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Haughty Heights of The Haunt of Hightower

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A few weeks ago, I put The Haunt of Hightower as the Number One card in black and white for Ravnica Allegiance. Part of the reason was because of the comparison to Vulturous Zombie. Vulturous Zombie becomes a featured creature whenever it hits the battlefield, simply because it gets incidentally huge. You didn’t need to pack ways to load an opponent’s graveyard, or ways to double up the +1/+1 counters. Cards just go to the graveyard all the time. Casualties in combat, reducing to maximum hand size, playing spells, and most removal ends up in the graveyard. If you weren’t getting a +1/+1 counter on practically every person’s turn, you probably just weren’t paying attention.

Then along comes The Haunt of Hightower who offers lifelink on top of the flying, and a built in way to force discard? Think about it for a second! I choose an opponent and attack. That player discards a card. The Haunt gets a +1/+1 counter. I use Murder to kill their only available blocker. The Haunt gets another +1/+1 counter and hits for five!

Given all of this, I figured it would go into plenty of Black decks already out there. Any deck that already demands opponents sacrifice creatures, or mills cards, or discards cards, can use The Haunt of Hightower! I imagined how well it would go in my Lazav, Dimir Mastermind deck and that was enough to give it the Number One spot! The thing is, The Haunt is a legend and we can build a legend around him in the way we never could for the Vulturous Zombie!

The Dreaded Discard

When I started to try and put the pieces together, Black just wanted me to go with discarding cards. It is kind of a thing that Black does. Whether everyone discards a card or just one opponent; whether it is a sorcery or a specter, Black likes to make opponents discard.

I can appreciate the value in attacking an opponent’s hand. Reducing cards in hand makes it harder for opponents to hold countermagic for spells. They can’t wait for that special moment to play their creature. All the work they do to sculpt the perfect hand goes for naught when you force them to discard.

I have two problems with focusing on a discard theme. The first is practicality. With multiple players, you have to work three times as hard to eliminate an opponent’s hand. The whole point is to take away or drastically limit what they can do to you, and that tends to get harder with multiple opponents. It isn’t impossible by any means, but it is harder to do.

The second problem is the result. If you are successful, the result is that no one gets to play, or at least they only get to play the card they draw each turn. This is as much fun as having your lands locked down so you can’t play anything! I don’t want a deck that either encourages everyone to attack me immediately so I can’t force them to discard, or leads them to just say “Ugh!” every time I pull the deck out. The whole point is that everyone should have fun and discard just doesn’t encourage that.

I will say that in spite of all of that, I did include some discard in the deck. There is a suite of specters that I chose to include because I wanted flying creatures and they hit the theme perfectly. Hopefully it isn’t overdone.

Damage

Pestilence Demon
On the other hand, removal, especially mass removal, is fair game! Black takes out a creature better than any other color, and I tend to abuse that! The key is to make sure you aren’t using mass removal that is going to also take out The Haunt of Hightower. Damnation just isn’t going to work the way we want it to. Black can easily work around that restriction though. One of the first cards I thought of for the deck is the seriously old school Pestilence. Spend a couple of Black mana and do two damage to every creature on the board. As long as you destroy a nontoken creature, The Haunt gets a little bigger. Then you can add one more to Pestilence and take out all the three toughness creatures. The Haunt gets a little bigger. It really isn’t all that difficult to get to the point where The Haunt is the biggest creature on the board! Oh, and remember all that life you lost to Pestilence. The Haunt has lifelink, so you are going to get it all back when it hits!

The Pestilence effect comes on a variety of cards. Pestilence Demon and Thrashing Wumpus are probably the most common, but Gangrenous Zombies does a cute imitation and Withering Wisps is a little known option if you run Snow-Covered Swamps!

I also made sure to include some direct damage spells. I understand that in multiplayer they are not necessarily the best option since a one for one trade leaves you down a card to the other players, but in this deck they do double duty as combat tricks. A well-timed Murder makes The Haunt a slightly Higher Tower than it was when your opponent was figuring out what to put in front of it. A well-timed Grisly Spectacle can leave an opponent wondering how The Haunt of Hightower just took them out of the game.

The Sacrificial Lamb, or Goat, or Elf, or Human, or…

Forcing opponents to sacrifice creatures also works to make The Haunt bigger. Sure, there is always going to that opponent who simply sacrifices a token that doesn’t help you at all, but we know Black has ways to deal with that. While Fleshbag Marauder may only force one sacrifice, Grave Pact and other cards of its ilk can lead to all kinds of interesting spirals. Sacrificing creatures is also a great way to get around the indestructible White creatures or untargetable Blue creatures that can prove annoying to direct damage. Vona's Hunger is another card that can hit hard if your board state is at all developed. Even if your opponents only have three creatures each, you are still adding six +1/+1 counters to The Haunt!

Lil Mill

Trepanation Blade
I was going to skip the mill package altogether but there were three cards that I really wanted to see in action. The first one is Trepanation Blade. When The Haunt of Hightower attacks with Trepanation Blade, a player reveals cards until they hit a land, then the creature gets +1/+0 for every card revealed. If you figure the average deck is running 36-40% lands, it means that you will only see two cards. However, those two cards are also put into the graveyard, so Trepanation Blade will give +2/+0 and two +1/+1 counters. This means The Haunt will get at least two more points of damage and average four more points. And this doesn’t even count the extra counter The Haunt gets when it attacks and forces the discard!

Mindcrank is the next card. With Mindcrank out, your opponents simply have to destroy The Haunt. Even if you aren’t doing anything, players lose a lot of life. Between lands that cause you to lose life, Phyrexian Arena and other similar cards, and simple combat, graveyard fill fast with Mindcrank out. With the handful of Pestilence-style effects we are running in this deck, spending one mana will likely cause your three opponents to each lose one life, which means The Haunt adds three +1/+1 counters. Pestilence for three adds nine +1/+1 counters. Pestilence for six means that one of those opponents is likely dying when The Haunt swings for 21!

My personal favorite is Geth, Lord of the Vault. While it won’t hit as hard as Mindcrank, you can use the ability as a combat trick. Take an opponent’s three mana cost creature, then they mill three and The Haunt of Hightower is suddenly three power bigger. With this being Commander, finding opponents with creatures and artifacts costing six shouldn’t be a problem. When you also consider that you can take from one person’s graveyard while attacking a different person, makes this trick even more versatile!

The Extras

When I build these decks, I love to throw in other cards that are just generally good, but in this deck, are even better. Sangromancer definitely fits the bill for this deck. While I have kept the discard effects to a minimum, they are still there. There are plenty of ways for the deck to destroy creatures and Sangromancer absolutely loves that. With The Haunt of Hightower already having lifelink, the lifegain may be unnecessary, but the vampire shaman can do a lot of work in a hurry in a deck like this.

Finally, since we should see a lot of creatures dying regularly, I’ve included Revel in Riches. With Pestilence out, this card is going to result in a few “oops I win” moments. And even if that doesn’t happen, the amount of mana that Revel in Riches can produce in just a few turns will likely make it well worth it.

Bruce

@manaburned

The Haughty Heights of The Haunt of Hightower | Commander | Bruce Richard