The Creation of a Babylover

It all started with a replay. Spring break had just started and I was on Magic Online. I went to look at the results of a Premier Event that was going on and the last round was being played and the last people that couldn’t draw in were playing it out. I watched one replay on a whim. (On Magic Online, in Premier Events you can watch games that have finished that round.) One player was playing Dralnu; the other some weird GRW homebrew. Midway through the replay I stopped, mouth agape. I had just seen beauty in the form of a play. The GRW homebrew deck tapped a beautiful Flagstones of Trokair, a lovely Temple Garden and an innocent, but yet, brilliant forest and cast Congregation at Dawn. As the cards popped up on my screen, my hand abruptly was forced to click the pause icon. Avalanche Riders, Avalanche Riders, Dust Elemental. A rather unassuming play as the three cards had little to do with the aggressive deck he was playing, but in the context of synergy, I was stricken by its concept. As the play sunk in I immediately went to the deck editor. Much as like how Doc Brown bumped his head and immediately drew a picture of a flux capacitor in Back to the Future, I constructed this deck as if driven by the force of destiny.

First Draft of the DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Temple Garden
4 Karplusan Forest
1 Sacred Foundry
5 Forest
1 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Stomping Ground
4 Flagstones of Trokair

3 Llanowar Elves
1 Mystic Enforcer
4 Avalanche Riders
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Loxodon Hierarch
1 Thornscape Battlemage
1 Dust Elemental

Other Cards:
2 Harmonize
1 Momentary Blink
3 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Boom/Bust
4 Congregation at Dawn

We're going back to the Future Sight!
While this was a rudimentary version of the final product, it was my starting point. For those who don’t understand what that Congregation at Dawn setup does, it destroys their next few lands and, if you have enough mana, lets you basically Avalanche Riders them every turn. I had a sneaking suspicion at the time that the Dust Elemental was purely greedy because you wouldn’t have enough mana to do it all in one turn (You’d need at least eight!) and destroying three lands in a row with Avalanche Riders would be good enough. The tantalizing proposition of Dust Elementalling Loxodon Hierarchs against aggro was enough incentive for me to at least try it. I had access to almost everything on Magic Online needed for this deck, so I built it. Thus, my obsession with this deck began.

I started playing the deck a lot. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. Spring Break had just started so I literally spent hours in front of the computer playing this deck. At this point, I started the refining process of playtesting followed by changes followed by more playtesting. I can’t give you every single version and iteration of the deck because I played the deck so much (I’d say a few hundred games overall) and after every few games I’d modify the deck a little. I do remember most of the cards that I tried and later on in the article I’ll list them and why they didn’t make the final version. Anyways, I started becoming addicted to this deck. I loved playing it and I loved having a deck that won a solid percentage of the time that I had built without any outside help besides the initial inspiration. The deck had proven its worth. It was time to bestow it a name.

I had a few good name ideas. Dawn Riders was one of the ones that came to mind. However, I found a much better one. The decks final name is KarstenbotBabylover. There is absolutely no changing it. Let me explain the odd naming convention. You see, most people that know me well know that I am a total podcast junkie. To make a long story that is ongoing and told on the podcasts short, Mike Flores made the deck KarstenbotBabykiller with the goal to make it good enough for it to do well on Magic Online so that Frank Karsten would have to write in his column on, Online Tech, about a deck named KarstenbotBabylover. On the new (at the time) set of podcasts I was listening to, after some incidents that happened in Grand Prix Dallas, the deckname KarstenbotBabylover was thrown to Frank Karsten by Billy Moreno as the next in line to appear in his column and Frank Karsten said go for it. It all fit together. KarstenboyBabykiller was a RG deck, so what better way to turn a killer into a lover than add white, a nice color? Once again, the force of destiny was at my disposal again! I set a goal: top eight a Premier Event and hopefully, if the stars aligned, get the deck written about in Frank Karsten’s column. It would basically kill two Birds of Paradise with one Electrolyze. Not only would I get a deck I had made from the ground up published by an important writer and hopefully played by others, but I’d be able to assist in the next step of the Karstenbot naming convention.

Now that I’ve told my long, boring and meaningless-yet-oddly-obligatory deck naming story, I’ll get back to strategic content. Remember the decklist up there? That decklist is mainly something to contrast to the evolution of the final deck and compare it to. After two weeks of constant playing online and off, here is the final version of the KarstenbotBabylover.

KarstenbotBabyloverMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Battlefield Forge
3 Sacred Foundry
5 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Stomping Ground
2 Brushland
4 Temple Garden
4 Karplusan Forest

4 Birds of Paradise
1 Desolation Giant
1 Firemane Angel
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Avalanche Riders
4 Congregation at Dawn
1 Detritivore

4 Stone Rain
4 Cryoclasm
2 Demonfire
4 Utopia Sprawl

Wow, has this deck evolved since the first draft of it. Basically, how this version came into being is that after I played about five matches and realized that Dust Elemental-Riders was actually just terrible and never worked, I took it out. However, Avalanche Riders are much better in the context with multiple spells like them. This is normally the part where a writer much more into media than I would compare land destruction to something like Voltron. “Unfortunately,” my knowledge of ‘80’s animation and movies is limited, so I’ll just say that land destruction works best when there are multiple land destruction spells to snowball into creating a huge advantage. It’s a land destruction deck with both aggro and toolbox elements. You surmount your advantage by, ideally, chaining turn two land destruction into more land destruction until you take a turn break to search up three consecutive land destruction shocks (Avalanche Riders) with Congregation at Dawn. Alternatively, you could cast a turn two Congregation at Dawn and set up three Avalanche Riders in a row.
You just drew your first Giant Solifuge?
What’s this, you’re actually staring down creatures? Well, the good old trick of Congregation at Dawn for three Loxodon Hierarchs really helps against aggro. Later in the game you can also search up your Desolation Giant which, while I know it looks strange, is a tutorable Wrath that also leaves a 3/3 back for your opponent who inevitably drew a creature like the OMG LUCKSACK they are.

Let me go through some of the individual card choices.

Card choices:

The manabase: after hundreds of games this mana base is what has been working best. Some of the numbers look a little strange but it works. The only thing really up for debate in my mind is the Battlefield Forge. I wanted a red/white land that I didn’t have to always lose life from when I just wanted to play it and tap it for mana. A fourth Foundry could be better.

12 accelerants (Birds, Elves, Utopia Sprawl): you really need a turn two land destruction spell or Congregation at Dawn. These let you get there. Birds and Elves are obvious but Utopia Sprawl is the odd looking one. It actually works the best out of all of the options that didn’t make it which I’ll list later.

Avalanche Riders: you congregation for these and shock them. Alternatively, you can just draw them and chain them into your plan of turn two land destruction turn four riders. A pretty obvious inclusion. A small note, I tried going down to three but it just wasn’t good because often you’ll have one in your opening grip so you can chain 4 Riders in a row.

Loxodon Hierarch: Stabilization against aggro and a nice 4/4 brawler against control (although you do sideboard the majority of them out against control). Against aggro, stacking your deck with Congregation to three of these is pretty brutal.

Tutor targets: Desolation Giant I already covered up above, but I can’t really stress how big of a blowout this guy is against decks like mono green aggro. Detritivore is simply a beating. Control will often let your Congregation resolve and you find your maindeck copy of Detritivore and, since they can’t counter it, basically dismantle them. After sideboarding, chaining three Detritivores is absolutely absurd, but I’ll get to that a bit later. Detritivore also fits into your land destruction plan so he’s a valid win condition all on his own. Firemane Angel is a little bit of an odd inclusion and I’ll admit it occasionally clashes with the deck. However, it is crucial. What would happen against aggro sometimes before I added him is that I’d get all four Hierarchs, I’d two for one the opponent a few times with them and suddenly they’d have no cards but I’d have no major threats. Firemane Angel not only gains you a little bit of life while in the bin and practically has to be burned because they can’t serve a guy in and trade like with the decks other creatures, but comes back in late game situations. Sometimes you get mana flooded with your twelve accelerants and Firemane Angel gives you massive inevitability in the late game. Basically, I just wanted some big late game card to summon and a card which would help me deal with mana flood. Firemane Angel gave me both. Plus, after I lost to a Dragonstorm’s Grozoth when I had three Circle of Protection: Red’s in play , I swore that wouldn’t happen again.

Congregation at Dawn: This card is good. It also holds the deck together. I tried three and it wasn’t nearly as good as four; I’m seldom unhappy to draw a Congregation.

