Entries Tagged 'Deck Lists' ↓

Elesh Norn Gobbles Up All the Dorks

Elesh Norn from March of the Machine

  • Card Name: Elesh Norn
  • Mana Cost: 2WW
  • Card Type: Legendary Creature – Phyrexian Praetor
  • Rules Text: Vigilance. Whenever a source an opponent controls deals damage to you or a permanent you control, that source’s controller loses 2 life unless they pay {1}. {2}{W}, Sacrifice three other creatures: Exile Elesh Norn, then return it to the battlefield transformed under its owner’s control. Activate only as a sorcery.
  • Illustrated by: Magali Villeneuve

When we last spoke, I had just spent four Magic: The Gathering Arena wildcards on a different Phyrexian Praetor, Vorinclex. But clearly there is more than one sweet Legendary Creature in new set March of the Machine.

Elesh Norn caught my eye because of its dual abilities to borrow from the existing Standard White Control shell, and simultaneously attack and defend from a different angle.

Bring on the 187s! Bring on the Dorks!

There is already a strong tradition for Standard White Control decks to play a lot of card advantageous 187 creatures… Whether they’re de facto cantrips like Spirited Companion or its close competitor, Ambitious Farmhand. A whole school of White Control exists that plays four copies of Ambitious Farmhand and four copies of The Restoration of Eiganjo to help cheat on mana. Despite having a relatively high high end, this style of White Control only plays 22 lands.

I decided to borrow from that mana structure, and just replace The Restoration of Eiganjo with Spirited Companion, so all eight cantrip creatures at the two. Here’s what I’ve been working from:

In addition to drawing lands and moving through the deck, these cheap creatures are also great fodder for new March of the Machines Legend, Elesh Norn.

Elesh Norn needs three creatures to transform into The Argent Etchings. Once she’s in Saga mode, the game will usually end quickly.

The Argent Etchings from March of the Machine

  • Card Name: The Argent Etchings
  • Card Type: Enchantment – Saga
  • Rules Text: (As this Saga enters and after your draw step, add a lore counter.) I — Incubate 2 five times, then transform all Incubator tokens you control. II — Creatures you control get +1/+1 and gain double strike until end of turn. III — Destroy all other permanents except for artifacts, lands, and Phyrexians. Exile The Argent Etchings, then return it to the battlefield (front face up).
  • Illustrated by: Magali Villeneuve

All the cards in the deck are highly synergistic with one another. Wedding Announcement is another source of small creatures that can serve as Elesh Norn fodder. Serra Paragon can buy back Spirited Companion or Ambitious Farmhand from the graveyard. Both these creatures — along with outstanding defensive enchantment Ossification — are especially potent with the five mana version of today’s Legendary Praetor, Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines.

All together this deck retains most of what people want out of White Control — Lay Down Arms early, grinding card advantage through the middle turns — but tops up on a powerful pair of Phyrexian engines that can either end the game immediately or bury the opponent in card advantage.

Elesh Norn Game Play

I made a video with my new deck! I hope you like it. Will our hero (and his new sidekick Elesh Norn) earn a coveted Play-In Point after seven rounds of Standard battle? There is only one way to find out!


Vorinclex Holds It All Together


Vorinclex from March of the Machine

  • Card Name: Vorinclex
  • Mana Cost: 3GG
  • Card Type: Legendary Creature – Phyrexian Praetor
  • Rules Text: When Vorinclex enters the battlefield, search your library for up to two Forest cards, reveal them, put them into your hand, then shuffle. {6}{G}{G}: Exile Vorinclex, then return it to the battlefield transformed under its owner’s control. Activate only as a sorcery.
  • Illustrated by: Daarken

The Rate on Vorinclex

On its face, Vorinclex from March of the Machine is a pretty solid Magic: The Gathering card. A 6/6 creature for five mana with two combat abilities is already in the “not embarrassing” category; but in 2023, we do need a little more oomph to get excited.

Luckily, Vorinclex gives us something to get excited about!

