You Lika The Juice? – Persistence

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Wednesday, April 23rd – I hope you were able to attend the Shadowmoor prerelease this past weekend; here in Richmond, quite a crowd mustered out to get their first taste of the new cards, and first impressions seemed to be that Shadowmoor Limited is chock-full of fast beatdown, along with synergies and combos that are often hard to handle.

Energy and persistence conquer all things.
Benjamin Franklin

I hope you were able to attend the Shadowmoor prerelease this past weekend; here in Richmond, quite a crowd mustered out to get their first taste of the new cards, and first impressions seemed to be that Shadowmoor Limited is chock-full of fast beatdown, along with synergies and combos that are often hard to handle. Since I was working the event, I didn’t get a chance to play it myself, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try at our local Release Party, and get my hands on a Vexing Shusher – which you gotta admit, is a pretty sweet giveaway!

One thing I love about working these events is being able to talk with some of my readers, who pop by to talk about something I’ve written or just to say hello. Writing can sometimes be a lonely endeavor, as you stare at a computer screen, fingers flying across the keyboard, trying to communicate your thoughts in a coherent manner, and always wondering whether anyone finds your writing worthwhile. Feedback in the forums certainly helps, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction with your readers.

Back when I wrote Into The Aether for MagictheGathering.com, and was playing Magic Online quite a bit, I had quite a few “virtual” face to face interactions with people who read my column and wanted to just say hi or give me some feedback about something I’d written, or give me suggestions for future columns. Since leaving that gig, I’ve played a lot less online, and get a lot less people popping by to say hello, such that I’m pretty much anonymous blairwitchgreen. The other day though, someone popped up a message saying, “When you finish with your game, I have an odd request.”

When I got back to him, he asked if I was Bennie Smith and wrote for Scrye magazine. When I told him yes, he said he wanted to ask if I remember a deck I wrote about in the magazine based on Day of the Dragons, an enchantment from Scourge. At the time I used to write “Double Take” articles with Anthony Alongi, where we’d pick an interesting or unusual card, he’d make a casual multiplayer deck based around the card, and I would attempt to make a more competitive, dueling deck around the card. This fellow said that he won his very first tournament playing that deck, and wanted to know if I happened to have the decklist because he wanted to build it on Magic Online for casual pickup games.

How cool is that? I told him I was pretty sure I had most of my old Scrye articles archived somewhere, and sure enough with a little digging I found it and sent it to him. Before pulling it up, I thought that the deck couldn’t have been very good and that this fellow either played his ass off to win, or it was only like an 8-man tournament or something. Looking it over, it actually looked like a pretty cool deck! For the curious:

Elves of the Dragons

4 Chain of Vapor
4 Birchlore Ranger
4 Wirewood Elf
4 Wirewood Hivemaster
4 Wirewood Herald
3 Caller of the Claw
3 Wirewood Channeler
1 Ambush Commander
4 Complicate
4 Day of the Dragons
3 Grand Coliseum
3 Temple of the False God
7 Island
12 Forest

I built it as a Block Constructed deck because at the time Standard was defined by fast aggressive decks and a few potent control decks and didn’t think a deck built around an expensive enchantment would fly there. I decided to utilize the Elf tribe since elves could provide both mana to accelerate the namesake enchantment, and a warm body to turn into a Dragon. Chain of Vapor played double duty, helping to slow down beatdown decks, and as a way to bounce your enchantment if your opponent was able to kill all the Dragons off.