8 sorcery land destruction spells (Stone Rain and Cryoclasm) Stone rain is a pretty obvious inclusion for a land destruction deck. The more controversial choice is the full set of Cryoclasms. Here’s the thing about Cryoclasm: against the decks that it doesn’t destroy any lands I don’t want it anyways and it gets sideboarded out. Against control, Cryoclasm is good. It isn’t as good against tron, but as long as I don’t get flooded with them they’ll have an island or two I can target. Another thing about Cryoclasm is that I never realized how much the three damage actually is before I tried it. The three damage is huge in the control matchups where the game often comes down to whether you can deal the last few points. This nicely brings me to the next card.

Demonfire: I know that two Demonfires looks a little odd. In a build before I added Cryoclasm I had a full set of them. While Demonfire is a good card, the problem is that I never wanted one in my opening grip. Demonfire is a phenomenal late game card. However, in my opening hand it contributed nothing to my plan. Much like how, a rain of stones can destroy a land but not a bird, a demon’s fire which can burn through the most powerful of mages can’t burn up a forest. In short, Demonfire doesn’t destroy a land or contribute to that strategy. I cut two of the Demonfires and two other cards for Cryoclasm and Cryoclasm contributes to my strategy while simultaneously dealing the damage that Demonfire would often need to do in the late game. The two Demonfires still gives me a late game out against control decks, but doesn’t appear in my hand so often that I want to Demonfire myself after a while.

Now, for the sideboard:

Aggro package (3 Helix 4 Wrath): The inherent problem with a land destruction deck is that land destruction is poor against aggressive decks. I blow up their lands but then, before I know it, I’m at 0 life. So, the key is to change paradigms. In the beatdown matchups, you have to play the control deck because they are the aggressive deck. If you mindlessly throw creatures and land destruction at them, their deck is better built to kill you. You play the beatdown matchups as the control deck: you use your Wrath’s and Helix’s to control the board and use your Hierarchs to recoup your life and deal with any stray guys. If Hierarch doesn’t get the job done you have enough time to get Firemane Angel online. The card choices are Wrath and Helix because Wrath sweeps the board which is obviously good. Helix, while often used as an offensive card, is a defensive card here. Your Helix their turn one Kird Ape and you’re up three life and you’re battling their aggression.

Circle of Protection: Red: this is first and foremost for Dragonstorm, which it is very good against for obvious reasons. (At least until they cast their Grozoth that is.) However, it is also very good against Angelfire. They practically have to long game you with Demonfire. The Chronic AKA Aeon Chronicler is also effective to get through your Circle of Protection but I’ve found most of the time they sideboard those out. Circle of Protection is also effective against the red based aggro decks, although not an ultimate trump. It basically buys you some time to get out of sticky situations against aggro.

Detritivore: Four Detritivore after sideboarding looks like a lot. It isn’t. Against control you always want to draw as many as you can and casting Congregation for three of them is absolutely ridiculous.

Demonfire: This was the last change to the deck; this slot was taken by Harmonic Sliver. Basically, your third Demonfire is there to plug holes. It comes in against aggro because it kills a creature and it comes it against control because, I mean, it’s Demonfire. I just wanted a third one after boards even though I don’t want to see one in my opening grip against control because I have cards to take out and it plugs a hole. This was an addition that basically “doubles up” because while it’s not as good as specific cards for matchups, it’s good against both aggro and control

As I said, I played this deck a lot. I tried out so many cards that immediately come to mind. Below is a list of most of the cards that I tried.

Cards that Didn't Make the Final Cut

Mystic Enforcer: Mystic Enforcer was in the deck for a very long time. He was basically in the slot that Firemane Angel has now. He was at his best against Dralnu, but this deck is already advantaged against Dralnu and Firemane Angel better fit my needs.

Thornscape Battlemage: While a nice answer card, he was just too expensive for what he did. Grey ogre with a shock attached was rarely good enough.

Mwonvuli Acid-Moss: Stone Rain quickly replaced this. The mana acceleration isn’t that great in this deck at that point in the game. I’d probably play something like Demolish before this.

Dust Elemental: It was a cool idea from the original deck, but it was way too expensive and situational.

Harmonize: Harmonize is good in this deck because you can run out of gas and it’s practically a gas station for your hand. The problem is that it’s only good when you rip it on turn six. It’s another card you don’t want staring back at you when you see your opening grip, something I wanted to minimize.

