You Lika the Juice? – Seeing What Sticks

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Over on the premium side of StarCityGames.com, I imagine those guys are busy testing, tuning, and working through the strategic nuances of new, post-Lorwyn Standard decks for the upcoming States/Champs tournaments that will be here before we know it. Over here on the free side, we’re all in the strategic vat together, stirring a big ol’ pot of Standard spaghetti, throwing noodles at the wall and seeing what sticks.

Over on the premium side of StarCityGames.com, I imagine those guys are busy testing, tuning, and working through the strategic nuances of new, post-Lorwyn Standard decks for the upcoming States/Champs tournaments that will be here before we know it. They’re making sure you’re getting your money’s worth, doing the heavy lifting so you don’t have to (or at least, not so much — you at least still need to practice). You open up and receive knowledge, download the decks and go annihilate your opponents.

Over here on the free side, we’re all in the strategic vat together, stirring a big ol’ pot of Standard spaghetti, throwing noodles at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m not here to tell you what to play. I’m here to share ideas and see what you all think, and I’ve got a ton of new deck ideas to share, including two based around Deathrender.

Before I get there…


Random Aside #1: I heard my 6½ year old daughter use the phrase “Oh, snap!” for the first time the other day. While many of the catchphrases and mannerisms our kids use are learned from mom and pop, neither of us regularly use “Oh, snap!” Ah, the joys of mingling with other people’s children in the schools. I actually think it’s cute but my wife’s a grammar snob and she’s not as amused.


When going over Lorwyn, one of the cards that initially jumped out at me was Deathrender. This card screams engine, capable of putting creatures into play for free when the equipped creature dies… and then equipping the new creature automatically! To break things off, you need a way to reliably sacrifice the equipped creature, and you need a steady supply of creatures in hand, preferably ones that have some sort of coming into play effect.

The cards that jump into my mind: Nantuko Husk/Greater Gargadon, and Deadwood Treefolk. Yes, Deadwood Treefolk! Right now, Ben Bleiweiss is doing a facepalm, but if you’ve got two Deadwood Treefolk chaining between the graveyard and your hand with Deathrender, you can “go infinite,” or in the case of Greater Gargadon, at least swap around enough to disrupt your opponent and get a 9/7 hasty beatstick smashing into your opponent.

Okay, so here’s my first version of a Deathrender deck.

I decided to go with Gargadon instead of Nantuko Husk because my hunch is there will be many more Sudden Death and Eyeblight’s Ending running around than Pull from Eternity and Riftsweeper, and that would make Gargadon a more reliable sacrifice outlet. The downside is that you can’t “go infinite” this way, though you can do things like Cloudskate your Gargadon once he comes into play and suspend him again to keep the engine going another couple of times.

You absolutely need to have 4 Deadwood Treefolk because you need to have two of them going in order to truly break off Deathrender. The copies of Primal Command are there to give you Deadwoods #5-7 (and setting your opponent back a turn isn’t bad either).

The Mulldrifters were recently added to the deck and have been fantastic, digging into the deck to assemble all the cards you need and keeping the mana flowing. Even before you get Deathrender going, you can do fun things like Evoke the Mulldrifter, play Deadwood the next turn, get back the Mulldrifter, Evoke it again, and then when Deadwood fades away get back the Mulldrifter and play it again.

In case the Troll Ascetic looks out of place, he’s there for two functions: holding down the fort early on, and being a reliable target for Deathrender, since you’d hate to spend four mana to cast Deathrender, then two mana to equip and have a Tarfire take out your creature in response.

I’ve got the Tolaria West in there to Transmute for the Claws of Gix in case you need another sacrifice outlet, and it can also go get Academy Ruins in case your Deathrender ends up in the graveyard.

My preliminary testing leaves me feeling that this deck is a tad lacking in the oomph it needs to compete at Champs, but I think there’s a lot of potential there and I’ll be digging deeper when Jay and I get together this weekend for more in-depth testing.

Here’s another take on Deathrender that might make Adrian Sullivan smile:

The idea here is to send Shriekmaw and Avalanche Riders to the graveyard early on by their own self-sacrifice, bring ‘em back with Dread Return, and eventually get a nasty little loop going with Deathrender and Deadwood Treefolk, flashing back Dread Return and such in between. You’re not interested in “going off” so much as just keeping your opponent from playing his game by assaulting his lands and creatures. I think there’s a lot of potential here too.


