I’m about to tell you the story of a Magic deck; but first, a disclaimer:
If you absolutely, positively must win the next Standard tournament you enter, don’t play this deck.
Ahhh. It’s great to have that off my chest.
You see, I’m not the guy who slips you the secret, mind blowing strategy a few days before the tournament; neither am I the one who takes promising decks and lathes them into killing machines via a week of 8-hour sessions grinding the 2-man queues of MTGO. My brews will not provide you with a surefire ticket to a blue envelope.
I, my friends, am at best a bad beat generator.
A deck designed by me:
- Won’t turbocharge your bid for the Pro Tour, but it will derail someone else’s – probably in round 3 or 4, when they’re trying desperately not to pick up a second loss (after that tight, tight round 2 defeat in extra turns).
- Won’t prompt early concessions from highly skilled opponents, but it will prompt those opponents to express disbelief that they have lost to the cards on the table in front of them.
- Won’t turn your mid-table performances into an X-0 record, but it will turn each game into an intricate, Rubik’s Cube of a puzzle… which those who share my love of complex decision trees will finding outrageously rewarding.
The deck I’m about to describe is hugely, hugely fun – and not terribly expensive. It can wriggle its way out of many different tight spots which commonly present themselves in Standard, but will fold like a nervous gambler to certain hate cards or opportune plays.
This is the way of things: the way of the force (for ‘force’, read ‘bad deckbuilders’).
Before the last rotation of Standard, when Insectile Aberrations still roamed the skies and all your best monsters were just a vapor snag away from becoming your biggest frustrations, a very clever man named Sam Black wrote about his experiments with a trio of cards which had a special interaction:
If your deck contains this package (and provided no-one disrupts the chain of events) you will, given sufficient mana, be able to execute a slow and unending loop which will deliver whatever cards you want, over and over again.
- Step 1: Cast Revelation for a number greater than 2.
- Step 2: Select the other Revelation and Elixir of Immortality as your first 2 cards, then whatever you like in the remaining slots.
- Step 3: At some point, play and activate Elixir of Immortality, shuffling it, the first Revelation and the rest of your graveyard back into your library.
- Step 4: (return to step 1)
I found this concept tantalising. Resolving one Demonic Tutor feels great; resolving as many as I like for the rest of the game sounds like a euphoric drug experience.
I was in. I didn’t care that such a deck would be clunky and require embarrassing amounts of mana to function. I was emotionally committed.
It looks like a deck, but it’s really an enormous sweet shop
I set about brewing at once, cramming literally every pet card at my disposal into a decidedly precarious list. My first draft looked something like this:
Diabolic Revelation x2
Elixir of Immortality x1
Pillar of Flame x4
Augur of Bolas x4
Chromatic Lantern x4
Gilded Lotus x2
Niv Mizzet, Dracogenius x2
Mizzium Mortars x1
Cyclonic Rift x1
Devil’s Play x1
Blasphemous Act x1
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker x1
+ 24 lands in some meaningless configuration
There are lots of cool things going on in this build. Sadly, none of them stopped me from losing to literally every deck in the format.
It rolled over to Aggro, because a playset of Pillar just isn’t enough, even with some Augurs to help out. I would weather the first wave, then get murdered once they drew some more threats, short of the Revelations I needed or of the mana to cast them.
It lost to Mid-Range because… well, Thragtusk. Not so much the life gain, more the hitting for 5 and laughing at removal. It was painful.
It couldn’t win a control war, because their card advantage came on line much earlier in the form of Jace, who I then couldn’t reliably remove. If you have to wait to deal with that guy until you draw a singleton Dreadbore, Bolas, or a Legendary Dragon who disappears at the flutter of an Angel’s serene eyelashes… you are in trouble.
All in all, the deck was a disaster. It was trying to be too many different things at once – and many of those things were unnecessary.
I decided that I needed to be doing fewer clunky things.
Out came the first Thoughtflare, then grudgingly, the second. I wanted the card to be good, but it simply wasn’t in this shell. I needed to be getting through my deck earlier in the game, an effort to which a 5 mana spell was not going to contribute. By the time I got up to 5… well, I had better things to be doing.
