by Steve ‘DDT’ Giannopoulos
If you’ve played standard recently you probably encountered decks running Thragtusk, Sphinx’s Revelation and way too many Shocklands. People will just spam these out often with no fear of reprisal and missplay all over the place without any backlash. Something must be done about this!
I wanted to punish these less optimal plays with something appropriate. Taking careless Shockland life loss just because you will recoup it when you cast Thragtusk or Sphinx’s Revelation is just wrong. You still need to know when and which lands to play at all times. Wouldn’t it be great to counter their Thargtusk and teach them a lesson? Well, you ‘can’!
Less and less players are using Cavern of Souls these days simply because there is no control deck to truly fear…yet. We need to do enough damage then counter their lifegain probably just once then throw in some more damage and go for the throat. One card stood out to me – something that reminded me of previous greatness:
Too cool even for flavour text!
Being very much in lover with the art, I absolutely wanted a chance to sleeve this baby up. I dreamed up scenarios which were very probable such as:
Playing him on turn 4, flipping a burn spell and having the opponent flip a Thragtusk. They take 5, you fly over for 4 damage plus burn them for 3. That’s 12 damage right there! I wanted something that would probably do some nice, quick and cheap damage. Enter the Delver.
Guess who’s back? Back again!
Yes, I was going to play this blast from the not-so-distant past again. I never really tried it when it was a ‘thing’ so what better way to do it when no one expects it? This thing was going to be played on turn 1, hopefully flip by turn 2-3 and assist me in doing quick, hard to prevent damage early on. I would also need to refill my hand once in a while in case I ran out of gas. Enter the other ‘Bob’ (For those of you who don’t know, he’s called Bob because it was Bob Maher’s Invitational card. Sort of like Snapcaster Mage is Tiago Chan’s Invitational card.) I am of course referring to Dragon’s Maze’s latest offering:
Fine print: Not as good as Dark Confidant.
Finer print: not even close. After my friend tried it in his Black/White Zombies deck, he confirmed it was the worst card in his deck. I argued that it was because he couldn’t spam his cards fast enough (he was also playing Obzedat and Blood Baron). He needed more ‘aggressive’ low-cost threats aside from the zombies. He quickly subbed out his Scriveners for more Blood Artists and Cartel Aristocrats and started winning – a lot.
This strengthened my resolve to see the card played in a successful deck. I liked it a lot because it was a card I wanted to ‘break’. I immediately brainstormed at one of my local game shops with a couple of people and we all concluded that a Grixis Delver shell would be the best. After an hour or so we came up with this list:
The first thing you will notice is that it is chock full of cheap draw spells so as to fully abuse the Blood Scrivener when we have no hand. Playing a Thought Scour draws 2 cards. A Desperate Ravings is rather nice as well ( netting us 2 cards).It gets sexier with the flashback. Even the versatile Izzet Charm nets us the best of our top three cards with an empty hand. We are basically trying to be efficient with our cards and get all the little advantages possible. Standard is however NOT the super efficient and mana-tight format that Legacy is. People play high mana cost cards and games tend to last on average past turn 6.
The danger of cool things
We are trying to maximize the effectiveness of Blood Scrivener and Duskmantle Seer when in fact they are more like support cards (something I realized after quite a few games). We were trying to do too many effects that gained us small bonuses but that do not generate enough of an impact in the overall course of a game. This is basically greedy, for lack of a better word. We can’t hope to just play multiple card drawing spells in order to draw something ‘awesome’ because there is no big game-changer to draw. These spell were pretty much superfluous as we are adding card drawing on top of cards that already make us draw.
I know it sounds like I am repeating myself a lot in the previous paragraph, but it’s very important to get that point across. We just plain need more business spells. The majority of our damage will come from a burn spell, a Snapcasted burn spell, Delver or Duskmantle Seer.
Originally, I wanted to play 2 Bonfire of the Damned as it was a 1 cost when flipped for Duskmantle Seer and when you played an untapped land on turn 5, would allow you to ‘Pyroclasm‘ your opponent’s side of the board. This is rather nice and probably would clear annoying flying blockers out of the way (ie: pesky Longering Souls tokens). In the end, I was convinced to not play this card, much to my dismay. The argument being that Duskmantle and Blood Scrivener prevented me from ‘miracling’ the card since there was a greater probability that it would not be the first card drawn in the turn. It did really like it late game also as this deck had no other real late game cards (and no, 2 Duskmantle Seers is not going to cut it).
