Most of the talk I’ve seen about Dollhouse of Horrors relates to the somehow simultaneously out-of-place yet right-at-home-in-Innistrad art, but I’m pretty sure this card is priced for Standard success.
That’s it. That’s the argument. You want more? Fine, let’s get started.
Didn’t people cheat God-Pharaoh’s Gift onto the battlefield when it was in Standard?
Yes. But Dollhouse of Horrors costs five, not seven. Even the “full cost” of casting and activating it is six mana. You can just cast the card like a normal person without jumping through any Refurbish-level hoops.
“Cheating” Dollhouse of Horrors onto the battlefield basically implies you cast a mana creature and are getting around to the card a turn early. Even a Treasure token is fine, because after the first turn of casting it Dollhouse of Horrors is borderline free to keep activating.
To break it down: the good scenario for landing and triggering God-Pharaoh’s Gift was typically Turn 4 via Refurbish or Turn 3 Gate to the Afterlife and activate it, both things that required a lot of janky self-mill with Strategic Planning and similar cards. With Dollhouse of Horrors, that Turn 4 activation is just “cast a couple of mana creatures and take basic game actions.”
I’ll get to filling your graveyard later, but Mulch also plays a big role here. It’s been literally a decade since Much was last put into Standard with the original Innistrad, but the card is in a different league of graveyard enabler. Specifically the common scenario of flipping multiple lands and getting to keep them was a big part of enabling the Angel of Serenity-based Reanimator decks of the era, since it was trivial to hit seven mana if your Unburial Rites plan never hit. About half the time you’re going to end up getting the two-for-one lands special with Mulch. As long as you are pairing Dollhouse of Horrors with Mulch, even if your mana creatures die, you shouldn’t have too many issues getting to six mana to activate it.
It’s probably worth a mention that two of the actual best cards in Standard work great with Dollhouse of Horrors. It sounds kinda dumb to say, “Oh, I need this crazy artifact engine to back up my Goldspan Dragon” but Goldspan Dragon is one of the best leadoff Construct tokens to hit. In addition to potentially letting you take another action the turn you cast Dollhouse of Horrors, the extra mana can help ensure you chain off into a second Dollhouse of Horrors if you draw multiples.
Esika’s Chariot is just another really good card that draws Shatter effects away from the Dollhouse, and if you ever copy a Construct token with Chariot’s trigger, that about wraps it up. Dropping a bit down in quality but in the same standalone-good category, Briarbridge Tracker is pretty wild as a Construct since it self-pumps when it ends up as a Construct token.
The important part here is that these cards represent powerful backup plans. The various God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks often had to get really scrappy in games where the namesake artifact didn’t resolve, but Dollhouse of Horrors decks won’t have that issue. The best standalone threats in the format promote a similar light ramp plan and synergize with the Dollhouse itself, and it’s hard to ask for more.
There are a couple of weird artifacts worth mentioning on this quest to make the best Dollhouse on Innistrad.
The Throne of Death side of Egon, God of Death is a pretty good kickoff threat if you’re really into self-milling, but I don’t think Dollhouse of Horrors is about going that hard on that aspect. If you lean on the God-Pharaoh’s Gift comparison, it’s easy to get trapped in that mindset because both Gate and Refurbish gave you reasons to mill huge amounts of cards, but Dollhouse isn’t that graveyard-reliant. You want just enough things to recur and don’t really need to mill more.
Pyre of Heroes is where I start to get interested in these weird artifacts. The card is a solid secondary plan when you don’t draw Dollhouse of Horrors. When you do draw Dollhouse, it’s a great source of graveyard fodder to go off with.
The best artifact here is probably The Celestus. I laid out the importance of ramp spells to Dollhouse decks, and a ramp spell that also loots and represents a longer term advantage seems like the kind of thing you want access to. There’s also the fact that a lot of good green threats now are daybound-nightbound, so having some day-night control could help in the non-Dollhouse games.
