Friday, November 9, 2007

RB Husk for States

Greetings from Great Britain, home of exotic novelties such as tea, crumpets, British people, and, according to Wizards of the Coast at least, the home of Celtic folklore which was the inspiration behind Lorwyn.

In Kamigawa, essentially a plane based on Medieval Japan, we were privileged to see a world full of epic conflict between Kami, Ninjas and Warrior Monks. Surely Britain, home of fierce woad raiders, innovative druids, and talented bards, not to mention such legendary figures such as King Arthur and William Wallace would at least be able to match that? Apparently not. Lorwyn is an idyllic plane where black aligned creatures want to steal the pie you’ve left cooling on the window sill instead of chewing on your brains, white creature all look like Cory Feldman (seriously, Cenn’s Heir?) and just want to be your bestest friend, and the worst thing a merfolk will do is douse you in water.
What? You haven’t come here to listen to me ranting about how Wizards have butchered British folklore? You want a decklist to play at States because you’ve spent the last few weeks actually doing things with your life instead of playtesting magic 24/7? People like you disgust me…
In fact you people disgust me so much that, rather than giving you any sort of in depth analysis, I’m just going to give you a decklist. Now shoo, let me rant in peace: RB Husk
Main Deck
4 Graven Cairns
4 Auntie's Hovel
3 Sulfurous Springs
2 Kher Keep
1 Urza's Factory
5 Swamp
5 Mountain
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Greater Gargadon 4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Shriekmaw
3 Nantuko Husk
3 Siege-Gang Commander
3 Liliana Vess
4 Epochrasite
4 Grave Pact
1 Fatal Frenzy

1 Damnation
1 Fatal Frenzy
4 Augur of Skulls
4 Thoughtseize
1 Boom/Bust
1 Pithing Needle
1 Void
2 Strangling Soot

Happy? No? You want MORE…?
… fine. Let’s start with a completely irrelevant quote: Scott Adams, he’s the delightful chap who writes Dilbert comic strips for all you uninitiated savages, once said that Originality = Imitation + Lack of Talent. Whilst I would love to assign the similarities of this deck to Antonio de Rosa’s US nationals deck, RB Gargadon with Fatal Frenzies and main deck Threatens, to my obviously unmatchable talents as a deck builder, this deck actually came about because I saw some guy playing and winning lots of games with his Grave Pact deck in friendly games during an FNM and stole his list. Well… that would be true, except by “some guy” I really mean “one of my friends” and by “stole” I mean “begged him repeatedly for the list until he gave it to me”. With a few minor adjustments (Doomed Necromancer is not really a tier 1 tournament calibre card), I came up with a list very close to the one you see above.

So, why should you run RB Husk at states? To be frank, I don’t think you should. States is three days away (less once you read this), and unless you are one of the 5-10 lucky people that already have this list and have been helping me to playtest and develop it over the last 3 weeks, odds are that you won’t have enough time to learn how to play it to a suitably high standard to do well at states. I’m not even going to mention the difficulty that most of you will have in acquiring so many new cards at such short notice. Essentially, I’m just writing this article so that I can turn around next week and say, “ha ha ha, told you so”. It’s called being a “nice guy”. Feel free to thank me for it; I accept cheques, cash and paypal.

That said, there is still a decent chance that some number of you will ignore my advice and run the deck anyway. So, in order to pre-empt the whiney comments and emails complaining about how I’ve somehow misled or forced you into running such an awful deck for States, I AM going to give you a run through of how to play the deck and what its good and bad matchups are.