Let me tell you, hearing someone tell me they took one of my decks and won a tournament with it feels damn good. I’m no Patrick Chapin or Mike Flores, so I don’t hear that very often! Not that that stops me from putting out decklists anyway…

… which transitions nicely into this week’s column, where I’ll focus on some deck ideas I’ve had built around Persist, one of the new mechanics from Shadowmoor. I don’t think it’ll surprise many people that I love Persist, since recurring creatures is something I’ve loved doing since the days of Recurring Nightmare and Oath of Ghouls. Persist feels very much like Dredge; both ways to keep creatures from staying dead, and both are mechanics attached to creatures that are initially written off as subpar, Limited-quality cards. When I made Top 8 at States with my Dredge deck, I jokingly called it NiceDraft.dec because the buzz around the room was that I was kicking everyone’s ass with a draft deck. Of course, this was before more combo-minded people broke the Dredge mechanic in half, and people generally laughed at creatures like Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Thug and Greater Mossdog… well, actually people still laugh at Greater Mossdog. But the point is many of the bodies that Dredge was attached to didn’t seem impressive, and I think there’s a similar perception now with Persist. Let’s take a look at the Persist gang:

Safehold Elite
Creature – Elf Scout

A two-drop 2/2 with a special ability is always playable if not spectacular, but because this is an elf it’s got a lot more going for it. For one thing, it allows you to play out more elves to enable your tribal synergies without pushing further the risk associated with overextending. Another nice thing is that, even when it comes back as a 1/1, you will sometimes have a Pendelhaven in play that can keep the beatdown going.

Kitchen Finks
Creature – Ouphe
When Kitchen Finks comes into play, you gain 2 life.

People seem to like this card fairly well, but I’ve heard some folks say it’s not as good as Aven Riftwatcher. In my playtesting so far, I’ve seen this hold back Treetop Village, something the Riftwatcher doesn’t do. That three power is significant.

Murderous Redcap
Creature – Goblin Assassin
When Murderous Redcap comes into play, it deals damage equal to its power to target creature or player.

I’ve read a few people giving high praise to this little fellow, but most seem lukewarm about him. I love him, even outside of a persist-themed deck; he comes into play and tosses out a Shock, and then he can attack into or block a three-toughness creature with impunity and leave a 1/1 body behind (that can also be then enhanced with a Pendelhaven activation). In a deck built to abuse Persist, this guy is the kill card.

Creature – Elemental
At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a -1/-1 counter from each creature you control.

A Persist-enabling Persist creature, you can even do a trick with Pendelhaven, respond to the upkeep trigger by giving it +1/+2, then the -1/-1 counter comes off, and you’ve got a 3/4 beater. This guy is obviously meant as a Persist deck lynchpin, but I’ve got another creature to submit as an even better Persist companion I’ll talk about further down.

Gravelgill Axeshark
Creature – Merfolk Soldier

This is a lesser “Greater Mossdog” Persist creature; Greater Mossdog was actually handy as a 3/3 that could block and kill some of the nasty 2/2 creatures White Weenie decks were employing a few years back. Four mana was tolerable for the role it filled, but this is too expensive for Constructed even with Persist.

Scuzzback Marauders
Creature – Goblin Warrior

Another lesser “Greater Mossdog” Persist creature, but probably slightly better due to its trample and high power. Being a goblin is a boon in some formats, and being picking up an Obsidian Battleaxe in a Warrior deck can make this guy pretty scary.

River Kelpie
Creature – Beast
Whenever River Kelpie or another permanent is put into play from a graveyard, draw a card.
Whenever a spell is played from a graveyard, draw a card.

This strikes me as the “Golgari Grave-Troll” Persist creature, as it won’t necessarily go into Persist-themed decks but rather end up being an engine for some sort of graveyard-centric combo deck. Flashback and Haakon fans, rejoice!

Puppeteer Clique
Creature – Faerie Wizard
When Puppeteer Clique comes into play, put target creature card in an opponent’s graveyard into play under your control. It has haste. At the end of your turn, remove it from the game.

This is definitely an interesting Persist card that can really go nuts if your opponent happens to play creatures. Is there any Standard deck that doesn’t play creatures? Thoughtseize conveniently nabs creatures, and the mana cost of this Clique hits the turn after Damnation. Nice!

Furystoke Giant
Creature – Giant Warrior
When Furystoke Giant comes into play, other creatures you control gain “T This creature deals 2 damage to target creature or player” until end of turn.

