Dan's Deckshop - A New Beginning
By Dan Felder on October 4th, 2011 · Filed in · Comments not available just now
A New Beginning...
Greetings reader, welcome to Dan's Deckshop! I was marching through a blistering desert just the other day and came across a crumbling workshop. No sooner had I rubbed my hands together and hopped in to investigate when the whole thing buzzed with power and cooked up enough raw mana to build a Phyrexian Ironfoot from scratch! My eyes practically popped out of their sockets and rebounded off the opposite walls. I had discovered Mishra's Workshop, and if it still possessed the raw power to construct a Phyrexian Ironfoot all on its own... What miracles might it accomplish if its power were turned to building decks rather than artifacts?
Thus, with a fresh sign slapped over the front, did Mishra's Workshop become Dan's Deckshop. And here is Dan himself, deck designer extraordinaire. But with a treasure like this, I couldn't justify just keeping it to the competitive deck designs I regularly put together. No, this treasure belongs to the world, and I resolve to use the workshop-formerly-known-as-Mishra's for the good of all. And we all know seats around the kitchen table are a lot more common than seats around the top 8 of a Pro Tour.
With a mind to building casual decks that are just as good as they are wicked fun, I turned to MTG Salvations forums - opening my shop there under the almost laughably literal, "Need a Deck or Deck Idea?" thread. Much to my amazement, the workshop pumped out deck designs with even greater power than it had artifacts - and the thread exploded in just a few weeks to being one of the most popular in the history of the Casual Forums.
And so once more, we're off to a wider world. My workshop and I are here at your disposal - building fun decks for the masses and writing articles about exactly how they work.
So let's get cracking, Dan is here at your disposal to help you build your decks. Need a deck or deck idea? Come here! Post a comment or PM me as Stairc and we can turn dreams into a reality.
How it Works
Each week or two, I'll choose between 1 and 3 decks requested for a full writeup. What that means is what you'll see below - an in depth discussion of my thoughts as I build the deck, which cards are included and why, as well as general tips about deckbuilding all throughout. Even if your deck request isn't featured, it should still be a fun read.
And, if this series becomes popular, I'll write more. So please - if you're as starved as I am for good, fun articles on building cool casual decks, please let your words ring out in the comment thread. Magic is about fun, so let's start having some now!
The First Deck
For my first deck writeup, I'll be posting my response to a request by a user of these very forums named Pedro_the_Bear, a new member of the online magic community.
Yes I can Pedro, yes I can.
Originally Posted by Pedro_The_Bear
Could you give me ideas for an Artifacts deck based on the Sphinxes? I was planning to use the Steel Wind
as main card, and I wanted some fun ideas to build it, the budget is not high but not too low either, also the deck would be BUW, because of the sphinxes.
Alright, let's strap on our etherium wings and ride the silver winds of Esper!
First, let's look at the Sphinxes (Sphinxi?). A quick search of Gatherer shows several powerhouses.
Nice, nice cards. Sphinx Summoner can find you any artifact creature while soaring as a 3/3 flier. Sharuum can grab any huge artifact from your graveyard to make a 2-for-1 the moment he hits play. And Sphinx of the Steel Wind? Well... If Akroma went heavy metal, she might be jammin' something like this.
Now, these aren't the cheapest spells to cast. Whenever you're dealing with such huge creatures you have to figure out how you're going to get them in play before you're dead. Some possible answers are...
It's a Control Deck Silly
Control decks plan to slow the game to a crawl, preventing their opponent from winning long enough for them to power out a huge advantage. Control decks often run a few big finishers to mop things up, outclassing anything the other deck is running. However, since this would really just be a shoe-in for the sphinx (just a big creature in a control deck) it wouldn't embrace the sphinx-filled flavor as much as some of the other options. Certainly would work though.
Step on the Gas
Mana acceleration is another way to go. By running lots of acceleration, you can drop a big guy faster than otherwise, and still not be dead. Artifacts have lots of acceleration, but not quite as reliably as I'd like... And it's a rather simple deck to build. You could certainly go this route, but I think the final option will capture the full flavor of the Sphinxes.
When in doubt, Cheat!
Cheating big creatures into play is a fail-safe way to have fun. I've already written about reanimator in this thread, so let's go for something uniquely Esper...
