Brainburst MTGTech Deck Clinic

Feature Article from Jay Schneider
Jay Schneider
3/11/2003
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Welcome to the Brainburst MTGTech Deck Clinic!

The Brainburst MTGTech Deck Clinic is a column that provides expert review and commentary for a deck provided by a Brainburst Premium Member. Much of the quality of the columns is up to you, so please Submit your deck ideas! For further information on the Deck Clinic, background on the expert reviewers, or to submit a deck to the Deck Clinic please visit the Deck Clinic Main Page.

We're currently experimenting with the format of the Clinic to help with readability & clarity. We'd appreciate any style or design ideas you have as well. [Editor's note - Send suggestions on over to me at ray@brainburst.com, and I can read them over and discuss them with Jay - Ray]

The deck reviewers are as follows:
{Andy} = Andrew Wolf
{Chris} = Chris Cade
{Dave} = David Leader
{Mons} = Mons Johnson
{Jay} = Jay Schneider
{Rick} = Rick Saunooke
{Sean} = Sean Frackowiak

For this article, I wanted to "test" the flexibility of the MTGTech reviewers. So I asked Ray to look through the submissions for a combo deck. He provided three quality choices, the most intriguing of which was the Nefarious Lich Combo deck. The reviewers more than lived up to expectations. Enough so that I went and purchased a set of Nefarious Liches.

Normally, I'd just dive right into the submission from the Premium Member. However, the card Nefarious Lich is unusual enough that a rules discussion is in order first. The card itself reads:

Text(OD): If you would be dealt damage, remove that many cards in your graveyard from the game instead. If you can't, you lose the game. ; If you would gain life, draw that many cards instead. ; When ~this~ leaves play, you lose the game.


The Official Magic: The Gathering Rules Summary dated 02/21/2003 has this to say:
  • This card will not prevent you from losing the game due to zero or less life. [Odyssey FAQ 2001/10/04]
  • If you were going to gain life and you also have Words of Worship in play, you can gain life by using its ability to turn a card draw into life gain. Nefarious Lich will not replace the life gain with a card draw again because it has already acted on this event. [Jordan 2002/12/20]

Both of these points are important and will be discussed. The Nefarious Lich enchantment provides it's owner with two replacement abilities and a triggered ability. The first replacement effect involves replacing damage dealt, the second involves replacing Life Gain with drawing cards. Replacement effects are always on and they make it as if the replaced effect never happened. The triggered ability is of course "the bad thing". If the Nefarious Lich leaves play an effect is placed on the stack that causes you to lose the game.

The first rules note: "This card will not prevent you from losing the game due to zero or less life" brings a significant conceptual point about Nefarious Lich. With a Nefarious Lich out, you still need to maintain your life total and the resource of life is still available. You may still lose & pay life for things and it doesn't effect the status of your graveyard. This is an advantage as the resource of life isn't lost and replaced with your graveyard but rather your resource of life is augmented with a resource of cards in the graveyard. This concept drastically changes the strength and effect on the game of several cards (ex. those with life payments as activation costs) making several cards significantly better and other cards significantly worse.

The second rules note: "If you were going to gain life and you also have Words of Worship in play, you can gain life by using its ability to turn a card draw into life gain. Nefarious Lich will not replace the life gain with a card draw again because it has already acted on this event" requires discussion and interpretation as it's very poorly understood.

Contrary to popular belief, if you have a Nefarious Lich on the table and a Words of Worship on the table and draw phase pending, you CAN NOT draw 1+4*X cards where X is the number of times you activate the Word of Worship.

Here's what actually happens: When the first Words of Worship replacement effect resolves (replacing the pending draw) you will gain 5 life. Then the Nefarious Lich replacement effect will resolves (replacing the gain 5 life) you will draw 5 cards. So far so good - 1 activation turns 1 draw into 5 cards.

The second replacement effect when it resolves will replace one of the draws with the gain of 5 life. This is where the chain breaks down though. From the General Rulings Summary dates 02/21/2003 Rule T.10.8 - "Each replacement effect gets only one opportunity to apply to each event." This rule prevents the Nefarious Lich from triggering on this batch of card draws, as the Nefarious Lich has already been acted on this event.

So continuing with the example, with a Nefarious Lich on the table and two activations of a Words of Worship before a pending draw, the effect will be to draw 4 cards and to gain 5 life. Yes, you're incrementing your life total with a Nefarious Lich out! This pattern continues with 3 activations leading to a draw of 3 cards and a gain of 10 life and so on.

This isn't especially intuitive and thus has led to many incorrect ruling and articles that mistakenly believe that you will draw 1+4*X cards. At the time of writing, even Magic Online implements this card combination incorrectly, until they fix the bug you will be able to draw 1+4*X cards! Note that the Magic Online folks do know about the problem and are fixing it.

Special thanks to Thomas Pannell for his help.

Side Issue:
Deck Concept vs. Deck Quality

A side issue that the MTG reviewers have been discussing is the trade-off between trying to create a deck that is Tier 1, but is still the same concept deck that was initially submitted. These goals aren't necessarily exclusive, but some of the deck improvements suggested by the reviewers add or subtract themes and can significantly change the deck.

Currently, we're addressing this in the following manner:
  1. We try to stay thematically pure where it doesn't significantly detract from the quality of the deck.
  2. Even if it does detract from the quality we don't drop the major theme of the deck.
  3. We create multiple builds, some more in theme, others that we feel are more competitive.
  4. When we're concerned that we might have strayed too much from the main theme, we talk with the author to solicit their opinions on the direction and magnitude of the changes.

Rules Summary:

"If you activate Words in your upkeep with Lich in play you draw 5 during your draw step. "

"If you activate Words twice you draw 4 cards and gain 5 life. Lich replaced the 5 life with 5 cards then Words replaces one card with 5 life and Lich refuses to replace anything in this batch again."

