The Cutting Room Floor: Return of the Living Dead: Part I
♫ It’s gonna be wild tonight
Flesh to flesh and bite to bite ♫
~ Joe Lamont, “Flesh to Flesh”
That quote resonates loud and clear with me as both a horror enthusiast and competitive Legacy player. Having said that, it’s safe to say my bias towards deck building has always heavily favored recursive strategies. Black is undoubtedly the predominant color that abuses this strategy most effectively. As most of us are relatively familiar with this concept, it would be even more appealing if we could use it to our advantage in a list that is both fun and complex while being legitimately competitive at the same time.
What I’d like to explore a little more tonight in depth is the ability to use recursion more to our advantage in innocuous and unorthodox ways. We’ll explore options that have bizarre, synergistic qualities with other cards in the deck while also focusing specifically on punishing combo and control decks. In order to do this, we need to keep an open mind while examining some cool options that have been long since forgotten in a format predicated on variance.
Tonight, we’re putting the “Legacy” back into Legacy.
There are several ideas I have been tossing around recently in regards to this concept. One, however, stands out above all the rest. Putting this together into a competitive from conceptualization to reality will take some mixing, matching, cutting and critiquing. When we’re done we are going to make something really cool happen here tonight.
If we’re talking about recursion and the inability to die, we’re definitely talking about our first creature on the list: Gravecrawler.
In Legacy, one of the best creatures at being able to sustain death repeatedly is none other than Gravecrawler. Its ability to retrieve itself for a single black mana in a deck potentially loaded with Zombies seems like a good deal, right? As a beater, Gravecrawler is relatively average by today’s standards – with many creatures showing off two and three power muscles yet costing only a single mana. Such favorite cards as Nimble Mongoose, Delver of Secrets, Goblin Guide among many others.
However, what those other creatures lack is the ability to create a potentially degenerate set of circumstances in conjunction with several other cards in the deck. This is what we’re going to try and accomplish with Gravecrawler here today.
If we’re looking to abuse a creature that won’t die, we’re definitely looking at our next card: Contamination.
It’s no surprise that a card from Urza’s Saga that sees minimal play still has the potential to be incredibly powerful in the right deck. Contamination is a card that can completely lock opposing decks out if they are dependent on non-black mana. However, its upkeep cost requires us to sacrifice a creature in order to keep the lock going, an often arduous task without the assistance of the undead. Gravecrawler is the ultimate sacrificial lamb to Contamination, working overtime in and out of the cemetery to fulfill the needs of this toxic enchantment.
Contamination in conjunction with Gravecrawler will serve as the primary lock component for this entire deck. However, if we’re going to try and exploit the utility of Contamination as a lock piece, we need to evaluate what other cards work well not only with Contamination but by themselves as alternative win conditions.
Bitterblossom is a card that, while powerful for what it does, requires you to tailor your entire deck specifically around it in order to be successful abusing it. This includes using various types of equipment, which we’ll get into later, or other effects aimed to improve the advantage the card gives. We want to squeeze everything we can out of it. With Contamination, we can create a lock by stacking the simultaneous upkeep triggers properly and sacrificing a token each turn at the cost of a single life. This will shut opponents’ resources off completely for the rest of the game in the event their deck is not using black mana.
That or you simply attack an opponent each turn with an amassing army of faeries. Either way is perfectly acceptable.
So for a primary lock component and win condition set, we currently have the following:
Now that we have the core of the deck in stone, we can take a look at other cards that will supplement them through the progression of the game. There are so many great selections to talk about, so let’s get right into them.
There are two cards particularly I can think of that would make this deck incredibly annoying to deal with. Those cards are Crucible of Worlds and Mutavault. Each has incredible symmetry with the aforementioned lock-win components. Crucible of Worlds is a card that enables us to recur Mutavault, which is a zombie in the event we need to recur Gravecrawler or satisfy the upkeep cost of Contamination. Because the curve of this deck is incredibly low, keeping ourselves on two to three mana won’t be a problem if we know an opponent cannot play spells for the rest of the game.
Mutavault is a beast and a win condition on its own. In all fairness, aside from each other card mentioned thus far, Mutavault might just be the most important card in this deck. Its utility goes without saying, and with Crucible of Worlds the card just becomes degenerate as an infinite blocker, attacker and sacrificial lamb. It’s just too good to pass up.
Also, if we’re running Crucible of Worlds, I see no reason to exclude Wasteland as an alternate means of giving us solid value against a variety of decks to lock them out of a game. Or at the very minimum cripple their resources.
Fixing mana with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is very good when we’re running colorless non-basics. It’s not like the deck can’t function off a Swamp or two, but there will be instances it will be beneficial to our early game and will help fix awkward hands.
Swamps are also a no-brainer, so we might as well toss those in now.
We can determine quantities later. Right now we’re concentrating on what we want to use within the framework of the deck itself.
So far, everything is looking good! We have a solid core of cards that serve multilateral purposes while also maintaining the ability to function within the scope of locking an opponent out of the game. Now that we have an apparatus of additional lock and recursive components in place, we can focus on applying another layer of interaction with our theme.
