The anticipation is mounting! In just a few short days we will be getting our first chance to play Battle for Zendikar and I’m pretty excited. There are some amazing new cards in this set, and some terrific reprints that got some slick new art. It looks like there are going to be some bonkers new additions to just about every format, including Casual Kitchen Table Magic. Today I’m going to go through my Top Ten cards to bring to your next Casual Kitchen Table Magic game night and spice things up. Let’s get down to business.
10. Common Land Cycle ( Sandstone Bridge, Skyline Cascade, Mortuary Mire, Looming Spires, Fertile Thicket ). This common land cycle doesn’t look super spicy, but let’s be real, any time you can play a land card and have an effect that is normally created by a spell you have something that is deceptively powerful. There will be loads of decks looking to pick these up to replace just a regular basic land card, and the extra ability is always a solid trick. Now, let’s talk about how to abuse these (i.e. get more than one activation). In a Kitchen Table world you are constrained only by your card pool and the rules you and your friends have established, so finding fun ways to take advantage of these should be easy. Let’s start with the “Karoo” lands or “Bounce” lands from Ravnica. These were reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 making them pretty readily available and an easy way to get more than one activation of these. Emancipation Angel or Kor Skyfisher, or even Pearl Lake Ancient are also some of my favorites and could easily get you additional activations. Going a little more in the the history of Magic, Soramaro, First to Dream would be hilarious.
As if just getting the value off these lands wasn’t enough, don’t forget this set is packing Landfall meaning that you are very likely to net all sorts of value off of just playing these lands. That makes these things even more appealing. The nice part is that you will usually be pleased to see these guys, regardless of what stage of the game you’re in. Keep your eyes peeled for these small, but significant, additions.
9. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper: What isn’t to like about this guy? He’s a 4/4 for 5 mana which is a pretty reasonable rate to start and you will not feel ashamed to run him out. His size also makes him surprisingly robust and able to tussle if the need arises. However, what is truly gross is his ability. You get free +1/+1 counters on your lands every time you cast an instant or sorcery…and in Blue and White isn’t that what you want to do anyways? I can well imagine EDH decks premised on this guy or just jammed in there for value. However, what I think might be truly busted is playing Jeskai and slamming this guy and Zada. Cast your instant on Zada, copy the spell a bunch of times, make a pile of Elementals, attack for the win…or something like that. Yes, that is magical Christmas land, but it’s fun to dream. I’m kind of excited to see this guy and try him out.
8. Omnath, Locus of Rage: I don’t know what to do with this guy…but I like the fact that Omnath is getting a reprinting, and this time he’s pissed. I haven’t got a clue how good he will be, or any deck built around him using elementals as a centerpiece, but this guy sure looks unhappy and ready to kick some butt. All he really asks of you is to play your land and benefit from an army of 5/5 tokens, but that feels a little too simple. Omnath makes the list because of his unbridled anger…and big scary tokens. For those of you out there with RTR block cards still kicking around, time to dust off those Populate enablers..
7. Catacomb Sifter: This guy is among my favorite cards in the set and the art is insane. That is spectacular art! The colours and contrast really stand out and makes this thing look super frightening. But enough about the art. This 3 mana creature packs 3/4 worth of power and toughness across 2 bodies which is a very good rate. I know I play casually, but I also really like efficient creatures…they help me get to the much less efficient but fun part of my deck! This is exactly the sort of thing I want to do. However, there is still more. This packs the Scry 1 ability that Reaper of the Wilds packs just because…umm…value? This is a very strong card and I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these guys and ride the Value Train.
6. Halimar Tidecaller: How is this NOT a rare? Can you just imagine pairing this with Noyan Dar and making FLYING land creatures? Wow. And you even get to bring another relevant spell out of your graveyard to replay and get yet ANOTHER land creature. Sure, it is a bit of a build around, but if you can successfully build around it this looks amazing! For a paltry 3 mana this feels as if it has been pushed to try and push an elemental theme…and I’m taking the bait! I can almost taste the Elemental Deck…Brews to come!
