Season’s Beatings 2: Element of Surprise

Hi all,

Merry Christmas! This is my last article of 2014, so here are some of my resolutions.

-Continue to avoid Jell-O.
-Learn a Jellyroll Morton song on piano.
-Cash with a deck cheaper than any other I can find on results sites. This gives me a budget of $10 in Modern because of an Elf-tribal aggro deck that placed years ago. As of this week, I have $21 to work with in Legacy. A player ran Burn with neither [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c] nor [c]Goblin Guide[/c] to a 3-1 finish. For these lists, refer to the links at the end of this article.

I have no idea what I can do with either of those budgets at the moment. Check back with me in a year; I work well under a budget.

What draws players to budget Magic is enough content for an article series, I’m sure. The articles could cover strategy, economics, sociology, psychiatry, the gamut. Suffice it all to say, if you run across a list with two digits before the decimal point, it catches your attention. This week, MTGO user Asthenic’s Mono Red Elementals deck is that list. Take a look for yourself:

[d title=”Asthenic Elementals (Modern)”]
Land
16 Mountain
1 Smoldering Spires

Creatures
3 Flamekin Harbinger
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
4 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ground Rift
4 Gut Shot
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
2 Noxious Revival
2 Titan’s Strength

Sideboard
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Dragon’s Claw
3 Clout of the Dominus
2 Vandalblast
2 Pyroclasm[/d]

Phyrexian mana spells have really been popular lately, and their volatile price peaks and troughs are evidence of their power without a definite home. I like the deck; it is rather soft, but the element of surprise is enough to steal a few game ones in a Daily Event. By the time your opponent knows what you’re up to, they’re regretting their early-turn decisions while shuffling up for game 2. The sideboarding plan is surely a mess, and I would enjoy better Affinity hate, some number of [c]Sudden Shock[/c], and maybe even a [c]Surgial Extraction[/c] or two. Regarding the main-deck, I personally hate to see 17 land outside of Pauper, and I suspect that Pauper players are chronically using too few lands themselves. Your [c]Kiln Fiend[/c] plan requires 2 lands on turn 2 to be effective, and the math just isn’t there.

The history of this deck begins with Gerry Thompson, who piloted a Rakdos list of the same archetype to a high finish for a Return to Ravnica Pro Tour event. Most recently, Dejohne Umtuch placed second at the SCG Premier IQ Portland with a list that replaces the [c]Flamekin Harbinger[/c] with copies of [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] to reduce tempo loss and have more threats. Additionally, Khans sweethearts [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c] and [c]Treasure Cruise[/c] join the party. The former is yet another combo enabler with the free spells, and the latter gives us enough gas to keep the pedal to the metal. Here is Dejohne’s deck:

[d title=”Dejohne Death’s Shadow (Modern)”]
Land
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Blood Crypt
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Polluted Delta
1 Steam Vents
4 Sulfurous Springs
1 Watery Grave

Creatures
3 Death’s Shadow
3 Kiln Fiend
3 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
3 Apostle’s Blessing
1 Dismember
3 Gut Shot
3 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
3 Tainted Strike
2 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Ground Rift
4 Thoughtseize
3 Treasure Cruise[/d]

What a wild assortment of amounts these cards have! I’m convinced that all the 3-ofs must be the either the result of so much or so minimal testing. If I saw this list outside of the event results, I would probably tell myself that someone just wanted to play all of the cards with no regard for when they drew how many of them.

The greater strike I have against this deck, or the reason that it is so tainted in my opinion, is … did you figure it out? That’s right: [c]Tainted Strike[/c]. In the old haymaker lists, you had three creatures to attack with at the most: [c]Kiln Fiend[/c], [c]Nivmagus Elemental[/c], and [c]Death’s Shadow[/c]. Whenever any of these creatures reached nine power, [c]Tainted Strike[/c] dealt a lethal blow in its one swing.

This deck is different. Here, our plan B is to build lethal incrementally using [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c], and it’s a darn good plan, especially with the support from [c]Treasure Cruise[/c]. In a format where mana-bases deal five damage to their players, let’s take advantage of being the deck that can most quickly deal 15 more. Let’s not allow our opponent to be functionally at 25 life before the game begins, dealing 19 points of regular damage with Swiftspear and 10 more with a [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] targeted by [c]Tainted Strike[/c]. It works for Affinity, but that’s a different animal altogether.

So, taking a more streamlined, regular damage approach, here is my build of Grixis Elemental combo:

[d title=”Drinkard Elementals (Modern)”]
Land
4 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 City of Brass
4 Polluted Delta
1 Steam Vents
1 Watery Grave

Creatures
3 Death’s Shadow
3 Kiln Fiend
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Nivmagus Elemental

Other Spells
4 Apostle’s Blessing
2 Assault Strobe
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ground Rift
4 Gut Shot
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mutagenic Growth
3 Treasure Cruise

Sideboard
4 Not of this World
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Shattering Spree
4 Thoughtseize
3 Young Pyromancer
[/d]

After tinkering around with the list, I can definitely understand the number of three-ofs. I may drop [c]Assault Strobe[/c] altogether, as many Pauper U/R Delver Fiend players have done. It may prove to be overkill. On the other end of the spectrum, I may be too greedy by dropping the maindeck [c]Thoughtseize[/c]. The thing is that I don’t expect there to be a faster combo, and [c]Apostle’s Blessing[/c] plus the regular suite of pump effects protect our creatures.

The sideboard is my favorite part of the deck. We get another free spell in [c]Not of this World[/c]. It has been used in [c]Dark Depths[/c] Legacy combos to protect Cthulhu, and similarly it can save a [c]Kiln Fiend[/c] after two others instants or sorceries have resolved, a [c]Death’s Shadow[/c] when we are at six life, or a [c]Nivmagus Elemental[/c] after three activations. We bring these guys in to support [c]Apostle’s Blessing[/c] in the matchups where we expect to see [c]Path to Exile[/c] and even [c]Slaughter Pact[/c].

It’s not the cheapest deck I could enter into a Modern Daily Event, but it would probably be the most fun. Enjoy the free spells, and enjoy the free wins!

-drinkard

PS:
As promised, here are the benchmarks for cheapest decks (that I’ve found anyway) in Modern and Legacy:

User mlschultz’s absurdly cheap Elf Lord deck in Modern:
http://www.mtgpulse.com/event/8514#116529

User alexstrasza_95’s 20 ticket Legacy burn deck:
http://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/legacy-wbr-16153#online