Seedborn Musings – Winning with Junk

I admit that the article title could be my column title; I don’t think there’s a lot of dispute there.  But for me there’s something special about getting a pile of weird cards tuned just right so that it wins without anyone remembering what beat them amongst the oddities.  Whether the interactions are obscure or the cards aren’t powerful by themselves, there’s not much that’s more satisfying than winning with junk.  To that end, here are some decks that look like I listed random cards but are actually killing machines.  Each link is a Gatherer visual spoiler of the deck.


4 Surveilling Sprite
4 Darkslick Drake
4 Phyrexian Ingester
2 Body Double

4 Ichor Wellspring
4 Mycosynth Wellspring
4 Piston Sledge
4 Proteus Staff
4 Spine of Ish Sah

3 Read the Runes

I built this a couple weeks ago, thinking I’d need to tweak the weirdness to get it to do something; to my surprise, it worked right the first time, and it continues to be a favorite.  Its flexibility has me playing it a lot in Emperor, since our group picks decks and then rolls randomly for seats (to avoid getting overly collusive).

So what does it even do?  Well (spring), it draws cards.  Lots of cards.  As a guy who always seemed to draft the all Darkslick Drake deck in triple Scars, I have a soft spot for the drake, and abusing its graveyard trigger is fun.

Occasionally you get the nuts beatdown of turn 2 Surveilling Sprite into turn 3 Piston Sledge, wailing on a random person for awhile.  (Turn 4 second Piston Sledge works too.)  But the main thing is that your Sprites and Drakes set up your defenses while the Wellsprings and blockers draw you into whatever you’re looking to do that game.  Piston Sledge can reuse your Wellsprings in the midgame while enabling recurring Spines in the endgame (which is one of the major plans here).  The other endgame is using Proteus Staff (which has surprising defensive value) to chain Phyrexian Ingesters/Body Doubles once the Sprites and Drakes have done their defensive duty, spending a few mana every turn to deal with the nastiest creatures and eventually swing.  This plan also allows multiple Proteus Staves to be useful rather than redundant; two of them means I’m probably going to be exiling the two best creatures on the board every turn, which gets the job done in a long multiplayer game.

The real glue here, however, is Read the Runes, which I built around to be absurd here.  Since it’s an instant, you can cast it after you block with the things you intend to sacrifice.  On turn 4 in a large multiplayer, I blocked with a Surveilling Sprite, then cast this to draw 3 cards and sacrifice the Sprite and one of each Wellspring (i.e. drawing 3 more cards) rather than discard.  I don’t remember the exact board, but I do remember drawing 6 cards for 4 mana at instant speed, which is even better when the Wellsprings already gave you cards.  It’s no coincidence that decks with 8 Wellsprings showed up all over the Scars of Mirrodin block Pro Tour earlier this month; if you have something to do with them they’re high-quality.  Here’s as good a place as any to show that off.


4 Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
4 Grizzled Leotau
4 Pale Recluse
4 Selesnya Guildmage
4 Masako the Humorless
4 Shepherd of the Lost
3 Ivory Giant
2 Jareth, Leonine Titan

3 Glare of Subdual

3 Prismatic Strands
2 Accelerated Mutation

Although it’s mostly a bulk rare now, Glare of Subdual had a great run in Standard, being one of the breakout decks of 2005 Worlds.  The Selesnya Guildmage in that decklist is here as well, and for good reason; even as they work pretty nicely together, they team with a range of similar cards.  Now, in that Standard deck there’s a lot of raw power – Jitte and Kodama of the North Tree I mean, not Wood Elves and Seed Spark – but in mine there’s not so much.  So what does it even do?

Mostly, it kills people with Shepherd of the Lost and a soft lock.  Early creatures such as the Guildmage and the Leotau set things up for Glare of Subdual to contain the biggest threats, but the primary power comes from the Glare-Masako synergy.  I can attack with Shepherd of the Lost on my turn, then tap an opponent’s creature on their turn while still getting to block with the Shepherd.  When your board is all 1/5s and 4/5s and 3/3 first strikers, it’s difficult to swing through, especially when I might just tap one remaining creature to flash back Prismatic Strands and cause a blowout.

