Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rebuilding Reaper King II: Attack of the Revenge

Let's finish rebuilding the Reaper King deck. Or perhaps building the Progenitus deck, depending on how you want to define it. But that's not important. Let's get down to strategy. The first question you have to ask when building a deck is "What exactly do I want to do with this deck?" More specific than just "Win", how do we plan to win, against what opponents? We should answer the "against what opponents" part first, it'll inform our further decisions.

I stated in my last article that I'm building this deck for generic EDH opponents, figuring on three at a time. I could build a deck with the express goal of beating my brother in duals but that'd require a significantly different strategy. (He plays Sharuum the Hegemon. Said deck would need a lot of artifact destruction and graveyard hate.) I don't know much about the EDH metagame proper, so I'll have to design with generic multiplayer in mind. Let's move on to the other half of the question.

How do I plan to win? With giant creatures swinging across the red zone, bashing people's faces in. Good, good. Last post I was referring to this as an aggro strategy. That's sort of innacurate. It's really hard to win with a true aggro strategy in multiplayer. Your creature rush might destroy one, maybe two opponents but then you'd be spent, and the rest of the table pick your teeth with you. What I'm building is a lot closer to a midrange deck; it's got bigger creatures and some control elements; stuff that deals with opposing creatures, stuff that draws you cards. The objective of an aggro strategy is to beat down your opponents before they have a chance to do anything about it. The objective of a midrange deck is to grind out card advantage over a long series of turns so when everybody's playing off the top of their deck you've still got a dragon in play. It's hard to gain card advantage in an absolute sense in multiplayer; one of your cards has to be worth more than each opponent's card. On the other hand though, your opponents will have to spend their resources on your other opponents as well, so it balances out. Still you want to practice your table talk to make sure they send most of their resources elsewhere.

So, more specifically, what constitutes a midrange strategy? The main point is that nearly every one of your cards has to have added value. The easiest place to see this is on kill spells. The card Corpsehatch is probably going to make it's way into my deck. Destroy target nonblack creature. Doomblade does it for 2B less. Corpsehatch also puts two manabugs onto the battlefield; 0/1 creatures that can be sacrificed for one mana. It trades one for one with their creature, but gives me the added value of the two Eldrazi Spawn tokens. If a card doesn't give added value, it ought to be very versatile or ultra-efficient. (Maelstrom Pulse or Terminate, for example).

I also want to put in as many Semi-soft locks as possible into the deck. "Semi-soft lock" is an excellent concept with a terrible name. Coined by Patrick Chapin, it refers to a card that will win you the game unless your opponent can neutralize it. This'd allow most any card (Grizzly bears only takes ten turns! That's a 2/1 advantage over Squire!), except that a true Semi-soft lock ought to be really hard to answer. Godsire (8 mana 8/8 that taps to put more 8/8s onto the battlefield) doesn't really qualify because he's actually not that hard to take down. Any kill spell that doesn't depend on damage, or low converted mana cost will off him. Progenitus, on the other hand does. There are only a couple things that'll deal with someone who has protection from everything, and a 10/10 body is enough to end the game on his own pretty quickly.

It might not be the right idea to use Semi-soft locks in multiplayer; they create really big effects and therefore enemies. If you Cruel Ultimatum someone then they might have trouble coming back from that, but someone else will see you don't get too powerful from it. I think it won't disrupt my politics too much if I leave them mostly on creatures. People are already planning their multiplayer decks to fight through waves of dragons so they'll be less unduly threatened by something huge hitting play or coming their way. At least that's how I'm rationalizing my already stated goal to play and swing with huge creatures.