This card has to more abilities! The first one is a Primeval Titan-like ability to search up two lands. A restriction to get Forests only (rather than any kind of land) does make this ability less powerful than Primeval Titan’s. Combine that with only putting them in hand rather than onto the battlefield, and it’s really less powerful!

That said, five mana is a mile less than six mana when you’re anywhere above four mana. So if you put it all together: Reach, Trample, and a double card-draw? Vorinclex gives you a solid return for five mana. It will often be the most powerful permanent on the battlefield upon resolution.

There is this additional ability as well. Vorinclex can transform into The Grand Evolution for an additional eight mana.

The Grand Evolution
  • Card Name: Enchantment — Saga
  • Card Type: Enchantment – Saga
  • Rules Text: I — Mill ten cards. Put up to two creature cards from among the milled cards onto the battlefield. II — Distribute seven +1/+1 counters among any number of target creatures you control. III — Until end of turn, creatures you control gain “{1}: This creature fights target creature you don’t control.” Exile The Grand Evolution, then return it to the battlefield (front face up).
  • Illustrated by: Daarken

The Grand Evolution will come up less often than Vorinclex proper. Even with a two-land boost (from five), eight mana is a high bar in Standard. That said, the ability to search up two addition (often large) creatures, make everyone huge, then kill all the opponent’s creatures to death means that resolving this five-plus-eight will tend to end the game.

And if not? Vorinclex will put it all together again for you after Chapter III.

Golgari Test Deck

I initially tried some mana ramp decks into lots of copies of Storm the Festival. They had predictably high high-ends, but were woefully ineffective against beatdown.

Finally, I settled on this:

Ultimately this is a kind of mid-range Black Control deck in the vein of Hall of Famer Willy Edel’s Golgari lists from when Strixhaven was still legal in Standard. In the early game it has a lot of Black Control’s anti-beatdown DNA, but bridges a higher high-end via Vorinclex.

The nature of exploiting Vorinclex’s 187 ability means having to play a lot of Forests. There are some nonbasic Forests as well, to get late-game black mana (as well as cycle into spells)… But this deck can’t reliably support four copies of Invoke Despair. Instead we have a mix of game-ending bombs, including a solo Storm the Festival. You have to admit it is kind of cool to play both Invoke Despair and Storm the Festival in the same deck.

The sideboard allows the deck to shift into a number of different directions. It can slash the expensive stuff to play a lot of Parasitic Grasp… Combined with Cut Down and Go for the Throat, a full compliment of Parasitic Grasps will make a Red Deck’s life very difficult.

Lots of new decks enabled by March of the Machine play Battles. Other decks play lots of Planeswalkers. Both types of decks spread wide, but with powerful non-creature permanents. After sideboarding, we can both go bigger and fight their go-wide strategy with Karn’s Sylex. Together with more copies of Storm the Festival, Karn’s Sylex can appear early or late to help us take control of the battlefield.

Of course you can just watch how this new deck plays out!

There are tons of appearances from new March of the Machine cards — Battles, Legends duos, and Praetors on both sides of the battlefield. Check it out!


Bending Razorlash Transmogrant

Razorlash Transmogrant

Razorlash Transmogrant from The Brothers’ War

  • Card Name: Razorlash Transmogrant
  • Mana Cost: 2
  • Card Type: Artifact Creature – Zombie
  • Rules Text: Razorlash Transmogrant can’t block. 4BB: Return Razorlash Transmogrant from your graveyard to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it. This ability costs {4} less to activate if an opponent controls four or more nonbasic lands.
  • Illustrated by: Kekai Kotaki

Transmogrant Tenets

Razorlash Transmogrant sees a decent amount of play in a variety of decks. It’s sometimes included in the main, but more often played in the sideboard for specific matchups. If you’ve participated in much Standard, you know there are simply some decks that don’t attack (ergo the inability to block is less of a downside). Decks with lots of spells rather than lots of creatures (you know, the reason they’re not attacking as much) will also tend to be more vulnerable to recurring attacking threats. Cut Down Razorlash Transmogrant the first time? Cool. How about the third? You can’t even counter it (revived from the graveyard) come the mid-game.

