The Cutting Room Floor: The Shining
For the last month or so I’ve felt a burning desire to light the fire of creativity beneath my deck-building capabilities. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love piloting my flesh-eating army of the undead into battle, but I really needed to lock the mortuary up for a little while. In doing so, I really started to conceptualize some shelved ideas that I had been tinkering with some time ago. One such idea was predicated largely on cheating big creatures into play, something I can say I absolutely love doing. The real challenge however was finding an innovative way to do so, while being legitimately competitive at the same time. Easier said than done, but that’s what makes Legacy so complex and fun: there are so many astonishingly crazy ways to perform eccentric strategies that it’s almost impossible not to have fun doing so. This is where the concept of a new deck I call “The Shining” came to fruition.
The basis for “The Shining” came about several months back when I was chatting with Doug McKay, a Jupiter Games regular, about the idea of building a black and red Sneak Attack deck that used targeted discard to supplement multiple spells that enabled large creatures to enter the battlefield. I immediately fell in love with the idea and got to work on the deck right away. There were some speed bumps along the way though, and ultimately my goal was to test the strength of the idea in a competitive environment such as an NELC.
The title (as Stephen King fans will recognize) suggests a deck that is predicated on the information and ever-present knowledge of your opponents’ hand, similar to the concept of the film. It’s also creepy and I like horror movies; so done deal.
It was certainly a big risk, but it came with an even bigger reward. Let me go briefly over several card choices I tested and ran the gauntlet with at the December NELC event just recently.
Most people are not familiar with this card and for good reason. I had opponents read it, then reread it over and over again whenever it came down. Stronghold Gambit is a card that requires a great deal of awareness and needs to be played in a deck that is specifically tailored to maximize its full potential. Naturally, discard came to mind when initially building the deck.
If the text of the card is confusing, allow me to explain.
For the cost of two mana, a colorless and a red, you get to cast this innocuous sorcery from your hand. When you do, each player will then reveal any card of his or her choosing. The player who then reveals the creature card with the lowest converted mana cost will put that creature onto the battlefield. All other types of permanents stay in their respective grips.
I stopped for a minute when I first read it and thought, “Hey, this is like a red sorcery-speed ‘Flash’ without the sacrificial clause; kind of cool.” Gambit in conjunction with discard will ensure you can cheat something monstrous into play like Emrakul or Blightsteel Colossus. The possibilities are limitless in that respect, which made the card very appealing to consider.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. What makes Stronghold Gambit difficult to play is its inherently conditional nature. When deciding to play it you must take into consideration that your timing has to be dead on. The goal here is to drop something huge into play and that means not giving your opponent the chance to drop anything into play that costs less than eight mana. Fortunately, there are plenty of options you can consider playing, such as:
- Cabal Therapy
- Inquisition of Kozilek
- Gitaxian Probe
Playing Stronghold Gambit requires an immense attention to detail as it is strategically difficult in certain match-ups such as heavy aggro builds like Goblins and Elves. But it definitely has a huge upside in match-ups like High Tide and Storm where virtually no opposing creatures exist. Take into consideration that the goal of most aggro decks is to overwhelm an opponent with creatures, so in essence the aggro player is already doing you a “favor” by depleting his or her hand of their creatures. From there you can clean up their hand with discard.
Again: high risk, high reward.
Acting as both removal and a surprising win-condition, Chaos Warp can enable victory in the face of defeat at critical moments in a game. It is another card that requires proper deck-building and attention to deal, much like the Gambit. If you’re opting to use it, you should assess how many relevant permanents you built your deck with or the number that is left in your deck at a given time in order to gain optimum value. If a situation appears dire, sometimes casting a desperation Chaos Warp can turn the tides of the game immediately.
Exchanging a land for an Emrakul seems like a fair trade at instant speed, and I’ve done it myself on multiple occasions. Consider this small sample of the cards you can flip from Chaos Warp:
- Sneak Attack
- Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- Worldspine Wurm
I eventually settled on a list that performed relatively average at December’s NELC. The reason for this performance was due to inexperience with the deck, as well as inadequate quantities of key spells in both the main and sideboard. Strategic error cost me several match-ups, but there were some entertaining moments throughout the day such as:
- Casting Stronghold Gambit and dropping a Blightsteel Colossus into play against a ravaged Goblins player’s hand.
- Resolving a turn-two Chaos Warp in response to a Counterbalance and flipping an Emrakul.
- Resolving a Chaos Warp into Sneak Attack and thus enabling a hasty Emrakul and Griselbrand.
- Resolving a turn-two Stronghold Gambit against High Tide into Emrakul.
I was very impressed with the deck and believed it had an honest chance to do some serious damage if properly built. However, the gaping flaws of the deck caught up with me at key moments in several games where even tight play wasn’t enough to save me. I made note of the issues the original deck faced throughout the day and applied the necessary changes after incurring my second loss for the day and ultimately exiting the event.
Here are some things I noticed the deck needed:
Being able to trump smaller creatures with tide-changing threats like Emrakul is fine, but there will be times when you’ll be stuck having to face down an assault without being able to defend yourself. I included three Pyroclasms in the list I ran at Jupiter’s NELC, which were average at best. What I was lacking was some action in the original sixty where I could just blow out an opponent and force them to play more creatures enabling Gambit in the process.
Enter Bonfire of the Damned.
Not only is Bonfire excellent in conjunction with Sensei’s Divining Top, it can finish an opponent for that last bit of damage when you absolutely need it. It’s completely unexpected and I like that it can do more than two damage if need be.