Master Transmuter is absolutely nuts. For a single blue mana she can trade out your Prophetic Prism for a Sphinx of the Steel Wind. At instant speed!
Yeah, that's insane. Far, far too insane.
And it gets better. Let's buy the lovely lady a drink, that's sure to warm her up. But what would the steel gal like best?
Thousand-Year Elixir takes the Transmuter's awesomeness and ratchets it all the way up to eleven. With the Tranmuter being able to use her abilities as if she had haste truly unfair things can happen. Not only can she use it the same turn she comes down, she can also use her ability on herself to return herself to her hand and put herself back into play right away - niftilly doging any enemy's removal. And since she has the elixir powering her, she can do this again and again and again - so long as you have blue mana to power her. The elixir's untap ability just makes things even more degenerate.
Okay, so far we're definitely going to want a full playset of Master Transmuter in the deck. In fact, if we could run two playsets that would be even better. However, while the rules managers of Magic HQ might refuse to allow more than four copies of any card in a deck, there's no reason we can't cheat a little bit.
+4 Master Transmuter
+4 Sphinx Summoner
Sphinx Summoner is an excellent trooper, fetching out any artifact creature we care to name all the while being an extremely solid 3/3 flier. The Summoner works especially well with Master Transmuter too, as her ability can recycle the Sphinx's ETB trigger (you can pay a single to return the sphinx then immediately bring it back into play to search out another artifact creature - generating insane card advantage). The fact it can find both the transmuter and the massive guys we'll be wanting to cheat into play with the steel lady's ability is likewise impressive. Four sphinxes almost aren't enough!
Now, with these two incredible cards at work for us we have the unique ability to run a combination of silver bullet strategy and mash-face-timmy-goodness. Let's review the strategies in question.
The Silver Bullet strategy is named for the fact that certain monsters are invulnerable to all but one type of weapon - a weapon which can slay them easily. For example, any deck that relies heavily on having a graveyard full of cards folds instantly to Tormod's Crypt. Since these cards are usually very specific to beating one particular strategy - they are thus usually relegated to sideboard. However, a Silver Bullet strategy can run many of these cards in the main deck through the use of a tutor engine (some way to find the specific card you need on demand). Our tutor engine? Sphinx Summoner. With the Summoner here, we can run one each of certain artifact creatures guaranteed to shut down various strategies and search out whichever one we most need in the given moment.
Big creatures are hard to deal with, provided they have some resilience to removal. This strategy slams down a huge monster and dares the opponent to answer it. If they don't stop it right away, you've usually won. Reanimator uses this strategy to cheat huge monsters into play - as does Tooth and Nail. Master Transmuter is our weapon here.
Putting it Together
With Sphinx Summoner and Master Transmuter working so well together, we can run a silver bullet strategy of several single copies of huge artifacts that will cause problems for a variety of decks. Let's review!
1) Platinum Angel
This card is a classic - classically powerful and classically vulnerable to removal. However, against decks that run no real removal - like many mono-green elf decks, this angel is an instant victory. Very much worth bearing in mind.
2) Platinum Emperion
A twist on Platinum Angel, Platinum Emperion is even worse news for the red decks out there. The fact that your life total can't change and it has far too much toughness to reliably kill with their burn spells is a real kick in the teeth for them.
3) Sphinx of the Steel Wind
Holy Akroma Batman! This guy kills things, many things, and does it while gaining truly mind-boggling amounts of life. If you ever face off against a Jund deck dropping this card is basically an instant win against them.
4) Sharuum the Hegemon
This powerhouse can bring back any of the above from your grave or something else altogether. Plus it's a powerful 5/5 flier with an ETB (enter the battlefield) trigger - which makes our Transmuter all giddy.
5) Contagion Engine
This card is great against weenie decks. Embrace it.
6) Blightsteel Colossus
12/12 indestructible with a killer effect? Way too fun!
7) Myr Battlesphere
Make a bazillion 1/1s and pop out a huge win condition? Way too cool.
8) Spine of Ish Sah
When you just need to pay to destroy target permanent.
9) Grim Poppet
Surprisingly good against little creature decks and can take down some sizable ones as well.
10) Wurmcoil Engine
Aggro decks hate them, we love them.