Perfect play against Razorlash Transmogrant is challenging (assuming you’re one of the decks it is good against). Recently, the brilliant multiple-time Top 8 competitor Matt Sperling cost himself the elimination rounds at the Regional Championships via a Razorlash-related slip. Matt was intentionally sandbagging his fifth land drop to keep his opponent from being able to buy back his Transmogrant… Until he slipped. Most players can’t even fathom Matt’s line of holding back lands! Ergo, the artifact-Zombie will sometimes burgle you a little extra value.

But Razorlash Transmogrant is stone cold awful some of the time! It has one toughness! Almost anything can trade with it the first time. Up against a Wedding Announcement deck with mostly basic Plains? The artifact creature is not exactly going to glitter. The fact that it can’t block makes it a liability against pure attack decks like the Mono-Red we posted yesterday.

It’s fantastic sometimes and a near-mulligan others. What might make it at least, more consistently, good?

Bending Razorlash Transmogrant

You can’t break this card… But what about bending it? What might be a good shell for the The Brothers’ War’s mechanical Zombie?

That’s a very slight update to a deck that I posted about on CoolStuffInc last week (use promo code “Flores” for 5% off of anything at CoolStuffInc and I’ll love you forever because they’ll love me slightly more, presumably). The update is merely -1 Mountain +1 Swamp. This is an Invoke Despair deck, and I found I was losing games to Mountain + Sokenzan sometimes; Mountain + second Mountain being a legitimate disaster.

This is a good place to play Razorlash Transmogrant for three reasons:

  1. The greedy Liliana of the Veil wants things to discard – Discarding Razorlash Transmogrant is unusually painless, because you can get it back eventually. Against some decks, you can get it back almost immediately, at 4/2, and at a discount.
  2. The deck needs a critical mass of two mana creatures to set up Ob Nixilis, the Adversary anyway. You need something!
  3. Given you need a creature to set up Ob Nixilis, why not a card that is painless to sacrifice that you can get back anyway, almost immediately, at 4/2, at a discount, &c.?

Welcome to Rakdos Planeswalkers, Razorlash Transmogrant!

329 Words on Rakdos Planeswalkers

This deck looks like absolute hell for a Red Deck. 4 Cut Downs + two mana instant speed removal are a powerful front line of defense. Once Ob Nixilis gets going, any deck with cards like Play With Fire and Lightning Strike can start to look a little silly.

This deck will often be operating with three or even more Planeswalkers in play, due to the Casualty on Ob Nixilis. Once you have multiple Planeswalkers in play, forcing a hellbent opponent to play off the top becomes trivial.

What are you giving up to go Planeswalkers? First, you invest in weird creatures like Razorlash Transmogrant. At the same time you eschew the usual — usual and very good — creature packages on turns three and four. Every beatdown player quakes at the prospect of a 3/3 followed by a 4/5… But decks with a lot of Go for the Throat don’t. Rakdos Planeswalkes will punish opponents with a lot of point removal. Targets are not attractive, and most played removal can’t target Liliana.

This remains a powerful Invoke Despair deck! It boasts has four copies of Invoke Despair, rather than the three or even fewer that are seen in some other black mid-range or control strategies. As such it is capable of putting tremendous pressure on the opponent, from multiple angles. Some people just aren’t very good at interacting with Planeswalkers, and the one-two punch of spell-like activations and the biggest BBBB in the format will tax almost any opponent’s defenses. Combine that with recurring threats in the form of Tenacious Underdog and Razorlash Transmogrant and mid-range decks, in particular, will wilt.

Finally, the sideboard does allow Rakdos Planeswalkers to shift laterally into a more conventional Rakdos deck with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Graveyard Trespasser for a better ability to gum up The Red Zone + passively gain life. This is a Swiss Army Knife with a high (though not highest) power level. The re-buy creatures also make Fable of the Mirror-Breaker (always so attractive) even more attractive than most other decks. Thanks Chapter Two!