--Thomas Pannell

Brainburst Premium Member Shayne Break deck has been selected as the feature deck for the MTGTech Deck Clinic. Shayne's deck is a Lich combination deck designed for Type II tournament play. This column will take a look at his deck, refinements suggested by the reviewers, along with commentary on the choices made and playing suggestions. We strongly encourage you to try this deck out and to send us tournament reports on your results using the modified versions of Shayne's deck. And as always we welcome Brainburst Premium Member to submit your deck designs to be considered for use in future Deck Clinic Articles. Please note that reviewer & designer comments have been edited for clarity.

Premium Member Shayne Break submitted the following deck design:

Deck Name: Nefarious Lich
11 Swamps
5 Forest
4 Plains
3 Krosan Verge

2 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
2 Cabal Therapy
4 Innocent Blood
2 Sickening Dreams
3 Chainer's Edict
1 Zombie Infestation
4 Moments Peace
4 Far Wanderings
4 Words of Worship
4 Nefarious Lich
3 Diabolic Tutor

Shayne had this to say about his submission:

The deck's goal is to get a Words of Worship into play and then a Nefarious Lich. Draw 25 to 39 cards then Sickening Dreams for the win.{Jay: As discussed in the rules section above this combination does not work without further assistance}

The important combinations are Lich/Words of Worship with either Sickening Dreams (or Zombie Infestation if necessary) for the kill. The Cabal Rituals look dumb but they're an important part of going off as the deck will often only have 7 mana available to draw massive cards with and then have insufficient mana to Duress and Therapy before playing the Dreams. So the Ritual can pull you out from a lot of bad situations and provide 3 extra mana to Duress those counters away.

This is a control deck that plays a lot like MBC and Wake combined. I've played many games with this deck against all kinds of decks with good success. Plus I've never lost to Lich's drawback. The deck started as UBw but I could never get the mana out fast enough so Green was added for the power of land searching. I don't know if it's going to ever be Tier 1 but check it out and have fun. There's nothing better than drawing 25 cards for 6 mana

Side Issue
How we handled the Lich/Words rules confusion.

For much of our discussion over the design of this deck the MTGTech Deck Clinic reviewers were under the mistaken belief that Nefarious Lich and Words of Worship was a draw 1+4*X combination. This incorrect belief was reinforced by our testing with our respective playtest groups (the MTGTech list is distributed across the U.S.) and Magic Online operating in that fashion.

It worked out that this wasn't as severe of an issue as it could have been. Over time we realized we were being constrained in our design decisions by trying to keep the Words of Worship in the deck. Our reasons for keeping the Words of Worship in the design were for consistency with the initial design concept. We felt it was needed to keep consistent with the primary deck concept even though it might not have been the optimal card for the deck. Even so you can see the builds having fewer and fewer Words of Worship (along with the negative feedback about them from some of the testing messages.) Eventually some of the decks eventually had no Words at all.

Risking foreshadowing, the reason that Words of Worship was often a poor choice is because it was so very bad before the Lich came into play and after the Lich was in play, you'd win in short order irrespective of your having a Words or not.

Even with all this said, we did delay the publication of this Clinic article so we could review and retest the designs using the proper rules for the Lich/Words combination (or in many cases just using better card choices.)

An unexpected result of retesting in builds with the Words/Lich Nombo (not a combo) was the "slow" combo that arose. Even though you can't stack several activations of the Words and draw a slew of cards, in builds with Cycling the effect can be near duplicated by:
1) Single Words activation and resolve drawing 5 cards.
2) Cycle a card, activate the Words and draw 5 more
3) Repeat as necessary.
Although this is slightly more mana intensive and would sometimes delay the deck in going off by a turn it didn't seem to affect the match results.

{Dave} My first thought on this is to turn this into an Astral Slide deck with the Lich-combo. Exalted Angels/Teroh's Faithful are also quite good when you have the Lich out. The Words of Worship is ONLY good when you have the Lich out... still, should play a few.

The Green seems almost unnecessary... he seems to primarily be playing it to slow creatures strategies (something White's Wrath of God should do anyway) and get out the Black mana through Far Wanderings. We should be able to fix the mana to make it unnecessary.

So, somewhat ignoring the Lich's drawback (something we'll need to think about post-sideboard, as all Green-based decks have either Ray of Revelation or Naturalize coming in game 2), we'll get:

10 Swamp
4 Plains
4 Barren Moor
4 Abandoned Outpost
3 City of Brass

4 Chainer's Edict
4 Renewed Faith (Nuts under Lich)
4 Akroma's Blessing
4 Astral Slide
3 Undead Gladiator
2 Words of Worship
4 Wrath of God
3 Nefarious Lich (should be plenty with the new card drawing engine)
4 Teroh's Faithful
3 Exalted Angel

Lotta engines going on here. The Lich lock is strengthened with the additional life gain, while Exalted Angel serves as a combination card drawer/kill engine. Lots of cycling cards means plenty of cards in the graveyard to feed the Lich.

What are we going to do about post-board Naturalizes and Withered Wretch? Either can shut down the Lich combo far too easily. The deck needs some work but should be good.

{Jay} That's a really interesting idea - going Lich/Slide instead of Lich/Words.

I agree on the Green - I saw almost no reason for it and it certainly complicates the manabase & design.

Looking at your build I'd first question the Words. Why? Especially if you don't have the Sickening Dreams for the kill. Also, without the hand removal what's the point in drawing all the cards?

Lastly, I question the manabase - I'd build it Black with a splash for Words/Slide. I'm wondering if we can do something like the following:

10 Swamp
4 Barren Moor
4 Abandoned Outpost
4 City of Brass
4 Tainted Field

2 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Sickening Dreams
4 Undead Gladiator
4 Astral Slide
2 Words of Worship
2 Teroh's Faithful
2 Last Rites
4 Nefarious Lich
3 Exalted Angel

Not quite right, although I like the mana build. I guess I feel like the Gladiator provides sufficient cycling by himself to support the Slide. That coupled with the Faithful/Angel (along with Dreams) should keep us in the game till we can go off.

