Strixhaven Limited Set Review with MTG Nerd Girl
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Welcome back to another exciting installment of my article series where I made up a thing 5 years ago and now I'm stuck with it. If you're new to this series, I'm going to assume you're here because a guy at your LGS said a 75% deck was a deck that wins 75% of its game and another guy said no, it's actually a deck that's only 75% done being built and you thought "they can't both be right" and here you are. Thanks for googling me. Neither one of them is right. Read this if you're not sure what a 75% deck is all about and then come back because we're about to do something I don't do often enough.

I build decks in this article series and not all of them are ready to play. The intention is for people to see my thought process represented by the choices of cards I included and if they wanted to build the deck themselves, they would test it and refine it just like any deck they built. That makes the finished product a bit of a collaboration between them and me which I think is cool but in a way. I'm sort of hanging them out to dry a little bit, though, especially if they don't know the deck isn't quite finished. Lately I have been including a few paragraphs after the decklist discussing which cards I would add and which I would remove if you wanted to thematically shift the deck in a new direction while still maintaining the 75% deck-building ethos. That's been edifying for people, but I still think there is more I could do.

On last week's article, one I had a great time writing, I got some feedback (I encourage more of you to comment - I read them and they influence future articles) that inspired me to show my refinement process a bit more.

There is an entire step to my deck-building that I hide from people and since there's nothing from Guilds of Ravnica that wows me beyond what I've discussed already and since we're in a bit of a holding pattern until they preview a Simic commander that's way too good in Commander and will either end up banned or will be super boring because the deck will be too good at drawing 50 cards in two turns, I want to show you the "hidden step" where some of the decks I build get tuned up in secret and we never talk about them again.

It's been a few months since I posted my Xantcha article called "Yourslaver" and I have been really excited about the deck ever since. However, the deck as printed sort of doesn't hang. There are too many "thematic" cards, as I called them, and not enough actual staples. The problem with that is that I draw too many redundant copies of effects I will need late in the game and don't survive that long because I can't handle simple things that come up in games of Magic. I need removal, card draw, ramp, or tutoring and other basic cornerstones of a deck and with too many cards just devoted to the deck doing a unique thing I don't have room for cards I really should be running. This is where refinement comes in and as long as you can tune the deck and make it run more smoothly without abandoning the 75% ethos of the deck, you're in good shape. Sometimes I can't tune it without making it basically the default tryhard version of the deck and that's fine too since all of my decks don't need to be 75%.

The Xantcha deck was one I was very excited about, but even goldfishing it showed there were some problems.

To refresh your memory, here is the list.

Yourslaver | Commander | Jason Alt

Worst Fears
The first issue, right off the bat is that due to an error on my part, the deck contains 98 cards rather than 100. This sometimes happens when I make last second adjustments to a list before I send it to Cool Stuff's editorial staff for publication. Had I caught this error before submission, I would have added a Word of Command and a Worst Fears. Since I consider my decks a rough draft and tell people how they can tune them for their own style of play, I consider the target of including exactly 99 cards and 1 commander to be more for the reader's psychological satisfaction than anything else, but I should still be submitting a deck that can be a deck as listed. With the addition of those cards, we're ready to goldfish the deck a bit. Can you guess what the issue is? If you said "The mana curve is too damn high!" Like it's 2010 and you're still doing a Jimmy McMillan impression, you're right (partially. That Jimmy McMillan thing is played out).

Goldfishing revealed a lot of hands were basically unkeepable due to the amount of 7 drop spells surrounded by a land or two. 36 lands isn't ever enough for a deck and if we're going to add some cards, let's start by bringing our land count to at least 38 if not more. I think we have enough cheap mana rocks but I think we'd rather have Mana Vault than Gilded Lotus based on the number of hands Lotus made me want to mulligan versus how many hands that were pretty exciting if I had a Mana Vault to enable them, even if it meant tanking 4 or 5 damage until we got around to untapping it. Crucible of Worlds is a little bit cute in this deck with only three artifact lands and the unlikelihood (is that a word?) that we will get the Slaver lock going with Goblin Welder, but if you consider the Zuran Orb, I can justify keeping Crucible. Sometimes cards that make you go "yuck" if they're in your opener can make you think about whether you need them in the deck. If you don't want to sleeve the deck yet, use a hand-drawing program like this one to get a feel for how the deck might spit out hands. Look at a hundred or so very quickly, don't obsess and probably don't make any cuts purely on this basis. However, this is always the first thing I do and if you don't have enough lands and mana rocks, it will be obvious after a few hundred hands that you quickly look at and think if you'd be able to keep them.

