You Lika The Juice? Blairwitchdeck-a-palooza!

Bennie loves brewing! This week, he tries to make a ton of Zombies with Zombie Infestation and Treasure Hunt in Standard; then he brews up a Damia Commander deck with the textbox-heavy Ice Cauldron. What does it even do?

While it’s been fun unpacking the Commander decks—along with a stroll through Vorthos land—I’ve neglected my first love a bit: brewing up decks! Despite many of the top players in the game continuing to make the easy choice and running their beloved Caw-Blade decks over and over again, I still have hope for fun in the new Standard format.

I was particularly thrilled when our own Ali Aintrazi won the National Championship title—a man sporting the StarCityGames.com t-shirt and someone who’s not afraid to battle with a homebrew, taking it down with a deck with zero Squadron Hawks and a few roguish charms—Liliana and Karn in the main, Peace Strider, and Praetor’s Grasp in the sideboard…

ali aintrazi nationals winner

Now, here’s to you, soldier! I hope you filled that cup with the fermented adult beverage of your choice and drank deeply…

Standard Brews

I have to admit; ever since I saw Vengeful Pharaoh in the M12 spoiler I’ve been hot to build a deck around him. Fauna Shaman seemed like the perfect complement, alongside the recently reprinted Merfolk Looter. Initial builds featured four copies of King Tut, but considering that the activated ability in your graveyard is not voluntary, I have to admit that perhaps just one is all you need. Here’s how the deck looks currently:

I recently went up to four Beast Within, which can destroy Swords and planeswalkers. Wall of Tanglecord is a colorless way to block Birds even with Swords, and Hex Parasite chews down planeswalkers. Spellskite and Beast Within hold down the fort against combo. Seems a bit soft against aggro, but it can toss out a ton of chumpers on the way towards grinding out board position in the mid-game; Spellskite/Tanglecord have big bodies; Glissa is good at D provided removal is used on earlier drops first. These colors can easily construct an anti-aggro plan out of the board, which is currently Ratchet Bomb + another Glissa, with Creeping Corrosion for the Tempered Steel decks.

Yes, I’m desperately seeking some sort of midrange non-combo oasis in a sea of control and aggro.

Another M12 card I’ve been obsessing over is Garruk, Primal Hunter. This card is the s***, and I’m dying to break him off and force my opponents to sit back and mutter “whoa.” A card-drawing planeswalker in green just blows my mind, and I know he’s gotta be awesome in the right deck with the right support.

My current thinking is the best man to support Garruk is Dungrove Elder—he’s reliable, and by the time Garruk hits the board, makes a Beast, and then gets around to drawing cards, the Elder is going to be huge! Which of course means that we likely need to be playing mono-green. Of course, nowadays, playing mono-green doesn’t mean you can’t play with removal—between Beast Within, Dismember and even Molten-Tail Masticore, we can cover a lot of bases and still get the benefits of playing a ton of Forests.

The card-drawing potential of Garruk, Primal Hunter reminds me a lot of another permanent-based green card-drawing engine: Greater Good. Back in the day, I built a deck I called Marogeyser that could draw a crazy amount of cards, revolving around the original Maro, along with Multani, Maro-Sorceror, which would each have power according to hand-size, while Greater Good lets you draw cards equal to their power when you sacrificed them, each feeding into the other. Scent of Ivy was a card that fit perfectly into the engine, often providing an insane power and toughness boost to a creature enchanted with Rancor for lethal.

That got me thinking about Mutagenic Growth, the new “free” mini-Giant Growth. In a deck with Garruk you could get a bonus two cards for zero mana… it can also allow your Battlement, Spellskite, and Molten-Tail Masticore to survive a Dismember. Ultimately I’m not sure if it’s worth it—might be too cute—but I think it’s worth trying out. Here’s my current list:

Sword of War and Peace can run past Hawks to recoup life (thanks to your Garruk-fueled big hand) and smash your opponent or opposing planeswalkers. Obstinate Baloth gives some more life and gives you at least one pain-free discard to Sword of Feast and Famine.

Last up, if you don’t have Premium, you may not have heard about the funky Zombie Infestation deck that Gerry Thompson talked about in his column this week. It’s nearly all lands so that when you cast Treasure Hunt, you’re able to fill your hand with enough cards to make a bunch of Zombies to kill your opponent during your next attack step.

Even though I’m not generally a combo guy, something about the idea intrigues me. Here’s my take on it:

Emrakul is there to pitch and “reload” your deck full of lands in case your opponent survives the first and second Zombie onslaught. I briefly considered running Eldrazi Temples and choosing a smaller Eldrazi titan like Ulamog that you might actually get to cast, but really—you don’t want to be playing more than two lands.

I’m not sure why the list Gerry put up didn’t run Preordain, since it seems incredibly important to find Zombie Infestation and Treasure Hunt. Gerry also suggested Magosi, which seems like a perfect addition. I also thought that Smoldering Spires might be a good land to take out a blocker to squeeze in that big hit.

