I've been playing a lot more Magic lately. Life's never been this busy; I've been training BJJ much harder as I've started competing again (next competition coming up the weekend after GP Florence), and it feels that there's always work to do in Constructed for the next tournament. Maybe it's always been like that, but I only came to the realisation recently.
For GP Paris, I've been working on the Red/Black deck I played at PT DTK and GP Krakow with Patrick Dickmann. Later on, Jérémy Dezani joined us on the Dragon train, and we came up with the Mardu deck we eventually played (not to the best results I have to say).
But for a while I had been working on another deck, initially submitted by Manu Vernay, GP Amsterdam '97 champion and the mind behind “Frites.” Without further introduction, here's the deck I was very close to submitting at the GP:
One of the reasons I didn't play this deck is that I don't think this version is optimal. It felt I had a million options and didn't quite explore them all.
The deck is pretty much all morph creatures with cards meant to work with them. All creatures have a different impact on the game and the deck plays the way morphs play in Limited: your opponent never knows what's coming next.
While it can win with aggressive draws, the way to victory is very often very grindy and terribly frustrating for your opponent. Once your enchantments are in play, you'll be making a lot of card advantage, gaining life, and controling pretty much everything your opponent does until they either submit or let you go through the motion of attacking.
The key creature in the deck and a card that is very hard to find (card availability was an issue at GP Paris, just for this one, going up to 40-50€ a piece in shops). It's usually the first creature you're going to cast, either face-down on turn two if you played an Aether on turn one, or on turn three, usually face up. You really don't mind it being killed as it will come back very shortly. It provides you with an infinite supply of chump blockers when you're engaged in a long battle against Fleecemane Lions. It triggers Trail of Mystery when it's returned into play face down. When you have too many cards in hand (yes, there are situations where it does happen, when you're fetching lands and drawing multiple cards a turn), and you can discard it and immediately bring it back into play. The list of things you can do with Deathmist Raptor is long, and there's no doubt it's the real backbone of the deck.
The Raptors best bud. The “infinite loop” wouldn't work without this guy. As long as you have two Den Protectors “raising” each other, your Raptors are going to tag along. Its evasion ability comes in very handy to destroy Planeswalkers (such as Elspeth), and you'll often have the opportunity to have it pumped (with Trail of Mystery or Ghostfire Blade) so it's not getting blocked by Siege Rhinos. Of course, it will also bring back other fallen comrades who fit the situation best.
While you'll enjoy having the extra mana when it's tapped, you'll enjoy even more unmorphing it, drawing card in the process and casting other stuff.
All these creatures do very different things and determining which one is best is entirely metagame dependant.
Stratus Dancer is extremely valuable against Esper as it will counter Dig Through Time, Drown in Sorrow, Crux of Fate or any removal. At two mana, you have a 2/1 flyer, which isn't so bad when you want to engage the race early and have other creatures to follow up. As a 3/2 flyer, it's a good way to take the lead in a later race or to attack planeswalkers in the air.
Icefeather Aven is the other flying creature in the deck. As a 2/2 flyer for two, it has the same purpose as Stratus Dancer except that it will be able to block 1/1s. Its bounce ability is just another tool you can use. When Den Protector can rebuy about anything you play, you want to have the choice in the thing you can do (counter/disenchant/bounce).
Hidden Dragonslayer is one of the only ways you have to destroy your opponent's creatures directly. Although its megamorph cost is a little steep, the fact that you have so many morphs is a way to protect it. Your opponent will either have to guess correctly every time he kills one of your face-down creatures or decide not to kill them at all. Having Deathmist Raptor in your deck always makes the decision hard. It's one of the few ways you can gain life in the deck, which is extremely relevant when you're playing against Siege Rhino or Monored. Unfortunately it doesn't kill Stormbreath Dragon, and that's a pity as it makes the card one of the best against you.
Just like Deathmist Raptor, Dragon's Eye Savants is often “a miss” when your opponent tries to kill it. He puts you on a Dragonslayer? Bile Blight! Sorry man, it's a 0/6... Oooh, that feels good. It's not The Savants' only job. As a 0/6 it's a perfect way to hold the ground against Rhinos, Fleecemane Lions and other four-power beaters. The free to unmorph cost makes it the perfect way to surprise your opponent and bring back a Raptor with no mana up, and/or draw a card for free when Secret Plan is in play.
Along with all the morphs, we have…
The only one-drop of the deck. It's in many ways comparable to Aether Vial (is this why “Aether” is in both card names?); when you have it on turn one, the game is going to be so different and your chances of winning are increased by a lot. The games are much different when you're able to cast your morphs on turn two, or later in the game, play them and keep mana available to unmorph them.
The turn-into-a-creature effect is relevant only in very specific situations when you need to deal the last few points of damage. Even with a lot of lands on the board, you prefer to have the enchantment in play rather than a 2/2 that's likely to die. However, it's nice to have it as a backup after a wrath effect.
Unlike a lot of enchantments, having “too many” is never a problem. If you manage to have two or three of them in play, chances are you're pretty much “going off.”
Using Elvish Mystic as as “extra” Aether is a not-so-good idea. While you'll be able to cast a morph a turn earlier, it doesn't quite do the same in the long game. It's not a morph itself so it won't have any impact on the game once you draw it later than on turn one.
