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The Lion, the Ghast, and the Deathmantle

Several weeks ago, I presented an extort deck I believed would be the start of making the mechanic work in multiplayer. The deck I ended up with was this:

I started to put it together and discovered some problems. And by “problems,” I don’t just mean that I didn’t have all the cards I thought I had!

Spells to Abuse Extort

This is the biggest shift to the deck. It was quickly apparent that all the deck slots dedicated to Isochron Scepter and the cards to make it work just weren’t effective. The ability to repeat a spell each turn was great, but one spell per turn just wasn’t enough. On top of that, most of the time, when I could actually start using the Scepter, I already had a Whitemane Lion in hand. Whitemane Lion has been more than enough. Being able to use up all my mana at the end of the last opponent’s turn has been a wonderful thing.

Extort Creatures

Syndic of Tithes
I was happy with the number of extort creatures, but not the ones I included. Syndic of Tithes is close to useless in multiplayer games. A 2/2 creature really can’t block anything. The Thrull Parasites weren’t all that useful either. They are 1/1s with an ability, so they aren’t going to come out, but I expected amazing things from them, and it didn’t happen.

You can never have enough mana in this deck. Once you have an extort creature on the battlefield and a Whitemane Lion in hand, the only thing holding you back is mana. Every time Crypt Ghast ends up on the battlefield, your situation is better. While you will need white mana for many of the cards in the deck, I encourage you to maximize the number of Swamps you run. Adding 3 mana in a game can mean another point of damage to each opponent and 3 or 4 life added to your total. Crypt Ghast can really ramp that up. I am currently running two copies, but it would be four if I had them (they are in my next order!). To maximize them, I’ve also included an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth among the lands.

The biggest change here was adding Kingpin's Pet. The deck needs ways to stop flyers and push through for some damage, and the Kingpin's Pet does both of those things—along with extort. There absolutely should be four in the deck. I have no idea what I was thinking by not including them in the first place. They have been helpful in every game so far.

The Games

Whitemane Lion
The real question is still whether an extort deck can win multiplayer games or whether the mechanic is just a sideshow benefit. Should extort creatures be forced to be solid creatures in and of themselves or does printing extort in their text box mean that an average or sub-par creature can make the cut?

I played several games with the deck. The first game was a win in a four-player game, but it doesn’t really count. The other players didn’t know what they were facing, and I received a free pass on several turns just because some players wanted to see it perform. The next game was a Two-Headed Giant game with three teams. While extort is great in these games, we offered very little defense and were crushed quickly. The third game was another win. My deck did next to nothing initially and then came alive with only two opponents remaining. I was able to cast Whitemane Lion three times per turn with at least two extort creatures doing their thing every turn. This kept me alive long enough to finally punch through. We did realize at the end of the game that my opponent made a mistake several turns earlier that should have resulted in his victory.

In spite of this small sample size, I do have some recommendations for anyone trying an extort deck.

Chainer, Dementia Master

  • Lay low early or have a solid defense. This deck can give you some crazy life totals early in the game. This can lead your opponents to make mistakes when determining who is the real threat in the game. The temptation to extort early and often—when all the players are still in the game and every extort activation gains you more life than it will later in the game when there are fewer opponents—is high, but consider how your opponents will react when your life total climbs over 30 and 40. If your opponents are likely to look at your gaudy life total and see you as the primary target while someone else has two of the three combo pieces he needs to lock up the game, you will want to tread carefully with this deck.
  • Build a strong defense early. Don't give your opponents a reason to come after you until you have solid defenses up. Whether that is through Ghostly Prison or other means, understand that relying on your extort creatures as defense means that your path to victory could be lost simply because you used them to block. If you are choosing this path, you can afford to cut back dramatically on extort creatures and add more defense. Crypt Ghast, Basilica Guards, and Kingpin's Pet should be the extort creatures you try to hang on to if possible.
  • Add more offense. Extort does work, but when it comes down to just you and one opponent, you aren't gaining much life, and your creatures are probably outclassed. Just as you wouldn't rely on a single creature or set of cards to earn you the win, don't rely completely on extort to make that happen. Look for creatures that use your large life total to their benefit. Creatures like Chainer, Dementia Master, Howling Banshee, Vizkopa Confessor, and Phyrexian Delver are examples of what I'm talking about.

So, what would I run now after seeing how things have worked to this point?

The reasons for most of the changes have already been discussed above. I’m still not sure about Unmake or the correct numbers for Seal of Doom or Seal of Cleansing, but you should be making adjustments based on your own metagame.

A Change of Scenery

Windborn Muse
About a month ago, Trick Jarrett at DailyMTG contacted me, offering me the Serious Fun column there. Adam (Stybs) Styborski, the illustrious editor here, was writing the column there but they had decided to add a new series that focused exclusively on Commander. Stybs was going to take over that column, so his old one became available. Not surprisingly, I have jumped at the opportunity. When a website, known to Magic players as "The Mothership" asks you to do exactly what you are already doing, but to do it for them, you go for it.

I want to thank my Muse Vessel cohorts Daryl Bockett and Brandon Isleib for doing so much work with the Muse Vessel that we were picked up en masse by Gathering Magic. Even after more than a year at Gathering Magic, we still pass article ideas, game theories, and initial editing on many of our articles. Without these guys, I would never have continued writing weekly for just over the last two years.

Thanks to Andrew and Carlos. All of you have no idea just how desperately my articles need editing. These guys have been making me look far better than I deserve.

I want to thank Stybs for bringing me to Gathering Magic. The move to a popular website with a vibrant writing community was the shot in the arm I needed to continue writing. I know that Stybs recommended me as a candidate for the Serious Fun column, and I appreciate that, too.

Finally, I want to thank you for reading. While other writers talk about the trolls who inhabit their forums, I have never found that to be true of my articles. All of you have always been supportive and/or constructive, and I've always appreciated it. You have provided more article ideas and improved more decks than you realize. Many of my favorite articles have proven to be jumping-off points for discussions with you. It has been a joy writing for all of you. I hope all of you will check out my articles every Tuesday at DailyMTG.com.

Bruce Richard