by Francis Jodoin
Dega (White-Black-Red) is a pretty strange color combination. It is notably absent from the modern metagame except for some jund decks splashing white (for cards like Path to Exile and Ajani Vengeant). Maybe this is because this wedge hasn’t been fully explored yet. It has access to very consistent mana with the Zendikar fetchlands (like all wedges), some powerful burn/removal spells, some card advantage, black’s disruption (discard) and some pretty good creatures.
In this article, i’m going to share my most successful homebrew modern deck, a dega deck. I’ve been playing some version of it and tweaking it ever since modern existed.
Degaslayers – Francis Jodoin
2 Slayers’ Stronghold
1 Ghitu Encampment
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Godless Shrine
1 Blood Crypt
4 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Hide // Seek
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Aven Mindcensor
One of the best White/Red mana sinks ever
One of the deck’s main philosophies is to have cards that are both good early and late game. Figure of Destiny and Student of Warfare can both be aggressive beaters on the first few turns and later you can level them up so they can match the size of your opponent’s threats. Student can be levelled up to 2 on turn 2 most of the times due to the good mana base. Left unchecked, they both can get out of control in their “ultimate” form.
You generally want to have them deal as much early damage as you can before they eat a removal spell so that you can later have the opportunity to finish off the opponent with burn spells. In topdeck mode, they are simply amazing draws late mid to late game. However, because they are mana hungry you generally won’t have more than one or two of those on the battlefield at any given time.
The fact that they are one drops makes them pretty good against most commonly played counterspells. You can play them before your opponent has the required mana to counter them. Remand does almost nothing against them and Mana Leak can usually be played around pretty easily. You can use the extra mana you saved for leak to level them up as well.
Lingering Souls is another worthy threat. I’ve added them only recently and they do a really good job. One of the deck’s weaknesses was flyers, namely opposing Lingering Souls. It turns out Souls are a good answer to Souls ! Also, having flying beaters kind of makes up for our other threats’ lack of evasion. I’m not sure if 2 is the right number, but it has been working out fine for me.
Ghitu Encampment is yet another recent addition. It is a lot better than it seems on paper. Firstly, there aren’t many good manlands in our colors, so I think he is our best choice. You want at least one manland in the main to compensate for unfortunate flooding. Secondly, first strike is a very good ability in this deck. The trick is to let the first strike damage resolve when your creature blocks/is blocked and then, before the regular damage phase, you burn the opposing creature to finish it off. With this strategy you can take down bigger creatures going up to 4 to 5 toughness. This also works with a levelled up Student of Warfare. Having multiple first strike blockers can also discourage opposing attacks. Also, when you are blocking, you can use Ghitu Encampment’s mana ability to cast the burn spells.
Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are probably the best two burn spells we have access to and Path to Exile is probably the best removal spell in the format. Terminate isn’t that far behind either. You obviously want to save your Paths for bigger threats (those you can’t burn) or recursive creatures like Kitchen Finks/Voice of Resurgence. Also, giving your opponent a free land on turn 2 or 3 is a lot worse for your game plan than on turn 4+.
Modern’s Swords to Plowshares
Lightning Helix helps recover lost life points due to our greedy (but effective) mana base. One thing I like about the burn is the flexibility. You can clear the board of blockers/early threats or you can save them for later to take down your opponent’s last remaining life points. Also, they can take down annoying planeswalkers, thus making them even more versatile. One thing you need to know is that the deck can’t win on turn 4. With the best possible hand, you can goldfish a turn 5 win. Knowing when to play the deck in aggressor mode or defensive mode is important.
A singleton Boros Charm is pretty sweet most of the time. Sometimes you’ll just finish off your opponent with the burn mode or double strike mode. I’ve won some games by giving double strike to a 4/4 Figure of Destiny after pumping it with Slayers’ Stronghold. The indestructible mode can protect your creatures from sweepers/spot removal or can turn trades into chumps in combat. I wouldn’t play more than one though, you really don’t want to draw multiple copies of it.
The last burn card is in fact a creature, and a pretty good one at that: Grim Lavamancer. With ten fetchlands and 19 non-permanent spells (excluding Lingering Souls, obviously), this little mage will be online very often. I think he’s amazing in the current metagame as there are so many targets for him to take down. He can even decimate bigger creatures when you combine his ability with burn (up to 5 toughness) without really wasting 2 cards like you otherwise would have with 2 burn spells.