5. Defiant Bloodlord: Ok folks, this makes the list because you now have Sanguine Bond attached to a 4/5 flying body. This gives those janky “life gain” decks you see around the Kitchen table yet another win condition and NOW it gets to attack too! I’m just dreaming of casting this and Feed the Clan to maximum effect. The interaction between this and Gray Merchant of Asphodel seems like it could be potent too. All in all, there will be lots of ways to abuse this around the Kitchen Table so you had better buckle down.
4. Felidar Sovereign: Felidar Sovereign is yet another example of the power of alternate win conditions. This guy is a reprint from the original Zendikar block and became a staple in EDH decks all over the place as an alternative win condition. The issue WAS that Felidar was a $10-12 card that essentially exclusively saw play in Casual formats. By getting a reprint players will be getting a shot to grab this guy at a much more affordable $2 price point. Enjoy the savings Casual players, this one is for you.
3. Kiora, Master of Depths: Kiora made this list because her ultimate is nutty. Three 8/8 octopus tokens PLUS they get to fight your opponent’s creatures? Whatever…you win the game if you get this Emblem online. If you can look me in the eye and honestly tell me that you aren’t interested in doing that then you’re lying to yourself.
2. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: If the Eldrazi somehow didn’t make this list then I wouldn’t be doing my job. What’s NOT to like? It’s big, splashy, hard to kill, wrecks the game instantly, can be played in virtually every deck and looks to be about the best thing you can do with 10 mana. Also, because this version of Ulamog doesn’t come with the “feel bad” Annihilator mechanic your buddies around the kitchen table are more apt to agree to let you play it. Yeah, Ulamog is a thing and makes our list.
1. Zada, Hedron Grinder: Zada is getting lots of buzz and with good cause because her ability is just outright insane. Any time you can copy spells you have a strong effect. Zada will let you copy them multiple times for FREE! Magic players love the word FREE and so Johnnies around the world are setting up to break this. I’ve heard lots of players talk about casting Titan’s Strength or Become Immense on Zada and then pumping your team to significant effect, but I was going somewhere completely different. I was going to aim for Feat of Resistance and essentially allow your team to get protection from…oh…everything…and crash in for the win. But things at the Kitchen table can get better! Ranger’s Guile protects ALL your stuff. Rootborn Defenses fights off Board wipes. Retraction Helix allows you to turn all your creatures into Unsummon spells! Really, the possibilities are endless and this is why so many people are excited about Zada. There really isn’t much doubt, Zada is the real winner for the Casual Magic crowd.
Well, there we have our top ten cards for Casual Magic. I’m sure there are a few spicy things that I left off the list, but I have to draw the line somewhere. If you have something you think should be added to the list, send me a tweet and let me know. I’d love to hear what has got other people excited!
Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a visit and have yourself a great MTG day!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
We all watched the Pro-tour with baited breath not all that long ago. For starters, Congratulations must go out to Patrick Chapin. I doubt he’ll ever read this article, but the truth is what he accomplished is tremendous. To defeat the world’s best players and win a Pro-tour is the stuff dreams are made of (although he made it look frighteningly easy!). However, in amidst all the talk of Block Constructed decks, did anyone notice that there were hardly ANY of the mechanics from Theros block on display? A block committed to the Devotion mechanic by virtue of being tied to the Gods of Theros…and it was virtually totally ignored. There were very few creatures carrying the Monstrous ability. Constellation got some love…most in the form of Eidolon of Blossoms. Inspired? Tribute? Bestow? These hardly even got a sniff. In the end it was wars waged as Elspeth tokens crushed Elspeth tokens and Thoughtseize and Brain Maggot crippled the hands of countless players. No…the mechanics of Theros were sadly underplayed and it felt…I don’t know…deflating.