Random Aside #2: Did you happen to read the Ask Wizards for October 3, 2007? Check out the Q&A:

Q: How does planeswalker loyalty fit into the color pie? So far it looks like Red and Black are more loyal than Green. Why is that? Why does the Black planeswalker have high loyalty at all? It seems at odds with the ‘me first’ attitude of Black. –Ira, Renton, WA, USA

A: From Brady Dommermuth, Magic Creative Director: As an abstract concept, loyalty exists in different ways across all the colors. Which color helps determine the source of the loyalty-whether it’s a result of a friendship, a debt, a common cause, or an alliance of convenience, for example. In the same way that first strike can be represented by a creature outmaneuvering or outreaching an enemy in a variety of ways, loyalty can stand in for whatever relationship with the planeswalker you’re imagining when you play.

Did you notice that Brady didn’t actually answer Ira’s excellent questions? He gave us the flavor of loyalty, but left me even more curious about why each of each Planeswalker’s loyalty number was set as it was. I’m guessing it had less to do with flavor and more to do with Development, since I imagine it was actually quite tricky to balance the activation costs with loyalty and how “fragile” each Planeswalker was in practice.


Okay, back to new Standard decks. Did you happen to see the Haze of Raze decks popping around Time Spiral block? Mark Young recently talked about them here. They looked pretty brutal, and I filed the idea away in the back of my mind as a possible “aggro” contender for the States gauntlet. So, flash forward to Lorwyn as my eyes settle on Soulbright Flamekin. Hmm, activate his ability three times, not only do you give three creatures trample, but you then get enough mana to cast Haze of Rage with buyback… twice. If you’re going to be boosting some of your creatures’ power with Haze of Rage, seems to me quite advantageous to give the bigger ones (paging Mr. Tarmogoyf) trample.

What about this?

Radha seemed like a good addition to this strategy, giving you an attacker that can also jump-start Soulbright Flamekin for Haze of Rage shenanigans. Then a wild idea struck me looking at Kavu Predator—how would Haze of Rage fit into a Predator deck? It just might be insane enough to work! Check this crazy thing out:

So you’ve got insane two-drop Green creatures in Tarmogoyf and Kavu Predator, clearing their path with Tarfire, Condemn, and Fiery Justice, use Radha to kick start Soulbright Flamekin and go nuts with your Haze of Rage (or flip Akroma, Angel of Fury and get your fire-breathing on). I’m not sure which deck runs more smoothly or has the juice to compete, but I’m looking forward to testing both more extensively this weekend and let you know how it goes.


Random aside #3: Rest in Peace, Smith. Did you read the recent column by Mark Gottlieb that he took a hatchet to the long, long list of creature types to trim down to a manageable level in an effort to support making creature types matter? It’s with great sadness that I saw the creature type “Smith” gets left on the cutting room floor.

I actually created a “Smith” deck for the first Auction of the People contest Wizards put out to the public for the Magic Invitational back in 2003. Rosewater made a grave error by not having any maximum submission restriction, so I sent in decks based around Saprolings, Beebles, Horrors, Insects… and Smiths.

Bennie Smith Smith Deck” (Smiths)

4 Argivian Blacksmith
4 Dwarven Weaponsmith
2 Hyperion Blacksmith
4 Transmogrifying Licid
4 Viashino Weaponsmith
2 Argivian Find
4 Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Ashnod’s Transmogrant
4 Shattering Pulse
3 Diamond Kaleidoscope
1 Kaervek’s Torch
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Vault
1 Mishra’s Workshop
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Plateau
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
5 Mountain
4 Plains

The deck revolved around making creatures into artifacts (mostly mine, but occasionally my opponent’s to be tapped by the Hyperion). With so many ways to make my opponent’s creatures into artifacts (and reusable ways with Thran Forge), I couldn’t resist running Shattering Pulse. Prism tokens from the Kaleidoscope can make chump blockers, sac for colored mana, or be artifact fodder for the Dwarven Weaponsmith. I chose not to run Repentant Blacksmith because it clashed with the Dwarven Weaponsmith’s ability, though if we had sideboards he would definitely be there in case of Goblin decks.

Sadly, the Smiths (nor any of my other submissions) got picked. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this year though—I think my Auction deck was quite good and had “pro appeal.” Speaking of which, shouldn’t that evil board of shadowy figures have narrowed down the Auction decks by now? Chris Millar, we’re looking at you!


Back to Lorwyn Standard… so do any of the tribal themes have the juice to compete with the powerful cards from Time Spiral block and 10th Edition? My hunch is generally no, not until the tribal themes get more support from the next set, but I do have two tribal decks in my testing queue to share with you. First off is my take on Goblins:

I’m tempted to call this SlowAssGoblins.dec because it’s quite different from how most people build Goblin decks. Mid-range Goblins?! I think people are overlooking Wort, Boggart Auntie as the awesome card-advantage engine that she is. I can’t really blame them, because competitive Goblin decks have by and large been about fast kills. Lorwyn’s goblins aren’t about fast kills, unless it’s killing themselves. As Devin Low talked about last week, they’re all about the Goblin Circle of Death, which suggests a slower theme to really tap into the power of Goblins.

Mad Auntie is the key to Wort insanity, coming out on turn 3 and being ready to protect the mighty Wort when she comes down on turn 4, both by boosting Wort’s toughness and by regenerating her if need be. The following turn Wort gets down to business, recurring used Tarfires, Mogg Fanatics, Nameless Inversion or even Goblin War Marshals, Boggart Harbingers and Siege-Gang Commander, all the while getting in for 4 with Fear.

Here’s my take on Elves:

I have to admit to being a bit pissed at the Magic Gods for giving me the high hat on Lorwyn Elf goodies – no Gilt-Leaf Palace, no Masked Admirers, no Wren’s Run Packmaster, and just one each of Thoughtseize, Prowess of the Fair and Wren’s Run Vanquisher. So much so that I’m tempted to turn my back on Green/Black Elves… but this deck just looks like too much fun. Part of me hopes it tests horribly so I can walk away from it, but part of me wants to be back in the bosom of the green and black that I love so much.

It’s nice to have an Elf deck that can kill stuff, even if you do have to dip into the Elemental tribe to take advantage of the awesome Shriekmaw. That’s eight ways to mow down the dreaded Tarmogoyf.

I’m looking forward to trying out the back-scratching synergy between Elvish Harbinger and Wren’s Run Packmaster: play the Harbinger and tutor up Packmaster. Drop the Packmaster and Champion the Harbinger. If your Packmaster dies, the Harbinger comes back into play and tutors up another Packmaster. I think the Packmaster is the best Champion of the cycle for two reasons: first, once you play it you really don’t need to play any more creatures to win, just keep churning out Wolves. Second, the elf tribe has Prowess of the Fair to help minimize the chance that Wren’s Run Packmaster will ever be a dead card in your hand with no elves to Champion; at worst, there should at least be a token out there to “evolve.”

Speaking of the Champion mechanic, I understand it was conceived as a way to “evolve” one creature into another, much more powerful one. But to me, the flavor of the mechanic “Champion” feels more like a verb rather than a noun. These cards represent an elite tribal member who steps in front of the weaker lesser member of the tribe and fights in its stead, protecting it from harm (as it’s removed from the game). If the Champion falls, the protected is thrust back into danger with no one to protect it.


Random Aside #4: Cherry tomatoes – I love ‘em. But have you ever noticed that some percentage of those bastards just randomly turn mean on you? You’ll be chowing down on a kick-ass salad, biting into cherry tomatoes left and right, thoroughly enjoying the explosion of tomato goodness each time you bite into one… and suddenly there’s an explosion of YUCK.

Often you can tell the mean ones because they aren’t as firm as the other ones. But man, you don’t often have time to feel up each cherry tomato because you’re pressed for time and you can’t really wolf down a good salad. So you’re throwing down, and then a mean cherry tomato explodes in your mouth and ruins everything.


I’ve got some more decks to share but they’re much less formed so I’ll wait until after this weekend’s playtest session to see what decks and ideas appear to be sticking and talk about them some more in the weeks heading up to States. If you’ve been testing any similar ideas as the ones I talked about above, please sound off in the forums or drop me an email, I’d love to hear from you.

See you next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com