Real Steel

by Steve ‘DDT’ Giannopoulos

Well, Return to Ravnica is soon upon us and it will be pushing out a Scars of Mirrodin Block from Standard. Lots of the older Magic: the Gathering players are happy to greet this new set as they have great memories from the original Ravnica block. Not too many people are concocting any new Standard decks in the current metagame now, but I always try to play a few rogue-ish decks in the final weeks of a month were a block will rotate.

I was never a huge fan of the Mirrodin artifact theme personally. It took a lot of color-specific abilities and put them on artifacts, thus negating the color-commitment aspect. I did eventually slowly got over that and think they did a great job with the artifact theme this time around. One thing that I think most people didn’t fully exploit in Constructed was the Living Weapon ability. It basically allowed some of your equipment to come into play pre-equipped, while not allowing you to do much else with the Germ token.

The deck we will be examining today makes fine use of these equipments and I believe positions itself pretty well in the current Standard environment (for however long it has left). On the plus side, if you decide to build this deck, acquiring the necessary cards should not be a huge problem as they are almost all from the old block (Scars). In addition, I believe this is a deck you can keep sleeved up and play many casual games with for a long time to come.

Here’s the decklist:

Real Steel

Lands

4 x Cavern of Souls

4 x Glacial Fortress

4 x Inkmoth Nexus

1 x Moorland Haunt

6 x Plains

4 x Seachrome Coast

Creatures

2 x Etched Champion

2 x Glint Hawk

2 x Grand Abolisher

2 x Mirran Crusader

1 x Phyrexian Metamorph

4 x Puresteel Paladin

2 x Spellskite

3 x Trinket Mage

Artifacts

1 x Accorder’s Shield

1 x Batterskull

4 x Flayer Husk

1 x Grafdigger’s Cage

3 x Mortarpod

1 x Silver-Inlaid Dagger

4 x Sword of War and Peace

1 x Sylvok Lifestaff

Other Spells

3 x Dispatch

Sideboard

1 x Celestial Purge

1 x Dispense Justice

1 x Divine Offering

2 x Leoning Relic-Warder

2 x Mental Misstep

2 x Mirran Crusader

2 x Oblivion Ring

1 x Snapcaster Mage

1 x Spellskite

2 x Sword of Feast and Famine

The first thing you will probably notice is that Puresteel Paladin plays a key role in the deck. In fact, you can pretty much say that he is at the heart of the deck. He pretty much gives all your equipment extra value and makes it extremely easy to attack safely with swords and then re-equip them for free to be able to defend  against whatever counterattack your opponent might have planned.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve won many games without ever having drawn a Puresteel Paladin. It’s just that it requires much more effort. On top of it, the effect is cumulative. This means that if you happen to have two Paladins in play, you will draw 2 cards per equipment that hits the battlefield.

Let’s give the deck a more in-depth examination:

Lands

We have our basic dual configuration: the 4 Scars of Mirrodin duals and the 4 M13 Duals. Not too costly and definitely needed.

Next up we have 4 Cavern of Souls. Now these are somewhat costly, but they should be viewed as an investment for anyone planning to play Standard or any kind of tribal deck. They make sure the majority of creatures in our deck do not get countered. Yes, humans again! Sometimes you might want to name Soldier so your Etched Champion comes down equips a bunch of stuff and goes for the throat.

It also does wonders with Grand Abolisher. You land a creature that can’t be countered that will make it so that all your other spells will not get countered.

Inmoth Nexus makes an appearance in this deck as a great utility card. Be it giving you Metalcraft or swinging with a few equipments on it, it plays its part well. Post Day of Judgment, it will either be chump blocking if your opponent recovers before you or attacking for 1 or 2 infect and giving you a slow but steady win condition. You can activate its ability to allow your Etched Champion to survive a Slagstorm or something like a doom blade.

The lone Moorland Haunt allows you to make more dudes at the end of your opponent’s turn and start equipping them and attacking on your turn. You realy don’t want this and Inkmoth Nexus in your opening hand as your only mana sources as you often times need at least 2 white mana to cast most of your nonartifact creatures.

Creatures

You obviously run 4 Puresteel Paladin here. He screams ‘build around me’ and he is always an affordable card. If you have to decide what needs to be equipped, make him your number 1 option. He will affect the board more than any of your other guys.

This deck uses a long-time favorite (Trinket Mage) extremely well. He fetches you a Zombie/ Birthing Pod hate card in Grafdigger’s Cage. Aside from that, he can get you a Sylvok Lifestaff in order to gain some life and stand a better chance in the late game. The staff will combo really well with Mortarpod. You shoot a creature for 1 while gaining 3 life, at the small cost of a Germ Token. Remember that you can also do the same with Inkmoth Nexus which will cause infect damage. This can be a great way to close out a game with a final 1 or 2 points of infect.

