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Volrath Steals Everything, Even Their Shapes



I just got back from MF Indianapolis and I would love to regale you with tales of my exploits but I think it's going to be better for all of us if I talk about a general sense I got while jamming dozens of games over the weekend. If I had to put it succinctly, I think the bullet point I'd go with is

You need to have a win condition other than their creatures, preferably a few

Stealing their creatures and other permanents is a fun thing to do and every game I won this weekend featured me preventing players from winning by stealing their stuff but not winning with it. I have won games with their creatures in the past, certainly, or I wouldn't keep evangelizing about it, but if you're building a true 75% deck that's designed to play against any kind of deck, you're going to need to deal with combo tryhards who don't have any non-utility creatures, you're going to need a way to win. That was especially clear to me in all of the games I played with my Estrid deck, which I love, but which needs a way to end the game that isn't "Literally only Starfield of Nyx or their creatures." Even when I went infinite with The Chain Veil, my mana sink is Heliod, God of the Sun. "Why aren't you playing Helix Pinnacle in that deck, Jason?" Good question, in it goes.

Stealing from your opponents is not just way more acceptable in Magic than it is in real life, it's a great way to make them not have stuff they need. It's a form of removal and it's one of my favorite ways to screw up the board, but casting Confiscate on a Smokestack or Blood Moon doesn't have quite the same oomph as casting it on the Ezuri player's Sage of Hours does. If I am going to win, I need ways to win that don't rely on them trying to play fair Magic since the toughest decks to beat have the most cards I can't interact with profitably. You can't Bribery Torment of Hailfire and you can't effectively Blatant Thievery a Torpor Orb. What you CAN do is disrupt their plan as much as possible, and have your own. Sometimes it's adding one more card to a deck, sometimes it's building from the beginning with a back-up plan in mind. I'm not saying cut Bribery, I'll never do that. What I AM saying is that you can steal a lot of their permanents and also build around having your own way to win. I'll show you.

Volrath, the Shapestealer

My first idea when I saw this card involved making a copy of their creatures by shrinking them and my second idea involved being a sort of Experiment Kraj deck with access to Black mana. I think it should be fairly easy to reconcile those two strategies, which is good because copying their creature doesn't really get rid of it. A simple solution would be to take their dead stuff, and access to Black will help because, if I'm not mistaken, 100% of the cards that do that are Black cards. From Rise of the Dark Realms to Lazav to Dimir Doppelganger, Black is all about impersonating the dead like some sort of Tupac hologram or that weird-looking Carrie Fisher amalgam at the end of Rogue One. I'm fine doing that because stealing a dead creature is almost the same as stealing a live one - either way they don't have access to it in a way that merely copying it with Volrath can't quite approximate. Using Volrath to instead copy my own creatures was a more exciting prospect, and it would let me look at creatures that don't have ETB abilities, which is not something I normally care about. ETB abilities are cool, but after staring down a Torpor Orb with Reclamation Sage in hand while my subconscious projected the cynical laughter of the Viridian Zealot I passed in a draft because the card was "overcosted," I'm willing to give those cards a look. And wouldn't you know it, some of them are pretty strong. I know because Experiment Kraj is a deck and we're going to steal all of its ideas.

Two of my favorite creatures to heap counters upon in my Pir and Toothy deck are Cytoplast Manipulator and Simic Manipulator. At the risk of going too far down this rabbit hole and building a weird Atraxa deck that has Volrath in it, I have always loved proliferating the counters on those creatures and using them as a rattlesnake, but like the kind of rattlesnake that... kidnaps people... OK, the metaphor got real dark - my point is that I like to represent the threat of creature swiping because it slow the game down. They won't run out creatures they need to combo with unless they're ready to use them which causes important cards to pile up in their hands. This buys us time to execute our strategy if I ever formulate one.

I don't want to claim that it's enough, but Simic Ascendency is a very good card to consider an alternate win condition and since we're going to run it anyway, it's worth mentioning that it accomplishes a lot of things in a deck like this where we're copying our own creatures and could help us break away from my habit of not thinking about alternate win conditions. We could beat three creatureless decks with Simic Ascendency and that's good enough for me. However, I also want to have some surprises. In the same way that it's good to represent Cytoplast Manipulator, it's probably bad to run out a Sage of Hours and slowly put counters on it. My solution? Put the counters on Volrath via other means and then play the Sage when you have enough. You can keep your plans a secret for longer with Volrath's ability to become any creature at any time provided that creature has a counter. Spend a few turns putting level up counters on Volrath with Joraga Treespeaker and slam a Lighthouse Chronologist later. People are far less likely to waste a removal spell on a Volrath that taps for a few mana and we can use this complacency to our advantage. If they do try to kill Volrath, make him a Hexdrinker. Having a variety of creatures with abilities Volrath can copy gives us options, and plenty of creatures reward us for having a lot of creatures with counters on them from the Herald of Secret Streams we can use to KO them to cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter.

A deck is beginning to take shape. We'll steal plenty of creatures, both with cards like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Fallen Shinobi and Rise of the Dark Realms and also with cards like Cytoplast Manipulator. We will have our own creatures and grow them with +1/+1 counters to make them a lethal threat and in the meantime, farm their abilities and use them as mana dorks. We'll have some "you win the game" possibilities and we'll have the best ramp color, the best card draw color and the best removal color in our deck. Sound good? Sounds good to me, and I'm driving this bus so buckle up. Not that they... have seat belts on busses.

Shapes on a Plane | Commander | Jason Alt

The deck looks like it needs a little tuning but I'm not sure which part of it needs work, yet. I'll walk you through what I wanted to do.

I incorporated elements of Lazav decks, inspired by Dimir Doppelganger. Reanimating their dead stuff is a cool idea and the deck has some minor mill elements but it also mostly just wants to kill their stuff. The good thing about this particular build is that a lot of our creatures will be unblockable. With cards like Champion of Lambholt and Herald of Secret Streams, we can play a lot more "When this creature deals combat damage to an opponent" type cards. If you want more of those, the deck can support more. We have ways to get creatures through unblocked and there are some good ones I didn't add, but I think Wrexial and Fallen Shinobi are good ones. Geth and Rise of the Dark Realms are two monster spells that can end the game if there are a lot of dead creatures or you have a ton of mana.

Want more mana? Lean away from Black a bit and look at another deck I incorporated, Experiment Kraj. Kraj decks have lots of ways to generate infinite mana with creatures like Gyre Sage, Argothian Elder, and Leech Bonder. If you find you're having mana issue, look into creatures that can profitably ramp mana hard, like Somberwald Sage which can net you five mana if you change Volrath into it also. Gyre Sage and Incubation Druid very much wanted to make the cut in this deck and might show up in my next draft.

Want to go infect? The deck very much can. I considered the need for alternate win conditions sometimes and settled on Corrupted Conscience which requires you to Proliferate your way to victory after striking them with their own creature. I think that and Viral Drake, which is mostly there because you can Proliferate with it, are enough Infect. I don't want to go hard into that strategy and the heat associated with it, but it's an option.

Finally, in an alternate reality I make this a Biovisionary deck and include a lot more clones and maybe a Blade of Selves and/or Rite of Replication. You have a ton of options with this shell and mine is a very even mix of all of the different influencing forces. Pick one you like and customize how you want, if you're so inclined. As-is, this seems like it accomplishes my goals of not durdling or relying on them to play creatures but being able to take advantage if they do.

What do you think? Wrong number of cards? Too slow or too fast? Wondering why there's no Doubling Season? Leave it for me in the comment section, or share your own Volrath list for others to check out. Until next time!

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