J’te Thoughtseize ! (Montreal mtg speak)
The discard spells play many roles: against fair decks, you’ll want to take away removal cards if you have creatures in your opener. You’ll want to take away creature cards if you lack removal spells too. Against combo decks, discard is a way to interact with your opponent. I don’t think I need to convince you that discard is good, nearly all black decks run some amount of them. They are probably the deck’s worst topdecks, but sometimes the information they provide late game is useful when planning your next play(s).
The card advantage
Dark Confidant is the main reason to play black in Modern. In the deck’s early stages of development, I was playing a Boros mid-rangey version and I often found myself constantly running out of gas. Confidant partly solved that problem. He is your most precious creature and you’ll want to be careful with how you play him. I often bait my opponent into removing the one drops prior to playing Dark Confidant. They are then less likely to have much removal left for Bob (as he is usually referred to). You’ll want to play your one drops early on anyhow to start applying pressure. Sometimes, against most removal-light decks you’ll want to cast him on turn two. Every turn he sticks around is an additional card in your hand. With 24 one mana spells and 22 lands, you’ll take very little life loss due to Dark Confidant, unless you are unfortunate enough to reveal a Ranger of Eos. Speaking of which…
Ranger of Eos sees play in Pod decks and Soul Sisters deck. His power is respected in the Modern format. In this deck, he is amazing as well. Getting two copies of either Figure of Destiny or Student of Warfare can have a huge impact on the board. By the time you cast Ranger, the two “levelers” can become really big. That’s a lot of power for only four mana ! You can even search for Grim Lavamancer since chances are you’ll have a big fat graveyard to work with by the time you cast Ranger of Eos. Oh, and Ranger of Eos is a 3/2 by himself, which is pretty decent. He helps in removal/sweeper heavy match-ups as well. He is truly a powerful card in this deck and an excellent topdeck.
And the most underrated card of the deck is…
Slayers’s Stronghold ! This is where the name of the deck comes from. Our mana is pretty good so we can afford two colorless lands. On rare occasions it will mana screw you but the upside usually greatly offsets this disadvantage. For starters, Stronghold makes our top decks even better thanks to its haste-granting ability. Any one mana creature you draw can attack for at least 3 right away, perhaps more if you can level it up first.
Giving vigilance to a Grim Lavamancer is pretty awesome as well. You can pump him, swing and then before blockers are declared, you can burn down a blocker or burn your opponent for even more damage! Vigilance is a very relevant ability when racing – being able to attack and block solves many dilemmas when you have to chose between being aggressive or defensive.
The pump is always relevant especially with our first strikers. With five mana, Ghitu Encampment can be animated and pumped to block a x/4 creature. Attacking with a 5/3 first striker Student of Warfare can be pretty powerful since not many of the format’s creatures can block and survive this attack.
Like I mentionned in my previous article, your sideboard should depend on your local metagame. I want to discuss one underused/forgotten card I like to use: Hide // Seek!
First, it is a strict upgrade over Disenchant in the colors we run. Pseudo ‘exile’ can sometimes be relevant, especially against Wurmcoil Engine in Tron decks or any target against Affinity decks when they have Welding Jar out.
You’ll also want to side it in against toolbox strategy decks, such as Pod, Gifts and Tron. Seeking out Emrakul off of your opponent’s Tron deck and gaining 15 life seems pretty decent. Against Pod you can remove annoying one of’s such as Reveillark or just kill their Birthing Pod. Some Scapeshift decks only run only 2 Valakuts (usually the Cryptic Command/non-Prismatic Omen versions), taking one out can gain you the turn you need to kill your opponent. If you are lucky enough to draw a second Seek, congratulations! Also, you can gain some life by seeking Primeval Titan or Scapeshift in response to lethal Valakut triggers. Against the Prismatic Omen version of Valakut, you can remove Omen from play and nullify an early 6 land Scapeshift. Some Swords see play in some modern decks and they are pretty annoying. Hide takes care of those as well.
Surely a Disenchant with an upside can’t be that bad…
In Conclusion …
Dega is a pretty fun color combination : it can be aggro or controllish and disruptive. I really hope Dega starts seeing more Modern play in one form or another, it definitely has a lot of deckbuilding potential. I encourage you to try this deck at your next Modern event if you want a deck that’s both flexible, hard to hate and not Jund.