Refining the Lich/Slide build

{Andy} I agree with Jay that the Discard needs to be in there, but I think you've put too much in. Also, I think 4 Sickening Dreams is too many. I'd like to see either more Cycling (Renewed Faith) or more removal (Edict, Smother, Bane of the Living). We could also try Graveborn Muse to go with Words, to add a little redundancy. And this may be getting even more off track, but Mesmeric Fiend and Faceless Butcher are really good with Astral Slide. How about:

10 Swamp
4 Barren Moor
4 Abandoned Outpost
3 City of Brass
3 Tainted Field

4 Duress
2 Cabal Therapy
3 Mesmeric Fiend
2 Chainer's Edict
2 Sickening Dreams
4 Renewed Faith
2 Words of Worship
4 Astral Slide
3 Undead Gladiator
3 Teroh's Faithful
2 Wrath of God
3 Nefarious Lich
3 Exalted Angel

Refining the Lich/Slide build

{Chris} Rather than changing the way the deck works (i.e. Astral Slide), I decided to make that core more efficient while covering some of the "uh oh" conditions.

The first obvious change is there must be 4 Renewed Faith in the deck. Whether or not you run Astral Slide is not of relevance because as Dave pointed out, it's just "too good." It'll either get you to your combo and buy you some time, or get you 6 cards. Also similar with the group, I threw in Teroh's Faithful and Exalted Angel. The life gain, alternate win conditions, and stall are necessary.

Here's where I went different to maximize the core, though. I increased the Cabal Rituals to 4, Dreams to 3, and added sac lands. The deck needs to be able to go off relatively quickly, and the sac lands, Faith, and Dreams give the Ritual the ability to be very explosive early game, in addition to being mid-combo.

Lastly, I felt that there was too many "uh oh" situations for the deck, especially by way of enchantment removal. Memory Lapse helps fill the slot well and is the other justification for the diversion in the mana base in addition to the Cabal Rituals. All this deck needs usually is to protect itself for a turn, and Lapse fills that role nicely.

The thing you'll notice quickly about the deck is that other than Dreams, it lacks creature removal. That's because I went with a card that maximizes the core even more, Transcendence.

4 Swamp
4 Plains
1 Island
4 Tainted Field
4 Tainted Isle
2 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
3 City of Brass

4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
4 Nefarious Lich
4 Renewed Faith
3 Sickening Dreams
3 Memory Lapse
3 Words of Worship
2 Exalted Angel
4 Teroh's Faithful
2 Transcendence

Combo/Lich build adding Blue

{Mons} Does Transcendence work? I am not very good at the rules of this crazy game, but Lich has a replacement effect so I think that you never take the damage.

Card Rulings Summary: Transcendence

Color=White Type=Enchantment Cost=3WWW TO(R)

Text(TO): You don't lose the game for having 0 or less life. ;

When you have 20 or more life, you lose the game. Whenever you lose life, you gain 2 life for each 1 life you lost. (Damage dealt to you causes you to lose life.)


You'll note from the last few messages that a design mistake was made (Transcendence & Lich) and quickly caught. The fact that an error was made and caught isn't a bad thing. It's very much to the designers credit that he explored a outside rules possibility, caught his mistake and then sent out a correction. What's even more impressive is how quickly this design iteration occurred. It was fast enough that most of the list didn't even get a chance to respond to the first post!

{Chris} From Sheldon Menery: "This can indeed be a tricky one. Nefarious Lich has replacement effects, Transcendence has some triggered abilities. The Lich prevents you from ever taking damage or gaining life - you remove/draw cards instead. This means that Transcendence's "lose life" ability won't trigger on damage effects because they're replaced.

"If you do manage to lose life (like to an Organ Grinder), it gets a little more complicated. You lose the life, then Transcendence's ability triggers. When you go to gain the life, however, the Lich's replacement kicks in, having you draw cards instead."

Okay, so I was wrong on that note. I had based my original assumption on Lich with Transcendence... and Lich is a triggered ability, whereas Nefarious Lich is a replacement ability. Sorry for the mistake ;)

I guess that frees up two slots in the deck. I'd update the decklist as follows:

4 Swamp
4 Plains
1 Island
4 Tainted Field
4 Tainted Isle
4 Flooded Strand
3 City of Brass
2 Polluted Delta

4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
4 Memory Lapse
4 Renewed Faith
4 Sickening Dreams
3 Words of Worship
4 Teroh's Faithful
4 Nefarious Lich
2 Exalted Angel

Running the Lapse really gives the deck some flexibility in dealing with Enchantment removal. I wish Arcane Denial were in the format, 'cause that would be perfect for this deck. Still, I wanted to stick to the core of the deck and focus on just streamlining it more with protection.

{Dave} I would agree with Andy on nearly every point except maybe the Therapies. I personally think the most important aspect is to be sure to have plenty of early removal, and with a lessening of the number of Dreams should come the addition of more removal. I agree that 2 seems about the right number... once you have the combo, it's a very quick kill.... but early it's not going to do much.

Yes, Therapy is also good with the Fiends, but the deck really doesn't have spare monsters to sac otherwise. I just want to keep consistency.

Kudos to both Jay and Andy for the mana base... I was having a lot of trouble with that. I can't believe I forgot about the Tainted lands. The Cities should be fine here too... with as much life gain as this deck runs, they shouldn't be a problem.

I didn't like Chris' build... the blue didn't feel necessary, especially with Fiends and Duress being added for disruption. It also kinda screws up the mana base. And while Transcendence is a funny combo with the Lich, the card is so god-awful without it that I would say you shouldn't bother.

