Random Technology: Always Bet On Black

Feature Article from Josh Lytle
Josh Lytle
submit to reddit » Print «

"Have you ever played roulette?"
"On occasion…"
"Yeah, well here's a word of advice for you--ALWAYS BET ON BLACK!!!"
- Passenger 57

Back when Homelands was released, Magic wasn't doing so well. Fallen Empires had just flooded the market and sent the game into its Great Depression. Card values dropped, and Homelands didn't help anything by sucking. We used to joke whenever we saw a Serrated Arrows: "Hey look! A Homelands set!" We weren't far off. Although a few other cards ended up being good (Memory Lapse, Ishan's Shade, Merchant Scroll), for the most part Homelands was Magic's worst Constructed expansion.

Until now.

I don't know if Legions is worse than Homelands was, but it's a pretty close battle. Fortunately, Legions is an excellent Limited expansion but the all-creature theme isn't that great for Constructed. Whenever a new set is introduced to an environment, most of the impact cards end up being spells and enchantments. Players basically already have a list of the best creatures to choose from for each color, and printing creatures that are better than those isn't easy. If R&D wanted to make Legions more playable, then they would have had to render obsolete many of the staple creatures from other sets. I'm guessing R&D thought this was a bad thing. And so do I.

I can't blame R&D. After all, Onslaught was a great Constructed set so they had little leeway. And Booster Drafts are the primary seller of product anyway. So Legions will make its mark, and we'll be done with it.

So why the history lesson you ask? Well, I've been working on a deck that uses an entire set of Legions! At least, in the same way Serrated Arrows was an entire set of Homelands. Black seems to have received the power cards this time around. While a few other cards will probably see play, nothing compares to the power of Graveborn Muse, Bane of the Living, and Withered Wretch.

It seems like everyone and their left-handed brother is trying to abuse Graveborn Muse. And they should be. The Black muse is one of the most interesting cards in the set. But I think most of the deck designs I've seen online have been misled. The Graveborn Identity is the name floating around for a deck based on Graveborn Muse and Words of Worship. Don't get me wrong; if you ever get both those cards in play you are sure to be doing extremely abusive things. But the problem is you have to splash White for a generally bad card, which affects not only your mana base but your card quality as well. Necro decks of old could have more easily splashed White for cards like Gerrard's Wisdom but they never did. Why do you ask? Well, drawing cards for one life each is a good enough deal on its own. And Black has life gain too!

I started drafting designs for Zombie decks that could fully abuse Graveborn Muse. A quick search online revealed that Zombies were generally high-quality creatures. But having so many Zombies to choose from was a double-edged sword. Finding the correct number and mix of Zombies to appropriately support the Graveborn would take some testing.

My first version of the deck tried to be as aggressive as possible, playing quality cheap Zombies like Festering Goblin (Zombie Goblin) and Wretched Anurid (Zombie Beast). The deck also contained Nantuko Husk (Zombie Insect) and Oversold Cemetery, a mid-range control strategy that was pretty good at States last year. I quickly came to realize that the Oversold Cemetery deck and the Graveborn Muse deck needed to be separate. This led me to create two more designs: an aggressive Graveborn deck featuring Braids, Cabal Minion and a "new Necro" design that played much like the mid-range Necro decks from a few years back.

I tested the new Necro deck, and it started doing remarkably well. The best part was it didn't rely on Graveborn Muse at all. Every Zombie in the deck could justify its position for other reasons. I also noticed that the deck's best cards were equally good against Control and Beatdown strategies alike. Anytime that happens, you have the makings of a truly environment-defining deck.

In keeping with my new policy of "complete openness", I decided to publish the deck. But what to call it? Part of any deck becoming popular is a good name. It's all about branding. I mean, who'd play a deck with a name that wasn't clever in some way? Or wasn't the name of a breakfast cereal? I know I wouldn't. I asked Jay Schneider for some help, but we couldn't come up with anything. So I decided to give a tribute to one of my favorite bands: Testament. They have a thrash-metal song whose name is very appropriate, given that my deck indeed contains a staggering FOUR full sets of Legions:

    Legions of the Dead Josh Lytle    
  Format: NewType2    
Read the article that included this deck HERE
Main Deck
4 Bane of the Living
3 Festering Goblin
4 Graveborn Muse
4 Rotlung Reanimator
2 Undead Gladiator
4 Withered Wretch

3 Cabal Therapy
3 Corrupt
4 Duress
4 Smother

22 Swamp
3 Unholy Grotto
15 ?
Total deck value: $158.25       

Average Casting Cost (ACC)= 1.88
Spells by Color:
Cards by Type:
*Hover mouse cursor over pie chart to see ==>> COLOR/TYPE : # CARDS : % OF CARDS.
*Left click on pie chart or legend to isolate a field.

