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.