So here we go:

10 Swamp
4 Barren Moor
4 Abandoned Outpost
3 City of Brass
3 Tainted Field

4 Duress
4 Chainer's Edict
4 Renewed Faith
3 Mesmeric Fiend
2 Sickening Dreams
4 Astral Slide
2 Words of Worship
3 Nefarious Lich
3 Teroh's Faithful
3 Undead Gladiator
2 Wrath of God
3 Exalted Angel

Now how are we going to build a board for Shayne without suggesting he board out Liches vs. every Green and White matchup? :'>.

Refining the Lich/Slide build

{Jay} For the Slide/Lich build I like this one, but I do want to look at Chris's build as well.

As for boarding I'm not sure that you do have to board out Lich vs. Green & White but even if you do that's not an unacceptable choice.

{Mons} Some thoughts:

You only will play a Lich if you are sure your opponent cannot remove it, if you are close to winning, or if you are desperate. So, of the combo pieces this is the piece that you can short the most.

It seems that as this is a combo deck you should retain Diabolic Tutor if possible.

Cycling allows the small chance of going off the turn you play a Lich (assuming you have a lot of mana).

A transformational sideboard may be required lest an opponent board in 4 Ray of Revelation.

Cabal Ritual will only be good for the midgame unless there is a LOT of threshold enablers, so more than 2 seems unwise (IMO).

This deck likes mana so a lone Cabal Coffers might be reasonable even with a relatively low swamp count, if you retain a couple Tutors.

General design thoughts for both builds.

Given hindsight and testing here are my feeling on Mons' design thoughts:

You only will play a Lich if you are sure your opponent cannot remove it, if you are close to winning, or if you are desperate.
Great strategy advice for playing Lich and very true. However, this didn't turn out to allow you to short Liches.
It seems that as this is a combo deck you should retain Diabolic Tutor if possible.
Every build wanted Tutors. We never could find the room for them.
Cycling allows the small chance of going off the turn you play a Lich (assuming you have a lot of mana).
Never seemed to happen, although it was close a few times in the Cabal Ritual builds.
A transformational sideboard may be required lest an opponent board in 4 Ray of Revelation
100% true. You can keep in the Liches against Disenchant, Naturalize or Nantuko Vigilantes. If they board in Ray of Revelation you have to dump the Liches
Cabal Ritual will only be good for the midgame unless there is a LOT of threshold enablers, so more than 2 seems unwise (IMO).
Cabal Ritual only made the cuts in the combination builds. 2 is the right number.
This deck likes mana so a lone Cabal Coffers might be reasonable even with a relatively low swamp count, if you retain a couple Tutors.
Cabal Coffers were awful in all the builds we examined.

Design Concepts:

  • Cards that are independently useful
  • Buying Time
  • Active Control (discard)
  • Big Red Button (Wrath of God)

{Jay} I tested a little with the last Lich/Slide build listed with one change. -4 Chainer's Edicts, +3 Cabal Therapy +1 Tainted Field.

First of all the deck did fairly well. It owned GU. It was even pretty easy. But it was only about 50/50 vs. Tog. The fight would go REALLY long. Their Compulsion vs. yours (Undead Gladiator) and you have to watch out for Wish -> Chain of Vapor. Compulsion and their card draw gives a slight edge over Gladiator and Discard but not much. Lich's life gain is a real issue - they often won't have the resources to kill if you get to 40 life, which isn't that hard.)

What was interesting is the way the deck played. The Lich Combo is plan B. It's a great plan B and definitely improves the deck over B/W Slide w/o Lich but mostly you play for a Slide & Angel win and if that doesn't work you go insane with the Lich. Lich and Renewed Faith is so amazingly good (2 mana draw 6 cards!) I almost wonder if the Words of Worship are correct - I'd certainly play more Reneweds instead of them if I could.

{Andy} Maybe the deck just wants something like Gerrard's Wisdom or Corrupt instead of Words of Worship, although the mana and ability to 'go off' becomes a bit more clunky. At least those cards are good on their own.

{Rick} HOWDY!

OK - First off, I am most likely one the worst person to contribute on this one, as combo is NOT my forte. I have played it on occasion, but those instances were more or less Net Decking.

HOWEVER, I do have a few comments, to be taken with the needed salt of course.

The most important elements from my perspective in combo decks are card drawing and/or manipulation. You have to be able to find it in order to execute it. With that being the case the addition of Renewed Faith as Andy suggested is extremely important. A similar addition has recently been seen in Wake builds for much the same reason. The advantage is not only card drawing, but one of time. Time to find it. Time to execute it. In the case here, it even works well with the intended result, or should I say Plan B?

This leads me to another point that is VERY relevant which Andy put forth. That is the need for a card to be independently useful. It is not enough to just plug a weakness in the deck, the card needs to fit into the overall "plan" if possible.

Active-Control vs. Passive Control: My viewpoint on these is pretty simplistic. 8-) Active Control is Discard, which prevents things from hitting the table OR cards being used that are reacting to things already on the table top. Thinking MBC here. Passive Control is Counterspells, preventing things from hitting the table-top if at all possible AND having some form of sweeper to deal with the things that fall through the cracks. Draw-Go etc.

A combination of both routes can result in VERY powerful decks. i.e. Psychatog. Unfortunately, the needs of this deck prohibit that without getting REALLY funky with the mana AND radically changing the deck

ANYHOW, without getting further down the theory road, I like what the Lich/Slide deck has evolved into thus far. The only exception being the Mesmeric Fiend for a couple of reasons... He is only a temporary solution, which we could possibly negate ourselves by means of Wrath of God or Sickening Dreams. It would REALLY suck to be forced into a position of having to Wrath and give back an Upheaval.

