tough enchantments, I could even run Allay – it’s reusable enchantment removal.
I have written about the political advantages of Nullmage Advocates in multiplayer before, and that still applies. I have also written about the advantages of Living Wish and the Living Wish sideboard before. I could include one here as well.
In addition to dealing with creatures that don’t attack or block. Jon mentioned that his friend uses tappers, like Thornscape Apprentice, to slow the attacks. Tappers are annoying, but other problem creatures include Royal Assassin, Peacekeeper, Prodigal Sorcerer (which is annoying for Phantoms) and so forth. A direct, preferably instant method of dealing with those creatures is needed. Unyaro Bee Sting is green’s best option – and it is pretty bad. However, white has the perfect card: Swords to Plowshares.
Finally, I always like to put a couple instant speed creature pumpers into my deck, just so people have to think hard before attacking me. This is especially good in multiplayer, where it is often easier to attack someone else. The classic such card is Giant Growth, or I could play a cantrip Giant Growth. The best option might be Wax/Wane, so that my creature pumper can double as enchantment kill. One big advantage to Wax/Wane in multiplayer – you can often find an enchantment to kill very early, and playing the Wane side still makes people think about attacking you, because you could have another Wax in hand.
Here’s the initial list of utility cards:
I have two slots left open.
Tutoring: Enlightened Tutor And Sterling Grove
I am not completely happy about the large number of enchantments I listed above. To make drawing them likely, I am playing several copies of Shared Triumph, Spidersilk Armor and Armadillo Cloak. Those cards can be very useful – but not if my initial hand has no creatures. The answer is to run fewer of these enchantments, and add some tutoring. There are three primary tutors for enchantments in these colors – Enlightened Tutor, Sterling Grove, and Golden Wish. Golden Wish is so overpriced it isn’t playable, but the other two are good. We play T1 rules in our multiplayer games, so Enlightened Tutor is restricted. Sterling Grove is not, and it has that additional advantage that it protects my other enchantments.
The other advantage to tutoring is that it can get me some of the other answers to problem cards, and give me some special silver bullet cards. If I run Seal of Cleansing over Naturalize, I can tutor for the Disenchant effect. I could also deal with problem creatures by including Arrest or Parallax Wave. I could make my creature unblockable with Unquestioned Authority. I could also include special cards like Worship, Repentance, Absolute Grace, Serenity or other silver bullets. That said, I still want to run Swords to Plowshares over any other removal, and Wax/Wane because of the combat tricks. However, I might replace Creeping Mold with Seal of Cleansing. However, I have also had years of watching opponents play Maze of Ith, so maybe not.
One enchantment I might consider in multiplayer – Serra’s Blessing. For 1W, none of my creatures tap to attack. The ability to have my fliers and Nishobas attack and block is very good, and I would put it in it if the game were to exceed three players. In smaller games, I might consider Serra’s Embrace in order to create one big, flying, doesn’t-tap-while-attacking Phantom Centaur or Nishoba.
Reanimation and Incarnations:
Instead of playing cards to pump my Phantoms, I wan a method of bringing dead Phantoms back into play. The best method in G/W is Genesis. Genesis can reload all my threats. As Jon noted when I suggested this, I don’t have a method of discarding Genesis – but if I cast him, drop an Armadillo Cloak on him, and start attacking, my opponents will either put him into the graveyard for me or lose. Either option is acceptable.
I could also play Reya, Dawnbringer, or Sigil of the New Dawn – but the deck can’t support that much white. Moreover, if I did play that, I would be building around it, not the Phantoms.
Of course, now that I have Genesis for recursion, I may replace the Seal of Cleansing with a Capashen Unicorn, to make it a reusable, albeit slow, Disenchant. I can also play a Spike Feeder, both as life gain and a +1/+1 token creator to pump the Phantoms.
This deck could also really benefit from Glory, but without a discard outlet or a method of searching for it, I don’t think playing one is worthwhile. However, if I were playing Living Wish, it would definitely be there.
So here’s the deck at the moment.
I probably won’t have a chance to play it until after the holidays, and by then I’ll probably tweak it further. The most probably change would be the addition of some Living Wishes, and an appropriate sideboard.
Okay, lets look at whether this deck can go anywhere in Extended and T2.
Extended looks grim. Green and White offer very few alternatives to deal with the Reanimator decks (not that any are still around). It would need sideboard cards to deal with suicide black, but the Phantom Centaurs help. It should do okay against Sligh, since the Phantoms soak up damage, and White/blue Weenie. The main problem, however, is that the deck is very vulnerable to Pernicious Deed. A Phantoms deck is more of a slow, control deck that a fast beatdown deck – at least in this environment – which leaves it very vulnerable to Deed.
The deck might have more of a chance in T2. Let’s take a look. This is totally untested.
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Phantom Centaur
3 Phantom Nomad
3 Phantom Tiger
3 Phantom Flock
1 Phantom Nishoba
2 Silklash Spider (U/G, Exalted Angel defense)
4 Shared Triumph
2 Reprisal (U/G, Exalted Angel, Psychatog – if you’re lucky)
3 Living Wish
4 Ray of Revelation (Astral Slide, Opposition, etc.)
1 Intrepid Hero
1 Silklash Spider
1 Anurid Brushhopper
1 Mystic Enforcer
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
1 Spellbane Centaur
1 Wild Mongrel (to discard Glory / Genesis)
Comments always welcome.