One more question: What are they going to be doing to stop me? The first thing to know is that you don't strap them into the deathtrap and gloat; you strap them in, kill them and THEN gloat. Their bodies give much worse reactions but on the whole it's much safer. Not that I have much experience with world domination. But anyways. I plan to win through the red zone. The easiest way to stop me from doing that is by killing my creatures. I plan on midranging them until I've still got resources left and they don't. Since I can trade my creatures one for one with their removal spells (either directly with a terror or by forcing them to use a Wrath of God; I don't think I'll need to lay more than one dragon-sized creature at once with this deck)

More problematic are cards like Moat and to a lesser extent Ghostly Prison. Stuff that makes it really hard to attack them. I think I'll have to include some things that kill enchantments, but I don't want to include too many. Too many and I'm playing a control deck. I just want enough to kill the occasional moat effect and maybe disrupt a combo deck. Same sort of thing with artifact removal.

Speaking of combo decks, what exactly do I plan to do about combo decks? I plan on hoping that someone else will deal with them. Ok, not entirely, but I don't plan on putting too many resources to that effect. I could build a deck that could stop any combo at any time, but then it'd be a control deck, and wouldn't have nearly as much space in it for bashing with giant creatures. This goes against my primary goal of the deck. So I'm going to put in a few answers to combo decks, but nothing like the main focus. In particular I think I'll be ignoring combo pieces on the stack since answer require leaving mana up and I want to be able to tap out to drop huge creatures.

So now that I've gone over that, what exactly do I need to fit into the deck? Let's add them all up:

A lot of huge creatures
A lot of things to accelerate into them
A bunch of stuff that fixes my mana (five colors, remember?)
A couple things that draw me cards
A Couple ways to kill creatures, clear out blockers and let my creatures through
A couple answers to enchantments and other combo pieces.

Note that most of our cards ought to do two of these tasks. So let's take a look at what we've already got:

Big creatures (loosely defined): Worldheart Phoenix, Bringers of the Black and Green Dawn, Maelstrom Archangel, Lightning Reaver, Sedirs, the Traitor King, Magister Sphinx, Godsire, Malfegor, Meglonoth, Rude Awakening and Progenitus
Accelerants and fixer: 3 signets, all five obelisks, Fertile Ground, Prismatic Omen, Solemn Simulacrum
Card drawing: Etched Oracle, Life from the Loam, Fact or Fiction, Sylvan Library, Stroke of Genius:
Things that kill stuff: Austere Command, Nevinyrral's Disk, Obelisk of Alara, Bituminous Blast, Chandra Nalaar, Fire and Ice and Dominate.
Answers to combo pieces: Dimir Doppelganger, Puppeteer Clique, Aura of Silence, Night Soil

Total cards: 39. 100 less 39 is 61. Right now I've got 36 lands in the deck, I think I'm going to push that up to 40. I'd push it higher but there are mana accelerants too. Twenty one cards left. How am I going to spend those 21 cards?

I'd like at least one more card to deal with Artifacts and Enchantments. Austere Command and Disk should also be in that category, but they aren't exactly discriminate about their targets. Nantuko Vigilante makes the cut. Although not exactly the greatest answer it does leave behind a 3/2 body. 20 left.

I could use some more accelerants. Without putting too much effort into the search I'm pulling out Drumhunter. Drumhunter obviously has a lot of upside to this sort of deck. Also, I just got a Kozilek's Predator, which ought to make a great accelerant of it's own. And while I already expressed my dislike of shuffling in EDH, I guess I can't pass up one or two. Going to try Shard convergence, because if I'm going to be searching for basics I might as well get a couple at once. Also Ondu giant, because he comes with a real good size with him. I'm also going to play Khalni Gem; it's got a lot of potential downside as well as upside. I'd like to see it play before I reject it completely. Sacellum Godspeaker might get in depending on how many creatures top 5 power at the end. 15 cards left.

I think we're in a decent spot what with drawing cards; besides the cards that actively draw there are other sources of card advantage; the Unearth ability on the Traitor king or playing Worldheart Phoenix from the yard. I could use some more creature kill. There are always armies to fight through, and I'd rather be dealing my damage directly to people's faces. Adding Explosive Revelation, Corpsehatch and Word of Seizing to my deck. 11 left.

