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Meddling Unlikely Alliances

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So . . . it was Emrakul with the spreading insanity in the interplanar portal all along! Who would have guessed? If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed the modern marriage of game and story in a way we haven’t seen since the Weatherlight Saga. Of course, if you’re also like me, you’ve been excited to get your hands on the latest batch of Intro Pack decks, excited to see the themes and mechanics they highlight. With this being the final set to offer them (Kaladesh will usher in the Planeswalker Deck), it’s one last hurrah for the archetype that’s been with us since 2008’s Shards of Alara.

Not only do we get to enjoy five new decks, but it’s also an opportunity for five more Ertai’s Meddlings!

For those just joining us this set, Ertai’s Meddlings is a Gathering Magic feature where we take an Intro Pack deck, strip it down to its basic essence, then rebuild it into a stronger, more cohesive and consistent version. Along the way, there are two strict guidelines we adhere to.

First, while we can take anything out, the only cards we can put back in are commons and uncommons. This is a deck-building exercise, a way to examine the heart of each of the preconstructed decks, and this helps keep it affordable and easy to construct.

For similar reasons, we also restrict the available card pool to those sets already present within the deck. For this set of decks, that means we’re able to pull from Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. If we can’t find enough cards in those sets to sustain a theme, maybe it wasn’t a very good theme to begin with.

We’ll begin, as we do, with a look at the stock deck list, to see what we have to work with. Today we’ll be looking at the W/B “Unlikely Alliances,” a deck that aims to “go wide” with a large number of token creatures, while giving you rewards for having so many expendable troops at your disposal.


First Cuts are the Deepest

The next thing we’re going to want to do is go through the deck with a wicked scalpel, and carve away cards that aren’t doing enough or carrying their weight. In some cases, these are cards that aren’t bad, but just don’t quite fit with the theme. In other cases, they could just be inferior choices overall, as Wizards tends to ‘guide’ deck-building for the novice players as part of the design philosophy of the product.

Sanitarium Skeleton
Skirsdag Supplicant
Vampire Noble

Take a look at our first victim, the Sanitarium Skeleton. On its own, it’s not the worst card in the world, as a 1-drop 1/1 that has the ability to cycle back to your hand after it’s gone off to the graveyard. That’s a nifty trick, but at the end of the day you’re re-buying a vanilla 1/1 for 4 mana, which isn’t on its own very useful. One of the roles the card plays here is to soften the tax of cards like Angelic Purge and Morkrut Necropod. But if you’re closing out a game with the 7/7, hard-to-block Necropod, do you really need to dedicate a precious card slot to softening it? In most cases, I’d throw away an extra land without a second thought, so using the Skeleton’s slot for something that puts me in a more dominant position seems the better play.

Next up is the Skirsdag Supplicant, another good example of the right card in the wrong deck. Sure the Sanitarium Skeleton sounds like fun here, forming a recursive engine that drains each player of 2 life in exchange for 5 mana, once per turn. That’s not a particularly efficient (or even threatening) engine, and it stops being useful if you’re behind on life, so a better use of the Supplicant would be to use it for cards that you’d want to throw away, cards with madness for instance. That requires a more dedicated build, and is not the direction we’ll be headed today.

As a vanilla creature, the 3/2 Vampire Noble is a painless cut, and we’ll also be dispensing with the Gavony Unhallowed. Those of a sharper eye might have deduced that we’ll be keeping the Unruly Mob, so why then are we ditching the upgraded, Black version? In large part, this is because the Unhallowed cost twice as much for the same effect. Sure, they get a beefier base body, but cards like this get the most mileage when they’re played early. It only takes one creature dying for the Mob to have the exact same power as the Unhallowed.

Haunted Dead
Emissary of the Sleepless

Next up is the Haunted Dead. This is an example of a card that might be doing what we want (bringing along a 1/1 Spirit), but a bit outclassed by other options. Although we like two triggers for the Sanctifier of Souls, the 2/2 Zombie the Dead offers is a bit weak for a four-mana investment. The same criteria invalidate the Emissary of the Sleepless, which offers a heavily-defensive, low-powered flier and a conditional 1/1 Spirit- all for 5 mana. Once you start getting into that price range, you want cards that are going to make an immediate impact on the board. It may be a geist, but the Emissary won’t scare your opponent.

We Have the Technology

This gives us plenty of room to work with if we want to rebuild the deck stronger, better, faster. The most obvious Meddling decision we make here is rounding up to playsets, something you typically won’t find in Intro Packs. As mentioned above, part of the Intro Pack design process involves what you might call “guided deck-building,” a way of subtly urging a novice player to begin tinkering with the deck. One easy way to do this is to avoid including four copies of any card, even cards where it makes clear sense to do so (think Galvanic Bombardment and Take Inventory, both three-ofs in the Dangerous Knowledge Intro Pack). Love playing this card, the deck asks, go ahead and add another!