It seems like its application is really solid here, which is why I would probably run three as four might be a bit much, with multiples getting clogged in your hand can be an issue.
I think one of the major problems a deck like this can have is deciding if adding multiple “Sol” lands is worth the trouble. Acceleration is nice, but one has to wonder when considering what lands to run if it’s absolutely necessary when you’re running proactive discard. You can just strip key spells or creatures from opponents’ hands and play out your spells naturally without sustaining two points of damage each time. After trying the initial concept with only three Ancient Tombs, I came to the realization that the deck really does need at least one or two City of Traitors. Let me explain.
City of Traitors has some hidden value in this deck, especially with Chaos Warp. With the sacrifice trigger on the stack, you can target your City with Chaos Warp and turn what would be a land hitting the bin into a Griselbrand or Sneak Attack. I like that it adds two without dealing damage each time it’s tapped, which can be relevant when you run cards like fetches and Thoughtseize. It really does add up.
Starting the game off with a City of Traitors into a Top with subsequent activation works fine, too. In that instance, assuming your opponent isn’t on a Wasteland, you can fish for that Mountain, play it the next turn and cast Chaos Warp. It has its risks, but the truth is if you’re playing against a deck that doesn’t play cheap counter-magic or tempo-based strategies, this might be a good line of play.
At worst Warp with it earns you a shuffle for Top if you need it along with who knows what else. City of Traitors isn’t absolutely necessary, but I think it has some neat application here and running possibly a combination of two and two Tombs, three and two or even just City exclusively is just fine. It helps power out faster Sneak Attacks and Through the Breaches; just something to consider.
After trying a suite that included four Emrakul, I was completely sold on its power in a deck like this. The real trouble was finding his partners in crime, and even more so quantifying them correctly. You see, Griselbrand is excellent in that he gains you lots of life and draws you an immense amount of cards. The problem is that in a deck that forgoes free acceleration like Lotus Petal and Simian Spirit Guide, you aren’t able to get maximum value out of your draws the turn you activate it. This creates a paradox within the framework of the deck because most Sneak Attack decks love to have Griselbrand at the ready, but the build I initially conceptualized did not have that aforementioned acceleration.
With that being said, I think a few Lotus Petals would enable some sick plays with resolved Sneak Attacks the turn they hit play, in addition to allowing the deck to power out turn one Gambits against decks that are creature-light, such as Miracles and Tide. Probing an opponent first would give you that information and playing a turn-one Stronghold Gambit would just be busted.
I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t make mention of Henry Decker’s Mono Red Sneak Attack deck. More specifically, his inclusion of Worldspine Wurm: a devastating creature that can just flat-out win games. I prefer it over Blightsteel Colossus, because there’s no worse feeling than getting in nine points of poison due to facing down a two-toughness creature. Sneak Attack should win you the game when you have a red mana open or at least virtually win you the game. I think two in this version would be the right number.
Taking all of this into consideration, I am currently looking at a build that resembles something closely to the following:
The sideboard for a deck like this is certainly up in the air and meta-dependent. Because my current meta is a bit Storm-heavy, I would be looking into possibly suiting up cards like Trinisphere and possibly Chalice of the Void. The tradeoff on doing this is making your discard spells harder to play, but in the event you’re shutting a deck down that has no creatures in hand anyway, it’s really worth giving it a shot. Your key spells only cost between two to four mana, so Trinisphere and Chalice in that regard isn’t going to hurt you all that much.
They also for all intents and purposes shut down Burn and give decks like Elves fits early on. They don’t necessarily win the game versus those decks, but they certainly can put a hurt on them if their hand is weak to it.
Given the amount of BUG and Rock decks that exist right now, I am thinking Blood Moon is criminally underrated. Let’s face it, shutting down decks like that on turn one can be a complete blowout. In doing so you are buying yourself plenty of time to set up a potentially damning Sneak Attack or ‘Breach that will effectively end the game. Locking an opponent out of playing his or her spells is ace and definitely something to consider.
Taking a step back, I would also consider opting to run Blightsteel Colossus in the board, too. It’s very good against those decks that don’t run creatures like Storm or High Tide and in essence really just wins the game immediately. It’s worth considering, but not entirely necessary. Also think about life gain. Wurmcoil Engine is really good and may even be up for consideration for a few slots in the main.
You may also want to think about additional Inferno Titans in the board to shore up additional aggro, or even another Bonfire.
The omnipresent graveyard decks will always need attention, which is why I advocate running a combination of Grafdigger’s Cage and Relic of Progenitus. Cage makes it very hard for dedicated graveyard decks to work through and Relic’s control aspect and card draw makes for a very attractive inclusion.
Consider more discard for opposing control decks, too. Add the fourth Therapy or even a few Inquisitions to shore that match up. Blasts can be really good here, too. I was originally going to run a few Koth of the Hammers in there, which can be just sick against decks like Miracles and BUG.
I think a concept like this is ripe and hot right now. Perhaps Henry had it right on his path to a finals berth at the most recent NELC. I just see discard as being incredibly good not only strategically for the deck, but also against the combo decks that are reaffirming their place in the meta, as these combo decks continue to beat up on the decks that cannot stop them due to a lack of cheap counter-magic. Those decks exist, don’t get me wrong, but with Storm (and combo in general) making a creep back into the meta (especially Jupiter’s NELC events), you may want to consider dropping a 15/15 into play on turn one for two mana.
I’ll continue working on “The Shining” in the time to come. In the meantime, I would like to extend to all of you have a happy and safe holiday and I look forward to some competitive Legacy in 2013… now that we know the world has not ended!