On Sunday night following Worlds in Nice, after I had some time to recover from my “PTD,” I started thinking of my next Magic tournament. I had booked for GP Milan, and as soon as I had booked, I regretted it. Why would I do that to myself? I had been working/overdoing stuff for more than six weeks and I needed a break, but instead I put myself in another Modern tournament.
I'm not the kind of person to easily be down or think negative. I thought, “Ok Raph, enough b***hing, more brewing.” So at Nice airport, I started to put together a deck I had in mind for a while but couldn't quite get there.
As I mentioned in my Worlds report, Jéremy and I worked to find a good deck that could include Rest in Peace main deck. Then I thought that Leyline of the Void isn't that far away from RIP. So I needed to find a way to include it in a deck, either main or sideboard, that could play more than one without being too hindered if you drew too many. And of course, I remembered my favorite card, Faithless Looting. I tried for a very long time to make Vengevine work and I've definitely given up on that. So I looked at another shell. I also noticed that the card Smallpox would be huge in this format. Against all the combo decks, it takes a lot of their resources away. On the play against creature decks, it can be a total blowout. So that was a start.
With Smallpox in your deck, you want to play a grindy game that doesn't really allow you to play aggressive creatures. With Delver being a real player in the format, you need to be able to play your threats for cheap, otherwise you'd lose too much tempo to a Mana Leak or a Remand. I thought of a reanimator strategy, with Griselbrand and Goryo's Vengeance, but I couldn't come up with anything good enough. So I worked around Life from the Loam and graveyard strategies.
After two days of testing on my own, and posting pretty good results on Magic Online, this is the deck I came up with:
Smallpox is an extremely powerful spell. The problem with that card is its symmetrical effect that keeps you from putting it in many decks. The conditions to play it are as follow:
-Play heavy black to be able to cast it on turn two, and that means play as few lands that don't produce black as possible.
-Not play one-drop creatures or an aggressive strategy.
-Be able to not hinder your game plan too much, even after losing a land and a card in hand.
Our deck wants to be heavily black, it doesn't play early creatures, it doesn't care and even better, it benefits from discarding cards and it can retrieve the lands from the graveyard thanks to Life from the Loam.
Smallpox is good in almost every matchup. Against everything that's trying to beat you down with creatures, it will take away the first creature, slow your opponent down, and enable you to discard either a Dredge card, a Lingering Souls or a Bloodghast. Most of the combo decks in the format need a certain amount of lands to win. Taking away one of them can be extremely painful for them, delaying them two or three turn, allowing you to disrupt their strategy with more discard spells or land destruction (i.e. Tectonic Edge against Scapeshift).
There's only one deck that doesn't care that much about Smallpox, and that's a reason why it's also the worst matchup: Pod (more on that later).
The mana of this deck allows you to play one of the most efficient removal spells in the format. Abrupt Decay takes care of most of the cards that you need to destroy. There's nothing better to kill a Tarmogoyf, a Scavenging Ooze, a Young Pyromancer, a Deceiver Exarch and the list goes on.
Once again, no reason to not play the best discard spell in the format, although there would be arguments to play Inquisition of Kozilek instead. You don't really have ways to gain life and that can be relevant in some games. However, being able to discard key spells like Scapeshift , Primeval Titan, and Birthing Pod makes up for the loss of life.
Raven's Crime is not exactly the card you want to have in your opening hand. However, when you dredge it away, it usually becomes a huge problem for you opponent. If you manage to untap and resolve a Life from the Loam, your opponent will end up empty-handed. It allows you to control the size of their hand as well in the mid-game. The other retrace spell available is Flame Jab. I believe the heavy red mana commitment isn't worth it, especially since we have another spell that does almost the same thing, but I could see trying to fit one in there.
This is another reason I love this deck. Darkblast is a card I try to fit in many decks but it never really makes the cut as it doesn't go well with their strategies. In a format where Delver is everywhere, being able to kill a Delver of Secret or a Young Pyromancer for one mana at instant speed is huge, especially when they know that from then on, they won't have either of them sticking to the table for too long. Against Affinity, it gives you a chance to win game one by killing the Inkmoth Nexus, Blinkmoth Nexus, the Signal Pests and the Vault Skirges.