If we’re using recursion as a means of advantageous play, we have to be talking about Bloodghast. I mean, here is a creature that keeps coming back at the cost of bringing a land into play. That’s not a drawback in a deck that uses Crucible of Worlds and certainly not a drawback in a deck that doesn’t mind sacrificing creatures to satisfy other nifty cards in the deck.
Bloodghast is really a no-brainer here. We want to abuse the card for all its worth and I can see no better way than abusing him in a deck that has more variety of sacrifice effects than any other deck I can think of.
Undead Gladiator is a card some of us remember from ten years ago as an incredibly potent resource for drawing cards and persistent attacking. Unfortunately, the card disappeared over the years and has basically been exiled to the pile of cards self-proclaimed Legacy experts might consider “obsolete.” I agree with this to a certain extent in that the card isn’t the most effective creature in the game or in any of Legacy’s current competitive decks.
However, in the right deck, Undead Gladiator can be criminally good.
Late in the game when we’re looking to dig through our deck for answers or need to sustain a blocker or lock piece, we can often find the Gladiator hanging out in the graveyard. However, as a beater, Gladiator serves as a journeyman filling the role quite nicely. Discarding Bloodghast or Gravecrawler with this card is advantageous. It also happens to be a zombie. I just think he fits nicely in the theme we’re going for and see no reason to run any less than three or four.
At worst, you’ve got a 3/1 beater for three mana. Not too bad.
Card advantage is always a nice thing to have, wouldn’t you agree? In a deck that can act as either aggro or prison in its approach, like this one, we need to consider options that replenish our hands and give us opportunities to win close games. Undead Gladiator is a nice addition because it’s able to attack and draw us cards. However, no card in Legacy is better at drawing cards individually than the infamous Dark Confidant, who will certainly find his way in here as a four-of. With both “Bob” and Gladiator, we should be able to sift through our library relatively fast.
Drawing cards is always a good thing and both of these creatures supplant that strategy nicely. With that being said, here’s where we stand:
I’m thinking this deck might need some removal. That shouldn’t be a problem in a mono-black deck and certainly not an issue if we can find a way to weave that into the overall strategy of the deck. Removal can mean a million different things: spot removal, permanent-based removal, mass removal, etc. What we need to decide is what works best within the framework of the deck, and there are a variety of ways we can go.
In a deck predicated on a large number of annoying creatures – some of which fly – we really want to try and get Umezawa’s Jitte in here somewhere. It makes smaller creatures immediate threats that can swing the tide of a game in your favor without hesitation. The card wins games on its own, which is exactly what we’re going for here.
The added bonus of gaining life is also nice against decks like Burn and to a lesser degree RUG. We don’t care much about those decks – especially Burn where they won’t have access to red mana once Contamination is on the table.
Fortunately for us, we’re definitely in the right color for cards that win games by themselves.
- Everything we need in one single card:
- The ability to make each player dump a card? Check.
- The ability to make an opponent sacrifice a creature? Check.
- The ability to serve as its own soft-lock component? Check.
Simply put, Liliana is one of the most important cards in the deck for what the deck is trying to do. It’s the ultimate facilitator and a card that does important things to help us win. The synergy it creates with Bloodghasts, Gravecrawlers and Gladiators is pretty good and enables us to play from the strengths of our graveyard as opposed to our hands.
While we’re on the topic of discarding cards, we should consider some of the most powerful discard spells in Legacy to give us protection against control and fast combos. In a deck of this type the one discard spell that comes to mind is Cabal Therapy. With an endless supply of creatures, we shouldn’t have a problem flashing the card back and getting value.
We may also want to consider Inquisition of Kozilek as another discard option, but Thoughtseize is really out of the question here with both Confidants and Bitterblossoms. Liliana and Cabal Therapy are usually enough as a means to punish the aforementioned decks so we can settle on those for now in the main sixty.
Thinking of this list makes we wonder if acceleration might be worth a few slots so that we can power out cards like Dark Confidant and Bitterblossom on turn one. In order to do that, we should probably consider the two best options in that respect: Mox Diamond and Ancient Tomb.
Mox Diamond would have some nice synergy with Crucible of Worlds while providing some powerful turn one plays. Ancient Tomb enables faster Contaminations, equipped Jittes and casts early Crucibles. I think it can catch an opponent off guard early on and certainly put the heat on. However, because most cards in this deck cost one or three mana, we should consider that Ancient Tomb is no more than a two-of here. I think it’s powerful enough to warrant inclusion because of its degeneracy in the early game while supplementing yet-to-be discussed sideboard options.
Adding these to our list of goodies gives us a working list of the following:
Whew! That’s one huge list! This is a good place to start and so far it’s looking solid! Let’s tinker with these for the next week. I’ll go into quantities, adjustments and sideboarding options then. I think the deck has a legitimate chance to be competitive and seems incredibly fun. I even have a few other ideas up my sleeve for some nasty tricks post-board! There’s a lot more to get into with this concept, so drop me some feedback and we’ll talk about it next time!
Until then remember: no footage is considered lost on “The Cutting Room Floor”!