As tradition is beginning to dictate, here are some of the names that didn't get used:
1. Shaft
2. Passenger 57
3. Big Black Kahuna
4. Blackalicious
5. Zombies!

Maybe I made the correct choice and maybe I didn't. As always, I'll let the reader decide.

Overall Strategy

The overall strategy for this deck is to play disruptive creatures, use cheap spells to disrupt the opponent, and then draw lots of good cards with Graveborn Muse, Undead Gladiator, and Unholy Grotto. Every creature in the deck serves a double purpose, often being good in more than one way in various situations. Unholy Grotto gives the deck real mid-to-late game power, and much of the deck's effectiveness is based on this card.

Against the control decks, you play beatdown. Against beatdown decks, you play control. Necro-esque strategies have always accomplished this dual-mode, and Legions of the Dead does it better than any creature-based Necro deck I've ever played (baring the broken Necro from the Black Summer in 1996).

Card-By-Card Analysis

3 Festering Goblin

At first these little guys seemed like a no-brainer. The only good one-mana Zombie, the Festering Goblin seemed like a natural beatdown card. But it turns out its main purpose is on defense. If Sligh didn't exist, you could probably remove the Festering Goblin, but as the environment stands he is incredibly key in taking down Sparksmith and Grim Lavamancer. Of course, he is decent against Birds and Elves, but overall its purpose is to fight Sligh and R/G Beatdown.

4 Withered Wretch

The most talked about card from Legions finally has a home. Withered Wretch is never bad, and sometimes he wins the game single-handedly. If you get him into play against a Psychatog or U/G opponent, you've put them at an immediate disadvantage. Being a "Zombie Cleric" means that he triggers Rotlung Reanimator as well.

4 Rotlung Reanimator

The MVP creature. In every single match-up, Rotlung is amazing. He makes Innocent Blood and Chainer's Edict a lot less effective. He effectively survives any Wrath of God effect. He's one of the best blocking creatures around. And the best part is, he is an amazing target for Unholy Grotto. In some matches, repeatedly drawing a Rotlung is all you need to win.

If you are ever fortunate to get multiples of him into play at once, he only gets more ridiculous. In a test game, I started off with a Withered Wretch (Zombie Cleric), and then played Rotlung Reanimators on the next two turns. When my opponent finally had to Wrath, I got six 2/2 Zombies.

2 Undead Gladiator

Being a "Zombie Barbarian" means Undead Gladiator can help Graveborn Muse if you want. But the Gladiator is in this deck as much for his cycling ability as anything else. A lot of people don't realize this, but the Gladiator can be activated as many times as you want during your Upkeep. So, in the late game when you're digging for that game winning Corrupt or Bane of the Living, you can spend all your mana every turn digging. This ability is surprisingly good. He is an annoying attacker and blocker as well.

4 Graveborn Muse

An amazing threat on its own or with friends. Necro was never able to block, attack, or be put on top of your library when it had been dealt with. Also, Necro was never so easy to get rid of once it stopped being useful. Graveborn adds to the deck's potency, but the deck is not based on it. Without the Graveborn, everything still functions extremely well. The Graveborn just randomly enters play and wins the game for you.

4 Bane of the Living

This card fills the role of Nevinyrral's Disk. Early on, the Bane can sweep the board of weenie creatures. Later, it can take down anything and often times your Rotlung Reanimators will leave you with some Zombies for your trouble. Against creatureless decks, the Bane is an efficient four-power creature for four mana.

4 Duress

A must have card. Duress helps you against pretty much everything, and it makes Cabal Therapy that much better. This type of efficient, 1-for-1 trade is great when you're drawing a ton of cards via Graveborn Muse.

3 Cabal Therapy

The Cabal Therapy's are great in combination with Duress. Duress and Therapy are what strengthen your game against control, but they are also your insurance policy against beatdown. Therapy is the easiest way to get rid of a no-longer-needed Graveborn Muse.

4 Smother

The best of Black's removal right now, Smother helps to translate your card advantage into board control. It's randomly good at killing just about everything.

3 Corrupt

At first glance, these might seem too expensive but they are well worth it. So much of this deck's staying power comes from these Corrupts. It ensures you'll always have life to spend on drawing more cards. It acts as removal, and direct damage to your opponent's dome. It's a big reason why you have a shot in many different matches. I encourage you to leave the Corrupts the way they are. I know they'll be sitting in your hand early sometimes, but they are well worth the wait.