Trinket Mage can also fetch a chump blocker in Flayer Husk allowing you to spam the field and have a better mid to late game. He can also double block with the token to kill a 3-toughness attacker if needed. However, if you are trying to press your advantage, I believe the best option is Silver-Inlaid Dagger. This little knife will give almost any creature in your deck a +3 attack bonus. Keep in mind that even the base + 2 attack is pretty nice also, especially when equipped to an Inkmoth Nexus.

Usually reserved for White Weenie decks, I believe Grand Abolisher does an awesome job in this deck. It allows your equips to go uninterrupted and prevents nasty surprises on your opponent’s side (Restoration Angel). You just don’t want to see him too often, which is why we run only 2.

The previous statement holds true for Mirran Crusader. He’s usually a powerhouse against a lot of decks or even just when regularly equipped. There are however many decks against which he is not so hot. Games with him can end quickly if you are facing something like a Green/White deck and he is equipped with a Sword of War and Peace.

Etched Champion is your big bruiser. He may not seem like much, but he does pack quite a punch. When facing down against Wolfir Silverheart –enhanced creatures, you will be glad he is on your side. Metalcraft should never really be a problem and as mentioned earlier, you can always activate an Inkmoth Nexus if you need to protect your Champion. The main problem he has is playing defense versus a Rancored creature. That can become a huge problem really quickly.

Glint Hawk and Phyrexian Metamorph provide a nice little overall utility for the deck. Obviously we all know how awesome Metamorph is. Wether it’s killing a legend, doubling up a busted equipment or simply another copy of Etched Champion, he’s doing something useful.

The little Hawk on the other hand, is used mostly to reset living weapons or sometimes bounce back a Champion to give it pseudo vigilance. Oftentimes, you will even be bouncing back any equipment to your hand in order to replay it and draw a new card off of Puresteel Paladin. He can also fly over a stalled field and chip in to provide a few points of damage. There are also instances in which he will be equipped with a Sword of War and Peace in order to indefinitely hold off a Restoration Angel. These are good times!

Other Spells

This section is rather brief since we only run 3 Dispatches. This means we need to use them conservatively. If the creature you dispatch is in no way hindering your path to victory, it was a bad move. You usually want to use it on a Primeval Titan that will clearly become a problem. The same goes for Talrand, Sky Summoner. Again, use your judgment and avoid liberal uses of Dispatch.

Another small warning about this spell is that it it’s almost always cast with Metalcraft. Metalcraft is also checked on resolution, so be sure to have an Inkmoth Nexus ready to respond when your opponent busts one of your artifacts to make Dispatch lose its Metalcraft effect. You want to probably do it when you have 4 or more artifacts just to be sure.

Artifacts

Pretty much all equipments here except for the lone Grafdigger’s Cage.

We can afford to have a maindeck Cage here as our Trinket Mages can make sure we can find it when needed. One copy is more than enough, since we really do not want this in our opening hand.  It does a great job versus Snapcaster Mage, Zombies and Birthing Pod.

The lone Batterskull is just awesome in this deck. You can easily play it, equip it for 0 due to Puresteel Paladin’s ability and beat down your opponent while gaining life. Then comes the great part: you can re-equip the Batterskull on Puresteel Paladin afterwards in order to protect him from something like a burn spell, Black Sun’s Zenith or Mutilate. If you are digging for something like a Mortarpod or Dispatch, you can also always bounce the Batterskull back to your hand and replay it so you can draw a card off the Paladin.

Flayers Husks are the little drones of the deck. They get played early on, get a few points of damage in, die, get equipped and then enable Metalcraft. A nice little life for a 1-cost equipment,no?. Oh, I even forgot to mention: draw a card. Well, most of the time. Your opponent will almost never want to trade his 1/1’s with a Flayer Husk, so don’t be shy and attack him when you can.

A small amount of the deck’s removal also comes from Mortarpod. This mini-removal can be very effective as there are quite a few little creatures in the format. You will often be needing to take down things that have more than 1 toughness with it. That’s also where the Puresteel 0-cost equip ability comes into play. A word to the wise: use it almost immediately on a Blade Splicer. You don’t want to get greedy and keep the Germ Token to block an attacker and then try to kill the Blade Splicer. This will almost always be met with a Restoration Angel flash in response and you will be losing all sorts of ‘value’ because you opted to be greedy. It’s bad enough you didn’t kill a 1/1 token producer, now it’s back and it brought back a little friend.

The big difference making equipment in this deck is Sword of War and Peace. A lot of decks out there play white, making the protection very relevant. The life gain/burn ability gets out of hand quickly and can end the game in a flash. Although less decks are playing red creatures, but keep in mind that it will protect your equipped creature from something like a Bonfire of the Damned. It’s a hugely popular card right now and very effective. So slap your sword on the creature you value most.