With that in mind I think we continue down the active control route by upping the discard element for the control fights and the removal options. My suggestion for the Lich/Slide deck are: -3 Mesmeric Fiends, -1 Chainer's Edict, +2 Cabal Therapy, +1 Wrath of God, +1 Tainted Field. Here is my reasoning:

You really need the ability to Wrath on turn 4 if at all possible. It is imperative against numerous decks. In some cases you need to be able to Duress/Cabal Therapy and then follow up with Wrath of God. (Thinking U/g here.) The biggest advantage you have is time so you should most likely seek to gain more of it. Even if you are gaining only a turn or 2 it is often all you need to go off. Most combo decks exploit this to some degree. Delay - delay - EXPLODE! Memory Lapse is seen in a number of decks for that time advantage aspect, and not just in combo decks. You also can not afford to miss a land drop in order to accomplish this, which leads to the final Tainted Field.

It seems as if the Lich/Slide deck is going more that direction with the changes listed. The deck is more concentrated on the disruption via discard than the table control. The point control is being down-graded in order to accomplish this. With more point removal leaving the deck, it leads me to believe the 3rd Wrath of God is even more needed than before. I know that Wrath of God doesn't combo all that well with Mesmeric Fiend, but it sure does with the Undead Gladiator. I'm looking at the Wrath of God option as the big red button here. Stuff happens and all of that.

Lastly - This deck scoops to Upheaval without Astral Slide, am I right? CYA!

{Jay} First a general agreement with Rick thoughts. To answer the question at the end regarding the deck scooping to an Upheaval.

Of course if there's a Lich out the game is over. With that said, having tested vs. U/G with 2 maindeck Upheavals and 'Tog with 2 maindeck Upheavals. The deck doesn't scoop to Upheaval. First, the discard is heavy enough that an Upheaval has to be played almost immediately upon drawing it. This prevents a good set up, holding the Upheaval for the right moment. Secondly, the life gain is heavy enough that you have time to recover from an even reasonably timed Upheaval.

{Chris} As a base-point for the Combo/Lich version, it looks good to add Renewed Faiths pumping up the threshold mechanism. Running more Rituals and Dreams, and running Memory Lapse for the backup protection. Given a goldfish draw, the deck can go off as early as turn 5. This version of the deck may very well want to run 2-3 Skeletal Scrying, especially since it combos well with Dreams and Rituals... draw cards, pitch them for Sickening Dreams and threshold, Ritual it up and draw more cards.

If maximizing the combo is the goal right now, then 4 Rituals is a must... and enabling that mechanism should be the focus.

At first glance, Cabal Ritual was the first card I thought to pull out. Then after reconsideration, I realized that it really is a mid-combo card and running more of them just enables the combo more. It puts you in a situation where you can afford to do early Dreams just to kill critters and buy time, getting threshold, then just going off. The manabase was already funky before we touched the deck, and this deck can easily support 3-4 Memory Lapse when using the combination of Saclands and Tainted lands.

Refining the Combo/Lich build

{Dave} Jay, how have the Mesmeric Fiends panned out? It seems like they would just die to all the mass-removal spells run by the deck. Then again, you could always Slide them out and/or sac them to flashback a Cabal Therapy. I know the Therapies certainly get a lot worse without them.

So we'll go with Cade's idea and let his design sit as the more "in theme" version, noting that we probably believe the Lich works better in a more controlish deck. So what to board in/out? I want to evaluate the expected sideboards from everyone first:

A) UG or GUB... traditionally I would board -4 Roar (God awful vs. Slide) -2 Wonder (this deck appears as a non-blocking deck) +3 Naturalize +3 Compost.

B) Psychatog... they don't board much... maybe pull out a little creature kill for a few disruption spells (Duress, Haunting Echoes, etc.) However, many of them do have pre-board access to Chain of Vapor via Cunning Wish, so playing a Lich can be dangerous.

C) Goblins... Nothing I can think of (Mons/Jay you play goblins more.. anything I'm missing?)

D) Slide usually have main-deck Cleansing Meditation as a Wish target via Burning Wish. Non-Wish versions may bring in Aura Extraction or some other cards... ultimately they'll just be boarding out some of their creature kill in favor of anything else.

So of the decks, I feel like Slide is the only opponent you truly HAVE to board out your Liches... every other deck we can reduce to topdecking via hand destruction. Slide... well, it just draws too many cards, and will eventually Wish out... So unless we speed up the deck by boarding in more combo pieces, we have to lose the Liches and go with alternative victory conditions. Fortunately, they give you PLENTY of time to develop.

So let's see... vs mono-Red Mesmeric Fiends have to go (if they end up in the main deck)... Cabal Therapy isn't really necessary. I was going to put some Engineered Plagues in the board anyway for the GUb, so might as well bring those in. Maybe the 4th Teroh's Faithful can find room in the board, but this shouldn't be all that hard a matchup anyway.

Vs. GU... Disenchant is a must.... any GU worth its salt will bring in Compost. You actually fear that card more than their Naturalizes. You can usually expect the Naturalizes to be able to be "pulled" from their hand via the sheer hand destruct. Compost... well, just imagine Sickening Dreams for 14... say you discard 6 Black cards. They have 6 shots of top-decking a Naturalize for your Lich to win the game. If they run any Quiet Speculations or White you should probably bring in Haunting Echoes as well... it's a pretty good card vs. them anyway.

Vs. Tog.... looking at all the hand destruction cards I'd like vs. this deck, I decided Persecute is the one I want most. All the cards you fear are blue (Counters, Cunning Wishes, and Upheavals). Also, might as well finish the Fiends/Therapies.

So, let's put it all together:

Board version 1:
-------------------------
1 Teroh's Faithful
1 Mesmeric Fiend
1 Cabal Therapy
4 Disenchant
3 Engineered Plague
3 Persecute
2 Haunting Echoes

Looking to the board

Board version 1:
-------------------------
1 Teroh's Faithful
1 Mesmeric Fiend
1 Cabal Therapy
4 Disenchant
3 Engineered Plague
3 Persecute
2 Haunting Echoes

{Jay} > How have the Mesmeric Fiends panned out?
The Mesmeric Fiends, all in all, have been mediocre. Not the star of the deck but I've never hated them either. I wouldn't rush to pull them but they might be better as Blackmail instead, Blackmail also works pretty well with Cabal Therapy. I've yet to get the Mesmeric Fiend/Astral Slide combo going/useful and as mentioned they do die a lot.