Quick rules note if you do pursue the Werewolf route: tokens can’t transform because they don’t have a back side to transform to. Your Tovolar’s Huntmaster Construct token isn’t going to be Tovolar’s Packleader side for maximum Grave Titan value. The same is true if you recur a Strixhaven Dean like Valentin, Dean of the Vein; you just get the front side of the card.
I did bring up the topic of Abrade killing things, so it’s probably worth discussing potential issues with being a graveyard deck based around an expensive artifact in Standard. Weirdly, if you remember playing with God-Pharaoh’s Gift, you will probably remember this being not that big of a deal.
Unlike many other graveyard decks, you don’t care a ton about specific cards in your graveyard since recurring any creature is a big swing, and you can easily go from an empty graveyard to pitching a single creature and getting the Dollhouse engine up and running. In terms of artifact removal, the window of exposure for Dollhouse is even less of an issue than it was God-Pharaoh’s Gift since you can immediately activate the card for a Construct. There’s no “in your main phase, Abrade” worry; you always end up a Construct Zombify on the exchange.
So yeah, Shatters and graveyard hate will make it hard for Dollhouse to run away with a game, but neither really prevents it from functioning and getting value on an exchange. I’m more worried about Pithing Needle with Dollhouse of Horrors than I am any incidental artifact or graveyard hate.
The last thing I want to talk about before starting to throw lists together is how we can get cards into our graveyard in a convenient way. And by “convenient,” I specifically mean by playing cards I want to play anyway. I’ve already mentioned Mulch and Blood tokens, but there are other options for incidentally binning creatures.
I’m not especially excited about the incidental mill creatures, and again this all comes down to that “conveniently good to play” factor. None of these cards feel like things I’m happy to cast on Turn 2, though maybe Vilespawn Spider comes close.
Card filtering effects are king here, and Standard has plenty that you want to play on raw card quality. Faithful Mending and Prismari Command are the obvious choices when it comes to good cards that loot, but I’m pretty into Suspicious Stowaway here as well as something that makes an unblockable Construct token. There’s a few other creature discard outlets in red like Magmatic Channeler or Conspiracy Theorist, but none of them really hold up to Suspicious Stowaway. Faithful Mending also just digs a ton of cards to find your Dollhouse, and is probably the best card for a deck where Dollhouse is really the primary game plan.
The only other thing I would want to discuss from here are the good creatures to recur, and that’s best done by starting to make decklists.
- 1 Immersturm Predator
- 4 Vampire Socialite
- 1 Voldaren Ambusher
- 3 Falkenrath Pit Fighter
- 3 Florian, Voldaren Scion
- 3 Voldaren Bloodcaster
- 2 Dominating Vampire
- 3 Anje, Maid of Dishonor
- 4 Bloodtithe Harvester
- 4 Voldaren Epicure
This won’t be the last theme shared between this article and Gerry Thompson’s Vampire-fest last week, but it’s the most obvious. Blood token rummaging is great with Dollhouse of Horrors, Vampires are basically tribal Blood tokens, and there’s a third bit here tying it all together.
It really doesn’t matter a ton what you recur with Dollhouse of Horrors, because it becomes a Construct token. When you recur an Anje, Maid of Dishonor as a Construct, how much better is that than Voldaren Epicure in the same role? With that in mind, Dollhouse feels like the perfect over-the-top finisher for the lower-curved Vampire tribal synergies.
I think there’s a chance that instead of Pyre of Heroes, this deck wants to splash white for powerful multicolored cards instead. Vanishing Verse feels like the exact card you want to handle the threats of Mono-Green Aggro, and Showdown of the Skalds is yet another powerful finisher that hits from a completely different angle from your aggression or Dollhouse of Horrors while also synergizing with the lower curve.
I think it’s easy to miss how big an addition Voldaren Estate is to this archetype, but preview season is always when everyone forgets about the trials and tribulations of two-color aggro and throws down lists. For a functional two-color aggro deck to work it needs untapped dual lands, and we have gone ages without those being available. Even if all your one-drops are red, access to Voldaren Estate and Blightstep Pathway means Vampires can be careless with its two-drop color requirements and just play the best cards for the archetype. My initial Vampires decks are starting with the full four of this card, and I would almost be more inclined to trim a Haunted Ridge over an Estate.