Well, I’m here today to try and restore our faith in the little used mechanics of Theros and present a budget worthy Casual Brew that can grind down an opponent (or multiple opponents as the case may be) and find a way of getting you a win from seemingly out of nowhere. The mechanic I’m thinking about is the Inspired mechanic because it is so tempting…so poised with potential…that to not attempt to build a deck would just be wrong.
Now, we have seen that some of the mechanics in Theros are very powerful. Devotion powered out crazy amounts of elemental tokens with Master of Waves, drained buckets of life with Gray Merchant, and pumped out dizzying amounts of mana with Nykthos. No, Devotion is pretty safe. Monstrous is the same way. With Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos running around still Monstrous is a thing and they may be joined by Fleecemane lion as staples of this mechanic. Bestow and Heroic have shown to be invaluable in Draft giving these decks new reach and greater power than ever before. No, these three mechanics are just fine despite not being played much at the Pro-tour. However, Inspired and Tribute, both Mechanics from Born of the Gods have hardly got off the ground.
It makes perfect sense for why Tribute has been largely ignored. In almost every instance the cards carrying Tribute present an option for your opponent to dictate the terms of the creature. This means that you are no longer in control and if you are looking for a desired effect, well, I can assure you that you won’t get it because your opponent is out to put the screws to you. Snake of the Golden Grove is a perfect example because you either get 4 life…or a 7/7. Let me assure you, 100% of the time you will give your opponent the life gain. However, if you REALLY needed a 7/7 to help you block…well…tough, you are out of luck.
Inspired on the other hand actually holds some promise. This is actually an ability that you could use because the only requirement is that the creature untaps. Simply untap. It seems so simple…but yet getting your card to actually untap is pretty tricky. The most common ways of tapping it is by virtue of attacking with it and then on your next turn untapping it. The problem is that usually if you go into combat, something dies meaning you could very well lose your inspired creature. Other options exist like Spring Leaf Drum, Retraction Helix, Epiphany Storm and Claim of Erebos which all allow the creature to tap without combat, but this is extra work for you and harder to set up. So, how to maximize your chances of Inspired without as much set up cost to your deck?
I have long been a proponent of making combat as absolutely miserable for my opponent as I can manage. This means I pack decks full of combat tricks, death touch, first strike, double strike and haste, basically ensuring that my opponent really has to think twice before blocking ANYTHING. Well, Inspired gives you even MORE incentive to pack your deck as full of nasty tricks as you can find so that no one is keen to actually block. With this theory in mind let me share with you a little deck list that I’ve put together to exploit the Inspired mechanic.
The game plan behind this deck is actually pretty straight forward. You are looking to do everything you can to drain off the life of your opponent without attacking , but the creature base in the deck is actually aggressive enough that you can start on the beat down path and not actually take your foot off. All the while you are looking to exploit the Inspired Mechanic as much as you can wrangle.
For 1 drops we have Tormented Hero which is a solid 2/1 for 1 black. Sure, it comes into play tapped, but play him turn 1 and attack turn 2 and you’re pretty golden. Also, when he is targeted he does exactly what you want the deck to do and that is drain the life of your opponent. At 2 we have a couple of bears, namely Sun Guide and Pain Seer. These are both aggressive enough that they can come down early and swing in, hopefully triggering the Inspired trigger on either of them. Baleful Eidolon and Spiteful Returned are technically 2 drops, but are really there for the Bestow ability to basically make something totally unpalatable for your opponent to block. Spiteful returned is also triggered just by attacking, making him just extra value. The last 2 drop is Cartel Aristocrat because when you are missing a way to sneak through, Sacrifice a creature and get in there. At the 3 drop spot we have the bread and butter. Scholar of Athreos is an awesome mana sink and a solid blocker to plug up the ground. Servant of Tymaret is a wily little 2/1 with regenerate that I WANT to block with and need to regenerate in order to trigger the Inspired ability when it untaps after regenerating. The 4 drops are really there as Bestow creatures apart from King Macar, but at 5 we have Gray Merchant and he is a sure fire way to drain out a bunch of life all at once. The spells are pretty tame in a Gods Willing to protect something or more importantly to allow a creature the ability to sneak in for free. Necrobite presents an awful combat trick for your opponent. He will need to play around a situation where you have 3 mana up or risk trading something for a deathtouch creature…who now regenerates. Whether this is Tormented Hero’s heroic trigger, or regenerating a Pain Seer, there is going to be value generated. The last one is Asphyxiate which is a poor man’s Hero’s Downfall. Same casting cost…but much slower and more conditional. Not my first choice, but acceptable considering the financial cost of a playset of Hero’s Downfall.