Before Dragons of Tarkir came out, we all tried to build a deck with this card but there were just not enough cards that went with it. Now we have megamorphs that have very powerful effects and that can be played as Grizzly Bears. For the long games, the deck relies on the card advantage generated by Secret Plans. It's very hard for your opponent to keep up with it when you start drawing two or three cards a turn. Some of your morphs are free to unmorph (Savants) or even nets you mana (Mystics). Along with Obscuring Aether, it makes for a cheap draw engine that will be hard to stop. If you have enough mana, you can bring back Deathmist Raptors face-down and draw a card for five mana, not exactly the best way to optimize your mana, but sometimes the engine fails and you have to restart it.
The +0/+1 bonus is nice to keep your creature safe from Drown in Sorrow and be able to block Coursers.
Trail of Mystery is a powerful addition to the enchantment mix. You have 20+ morph creatures to play, so after a couple of turns you'll have taken out most of the lands in your deck. Once you play it, and if unanswered, you're very unlikely to miss a land drop until the end of the game. It helps you fix your mana and gets you to the point where playing your morphs and unmorphing them on the same turn is not an issue.
The +2/+2 bonus is relevant most of the time when you have creature combat, but is also very useful when you need to kill an Elspeth for example. You can have your 5/4 Stratus Dancer fly over the defenses and kill Elspeth in one attack. Same goes for Den Protector when your opponent has Rhinos to block.
In a previous version I had four of them, but I had to make room for Mastery of the Unseen. You can't really cut in the creature count as the deck loses a lot in stability if you take out the core.
One of the problems I had in testing was that I would go low on life early, mostly because the morph strategy isn't exactly the fastest as it takes a few turns to set up, and because the manabase is also a little painful (Yavimaya Coasts and fetch lands). So I needed a way to gain life after I stabilized the board. Mastery of the Unseen does just that and generates manifest creatures. It pairs well with Icefeather Aven and Hidden Dragonslayer as you can pay less to unmorph them (as you can pay for their mana cost instead of their morph/megamorph costs).
Against slower decks like Esper Dragon, it's going to be a trump card that will provide card advantage easily.
Sure, you don't have Nykthos to fuel it like Green Devotion does, but it's still going to be very good.
It's a card I've been happy with but that needs more testing. In a UG morph deck that we had built for PT DTK we had a version with four of them. It's a nice addition to the tool mix, as it pretty much makes your Den Protectors unblockable and gives you a lot more flying power in case you need to race or kill a planeswalker. The question is, do you actually need to race when you're going to win the long game anyway?
This is the manabase that's been working fine for me so far, but I'm sure there's a way to make it better. You want to have green mana on turn one to play your Obscuring Aether, your blue mana on turn two to play Secret Plans and your white mana a little later in the game. The Temples are pretty much the 5th and 6th one-drops of the deck, they fix the mana a little bit, but unlike some of the decks in the format, come-into-play tapped lands really hurt. You want to be playing untapped lands, to always have more mana available every turn or even to activate Mastery of the Unseen. I don't think we want more Temples, but they are probably necessary to fix the manabase.
Since the deck has been changing over and over again, I'm not going to have sideboard plans just yet. However, I'm going to give you what I have right now:
2 Mastery of the Unseen
You board extra Masteries against Esper Dragons and Monored/Atarka Red. Against Red, you want to be able to leave the “red zone” and go up in life. They will put you on very low life if they have an average or a good start, and once you've stabilized, you need to gain life not to be burnt out. The Red matchup is extremely hard and if you want a reason not to play this deck, it would be because of this.
The extra Savants will be useful in the Red matchup as you want to have creatures to unmorph for free to gain life with Mastery of the Unseen, and against Abzan where you're going to need blockers in the early game to give you time to set up. It's also a very good target to exploit with Profaner of the Dead.
Monastery Flock plays the same role as Dragon's Eye Savants against Abzan, but is also a good way to fight off Mardu's Dragons. You only have Icefeather Aven to gain time against Stormbreath Dragon, so being able to hold it off for a couple of turns is very valuable. If you have a Blade or a Trail of Mystery, don't forget you can attack with it as a morph, and make it fly for a one-time hit.
Another card you have trouble with is Rabblemaster and tokens in general. Profaner of the Dead is a great card against Hordeling Outburst and all the decks that plan to overwhelm you with bunch of small creatures. You also want a couple of these against Abzan after board to clean the board before your lethal attack. Sac a Savants and bounce all the Hexproof/Indestructible Lions.
When facing Green Devotion, you want to make sure they don't go off with Mastery of the Unseen. They have more mana than you do, and you won't be able to fight them on their ground.
Not sure yet when to board this in, it's there for now until I figure out exactly when it's the best time to play it.
As you've probably understood by now, the deck is good but isn't perfect yet. It has problems against Monored, has a hard time dealing with Stormbreath Dragon and could use a better manabase. Doromoka's Command is a bit of a problem when you're on the draw against Abzan and they manage to two-for-one you early in the game, but otherwise, you make enough card advantage to suck up a couple of these.
In the first place, Manu submitted a five-color version with black for Grim Haruspex and red for Ire Shaman. I tried a few other cards like Silumgar Assassin and Kolaghan Stormbringer but eventually ended up cutting both red and black to have a seemingly more stable three-color version.
The deck is still a work in progress, and there's a lot of room for improvement. I'm not sure we can turn around the red matchup, but the deck is surprisingly good and extremely fun to play.
I recorded a few videos with it and you'll probably have a chance to catch them either here or on YouTube sometimes soon.
In any case, give it a try, I'm sure you'll at least enjoy your time playing it.
Raph Twitter: @hahamoud