As for Goblin board options: Lightning Rift or Land Destruction is about it. If they're really creative they potentially can board Epicenter.

{Chris} Here's the current version of the Combo/Lich build:

4 Swamp
4 Plains
1 Island
4 Tainted Field
4 Tainted Isle
4 Polluted Delta
3 City of Brass
2 Flooded Strand

4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
4 Life Burst
4 Renewed Faith
4 Sickening Dreams
3 Memory Lapse
2 Tainted Pact
3 Words of Worship
4 Nefarious Lich
2 ?????

Since threshold is the goal with this deck, you'll notice that there's only 7 non-land permanents, and they're only combo-pieces. 4 Dreams is a must, and Life Burst ends up being just incredible. In the early game, it gets you to threshold and buys you some time, and in the mid-game it draws almost your entire deck. I wanted 4 Memory Lapse in the deck, but couldn't find room for the 4th one. The Renewed Faith falls into the same category as Life Burst, with the added advantage that it gets you through the deck more quickly early game.

Going this route with the deck has some serious drawbacks, but not without serious rewards. Obviously unanswered creatures can be a problem, which is reason enough to go to 4 Sickening Dreams (in addition to being a threshold enabler). Further, one timely enchantment destruction spell costs you the game. Memory Lapse fills that role well, especially with Ray of Revelation going to the library instead of the graveyard.

On the flipside, if Lich hits the table and you live to see another turn, you win. In some cases, you can win on the same turn by using Rituals to cast and fuel the combo. Still, ensuring you have a Lich early on is of prime importance, so 2 Tainted Pacts help that out a little bit. Between the Saclands, Tainted Pact, and Renewed Faith, the deck should be able to find a Lich when it needs it most.

Since the Words of Worship feed off of themselves, you can always draw 4 cards, and on the 5th decide to pay a mana and draw another five. Assuming you get a Ritual sometime before you drop to one mana, you should be fine. In many ways, this deck reminds me of the Yawgmoth's Bargain decks from a couple years ago.

Refining the Combo/Lich build

Updated build from Chris.

{Dave} Don't like your mana base.... 8 Tainted Lands, but only 8 (effective) Swamps? You'll screw yourself pretty hard with that. I'd add 2 Swamps for 2 Tainted Isles, and change 1 to an Underground River. Yes, I'm aware it makes Tainted Pact a little worse, but it still keeps it reasonably well-driven. And you have plenty of sources of blue for the 3 Memory Lapses.

As for the two missing cards, I've corrected somewhat to adjust. Speaking of Tainted Pact, I recommend 4. I also recommend testing 2 Cunning Wishes. For these, I'd recommend the loss of Renewed Faiths (you don't really care about the Cycling) and 1 Life Burst. As far as board, I am assuming the adding of Cunning Wish as above.

So the deck would be:

6 Swamp
3 Plains
1 Island
4 Tainted Field
1 Tainted Isle
4 City of Brass
4 Polluted Delta
2 Flooded Strand
1 Underground River
1 Adarkar Waste (changed both to up the U count and to maximize Tainted Pact)

4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
3 Memory Lapse
4 Tainted Pact
4 Life Burst
4 Sickening Dreams
3 Cunning Wish
3 Words of Worship
4 Nefarious Lich

Sideboard
-----------------------------------------------
1 Hibernation
1 Coffin Purge
1 Psychotic Haze
3 Disenchant
1 Mana short
1 Smother
1 Renewed Faith
1 Skeletal Scrying
2 Head Games (should be a neat post-board trick... you switch their hand with all land. Makes it easy to "go off" next turn. I picked it for Ray of Revelation... it prevents the Ray from going to the graveyard).
1 Chain of Vapor (Don't wish for it while Lich is in play obv :'>)
1 Memory Lapse
1 Insidious Dreams

Since this is combo-variant, the loss of board space won't hurt you terribly... you don't want to change the main that much anyway. Only Disenchants and Head Games are meant to be brought in.

Refining the Combo/Lich build

Dave suggests changes to the Manabase and the addition of Cunning Wish.

{Mons} Hmmm.... I have reservations about this design

  1. Isn't the 'combo' Lich + Words of Worship? If so, shouldn't there be 4 of each?
  2. Cabal Ritual is only usable at threshold, but this deck has no threshold enablers. Additionally when you consider that sometimes you are gonna cast Lich early, you need additional ways to fill your 'yard.
  3. The only creature kill is Sickening Dreams? Surely you would lose to any beatdown deck. Remember this 'combo' is based on a BBBB enchantment, it just isn't gonna be fast.
  4. Still no Tutor? The more I think about it, the more tuned the original appears. Memo to Jay: Make sure all submissions are poorly tuned decks. :/

Refining the Combo/Lich build

{Chris} > Don't like your mana base...
I agree. The mana base was something I struggled with... the Saclands are important, and somewhere in my haste I forgot about those original Painlands ;)

> I've corrected somewhat to adjust...
The deck should be 34 spells, 26 land. I noticed you went with 33 spells and 27 land, but with 4 Tainted Pacts that really isn't necessary. Even with 2-3 Tainted Pacts it's not necessary.