Jareth doesn’t show up as often as I’d like but he’s obviously good when he’s around, benefiting from Masako like the rest, while Accelerated Mutation pushes the last bit of damage through while taking advantage of Guardian’s (better known to me as Lime Popsicle Guy off its artwork) and Ivory Giant’s high mana costs.  The Giant serves as a pseudo-finisher, coming in off suspend as a hasty Sleep and allowing my very defensive team to swing for a surprising amount of damage.

Because of its intended workings, the deck’s extreme rattlesnake tendencies make it difficult for opponents to determine a solid plan of attack against it.  Mind you, it’s a sloooow deck, so there’s time in the early game to finish it if somebody wants to, but nothing ever feels brutal enough to trigger anyone’s ire.  I mean, there’s the guy with the Djinn of Wishes and there’s the guy with the Grizzled Leotau; excepting Jareth, there’s nothing that screams must-kill in my deck.  But the ability to get double duty out of the creatures I’m tapping to tap your side makes me hard to deal with.  I don’t need a stream of tokens to keep you down, just Masako the Humorless.  And it’s beautiful when that’s a true statement.


4 Deathbringer Thoctar

4 Screams from Within
4 Night of Souls’ Betrayal

4 Dingus Staff

4 Growth Spasm
4 Mogg Infestation
4 Bitter Ordeal

4 Moment’s Peace
4 Mercy Killing

This deck’s even slower, but it’s one of the crown jewels of my style of deck design.  It has partially interchangeable combo pieces so that I don’t need to draw all of them to win.  It has cards with few uses outside this deck.  It does things that typical decks aren’t prepared to handle.  And it has tons of kills out of nowhere.

The core idea of the deck is making token creatures so I can kill them.  I can accomplish the token making in a few ways.  Mercy Killing normally is my setup piece since it deals with an attack phase.  Growth Spasm sometimes will start a chain of events, especially if Deathbringer Thoctar is out.  Mogg Infestation usually is a combo kill piece, but I’ll use it to deal with a difficult board if I have to.

Once the tokens are in place, I have numerous ways of killing them.  Deathbringer Thoctar is well-known for doing this; Night of Souls’ Betrayal did so in Extended for a little while (and the damage prevention angle to it is highly relevant to this 4-creature deck).  Screams from Within can do most of the same thing while also softening creatures up for the Thoctar to kill them.  If I want to get ridiculous, Mogg Infestation can kill the tokens and make more tokens as well if that’s what ought to happen.

But why do I want to kill so many tokens?  Once again, there are a few reasons I might want to make a bunch of squishy creatures.  Dingus Staff is the bone-crushing one; if you have 4 creatures and I have Dingus Staff and Night of Souls’ Betrayal out, Mogg Infestation is instantly lethal.  (It is always hilarious when this happens.)  Killing them with a Thoctar out means I get to burn someone to the face, assuming I’m not using the Thoctar to kill said tokens.  The third reason isn’t as deadly, but it’s epic nonetheless; I can Bitter Ordeal the win conditions out of several decks at once (since each copy can target a different player).  Bitter Ordeal is why Screams from Within is in the deck; since the aura is going to the graveyard for each thing it kills, it counts as a new permanent dying every time that it does, basically doubling my gravestorm count for Ordeal copies.  I’ve been known to exile 25 cards at once.  That tends to win games.

As for Moment’s Peace…the deck is so slow that it not only needs damage prevention but it needs it with flashback.  It’s saved my skin many a time.

This deck is a tricky one; I had many iterations of it that didn’t work before this one clicked, and to swap one card would create a chain of swapping out other cards, since they’re all semi-reliant on each other.  That said, if you can deal with the occasional slowness and having a 4-creature deck without counterspells, this is a blast to play as it’s working, since most of the kills involve giving your opponents creatures.  I don’t know Mogg Infestation’s initial intended function, but I give it some major love here, and that’s always good for something.


Those are three very different decks all operating under the same basic Seedbornian principles.  You can make a deck that looks like a random pile but has a winning plan behind it and get there far more often than you’d think.  Underrated/overlooked decks are fun to bring to multiplayer because A) the stories always are great and B) with the right subtlety and game plan you can keep a deck perpetually in that stage so that nobody views it as The Threat.  Does an Ichor Wellspring or a Mercy Killing signal that I must die?  Of course not, but I’m on my way to destroying you without you feeling a thing until the end.  Hope you enjoy it.