Momentary Blink: It’s really good with Avalanche Riders and Loxodon Hierarch, obviously. The problem is that you have to have it at just the right time for it to be good. If you don’t have it when you untap after your turn three Avalanche Riders, you’ve just lost that opportunity. Same goes for when Loxodon Hierarch gets Charred. Maybe I’m wrong on this one but it just wasn’t holding up in testing, even when I went up to 4 of them.

Boom/Bust (with Flagstones of Trokair): The problem was that the turn one land turn two Flagstones Boom opening was way too rare. Bust was good, but often it turned games I was going to eventually win into quicker victories. When having to play four Flagstones started hurting my mana base that was the final straw in the inclusion of boom/bust.

Search for Tomorrow: This was in my original build. I quickly realized that I needed three mana on turn two and that three mana on turn four wasn’t nearly as helpful. So I moved to….

Simian Spirit Guide: Yeah, this one was short lived too. Sure, I could get turn two land destruction with this, but then I was stuck at three again when I wanted to play my Avalanche Riders or Loxodon Hierarch the next turn. I tried Boreal Druid next, but the lack of producing colored mana really hurt it’s applications. I tried Utopia Sprawl next and pretty much never looked back. Yes, the enchant forest is a little tricky, but the deck has enough forests that you should be able to cast it on turn one.
Stonecloaker[/card]: I tried this guy as a one of and he was pretty good because he simultanously. The problem was that there were few good opportunities to search for him. When going for a Riders chain I didn’t have the mana to stonecloak a Riders and replay it. He was at his best when I naturally drew him, but he wasn’t so good that I wanted to make room for more so he ended up being cut.

Icefall: Yeah, I tried this one. It wasn’t very good. I played it enough to live the dream of Icefall your land, Avalanche Riders, don’t pay echo and return Icefall and play it (Really, how could you resist?) and then quickly removed it from my deck. Don’t try this at home kids!

Tin Street Hooligan/Shattering Spree/Harmonic Sliver/Indrik Stomphowler: Early on I found I had trouble against Signets. I could destroy a lot of lands but Signets would still give them mana production. These are all viable options and, if a sideboard was 16 or more, slots I would be playing these. However, the room was just not there. There aren’t that many enchantments that you need to destroy, but Harmonic Sliver is probably my one of choice because if you’re on the play you have to wait a turn to cast Tin Street anyway. If you play more than one, I’d play one Harmonic Sliver and the rest all Tin Street’s. Shattering Spree was a nice idea but the creature body was important. Stomphowler was beefy, but at 5 mana he was just too expensive to do what I needed him to. If you want to fit these in due to metagame concerns, or just because you feel that you need them, I recommend cutting the lone Demonfire and the fourth Circle of Protection for one Tin-Street Hooligan and one Harmonic Sliver.
Really close, but not quite

Giant Solifuge: Giant Solifuge is a good threat. However, against the decks you want him against, Detritivore is just better, especially as a tutor target.

Boiling Seas: This was only helping me in matchups I was favored in and the only deck with enough islands was Dralnu.

Defense Grid: This card was really good against Dralnu. However, as seems to be a recurring theme here and an important lesson, I didn’t need cards to win a matchup I was already heavily favored in.
Rumbling Slum[/card]: This was another card I tried as a token fattie. Much like Mystic Enforcer, Firemane Angel trumped it.

Hopefully that’s the majority. I put down everything that I can remember and all of the different deck files on multiple different programs had. I’m sure as soon as somebody comments in the forums about a card to try I’ll realize that yeah, I played that one but forgot to mention it.

And finally, matchup data.

KarstenbotBabylover's Matchups

U/B control (Dralnu du Louvre)

Highly Favorable
This matchup is highly in your favor. Land destruction is really good against them and your quick start really depletes their card advantage. They will obviously be throwing counters at you but don’t play around them, throw everything right into them. Their wall of counters will break down and once you start resolving cards the game is in your grasp. Detritivore is really good here of course. Keep in mind that, on the play, they have almost no answer (only Commandeer) to a turn two land destruction spell.

+3 Detritivore +1 Demonfire -1 Desolation Giant -2 Loxodon Hierarch -1 Firemane Angel

U/R ‘Tron

Slightly Favorable
Detritivore is your star in this matchup. You really need to apply pressure with land destruction and creatures quickly. This matchup is fairly straightforward. Watch out for Pyroclasm against U/R after sideboarding, that card really hurts you!