> Speaking of Tainted Pact, I recommend 4...
>For these, I'd recommend the loss of Renewed Faiths (you don't really care about the cycling) and 1 Life Burst....
Actually, you do care about the cycling... it gets you a card deeper, buys you time, and gets you one closer to threshold. It also gives you the draw avenue in case Words of Worship isn't on the board. And do you think 4 Tainted Pacts really is necessary? The deck only needs Nefarious Lich and a turn. Basically the rest of the deck is designed to go off with it. With 3 Cunning Wishes, the Tainted Pacts are less necessary. I'd probably pull a Pact and a land and put in at least 2 Renewed Faiths. As for Life Burst... you really do want to run 4 of them because they're incremental. Draw 16 cards for 2 mana isn't such a bad deal ;)

Though one thing to keep in mind is that this deck requires a LOT of math to make sure you don't deck yourself.

On the flipside, I really like the addition of Cunning Wish.... and makes me want to put a Blessed Reversal into the sideboard. The ability to either buy yourself a turn or two, or draw 10%+ of your deck is pretty huge. Also, there should definitely be a Rites of Refusal in the board... for a deck that needs threshold, what better way to do it than on your opponent's turn while countering a key spell? Lastly, we might consider Vengeful Dreams as another multi-faceted solution to both creatures and getting threshold.

Modifying from Dave's input, here's where I'd go with it:

6 Swamp
2 Plains
1 Island
4 Tainted Field
1 Tainted Isle
4 Polluted Delta
4 City of Brass
2 Flooded Strand
1 Underground River
1 Adarkar Waste

4 Cabal Ritual
4 Duress
4 Sickening Dreams
4 Life Burst
3 Memory Lapse
3 Tainted Pact
2 Renewed Faith
3 Cunning Wish
3 Words of Worship (or 2 Words + 3rd Renewed Faith)
4 Nefarious Lich

Sideboard
-----------------------------------------------
3 Disenchant
2 Head Games
1 Hibernation
1 Coffin Purge
1 Rites of Refusal
1 Mana Short
1 Smother
1 Renewed Faith
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Memory Lapse
1 Vengeful Dreams

Refining the Combo/Lich build

Chris merges in Dave's suggestions.

{Chris} 1) There doesn't need to be 4 Words of Worship - since it is one of the cards that really does absolutely nothing on its own. In fact, I think this deck could even go to two since it has other sources of life gain.

2) As for threshold enablers, that's why 4 Sickening Dreams, as well as adding more enablers to the board to double up with the Cunning Wishes. No Tutors needed with Tainted Pacts and cycling... the deck doesn't want to spend 4 mana to search... it wants to just be digging through the deck rapidly while filling the graveyard. The BBBB casting cost shouldn't be an issue with Cabal Rituals (assuming the deck gets to threshold as designed)

3) Then again, the assumptions I'm making about this combo deck is that it is going to do what it's supposed to do, and our goal should be to make it do that as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's not realistic to try and cover all the bases, and still keep the focus of the deck... something has to give, and considering the amount of life gain in the deck, creature removal can afford to go a little bit lighter. It's just a shame Nether Spirit isn't in the format, otherwise that guy would be amazing in this deck.

I agree the removal is light, hence the reason I added Vengeful Dreams to the board... but the focus of the deck isn't really to do anything about creatures. It just wants to gain life, cycle through the deck, and then go off. Perhaps the addition of a couple Wraths to the maindeck might be solid.... but I'm not sure what I'd pull for those.

Refining the Combo/Lich build

Addressing Mons' questions.

  1. Isn't the 'combo' Lich + Words of Worship? If so, shouldn't there be 4 of each?
  2. Cabal Ritual is only usable at threshold, but this deck has no threshold enablers. Additionally when you consider that sometimes you are gonna cast Lich early, you need additional ways to fill your 'yard.
  3. The only creature kill is Sickening Dreams? Surely you would lose to any beatdown deck. Remember this 'combo' is based on a BBBB enchantment, it just isn't gonna be fast.
  4. Still no Tutor? The more I think about it, the more tuned the original appears. Memo to Jay: Make sure all submissions are poorly tuned decks. :/

{Dave} 1) Not especially.... the Life Bursts draw plenty of cards with Lich ;'>.

2) Sort of.. it does fix your mana even outside of threshold, and lets you play Lich more easily. The more you have, the higher the chance of pulling the Lich-drop-kill (Requiring BBBBB1 & X Life Gain Mana.... Lich + Sickening Dreams + life gain mana). That said, some could be removed if you have a suggestion.

3) I would agree that a little spot removal certainly couldn't hurt. What do you recommend adding/pulling?

4) 4 Tainted Pacts + lots of different lands = 4 Tutors :">. That said, maybe a Wish for Insidious Dreams might not be bad (would certainly set up the draw I named in #2).

{Mons} Since the kill is based on chucking a card for a point of damage you better have 16+ cards in hand if you expect to finish someone. Life Burst 1 thru 3 does NOTHING if your opponent is at 20 life. Sure Life Burst lets you draw more cards, you go thru your deck, but you don't win.

And I still don't see how you get to threshold unless you are dumping 3+ cards to Sickening Dreams early every game (which seems like a dangerous plan).

What about?:
Breakthrough
Careful Study
Last Rites
Cheap cantrips
Cheap 1for1s
Slivers (just checking)

{Jay} I have the same concern as Mons regarding acquiring Threshold. As for his solutions I like Breakthrough and Careful Study. I'm not so hot on Last Rites - acquiring threshold in a hurry is all about churning cards from the deck not the hand.

Oh and don't forget Tolarian Winds

At this point in the dialogue the MTGTech Deck Clinic has two Lich builds to present for your consideration. The Lich Slide deck and the Combo Lich build. As mentioned earlier both have been retested after we realized the actuality of the rules regarding the interaction between Lich and Words of Worship.

We all strongly believe that the Lich Slide deck is considerably more competitive than the Combo Lich deck. As Mons put it a deck with a Combo card that costs BBBB just isn't going to be fast. The heavy control elements in Lich Slide buy the time you need to set up for the perfect Ascension.