The three-drops are an interesting spot on the curve. Florian, Voldaren Scion is an absolutely absurd card and you should definitely play a bunch of it. If you want a point of reference for how good the trigger is, the baseline of Florian hitting them is Dragonlord Ojutai and it scales up from there.
Dominating Vampire also seems really exciting, and the sideboard should heavily imply I think a plan for aggressive mirrors is setting up the Threaten-sacrifice plan with it. With Anje, Maid of Dishonor and Pyre of Heroes as maindeck sacrifice outlets, I’m starting multiples. As Gerry also mentioned, the card can weirdly target itself if you have three Vampires as just a 3/3 haste when racing a creatureless deck.
As for Falkenrath Forebear, it’s trash. The rate to cast it is horrible. The impact even when it lives and attacks is marginal. Recurring it sounds nice, but the exchange rate on other actions to Blood tokens isn’t good enough. Is it even better to get this back than it would be to rummage twice? Or really almost three times, because the only way I want to put this in my graveyard is discarding it because again, casting it the first time is gross. If you want to get wild with some Voldaren Bloodcaster engine business then maybe you can make something work, but I would rather just kill them with Dollhouse tokens.
- 4 Goldspan Dragon
- 4 Eyetwitch
- 4 Shambling Ghast
- 2 Skullport Merchant
- 2 Kalain, Reclusive Painter
- 2 Anje, Maid of Dishonor
- 2 Fell Stinger
- 3 Voldaren Epicure
The Mono-Black Midrange package from Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Standard seems like another perfect setup for Dollhouse of Horrors. Random creatures end up in your graveyard to recur, you end up churning out Treasure tokens for a fast Dollhouse, and there’s even the slightly-too-cute cherry on top of learn letting you rummage away another body.
If you thought Fell Stinger looked good in the prior iterations of these decks, it looks even better here. Triggering multiple times, assuring bodies in graveyard, and extra cards (even if they are just lands) are all even more important when getting to the Dollhouse part of the game.
- 1 Tangled Florahedron
- 1 Elite Spellbinder
- 3 Brutal Cathar
- 4 Briarbridge Tracker
- 4 Suspicious Stowaway
- 3 Dennick, Pious Apprentice
- 1 Katilda, Dawnhart Prime
- 3 Reclusive Taxidermist
Finally we get to one of my favorite ideas in the completely opposite side of the color pie: Bant Dollhouse. You may recognize a lot of this architecture from the Bant Humans deck that Raja Sulaiman put up a great finish with at the recent SCG Invitational, and it turns out all the same cards are just good with Dollhouse of Horrors.
One interaction I weirdly trimmed from Raja’s list is Dollhouse returning any of the Adversary cycle. Since you only play one mana for the Construct token, you have a ton of leftover mana to pump into the Adversary trigger. I opted for Dennick, Pious Apprentice here as my lifelink recursion target of choice due to the extra graveyard value it provides, but could easily see an Adversary of any color ending up as a core component of one of these Dollhouse decks.
These decks are only scratching the surface of what a good Dollhouse of Horrors deck might look like. Is there Golgari shell utilizing Old Rutstein as a setup engine, possibly Jund for the Magda, Brazen Outlaw plus Jaspera Sentinel early-game? Is there a Temur setup that finds Dollhouse or Esika’s Chariot with Wandering Mind? Should we dig for those cards with Ingenious Smith in a Naya list, and then use Minsc, Beloved Ranger as a way to supercharge Construct tokens that are base 0/0?
The important part is that the required effort to make your deck a good Dollhouse of Horrors deck is minimal, and the payoff is huge. In a Standard format where planeswalkers are fairly vulnerable to getting battled down, we were just waiting for a big, over-the-top engine to take over games where Goldspan Dragon and Esika’s Chariot can get bogged down. Dollhouse of Horrors is pretty much the perfect card to play that role.