About Brandon Isleib

Author of Playing for a Winner: How Baseball Teams' Success Raises Players' Reputations; sometimes-writer at GatheringMagic and Muse Vessel; card name/flavor text team for Magic 2015; Wizards of the Coast's first Digital Event Coordinator; directly responsible for the verb "create" on Magic cards; legislation editor for Seattle; voracious music consumer; Christian.
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9 Responses to Seedborn Musings – Winning with Junk

  1. Sarroth says:

    Great article! Each deck looks fun in it’s own way. I must admit to enjoying winning with Junk occasionally; I have a deck that runs Words of Wilding and Fa’adiyah Seer for tokens every turn. It’s not fast enough to really beet aggro decks and the tokens aren’t big enough to beat ramp…but it’s fun without being too overpowered. I built it to play against beginning players rather than bringing out the big guns.
    Might I suggest using and linking to decks there rather than the gatherer method? It shows the cards in a similar way, but also allows players to look at the mana curve, color production to need ratio, and to playtest it to see firsthand what you’re talking about.

  2. Seedborn Muse says:

    We’ll look into and see if its format works for us. Thanks for the suggestion.

    The only time I’ve used Fa’adiyah Seer was in a monogreen threshold/dredge deck that also had two Swamps just to activate Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. It was a fun deck – had a lot of 2-ofs, which drove me batty, but the combination of graveyard mechanics was quite fun, especially when tapping the Seer just meant you got to dredge randomly on your turn. The deck was something like:

    4 Wild Mongrel
    4 Werebear
    4 Fa’adiyah Seer
    4 Krosan Tusker
    3 Basking Rootwalla
    2 Arrogant Wurm
    2 Gurzigost
    2 Golgari Grave-Troll

    3 Moldervine Cloak

    2 Elephant Resurgence

    Some other things

    Just having a purpose for Elephant Resurgence was fun enough for me.

  3. Stidjen says:

    Those Gatherer links are really cool, but it would be even more awesome if Wizards would open their decklist forms to the public.

  4. Jules says:

    I really enjoyed getting to see some of your famed deck-building skill, and I must say it lives up to expectations. These decks are all really interesting; I only wish this method of deck-building weren’t so difficult to replicate in Commander without 9,001 tutors.

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      I had no idea my skill was famed, Jules. 🙂 I aim to please.

      SOME ideas in this vein are replicable in Commander, depending on the redundancy or near-redundancy of the pieces, the latter being the more crucial point. Soft lock pieces tend to excel in this regard, as many of them are decent by themselves. My Sen Triplets list, a Cleric-Zombie-based list, has the nasty combo of Divine Presence and Battletide Alchemist to prevent all damage that would be dealt to me, but drawing either one tends to be good on its own. Looking through the decks and recalling my own experiences, defensive pieces that combo into the ultimate goal seem to be the best ways of doing this. (This might be a rephrasing of the virtues of planeswalkers that protect themselves.) The more pieces that don’t have to be in the hand at the same time or can affect the board by themselves, the more you can build a Commander deck like that.

  5. Vrag says:

    You seem to use the same style of deckbuilding that I do. Four of almost every card. Only worry about my combo. Recently I’ve gotten frustrated though when playing multiplayer games. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “I wish I put a disenchant in this deck”. Do you ever find it frustrating not adding answers to your decks? There have been so many times that I would have been able to do some craze play if it weren’t for that one card shutting me down.

    • Seedborn Muse says:

      Honestly, I don’t find it frustrating because I have many decks and prefer coming at things from bizarre angles. My focus on redundant combo pieces is an answer to a certain group of problems (i.e. their answers), leaving me less opportunity to put in my own answers. It’s a tradeoff that I accept.

      There’s a guy in our playgroup who’s also a Muse Vessel reader, and HE’s the crazy play, dies-to-one-card type. I toned down my decks so he could do his thing and so people who borrowed my decks wouldn’t play weird, drawn-out games. He and I went to decking this week when his Murderous Redcap/Sigil Captain/Scarland Thrinax infinite damage/life/counters/tokens deck couldn’t get through my 4 Ghosts of the Innocent or Souls of the Faultless, while I couldn’t Devouring Greed him for much considering he was at 1200 life.