While singleton decks have abundant charms, we’re not building a Duel Deck. Consistency is a virtue here, not a vice. So we want to boil the deck down to as few distinct cards as possible, then include as many copies as it makes sense to do so.

Unruly Mob
Desperate Sentry
Pious Evangel

To begin with, this means that we’re going to take a full playset of Unruly Mob. This is a “grow-your-own-beater” card, a way to take advantage of the attrition that’s sure to happen in the course of a game. It’s a fine card to have, too, when you’re back on the heels a bit, every 1/1 Spirit token you use to chump block an attacker means your ability to fight back just got that much stronger.

Next up is the Desperate Sentry, a card that synergizes well with the Unruly Mob. Sure, a three-mana 1/2 is no wonder, but it replaces itself when it dies by something even stronger. While we’re not building this deck to enable delirium, it’s just an added bonus that you might occasionally hit. This card is good enough here without it, and we’ll take a full four.

Next up is a new face, the Pious Evangel. This dual-faced card works fine if not spectacularly in his default iteration, giving you a 2/2 body with some lifegain to boot. However, by offering up even a single Spirit token to the Evangel, he transforms into the Wayward Disciple, and now the fun can truly begin. Not only will you gain life for each creature that dies, but your opponent will lose 1 life as well. The 4 toughness gives you some congestion on the ground as your Spirits work in the air, and the ability to “hedgehog” your opponent means they’ll have to weigh aggression against their own exposure to damage. Like the Unruly Mob, this one is fun in multiple numbers, too.

Sanctifier of Souls
Nearheath Chaplain
Morkrut Necropod

Next up is the Sanctifier of Souls, the deck’s premium rare. It’s very unusual in a Meddling to ever cut a rare, and with the Sanctifier there’s no reason to. The Sanctifier offers two abilities that are fairly solid, and their synergy with one another is a nice perk. On the one hand, he can create Spirits out of your graveyard by exiling creatures, and on the other it gains +1/+1 until the end of turn for every creature entering the battlefield. This is useful for later in the game when you could see as many as four creatures enter play for as little as 5 mana, and that’s not Magical Christmasland thinking.

Part of this tactic would be through the use of the Nearheath Chaplain. Now, that presumes he’s met an untimely end, but then that’s not that difficult for a 3/1 body. If you exile him from the graveyard, you get a pair of 1/1 Spirits, and then if you pop a Vessel of Ephemera, you’ll get two more. Voila! Four Spirits for 5 mana, and one beefy, 6/7 Sanctifier ready to extract righteous retribution. The Chaplain offers more than just a limited replacement warranty, though. 3 power is very solid in both directions in the red zone, and the lifegain bit might not be quite enough to compel us to play Lone Riders, but it does offer a tantalizing hint of a slightly different direction this deck could go. Perhaps you’ll be the one to build it?

Now, having a sky filled with 1/1 Spirits is a lot of fun, but we’ll also want to have some more muscular options, but in case things don’t go according to plan. We don’t need a lot here, but we’re going to take two copies each of two different cards for closers. First, we’ll take a second copy of Morkrut Necropod. While this massive 7/7 Slug Horror requires the sacrifice of a creature or land to bloody its hands in combat, by the end of the game that should be fairly attainable. Not only that, but just how many swings are you going to need before the Necropod chews through a defense and begins pulping your opponent? Having menace means that it’ll typically be taking out two or more defenders at a go.

The other option for us here is a fun one, the Abundant Maw. This Eldrazi Horror uses the emerge mechanic to come into play a little more cheaply, and offers a very satisfying 6-point swing in the game (hmm . . . 