The finer points
We needed to figure out the deck’s manabase and it was not an easy task (to this day I am not really happy with it). One thing that was rather nice is that all our creatures play nicely with each other – they are all Wizards. So I dusted off a couple of Cavern of Souls and added them to my pile of cards. The main color, by far was blue followed by red and then black. Black mana was barely required really, it was only for 2 creatures in the deck.
Easy to cast, hard to properly make good use of.
Another thing we wanted to do is to maximize the use of the two good Grixis split cards for this deck while keeping their numbers low. This was of course due to not wanting to flip them to Duskmantle Seer and take 5 damage shots. I was probably more excited about Turn/Burn than Far/Away but both were worth trying out.
We envisioned a few common scenarios where these cards would shine (a lot of which involved Geist of Saint Traft, Angel of Serenity and Restoration Angel. Turn could for example simply take away flying from a would-be Dusmantle blocker and burn the opponent for 2. Far could be played in response to them casting a Restoration Angel, bouncing their Restoration target and sacrificing their Angel. These are just quick example really, you could do so much more.
The finest point of all was that of the Runechanter’s Pike. Who played this cards still? No one, that’s who. We could finish off an opponent old school pike style! of course we would need to draw it amongst our 60 card pile. No problem right?
The Reality of it all
I sleeve up this 60 card monstrosity in nice blue non see-through Dragon Shield plastics. I don’t have to play a check list card instead of a real Delver of Secrets. Oh joy! I like the fact that the plastics are already sort of curved as it keeps the cards well together and doesn’t make them slip and slide all over the place.
I get to the store late due to our fabulous subway system experiencing technical difficulties, but the store owners decided to wait for more people to enter. Lucky me! Round 1 is called and I am paired against my roommate. Unlucky me!
vs. Simon (BW Zombies)
Game 1 is basically me trying to contain the zombie swarm. With only 2 Pillar of Flame maindeck, it’s a rather tough task. Big daddy himself comes in to finish the job. Also, his turn 1 land was a Cavern of Souls, so much for any hope of countering anything save Lingering Souls of Cartel Aristocrat.
Game 2 is about false hope. I get off to a decent start with a flipped Delver on turn 2 and his turn 3 play is a Blood Artist and a Orzhov Guildgate. I get all excited when I land a Duskmantle on the battlefield. The excitement is quickly extinguished as my opponent drops some Lingering Souls into play, guaranteeing himself blockers for at least the next 2 turns. Oh and I am quite simply trapped between a rock and a hard place, since Blood Artist makes attacking a losing proposition as well. He flips a land with Duskmantle‘s effect while I flip… another Duskmantle! I basically die a rather sad death while wondering why I let them convince me NOT to put Bonfire of the Damned into this deck.
Public Enemy # 1 of this deck
vs. Bruno (BG Zombies)
Oh joy! he leads off with a Diregraf Ghoul. I zap it on my turn with a Pillar and he plays a Lotleth Troll. Had I known, had I known. Who plays a turn 2 Lotleth Troll versus a red deck anyways? he gets stuck on two lands and I’m still having tons of trouble killing him. He uses removal spell on all my guys plus I’m not drawing Duskmantle to really race him. He has me at 6, I Syncopate a Dreg Mangler and then use the Away half of Far/Away to make him sacrifice his Troll. I attack for 2 with my oh so threatening Blood Scrivener who has not drawn me any cards this game yet. He plays another Dreg Mangler that I can block, but choose not to so that I may get to untap and finally draw an additional card with Blood Scrivener. Unfortunately for me, Scrivener has 1 toughness and a non-morbid Tragic Slip is enough to send him into my graveyard. I don’t draw any kind of solution to the Mangler and end up grabbing my sideboard, ready to make Game 2 modifications.
What’s tragic is that it kills 11 out of my 15 creatures, WITHOUT the Morbid trigger.
Game 2 starts off with me keeping a Steam Vents + 3 Pillar of Flame hand as well as other cards. He does the usual Gravecrawler and I Pillar it. Victory! haha, yeah right! These petty burn spells only slow down the zombie hordes but don’t stop much. I actually start to fight back and do things like attack with Duskmantle Seer. He Abrupt Decays and Slips a few of my dudes but the Seer keeps going. As fate would have it, he flips a Liliana of the Veil to Duskmantle Seer‘s ability. While he does take 7 damage overall that turn, it’s not enough for me to win. He drops Liliana, makes me sacrifice my only creature and he’s back in the game.