The particular ‘better thing’ I had in mind was casting a Gilded Lotus. The Lotus almost guaranteed that I could do something excellent the next turn; I didn’t want to clog up my 5 spot with an instant speed option which would just make decisions more difficult. I realised that I was not the kind of control deck which did clever things at the end of my opponent’s turn, but one that rumbled along at sorcery speed doing big things.
This made the decision to cut all but one Dissipate a simple one. A singleton counterspell was a nice surprise package and, thanks to my infinite recycling plan, could be burned early in the game and return later to force through game-ending threats.
Out came one of the Niv-Mizzets, as much as I loved him. He was great, but he was expensive and mana hungry; a single copy would be plenty in my turbo-tutoring strategy.
Devil’s Play was OK, but it wasn’t doing enough and the Flashback ability was encouraging me to burn it from the graveyard, rather than recycle it for the long game. Out it came.
Finally, I gave up on the ultimate sacred cow: Chromatic Lantern. While I loved the lantern and rarely had mana troubles, I felt like a 3 colour deck shouldn’t really need it to function. Standard offered better accelerators at 3 mana which could give me extra value.
My additions were simple and focussed:
- 4 Think Twice would add velocity, hitting my land drops and drawing me into gas and Divinations. It was important to see more cards to make sure I was finding a Lotus and a Revelation to start going crazy, so even though I’d be losing the draw spells from my recycling engine as I flashed them back, I reasoned that it would be irrelevant once I could reliably start the tutoring chain.
- 3 Rakdos Keyrune would give me a mana rock which could also play defense against everything from a Gravecrawler to a Thragtusk. I hoped they would help stop the bleeding which set in so quickly in my matches, particularly since my only lifegain was the singleton Elixir.
- +1 Dreadbore and Mizzium Mortars would make it easier for me to draw creature and planeswalker control measures before getting a tutor-loop going.
- 1 Rakdos’s Return would give me a big leveller against control, which also offered the reach I had originally sought from Devil’s Play. The possibility of sticking one of these after an EOT Cyclonic Rift was also at the forefront of my mind – few problems are beyond the ability of that tag-team to answer.
- +1 land would take take me to the more sensible total of 25 and cut down on the irritating number of 2-land hands I had to ship back.
Revelation: the next generation
This time around, things were better. Much better.
The draw-smoothing effects of full Think Twice and Divination playsets were very much in evidence, as I routinely made 4th or 5th turn Lotuses and proceeded to power out big spells on the critical turns. In other games, I would simply hit my land drops and trade removal spells before eventually tutoring up a Revelation/Elixir/Lotus package once the attrition war had ground to a halt.
I got in a lot of game time with this version, but eventually, a couple of niggling problems sent me back to the drawing board.
- Problem 1: Niv Mizzet kept dying. He was my only legitimate removal target, since people hate throwing good spells at Augurs – so he was turning all the removal I was blanking back on. It was a sad state of affairs, particularly given the fact that it was very difficult to lose if he lived.
- Problem 2: Top-decked Burn was wrecking me. I was tending to stabilize on low life and, unless I wanted to spend my turns tutoring and looping elixirs but nothing else, I would be walking a tightrope against decks which could simply draw the last few points off the top. I needed a way to consistently regain life without being forced to invest mana every turn, so I could pull back from the precipice whilst having time to advance my own gameplan.
Before I go on, let me make something clear: I realise that I could have solved many of this deck’s issues by simply playing Bant control. Shelling out for the ‘other’ Revelation and some Thragtusks, Jaces etc would have taken care of my weaknesses… but I’m not made of money and really, that’s not what I’m about. I want to do something cool, for an affordable price, which is a bit different. Hopefully this explains why I didn’t just ‘build the better version’.
A revelation within a Revelation
I needed to find a way to replace Niv Mizzet with a more resilient creature, but I didn’t want to lose the card advantage he provided entirely; I also needed a way to recover life after stabilising that didn’t involve hypnotising everyone in the Magic community into believing Wurmcoil Engine was still legal.
