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Slaughterhouse Rebuilt

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Things were good in the village . . . until the day the stranger came. I can say “good” in the sense that we were still alive, holding back the fiends of the night, and still able to provide for our families. You can consider yourself lucky if you get more than that those days.

What were we revolting against? By the end of it, no one knew—and fewer cared. We all had our grievances, our angers, our frustrations. The pent-up sufferings of a hunted people. The stranger strung the strands of our misery up like a lute and played a song that entranced us all. Before long, we were grabbing anything we could get our hands on that could be used to attack another person—shovels, pitchforks, the odd sword or two from an aged militiaman—and looked to have our voices heard. We wouldn't have to wait very long, but who could have suspected then that soon the screams of terror would be our own?

The Helvault has shattered, and Avacyn is once again free to extend her guardianship to the world of Innistrad. As we know now, her freedom was purchased at no small cost, as Griselbrand and a host of demons have been released as well.

Harvester of Souls
Emboldened by the return of their guardian angel, the inhabitants of the plane have begun to strike back at the night and reclaim their lives. It is a struggle that has been borne out across the five Intro Pack decks of Avacyn Restored, with the Humans (in Fiery Dawn) and Angels (Angelic Might) at the very forefront of the conflict. The soulbond mechanic, representing the joining together of the peoples of Innistrad in common cause, is showcased in Bound by Strength .

Of course, the demons and monsters of the world may be on their heels, but they've hardly been vanquished. The decks Slaughterhouse and Solitary Fiends testify to the fact that wickedness remains in Innistrad. The set's forces of malevolent evil have typically been portrayed as brutal, monstrous, and thuggish, but today, we'll be looking at things from a different angle—the insidious side of cunning and manipulation.

Slaughterhouse is a B/R construction that focuses on using sacrifice to power itself to victory. With an abundance of death triggers, it whispers the promise of power in the form of gained life, drawn cards, and beefed-up creatures if you only spill a little blood on its figurative altar.

Unfortunately, its dreams of power do not quite match its means. Hampered a bit by the smaller card pool (it draws cards from Avacyn Restored and Magic 2012 only), it's inconsistent and clunky in execution. Today, we'll be breaking the deck down and rebuilding it to give it the power it so desperately craves. To keep the deck in budget and readily available, I'll be limiting my card selection to Innistrad block and Magic 2012, and I’ll be adding only commons and uncommons.

The bulk of the deck's creatures can largely be broken down into two main categories: things that want to die and things that want other things to die. In crafting a sacrifice-themed deck, striking the right balance between the two is critical. The last thing you want is too much fodder standing around waiting for the opportunity to die or the reverse: a bunch of sacrifice outlets at the dinner table bickering over the last roll in the breadbasket.

Slaughterhouse looked to address this problem by stocking the deck with cheap creatures you'll be happy to kill and then letting the sac outlets start to roll out around the midgame. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but let's see if we can't tighten things up.

Goblin Arsonist
Things we keep: The Goblin Arsonist has a secure spot on the bench. With other creatures like the Blood Artist and Havengul Vampire happy to see him die, his ability to trigger at will means that he's not reliant upon having a sac outlet on the board to be useful—he is his own sac outlet. That's a solid insurance policy, as we'll be making liberal use of the morbid keyword in our rebuilt deck.

Speaking of the Blood Artist, this is a card that has been getting some notice in the competitive circuit as of late. Championed by deck builders like Jesse "Smi77y" Smith and Conley Woods, it's a nuisance on its own and downright lethal in multiples, so we'll be upping this to a full play set to take fullest advantage.

The Havengul Vampire is a solid keeper as well, though thanks to its converted mana cost of 4, we won't be adding quite as many. One of the stock deck's problems was a high mana curve, and taking some of the air out of the deck and slimming it down will reap dividends on the battlefield.

Reassembling Skeleton
Magic 2011 gave a giant, sloppy kiss to sacrifice decks in the form of the Reassembling Skeleton, and I’m happy it made the list for reprinting. With the ability to essentially be cast out of the graveyard over and over, it's custom-tailored to support one of our big beaters, the Demonic Taskmaster, as well as the Bloodflow Connoisseur. We'll also be finding places for the deck's other bomb-sized threats, the Demonlord of Ashmouth and the Harvester of Souls. All of these are big, fat, and ugly, helping to close out a game after the sacrifice engine has done its grisly work.

Things we cut: As it happens, there's a lot more that falls into this category since we're overhauling the deck from the ground up. Slaughterhouse tried to be a bit too cute in its execution, playing with sacrifice costs even when we didn't need them. For that reason, we'll be cutting both Bone Splinters and Fling. These were fine ways to make things die (on both sides of the table), but we'd rather save our sacrifice fodder to use for the Connoisseur, the Taskmaster, and the Demonlord. For that reason, Barter in Blood is also out. There's never any way to guarantee that the creatures your opponent is killing are more valuable than the ones you are, and forcing you to spend a card to do so is a bit suboptimal. When we get around to destroying things on the far side of the table, we'll want to do so with far greater precision.