I have to say, they’ve attached some interesting abilities to some of the Persist creatures! I don’t necessarily see this fitting well in a Persist-themed deck, since you gotta assume if he dies and comes back into play your other creatures will be dying and coming back into play, and everyone will have summoning sickness and be unable to tap. I see this as a creature to play at the top of the curve once you’ve got your army out there and proceed to wipe out all of your opponent’s creatures, perhaps in a Goblin deck or splashed into an Elf deck. I cringe at the thought of someone dropping this once their Bitterblossom has been ticking away for a while.

Twilight Shepherd
Creature – Angel
Flying, vigilance
When Twilight Shepherd comes into play, return to your hand all cards in your graveyard put there from play this turn.

This is obviously the best anti-Wrath insurance policy you can take out on your creatures assuming they haven’t already been Wrathed away by then. However, there’s a lot more going on with her ability than just that, and I’ll talk more about her in my first Persist deck below.

Woodfall Primus
Creature – Treefolk Shaman
When Woodfall Primus comes into play, destroy target noncreature permanent.

I talked about this fellow in my Shadowmoor sneak preview, and while I really, really want to like him, I just can’t get around that mana cost – if you’re going to go to the trouble of cheating him into play, there certainly seems to be plenty of better targets out there. Still, if you break it down by what you get – a 6/6 trampler, a 5/5 trampler, and two Creeping Molds that can also target Planeswalkers – it’s actually a helluva good deal for eight mana. Maybe I can work a couple into a Green/Black Big Mana deck…

Wingrattle Scarecrow
Artifact Creature – Scarecrow
Wingrattle Scarecrow has flying as long as you control a blue creature.
Wingrattle Scarecrow has persist as long as you control a black creature.

Rattleblaze Scarecrow
Artifact Creature – Scarecrow
Rattleblaze Scarecrow has persist as long as you control a black creature.
Rattleblaze Scarecrow has haste as long as you control a red creature.

I’ll mention the scarecrows that can get Persist for the sake of completeness, but they’re pretty much Limited filler unless you’re going for a Reaper King deck, something that sounds damn tantalizing but I’m not ready to go there yet…

Now, when I first started thinking about building a deck around Persist, one of the things I wanted to keep in mind were ways of getting rid of that pesky -1/-1 counters that pop on Persist creatures when they pop back into play from the graveyard. Obviously the new rule Wizards put out back when Time Spiral released about -1/-1 and +1/+1 counters being like charged ions, negating each other was very helpful to this quest, especially since there aren’t very many efficient ways of removing -1/-1 counters within Shadowmoor itself. Spike Feeder and Hunting Moa came to mind, but as I searched through Gatherer another card leapt to the forefront as the premier Persist enabler. Mark my words, this guy is going to be a staple in Persist decks:

Juniper Order Ranger
Creature – Human Knight
Whenever another creature comes into play under your control, put a +1/+1 counter on that creature and a +1/+1 counter on Juniper Order Ranger.

If this guy is on the table, your Persist creatures are basically immortal, barring a run-in with Offalsnout or Extirpate. Green and White happen to have a good crop of Persist spells you’ll want to play so you don’t have to do mana contortions to fit the Ranger in.

Okay, so on with the decks! The first Persist card I wanted to build around was Twilight Shepherd; not only was she a great deal as a 5/5 with Flying, Vigilance, and Persist, but there was bound to be ways you could abuse her coming into play ability as well, most notably with permanents you could sacrifice. Searching through Gatherer I cooked up this short list of possibilities:

Horizon Canopy
Mishra’s Bauble
Chromatic Star
Martyr of Sands
Mind Stone
Ronom Unicorn
Augur of Skulls
No Rest for the Wicked
Thrull Surgeon
Fire Whip
Edge of Autumn
Seal of Primordium
Saffi Eriksdotter
Bottle Gnomes
Moonglove Extract
Aven Riftwatcher
Jotun Owl Keeper
Darkheart Sliver
Basal Sliver
Necrotic Sliver
Doomed Necromancer
Fallen Ideal
Nantuko Husk
Hunting Moa
Aura of Silence
Vexing Sphinx
Dread Return
Brion Stoutarm
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder
Composite Golem
Deadwood Treefolk
Greater Gargadon