Thinking about the deck is a pretty interesting math exercise really… best-case scenario you swing with seven Zombies and activate Contested War Zone into no blockers for 21 points of damage. So how would that play out? Let’s step through it:

Turn 1 on the play, drop a Darkslick Shores (6 cards in hand).

Turn 2, draw, drop Contested War Zone, Zombie Infestation (5 cards in hand).

Turn 3, draw (6 cards in hand). Play Treasure Hunt. You’ll want to reveal at least seven lands before hitting the non-land card, giving you 14 cards. EOT pitch eight of them to make four Zombies and keep six cards in hand to make three more at the end of their turn; turn 4 activate Contested War Zone and swing for 21.

So, how many lands do we play so that the average Treasure Hunt hits seven lands on turn 3 with 51 cards left in the deck? I’m sure there is probably some mathematical formula that can figure that out, but that’s not my forte. I’m hoping maybe one of you have the answer?

Commander Brew: Damia, Cauldron Sage

I’ve had a few people ask me whether I’ve been building decks around any of the other new Legends from the Commander decks, and the answer is: heck yeah! I’ve got several built that I’d like to share, but first is the one I think is the most interesting.

Now, some of you may know that I’m a huge fan of Ice Cauldron. This Ice Age Classic is chock full of text to explain what it does, but what it does isn’t really all that powerful, so it mostly just makes eyeballs glaze over. But I’ve always found what it does is sufficiently weird and unique that I’ve always wanted to build a deck to really highlight its weirdness and uniqueness.

Now, here’s the Oracle text that better explains what Ice Cauldron does:

  • X, Tap: Put a charge counter on Ice Cauldron and exile a nonland card from your hand. You may cast that card for as long as it remains exiled. Note the type and amount of mana spent to pay this activation cost. Activate this ability only if there are no charge counters on Ice Cauldron.
  • Tap, Remove a charge counter from Ice Cauldron: Add Ice Cauldron’s last noted type and amount of mana to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast the last card exiled with Ice Cauldron.

Now there are quite a few rules clarification on the card, which can be found here, but here are the highlights:

  • It is possible to have more than one card exiled by the Cauldron. You can tap the Cauldron to remove the charge counter and whatever mana is on it but leave the card there. Later, you can tap it and put in mana and a charge counter to add another card.
  • If multiple cards are exiled by the Cauldron, any one of them can be cast.
  • If the ability to exile a card with the Cauldron is countered, you do not lose the card since it is exiled during resolution.
  • If the Cauldron leaves the battlefield, you can still cast any cards it exiled as though they were in your hand. You just no longer have access to the mana you charged the Cauldron with.

Basically, what the Cauldron does is let you hide away a card from your hand and stick it in exile where it generally can’t be touched or messed with by your opponent. Ever had a key card you were building towards suddenly get dumped in the graveyard due to someone’s Wheel of Fortune? Or what if you want to play Wheel of Fortune too, but you’ve got a card in hand you want to hold onto desperately? Not only that, but how can you leverage Ice Cauldron to maximize the benefits of having a card storage place that you can use as your hand but is not your hand? I just find the possibilities fascinating.

Of course, now that I play singleton multiplayer, focusing a deck around a card like Ice Cauldron when you only have one to play is tough. It’s a challenge though that I’ve vowed to take up, eventually.

When I first read Damia, Sage of Stone I knew I had my partner in crime!

Damia’s ability is intriguing because she changes the dynamic about what is good to typically play in Commander. Cheap cards that give you some temporary boost or advantage, or take out something one-for-one are typically looked over for more long-term advantage or card advantage. But with Damia as your Commander, blow all the cards in your hand and she’ll replace them for you.

Since Ice Cauldron takes cards from your hand and sets them aside for later, seems perfect in conjunction with Damia!

When pulling cards to consider for Damia, I leaned heavily on the low end of the curve. If a card cost more than two or three I gave it a hard look. I found myself looking at things like the Baubles, Lotus Petal, even Welding Jar (to protect the Cauldron!). I’m always thinking about using Salvaging Station alongside cheap artifacts that offer up small value, and despite the high cost of the Station, this Damia deck seemed like the perfect place for it—drop your hand, refill it.

I could even add a Trinket Mage to go find some of the trinkets, so I filled out the artifacts with Tormod’s Crypt, Claws of Gix, Voltaic Key (to untap my Cauldron!), Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Executioner’s Capsule, and Viridian Longbow. The Longbow in particular jumped out at me for practical reasons—Damia has deathtouch afterall, so tapping to destroy a creature sounded like fun. It also appealed to me for flavor reasons—Damia is a Gorgon, and the legend of Medusa noted she was pretty lethal with a bow.

Further up the curve, spells like Brainstorm, Lim-Dul’s Vault, and Cabal Ritual seemed worth thinking about. Seal of Primordium and Seal of Doom where good ways to “store” spells outside of your hand.

With all the cheap, “blow your hand” spells it seemed a gimme to add Yawgmoth’s Will, which—while always a great card—is just particularly awesome here since I’m playing things like Brainstorm and Cabal Ritual.