Grave Exchange
That also means we bid adieu to Grave Exchange, which was over-costed anyway for what it did. Unhallowed Pact is similarly situational, and we'll jettison that alongside the filler Scroll of Griselbrand. That's right: we've just nuked the entire complement of noncreature support in the deck! Of course, that gives us plenty of room to tailor it to our own nefarious ends.

As for creatures, much of what's being left out are cards too expensive for what they offer. The Maalfeld Twins are superb at giving you value for your mana, but the problem is that they’re just too expensive. For the same reason, the Gang of Devils is out, and the Raging Poltergeist's 1 toughness rules it out as well. The last thing you want to do is summon a 5-mana defender, but that's all the Poltergeist will be if your opponent has even a single 1/1 Spirit token floating about. The Soulcage Fiend isn't a bad deal—a 3/2 body for 3 mana—but it's heavily black with a conditionally desirable death trigger. We can do better.

By the same token, the Butcher Ghoul isn't terrible either given that we can get up to two uses out of it thanks to undying. But like the Hunted Ghoul and Driver of the Dead, it doesn't wow us, and it will be cut to make room for better options the block offers. The Evernight Shade receives our final pink slip. Wizards tends to like slipping Shades into two-color precon decks as a way to put a small check on their power level. There's just not enough potential return on the investment for a 4-mana 1/1 here.

Time to Rebuild!

In order to build a solidly consistent deck, it helps to try to reduce the deck to its basest elements and then maximize the cards’ value and frequency through multiples. For this reason, we'll begin with added copies of the Goblin Arsonist, Blood Artist, and Reassembling Skeleton. Taken as a trio, they give our deck a solid foundation to begin from for our early plays.

Bloodflow Connoisseur
From there, we want additional Bloodflow Connoisseurs. Although we have bombs on the back end, she's a decently affordable sacrifice outlet that can grow into a threat all her own. The danger with these sorts of cards is that you sacrifice a bunch of creatures to build her up, and then your opponent devastates you with removal. Although the Innistrad environment tends to be a bit lighter on removal, this is no less of a concern. The deck's answer to this is to hedge by wringing every last drop of value out of each death. If you sacrifice a creature to her and then see her destroyed, you still could gain life from the exchange with the Blood Artist, help your Havengul Vampire grow bigger, and secure a morbid trigger. It's not a perfect answer, but build up enough incremental advantage, and you'll find yourself ahead overall.

Slaughterhouse comes equipped with a pair of Demonic Taskmasters, and we'll be adding a third. He's a terrific threat to drop on turn three, but he doesn't play well with others—not even his own kind. If multiple Taskmasters didn't cannibalize one another, we'd go for the full four, but this should give us a good chance of seeing one without overcrowding. As our final 3-drop, we'll be adding a pair of Wakedancers. Offering 4 power for 3 mana is an attractive offer, and in a deck like this, you should have as good a chance as any of ensuring that her morbid is active when she’s cast. Having a pair of 2/2 bodies from one casting is relevant as well here.

Havengul Vampire
Moving toward the top of the deck's curve, we don't have a lot of surprises in store since we're keeping both of the deck's rares (the Demonlord and the Harvester). That said, we'll happily add one more Havengul Vampire. Overall, we've taken the average converted mana cost of the deck's creatures from 3.20 down to 2.92, and we'll see an even further reduction once we repopulate the noncreature support.

Going all-in on morbid, we'll be taking advantage of the extreme lethality offered to us by the cards Tragic Slip and Brimstone Volley. Shoe-ins for this sort of construction, we'll want a full play set of both. The Slips should be able to kill anything we need it to at a single b, while the Volleys give us the range to burn out our opponent from across the table. The final four spells are our secret weapon, showing off the sinister and corrupting influence of evil: Thatcher Revolt.

Mark Rosewater's pick for his favorite card of the set, the Revolt is a perfect fit here. The three attacking Humans can get in for damage as well as a free morbid trigger if any of them is absorbed by your opponent's defenses. They can also be used to buff your Bloodflow Connoisseur or pay the blood price of your Demonlord of Ashmouth. Finally, at the end of their all-too-brief life cycle, they can give you another shot at morbid and/or trigger your Blood Artists and Havengul Vampire. In short, in a manner not unlike Lebowski's carpet, they really tie the deck together.

I hope you've enjoyed this second look at Avacyn Restored's Slaughterhouse. The deck as-is had loads of promise, but it’s maddeningly short of delivering all the evil wickedness the box promises. May you never look at a thatcher the same way again!