As a fun deck but still competitive deck. I'd recommend the Combo Lich build. Lich Slide is a blast and tournament fierce, but the Combo Lich builds are easily the most enjoyable decks I've played in quite some time. You can't go wrong with a single turn Ritual, Draw 32 cards, Duress, Sickening Dreams for 20.

This leads to the question of is the Lich Slide deck Tier 1? I think the answer to that question is: It depends on your metagame. Lich Slide is significantly better than B/W Slide. B/W Slide is solid but a solid Tier 2 deck. Lich Slide is much better. Lich Slide crushes creature based strategies (U/G, G/R, mono-Red, Zombies). Even creature strategies that play Ray of Revelation maindeck can only force you to discard the Lich (that's what the Gladiator is for.) And the decks that play Ray of Revelation maindeck are pretty easy fights. The fight against Tog is inferior in game 1 being about a 30% matchup. It often comes down to can they Compulsion into the Cunning Wish in one turn or they die. After the board the match-up is favorable to the Lich deck as Haunting Echoes more than nullifies the power of Compulsion to "walk around" discard.

Is Lich Slide Tier 1?

Strategy Tips for Playing Lich:

Rule #1 of Lich: Never Lich before you Look!

As with all things, even Rule #1 isn't absolute. There are times when it's Lich or die so you might as well go out being a Greater Undead. But in generally before casting Lich use a Discard spell first. It's a lot more fun to be an Undead when you've already Duressed away the Naturalize.

Lich is a strange game and has two distinct parts. Pre and Post-Ascension. The goal of the Pre-Ascension game is to transfer resources from Pre-Ascension to those you will use Post-Ascension. This generally means life -> graveyard. Once you Ascend it's often more difficult to make this transfer.

Lich is a complicated combo when going off. After over 100 games with Lich decks I still occasionally mess-up going off in games I should have won. The Lich decks have so much draw power that it's easy to deck yourself accidentally, or to draw too many resources (cards) and then have to discard them (in the discard phase) instead of pitching them to a Sickening Dreams for the kill. Probably the easiest way to make sure you kill correctly is to take an extra turn going off. Assuming you followed Rule #1 you probably have time to kill them slowly. To kill them slowly, just start the massive drawing at the opponents End of Turn. This gives you twice the mana for drawing and carries the cards over into your turn. So in the opponents End of Turn with all your mana available, cast a Renewed Faith for 6 cards or perhaps a Life Burst (for even more cards) activate a Words etc. Then on your turn draw the remaining cards you need and Sickening Dreams for 20 (you should probably Duress first here too.)

Make sure to effectively use your life after Ascension. It's still a useful resource and many of your cards still interact directly with life total instead of through damage.

Carefully consider which cards you remove from the graveyard Post-Ascension. More than just monitoring flashback you can Wish for cards removed this way and you against MBC you want to keep a basic land in the Graveyard for Haunting Echoes protection.

Strategy Tips for Playing Lich:

Rule #1 of Lich: Never Lich before you Look!

Deck Name: Lich Slide 
Author: Shayne Break & the MTGTech Deck Clinic
10 Swamp
4 Tainted Field
4 Barren Moor
4 Secluded Steppe
2 City of Brass

4 Duress
3 Cabal Therapy

3 Mesmeric Fiend
2 Sickening Dreams

3 Undead Gladiator
4 Astral Slide
4 Renewed Faith
2 Words of Worship

3 Teroh's Faithful
3 Nefarious Lich
2 Wrath of God

3 Exalted Angel

Sideboard:
-----------
4 Slithery Stalker
3 Disenchant
3 Engineered Plague
3 Persecute
2 Haunting Echoes
A formatted decklist can be found [here].

    Combo Lich MTGTech Deck Clinic    
  Format: NewType2    
Main Deck
Sideboard

4 Cabal Ritual
3 Cunning Wish
4 Duress
4 Life Burst
3 Memory Lapse
4 Nefarious Lich
3 Renewed Faith
4 Sickening Dreams
3 Tainted Pact
2 Wrath of God

1 Adarkar Wastes
4 City of Brass
2 Flooded Strand
1 Island
2 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
6 Swamp
4 Tainted Field
1 Tainted Isle
1 Underground River
1 Chain of Vapor
1 Coffin Purge
3 Disenchant
2 Head Games
1 Hibernation
1 Mana Short
1 Memory Lapse
1 Renewed Faith
1 Rites of Refusal
1 Skeletal Scrying
1 Smother
1 Vengeful Dreams
 
Total deck value: $205.6       
Notes:

Average Casting Cost (ACC)= 2.41
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.

Special Note: I'd like to thank Gerald, Alvaro, JV, Josh, Bryan, Sameer, the Samurai and the other folks who tested and then retested these decks over the last few weeks. While testing and optimizing for replacements for Words of Worship we iterated into the following design, possibly the most enjoyable and difficult Lich build we tested with. I also believe it has a very good potential to mature into a Tier 1 deck.

    Bad Rares Lich MTGTech Deck Clinic    
  Format: NewType2    
Main Deck
Sideboard
3 Undead Gladiator

2 Ancestral Tribute
2 Cabal Ritual
4 Cabal Therapy
2 Death Wish
4 Duress
2 Infernal Contract
3 Nefarious Lich
4 Renewed Faith
2 Sickening Dreams
3 Vengeful Dreams
4 Wrath of God

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 City of Brass
4 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
5 Swamp
4 Tainted Field
1 Ancestral Tribute
3 Disenchant
3 Engineered Plague
1 Ghastly Demise
3 Haunting Echoes
1 Kirtar's Wrath
1 Nefarious Lich
1 Sickening Dreams
1 Vengeful Dreams
 
Total deck value: $265.5       
Notes:

Average Casting Cost (ACC)= 2.98
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.

Brainburst welcomes your discussion and submitted tournament reports using the Lich Decks. Best of luck with them!

- Jay Schneider and the Brainburst MTGTech Deck Clinic Team






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