Accorder’s Shield may not look like much but it does a few decent things for its 0 cost. It can be fetched by Trinket Mage and played immediately, usually drawing you a card off of Puresteel Paladin. It also give your creature vigilance, which is pretty insane with Etched Champions. It allows them to play both sides of the field and eventually win the game. The extra 3 toughness is hardly a laughing matter either. It makes even the lowliest creature useful on defense. You can even pretend you are swinging with a mini-Serra Angel when attacking your opponent with Glint Hawk.

The other two one-ofs were pretty much covered before. They are both retrievable with Trinket Mage and each fills a completely different role. Go get Silver-Inlaid Dagger if you are going on offense. Alternatively, go fetch Sylvok Lifestaff if you need the lifegain, or if you want to do Lifestaff/Mortapod shenanigans.

Sideboard

This sideboard is somewhat metagamed but I think it’s reasonably flexible. You don’t absolutely need a Snapcaster Mage in there, but he is rather good if you are planning on siding in the Instants. He’s also uncounterable with Cavern and another body you can remove to make a spirit token with Moorland Haunt. Other than that, I would maybe tweek it a little more to combat Curse of Death’s Hold. That is a huge card against this deck. The few games I have lost with this deck can be attributed to 1-2 copies of that card in play. When there are two copies, the Leonin Relic-Warder should be good to permanently exile one of them.

You cast the Relic-Warder. If he is not countered, he will enter the battlefield. Once on the battlefield, his come into play ability will go on the stack, however state-based effects will be checked and see that he is a 0/0 and thus dies. This will cause his leave the battlefield ability to go on the stack. The stack will resolve in a last-in/first-out order. The leave play ability resolves, doing pretty much nothing. Then the enter the battlefield ability resolves, removing the Curse forever and ever. It’s a neat little trick that is good to know, since aside from Oblivion Ring and Celestial Purge, is one of the only outs you have in that situation.

I would like to experiment more and see what the optimal number of Dispense Justices is. The environment is pretty aggressive right now. Anytime you can get a two-for-one out of this bad boy is just great.

You will usually swap out Swords of War and Peace for Swords of Feast and Famine if you are facing a deck that has anything Green or Black in it. I believe it needs to be stated even if it seems obvious to a lot of you.  Other commonly sided out cards are: Glint Hawk, 1 x Mortarpod, Flayer Husk, Grafdigger’s Cage and 1-2 x Trinket Mage. You always want to keep the core engine running in almost all situations. There are some really rare times you will want to take out the Dispatches. A good example is if your opponent is playing a version of the UW Hallelujah deck not aware that it was a Block deck and not a Standard deck. It happens more often than you think, since a lot of people will just do a straight port instead of adding in the non-block stuff.

That wraps it up for today. I will try to write more articles on a more regular basis.

Duel Deck: Golgari vs Izzet Spoilers

Lands (24)
1 Forgotten Cave
10 Island
2 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Lonely Sandbar
9 Mountain
1 Nivix, Aerie of the Firemind

Creatures (15)

1 Djinn Illuminatus
1 Galvanoth
1 Gelectrode
1 Goblin Electromancer
1 Izzet Chronarch
1 Izzet Guildmage
2 Kiln Fiend
1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
1 Ogre Savant
2 Shrewd Hatchling
1 Steamcore Weird
2 Wee Dragonauts

Other Spells (22)

1 Brainstorm
1 Call to Heel
1 Dissipate
1 Fire
Ice
1 Force Spike
1 Invoke the Firemind
1 Isochron Scepter
1 Izzet Charm
1 Izzet Signet
1 Magma Spray
1 Overwhelming Intellect
1 Prophetic Bolt
2 Pyromatics
1 Quicksilver Dagger
1 Reminisce
1 Sphinx-Bone Wand
1 Street Spasm
1 Thunderheads
1 Train of Thought
1 Vacuumelt

Lands (24)

1 Barren Moor
1 Dakmor Salvage
8 Forest
2 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
10 Swamp
1 Tranquil Thicket

Creatures (23)

1 Boneyard Wurm
1 Brain Weevil
1 Doomgape
1 Dreg Mangler
2 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Eternal Witness
1 Gleancrawler
1 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Rotwurm
1 Golgari Thug
1 Greater Mossdog
1 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
1 Korozda Guildmage
1 Plagued Rusalka
1 Putrid Leech
1 Ravenous Rats
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Sadistic Hypnotist
1 Shambling Shell
1 Stingerfling Spider
1 Stinkweed Imp

Other Spells (14)

1 Feast or Famine
1 Ghoul’s Feast
1 Golgari Germination
1 Golgari Signet
1 Grim Flowering
1 Life
Death
1 Life from the Loam
1 Nightmare Void
2 Putrefy
1 Twilight’s Call
1 Vigor Mortis
1 Yoke of the Damned

Looks like an awesome value package!