Utterly unfair with Academy Ruins to create an infinite lock that wins by itself - as the combination keeps you from decking yourself but you can easily deck the opponent. Too ridiculous to include in this deck and would take the shine off Master Transumter.
Now that we've got our base - let's choose our warriors.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind and Sharuum the Hegemon are both wicked powerful creatures, and they fit the theme perfectly. We'll definitely want one of each.
+1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
+1 Sharuum the Hegemon
Now, since we have so many options of comparable power I'm going to go with the most fun and budget ones - so bear that in mind. They're not necessarily the very strongest - but they're definitely going to tear up some faces. If you have the extra money, you can experiment with the other options too.
Myr Battlesphere is powerful, goofy and all-around fun. You can repeatedly return it to your hand and pop it right back into play with the Transmuter (remember how you can use the effect to put the very artifact you returned right back into play?). One to make four 1/1 tokens each turn is pretty dang powerful. This makes the Battlesphere good on offense and defense as well as a ton of fun to play with (you finally can use all those New Phyrexia myr tokens you opened!).
+1 Myr Battlesphere
Recurring permanent destruction is great to have and an asset to any casual deck. Spine of Ish Sah is thus a very solid card to run here. You'll always have a way to deal with just about anything you're up against. Plus, it's dirt cheap.
+1 Spine of Ish Sah
However, as the Spine isn't an artifact creature it needs a reliable way to find it (Summoners don't work). Since we have tons of deck room, let's slip in some of Trinket Mage's bigger brother. It'll give us even more ways to find the huge things we need if if we're short a summoner.
+2 Treasure Mage
There. Now we have 3 ways to find our Spine, and two extra ways to find any other big artifact of our choosing. Let us proceed.
Since we have several ways to fight against various strategies (Sphinx of the Steel Wind destroys the red, green and many black decks as their removal is often entirely useless against a black artifact creature, Myr Battlesphere is a great win condition and can give us an army of either attackers or blockers, and Spine of Ish Sah is a catch-all to smash apart whatever enemy permanent is causing you trouble) it seems we have room for one or two more big artifact creatures. It can be most anything you like at this point - but I'm most drawn to Platinum Angel and Blightsteel Collossus for the sheer awesome factor. Aww heck, let's throw both in. It's even relatively budget - Blightsteel Collosus only goes for about $5 on channelfireball and Platinum Angel is a paltry $3.
+1 Platinum Angel
+1 Blightsteel Colossus
There. That concludes our powerhouses. Let's see what we have so far.
Wow, with such odd card counts it's almost hard to believe that this is a carefully designed decklist. However, I stand by all of them. We of course want playsets of Sphinx Summoner and Master Transmuter and we only want one each of the other major artifacts for the reasons mentioned. Two copies of Treasure Mage are more than enough considering that we'll only want one copy of Spine of Ish Sah at any time (if you like a card but only want to draw a single copy of a card in any given game - three copies are what you want to run, not four) - and Sphinx Summoner is already here to find the other artifacts. For this reason we also want only three copies of Thousand-Year Elixir - one is beautiful but two at once are redundant. We don't want to get the lady utterly drunk.
This deck already looks dangerous... And it's only going to get better. After all, we've only used up 19 slots so far - we've a full 17 to go if we're keeping to the standard 24 lands.
Now, what's the best way to make what we're doing even better? To make it faster. We'll want to run some serious acceleration at the 2cmc slot (so it doesn't interfere with our casting a turn 3 Thousand-Year Elixir). My love for the Signets (such as Dimir Signet) is well known - but I think we can do even better here.
Etherium Sculptor, meet deck. Deck, meet Etherium Sculptor.
Another 1/2 utility all-star, the sculptor will reduce all costs of your artifacts by - letting you land a turn 3 Transmuter if need be. Plus, it's a blue creature which let's us run...
Grand Architect. This guy can tap himself and any other blue creature you possess for the moment he comes down (summoning sickness doesn't matter for his ability at all). A turn 2 Sculptor and turn 3 Architect will give you, provided you lay a land on turn 4, 9 mana to work with (4 from your blue creatures, 1 from the sculptor's discount and 4 from your lands). After all, the sculptor doesn't need to be untapped in order to reduce your costs. That's some serious value for mana. The architect is also a strong blocker and will pump your sculptor and transmuter to a much more respectable 2/3 size - taking them out of shock range and letting them block 2 power creatures with relative safety. He's a fine turn 3 play to compliment the Elixir, and even works well with the Treasure Mages already in the deck. The fact he can let you hard-cast your massive artifacts even gives you a plan B when you can't find a Transmuter or they manage to kill her when she lands. All this adds up to...
