Dan's Deckshop - Dark Side Rising
By Dan Felder on June 5th, 2012 · Filed in Multiplayer · Comments not available just now
Hey everyone and welcome to another issue of Dan’s Deckshop. Today I thought I'd share a deckbuilding challenge of my own from the last week. For this article, we’re going to hit something simple but awesome.
I confess, I love designing for free-for-all multiplayer. It’s such a cool and dangerous format with so many unique challenges. Last time I talked about the importance of keeping your head down and convincing other players to attack people besides you. It’s a strategy I usually follow religiously. The results are a lot of wins and the ability to play with fun and seemingly underpowered cards (which is awesome for budget).
The only problem is, I’ve gotten something of a rep.
After winning the last several free-for-all games in a row, my playgroup has begun to tease me about this strategy. “Sure you win Dan, but we do all your dirty work.” One of my friends grinned, “Can’t take the heat, huh?” Another of my friends laughed too, “Yeah, Dan’s the puppet master – but can you blame him? His budget decks can’t take on a table without help.”
Well, it’s time to wipe that grin of their faces! The power to destroy a permanent is insignificant next to the power of Dan’s Deckshop. Thus began my quest to design a deck that could take on a whole table of foes and dare them to try and take me down. What’s more, this was going to happen on a budget.
The first thing to do is to analyze my opponents and if there's one thing I know, it's that my friends love playing with creatures. If someone’s dying, it’s probably creatures that killed them. Even their combo decks are based off of creatures, so we'll need to keep that in mind. We'll want some kind of mass creature kill that could take out even the toughest buggers.
Ladies and gentleman, Barter in Blood.
Man oh man, this card is insane. For you get to kill two of everyone's creatures - and since you won't have any creatures out when you cast this spell there's absolutely no drawback. Better yet, the creatures are sacrificed. This means protection from black doesn’t save them, indestructibility doesn’t save them, even Akroma and Progenitus will fall to this mighty spell. Plus, if you’re playing in a game with three or more other opponents like I usually am – this sorcery will toss you upwards of six-for-one card advantage! Remember kids, card advantage matters in multiplayer. A lot. As if that wasn’t enough, the card is cheaper than dirt right now, considering that it was just reprinted. I can’t imagine a better spell to kick off our deck.
+4 Barter in Blood
Now that we’ve picked up Barter in Blood, we might as well give into our anger and let the hate flow through us. It’s time to snag the big bad’s little brother. Innocent Blood might not be as much card advantage as the bigger version, but it makes up for that in mana efficiency. With all this creature kill, we’re going to be looking at an end-game state where our opponents probably don’t have many lesser creatures around to take the fall for them – meaning they have no choice but to sacrifice their biggest and baddest creatures when we put out a call for blood.
I fully expect to be able to hit turn twelve and say something like, “Alright, I tap one swamp and cast Innocent Blood. Everyone, sacrifice a creature. Say goodbye to that Primordial Hydra, that Balefire Dragon and that Consecrated Sphinx guys. Now for the rest of my turn…”
+4 Innocent Blood
With these all these mass-kill effects in the deck, I can’t afford to run many creatures of my own. Oh sure, I could run things like Reassembling Skeleton but that’s not going to win me the game. This means I probably can't count on some big, bad creature to actually finish the game for me... So what spell to run?
Corrupt is about as dark as you can get. It’s the iconic black spell, the more swamps we have the more powerful we become. Once we have nine swamps out, this amazing card can often kill an enemy out of nowhere while draining their life for our consumption. Hatred can be a powerful ally, and this ally is works even better in multiplayer. Not only do we have more time to lay lands in the slower format, there’s also dirty little secret of multiplayer that I didn’t mention in Kamigawa Strikes Back.
Life gain rocks.
Most of us have learned that life gain is pretty terrible in duels; unless it’s attached to a critter like Kitchen Finks or some other already-powerful card. The reason for this is simple; playing a duel is like sprinting. It doesn’t matter how exhausted you are after the race as long as you cross the finish line first. The first player to reduce the opponent to zero wins. This has led many players to accept cards like Dismember in non-black decks and to ignore splashy life-gain effects.
However, in multiplayer things are completely different. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, multiplayer games are wars of attrition. They’re more like marathons than anything else and no one wins a marathon by sprinting. This is why life-gain is so much more powerful in multiplayer and cards like Char are so much weaker. The more life you have, the longer you can stay in the game. Furthermore, most multiplayer decks have a finite amount of damage they can reasonably deal. Unless you’re running a combo deck – it takes a lot of resources to deal damage to the opponent. You have to trade creatures, cast burn spells, all that jazz. Eventually your deck simply runs out of steam. Well, whenever you gain life you stretch your opponents’ resources even thinner.