+3 Detritivore +1 Demonfire -1 Desolation Giant -2 Loxodon Hierarch -1 Cryoclasm

U/G ‘Tron
This matchup plays like the U/R tron matchup except for one crucial difference: they have Wall of Roots. Wall of Roots really hampers your plan because it blocks and produces mana on both turns.

+3 Detritivore +1 Demonfire +3 Lightning Helix (gets wall of roots and morphs) -1 Desolation Giant -3 Loxodon Hierarch -1 Firemane Angel -1 Cryoclasm -1 Llanowar Elves (Taking out mana producers is often like taking out lands in that its something that you don’t want to make a regular habit of but there is very little more to take out here.)

Slightly Unfavorable
The problem with Dragonstorm is that if you blow up all of their lands they can still just get you with their Lotus Bloom. Game one is definitely in their favor. Basically, you have to keep destroying lands and not let them draw Lotus Bloom. Post board it gets way better because you have Circle of Protection: Red, but they will bring in Trickbind so you still need to draw multiple Circle of Protections. Also, be wary of Grozoth. I’m not joking, they can play it and I’ve lost to it. Firemane Angel helps in this regard but it’s still possible.

+4 Circle of Protection: Red +4 Wrath of God -2 Demonfire -1 Detritivore -2 Llanowar Elves -2 Congregation at Dawn -1 Stone Rain (you will always have a target for Cryoclasm and the 3 damage can be the difference between winning this turn and not living to see another untap step)

Gruul Aggro
Slightly favorable
Your land destruction sucks here so game one is a little shaky unless you can stabilize with an early Hierarch chain. After sideboarding it gets a lot better and is much easier to win.

+4 Wrath of God +3 Lightning Helix +1 Demonfire +3 Circle of Protection: Red -4 Stone Rain -4 Cryoclasm -3 Avalanche Riders -1 Detritivore

Mono Green Aggro
Highly Favorable
This matchup is very much so in your favor. Your land destruction is the worst of all game one because, not only are they an aggro deck, but they have Scryb Ranger. However, Desolation Giant is a gigantic trump that they will pretty much always overextend into. (Except for you lucky reader, because now it's no longer a secret!) After sideboarding you have so many answers that this matchup is really in your favor. Many of their cards are really scary like Spectral Force and Silhana Ledgewalker, but you have the tools to deal with them.

+4 Wrath of God +3 Lightning Helix +1 Demonfire -4 Stone Rain -4 Cryoclasm


This matchup is very close. They have a lot of good cards against you but your land destruction is really good against them. Detritivore is, once again, amazing. Going first is also really important in this matchup, even moreso than normally. After sideboarding, Circle of Protection: Red is really good, but its not like they don’t have ways to beat you through it or deal with it so don’t use it as a crutch, that’s why I only bring in two.

+3 Detritivore +2 Circle of Protection Red +1 Demonfire -1 Desolation Giant -1 Firemane Angel -4 Loxodon Hierarch

Those are the major matchups I kept facing. If you want to know about any specific matchup, just ask about it.

This deck is a strong rogue deck with a lot going for it. Unfortunately, spring break is now over and I don’t have as much time to play online. The online metagame has also shifted to less Dralnu and mono green, making facing an easy matchup harder to find. I also now have testing to do for block and Future Sight Standard for Regionals and can’t play my homebrew as much. As for getting it written about in Karstens article, I was 4-1 going into the sixth of seven rounds of a 2x prizes IPA qualifier. The winner would make top eight with a draw and the loser would have no chance at top eight. It was game three against Dralnu. I easily won game one and game two I had to mulligan into a poor 5 card hand. Game three I kept a great hand: three lands, Utopia Sprawl, Stone Rain, Stone Rain, Detritivore. Unfortunately, he had his Commandeer for my Utopia Sprawled land, and the rest of his hand was good enough to beat me while I drew a ton of land destruction that would have won me the game if not for the Commandeer. Oh well.

Consider playing this deck at your next event. It's a lot of fun and is surprisingly strong. I also like the deck because there is a lot of room for metagaming because of the Congregation targets you can play. Another reason I like it is that it is great for improving play, many times I could look back through a replay and figure out where I messed up (often with my Congregation) and why I lost. Who knows, maybe you'll succeed where I failed and make top eight in a premier event.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If you have any questions about the deck please post them or message me and I’ll answer them. You can contact me on AIM on the screenname KNW910do as well.

Thanks for reading,

Gavin Verhey AKA Lesurgo
Team Unknown Stars


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