Rakdos Planeswalkers in Action!

I made a video on my newly re-launched YouTube page featuring this powerful, innovative, and meaningfully different deck. I’d love if you watched it, “Like” it if you like it, and let me know what I can do better:


How BDM Kept Me from a Reckless Impulse

Reckless Impulse

Reckless Impulse from Innistrad: Crimson Vow

  • Card Name: Reckless Impulse
  • Mana Cost: 1R
  • Card Type: Sorcery
  • Rules Text: Exile the top two cards of your library. Until the next turn, you may play those cards.
  • Flavor Text: A stitcher looks at their creation and sees the result of years of study and hours of toil. A devil sees a new plaything.
  • Illustrated by: Mathias Kollros

Last month I really liked this Mono-Red beatdown deck with Reckless Impulse. While I played a variety of decks to earn my Mythic rating, with only one pip to go, I used it to win the crowning pip in Best-of-One.

Designed — or at least promoted (to me) — by the popular YouTube streamer CovertGoBlue, this deck is a joy to play. Instead of clunky large creatures like Thundering Raiju, it is exceptionally stingy with its casting costs… Almost all “1” and “2” mana.

You’re never going to get to only one mana in Standard (versus a format with wider pools of cards, like Modern)… But CGB certainly made the effort.

The Secret of Reckless Impulse

This deck is hyper-aggressive… Even more aggressive and “low to the ground” than other aggressive Red Decks in Standard right now. Every single creature has haste! You might not want to play Bloodthirsty Adversary on turn two, but it’s nice to know that you can, and that she will fill your second turn with two or three damage.

But that’s not the secret! You see, most Red Decks in Standard have at least “mostly” creatures with haste. Some even have bigger and more imposing ones at the four, like Thundering Raiju. What makes CGB’s deck different is how it is laced together.

There are three cards that do this in concert:

  1. Ancestral Anger
  2. Blazing Crescendo
  3. (and of course) Reckless Impulse

All three of these cards either draw a card or have some proxy for drawing a card attached to them. Ancestral Anger is a “cantrip” … That is, you draw a card directly when you cast it. Blazing Crescendo sets a card aside in exile, where you can play it this turn or next. Both of these spells reward you for having creatures with haste. If you have a Phoenix Chick about to attack and the opponent only planned to take one damage, they might be eating two or even four, while you put yourself in a position to draw an extra card.

Since 1/3 of your cards are lands, the presence of Ancestral Anger, Blazing Crescendo, and Reckless Impulse help to lace a deck together with only 20 lands. CGB was thus able to shave two lands out of the usual 22-land Red Deck shell, while simultaneously increasing its access to lands and the deck’s general distribution of lands and spells over the course of a game.

Reckless Impulse itself is less aggressive than its two sister spells in this deck, but does you the solid of “drawing” two cards instead of only one. One note on how to correctly play Reckless Impulse: In most cases you’ll want to play the card before deploying your basic Mountain for the turn. In some cases you’ll flip over two Mountains, meaning that if you play a land first, you’ll lose access to one of them. This is not always possible, and never possible in the case that you’re stuck casting it turn two; but it remains a good rule of thumb.

This deck is awesome. I love it. I mentioned it on CoolStuffInc before leaving for San Diego (pro tip: use promo code “Flores” for 5% off at CSI). Now I’ve even made a video about playing it!

Why Didn’t I Play This Deck at the Regional Championship?

To be fair: This is kind of a gimmick deck.

There was a time when any Red Deck would have been considered kind of a gimmick deck… But this was one in a particular way. If you’re playing Best-of-One on Magic: The Gathering Arena, the opponent’s deck is by definition set. They only have what defense they have and they don’t know what’s coming at them before the first land is played.

The opposite was simply not to be true at the Regional Championships. An “open deck list” tournament, the opponent would have access to my full 75 at the start of each match. Participants literally walked around with printouts of their decks and handed them over for the opponent to study every round!