If we're going to cast two copies of Corrupt for an average of nine life each over the course of a game, we’re effectively playing with thirty-eight life; all the while ripping our opponents' best damage-dealing tools (their creatures) out from under them with our sacrifice spells. This is a vicious synergy and one that we’ll be proud to feature in our deck.
I know I’m going on and on about this card, but seriously – it’s one of those guys like Forked-Branch Garami. It just does so much for you, everything you could ever want, all in one deceptively simple package. It would be an absolute crime not to run a full playset, and I’d definitely run eight if I could. All that adds up to…
I just mentioned that I’d run eight Corrupts if I could, so it’s time to look for a similar effect. After all, just four of the big black sorcery in the deck won’t be enough to kill multiple opponents. I was all set to add in the almost-as-good Consume Spirit, but when I was shuffling through my black uncommons to find it... I struck gold.
My jaw literally dropped. Exsanguinate looks like it was made for this deck. It’s arguably better than Corrupt in most multiplayer situations. It takes a chunk of life out of each opponent and then feeds all that life back to you. Tapping out with nine mana for an Exsanguinate against three opponents should rip seven life off of all of the competition and feed twenty-one directly back to you. It’s an epic win condition and an amazing life-cushion all rolled into one. So what if it can’t kill creatures like Corrupt can? We’ll be saving our Corrupts for shooting people in the face anyway. Not bad for a card that costs ten cents!
Now the deck is really coming together. We don’t have any reliable spot removal yet though. Eventually one of our opponents is going to have a pair of Llanowar Elves out beside his Primeval Titan. In that case, our blood magic isn’t going to do the trick - they can just sacrifice the elves and keep the big bad alive. Remember what I said about not having the luxury of pointing a Corrupt at a creature?
Enter Tendrils of Corruption.
If you thought Faith’s Fetters was good in multiplayer, wait until you see this in action. Not only can Tendrils of Corruption gain you way more than four life, but it can go off at instant speed too. This is a huge advantage, because it lets you wait until someone has dared to actually point their big guy your way. No need to spend resources until you know they’ll be challenging you - right? Otherwise, if they attack into one of your opponents, you can save that spell for later. With this wicked instant in the deck, our worries about our life total are officially over. We should be gaining 20-40 life every game, putting us far and away above most opponents’ abilities to deal with us.
+4 Tendrils of Corruption.
Of course, that’s not enough for me. Since we’re not running creatures in the deck we’re going to want additional protection – especially against annoying decks that like to put out whole armies of lesser creatures. Black has a lot of cool boardsweepers, from Damnation to Decree of Pain. Sadly, most of the best ones aren’t what I’d call budget. However, I soon remembered a card from the Garruk vs. Liliana duel decks that often brought Garruk’s armies to their knees.
Mutilate is one of those power-house cards that I can never believe is so cheap. Channelfireball is giving it away for $2.50 per copy, probably thanks in no small part to the reprint in Garruk vs. Liliana. It’s obscenely powerful in mono-black decks, easily wiping most everything off the board - even things that are so-called ‘indestructible’. There are very few creatures that a Mutilate won’t kill in the later stages of the game. Even if our opponent does manage to stick something big enough to survive a Mutilate, we'll certainly wipe the field clean of just about everything else our opponent controls – leaving them wide open for an Innocent Blood to pick off their Progenitus or whatever other absurdly huge creature they’re running.
My first impulse is to slam a full playset of Mutilates into the deck… But I find myself hesitating. Why, you might ask? Well, it’s not because I don’t want a playset – it’s because the card costs $2.50 per copy. Sure, that’s hilariously low for a card of this power and well within budget range – but almost everything else in the deck is running at $0.25 or even $0.10 each. Only Innocent Blood costs a whole dollar. If I add in a playset of Mutilate, I’ll up the budget of the deck by $10 just for a single set of cards. Right now I’m in limbo-mode. The deck is looking obscenely powerful for casual multiplayer and I want to see how low I can go.
Instead, let’s compromise on two copies of Mutilate and two ways to find them on demand. Enter Diabolic Tutor. I don’t mind spending extra mana on a tutor effect, thanks to all the life-gain in the deck and the slower pace of the multiplayer format overall we’ll often have the time to tutor up a Mutilate and then cast it in the same turn. Of course, a tutor can also fetch us any other spell in our deck – which gives it some added versatility.
+2 Diabolic Tutor
So far the deck is looking awesome, I’m already eager to take it out for a spin! However, Corrupt and Exsanguinate might not be enough to get the job done on their own. We could use a little insurance, a repeated source of damage – like a creature. But we can’t run creatures due to all our mass-kill effects. Perhaps things would work out if we put Consume Spirit in too, but that’s not repeatable damage. We could consider using use Sanguine Bond to double the power of our lifedrain spells - but that's now a surprisingly expensive card due to casual appeal.
Then the answer came to me. When is a creature not a creature?
Genju of the Fens is an absolute beating in this kind of deck. It’s only a creature when you want it to be. Casting Barter in Blood or Mutilate? No problem, the Genju will hide as a land. But when the board’s clear and you want to beat face; you can animate your swamp and have your corrupted land itself destroy your opponent. Even better, killing the creature only brings the Genju back to your hand. It’s relentless, devastating and powerful – a worthy addition to the deck. Of course, you’ll probably never want more than one at a time and the first one isn’t always going to be needed. With that in mind, I think two copies will be enough.
+2 Genju of the Fens
Well, it’s been a while so let’s take a look at the deck so far.
With Genju lurking in our deck, we now have ten kill cards to rip the faces off our opponents and the same number of mass-removal, with two tutors thrown in. We’ve also got four spot-removal spells in the form of Tendrils of Corruption. That’s a very appealing balance thus far. We must finish this decklist with all of our hatred and our journey to the darkside will be complete!
At this point we’ve got most of what we need for the deck, so we can afford to just run some powerful multiplayer spells that do something we want. After a quick search on Gatherer for, “each opponent” I found this delicious gem.
In a game with three or more opponents, Syphon Mind is going to do an impression of Concentrate more often than not; all the while forcing our opponents to discard the cards they've been saving. That’s a whole lot of card advantage and I’m thrilled to take advantage of it. However, it’s a card that gets worse in multiples – as our opponents’ hands quickly become drained. Everyone who’s read my articles probably remembers that when you really like a card but don’t want to see it more than once a game – three is usually the number of copies you want.
+3 Syphon Mind
A similar card called Syphon Flesh also popped up on my search. Frankly, I have my doubts about this one. Normally it’s a great piece of card advantage, but here we run so much mass-kill that it’s quite possible we’ll just sacrifice our own zombie tokens anyway. On the other hand, being able to make a bunch of blockers on demand can be a very good thing. I’d probably rather run more real boardsweepers in this slot, but this is one of those cards that you often have to see in action to know if it’ll be good in the deck. If it’s good, it’ll probably be really good. If it’s not, we can always cut it. After all, it only costs a measly $0.50 each – and it’s a great card to have in your collection.
+2 Syphon Flesh
Now our final punch. At this point, I really just want to put more of what we already have into the deck. More finishers, more boardsweepers, more spot removal, more card advantage, more tutors and more ways to take advantage of all our late-game mana. So let’s do that, shall we?
The Mirari is an amazing card. It’s the centerpiece of entire blocks of Magic lore. The entire Odyssey block was basically built around every character in the story desperately trying to get their hands on it. Its stain corrupted Krosa and its power was the only thing in the world mighty enough to slay Karona, a nearly omnipotent entity in the Magic storyline (far more badass than her card would have you believe). Then when Kamahl was done using it to kill the goddess – Karn took the artifact and used it’s incredible power to help craft the mighty Memnarch; unquestioned ruler of the whole plane of Mirrodin for a very long time. Heck, the Mirari's art is even the Odyssey expansion symbol!
This is one card that lives up to the hype. For just extra, we can Twincast any instant or sorcery we happen to play. That’s double Corrupt, double Barter in Blood, double just about anything in the deck. And, can you believe it, this card is all but forgotten – it only costs a dollar in its timeshifted version!
Why only two copies of the legendary artifact? Well, because we definitely only want one out at a time and because there’s an even more forgotten artifact out there. What's more, it works wonders with Karn’s favorite toy. Say goodbye to the laws of three-dimensional space, it’s time to cast Bösium Strip.
This card is the Mirari’s best friend. While the legendary artifact can copy any instant or sorcery cast, the Strip casts things out of our graveyard. Sure, it can only cast the top card – but just about everything in our grave is always going to be fun to play. Even better, the Mirari can copy a spell played off the Strip. No cards in hand? No problem! Use Bösium Strip to cast the top card of our grave… Let’s say it’s a Corrupt.
Now copy it with the Mirari. If we happened to have the twelve mana to do all that, we just slammed two twelve-point Corrupts across the table – probably killing a player and gaining twenty-four life… All without a single card in hand. With the ability to recast every spell we’ve played through the whole game, Bösium Strip is going to more than hold its own.
+2 Bösium Strip.
Technically, we still have one slot left in the deck if we’re planning on running twenty-four lands like usual – but with a deck that wants as many swamps out as we do I say we just throw in the twenty-fifth land and call it a day.
And folks, it looks like we have a deck!
Man, oh man that looks scary. The total cost of the deck on Channelfireball puts it at an astonishingly low $17.60 without counting the swamps (I assume you probably have some of those lying around). That puts it at an even lower price than my ultra-budget Spirited Away list from last time. Sure, it’d probably be stronger if those copies of Syphon Flesh were additional copies of Mutilate, and you could do that just by upping the cost of the deck to $22.60 – but I want to see just how awesome this can work as is.
Ready to get gunning, I jumped onto Cockatrice and started up a casual game of free for all with some of my other online friends. I often test things on Cockatrice first before I order the deck in real life or trade for it.
So how’d the deck do?
Well, I’ll let you see for yourself.
I start with a series of swamps, of course, as the three other players drop a few lands. One drops two Llanowar Elves in quick succession while the others cast a Grand Abolisher and a Fog Bank respectively. Sadly, these fellows never live to fulfill their purpose as I tap a swamp sideways and cast my first Innocent Blood.
This takes the chat room by surprise.
“What? Dan just blew things up!” Came an astonished gasp over my headset. I grinned, “Thought I’d try things a little differently this time.”
“Finally, an excuse to kill you!” Crowed Marcus. “Let’s get em!”
The three agree and immediately begin casting more creatures, already gloating about how I didn’t have a Propaganda out for once. They were right, but the next turn I followed up with a Barter in Blood and their guys hit the grave again. “Okay, now it's on." Luke groused. He dropped a Stuffy Doll, naming me, and passed the turn back. Marcus summoned up four tokens off of Lingering Souls – hoping to counter my sacrifice effects. Jason just built more defensive walls, waiting for his leviathans.
I smiled and called in a Diabolic Tutor, searching out a Mutilate. The table groaned, but while I took some damage from the four spirit tokens; I was still able to wipe the whole board away on my next turn.
The game continued on like this, with my opponents setting creatures up and my black magic knocking them down. I did take damage here and there, but it wasn’t long before I hit nine mana and fired off my first Exsanguinate – which I’d been saving since the beginning of the game. Suddenly I jumped from twelve life all the way to thirty-three. I took some more heat but the power of the dark side grew stronger as Tendrils of Corruption refilled my life even further. Soon I’d cast my first Corrupt – bashing it against Marcus’ head. Another Exsanguinate later he was out of the game and my other opponents were desperately low. They couldn’t recover in time before I mopped up with one of my Genju and soon we were off to game two.
“Okay, seriously, what the hell just happened?!” Marcus squawked into my headset, “We dogpiled you Dan, dogpiled! You should be dead!”
“Funny, I feel fine.” I grinned back. Marcus growled, “You’re not getting away with that again.” He slammed down a mountain and we were off to round two.
After seeing Marcus drop a Lotus Bloom I knew I was in trouble. This was his multiplayer Dragonstorm deck, the one he breaks out when he’s not exactly focused on winning a multiplayer game but really wants someone else to die. I’ve nicknamed it, “Marcus’ Vengeance”. The deck’s plan is to throw Dragonstorm out along with three copies of it and deal lethal damage to a target off four Bogardan Hellkites. Marcus slowed the deck down considerably for multiplayer, trading some of the raw speed of his dueling version for the ability to do more things after the deck "went off". Everyone else laughed, knowing Marcus had me covered, so they didn’t bother attacking me.
That was a fatal mistake.
I spent a few early turns killing the board and building up my swamps. By turn six Marcus had his combo out and had dropped the four Hellkites onto the board.
“Alright Dan, twenty damage to your face. You die.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do. You’re at twenty.”
“Am I? Oh, well then, Tendrils of Corruption, targeting a hellkite. It dies and I gain six life. I’m at six.”
“God F#**$ D%$# HE%# Sh&#!!!”
Once I'd finally stopped laughing, I untapped and cast Mutilate – wiping the field clear. People dropped a few more creatures, but nothing had haste. That meant I was able to lay my eighth land the next turn and cast Exsanguinate – gaining eighteen more life. Suddenly I was at twenty-four, despite having just taken the full brunt of the Bogardan Hellkites to the face.
Once more Marcus was the first to fall to my dark powers, his spirit was broken. While it probably would have been a better move to kill someone else off first, I wanted to put him out of his misery. I'm a kind and merciful dark lord.
I rebounded further with a copy of Bösium Strip. Soon I was re-casting all my life-saving spells from my graveyard. Despite both remaining opponents trying their hardest to take me down, I was still at forty-seven life when the game ended.
Why?! Why won't you just die?!?
“No, no… This isn’t happening. Those cards are like… Starter cards!” Marcus couldn’t believe it. Luke gave a little murmur, “It wouldn’t be such a problem, but all that damn life-gain is just impossible to keep down.”
“I thought when you cast Akroma twice against a black deck, you were supposed to win.” Jason laughed. I smiled, “Normally, sure, but here almost all my kill stuff doesn’t care if you have protection, shroud, hexproof or even indestructibility. If it's a creature, I can usually find a way to kill it.”
“I still think that Bösium Strip thing won you the game.” Luke chimed in, “I’ve never even seen one before. What’s that cost, like twenty dollars?”
Mark groaned, “Dan, that’s just unfair. Really, really unfair. I’m not exactly sure why, but we can’t beat it!”
“Sure you can,” I countered, “It’s really powerful, but if you use effects like Witchbane Orb I can’t target you with Corrupt – which can help undermine one of my key win conditions. Right now, the deck’s also weak to strategies that win without creatures, not running any critters would turn a lot of my cards into blanks against you. You could also just run creatures with ways to bring themselves back. Undying, Persist, the Symbiotic cards – those would all cause me some trouble.”
“Cool,” Mark grinned, “Time to break out my Undying deck.”
“I’ll grab my burn deck!” Luke cackled.
“One Cloud Key combo, coming up!” Jason added. I swallowed. “Um, guys… Did I just tell you how to beat me?”
“Fight Dan with Dan.” Marcus laughed, loading the new deck. “It’s go time.”
Needless to say, I didn’t win that game. When three decent players all bring decks custom-chosen to be good against yours, you’re probably going to lose. However, during the game I had a lot of time to consider what cards I’d need to win and I was surprised to think of so many options. Mind Sludge and Mind Twist would both have been incredible in that situation, stripping an opponent of his whole hand and leaving him crippled against me. Syphon Mind was great too, drawing me a lot of cards and slowing my opponents down. If I’d had access to a sideboard, I might have done just fine in that game after all.
My friends underestimated the power of the dark side, and thus did they meet their destiny. Frankly, I can hardly blame them. Most of us stopped playing with Corrupt a long time ago, once we grew out of our Core Set phase, but man have I been missing out! This deck oozes raw power, and it costs less than twenty dollars – a great windfall for anyone’s collection of casual decks. I’m definitely going to buy the cards for it myself. In fact, I’ll be trading a single Liliana of the Veil for the entire decklist. Boy does that feel good.
If you have some extra goodies lying around there’s a lot you can do to ratchet things up even further. Adding in two copies of Cabal Coffers would be great, easily giving you an amazing amount of mana in the late game to power up Exsanguinate still further as well as pay for the copying cost on the Mirari and the activation cost of Bösium Strip. Adding in two more copies of Mutilate instead of Syphon Flesh would also probably be an improvement. Syphon Flesh worked fine, it’s a great card, but it’s just not at its best here. Decree of Pain would also be cool in those slots, as it’s quite flexible.
On the tutoring side of things, Diabolic Tutor could, of course, be upgraded into Demonic Tutor or Beseech the Queen. It would also be great to see a single copy of Thawing Glaciers in the list to ensure regular land drops. Running Journeyer’s Kite could also be another way to make that happen.
However, while pimping the deck out might be fun, it’s by no means necessary. Dark Side Rising already works better than I could have hoped, and once more – it’s less than twenty dollars! I couldn’t believe how much pressure it laughed off. How many games have you taken a full set of Bogardan Hellkites to the face on turn six and come back to win the game? Well, if you haven’t had that thrill yet – I heartily recommend it as part of a balanced breakfast. There’s something so fun when it comes to taking a bunch of seemingly simple cards that everyone’s familiar with, stuff that seems like it might have come right out of a starter deck, and then slamming your spells down on the table while you grin, “Come at me bro!”
The fact that the deck can so easily be tuned for multiple play groups is great too. Mind Sludge can make combo or control decks cry, as can Mind Twist. Frankly, black can deal with just about anything you throw at it – which makes it a powerful ally. The only real problem cards are enchantments, but even they ain't nothin' a little Nevinyrral’s Disk can’t fix. I can’t wait to sleeve this up and try it out on my college playgroup.
Join the dark side. We have cookies.
By Dan Felder on June 5th, 2012 · Filed in Multiplayer · 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.