Some would say that this looks like an Extort deck from Gatecrash and I can’t disagree…except I prefer this model to relying on the Extort mechanic of Gatecrash because Extort rewards you for durdling around with spells and paying the extra mana to drain the life. In this deck there is no need to durdle around. If you have open mana sink into something…like your Scholar of Athreos, attack with your Servant of Tymaret, or cast a Bestow creature to make blocking totally undesirable. You are being proactive and engaged instead of being rewarded by casting derdling spells and hiding.
This deck is weak to decks packed with fliers or with control elements like counter spells and plenty of targeted removal. Oh, and it still gets run over by the pack rat/desecration demon game plan prevalent in Standard, so don’t take it there. Where does this deck shine? Multiplayer variants of all sorts. Free for all, Two Headed Giant, Grand Melee…if any of these formats match what you like to play then this is a cheap and efficient deck that will do work. Life drain is absolutely brutal in multiplayer matchups and this deck is no different.
So, I have done my part to restore faith in the mechanics of Theros…particularly Inspired. Now it is up to you to go forth and Inspire that same belief in your opponents and drain the life right from their souls…without ever attacking! Enjoy frustrating the heck out your opponents because you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.
Thanks very much…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.
Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791
The most apparent difference in this list from those past is the exclusion of Nightveil Specter for a very different evil in Lifebane Zombie. It looks like taking the extra precautions to hedge against Green Monsters and White Weenies paid off. His removal package, which is usually constructed for what you’re idea of the meta calls for, consisted of a full four Hero’s Downfall, a trio of Devour Flesh and two copies each of both Ultimate Price and Bile Blight. The other interesting point of note is that he went for two sets of Temples for the Scry power, which is very handy in conjunction with Underworld Connections when you’re low on life but absolutely need to find something specific.
The opening that this deck wants to see everytime it starts a new game is turn one Thoughtseize into turn two Pack Rat. So often this will rob the opponent of a key defensive piece which will allow the Pack Rat to get to work multiplying itself until it has gotten out of control, which tends to happen very quickly. The synergy with Mutavault which also happens to be a rat is another factor in boosting the lowly rats to monumental proportions. The secondary line of attack comes with a curve of threats starting at the three drop with Nightveil Specter a formidable Flying attacker which has the added value of not only stealing life from your opponent but also can steal cards from the top of their deck, which can even be played as long as the specter remains in play. Then at the four drop we have Desecration Demon which is quite simply a beat stick which you’ll use to grind the opponent to dust. Finally we get to Gray Merchant of Asphodel which has a very useful Devotion ability that will drain the life from your opponent and add that amount which is based on your total Devotion to Black mana. To help boost your Devotion count the deck also has Underworld Connections which provides a steady stream of cards at the price of some life and also a misers copy of Whip of Erebos that helps regain lost life point with Lifelink and will raise your dead creatures from the grave for a turn to fight for you again. As is typical with a Black deck removal is a key element and this deck is no different. There is a varied spread of spells but the key one is Hero’s Downfall which can deal with problem creatures and planeswalkers alike. This is complimented by Devour Flesh and Doom Blade to vanquish other creature problems. Then we round out the package with pseudo-sweeper Bile Blight which is capable of removing some very significant threads but you must be mindful of its use in the mirror. As mentioned before there is also Thoughtseize which not only takes care of any otherwise hard to handle problem but also provides very valuable information about the opponents plans.