Later on, he even manages to ultimate me the turn I dropped a Duskmantle Seer and a Delver of Secrets into play. I keep the 2 lands pile with Seer hoping to finish him off on my turn. It’s all for naught as he Tragic Slips my Seer and pretty much extinguishes my hopes of winning short of me drawing a couple of burn spells off the top. This does not happen as I am already not packing that many to begin with.
vs. Jack (UB Mill)
I start off with a turn 1 Delver which actually flips on my turn 2. Well, at least I got that part right. He goes turn 2 Breaking/Entering milling me for 8. I attacked the following turn adding a Blood Scrivener into the mix. His turn 3 is an Uncovered Clues. The clue I am uncovering is that if I lose this match, I’m going to toss my deck across the room (well, not for real, I mean some of those cards are worth money. I should however bring a crappy all commons deck and pitch it across the room when I want to rage, that way it will add to the ‘realism’.) He Breaks me x 2 next turn, but I’m doing damage with my dudes and he’s not doing much else really. He gets a Consuming Aberration into play but I am still flying over with my Delver. A Duskmantle Seer joins my end of the field and it officially does what it’s supposed to do: make my opponent lose life and win me the game. Phew! Finally!
The ensuing game is just weird. I start off rather decently then a Consuming Aberration resolves on his end with me having no actual answer for. At this point in the game the only 2 cards that can answer it is a Far/Away (my only one) and Unsummon paired with a Syncopate. I draw no such cards. I chump a couple of times but I am eventually consumed by his 18/18 blue/black horror.
Starting the final game, I am simply too discouraged to continue playing. I must however move forward and see this thing through. It’s actually a very short game as he finally reveal a Breaking/Entering to Duskmantle Seer. That’s 8 loss of life for those of you keeping track at home! I swing in with the Seer and win on the following turn with a Searing Spear. Hallelujah! Oops! wrong deck …
That’s right, punish the greedy Duskmantle Seer!
vs. Rene ( BW Zombizzles)
Just my luck getting paired against every Zombies player in the room. I get it already! the deck is super soft to Zombies, Zombizzles, the swarm the Walking Dead, the white walkers, etc…
I will spare all the unnecessary details we already know about this match-up. I did however manage to draw a lot of extra cards off of Blood Scrivener. They were for the most part largely inefficient against the Zombie swarm. I even ‘drew’ more cards with Seer, but nothing that would do me any good. In fact, I wouldn’t even have been able to tutor for a card to get me out of this mess. This is probably a sign that the deck: the time where you cannot even fathom an ‘out’ or series of events that would lead you to win the game (aside from opposing missplays, though opponent forgetting to attack is not on the top of that list).
The second games starts of by looking somewhat optimistic with me attacking thanks to Duskmantle Seer but of course he is negated by a Lingering Souls on the following turn. I can hope to drop another Seer and ‘burn’ him out, it is rather unlikely though as he plays about the same mana curve as mine possibly lower even. I consider my options and just go for it. Nothing better I can do at this point as my sided in Rolling Temblors don’t really do all that much if anything at all. I flip twice to Duskmantle and he rewards me for his misuse by killing me.
This card eats my deck for breakfast
The sad truth
Nothing this deck ever did aside from attacking with Delver and revealing cards with Duskmantle ever seemed very relevant overall. Sadly, I would rather try the more low cost, aggro, burn route over rely on a 4-drop that may end up killing me just when I am turning the tide. Izzet Charm seemed to be by far the worst card in the deck (not much to counter versus what I faced. It’s mainly there versus early Sphinx’s Revelations anyways.
Desperate Ravings would be cool if I am hoping to draw ‘miracled’ Bonfires, Olivia Voldaren or even something like a Talrand, Sky Summoner. Thought Scour seemed like an ‘ok’ Turn 1 play barring a Delver of Secrets but I would much rather have had it be an early burn spell.
The deck was ambitious to say the least. It tried to play creatures that don’t necessarily see much play (save McSnappington). It probably would have been much much more effective as an outright burn deck with cards like Bump in the Night and Vexing Devils. That is a story for another time (soon, I promise).
Here’s a preview:
The darker side where Duskmantle has been completely replaced by emperor Blood Scrivener
Coming soon, once I get more live playtesting in. I promise.
Wait, there’s more
On a side note, I asked local player/write Charles Trottier for his input on the deck and here’s what he suggested:
Charles, who is a blue mage at heart completely took out the 2 main cards that were the focus of the deck and instead make it into a Talrand/ Goblin Electromancer deck. He was however, not aware that the Fuse spells (split cards) do not count as 2 separate spells when cast. Also he was under the impression that Goblin Electromancer reduced each half of the card (not so!).