Following along the logic of drawing cards and emptying your hand, I decided I needed to have ways to play out lands faster than once per turn, so Burgeoning, Exploration, and Oracle of Mul Daya got added to the mix.

One thing I realized as my stack got filled with these sorts of cards—along with general “good stuff” like tutors, mana artifacts, Krosan Grip, and such—as I was drawing cards, and playing cards, and tucking away cards on Ice Cauldron… how was I actually going to win the game? Since I’m drawing cards with Damia, Psychosis Crawler seemed like a pretty good choice, if a bit slow.

Of course, how was I going to survive long enough for Crawler to do its thing? I looked at Ensnaring Bridge and Noetic Scales, two cards I haven’t messed with since I had my Doran, the Siege Tower deck together. Since I was always going to try and empty my hand by the time I passed the turn, Ensnaring Bridge seemed perfect, and Noetic Scales shouldn’t ever cause me to bounce Damia back to my hand since Damia herself would refill my hand to seven cards.

Quickly behind Noetic Scales, I added Mindslicer to the mix… and shortly after Mindslicer came Jolrael, Empress of Beasts. I love Jolrael for the ability to punish people for destroying all my creatures with mass removal, but in conjunction with Noetic Scales and possibly a low hand (from Mindslicer), that could prove to be quite evil and devastating. That is definitely toeing the line to what I generally find acceptable in Commander, but ultimately I decided that—Damia is a Gorgon, and Gorgons are evil; and really, if I can pull off Noetic Scales, Mindslicer, and Jolrael to devastate someone’s board, I think the style points would outweigh any hard feelings. It’s better than the Walk the Aeons over-and-over that might be the optimal kill condition for this deck.

Here’s the decklist as it stands right now:

If you have any questions regarding the card choices or suggestions, please let me know in the comments below!

So, What’s Up With Blairwitchgreen?

It occurred to me recently that some of my newer readers might wonder why I use @blairwitchgreen for my Twitter name (along with the name of my column this week)?

Back in 1999, I designed a midrange green control deck (with some help from the Usenet online community) that I used to win the Virginia State Champs that year (the report for which can be found on The Dojo via the Wayback Machine). It was a deck painstakingly designed to take advantage of the massive mana advantage of Gaea’s Cradle coupled with mana denial of Rishadan Port, Plow Under, and Creeping Mold.

What terrified me of leaning so heavily on Gaea’s Cradle was Perish, a card people were stuffing into every possible sideboard to deal with Stompy, an aggro green deck very popular at the time. The more I extended to push my Cradle advantage, the more vulnerable I was to one of the most ridiculous hosers ever printed.

In a flash of inspiration I realized how easy it would be to splash black painlessly—with Birds of Paradise and both Yavimaya Elder and Crop Rotation to find the singleton Swamp, I’d have black mana if I wanted it. The reason I got so excited about splashing black was the idea of boarding in Darkest Hour—a cheap, one-mana trump card to blank any number of Perishes!

Of course, if I were going to the trouble of splashing a Swamp into the deck, I thought it would be silly to not have at least one black card in the deck, and I ended up choosing Vampiric Tutor. So, the black splash, Vampiric Tutor in the main, and funky black cards in the side distinguished the deck from the few other midrange Cradle decks floating around (that eventually became known as “Trinity Green”). So I needed to come up with a cool deck name.

At the time the cool, low-budget freaky horror movie The Blair Witch Project was blowing up in the theaters, about a witch in the woods.

A witch…

…in the woods…

Thus the deck was Christened “Blair Witch Green!” Unfortunately the good folks at the Dojo dubbed the decklist “Vampiric Green Control,” but for everyone who knew me around Virginia or on Usenet, Blair Witch Green became my signature deck, and not long afterwards “blairwitchgreen” became my username for various electronic forums. When Twitter came along, it seemed natural to adopt it there as well.

So, now you know!

Random Amusements for the Week

So this weekend, the awesome Star City Games Open Series comes right here to my hometown of Richmond! …and I won’t be playing in it.

*Queue the game show fail theme song*

Unfortunately, as has been the case this whole summer, Life Intrudes + Poor Timing. The Open Weekend falls on the weekend I get my kids, and while I normally wouldn’t mind making some adjustments to visitation in order to attend a big event in my own backyard, I wasn’t able to see the kids for my previous slotted weekend because of a yearly trip they go on with their mother and had made plans for months ago.

So I miss my kids terribly and wouldn’t want to push off spending time with them another week. However, I do plan on coming down to the Convention Center Saturday afternoon with the kids in tow so they can see what a huge Magic tournament looks like… and I’m going to use the occasion to teach them to play the game if they’re willing. I’ve built a couple simple monocolor decks I hope will be easy to learn and fun to play. Anna Marie seems willing to give it a go; hopefully I can lure Aaron into sitting still long enough to try it out!

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

Take care,

starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

I’ve started a blog, it’s not Magic-related but you may find it fun to read and comment on. I update at least once a week so check on it often and let me know what you think!

New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):

Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus: