Building The Best Sanguine Brushstroke Deck In Alchemy

Sanguine Brushstroke has GerryT ready to paint MTG Arena red (or black). See his efforts to build a great Sandstone Brushstroke deck for the Alchemy format.

Cursebound Witch, illustrated by Randy Vargas

The allure of Alchemy is a format where fun archetypes that weren’t top-tier can compete. It also has the potential to add new archetypes into the mix. So far, it’s performed both jobs admirably. 

One of the cards I was most excited to build around was Sanguine Brushstroke

Sanguine Brushstroke

I didn’t believe Brushstroke was the best card in Alchemy: Innistrad, let alone in the Top 5. However, it did seem like the most fun. Even if it’s not the absolute strongest card in the set, Brushstroke is quite good. You get three pieces of (virtual) cardboard for three mana, which is quite the bargain, even if only the Blood Artist is worth a card on its own. 

The first time you cast Brushstroke, you’ll see the effect it has on the game. Your opponent usually has to kill Blood Artist, which costs them mana, a card, and a drain for one. You’ll have a Blood token left over to help filter through your deck. The Brushstroke itself helps you survive. Casting Brushstroke doesn’t stabilize the battlefield, but it certainly leads to you not dying anytime soon.

And if you can assemble multiple copies? Game over. 

In Standard, we had decks that used sacrificing synergies, but none that relied on them exclusively. With Brushstroke, suddenly we have a critical mass of efficient drain effects. We can afford to lean into them harder if we want. 

This deck mostly plays defense, tries to get ahead on resources, and eventually wins with incremental damage. Alchemy has no shortage of tools to accomplish those goals. It wouldn’t surprise me if each decklist looks a little different. 

Mono-Black Sacrifice is mostly viable because of the Alrund’s Epiphany nerf. You can already see the vast difference in the Alchemy and Standard metagames; this is solely the result of Epiphany’s absence. Yes, cards like Inquisitor Captain influence what flavor of creature deck is strongest, but at the end of the day, the format only resembles what it does because the old Epiphany is gone. 

With a metagame full of aggro, midrange, and a smattering of control, midrange black decks have a ton of room to succeed. Sanguine Brushstroke provides many advantages for a three-mana card, but it’s not the sole reason for Mono-Black Sacrifice’s viability.

Cursebound Witch is another new card, although one that’s been overhyped. In theory, it can backdoor you into the Witch’s Oven / Cauldron Familiar combo, but it’s incredibly unlikely. As is the case with most of the drafting cards, the pool is littered with memes and often won’t accomplish much. In most instances, I’d prefer to get a Blood token. In all instances, I’d prefer a Lesson. If you want to shave a one-drop, Cursebound Witch is the one to go. 

For the most part, I like having twelve sacrificial one-drops with Deadly Dispute and Fell Stinger. You rarely feel like you have extra one-drops and no way to get value from them. I’ve played my fair share of games with eight one-drops, ten one-drops, and all twelve with a couple of Village Rites. After countless iterations, it feels like twelve one-drops and a single Village Rites might be correct, but this setup works well and doesn’t ever feel flooded on sacrifice outlets. Having a handful of Deadly Disputes and Villages Rites with no fodder makes winning difficult, although the “draw-twos” should provide more fodder to continue sacrificing. 

How many Blood Artist effects are too many? Do we want to stretch into a purely offensive card like Warlock Class? The Meathook Massacre and Blood Artist both help you stabilize and keep Fell Stinger’s damage from being a liability. Even though Warlock Class can replace itself (and do hefty damage in the long game), it doesn’t provide anything the deck needs. 

The Alchemy and Standard versions of Mono-Black Sacrifice differ by quite a bit and not just because of Alrund’s Epiphany. Standard needs a powerful engine like Lolth, Spider Queen because it doesn’t have the additional reach from Sanguine Brushstroke. In Alchemy, things are a little different, but it basically comes down to one principle:

Anything over three mana is a scam. 

Naturally, every rule has an exception. The typical black cards you’d see over three mana weren’t helping, but that’s when I decided to try Key to the Archive. It’s unbelievably strong in other archetypes and that’s without trying to abuse it alongside Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset. Mono-Black Sacrifice is very good at spending its mana each turn, so having acceleration will always be beneficial. 

The low mana curve means that you’re able to interact early, slow your opponent down, and deploy Key to the Archive safely without losing too much tempo. You’re usually building toward a big The Meathook Massacre and Key’s mana allows you to kill things that might otherwise outscale it. In short, Key to the Archive is almost too good not to play.

My decklist looks simple, which could also mean it’s primitive, but that’s far from the case. I’ve given any viable card a reasonable test run.

You could make a case for ditching some amount of Cursebound Witch, Voldaren Bloodcaster, or even Key to the Archive. Despite working well in the deck, there are very few cards I would consider uncuttable. If you want to try something else, you have slots to play with. Key to the Archive is the first divergent piece of technology I’ve added, but there’s no reason there can’t be others.

For example, Infernal Grasp doesn’t have to be the only removal spell. Bloodchief’s Thirst, Power Word Kill, Soul Shatter, and Eaten Alive are fine options. When I had twelve one-drops and was trying Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia, Eaten Alive was solid. Eaten Alive can be awkward because it doesn’t trigger The Meathook Massacre or Blood Artist. That said, exiling can be a benefit against certain threats. 

Even though Izzet Epiphany is mostly absent in Alchemy, it does show up occasionally. There are also control decks based on Key to the Archive or using Geistblaster to power out Discover the Formula. You can typically grind through those shells unless Time Warp is involved, but they’re still more difficult than your average creature deck. 

In an attempt to solidify those matchups, I tried a couple of copies of Break Expectations. The efficiency of the discard spell can’t be denied, but how much does giving your opponent a slow, clunky piece of cardboard matter? If the games are going long and you’re trying to win through attrition, you can very easily lose to a card from Break Expectations. Given that Mono-Black Sacrifice has a consistent kill over a few turns once it gets set up, it should mostly be a non-issue. 

Break Expectations

Oddly, casting multiple copies of Break Expectations matters little because your opponent probably won’t have enough mana to use all their new toys. The worst-case scenario is drawing copies once your opponent is already out of resources, but it’s another way to trade resources early if you want that. Plus, it helps against the worst matchups.

Since there are four Lessons and the rest of the sideboard is filled out with relatively straightforward options, sideboarding is typically easy. I’d also expect folks to fill out the sideboard with Lessons and play Best-of-One instead of Best-of-Three, which is also a viable way to approach things. 

You could play Snow-Covered Swamps and Faceless Haven if you wanted, but the nerf means it’s not as worth it anymore. If the archetype needed Blood on the Snow, it would be a different story. A copy or two of Field of Ruin could be fine. However, with so many black one-drops, I’d rather have all my lands make black mana.

Without the snow lands, there’s very little reason not to play off-color Pathways to facilitate Lessons like Teachings of the Archaics or Containment Breach if you needed them. In fact, playing Pathways is probably correct in the instance where you play Key to the Archive for a fancy spell and your opponent blows up your Key before you can use it. 

The Alchemy format mostly consists of creature decks along with a smaller portion of controlling decks. Thankfully, you’re allowed to keep your sideboard simple rather than be forced to answer a wide variety of archetypes. Sideboarding itself is rather easy as a result. 

With ample dual lands and the occasional Treasure token, it’s not difficult to splash a color if you wanted. One of the strongest options seems to be Rakdos, which allows you to lean into the Blood angle.

For Standard, a version like this makes sense. In theory, Stensia Uprising is pressure and a win condition, which is something that’s desperately lacking against Izzet Epiphany. That effect is less needed in Alchemy because of how well everyone is able to grind. 

I’d love to lean into the Blood synergy, but it seemingly always falls short for a variety of reasons. In the case of Alchemy, it’s a cruel joke that the best one-drop Vampires cost R, Sanguine Brushstroke costs 1BB, and Voldaren Estate doesn’t fix your mana for the enchantment. Everything seems set up to stop us from making it happen. 

The list I eventually settled on isn’t able to focus on Blood, but it features more Vampires than the Mono-Black version. It’s not where I’d want to be given an optimal card pool, but it’s been the best version of Rakdos that I’ve seen. 

So far, I’m more of a fan of Mono-Black than Rakdos, mostly because you have everything you need without splashing. That said, splashing has a low opportunity cost and lets you play some cool cards, so it’s far from worthless. 

My version of Rakdos resembles my version of Mono-Black, which shouldn’t be surprising. That core is how I want to approach the archetype and adding red doesn’t alter that, which is a strong indicator that it might not be necessary. Cards like Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester make Sanguine Brushstroke slightly more powerful, which I certainly appreciate. 

If I were playing an Alchemy tournament, I’d happily register Mono-Black Sacrifice. You get to completely demolish creature decks and very few bad matchups exist. Spicing up the archetype is doable, but not entirely necessary. With this one, you can stick with the basics.