Why Play Husk?
Husk has 4 main advantages over other aggro decks, especially in a format that is traditionally aggro-orientated, such as States:
1. It can win out of nowhere, against a number of different board positions due to high density of power cards that it runs such as Fatal Frenzy, Siege Gang Commander, Grave Pact and Liliana Vess, whilst still maintaining what is essentially a successful core Gargadon/Goblins strategy that has been tried and tested over the last 6 months. Oh, Husk + Siege Gang Commander/Mogg War Marshall is some good I hear.
2. It basically has a bye against any deck that relies on creatures to win. Most aggro decks literally have no answer to Grave Pact game 1 (with Liliana tutorage, you essentially run 7), and even if they do, or can bring in answers to it, like Oblivion Ring and Krosan Grip, you can still easily wipe their board by sacrificing excess goblin and kobold tokens to Nantuko Husk or Greater Gargadon before passing priority. Whilst Gaddock Teeg does stop both Liliana and Grave Pact, the deck runs 7 main deck answers to it (Siege Gang Commander and Shriekmaw), not to mention double Mogg Fanatic, and can still win quite easily without dropping its signature enchantment through playing efficient guys and beating down. Against control decks that rely on creatures, such as Pickles, Grave Pact is “just” another “must counter” spell, which is hardly a bad thing.
3. In a format where Story Circle and Purity are heavily played, having Urza’s Factory, Epochrasite and Liliana Vess as pseudo reach post-Wrath/Damnation (as opposed to say, burn spells), is a much more reliable core strategy.
4. The deck is highly customisable according to your local metagame. Aside from Gargadon, Mogg War Marshall, Siege Gang Commander, Grave Pact and Kher Keep, every card in the deck is potentially interchangeable. I have seen some builds that run Nether Traitors (good with Gargadon/Husk) over Epochrasite at the 2 mana slot, and have 1 or more Loxodon Warhammers to turn them into legitimate threats (not to mention Kher Keep tokens), it is also entirely possible to cut the Liliana package and run a straight RB Husk deck with more copies of Fatal Frenzy and Siege Gang Commander, or play a more controlling build with Damnation(s) main deck.
How does the deck work?
There are essentially 4 core components to the deck: Creature Generators, (Sacrifice) Outlets, Support Cards and Lands. Essentially the deck wins by generating a lot of creatures and then filtering these creatures into its sacrifice outlets for fun and profit. Of course, in a deck with limited card draw and tutoring, this doesn’t always happen, but one of the greatest strengths of the deck is the redundancy it enjoys in ways to win. If you draw a lot of creature generators, sometimes you can just overwhelm your opponent through sheer numbers, multiple Greater Gargadons make fine blunt instruments with which to race, and Liliana Vess is capable of winning all by herself in many different ways.
Creature Generators
(Mogg War Marshall, Siege Gang Commander, Kher Keep, Urza’s Factory, Epochrasite)
These card generate several creatures, either immediately (Mogg War Marshall) or over several turns (Kher Keep).
(Sacrifice) Outlets
(Greater Gargadon, Nantuko Husk, Siege Gang Commander, Grave Pact)
Generating lots of creatures is a fine core strategy, however, you’re not going to win the game attacking with 1/1 goblins and 0/1 kobolds, and there isn’t really an Overrun equivalent in Red or Black. These cards allow you to trade your 1/1s for larger creatures, damage or even opposing creatures.
Support Cards
(Mogg Fanatic, Shriekmaw, Liliana Vess, Fatal Frenzy)