Once you get a sense for how the deck would mulligan, think about what your plan for the first few turns will be and how likely you are to get the cards you need. If you don't, that's not the end of the world provided the deck has ways to get more cards or tutor directly for what you need. I happen to love Gamble in this deck because you can get any artifact you want and throw it in the 'yard where you can fish it back out later. Early in the game with this deck, I want to build up some mana and then cast and assign Xantcha as early as possible. While lots of decks can draw cards with spells or Phyrexian Arena-type effects, you can use Xantcha to draw cards while she's in someone else's field meaning you can pick a victim early, keep your mana untapped to represent some kill spells and then draw cards right before it's your turn. With only five Instants in the deck, this isn't always possible, so we need to find some other stuff to do early in the game. Already I'm considering very expensive creatures like Archfiend of Despair and Sower of Discord and trying to find some cheaper alternatives to give us action early in the game. Ultimately, I would end up keeping those creatures due to their power level but I did make some other changes elsewhere to smooth out my early game.

By now we have lots of cards on a virtual chopping block and we'll need to replace them eventually. Since we don't have quite enough instants, I decided to add two brutal Rakdos spells from Magic's past that I heard about on an episode of the EDCHREC podcast - Delirium and Backlash. These prevent you from getting damage early, punish someone for aggressing you and let you keep mana untapped at the end of your turn so you can use it for a Xantcha activation and leave a creature alive with the tradeoff that you're going to hurt someone for attacking you and encourage them to aim the creature elsewhere next time - something that will become increasingly hard to do as you wall yourself off with Dread effects. If someone is running away with the game, you may want to Mana Web them. Normally I don't like Mana Web because it's really punishing to one person, but the beauty of this deck is that if someone else gets farther ahead, you sac the Web and bring it back targeting someone else. Think of a few ways to shore up weaknesses that you can anticipate by thinking of how you want the deck to play.

In the middle game, we want to set ourselves up for something that's only going to work once - Slavering someone real bad. If we can maintain this part of the deck we can keep it as the 75% build we're trying for and won't have to abandon our principles. It's going to be mana-intensive to play and activate the Mindslaver in the same turn. It's going to be dangerous to leave the 'Slaver on the table for a full turn cycle, tempting people to smash you before you hurt them with it. That being the case, I think the best way to pull this off is have it in the graveyard and bring it back at the end step of the person before you want to 'Slaver, ideally with Goblin Welder or another instant-speed cost-effective method. Then, activate it that next turn, surprising people to the extent that you can after you left a Mindslaver in the yard. You usually don't want to Slaver the player you gave Xantcha to since you will have a mortal enemy if you can't kill them. Remind whomever you gift Xantcha that they can also use Xantcha as a Greed effect and they might not be as mad about the gifting, especially if there is someone they want to attack for five early and often. My favorite play with this deck so far was giving someone Ashnod's Altar with Bazaar Trader after I Mindslavered their turn, attacking and killing one player with a huge army of tokens then saccing them to Altar and using the mana to kill the Xantcha'd player, drawing a bunch of extra cards which let me keep 7 lands in hand and discarding the rest and then taking my turn and killing that player whose empty board and hand with 7 lands couldn't stop me.

Finally, I don't have enough creatures. I want access to far, far more tokens and playing a few games showed me how unreliably I was able to donate an Idol and keep it donated. I also got attacked a lot by people who were mad that they were getting attacked by Xantcha and wanted sweet revenge. I took a second look at my creatures and realized I had a bit of a Goblin subtheme going and realized I could add more good Goblins and justify running Moggcatcher so I could have Bazaar Trader and Welder more reliably. Thanks, testing games! I could easily cut some of the other creatures and cut a few spells to make room for more Goblins. Just like that, the deck was running much better, accomplishing its aims better and I was sitting on my hands far less. Let's look at the second draft of the deck after some work.

Yourslaver 2.0 | Commander | Jason Alt

Is this a finished deck? No, but it is a second draft I'll be sleeving up and taking to game nights to get a bit more refined. The new goblin subtheme is fun and can make Moggcatcher really good because it gets two combo pieces or can get Treasure Nabber for more artifact goodness or Mad Auntie to try and keep my combo pieces alive. This has a lower mana curve, more utility cards like Sign in Blood and it has deterrents like Backlash and Delirium, not to mention fewer redundant effects. Remember, a 75% deck when brewed in this series is only the beginning - once you sleeve it up and make it your own it's your deck and never be afraid to change your deck. If it gets away from you and can't continue as a 75% deck, that's OK, too because not every deck needs to be 75%. The important thing is that you are happy with where it ends up. I'm going to keep Slavering people out here and I'm going to anxiously wait for new cards to be previewed. Until then, thanks for reading. Until next time!

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