Murder
Vessel of Ephemera
Providence

This puts us at twenty-one creatures, so we'll have room for fifteen supporting spells. This part's easy. To support our primary, creature-focused strategy, we want to add in some removal to make sure the attack lanes, particularly those in the air, are clear for our beaters. We'll take [card]Murder" href="/p/Magic%3A+The+Gathering/Lone+Rider%5B%2Fcard%26thinsp%3B.%26thinsp%3B.%26thinsp%3B.%26thinsp%3Bhmm%29.+The+deck%27s+primary+win+condition+is+through+creatures%2C+particularly+evasive+ones%2C+but+a+secondary+strategy+is+going+to+be+to+hit+them+from+a+distance+as+well.+This+card+plays+into+both-+in+addition+to+giving+us+another+sac+outlet+to+fuel+the+Mobs.%0D%0A%0D%0A%3Cdiv+align%3D%22center%22+style%3D%22margin-bottom%3A+10px%3B%22%3E%3Ctable%3E%3Ctr%3E%3Ctd%3E%3Ca+target%3D%22_blank%22+href%3D%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.coolstuffinc.com%2Fp%2FMagic%253A%2BThe%2BGathering%2FMurder%22%3E%5Bcardimg+align%3D%22center%22+alt%3D%22Murder%22%5DMurder%5B%2Fcardimg%5D%3C%2Fa%3E%3C%2Ftd%3E%3Ctd%3E%3Ca+target%3D%22_blank%22+href%3D%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.coolstuffinc.com%2Fp%2FMagic%253A%2BThe%2BGathering%2FVessel+of+Ephemera%22%3E%5Bcardimg+align%3D%22center%22+alt%3D%22Vessel+of+Ephemera%22%5DVessel+of+Ephemera%5B%2Fcardimg%5D%3C%2Fa%3E%3C%2Ftd%3E%3Ctd%3E%3Ca+target%3D%22_blank%22+href%3D%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.coolstuffinc.com%2Fp%2FMagic%253A%2BThe%2BGathering%2FProvidence%22%3E%5Bcardimg+align%3D%22center%22+alt%3D%22Providence%22%5DProvidence%5B%2Fcardimg%5D%3C%2Fa%3E%3C%2Ftd%3E%3C%2Ftr%3E%3C%2Ftable%3E%3C%2Fdiv%3E%0D%0A%0D%0AThis+puts+us+at+twenty-one+creatures%2C+so+we%27ll+have+room+for+fifteen+supporting+spells.+This+part%27s+easy.+To+support+our+primary%2C+creature-focused+strategy%2C+we+want+to+add+in+some+removal+to+make+sure+the+attack+lanes%2C+particularly+those+in+the+air%2C+are+clear+for+our+beaters.+We%27ll+take+%5Bcard%5DMurder">Lone Rider[/card . . . hmm). The deck's primary win condition is through creatures, particularly evasive ones, but a secondary strategy is going to be to hit them from a distance as well. This card plays into both- in addition to giving us another sac outlet to fuel the Mobs.

Murder
Vessel of Ephemera
Providence

This puts us at twenty-one creatures, so we'll have room for fifteen supporting spells. This part's easy. To support our primary, creature-focused strategy, we want to add in some removal to make sure the attack lanes, particularly those in the air, are clear for our beaters. We'll take [card]Murder here, which are superbly inexpensive given the modern trend toward less efficient removal (see our three-part series on Gathering Magic here, here, and here). When killing something isn’t quite enough, we’ll also want to have some Angelic Purges on hand. Sure these cost us a permanent, but that’s less painful if the card is either an extraneous, late-game land or a card that can offer us aid from the grave, such as the Nearheath Chaplain.

We’ll also happily take a set of Bound by Moonsilvers, which will be our primary removal option. These Pacifism variants let us sacrifice a permanent to change targets, meaning we’ll always have the ability to neutralize our opponent’s best creature. Just as with Angelic Purge, the ability to send a land to the graveyard is also a piece of the delirium puzzle for the Desperate Sentry. Again, that’s gravy when it hits, but it’s certainly attainable.

From the original deck, we’ll also happily take four Vessel of Ephemera, which we can sacrifice to get two 1/1 Spirits at instant speed (interestingly, compare that to Spectral Reserves). We’ll also want to have Campaign of Vengeance, which is pricey at 5 mana but ties in well with a deck amassing a small swarm of hard-to-block attackers. This reinforces the deck’s ability to hit from distance that we’ve seen with a few of the other cards we’re including in this Meddled build.

Finally, and somewhat controversially, we’ll keep Providence, the deck’s second rare. I don’t care for this card, the six-point life gain you get if it’s in your opening hand doesn’t make up for the fact that it’s going to be a dead card for so much of the game. Nor is it a card that in any way changes the board state when you pay it. If you’re way behind on life, you’re usually way behind on life for a reason, and tinkering with your life total doesn’t change the board state in your favor. At best, it buys you more time to stabilize . . . but wouldn’t you usually prefer a card that does the stabilization for you? For that reason, while I’ll officially be leaving it in for the fun factor, I might personally slip it out in favor of another Murder.

As always, your mileage may vary. There’s a surprising and delightful level of depth to this set and in these colors, and this is just one way to build. I’ve hinted at Lone Rider a couple of times above, and you could also go in a more aggressive direction with Heir of Falkenrath and Pale Rider of Trostad, both of whom require the discard of a card to be fully effective. Perhaps the Nearheath Chaplain? Sanitarium Skeleton? Ahh, but if you’re going down the road of discard . . . 

 . . . well, down that path lies madness.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Meddling, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts below.


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