Anything else I want to put in? Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Ajani Vengeant get in. 9 left.

I've got a stack of giant, imposing creatures in front of me, and I've got to winnow it down to nine. Nine! Hardly enough. Paleoloth Charnelhoard Wurm make it in on the hopes of card advantage. Apocalypse hydra on the hopes of a truly epic size. Skyward Eye prophets because I might actually need to get more lands into play, even at six mana. Ulamog's Crusher because I can't have a huge creature deck without at least one Eldrazi. I'd have more if I owned them. Archon of Justice because it's hard to deal with, Kedereckt Leviathan because of the "bounce the world" trigger, Mindleach Mass because I'd love to see it in action and Deathbringer Thoctar because I love goblin sharpshooter so much. 0 cards left.

Done! That is, except for the mana curve, and the mana base, and all that. So not really close yet.

0 cards at converted mana cost 1.
9 at CMC 2
8 at CMC 3
10 at CMC 4
12 at CMC 5
8 at CMC 6
2 at CMC 7
6 at CMC 8
3 X spells
Progenitus at 10

That's entirely too much at 8. And not enough accelerating. A quick look at the cards at eight: Kedereckt Leviathan, Ulamog's Crusher, Nichol Bolas, Planeswalker, Mindleech Mass, Godsire and Rude Awakening. Guess which one doesn't fit. Goodbye Rude Awakening. I understand you make a decent EDH kill effect, but I need to switch you out for another mana accelerant. Something that doesn't cost me eight. What about Sacellum Godspeaker? I've got 13 creatures that'll count. On turn four when he comes down I'll have seen 11 cards. Rough calculation I'll have 11*13% appropriate creatures in hand, adds up to one or two. I think I'd like something better. Hello Harrow! The card I most regretted cutting earlier. Still not that happy with the curve; I mean I came into this knowing it'd be horrible but I'd like it to be... less horrible. I think I'm going to also include Fist of Suns. Lets you play anything for the low low cost of WUBRG. Seems good. Gonna cut Obelisk of Alara for it. Even though the obelisk is pretty cool it's not a creature and it is expensive.

Ok, what about the mana base, what distribution of lands do I need? First off, I intend to cast Progenitus as near to turn ten as I can manage. That puts a pretty hefty constraint on the distribution of colors. Secondly there are a number of things that need five colors on five. Bringers, Maelstrom Archangel, Fist of Suns activations. I'll want five color lands. Five color lands usually come with significant drawbacks. For example, Pillar of the Paruns is out; too many non-muliticolor cards/activated abilities. Same with Ancient Ziggurat, only creatures. Vivids all make it in. So does City of Brass; I'm more concerned about casting my spells than the one point of life, but this will be one of the first cards on the chopping block if it becomes necessary. Exotic Orchard comes in; random yes, but I expect it'll make at least three colors against three opponents. Rupture Spire makes it in easily; I can afford the two mana because my curve is so high. That's eight. I might take a reflecting pool out of reveillark if it turns out to be necessary.

I've got a cycle of Shards taplands to put in. 13. Nine of ten Ravnica bouncelands makes 22. Wish I could dig up a selesnia sanctuary. I'm going back and forth on including Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. On the one hand they're great at getting the colors I might be missing, but they do involve shuffling. They fix for five colors, but only for one turn; after that you're stuck with whatever basic you searched for. Gonna put them in for now. 24. Need sixteen more. The deck is pretty evenly split otherwise, but there are green mana accelerators that could use some more support. Right now I've got what, 14 green sources? Sixteen if you count the fetches. I still need all five colors though, so I'm going to just go with 3 of each basic with an extra forest. I'm tempted to put a Terrain Generator in there, but I need as much color as I can get. 21 ways to get green mana by turn three, should mean I have at least one to start my other green accelerants.