Wow, tons and tons of options… I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of this Angel in the next couple of years. I decided to focus on a heavy White deck with a splash of Green, and here’s what I tested out over the course of about ten pre-sideboard games just to see how it ran:

I was intensely eager to run Mishra’s Baubles with the Shepherd. Waaaaay back in the day, there was a brief time when people ran a deck with four Yawgmoth’s Wills, and one of the abusive elements of the deck (among many) was the use of Urza’s Baubles as a card-drawing engine. You cantrip through the Baubles early on, then when you cast Will you recast the Baubles, pop them off during your opponent’s turn, and then refill your hand – look, another Yawgmoth’s Will! This deck does a similar thing with the Shepherd, though if you need to burn one early to smooth out your draws and don’t play the Angel in the same turn you won’t be able to include it in your drawing engine. To push the Bauble theme further I included 4 copies each of Mind Stone and Horizon Canopy. Granted, they cost mana to sac so you won’t necessarily get to use them the same turn you cast the Shepherd, but once you untap you’re golden.

The rest of the deck is fleshed out with other sacrificial creatures; Martyr of Sands can gain lots of life, and Ronom Unicorn helps answer the omnipresent Bitterblossom. I’ve chronicled my love for Saffi Eriksdotter extensively within this column. The Kitchen Finks are just fantastic, adding to your life buffer and doing a great job of being immortal alongside the Rangers. The Order of Whiteclay feels a little clunky in this deck, but it’s a very powerful card all on its own and does a nice job bringing back some of your cheaper minions.

Another surprising all-star was Llanowar Reborn, which very nicely gives an additional Persist life to the Shepherd if your opponent has dealt with your Ranger. If the Shepherd survives two attempts on her life you’re probably in pretty good shape to win the game.

One last thing to note: Twilight Shepherd’s Vigilance is incredibly powerful, letting her play a difficult to remove attacker and blocker simultaneously. It was so strong I actually started to worry I was misremembering her abilities and that there was no way she could actually have Vigilance too.

In my limited testing, this deck performed very well against most creature decks and the one game I played against a Guile deck he narrowly won after a long, drawn-out battle. I didn’t get a chance to play against Faeries yet… we’ll see how that goes.

Okay, despite the powerful plays the Bauble Shepherd deck is capable of, I think it’s only taking the mechanic to the limits of fair. Obviously, you want to push the mechanic right over the edge into broken as best you can. Check out this little number:

The idea here is Nantuko Husk + Juniper Order Ranger + Persist creature = infinite something. Ideally, it’s Murderous “Jack the Ripper” Redcap, and its game over from infinite Shocks to the dome. Plan B is to use Kitchen Finks to gain infinite life. In a pinch you can use Puppeteer Clique to steal every creature from your opponent’s graveyard each turn and attack with them (along with an infinitely huge Husk). The main problem here is the lack of tutors to search up your combo pieces, but each time I went to cut something I cringed. I’ve decided to test this build as is for now to see where the weak points are, and that’s where I’ll add in tutors. I figure Beseech the Queen or Primal Command fits the bill, depending on where there’s room on the curve.

Okay, so I know some of you may be thinking, what about Cauldron of Souls? Isn’t that card a lot like Lifeline, an artifact you built a deck around some years back and trumpeted across Usenet? You are correct, I do indeed have a Cauldron deck I’m kicking around, but this column has gone on long enough, and if you’ve patience enough to have stayed with me this long I won’t abuse you further. Next week I’ll roll out my Cauldron deck… perhaps I’ll call it Something Wicked This Way Comes!

Take care, and have fun with your prerelease Shadowmoor cards!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

PS – Last week, at the end of Adrian Sullivan article, Adrian recommended a few songs that he’s got in heavy rotation. I was very familiar with two of them (the old guys), and had heard The National was good, but I enjoyed the song by Thao and the song Walking With A Ghost by Tegan and Sara – that is quite possibly one of the most infectious little delights to have ever graced my ears, I’ve listened to it countless times over the weekend! I will definitely second-recommend it.