You turn the key and lock up the shop for the day, ready to go home and get some grub before heading out to Friday Night Magic, ready to test out that shiny new Heroic deck you’ve been tweaking when your phone goes off. It’s your little cousin, and he is going on about how Grandma got him the Magic Holiday Gift box for Christmas, bragging about how he pulled a Fabled Hero, Prognostic Sphinx and Polis Crusher. He sounds so excited about his loot, when he asks you if he can come with you tonight. You think about it for a second and say why not?
You go and pick him up and bring him home, looking at his collection realizing quickly that what little has isn’t going to stand a chance at your local game shop. You walk over to your overloaded shelf of magic cards and pull a deck off of it. It’s one of those Pauper decks that you read about on Three Kings Loot’s website the other week. It’s the mono black one, which only seemed appropriate after you saw your cousins reaction to the dreaded Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Like a kid in a candy store.
So you both scarf down some pizza while playing a few matches before heading over to the shop, only to realize once you step through the door that it wasn’t Standard tonight, but Vintage. Your heart skips a beat thinking about how wrecked your cousins deck is going to get against that kind of competition. A Standard Pauper deck isn’t built to take on those types of decks. So you ask him how much money he has on him, thinking that maybe you could get a few cheap cards to give him a chance. He looks at you and says that all he has is the twenty dollars that aunt Gladys gave him. Twenty dollars isn’t going to go far in Vintage, not by a long shot. But then you have a brainstorm and hop on your smartphone and look up Classic Pauper decks. They are cheap enough and might just have a chance.
Given your cousins fascination with the Gray Merchant you settle on a Mono-Black deck and walk up to the counter giving the list to the owner, before realizing that Classic Pauper is an online format only and that there are cards printed from sets not released online that could be added. You make a few changes to the list and smile as your cousin begins gathering all the cards together to take on his first challenger.
The store owner calls out the pairings and you sit down beside your cousin and watch as he drops down a first turn swamp and Duress to draw out his opponents Force of Will, followed by a second swamp and a Hymn to Tourach. His opponent groans and your little cousins face lights up. Maybe, just maybe, he can pull this off.
The above is a Mono-Black Control deck in Classic Pauper, a format that is almost exclusively online. There are a few stores that hold tournaments and the format is growing in paper popularity, but it isn’t mainstream yet. Inside you can see a healthy mix of discard and removal and card draw, a board wipe to keep things under control, and your end game Gray Merchant and Corrupts. A deck like this costs under $20 at 3KL, and is a great way for a new player to have a deck that has a chance of being competitive if they ever come across some really old school players, and they don’t have to give up their college loan to afford it.
As a quick rehash, if you are not familiar with the Pauper format or did not read my previous article on it, Pauper is a format made up entirely of commons. All the standard rules to Magic apply with a 60 card (minimum) deck and a 15 card (maximum) sideboard. The major thing to note about Classic Pauper is that it allows for any card that has ever been printed at the common level to be used. Yes, even a card like Rancor. Speaking of…
So, like I did with my last Pauper article I am going to throw an extra bone at you, an alternative if you aren’t a control player is Green-White Hexproof. One of my personal favourites. The deck ‘runs on rails’ as it were, and is relatively easy for young or new players to pilot. It’s very simple in that you try and get your Hexproof creature down and then load it up with aura cards and beat your opponents face. “Cheap” and effective auras include Armadillo Cloak ($1.99 each), Rancor ($3.75), Ethereal Armor ($0.25 each), or it’s older and more effective brother Ancestral Mask ($0.49). Combined with aura’s like Abundant Growth ($0.25) that enchant your lands to mana fix, you can quickly make quite the untouchable beat stick of a creature.
So there you have two cheap and effective Pauper decks you can build for new players to help them get into Vintage.
Who says that Magic has to be expensive?