Mogg Fanatic and Shriekmaw are the best creatures available for their respective costs, any other synergies that they have with the rest of the deck are just gravy. Liliana is a secondary win condition against control decks that helps you assemble all the relevant pieces necessary to win quickly against aggro decks. Fatal Frenzy is a card that randomly wins games by allowing you to swing for a lot of semi-evasive damage out of nowhere.
Yes, you didn’t misread the earlier decklist. This is an aggro deck that plays 26 lands. When playing RB Husk, you really want to hit your first 5 land drops, and, once you draw Liliana, her tutor ability will limit the number of lands you draw for the rest of the game. The deck also has multiple uses for extra lands: Playing Siege Gang Commander with 2 mana open is better than tapping out for it, and Urza’s Factory is a fine secondary kill condition.
I am slightly hesitant to talk about sideboard choices, as sideboards are very metagame/playstyle dependant. There are several cards not mentioned here that would make fine sideboard cards, from extra copies of Boom/Bust (good against control), Damnation (good against aggro), Loxodon Warhammer (giving Kher Keep tokens, Nantuko Husk and Greater Gargadon additional power/evasion is good), or even Footbottom Feast/Dodecapod (great against GB Rack variants). However, in view of recent results (Magic-League masters and Star City Games $1000 dollar open), I think the following is probably a suitably diverse sideboard:
1 Damnation (essentially Grave Pact number 5)
1 Boom/Bust (good against control)
1 Pithing Needle (Story Circle/Planeswalkers/Feldon’s Cane/Treetop Village)
1 Fatal Frenzy (in some matchups, Liliana is too slow, it helps to have excess frenzies main deck to give you a better chance of drawing them when you can’t tutor)
1 Void (artifact kill that occasionally does something else)
2 Strangling Soot (good against Pickles, Blink and Elves)
4 Thoughtseize (good against certain types of counterspell control decks)
4 Augur of Skulls (see also Stupor, discard is useful against rack and control decks, augur lets you play more discard without reducing the number of creatures you play)
What are the deck’s good and bad matchups?
Even I am not arrogant enough to predict how well/badly a deck will do in a metagame that is as yet unspecified, where even the optimal builds of tier one decks have yet to be decided. The fact that RB Husk wins so many game ones is definitely a bonus, as many deck builders assume that, having lost game one, they will be able to sideboard into a winning strategy game two, often forgetting that:
a. The opponent gets to sideboard too.
b. Even after sideboarding, there is a possibility that none of the cards you have sideboarded in will show up.
c. In game one, you might not even have seen the principle way that your opponent’s deck wins. For instance, many people will side in a lot of enchantment kill against this deck, hoping to kill Grave Pacts, and then find their cards dead as you just beat them up with Nantuko Husk and Siege Gang Commander.
d. No matter how good your sideboarding strategy is, if you lose game one, it just takes one god draw from your opponent, or one mulligan into oblivion to lose the match.
Essentially, there are 4 main categories of matchups for BR Husk.
Very Good Matchups
Any sort of aggro or midrange deck that lacks “true reach”, by which I mean burn. Decks that fall into this category include Kithkin Variants, GW Midrange Variants, Elves, and Aggro Rock builds (with or without Rack). In these matchups, untapping with a resolved Grave Pact or Siege Gang Commander is often as good as game, and, although it is certainly true that the superior creatures of these decks (read: Treetop Village, Garruk and Tarmogoyf) can cause problems if you draw all your expensive cards early on, you certainly won’t be complaining if you are forced to play this sort of matchup every round.