+4 Etherium Sculptor
+4 Grand Architect
Now, if we're running the Architect we'll want some more cheap blue guys. Why only settle for Treasure Mage, let's run Trinket Mage too!
+2 Trinket Mage
Now we can run the silver bullets at 1cmc or lower too! Tormod's Crypt is definitely going in the sideboard but you probably don't need it in the main deck (unless you face a lot of reanimator, dredge, threshold and similar decks). So we'll go with some more recent cards. Elixir of Immortality is fantastic - gaining you some serious time against aggro decks. Casting a turn 3 Trinket Mage to find the Elixir of Immortality then casting and sacrificing the Elixir on Turn four, using your mage as a blocker in the mean while, will gain you around 7 life (factor in the blocking with your 2/2 mage). This is a very solid defense as you gain time. The fact that the Elixir will also reshuffle your grave, giving you an answer to any mill deck you might be facing, is just extra goodness.
+1 Elixir of Immortality
Brittle Effigy and Executioner's Capsule are both great removal to find with the mage. While I like how inexpensive the capsule is, I don't know what kind of decks you play against (might be a lot of black). So, I'm going to go with the Effigy. You can't bring it back with Sharuum the Hegemon, but the fact it exiles your target is pretty fantastic - taking care of any indestructible permanent you might be facing.
+1 Brittle Effigy
Now, a little more acceleration sure won't hurt. I love the recent Everflowing Chalice and it's a great play with Trinket Mage - letting you cast a turn 3 mage followed by a turn 4 Challice to, with a land on turn 5, immediately jump you to 7 mana. Not only that, but we can cast it for 0 once we already have an active Transmuter as a great target to return to our hand with her ability over and over again. That beats Ornithopter any day. The fact it fits into our 2cmc slot just makes us even happier - as we're running a 11 3cmc spells so far. Since we already have a lot of acceleration and can find the challice with our mage, we'll only run 2 copies.
+2 Everflowing Chalice
Funny. With Thousand-Year Elixir, Elixir of Immortality and Everflowing Challice we could set up our own minibar at this rate.
With three slots left in our deck, we're looking to plug the final holes. So far we have just about everything covered. We have a lot of acceleration and we have a lot of silver bullets to make life hard for just about any strategy we might be facing.
It's at this time that we want a little deck manipulation. This kind of deck can falter if it draws only acceleration or only big threats. I'm seriously tempted to go with Thirst for Knowledge, but we have a lot at the 3cmc already. Preordain is a wonderful option, but I would like to see if we can find just a bit more synergy with the list... Plus find some ways to get extra big guys or acceleration out of our hand if we draw too many of one or the other.
Merfolk Looter, come to play.
Another 2cmc creature, one that lets us draw additional cards as well as drop extras in the grave (for Sharuum to bring back!) and a blue creature as well to power Grand Architect the card is utterly, wonderfully perfect.
And that, my friends, is our deck.
Now that looks like a dang powerful deck. I'd love to run this at any of my playgroups. With a delicious mix of little effects off the trinkets and massive powerhouses off the bulldozers - this deck has speed, power, consistency and an answer for just about any situation. I almost want to call it, "The Girl Who Has Everything" because our lovely lady certainly has more trinkets and treasures than that little fish-girl Ariel. It's no wonder that Jacob Van Lunen played with her in so many of his decks whenever he had a chance.
Now to take it for a spin. I played the list in nearly a dozen various casual games and here's what happened.
Match 1 - [Elves]
My opponent accelerated onto the board quickly dropping most of his hand by turn 4. However, my speed was similar, with a turn 2 Etherium Sculptor into a turn 3 Master Transmuter. Turn 4 I dropped a Sphinx Summoner to search up Platinum Angel. I took a beating from the elves, blocking with my Sphinx and falling down to 9. However, once the Angel was out next turn (returning the sculptor) my opponent had no way to deal with the flier and I was able to get the time I needed to win off a Sphinx of the Steel Wind.
Match 2 - [Gelectrode]
I kept a pretty paltry hand with just lands, a Trinket Mage and a Sphinx Summoner but I thought I knew how to turn it into something good. We both played slowly at first, my Trinket Mage the first play of the game to find an Everflowing Chalice. He answered with a Gelectrode, one of my favorite creatures ever. The damage that guy can whip up in the right deck is utterly insane, not to mention card advantage if used in the right ways. Still, I felt pretty good with my turn 4 Chalice, putting two charge counters on it - especially as I'd just drawn a treasure mage. I attacked into him and he took 2. He followed up with a second gelectrode, pinging my mage with his guy, then bolting my face to ping the mage again. This meant he probably had a TON of instants/sorceries in his hand and was itching to use them. I had a very short amount of time to win the game. I laid down my Sphinx Summoner and fetched up Sphinx of the Steel Wind. On his turn he laid a wee dragonauts and a Kajin of the Vanishing Touch. I drew and slammed down the giant sphinx and he hit me for two more with the Gelectrodes. He wasn't able to find a bounce spell fast enough, or burn me out, and he died to my massive sphinx.
Record 2-0. Not bad for a terrible starting hand!
Match 3 - [Mono-black Control]
This was a loooong game. He killed just about everything I laid down, but by keeping no more than two creatures on the field at any time and eeking out tons of card advantage via my Mages I was able to pull ahead. Finally I got Thousand-year Elixir down to power a finally-stuck Master Transmuter - making use of my Spine of Ish Sah to blow up his lands. He managed to kill my third Master Transmuter as well, but the back-breaking play of Sharuum the Hegemon, bringing back the transmuter (who used her ability as if she had haste thanks to the elixir) to immediately pop Sharuum back to my hand in order for me to slam it right back onto the table (bringing back a Sphinx Summoner to fetch a Myr Battlesphere) and then using the Elixir to untap the master transmuter so she could bounce and replay Sharuum again to bring back Sphinx of the Steel Wind was more than enough to put the game away.
Record 3-0. And that play felt awesome.
Match 4 - [Five Color Cascade]
I hit the perfect curve of turn 2 Etherium Sculptor, turn 3 Grand Architect, turn 4 Sphinx of the Steel Wind and he couldn't begin to catch up. I even used Treasure Mage to find a Sharuum the Hegemon in case he swept the board.
Match 5 - [Super-Goblins]
He slams Goblin Lackey on turn one followed by Goblin Piledriver and all the other crazy goblins that Steve Sadin might use to tear up a legacy event. I'm not able to drop a Sphinx of the Steel Wind fast enough to race and I'm soon very, very dead.
Match 6 - [Jund]
Played against the same opponent who ran the Goblins, who admitted that his Goblin deck, "wasn't really casual" but he'd been dying to try it out. I said it was fine, that I liked playing against tough decks too, and he brought out something he said would be more fair. It turned out to be Jund, almost identical to its old standard shell. However, I had guessed what I was getting into the moment I saw his turn 1 Savage Lands. I ran out a turn 3 Treasure Mage to find Sphinx of the Steel Wind and he answered with a turn 3 Sprouting Thrinax. Turn 4 I laid down a Trinket Mage, snapping up Brittle Effigy and dropping it onto the table to deal with the Thrinax or whatever else I might need to. He hit a turn four Bloobraid Elf, looking almost apologetic as he cascaded into the classic Blightning play. However, I'd been prepared for that and tossed out the Sphinx of the Steel Wind I'd searched out and an Elixir of Immortality. I blocked the elf with my Treasure Mage and fell to 14 off the Thrinax.
My turn was an Everflowing Chalice special, chaining right into yet another Treasure Mage to search out Sharuum the Hegemon. He wasn't able to kill me next turn and I slammed down Sharuum to bring back Sphinx of the Steel Wind. Jund never has had an answer for the metal monstrosity and his deck just rolled over to it.
Record 5-1. It's nice to know the deck can beat one of the most hated archetypes from the old standard.
Match 7 - [Deathbringers]
I faced off against an interesting deck using Deathrender to cheat out various Bringers (such as Bringer of the Black Dawn, Bringer of the Green Dawn, Bringer of the Red Dawn, etc.). However, his deck can't beat a turn 3 Thousand-year Elixir into a turn 5 Master Transmuter (waited until turn 5 so I could activate its ability in the same turn and not give him a turn to use removal against it) - returning itself to drop a Blightsteel Colossus onto the battlefield. A swing or two and it's all she wrote.