3 Unholy Grotto

Unholy Grotto is an extremely key part of this deck. This card ensures you will never have "blank" draw phases in the late game. Against control, it keeps the pressure constant when you get back your Withered Wretches and Rotlung Reanimators. Graveborn Muse isn't bad to constantly have either. Against beatdown, you can win many games by recurring a Rotlung or a Festering Goblin. I might want to increase the number of these to four if I can find room.

22 Swamp

I wanted as many Swamps as possible to support Corrupt. For now, you could consider removing one for the 4th Grotto.

Match-Up Analysis


The plan: This one is pretty straightforward. You play the beatdown game while they try to keep up. You should play as though they don't have counterspells, and your discard should help you strip their hand of answers. Rotlung Reanimator and Withered Wretch are amazing in play. You should be able to easily force out their counters and your Unholy Grotto will ensure your best threats keep coming back. Overall, you are attacking their hand, graveyard, and their Psychatogs all in unison. This match-up is insanely good for you.

Your key cards: Withered Wretch, Rotlung Reanimator, Graveborn Muse, Smother, Duress, Cabal Therapy, Unholy Grotto

Sideboard possibilities: Haunting Echoes, Rancid Earth, Braids


The plan: You try to disrupt them early with discard effects. Astral Slide and Lightning Rift seem to be equally good against you, but the Lightning Rift is their way to randomly win. You'll have to decide based on the situation which one to take with your discard. Hopefully, they'll be relying on Wrath of God or Starstorm in which case Rotlung Reanimator is good beats. Exalted Angel can be very threatening, but Corrupt serves as an answer to that problem. You have to beat them down before they get control. Unholy Grotto keeps the threats coming. Corrupt to the dome is often deciding factor, as they can't stop it.

Your key cards: Duress, Cabal Therapy, Corrupt, Graveborn Muse, Unholy Grotto

Sideboard possibilities: Haunting Echoes, Mind Sludge, Rancid Earth, Braids

U/G Madness

The plan: You are the control deck in this matchup. You want to control the ground, so getting a Withered Wretch into play is amazing as it counters Wonder. If you can get a Wretch out and keep Wonder out of the graveyard, then your cards will win the ground combat. Rotlung Reanimator is especially good at providing creatures to trade with Wild Mongrels and Arrogant Wurms. Roar of the Wurm is hard to cast against Wretch, but if they do get one out you can use Smother to deal with it. Bane of the Living is another card that is amazing. You want to deploy it facedown as soon as possible. Once it's in play, it will make beating an aggressive opponent a lot easier. The key is to deal with Wonder and you'll usually win.

Your key cards: Withered Wretch, Bane of the Living, Smother

Sideboard possibilities: Coffin Purge, Haunting Echoes

R/G Beatdown

The plan: This is a great match-up. Between Festering Goblin and Rotlung Reanimator, controlling the board is surprisingly easy. Bane of the Living adds to that game plan. You want to take as little damage as possible early, so you usually want to hold your creatures back on defense. In the middle game, Unholy Grotto, Graveborn Muse, and Corrupt put the game away in short order.

Your key cards: Rotlung Reanimator, Festering Gobling, Unholy Grotto, Bane of the Living

Sideboard possibilities: Soulless One, Mortivore, 4th Festering Goblin


The plan: This matchup is pretty much the same as R/G Beatdown, only the Sligh deck has a much greater chance of winning. Festering Goblin is the MVP early on, making it very hard for them to attack. If you get to six mana, you'll usually win as you now have access to Corrupt and Bane of the Living for one. Playing the Bane with six mana out means you can immediately flip it for -1/-1, which can protect you from Blistering Firecat and Reckless Charge. Using your Smothers on either Sparksmith or Grim Lavamancer is usually the way to go. You have to survive the initial onslaught and if you do your chances of winning greatly increase.

Your key cards: Festering Goblin, Rotlung Reanimator, Corrupt, Bane of the Living

Sideboard possibilities: Engineered Plague, 4th Festering Goblin, Soulless One, Mortivore.

Mono-Black Control

The plan: I haven't played very much of this match, but you need to treat it just like any other control match. The games will be a lot like the ones versus AstralSlide decks. Using your discard, try to keep them from destroying your creatures early, and Rotlung combined with Unholy Grotto will be amazing. Withered Wretch can be used to shutdown Skeletal Scrying as well as protect you from Haunting Echoes.

Your key cards: Rotlung Reanimator, Unholy Grotto, Duress, Cabal Therapy

Sideboard possibilities: Braids, Rancid Earth, Mind Sludge, Haunting Echoes


This is by no means a definitive analysis of the deck, but I hope I've given you a good starting point from which to build on. Try this deck, and I think you'll find it is much more powerful than it first seems.

Until next time...

- Josh Lytle

submit to reddit » Print «