I started with four Liliana but it's just too expensive. I like having two as it's another way to control your opponent's hand size and bigger creatures that you can only take out with Smallpox (not Abrupt Decay). Against Scapeshift or control/combo decks, it's more or less another win condition. It doesn't shine too much against Delver or Pod but this deck is about having answers to almost everything, and if you can't play it, you can just discard it somehow. The Tools
Life from the Loam is one of the key cards of the deck and serves many purposes:
-It brings back your lands and utility lands. It's not unusual to play a Life from the Loam on turn two to bring back a fetch land and start dredging as soon as turn three to fill your graveyard and make sure you're not missing a land drop. It also brings back Tectonic Edges: a whole plan to win games against very grindy matchups like Scapeshift and UWr.
-It fuels your Zombie Infestation.
It's a great card that you don't really want in multiple in your starting hand, and since you have ways to dig, you will see one at some point when you need it.
My all-time favorite card is finally back in one of my decks! Faithless Looting has also a lot of use including:
-Digging for dredge cards/answers/lands (any card you need, basically).
-Discard your Lingering Souls/Bloodghasts therefore using the discard effect to your advantage.
-Dredge extra cards when you have Life from the Loam or Darkblast in the graveyard.
And all that plus a flashback ability.
The last time I played Squee was in 1999 in my Survival of the Fittest deck (make sure you check that match if you want to see some old school Magic. Aaaah, no-sleeved black bordered Duals...)
Back then it was a source of card advantage with Merfolk Looter and Survival of the Fittest. Its goal here is to give you a “free card” to discard every turn if you don't have anything else to discard to a Smallpox, a Liliana or a Faithless Looting, but most importantly, it fuels the Zombie Infestation. With Zombie Infestation in play, you are guaranteed to have a 2/2 every turn. Squee is just a free card when you dredge it away.
Sometimes, it comes up handy to play the goblin to attack or to block a Tarmogoyf every turn to give you time to find an answer. The Win Conditions
Lingering Souls is one of the few cards that can be cast from the graveyard and win on its own. We've already seen that we had many ways to put it there, but we can also hardcast it if we need to.
While Lingering Souls was an easy card to find, Bloodghast wasn't that obvious. It is a “free” creature you can get back from your graveyard by playing a land, not something too hard to do when you run Life from the Loam and fetch lands. The creatures you're bringing back don't need to be very big. A Bloodghast or two will do the job just fine in a format where you only need to deal 15 points of damage.
The other good point for Bloodghast is that it's virtually unkillable. It doesn't matter how many times it dies, it will always come back. You can sacrifice it with a Smallpox (and spare your zombie or Spirit Tokens) and it will be back in time for the attack step if your opponent is at 10 or less life.
The only win condition that you can't play from your graveyard. Zombie Infestation fits the deck very well as it helps you put your dredge cards in the graveyard and win the game in a fast way, which is not always easy with Lingering Souls and Bloodghast. The combination with Squee and Life from the Loam makes it a reliable generator of tokens without losing cards: the reason why this card isn't really playable in other decks. The lands
You want your fetches to go get the colored mana you need, black end either green, red, or white. Unless you have a Looting in hand, you'll go for an early Overgrown Tomb as you can cast more cards with green mana (unless you count Squee), but especially because you can bring the fetch land back with Life from the Loam and fetch for the red mana. You'll very rarely need the Godless Shrine, but it doesn't cost too much to run one as you don't want to not be able to cast your Lingering Souls. You definitely need more than one green source that you can fetch, so two Overgrown Tomb is the right number. The Blackcleave Cliffs is an easy way to cast your Faithless Lootings without too much pain in the early game.
You'll need both the Swamps and the Forest to play “painless” against aggressive strategies as well as to play around Blood Moon.
I used to run a Treetop Village but I barely ever activated it to attack. Tapping three lands to attack is just not what you want to do. Even if it's virtually unkillable thanks to Life from the Loam, it takes too much time to activate, bring it back, play it tapped and activate again.