There are two strikes against this deck in a format like that:

  1. In Best-of-Three, even if you win Game One, the opponent will have the opportunity to bring in all their instant speed removal for the sideboard games. In the current Standard, that removal includes multiple discounted cards that both kill small creatures and gain life.
  2. In Best-of-One, where I fell in love with Reckless Impulse & company, the opponent would not necessarily know what was about to happen. If an opponent has removal in Best-of-One, they might still use all their mana main phase to tap out for a future attacker or otherwise make a proactive play. With open deck lists, opponents would know to play more conservatively. They might hold up mana for removal. They might just bluff removal! Either way, Ancestral Anger might not land (or even be cast). You need cards like Ancestral Anger and Blazing Crescendo to land just to draw your land in this deck. Poison 🙁

My friend and longtime collaborator Brian David-Marshall was the one who convinced me not to play a deck I loved for the above reasons. He was probably right.

Brian and I recently got the band back together. You might like MichaelJ, but I bet you love BDM. Give our latest episode of Top 8 Magic a listen, and tell him to make more on Twitter.


A Bitter Reunion with Sam Black

Bitter Reunion

Bitter Reunion from The Brothers’ War

As far as I can tell, Sam Black has retaken the title of Magic’s strongest active deck builder. If you’ve been following his exploits in Premodern, you know that Sam just won the latest Misty Mountain tournament with a deck of his own design… A very different take on the dominant Land Tax family that — at a minimum — owns a tremendous edge in that slow mirror.

But not everyone even cares about Premodern! I know, I know! (they should)

Sam remains an innovative and important deck builder in contemporary, competitive, Magic as well. There is no better example than his recent “Boros” take on White Control… Essentially the current standard-Standard White Control splashing red for Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Bitter Reunion.

This is the version that he posted on his YouTube channel about a week ago, before the Regional Championships in San Diego:

Sam Boros Control v 1.0

4 Lay Down Arms

2 Ambitious Farmhand
4 Ossification
2 Spirited Companion
3 Bitter Reunion
3 Reckoner Bankbuster

2 Loran of the Third Path
2 The Restoration of Eiganjo
3 Wedding Announcement
4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

3 Serra Paragon
1 The Wandering Emperor

1 Espeth Resplendent

2 Sanctuary Warden
1 The Eternal Wanderer

4 Cabaretti Courtyard
9 Plains
4 Jetmir’s Garden
1 Mountain
4 Sundown Pass
1 Roadside Reliquary


2 Destroy Evil
1 Reckoner Bankbuster
2 Urza’s Sylex
1 Wedding Announcement
2 Archangel of Wrath
1 The Stone Brain
2 Depopulate
2 Farewell
1 Unlicensed Hearse
1 The Mightstone and the Weakstone

Bitter Reunion Makes the Difference

While Sam’s deck shares a lot of DNA with other white control decks, its “difference that makes the difference” is Bitter Reunion. Alongside Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bitter Reunion is the essential justification for a red splash.

What’s going on with that card?

First of all, Bitter Reunion is just an upgrade to a card like Tormenting Voice, that was already good enough to make Top 8 of a Constructed Pro Tour. You get Tormenting Voice’s effect for Tormenting Voice’s cost… but get to keep a permanent.

That permanent status allows you to give serious oomph to cards like Reflection of Kiki-Jiki that the opponent might not expect. Attacking with Sanctuary Warden the turn it hits the battlefield or even Serra Paragon — when you’ve bought the Bitter Reunion back from the graveyard — are features that the standard-Standard White Control simply doesn’t have.

I’ll write more about this deck and its descendant later this week on CoolStuffInc (check out my CoolStuffInc archive!) but I just wanted to give some context to a new video I made for YouTube.

I haven’t updated this blog in years, but you might remember it started out as mostly my Magic blog and kind of sister site to my YouTube channel. I’m going to make a go of bringing both back. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


Oh, here’s the video:

I hope you think it’s sweet!