Good Matchups
Aggro decks with decent reach (Goblins and Rg burn variants) and control decks that rely on creatures to win (Pickles and Haakon Teachings). Grave Pact is less good when an opponent has more creatures than you, and goblins is certainly capable of drawing more Mogg War Marshalls, and Siege Gang Commanders than you. If this happens, and it’s backed up by Wort, Bogart Auntie, you will often lose, that’s a lot of ifs though. Playing so many 4 and 5 mana spells against aggressive burn decks with no life gain is asking for trouble, and although you can often race, sometimes you can just get blown out by super fast hands (especially as you don’t necessarily know not to keep your double Siege Gang Commander hand game one). Haakon, Stromgald Scourge is very poor against Grave Pact, but is one of the principle ways Teachings decks are currently being built to handle aggro. Pickles is a decent matchup because of the large number of “must counter” spells that RB Husk runs. Also, the typical Pickles sideboard with Academy Ruins, orientated towards beating traditional aggro is really really bad against this deck.

Okay Matchups
Control Decks that don’t rely on creatures to win. Mono White control variants with Sacred Mesa and/or Crovax, some Teachings/Flare builds. In these matchups, it often comes down to drawing and keeping Liliana around long enough to build a decent advantage. Story circle in Mono White is a pain for this deck, but nowhere near as bad as for other aggro decks, as you often have multiple tokens (forcing them to leave lots of mana open), and the two principle attacking threats in the deck are different colours (Gargadon and Husk). Epochrasite and Urza’s Factory give decent resilience to Wrath of God effects as well. Teachings decks whose primary kill condition is Triskelavus + Academy Ruins just laugh off Grave Pact shenanigans, and it often comes down to playing a Siege Gang Commander and hoping it manages to go all the way (Slaughter Pact is rather good vs. Greater Gargadon + Fatal Frenzy). The less orientated a teachings deck is to dealing with Gaddock Teeg, the better it will be against you. That said, with the amount of GW aggro that is likely to show up, the odds are that should you avoid this type of Teachings deck for the first couple of rounds, you will probably be safe.

Very Bad Matchups
Combo decks. Turbofog is close to unwinnable without Boom/Bust and Pithing Needle. If you get matched up against it, it’s often a good idea to concede game one and try for wins in games two and three. Combo decks that don’t rely on creatures staying around for multiple turns to win, such as Enduring Renewal are also particularly difficult to beat.

Tips and Tricks
Some quick tips and rules interactions that might help you win games you probably don’t deserve to win:
1. With Grave Pact in play, sacrificing Mogg Fanatic to target a creature with 1 toughness will allow your opponent to sacrifice the creature to Grave Pact. However, it’s still worth trying to see if you can get a 2 for 1 in this way, as many players do not realise this, and the one damage you would get by pinging your opponent is often not going to affect the result of the game (this deck tends to win by attacking in chunks of 9 or more damage at once). Allow lethal combat damage to resolve rather than sacrificing creatures to Gargadon/Husk with combat damage on the stack if you have Grave Pact in play. Note that with Shriekmaw you can stack the Dark Banishing trigger on top of the Evoke trigger to ensure that you will always 2 for 1 with Grave Pact.
2. With Shriekmaw, you do have an opportunity to sacrifice the creature to Greater Gargadon or Nantuko Husk before you have to sacrifice it to Evoke.
3. Because of cards such as Shriekmaw and Wrath of God, it’s often better to let Gargadon stay suspended (with 1 counter) into your turn. If your opponent has a Story Circle, and you have a Boom/Bust, sacrifice only enough lands to your Gargadon to leave it with 1 time counter on, then enter your attack phase before bringing it into play so that your opponent cannot float W and use Story Circle to negate your Gargadon for one turn (with Story Circle you have to choose a target that is already in play or a spell that is already in the process of being played).
4. Because you run Grave Pact, don’t throw creatures away needlessly to save life points. Blocking 2 damage now from a Tarmogoyf with a Kobold token, even if it lets you remove a counter from a suspended Gargadon, is often worse than saving 5 damage later and edicting a creature with Grave Pact.
5. You are using Liliana Vess primarily for her tutor ability. Against aggro decks, your primary targets will be Grave Pact and Siege Gang Commander (unless you have a Gargadon suspended, in which case Fatal Frenzy becomes an attractive option). Aside from being a great game winning threat all by itself, Siege Gang Commander also says: Give target Nantuko Husk +8/+8 or remove 4 time counters from target suspended Greater Gargadon or cause target opponent to sacrifice 4 creatures to Grave Pact. And you thought that Cryptic Command was versatile… Against control decks, just tutor up a second Liliana and then start making your opponent discard.
So will this deck win you states? Almost certainly not, I managed to top 2 a GPT for Krakow last weekend playing a very similar list to this, but there were at least 2 matches that I would have been in danger of losing if not for the practice I have already had with the deck. Will it be a ton of fun to play? Yes. Definitely. The deck can do a lot of crazy things that make for great stories. Nothing beats winning out of nowhere with a Fatal Frenzied Greater Gargadon or drawing 11 lands in a row after keeping a 4 land hand, and still winning (both of which happened in the aforementioned GPT, but that is a story for another day).
By dv8r