      No, these decks aren’t my crazy side. My Mishra, Artificer Prodigy deck that ran Conspiracy set to Scarecrow so I could get out Reaper King and chain Ornithopters to destroy permanents was crazy, or the Topsy Turvy/Mirror-Sigil Sergeant/Mirrorweave deck.

      I have several decks with answers built into the combo. My Kavu Predator/Fiery Justice deck uses Wild Pair to find the Predator (or just to have one Blitz Hellion find another!), so I also have Thornscape Battlemage/Viridian Shaman in there. Swords to Plowshares aids the central combo, so it’s there, and Pure//Simple is another great answer.

      Some of my decks have combos small/unique enough that I have space left over for answer cards. Other combos, in order to get sufficient redundancy to make it worth assembling, need all 36 slots to work out, so no answers go there. But if I’m hated out by something, I’ll just pick a more answer-heavy deck for the next game and see if I win this time.

      @Vrag: What are some of your favorite things to assemble, and what cards do you find stop you the most?

      • Vrag says:

        I was talking in a more general sense nothing really specific. Often I’m in the same spot of needing all 36 slots for the combo. I was just curious if it was my metagame, or that was a common problem for Johnnies. That is a good approach, that I should focus more on, of just playing a deck with more answers the next game.

        I have a good mix up of decks with answers and decks without, but it seems that certain decks without get shut down so much that I find myself rebuilding them to put some defense/answers in. I find the necessity to do that a little frustrating and was wondering if I was just approaching it wrong.

        A few examples:
        Verdant Force/Followed Footsteps/Verdant Embrace/Iridescent Drake/Pattern of Rebirth. There’s been quite a few times where I wished I had a Boomerang/Naturalize, etc. There’s plenty of ways to change this deck around to make it able to punch through soft locks, but I feel like I’m breaking the spirit of the deck.

        Souls of the Faultless/Wall of Hope/Wall of Souls/Simulacrum/Blaze of Glory. This was a very Rattlesnake type deck. Thankfully I found Gideon/Martyrdom/Spitemare. Haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but it should work better. This was another deck though that got benched for a long time because direct damage, or any kind of removal just shut it down.

        My playgroup tends to play very passively. You know, sit there and build up without attacking until you can pretty much kill everyone in one turn. Sometimes this leads to a bit of a stalemate due to multiple effects being in play. This is another time where I wish I had answers in the deck just so I could end the long drawn-out game and get to a new one.

        I guess I just need to accept that my style of creating wacky combos for huge effects leads to some games where I don’t really do much of anything. I’ll have to keep resisting the urge to put Swords/Disenchant, Boomerang, Doomblade, Naturalize, and Shatter in every applicable deck.

  6. Seedborn Muse says:

    A passive playgroup does exacerbate the need for offensive flexibility. For my part, I don’t consider an answer card an actual answer unless I have at least 6 of the effect in there, or at least a 4-of with a partially redundant answer in some other cards. It’s a rule of thumb more than anything, but unless you KNOW the game’s going to go long, a 4-of isn’t reliable enough for my tastes.

    Have you read my Decktagon article by any chance? If you haven’t, I think it would help you assess the tradeoffs you’d like to make with your deck. Basically in my terminology you’re looking to up deck flexibility while being worried about consistency (it isn’t depth because all 36 cards are going into your plan).

    It sounds like you might want to add this Gatherer search to your favorites:

    This is all creatures that have destroy effects of some kind or another. Your decks look like they would enjoy creature-based solutions more than anything else, since you like to build around creatures. For example, your Followed Footsteps deck could have Acidic Slime or Indrik Stomphowler in it as a thing to copy, since an endless stream of 2/2 deathtouchers or 4/4s is going to get there a lot anyway.

    In your Wall deck, if your playgroup would let you get away with it, Zzzyxas’s Abyss would be awesome for you because you have so many W and S cards. There don’t seem to be obvious synergy fits otherwise, but of the available options I’d choose Patrician’s Scorn for no other reason than it being often free can hassle some decks. If you hold up one mana on a pivotal turn and play Martyrdom then Patrician’s Scorn you might blow some people out.

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