There was no other utility land I wanted to include as the life gain lands didn't quite fit in, neither did the other man-lands. Maybe you'll have more ideas? Sideboard and Matchups
-2 Raven's Crime
-2 Liliana of the Veil
Game one against affinity isn't easy and depends mostly on their draw. You might be too low on life at the time you stabilize and you're missing cheap removal to deal with everything. However, game two and three are very hard to lose. The matches I played against affinity went pretty much the same, after a couple of turns: they end up with an empty board. Smallpox destroys their lands and you kill most of their critters. You start dredging as much as you can and hit as many Ancient Grudges as you can. Vs. Twin
+2 Ancient Grudge
+3 Leyline of the Void
-1 Liliana of the Veil
-2 Lingering Souls
You have quite some game against Twin. Your clock might not be super fast, but you have disruption in the form of Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, and eventually Tectonic Edge. You want to bring in Ancient Grudge to fight a sideboarded Batterskull and Spellskite, as well as Leyline of the Void to Nullify their Snapcaster Mages and their Dig Through Time. Vs. Scapeshift
This matchup is pretty good as they leave you just enough time to play with your Tectonic Edge and destroy their lands every turn. Smallpox also delays them a lot and their Obstinate Baloth won't match your Smallpox very well (if they discard it and have no other creature, they have to sacrifice it). Just be careful when you play a Raven's Crime or activate Liliana's +1.
Sometimes they board in Chalice of the Void and Batterskull. It's up to you if you want to board in Ancient Grudge or not. It's not clear whether you want Abrupt Decay or not against them. Maybe they have Tarmogoyf in the board and you don't want to be helpless against that.
Originally, my sideboard included two Choke, a fourth Thoughtseize and a third Golgari Charm. It had good matchups against pretty much everything but had a very hard time against Pod and Burn. So I switched them for three Tombstalkers and two Magma Sprays, making the blue matchups (where Choke was great) a little harder, but the two very bad matchups winnable.
Without the Tombstalkers, the matchups went pretty much always the same way. You managed to control their board, even though doing so against Voice of Resurgence and Kitchen Finks is terribly hard (when you don't, you just lose), you hit them for quite a lot, but they would eventually win when they hit their pod and just overpower you. With the Tombstalker plan, you have a more serious win condition. The big problem was that you couldn't quite close the game. Bloodghasts were blocked by Wall of Roots and as soon as you over-extended with Spirit Tokens, Orzhov Pontiff killed them all at once. So unless they have Path to Exile after board, they don't really have a way to deal with Tombstalker. Sure, you have to draw your win conditions with this plan, but in that matchup, there's not a lot you want to mill anyway.
+2 Golgari Charm
+2 Magma Spray
+3 Leyline of the Void
-2 Liliana of the Veil
-2 Raven's Crime
Leyline of the Void does a crazy job in this matchup. When the Delver player can't play his Treasure Cruises or can't benefit from his Snapcaster Mages, you only have to one-for-one his threats to win. Abrupt Decay takes care of everything without fearing a countermagic, Smallpox deals with Geist of Saint Traft in case they board it in, Darkblast kills pretty much everything but Tarmogoyf and Swiftspears and Golgari Charm deals with the Elemental Tokens as well as the Pyromancer all at once. Don't get caught off-guard by a Blood Moon. You have many ways to play around it (basic lands, Abrupt Decay, and Golgari Charm), so just be careful.
+1 Zombie Infestation
+2 Magma Spray
-2 Liliana of the Veil
-1 Raven's Crime
The other matchup I had a hard time with was burn. Your clock is just too slow if you don't hit Zombie Infestation. However, having it online on turn two is your best option to win. You can block all their creatures easily, you don't take any damage from Eidolon of Great Revel every time you put a Zombie into play. And that's also why I wanted Tombstalker in the deck. It's not unusual to be able to play it on turn three, and it provides the clock you're missing to beat burn.
Vs. Jeskai Ascendency
+1-2 Golgari Charm
+3 Leyline of the Void
+2 Magma Spray
Outs : depends on the version.
There are a bunch of different versions of this deck, but you'll have what it takes to fight it. Sometimes the Golgari Charm will even be better when they run Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise: you can kill all of these or destroy the Ascendency. Magma Spray can deal with a Fatestitcher (that you can't really kill easily if it hits the board).
With two Pods making the finals at GP Milan, the deck definitely took a hit. However, there might be a plan I haven't explored yet to turn this matchup around. You can't really afford playing Seismic Assault in this version, but it's definitely a card that would mean trouble for Pod.
I've had a ton of fun playing and tuning this deck, and making it as competitive as possible. It's very stable and it doesn't suffer as much from graveyard hate as other graveyard oriented decks. It's still under construction and I'm sure there's a lot of room for improvement.
I would definitely have played it at Grand Prix Milan if all my flights to Italy hadn't been canceled at the last minute. It is however very hard to play and a little counter-intuitive, especially for the land drops and the dredging.
In any case, if you're looking for something fairly new in Modern, you should give it a try!
Take care and happy holidays!