Match 8 [Mishra's Trinkets]
Hilariously, I play against someone running a homebrew of the degenerate mostly-budget combo deck from my infamous article entitled, "The Greatest Underdog Story Ever Told". For those of you who haven't read the piece, the deck involves reducing the cost of a Sensei's Divining Top (the only non-budget cards in the deck) to via Locket of Yesterdays and building up an infinite storm count by using the top's tap ability to keep drawing each-other from off the top of your deck. I'm forced to watch as my own creation demolishes me in a flurry of Grapeshot madness.
Record 6-2. So, this is how Dr. Frankenstein felt!
Match 9 - [White/Green Good Stuff)
He powers out a sweet curve of Watchwolf, Loxodon Hierarch and Gideon Jura. I try to feign interest as I get Grand Architect out to throw down a Thousand-year Elixir later and drop my Master Transmuter onto the field. A few transmutations later I've popped Myr Battlesphere in and out of play several times to make way more blockers than he can hope to overcome (Gideon can't draw all of them as I made 8 each turn off the transmuter + elixir untap to keep bouncing the Battlesphere back to my hand). I kill Gideon with a huge Battlesphere and then use Spine of Ish Sah as a machine gun to take out his entire board.
Match 10 [Mill]
She (yes, she - girls can play magic too) lays out Glimpse of the Unthinkable on turn two, Raven Guild Master on turn 3 and Twincasts an Archive Trap when I use Sphinx Summoner to find a Master Transmuter. However, my Elixir of Immortality and Blightseel Colossus make it an impossible match for her to win.
Record 8-2. That's the advantage of having cards like Blightsteel Colossus and Elixir of immortality in your decks. They're great at their main use (gaining you life to fight rush decks with the elixir and just killing your opponent in the case of the Colossus) but they also have a side-benefit of turning the occasional matchup into a victory out of nowhere. It's nearly impossible to lose to Mill with those cards in your deck.
Match 11 - [Spellweaver Helix]
Another long game with my opponent dropping a Raven's Crime and Crush of Wurms onto his Helix - which surely would have taken me out for good, but a glorious curve of Etherium Sculptor into Grand Architect let me slam down a turn 4 Treasure Mage to find a Spine of Ish Sah and play it in the same turn. Next turn I ran out a Sphinx Summoner to find Master Transmuter and was able to go off like a machine gun with the Spine until I found a Blightsteel Colossus to take the game home.
Little Big Things was an absolute blast to play. It has ways to win against a variety of opposing strategies and easily enables a ton of epic power-plays, whether as simple as going from Etherium Sculptor on turn 2 into Grand Architect on turn 3 (giving you 9 mana to play with on turn 4) or as explosive as the Sharuum play I got to make against the mono-black control deck. Master Transmuter was even more incredible than I had hoped, completely dominating any game she survived in. Her effect is ridiculously powerful and she was an absolute dream to blast through the opposition with.
Many of my opponents admired the deck after playing, but several mentioned the fact it would utterly fold to Fracturing Gust and similar mass artifact destruction if there were sideboards involved. Well, I don't think that's quite the case. After all, if your opponent has a sideboard - you do too. And what might be in that sideboard of yours?
Warning - running this list may cause inordinate amounts of fun. It's Timmy, Johnny and Spike all thrown together at once. If you have a weak heart condition, or an intolerance for heavy amounts of exciting, explosive fun, you should avoid playing this list whenever possible.
-Dan, from the Workshop
By Dan Felder on October 4th, 2011 · Filed in · Comments not available just now
About Dan Felder
Dan Felder has been playing Magic ever since his friend tricked him into sitting down for a game in fifth grade. He loves Magic far more than he should and has a special affection for budget deck-building and casual play. He hopes to one day pick up the legacy of his favorite Magic authors and write the Building on a Budget or Serious Fun column for Magicthegathering.com.
Dan's currently a game design student at Oregon State University as well as its Senior Game-Research Lab technician and analyst. If you want to talk game design, deck design or anything else - feel free to send him a PM.