Browsing through Gatherer, I stumbled upon a card so near and dear to my heart I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten about it thus far… and which solved the first part of my problem.
Oh, Rev, where had you been? Why had you hidden that pre-mizziumed skin of yours away for so long? I still remembered how awesome it was to Impulse every turn, so I was on-board with the Right Rev. Revenant in about 5 seconds.
That decision, in its own special way, pushed me toward the next (and much more questionable) one.
If I’m already planning to have 1 creature in play, what’s the best way to gain life on a regular basis?
That’s right, folks. Do not adjust your monitor; you are seeing correctly. I am running a deck which can produce huge amounts of mana, tutor whichever cards it wants and play them… and I’m choosing to include Homicidal Seclusion.
And it’s insane.
As soon as I considered running a single Revenant as my creature win condition, then thought about pairing it with the Seclusion, I had a sudden moment of realisation: In all my experience with the deck, one of the most routine scenarios was for my board to include a single creature.
- I frequently had a single Augur of Bolas standing front and centre, stonewalling 2-power beaters or pecking at the opponent’s life total.
- Similarly, I had lost count of how many times my board included one or more Rakdos Keyrunes, which could step forward handily to become a solo creature at my command.
Do you know how good Rakdos Keyrune is when it’s a 6-power lifelinker, friends? Too good for me to describe in a family friendly way.
Can you guess how much easier it is for an Augur to go all the way when he’s generating an 8-pt life-swing every turn? ‘Much’ is probably an adequate answer.
Revelated, cogitated, digested
The current iteration of the deck is listed below, followed by a sideboard – although be warned, I am really, really rough at sideboards.
The Right Rev
Diabolic Revelation x2
Elixir of Immortality x1
Think Twice x4
Pillar of Flame x3
Augur of Bolas x3
Rakdos Keyrune x3
Gilded Lotus x2
Mizzium Mortars x2
Cyclonic Rift x1
Rakdos Return x1
Blasphemous Act x1
Barter in Blood x1
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker x1
Lone Revenant x1
Homicidal Seclusion x1
Steam Vents x2
Blood Crypt x2
Sulfur Falls x4
Drowned Catacomb x4
Evolving Wilds x3
Vampire Nighthawk x3
Curse of Death’s Hold x2
Rakdos Charm x2
Niv Mizzet x1
Slaughter Games x1
The sideboard plan is pretty simple – in some matchups, you’ll want more of certain effects, like Duress or another counter; or the other decks will be aggressive enough that you’ll need the additional lifegain of the Nighthawks; or you’ll want to prevent hordes of small men from getting out of hand, hence the curses; or Planeswalkers will be ruining your day and you’ll need more Dreadbores.
Rakdos charm is included because it’s a flexible answer to Artifact and Graveyard shenanigans – it’s actually the card I’d most want to play against our deck.
Niv Mizzet and Griselbrand are both too fragile to feature maindeck, but after board they allow us to turn into a different kind of Revelation deck. If the opponent brings in Graveyard hate, we want to be able to cast Revelation for a fistful of haymakers rather than a slow, grindy loop – these guys fit the bill perfectly.
Finally, Slaughter games is for a match in which you don’t fear graveyard hate, but you think it might be easier to grind out a deck by recurring an extraction effect. Bant doesn’t tend to run Rest in peace, because they’re an elixir deck too – so at some point taking their revelations, followed by their elixir is a pretty nice sequence.
I’ve had fun – now it’s your turn
Some of you out there will roll your eyes at an article like this; others will think the deck sounds like a laugh and have a shot at building it; some may even take their superior skills and turn it into something truly competitive.
Frankly, as long as even one person has as much fun with this big, slow, complicated thing as I have, I’ll be overjoyed.
A deck like this is a labour of love, not a bid for prizes. Here’s to all the durdlers, who will find their dreams coming true as they activate a huge, life-linking Keyrune to block the 4-toughness attacker sent in by an unthinking opponent. You are, all of you, my brothers and sisters.