Actually, looking at the low end of the curve, I've still got Night Soil there. It's a great card, mind you, but reallynot what I need here. I've already got stuff that hits creatures in the yard (Dimir Doppelganger, for example) and CC is a lot harder for me to produce than CD (That is, double green is harder than, say, green white). Replacing him with Knight of the Reliquary. He's not going to be nearly as awesome in this deck than most because I have much fewer sac lands and cycle lands and what have you to intentionally make him huge. On the other hand, him alongside ravnica bouncelands is pretty sweet. Can you say card advantage? I expect him to get killed rather quickly, but that's part of the plan. He gets killed, then I drop a lightning reaver which gets ganked, then I play a Paleoloth that obviously needs to be answered, and then they've got nothing left when I get to Godsire. Or if they get him than they'll miss Progenitus. Or if they get him then maybe they won't be able to stop Magister Sphinx, or Apocalypse Hydra, or what have you.

Also, upon reviewing the cards Malfegor, you're getting cut. Look, I know you're shiny and all, but you force me to discard my hand, which I don't want to do. Also, BBRR cost is a little hard to swallow seeing as you're a six drop. Replacing you with blood tyrant at 7. Resleeving and counting it out I'm consitently coming up with only 98 cards. Which is odd, because I've got two cards sleeved still from the old version. Ok, ok, I can't count. Checking again, and checking against the curve from up above I've still got 98 cards. Guess I was over by one in my previous iteration of the deck. Last minute janky insertion: Cream of the Crop. Cream of the crop is a card that I always figure is better than it's letting on. Odds are it isn't, but you can see the appeal of using it in a deck with creatures this large.

Call it first draft done. Still by no means sure that it'll work out. I'm going to goldfish it a couple times now, see how it turns out.

After goldfishing, I have my doubts. Certainly the huge creatures are all kinds of fun, but I'm suspicious my opponents won't leave me alive long enough to use them. I think I'm gonna have to actually play the deck a couple times before I change it again though. So here's where it's going to have to rest for now. The final decklist:

Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
Vivid Grove
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Meadow
Dimir Aqueduct
Boros Garrison
Golgari Rot-farm
Izzet Boilerworks
Orzhov Basilica
Gruul Turf
Rakdos Carnarium
Azorius Chancery
Simic Growth Chamber
Seaside Citadel
Arcane Sanctum
Crumbling Necropolis
Savage Lands
Jungle Shrine
Evolving Wilds
Terramorphic Expanse
Rupture Spire
Exotic Orchard
City of Brass
3 Plains
3 Island
3 Swamp
3 Mountain
4 Forest

(Noncreature) Artifacts:
Obelisk of Bant
Obelisk of Esper
Obelisk of Grixis
Obelisk of Jund
Obelisk of Naya
Dimir Signet
Gruul Signet
Azorius Signet
Fist of Suns
Khalni Gem
Nevinyrral's Disk

Aura of Silence
Fertile Ground
Cream of the Crop
Prismatic Omen
Sylvan Library

Fire and Ice
Word of Seizing
Stroke of Genius
Bituminous Blast
Fact or Fiction

Life from the Loam
Austere Command
Shard Convergence
Explosive Revelation

Chandra Nalaar
Ajani Vengeant
Nichol Bolas, Planeswalker

Bringer of the Black Dawn
Bringer of the Green Dawn
Archon of Justice
Puppeteer Clique
Skyward Eye Prophets
Worldheart Phoenix
Ulamog's Crusher
Kozilek's Predator
Ondu Giant
Mindleech Mass
Dimir Doppelganger
Charnelhoard Wurm
Knight of the Reliquary
Nantuko Vigilante
Solemn Simulacrum
Sedris, the Traitor King
Deathbringer Thoctar
Lightning Reaver
Etched Oracle
Blood Tyrant
Maelstrom Archangel
Kedereckt Leviathan
Magister Sphinx
Apocalypse Hydra

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